Archive for 2010

Open wide...

26.12.10 § 0 commentarii

As the (admittedly rather dishy) emergency dentist was poking around in my agonised mouth at eleven o’clock yesterday morning, he asked one of the most asinine questions I’ve heard all year[1]:

“And what did Santa bring you for Christmas?”

Now, as you may have noticed, I am not the most patient of men. When in pain, my temper becomes rather short. Much like a wounded bear cub with priapism (the image is indeed apropos), I become intensely irritable and have a tendency to snap at people trying to help me. I glared at him and replied:

“Fucking toothache, you twat. Bloody get on with it.”

Yes, dear reader, I spent Christmas morning in agony at a dentist’s. It’s entirely my own fault: due to an aversion to dentists[2], I’ve let my dental health fall into a rather poor state, which led to me waking up at 0200 hours on Christmas morning with a throbbing pain caused by pulpitis. The dentist numbed the pain with a series of injections, filled the cavity with steroids and told me to get it extracted in the new year, which of course I will do.

Having provided a surcease to the pain, the dishy dentist became my favourite person in the world. I apologised profusely for having been short with him earlier, and he accepted my apology most graciously, grinning somewhat, which lent a boyish charm to his face. As I turned to leave, however, he was sniggering. Stepping out into the crisp Christmas morning, I immediately felt one hell of a draught around my rude bits. I’d been lying in the dentist’s chair with my flies wide open. Or open wide, should I say. That’s what the overpaid cunt was laughing at.

Fucking dentists.


1) Excluding, of course, the rather confused old gentleman who came into the bakery and, after spending ten minutes staring at a loaf of sliced brown, approached the counter and asked “do you sell this bread, or is it just for display?”

2) I’m not scared of dentists or dental work (although I admit to being something of a big girl when it comes to injections and needles), I just object to putting money into their seemingly bottomless wallets. In a country with supposedly socialised healthcare, the cupidity of the dental profession offends me.

Ding-dong merrily on fuck it where's the red?

15.12.10 § 4 commentarii

Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year, which is perhaps surprising for someone as bitter and curmugeonly as I can be. It goes without saying that, as for most of the population of the western world, all the supposedly religious elements of this time of year are utterly irrelevant to me, which essentially leaves a period in which one does not have to work, when you can eat as much excellent and unhealthy food as passes your way and when you can consume vast quantities of alcohol (which would normally have your friends and relatives booking you a place in rehab) whenever you please and without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow. And you get free stuff, as well. What’s not to like about Christmas?

Of course, the Fates do not tolerate unadulterated joy without exacting some kind of price. Christmas has, alas, plenty not to like. Aside from the fact that the rampant commercialism long ago crossed the line over into “irreparably tacky”, there’s also the ubiquity of Christmas music during this season, which is near-universally abhorrent[1]. And furthermore, there’s relatives. Even my normally easy-going family tends to squabble like cats in a bag at Christmas time, so by mutual consent the extended family only tends to get together at less pressurised times of the year. He Whom I Call beloved comes from a family which, unlike mine, is verb Big on Christmas, so most years when I’ve not been working the holiday season, we’ve generally spent the afternoon with his family after seeing my dad in the pub that morning. I’m normally too knackered and hungover to object, so it’s an arrangement that works.

An unexpected pleasure of working for The Bakery is that this year I find myself with five days off around Christmas. Being used to only having half of Christmas day off if I’m lucky, this makes a pleasant change[2]. So, for the first time in a few years, we are hosting them for Christmas lunch. Not only does this mean that I get to cook pretty much what I want, but also that if it all gets a bit much I can disappear into the kitchen with a book and a bottle of wine and claim to be doing something food-related. That was the intention, at any rate.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m actually very fond of my in-laws. They’re lovely people. However, my mother-in-law has Opinions on what a Christmas meal should be. One of the closest things my family has to a Christmas Tradition is the cooking and consumption of a ham. A big one, generally roasted with honey, mustard and a foolish amount of whiskey. So that’s what I was intending on serving this year. However, my mother in law a) won’t eat pork and b) wanted turkey. Leaving aside the fact that I loathe its bland, dry meat, there is no way in the three worlds that I am going to cook a sodding great turkey for four people. A turkey crown was suggested. Which is just the dry, inedible parts of turkey at double the price. I reasonably pointed out that, as long as I retain my strength, no fucking turkey, turkey part or turkey-derived product was coming out of my kitchen. We have therefore compromised on beef. I did initially float the idea of brisket, not only because I can just chuck it in a pot and forget about it, but also because it’s a lovely cut. My dear husband did point out that, while admittedly delicious, brisket isn’t all that festive. So roast rib of beef it is.

The second hurdle came with dessert. Last time they came over for Christmas, I ordered in a Paris-Brest from the pâtisserie down the road. A lovely, delicate choux pastry ring filled with a light crème pâtissière. Perfect after a heavy, filling meal. Unfortunately, the verdict on this was that, while undoubtedly delicious, it wasn’t really very “festive”, and what a shame it was to miss out on the traditional Christmas pudding and flaming brandy butter. Discreet enquiries revealed that neither husband nor father-in-law particularly like Christmas pudding. I’m not keen on it myself. I went through a cavalcade of suggestions for alternatives: zuppa inglese, galette des rois, syllabub, croquembouche (seriously, at this point I was willing to make a whole sodding croquembouche, which would have taken up the best part of the day, just to avoid Christmas pudding), tarte aux amandes, which were all nixed as being “too French”, despite at least one option being Italian. What do they expect? I was trained in the tradition of French cuisine, ferfucksake. They’re lucky I’m not insisting on a cheese course (I might do, actually. No fucking Stilton, though.) Finally, it was suggested that we have a Christmas pudding anyway and I content myself with an individual portion of profiteroles or similar. Seeing this as something of an insult to my hospitality, I retorted that in that case the ham was back on the menu and the mother in law could have a single breast of turkey. With unexpected tact and wisdom, my poor husband (who was acting as go-between) decided not to pass this on, but rather suggested Christmas cake. Mollified somewhat by his assurances that I make excellent fruitcake, and that I could put as much marzipan and royal icing on it as I please, I gracefully acceded.

So, with these parameters in mind, I can actually start to plan out what I’m going to cook. The starter will probably be a spread of small nibbly things, like parmesan and chili biscotti, plenty of cured meats, miniature pains de campagne, cheeses, spanakopiti, gougères, etc. Festive tapas, basically. Followed by roast parsnip soup. Easy enough to throw together and plate, and most of the stuff I’ll be making from scratch can be done in advance. The main is going to be the rib of beef, served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, garlic and butter mushrooms, a Brussels sprout and chestnut gratin, petits pois à la française and braised cabbage. Again, stuff which can be done in advance. With Christmas cake to follow, probably with a citrussy crème fraîche affair to cut through the sweetness. Given the five days off thing, I’m fully expecting to spend all day on Christmas Eve cooking, with just reheating and chucking the beef in the oven on Christmas Day. Which gives me ample time to get sloshed on red wine. Hurrah! Merry Christmas to one and all, etc.


1) There are, of course, some honourable exceptions. I would be happy to listen to Fairytale of New York at any time of the year. And this version of everybody’s favourite ode to festive date-rape, Baby, It’s Cold Outside, from Glee’s Christmas episode is utterly adorable.

2) I encountered another pleasing difference from the Trade only yesterday. I’m currently laid low with a particularly vile cold, and was sent home from work, with the firm admonition that I shouldn’t have come to work in the first place. In the hospitality industry, about the only acceptable excuse for being ill off work is missing a limb, and even then only if blood is still dripping from the stump. Once it’s cauterised you’re expected to be back on the line. Taking time off work is simply not done: I’ve described before how I’ve been to hospital after maiming myself and then gone straight back to work and finished my shift. Of course, we all pay pious lip-service to the idea that if one is struck down with some kind of gastric problem one shouldn’t come into work in order not to pass it on to the customers, but in practice this rarely happens. I’ve heard (possibly apocryphal) tales of chefs with the shits keeping a bucket to crap in behind the pass and continuing through the evening service. If you ever get food poisoning from a restaurant, it’s more likely to be an ill chef than bad shrimp.

Graecum est; non legitur

§ 0 commentarii

Tephato it, ā Zeptes, sā chetūs dronthūs rocotriūs, aides cecleset zātrā zaurītrā nain harpeonta de ho Trouisa ton gobran chāleion. To gobrāt epiot asodonta, po to iramūt therrumais epeois sasathet; potho zeiaphet epano hūs garilās ges phoreleot d’ erexatin astaphatin·tho zera hendūt ampha maitara; nan phorelonteia tel eira rexatin to hendūt, zardona tancor zera marritīn, mamāngor de to rīnnīt Pharnoi; chēa·tho namusthonta tos tānus te de rondezoi. Tephato deio it, ā pharsī Pharnoi, sā chēas radreiās, ī chemeasthaus sathēs.

As any classicist will immediately spot, the above is not Greek. It is, however, the invocation to the Muse from the beginning of the Odyssey. In fact, the language above is Classical Tailancan (or, in its own terms, tos thialos arezios the common language), one of my conlangs. Essentially, it is to Greek as Sindarin is to Welsh. An a priori constructed language, designed to echo something of the beauty of the “target language”. Just as Sindarin is not simply a pastiche of Welsh, having its own distinctiveness as well, Tailancan is not identical to Greek. For a start, those u’s are back rounded vowels, not the front rounded vowels found in Attic. Grammatically, too, there are some significant differences. Tailancan’s typology is VSO- in fact, the grammar derives significantly more inspiration from Old Irish than it does from the language of Homer.

Like Sindarin, though, Tailancan was not created in a vacuum. It has a history, relatives, a location in time and place. Of all the areas in linguistics, the field of historical linguistics interests me the most: as such it’s no surprise that this is the aspect of the language which is most elaborately developed. The phonological development of Tailancan from its parent language is by no means identical to that of Greek from Proto-Indo-European: Tailanca’s parent and PIE were not identical after all. In fact, the phonological development owes a lot more to the development of Proto-Celtic from PIE, which means that Tailancan is considerably less “vocalic” than Greek: intervocalic and initial *s are retained, for example, which means there are far fewer crazy diphthongs. Also, following a vaguely Celtic path gives some cool vowel alternations. As an example, let us take the Tailancan word suptūs husband, the dative singular of which is suptāru, with a ū/ā alternation triggered by positional reflexes of *ō in the parent language: the nominative *sutbōrs, with *ō in the final syllable gives ū and the dative *sutbōru, with *ō in a non-final syllable gives ā.

Tailancan, along with Thaerskan, Chegdaran, Posian and Nemassic, is a member of the Kalpan branch of Kalpo-Lacaran family. Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran was spoken some four and a half millenia ago in the Tâgar Highlands, to the north of the Great Lake. After acquiring the wheel and the techniques of horse domestication from the Ḫansu, the community underwent something of a population explosion and started expanding, primarily into the fertile grasslands of the south-west. With their language already diverging significantly from that of their cousins who remained in the Tâgar, these Proto-Lacarans settled in the western Plain of Lacara about -500 NhA (nain hūs ardanās, “after [the foundation of] the city”, referring to the foundation of Šawniq, an Achaunese city. The current year is 2578 NhA, so the Proto-Lacarans settled the plain around three thousand years ago.) Here they set about happily stealing vocabulary, cattle and land from the nameless autochthones, who promptly fled to the northern mountains.

Fast-forward about a thousand years and the dialects of Proto-Lacaran had diverged to the point that it would be fair to refer to them as separate languages. During the intervening period, they acquired rather more than just words for “garlic” (scorda < *ksordā) and “wheat” (drista < *dritsā) from the displaced “Eteolacarans”. Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran had been a rigorously head-final language, with an active-stative morphosyntactic alignment: both traits retained by the Kalpan languages descended from those Kalpo-Lacarans who stayed behind in the Tâgar. Presumably due to areal and substratal influence, the Lacaran languages developed accusative alignment and head-initial typology (with the exception of the outlier Čegdaran, which remained head-final: an example of “archaism of the fringe”).

For reference, and to break up the wall of text, the following map shows the relative positions of the Lacaran-speaking peoples about 450 NhA:

Lacara 450

Lacarans are noted in bold: the Lacaioi are the people who spoke Tailancan. The PKL Urheimat is just to the north of the large lake near the Čegdarai. Non-Lacarans are shown with italics. The area covered by the map is about 2,200,000 km², which is about the same size as Greenland. Greenland’s actually pretty big.

To put some faces, as it were, to all the names mentioned so far, let us pause for a moment and take a quick sampling. Let us start with Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran:

*qʷʰeditraī tʰersa lakanī nadʰasa qǝqlesa. gʰedʰa ʕigʰan ɢʷʰoqʷaī gʰotnutu ʕikʷa dʰebʰemi.
qʷʰeditra-ī tʰersa-Ø lakan-ī nadʰa-sa q~qles-e-ti. gʰe-dʰa ʕigʰan-Ø ɢʷʰoqʷa-ī gʰotnu-tu ʕikʷa dʰebʰ-e-mi
first-ATT tribe-PAT broad-ATT river-ABL PRET~travel-IND-3SG. DEF-LOC I-AGT old-ATT fish-PAT.PL many remember-IND-1SG

The first tribe travelled from the broad river. I recall many old fish there.

Here note the verb standing at the end of the clause, and modifiers preceding their heads: *lakanī nadʰa “the broad river”, as opposed to the normal word order of Tailancan tos dolus lacanios where the adjective follows the noun. Also to note here is that PKL adjectives did not exhibit concord with their heads: rather they indicated whether they stood in an attributive or predicative relationship (the suffix *-ī, glossed as ATT). The typology here is still active-stative: note that mood is indicated only on agentive verbs, i.e. those with an ergative subject, as in the second sentence. Now for the same sentence in Proto-Lacaran:

*tʰersas kʷʰeditri-ɣos naδasa lakani-ɣos keklesa. ɣeδa eɣan ekʷa ɣotnuta wokʷi-ɣot δewemi.
tʰersa-s kʷʰeditr-i=ɣo-s naδa-sa lakan-i-ɣosa ke~kles-a. ɣe-δa eɣan-Ø ekʷa ɣotnu-ta wokʷ-i=ɣot δew-e-mi
tribe-NOM first-ATT=DEF-NOM river-ABL broad-ATT=DEF-ABL PRET~travel-3SG. DEF-LOC I-NOM many fish-ACC.PL old-ATT=DEF-ACC.PL remember-IND-1SG

Phonologically, the voiced aspirates of PKL have become voiced fricatives, and the uvular consonants have merged with the velars. Note also that the pharyngeal approximant has been lost, lowering adjacent vowels. Typologically, Proto-Lacaran is still mainly head-final, with SOV word order. However, something interesting is happening with the adjectives. Not only have they migrated to a position following their heads, but they also appear to have acquired demonstrative postclitics: it is not unlikely that the two phenomena are related. It seems that what has happened here is that instead of saying “the broad river”, PK speakers have begun to say in effect “the river, the broad one”. Unlike PKL adjectives, the demonstratives did mark case: so here we are seeing the beginnings of case concord.

Next up is Chegdaran, grammatically the most archaic of the Lacaran languages. The sample below is somewhat anachronistic: our first attested samples of Chedgaran date to about 1600 NhA, which is almost 1200 years after the other languages on the map. Aside from something of a tendency to greater analysis (but also greater synthesis: both person and mood are indicated by one morpheme), there’s little remarkable about Chegdaran.

Tarras kedžiřas nās lakeňas klasa. Tara ą aka ľembut vačat dzavą.
Tarra-s kedziřa-s ež nā-s lakeňa-s klas-a. Tara ą-Ø aka-t ľembu-t vača-t dzav-ą.
tribe-NOM first-NOM from river-GEN broad-GEN come-PRET.3SG. there I-NOM many-ACC.PL fish-ACC.PL old-ACC remember-IND.1SG

Thærskan is slightly more interesting. Below is a sample of Common Thærskan, which finds its first attestations in writing around the 11th century. The word-order has become SVO, and the language in general has become more analytic, developing a definite article þaz and using prepositional phrases instead of case forms. In fact, Thærskan reduced PKL’s nine cases to just three: nominative, accusative and prepositional. Note also that reduplication no longer marks the past tense, instead a periphrasis with the PKL verb *ʕot- “to do” has been grammaticalised.

þaz tærraz kʷeðirþijaz χlæzijaþa ju naðuną laχaniją. ejā ðāumi jeχʷa ʒaþnuþ falsijaþ ʒeþrað.
þa-z tærra-z kʷeðirþ-i-jaz χlæz-ijaþ-a ju þą naðun-ą laχan-i-ją. ejā-Ø ðāu-mi jeχʷa-þ ʒaþn-uþ fals-i-jaþ ʒeþrað.
DEF-NOM tribe-NOM first-ATT-NOM travel-PRET-3SG from DEF.ACC river-ACC broad-ATT-ACC. I-NOM remember-1SG many-ACC.PL fish-ACC.PL old-ATT-ACC.PL there

Posian, Nemassic and Tailancan all form the central core of the Lacaran languages, and differ only slightly in their grammatical structures: some have even gone so far as to describe Nemassic as a particularly divergent dialect of Tailancan. As such, we shall content ourselves finally with only a sample sentence from Tailancan:

Ceclesa tos therrumas thedirios ī tūs dolūs. Dēn traza epiot hontut ocriot.
ce~cles-e to-s therruma-s thedir-i-os ī tūs dol-ūs. Dē-n traza ep-i-ot hont-ut ocr-i-ot.
PRET~travel-3SG DEF.NOM tribe-NOM first-ATT-NOM from DEF.ABL river-ABL. remember-1SG there many-ATT-ACC.PL fish-ACC.PL old-ATT-ACC.PL

All three languages have fully adopted VSO word order, although Tailancan is the only language to have fully developed the definite article. All three retain the old attributive/predicative distinction in adjectives. An interesting phonetic development common only to Tailancan and Nemassic is the simplification of the old labiovelar consonants: in both languages original * changes to b. The fate of *kʷ(ʰ) is somewhat more complex, becoming a simple labial in Nemassic, but undergoing a conditioned split in Tailancan, becoming a dental before front vowels and a labial before back vowels. Thus we have Tailancan thediros for Nemassic peditros.

Going back on ourselves, the map above dates to about the same time as our first written records of Tailancan. By this point, the easternmost Lacarn peoples, the Posiī and the Lacaioi, had fallen under the cultural domination of the far more advanced and civilised Achaunese (the Aqawin of the map), who supplied not only a wealth of loanwords, but also their syllabary to write them with. While the Eteolacarans supplied loanwords for local flora and fauna and agricultural terminology, the Achaunese bequest was words relating to civilised living. The Lacaioi learnt music (armūcū flautist < ǝrmuxkun), seafaring (cemachis fleet < kemaq “boats”), mathematics (zairo number < dzayǝr) and writing (carthū scroll < karṭun). They also learnt about ostenation and domination: much of the Tailancan vocabulary relating to government and power derives from Achaunese, such as mencolis throne, from the Achaunese men-t-kawli “place of gold”.

After half a millenium of Achaunese dominance, the Lacaioi eventually got their act together and conquered the plain, arranging the untidy city-states and petty kingdoms of the Achaunese and their Lacaran cousins into a neat empire, based in the city of Carasta (which was situated about where the a of Lacaioi is on the map). By this point as well the Carastans (as we should rightly call them now) had developed the Achaunese syllabary into a true alphabet, ho rhalma. Coming full circle, the first few words of the passage quoted above would look like this in the Carastan script:

Swiftly falls snow, white as silver

4.12.10 § 2 commentarii

Like most of the country, Moriconium has until recently been under a blanket of snow. I do rather adore the snow, although only a very specific few subtypes of snow. Snow falling gently while I’m inside, in the warm and preferably with a glass of something warming, is fine. As is a crisp white blanket of new-fallen snow under a steely grey sky. Unfortunately, the most typical species of snow here in Moriconium over the past few years has been snow which has partially melted and then re-frozen overnight, becoming a treacherous death-trap of disguised ice. The novelty of snow wears off quickly when one falls upon one’s arse three times in ten minutes. My coccyx hasn’t been right since.

Happily, it’s pissed it down all day today, melting away all the snow. We’re back to a dreary, damp and ice-free seaside winter, so reassuring in its familiarity.

Nevertheless, snow can be one of the most beautiful natural phenonomena to occur in the British Isles. It’s unfortunate then, that phonoaesthetically, “snow” is such a bloody ugly word[1]. The Welsh word eira is far more fitting in my opinion. Finding cognates only in the other Brythonic languages (Breton erc’h and Cornish ergh: both phonemically /erx/, which rather like someone undergoing the Heimlich manoeuvre), it can be confidently traced back to a Proto-Brittonic *argyo-. Ultimately, the P-B form derives from the PIE *h2érĝ-, which (with varying suffixes) is also the root underlying various Indo-European words for “silver”: *h2érĝ-ṇt-o- gives Welsh arian, Latin argentum and Classical Armenian arcat’, while with the suffix *-u-ro- we have the Greek ἄργυρος and the suffix *-u-no gives Sanskrit árjunaḥ. Matasović (bless him), believes that this suffix variation in the daughter languages indicates that the PIE form was actually a heteroclitic stem. Unfortunately, Matasović sees heteroclites and ablauting paradigms pretty much everywhere. A somewhat more conservative (and realistic) idea is that we’re seeing a Caland-like alternation of suffixes, which indicates perhaps that the words are all independent formations on the same root, rather than a common inherited lexeme.

The communis opinio states that the root *h2erĝ- didn’t mean “silver” at all: rather it meant “white”. So silver is ’the white metal”, while snow is ’the white stuff”. Which, given that among the root’s other reflexes are Hittite ẖarkis “white” and Tocharian B ārkwi “white”, is pretty certain. So the Welsh word for snow has cognates meaning both “silver” and “white”: the Gaulish form argio- also seems to mean “white”. For example, the turbulent river Ariège in France is from the same root, probably *argyā- white water, perhaps. However, and quite interestingly, there is also a set of cognate IE words meaning “swift” which also point to a proto-form *h2erĝ-. Now, this could either be a homophonous but semantically quite separate root, or it could be a metaphorical extension of the basic meaning of “white” (consider how we describe something vanishing quickly as “disappearing in a flash”, perhaps?) Either way, it’s a fascinating example of the poetry in etymology.


1) In one of my constructed languages, Classical Tailancan, the word for “snow” is lāt (nom. sing.), which I also think is bloody ugly, but that’s the downside to modelling naturalistic soundchange. The parent language had *lawak-, which I rather like.


2.12.10 § 4 commentarii

I was sitting in the staff room on my own earlier, having finished my shift and closed the shop, waiting for He Whom I Call Beloved to come and pick me up, the trains back to Moriconium having been cancelled due to the inclement weather. I had turned most things off: gone the comforting hum of the ovens, no more heat from the radiators, no light save that from the municipal Christmas lights outside. Only the radio was still on, as I find the silence of an empty shop (like that of an empty restaurant or pub) somewhat unnerving. The obviously bored DJ, making his selections from a cold buffet of predetermined inoffensive pop, announced ''coming up, Robbie William's Strong''. Reader, I lowered my face into my hands and wept.

I think it was probably at this point that I thought to myself ''Jones, my boy, you're depressed again.'' (Yes, it's going to be one of those posts[1])

Thanks to extensive therapy, I can always recognise the triggers for these episodes of melancholia. In this case, I'm giving far too much emotionally to my job, a job I don't particularly care for and am only sticking with because of the somewhat obscene remuneration[2]. It's not the job itself: it's not really difficult, but the hours are long and the pressure is fairly constant. And, fucking hell, I just don't want to do this kind of shit. I speak six languages to a reasonable degree of fluency and am competent enough in a further eight or so. I know more about my chosen field of study than your average postgraduate student. I want to do something with all this. I have a bloody plan. Unforutunately, waiting is not my strong suit and what I must do in the interim is making me frustrated. And self-pitying, which is never an attractive trait. Feh.

Happily, I'm also aware that episodes of this sort do pass with relative alacrity, so I'm sure that normal service will be resumed shortly.

A further frustration over the past fortnight or so has been my computer. The hard-drive died, wiping itself entirely. It was easy enough to fix, and thankfully my backup schedule means I only lost two weeks or so of work. However, this is particularly vexing as well as ill-timed: it was my intention to begin a series of posts on the ritual year. Some of you may remember the Brythonic calendar I came up with last year, the fruit of a few years of sporadic research into the Coligny Calendar as well as British and Indo-European calendric customs. Well, having beta-tested the calendar last year, as it were, I decided to document this year (which began on the 7th of last month) on a new blog. Unfortunately, I lost everything I'd written up for this month, as well as half of a document on sacrifice that I'd been working on for the best part of a month. I'm a month behind and do not foresee much available time in which to re-write what I lost.

It has not been going well.


1) Having the slightly Asperger-ish trait of a craving for constancy, one of the few reassuring things about Bipolar II is its cyclic nature. Depression, like winter, taxes and attacks of wind, comes around on a regular basis- sometimes earlier, sometimes later.

2) Seriously. A quick straw poll of my fellow graduates from UoS reveals that I'm currently earning the most money (among those who are earning money at all). I'm the only one paying back my student loans, for a start.

Why I'm a believer 1

7.11.10 § 4 commentarii

I suppose most people following “alternative faiths” have experienced it. There’s always a trigger that causes people to ask the religion question: in my case it’s a bangle which I’ve worn constantly since I was fifteen. It no longer physically fits over my hand, and so cannot be removed without being consequently destroyed. Working in the food and hospitality business, it’s standard procedure for the only permitted jewellery to be a plain wedding band[1]: for hygiene purposes, of course. Generally, when I’ve been asked to remove it I’ve just said “it’s religious” and that’s been that. It helps that plain non-reactive material with no decoration, moving parts or convenient bacterial hiding places is easy enough to sanitise.

On the odd occasion, though, somebody enquires further and asks “what religion’s that then?” Unlike Wicca or even Asatru, as a name “Brythonic reconstructionist polytheism” doesn’t really trip off the tongue, so I generally say “polytheist” and leave it at that. Sometimes I get asked to explain what I mean, which generally leaves people with a look of bemused yet benign look of disinterest.

On the even odder occasion, I’ve been asked why. I frequently fire back a question like "why are you a Christian?" (or whatever), and never actually give a reasoned, er, reason.

So here’s why. First, I’ll talk about why I believe in a general sense, and in my next post I’ll address the question of why I’m a follower of Brythonic reconstructionism in particular.

Why I believe (in general)

I like to think of myself as a rational man, with a healthily sceptical turn of mind. In fact, I’ve often described myself as “agnostic by nature, religious by circumstance”. This, of course, is rather at odds with my sometimes embarrassingly intense religious beliefs[2]. Why then, do I believe?

Quite simply, because I believe that the Gods speak to me. Given that when a man talks to God it can be classified as prayer, but when God talks back it’s a species of psychosis, this might not be the most firm foundation to start from. Medication and a course of therapy might be more appropriate responses than ritual. However, against all the odds I do seem to be reasonably psychologically healthy (Bipolar II aside, natch), with no history of psychotic or delusional episodes. While I do not exclude the possibility that these experiences of what I perceive as the Gods talking to me might have other causes, psychological or somatic as they may be, positing that I’m right and that the Gods are talking to me seems to be the simplest explanation which fits the facts.

I realise that the above essentially boils down to “because the little voices in my head tell me to.”

Nevertheless, let us accept this as our first principle. Given that I believe the Gods talk to me, what should I do about it? It would not be entirely unreasonable to suggest “nothing”- just as most people who are awakened by a noise in the night are content to roll over and go back to sleep, thinking “cats or foxes” rather than feeling it necessary to go and investigate. However, I’m the kind of person who grabs a knife and creeps downstairs hunting for burglars. It is not within my nature to believe something and not act upon it: it would be a violation of my personal integrity to do nothing.

Of course, it is not unfair to ask why I believe that it’s the Brythonic deities who are speaking to me. After all, I’m Welsh, I have a healthy interest in both mythology and history: am I sure it’s not the case that I’ve simply ended up believing in the deities I’ve been reading about? Yes, I am reasonably sure. The direction of causation is actually the other way around: the interest in my family and ethnic heritage, the interest in history, comparative mythology and historical linguistics all stem from my conviction that the Gods are speaking to me. The Gods came first, and it took me a lot of research to determine their identities[3]. There were also not a few false turnings along the way: when all this started, back when I was eleven, my only frame of reference for pagan divinities was the Greco-Roman pantheon I knew from Latin classes. For years I assumed that it was the Roman deities who were speaking to me, and that any discrepancies were simply due to my lack of knowledge and inability to hear correctly. It was only seeing a statue of Taranis while doing a project on Roman Gaul that it all began to make sense.

I do not deny, however, that my ethnic heritage might well have a great deal to do with it. I don’t mean that in the sense of “Brythonic gods calling to Brythonic blood”- rather I mean that the milieu in which I have grown up, the cultural baggage that comes with it, probably leaves me predisposed to assume that the Gods I hear are Brythonic Gods. Had I been born in Lagos, I dare say I would have assumed that Shango was talking to me rather than Taranis.


1) This is why the new-ish BBC comedy Whites bugs me: while generally a not inaccurate portrait of what happens in a professional kitchen, the chefs are always shown wearing watches. In a real kitchen, wristwatches are strengst verboten.

2) Although some might argue that my particular brand of Brythonic reconstructionism is suitably donnish a pursuit to be wholly unsurprising. they might have a point: evangelical Christianity or fundamentalist Mormonism might be rather more incongruous.

3) In general neopagan circles, which borrow much of the idiom of wishy-washy romanticism, “soul-searching” would probably be the accepted term, rather than “research”. See the note above.

4) In fact, I find translations of divine names into English to be quite evocative. “Father of Riches” for Dis Pater, “Brightest High One” Brigantī Belisamā and so on. It is instructive to sometimes be reminded that divine names were frequently meaningful for their original worshippers. In some cases, of course, theonyms were just as unanalysable to the ancients: what on earth does Noudons mean, for example?

Un relooking

31.10.10 § 4 commentarii

That's French for makeover. I have a terrible weakness for French "English" words, such as le shampooing for "shampoo" or le footing for "jogging". Generally they're comprised of an English word (not neccessarily a verb) with the suffix -ing. Given that the majority of the words so formed do not have an actual English counterpart, this is a fairly remarkable phenomenon: French speakers have created a productive derivational affix from a piece of bound morphology in another language. Most French people are genuinely surprised to learn that we simply don't form words in this way in English, and can be somewhat hurt when confronted with the gales of laughter which ensue when they try to use these formations in English[1]. The suffix is highly marked, of course, and is still perceived to be the marker of an "English" word: this is probably why it is applied with such freedom to loanwords which lack it in English. This kind of hyper-foreignisation is actually quite common in languages: most English speakers pronounce the j's in "Beijing" and "Azerbaijan" as a fricative /ʒ/, the sound found in pleasure, in spite of the fact that the native pronunciations of both have the j's sounding a lot more like the affricate /dʒ/, as found in English judge. We just perceive /ʒ/ as being a more "foreign" sound, and ipso facto, that's the one we use with foreign words.

Le relooking is particularly interesting, as it represents a logical progression of word-formation. The English word look was borrowed into French meaning "image" or "style", a meaning it continues to have. The process of changing one's look, then, would obviously be un relooking: formed with the prefix re-, which has the same meaning in English, and the "look! this is a cool English word"-suffix -ing. And, to return to my point, that's what this blog has had (as you can no doubt see).

For a reason which is as yet unknown to me, I've translated the titles of all the widgets and so on into Latin. This is entirely pointless (and rather pretentious), given that in spite of the latinate title of the blog, I don't actually post in Latin. I did consider Greek, but feared losing readers. Besides, I don't like the way οἱ ἑπέται looks. Additionally, for maximum viewing pleasure, can I suggest that the gentle reader gently download the blog's default font, Gentium. It's very pretty, I promise you, and it will make reading the strange characters I'm given to using when writing Gallo-Brittonic (as in tou ambaχtos etic u̯ossos īsselos emmi) far easier and more aesthetically pleasing.

Also, to avoid confusion, the comments link is now at the top of each post, just after the signum sectionis §.


1) Personally, I find it cute when French people calque expressions and idioms directly into English. I remember a girl who worked for me at Harry's: as a favour to one of the waiters, we'd taken her on as a cleaner, in spite of the fact that she spoke no English at all. However, it turned out that she worked with indefatigable energy and became rapidly popular among the managers because she was the ideal worker: she never complained and just got on with the job. Actually, she did complain- near-constantly, in fact- but as I was the only manager who understood this it went unnoticed. Her English began to slowly improve, and it got to the point where she could communicate with the other managers without needing me as an interpreter. However, I recall one incident where I burst out laughing when, having carefully explained to the General Manager that she "did not arrive to find the key", with genuine consternation he asked her why she had turned up then.

Sed pistor bene defessus est...

23.10.10 § 0 commentarii

Back when I decided to get out of the hospitality industry for good, no honestly mister, I really mean it this time; I'll confess that I was somewhat intimidated by the prospect of adjustment to life outside the trade. I was under the impression that learning entirely new sets of skills and procedures would be the most difficult aspect of any new job. Different expectations, different skills, different rules. The accumulated knowledge and experience of eleven years in the trade, from dishwasher to chef, from waiter to restaurant manager, would all suddenly become of little use in a new career.

How wrong I was. Working for this baker-cum-retailer is essentially retail for hospitality refugees (retail therapy, if you like). Pretty much every skill I've learnt in the trade has been used over the past week. For example: instead of spending the requisite two weeks of training on the company food safety course, I pointed out that as a chef I already held a CIEH-approved level 3 food safety qualification and proceeded to move straight to the final assessments. I've also taken to the financial side of things like a cynical and world-weary duck to water: a legacy of having spent three years running one of Moriconium's busiest restaurants.

In fact, the most difficult adjustment has been getting used to the working hours. The length of the shifts isn't a problem: I'm used to ten-hour straight shifts in busy kitchens with no sit-down breaks: eight hours shuffling sausage rolls with an hour gap to wander the streets of Vetus Moriconium (including a pleasant picnic on the quay feeding seagulls and chucking fag-butts at tourists) is a veritable holiday in comparison. No, what's most difficult to get used to is working from 0700 to 1600 most days. After eleven years, my body-clock has reprogrammed itself to consider ten o'clock at night an appropriate time to start thinking about cleaning down, not going to bed. Half past five in the morning isn't the early morning to me, but a late night. In the past five or so years, I've only ever been out of the house at that time when I'm walking home after a night out on the lash. So getting up at half five every morning to go to work has been a struggle. I've risen, washed, cut myself shaving and got dressed in what is essentially a state of somnambulance. Yesterday I tried to get away without shaving, but the days when I could do that and not look like a tramp are alas long since gone.

It should come as no surprise then that I've been utterly knackered over the past ten days, sleeping for only four hours a night for a few days and then crashing into a twelve-hour exhaustion-induced coma afterwards. On Sunday, I slept for almost twenty hours in total. I've been too tired to write, read, cook or eat. The last is probably ultimately a good thing, as I swear to god that just walking through the shop provides me with some 70% of my recommended daily intake of calories. I've eaten more pastry over the past few days than I had in the previous year, and pastry was something of a speciality of mine. This excessive consumption is purely in the spirit of academic enquiry, you understand. As a manager, it behooves me to know what the entire product range tastes like (although perhaps this knowledge does not need to be gained in the course of one lunchtime, I admit.)

In fact, were I not to enjoy work, this severe sleep deprivation combined with junk-food temptation would probably qualify as a Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Nevertheless, enjoy it I do, and I'm sure that I'll adjust to a new circadian rhythm soon enough. There are a few things which irritate me, of course: as a chef I am hugely annoyed by the company's insistence on sanitising the whole prep area between making different types of sandwich (to prevent cross-contamination). Between making a prawn baguette and a cheese and tomato on brown, I can see the point; but given that most of the sandwiches are variations on tuna mayo, chicken mayo and various cheese concoctions, I find it a little paranoid to sanitise everything between (say) a chicken and sweetcorn sandwich and a chicken and mango sandwich. On the other hand, not all of their employees are former chefs, so it's probably better to be safe than sorry.

Food poisoning would cut into my sleep schedule, after all.

Coquus mortuus est, vivat pistor

15.10.10 § 1 commentarius

I started my new job at the beginning of the week. Great holy gods in the sky, I am fucking knackered.

To those who have contacted me over the last week or so: I promise I'm not ignoring you. My life is currently rich in excitement (hah), but poor in spare time. I promise I'll get back to you on Sunday (my first day off).

Like a tiger in a cage

5.10.10 § 3 commentarii

Not working is not agreeing with me. It's left me feeling incredibly restless, keen to do something creative or enjoyable, but with too short an attention span to actually do much that takes more than an hour or so. For example, I've got some ideas that I'd like to play with for a short story, as well as a couple of lengthier essays on the back burner. The kitchen needs cleaning again: the result of a few days of agitated post-resignation breadmaking. There's a distressing smell coming from a bowl of neglected sourdough starter, which is beginning to steal out of the kitchen to permeate the entire flat.

Of course, it is more than likely that this feeling of restless anxiety is a result of me enjoying the "manic" portion of "manic depression", rather than there being any particular causative link between this and my sudden unemployment. As such, I've tried to do things that I know calm me: today I've been tarting up an old bookcase and my hands are still stained with wood oil. However, the damn thing is now drying out and waiting for a final coat of varnish, placing me right back at square one with nothing to fill my time adequately. Much more of this and I'll turn rabid and start throwing things at people in the street below.

Happily, therefore, I am actually no longer technically unemployed. One of my many job application was successful: I am to be the assistant manager of a bakery (well, a Greggs). So that's it. I've got out of the trade entirely: eleven years have come to an end. I'll confess to having something of a tear in my eye when I folded up my whites and put them at the back of the wardrobe. But I'm sure the exciting fact of being paid more than I ever have been before will salve my grief pretty damn quickly.

The day I left the trade

28.9.10 § 7 commentarii

As those who are friends with me on Facebook will by now know, I once again find myself among the ranks of the unemployed.

For the past three or so months, basically since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I've been visiting a therapist weekly for CBT[1]. I initially didn't bother telling anybody at work, as I don't like wearing my mental health difficulties on my sleeve. However, I let the manager know, as I felt that I owed him an explanation for why I was requesting every Monday off. He was highly supportive, and obligingly let the kitchen staff sort out our own rota, which gave me every Sunday and Monday off.

About three weeks ago, we had a change in management at O'Murphy's. The new manager hasn't made a great first impression, on either the staff or the regular customers. She's ridden roughshod over the pub's running, and managed to successfully alienate virtually all of the employees: which is quite an achievement, given that during the three weeks of her tenure so far she's only actually been on site for a total of seven shifts. Staff morale has taken a nosedive, and it's more than a little apparent that any the staff no longer take any pride in their work. Being old in cunning and hospitality industry politics, I had resolved to simply keep my head down, get on with earning money and escape at the earliest possible juncture. Little change, really, from before she started: I've been applying for jobs and looking for a way out for a while now.

It's also apparent that where the previous manager believed that delegation was the key to good management, that left to their own devices a group of motivated, well-trained staff need only the lightest hand to guide them; the new manager believes firmly in central direction by a strong hand. One might say that if a manager's central role is to "lead the team", the previous manager's emphasis was on "team", while the new one's is on "lead". This kind of micro-managing control freakery has always been anathematic to my personal management style, but each to their own. It was no surprise then that she un-delegated the kitchen rota and took charge of it herself (in between the business-critical tasks of rearranging the canonical order of condiments on tables and inventorying the lemons). Initially, we thought little of this, just letting her know that we all had commitments on certain days, and would appreciate it if we could have those days off on a regular basis.

However, when the rota for this week was posted on the noticeboard last Tuesday, I noticed that I had been rota'd on for this Monday. I knocked on the door of her office and asked for a moment of her time. She asked me if it was important, I replied that it was about the rota. She told me that she was extremely busy and she'd come and talk to me later. Shortly afterwards, she left for the day and absented herself until Saturday evening. By now I was used to her lengthy absences, so on Wednesday I spoke to the Assistant Manager, who said that he would sort it out for me and arrange cover for Monday.

So yesterday, I was somewhat surprised to get a text message informing me that I was still on the rota for the evening shift. I phoned in and pointed out that not only had I spoken to the AM a week ago about this, I also had a pretty unbreakable commitment for that evening. The new manager told me in no uncertain terms that I didn't have a choice about this, that if I wanted the day off I should have spoken to her about it. Pointing out that she was never actually there didn't go down too well, and she suggested that it was somehow my own fault. I tried to explain about having an appointment with a therapist, but she cut me off, said that my mental health wasn't her problem and told me to buck my ideas up. I could either come up with a "better reason" for not doing the shift, or arrange cover myself.

One of my most uneradicable character flaws is my pride. I'm not a particularly humble person, and have problems with people bossing me about. Being treated with a lack of respect tends to trigger a species of cold rage in me. Now, at this juncture I could of course have simply backed down, cancelled my therapy appointment and done the shift: and apologising for raising my voice on the phone most likely wouldn't have gone amiss. However, I had sensed an affront to my dignity. To back down would have been an assault on my personal sense of honour. My bluff had been called.

Ever willing to cut off my nose in order to spite my face, then, I sat down and wrote the following letter:

Dear ________

Please accept this letter as notice of my resignation, effective immediately. I regret the inconvenience that this will cause to my colleagues, but circumstances leave me no choice.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of my colleagues, past and present, for the support they have afforded me during my time at O'Murphy's. I would also like to wish both the team and yourself the best of luck. I am sure you will all need it.

Deiniol Jones

Still seething, I took this off down to O'Murphy's. She was behind the bar.

"I assume you've come to apologise for the way you spoke to me earlier?"

"Could I talk to you in private, please? It won't take long."

"Oh, I think it will, I have a few things..," she began to say. I cut her off.

"No, it won't. Unless you're a slow reader, of course." Which was probably somewhat unwise of me. I didn't care, by this point. She asked me to come into the office and sat down. I stayed standing.

"You asked me to come up with a 'better reason'. I think this should cover it."

With that, I chucked the letter down in front of her and turned to leave. She stopped me by the door:

"And what's this?"

"What do you think? It's a note from my mother," I said and walked out. A couple of seconds later, she followed me and called out:

"You do know that you're barred from the premises for six months now? It's company policy." One of the barstaff overheard this and pointed out that it wasn't at all, it was just petty. Ignoring the manager, I went and kissed the barmaids on the cheek and told them to take care of themselves.

And now, it's started to actually sink in. I've walked out of yet another job: this must be the tenth. And all because of my damned stiff-necked pride. Again.


1) Don't Google this acronym, for the love of god. In this context, it refers to "Cognitive Behavioural Therapy".

This week at Jones Towers

19.9.10 § 6 commentarii

I have mentioned before that I am not an especially houseproud man. Indeed, it would be fair to say that, I see housework as a tedious and unnecessary distraction from reading and drinking[1]. However, on a semi-regular basis (three times a year, on average), the squalor will get on my wick to the degree that I go nuts and have a marathon cleaning session.

Happily, last night and this morning, the planets were found to be in a felicitous conjunction. The auspices were taken and found to be favourable. And so the wrath of the household spirits was propritiated and the living room was mucked out. As ever, this mammoth task proceeded in three stages:

  1. Return books to study. A perennial problem here at Jones Towers is that of book storage. I have far more books than shelf space to keep them, the result of which is my library being scattered throughout the flat. This doesn't actually bother me too much, as I always know exactly where everything is[2], and it's always handy to have something to read in the loo. Nevertheless, it tends to look untidy, and any cleaning attempt must begin with at least a token effort to place books on shelves.
  2. Excavate the floor. In order to facilitate hoovering, everything is taken off the floor and piled on the settee. Bank statements, bus tickets, junk mail, pizza boxes, plates, discarded underwear, woollen gloves from last winter, empty cigarette packets etc. Everything comes off the dining table at the same time.
  3. Purge room of all extraneous matter. The stuff on the settee is sorted into a number of piles: stuff to be shoved into other rooms and forgotten about; stuff that is demanding money from me which I'll deal with first thing on Monday, honest guv; stuff to be chucked. The last pile is always by far the largest. This time it took up three black binbags.
  4. Evict unwanted flora and fauna. Old fat spider spinning in a tree! Old fat spider can't see me! Attercop! Attercop! Won't you stop, Stop your spinning and look for me! And so the spiders and dead flowers leave the room.
  5. Polish all wood. I'm a chippie's grandson, and get quite obsessive about wood. Virtually all the wooden furniture in the flat was acquired from charity shops or municipal tips and then lovingly restored by yours truly. As such, when I talk about polishing wood, I don't mean a quick squirt of Pledge and some business with a duster. Out comes the wood oil, beeswax balsam, shellac and differently-graded cloths. This always takes a couple of hours, but I find it immensely satisfying. It also leaves the flat smelling pleasant (if you like the smell of beeswax and shellac polish, obviously).
  6. Hoover. Preferably in a classy pvc miniskirt and pink halterneck, of course.

Having done all that, I am now in the blissful period wherein I sit and enjoy the sense of achievement, and the scented candles I'm burning to dispel the stench of cleaning products. Given that there is unlikely to be a similarly happy occasion again this decade, I thought that I would post some photos of what my flat looks like. In the grand tradition of my masters and betters in this discipline of blogging (hi!) then, let us begin this tour of the headquarters of the Moriconian Socialist Resistence.

1) The Parlour

Recently renovated and with a southerly aspect, the combined living/dining room of this charming property is a versatile and person-centred space. As you can see, the east-facing wall is currently adorned by various bits of tat tasteful objets d'art:

In many ways, the front room is primarily a reflection of my taste, while the study (with its shelves full of model robots, cars and aeroplanes) is a reflection of my beloved's. There's a bodhrán, a rugby ball and a sword: which gives three interests of mine that I don't believe I've spoken about here before. The small pile of books on the shelving to the right is mainly Latin poetry: the top one is the Loeb edition of Martial's Epigrams. The big brass oil lamp on the pile of books was a housewarming present from my mother-in-law: it's the very devil to keep clean.

The table in the centre is my surrogate hearth: the old chimney breast being on the eastern wall was a fortunate coincidence. While nothing like as tasteful as Mark's altar, I quite like its austere simplicity. There's a close-up below:

The statue is indeed blood-soaked, not through any conscious intent but as the result of a bizarre chain of events while moving in six years ago. That little black book marked "breviary" is an old Moleskine notebook in which I've written most of the prayers which have featured on this blog and its predecessor. A sample page:

I say that this room is a reflection of my taste, but I'm not actually allowed to have a proper bookcase in here, which is inconvenient. Instead, we have a massive rack of his DVDs:

2) L'Atelier

You've seen my kitchen before, but in order to refresh your memories:

As you can see, it has wonderful views. Some days even go by without me seeing any drug deals or fornication at all!

Of those cookbooks, I only make regular use of two: Il cucchiaio d'argento, a compendium of Italian cookery containing pretty much anything you could wish to know, and The Cooks' Bible, which is more a book of techniques than recipes. I bought it to replace my old college textbooks, which alas perished in a fire when I was particularly drunk. The benefit of the Bible over professional catering books is that one doesn't have to scale back the recipes: it is particularly disheartening when one discovers that the only recipe for blanquette de veau in one's collection is marked "to serve 40".

There are two bilingual puns in this image. A prize to those who spot them both.

(No, it's a rolling pin.)

3) The Facilities

For contrast, here is one room which has not been cleaned recently. The bathroom:

This picture has been deliberately under-exposed, in order to disguise the grime. However, two things can be noted from this picture:

  1. This bathroom is used exclusively by two men.
  2. The men in question have a somewhat freestyle approach to personal hygiene

(It's actually a bottle of shower gel.)

Finally, as a bonus feature, here are two photos of me. The first I took yesterday evening, when beginning this cleaning:

And this is the requisite "after" shot, taken this morning when the cleaning was finished off after I got up. I look so haggard due to the bottle of wine I drank to "help" me through the task:


1) Fortunately, the necessary tasks of personal hygiene can be performed while reading/drinking. I am a firm believer in staying in the bath until either the water goes cold or the wine runs out (whichever happens first).

2) For example, until this morning I knew that should I need to consult it, I could find Yaron Matras' Romani: a linguistic introduction in the kitchen, between Il cucchiaio d'argento and Baldi's Foundations of Latin. Similarly, all my books on religion were to the left of the settee, while Greek to GCSE was next to the Harpic in the bathroom. Now they're all in a pile in the study and I have absolutely no idea of what's where.


5.9.10 § 3 commentarii

Creddū dū U̯irūi, trebnā ad·i̯o aget bitun canti dedmin cou̯arin.
I believe in Truth, the order which animates the world according to the sacred laws.

"Truth" is an incredibly important concept among Indo-European peoples. Witness the Zoroastrian dualism between aša "Truth" and druj "Lie" or the Vedic concept of ṛta, which became dharma in later Hinduism. Closer to home, we have the Irish concept of fír flathemon "the ruler's truth", without which the land will wither and die. It should be clear, of course, that I am not talking of common or everyday "truth" here, such as one might tell when owning up to eating the last of the biscuits. Rather, I am talking about Truth as a fundamental force of reality itself. The Sanskrit adjective meaning "true", satyá-, is derived ultimately from the present participle of the Proto-Indo-European root *h1es- "to be" (as is the sooth- in English "soothsayer"): etymologically then, for the Indo-Europeans Truth was simply "that which is". Truth is not a statement about reality, but an expression of reality itself.

I am no philosopher: I simply do not have the intellectual toolbox to describe concepts like this accurately or adequately. Honestly, I rather feel like a fool grubbing about with pebbles in a darkened cave trying to explain mountains. As such, this is all rather ignotum per ignotius. Ultimately, however, this concept is probably best explained with a cosmogonic aside. There are two forces or principles at play in the world, which we might term "order" and "chaos". Although we have a natural inclination to think of order as "good" and chaos as "bad", it should be pointed out that the they are mutually interdependent and devoid of what we might perceive as moral qualities. Order without chaos does not grow, becomes still, brittle and dead. Chaos without order is growth unchecked: cancer. The maintenance of the cosmos relies on both principles. Truth then is the regulated interplay between order and chaos: the harmony between them which animates the cosmos.

In the ancient Greek world, the followers of Pythagoras refined what has been called the "triadic principle". Quoting the modern Pythagorean John Opsopaus: "it is based on the idea that there can be no meeting between opposites, and therefore, for there to be a Harmonia, or Union, of the opposites, there must be a Mean Term, which has something in common with each of the Extremes. The Mean Term both connects the Extremes, but also keeps them separate by occupying the gap between them. Therefore, as we will see, Mediating powers are also Separating powers." If chaos and order are the ultimate opposites, then the harmony or mean term between them is U̯iron "Truth", or ṛta, or aša. A rather more elegant and thorough exposition of this concept than mine can be found in the writings of Ceisiwr Serith, who refers to this concept as "the Xartus" (from PIE *h2értu-, from the same root as Sanskrit ṛta and Avestan aša). Not only is there an extended discussion in his book Deep Ancestors, but there is also a brief introduction on his website.

Metaphysical speculation aside, what are the quotidian implications of "believing in Truth"? As I believe that Truth permeates, underlies and animates the universe itself, I also believe that it does the same for my daily life. Truth, in being a mediator between order and chaos, is ultimately a relationship: the relationship if you like. As Emma Restall-Orr (in that book on ethics with the ghastly title) emphasises, human life is essentially all about relationships: with other humans, with gods, spirits, the universe itself, even the relationship one has with oneself. Believing in Truth exhorts me to integrity within all of those relationships: a striving to work with the harmony of reality rather than against it. As such, Truth is both the source and end of Virtue: I believe that living my life with integrity and in harmony with the truth (u̯indoraχtā) leads to u̯indobii̯on a blessed life.

Creddū dū Tribo Sucenetlobo: dēu̯oi, andēu̯oi, etic senisamones.
I believe in the Three Good Hosts, the gods, the non-gods and the ancestors.

A tripartite division of beneficent non-human beings into "gods, spirits and ancestors" also appears to be of Proto-Indo-European vintage. The ancient Greeks spoke of θεοί, δαίμονες καί ἥρωες "gods, daimones and heroes" (where "hero" should be understood in the context of a "founding ancestor"), and the Lebor Gabála Érenn speaks of dé, andé ocus duine "gods, non-gods and men". In Vedic India we see a typical multiplication of forms, giving devas, pitṛs, gandharvas, apsaras and ṛṣis: pitṛs "fathers" and ṛṣis "sages" are easily reductible to "ancestors", while gandharvas and apsaras are essentially gender-specific kinds of "nature spirits", which gives us the classical triad of "gods, spirits and ancestors".

The three groups are not wholly distinct, however. The division is not watertight: there is some degree of bleeding between them. For example, is Sabrina simply the tutelary spirit of the River Severn, or a goddess in her own right? Why not both? Similarly, Augustus died and was then worshipped by his people as a god: is he then an ancestor or a divinity? The Romans record that the Gauls believed themselves descended from "Dis Pater": deity or ancestor? Or again, perhaps both? The urge to categorise is a human trait, but it should be remembered that some things and concepts defy neat categorisation.

U̯edi̯ū Dēu̯ūs, sindoi anmaru̯ātou̯i̯oi, sindoi ratomāroi ernant·i̯o u̯esu̯ās, sindoi areu̯orātoi trebnās en tribo rīgi̯obo. Arcū ambi eson aneχtlūi, etic are aiton sagi̯ū emmi·i̯o eson coimos.
I worship the Gods, the undying, the beneficent, the givers of goods, guarantors of order in the three worlds. I entrust myself to their protection, and strive ever to be dear to them.

A fundamental characteristic of the Gods is that they are immortal: they do not die. In the myths, this immortality is frequently attributed to the consumption of special food or drink: the apples of Iðunn in Norse myth, in ancient Greece it was ambrosia (etymologically meaning "immortality"), while the Vedic gods owed their immortality to Soma. In Celtic myth, this function appears to have been fulfilled by the Smith-God's feast. The Gods are also Good. This does not necessarily mean "nice", or good in a way that is immediately apparent to us humans. What this means is that the Gods are fully "in tune" with the Truth, it is part of their nature: they "do not govern [Truth] so much as immanentalize it," quoting Terence Day. Both of these attributes are in contrast to humans: we are not immortal. We have to work at living according to Truth. So, what do the Gods do for us? The most universal epithet applied to the Gods throughout the Indo-European world is "givers of goods": they provide us with health, wealth, courage, good fortune and so on. They also stand between us and the forces which would disrupt the harmony of the universe.

(An aside: the trī rīgi̯ā "three worlds" alluded to in the text is a cosmological statement interpretable in a few ways. Either the classical Celtic triad of "land, sea and sky", or the frequent Eurasian cosmology of an "underworld, middle-world and over-world". In the latter, the underworld is the realm of the dead, the middle world the habitation of humanity and the over-world that of the gods.)

The Gods protect their followers. This much is evident throughout the myths. They do not exercise this protection indiscriminately and without favouritism, however. We have to hold up our end of the bargain as well: we have to entreat this protection, to bind ourselves to the gods with ties of reciprocity. We must strive to become dear to the Gods: to develop our relationships with them.

Aremoni̯ūr Andēu̯ūs, sindoi trougocaroi ambi·i̯o pellant biu̯otutās doni̯on ac ageson. Aidulegesi ac boutegesi, u̯orstūnābin ac magesi, ro·buu̯ont mon u̯reχtou̯es dū eson monē.
I offer reverence to the Ungods, the benevolent spirits who encircle the life of men and cattle. At the hearth and in the byre, at the door and in the fields, may they watch over my deeds.

The second category, the Ungods (andēu̯oi, Old Irish andé) is possibly the most problematic. Plato defined the Greek equivalent, the daimones as "supernatural beings between mortals and gods," which is as good an etic definition as any, leaving room as it does for a variety of types. In this category fall what are commonly referred to as the "spirits of place", the Roman numina and genius loci. Similarly, we can include here the lares and di penates, the guardian spirits of the home and the storecupboard. Closer to home, we might well speak of the tylwyth teg, the helpful fairies of Welsh folklore. It is possible that the matres and suleviae, attested to in inscriptions from Gaul and Britain were household spirits of this type.

Personally, I see them as the children of the earth goddess, in the same way that the Roman Tellus was associated with "Mater Larum", mother of the lares. In south Wales the tylwyth teg was also known as bendith y mamau, the "blessing of the mothers"- another connection to the matres. In another example of how these categories of supernatural beings can bleed into one another, it has been speculated that the Roman lares were in origin ancestral spirits.

In my personal practice, the most important of the andēu̯oi are the guardian of the threshold and the guardians of the storecupboard, both of whom are offered regular reverence at the new moon.

Moni̯ūr Senisamonās, mātres ac atres mon u̯eni̯ās. Sindoi trebant·i̯o en lissobi cintuatros, creddū ernant·i̯o pēllan ac concoron dū moi au andubnū. Ro·gnisām u̯indobii̯on canti senognāstās, canti adilon ateoinācī ac ategnātī.
I remember my Ancestors, the venerable progenitors of my family. Those who dwell in the halls of the first father, I believe that they offer me their wisdom and guidance from the otherworld. May I live a good life according to their customs, in the hope of reunion and rebirth.

Reverence for one's ancestors is seemingly universal throughout Indo-European religions: even Zoroastrianism reveres the spirits of the dead, albeit lightly disguised as the fravašis. The ancestors, I believe, watch over their descendants, offering their advice and the benefit of their experience: whether one wishes to see this as a combination of memory and family stories or actual communion with the dead. I also believe in reincarnation, that after death we are reunited in the Otherworld with those we have loved in life and subsequently take on new bodies in this world to live again.

Aside from reverence to these recent ancestors, I consider it a religious duty to find out as much as I can about the beliefs and customs of my more distant spiritual ancestors. That is the essence of reconstructionism: learning about the gods from the ancestors.

Arecrinū dūsi̯ūs, sindoi nāmantes selgant·i̯o orābi bitous, sindā gāu̯ā ro·i̯o slouχset albii̯on. Canti sudedmātan cantic u̯indoraχtan, ro·nertasātor U̯iron u̯rit sodesūs nāmantās.
I fear the evil spirits, the enemies who stalk the edges of the world, the Lie which would engulf the world. Through right sacrifice and a righteous life, may Truth be strengthened against them.

The final clause speaks not of a threat of hellfire, or of bogies to scare people into doing the right thing. In fact, it is in a way a statement of sacrificial theology.

Returning full circle again: the Pythagorean triadic principle states that everything has its opposite. Where there is the Truth, the harmony which animates the universe, there is also the Lie, which would see that harmony disrupted. I believe it is one of the highest duties of the believer to fight against this Lie, even as the Gods do themselves. One of the most powerful weapons in this fight is sacrifice. Aside from being a communal meal, shared between gods and humans and thus cementing reciprocal bonds of hospitality between them, a correctly performed sacrifice is a re-enactment of the primordial cosmic sacrifice which set the universe turning. With each sacrifice, the world is made anew: each sacrifice makes the world a better place, even in a small way: Truth is strengthened and the Lie is weakened.

To whom it may concern

24.8.10 § 4 commentarii

As the second of my two days off this week drew to a close earlier this evening, I sat down to do exactly two things: in both cases I ended up depressed and not finishing.

The first was to do some tweaking and editing to the two essays I've chosen to submit to Oxford. As I plan on concentrating on Romance philology should I be accepted, I thought it would make most sense were I to submit two essays in that field. One is entitled Catalan and Occitan as a diasystem, and is a rather simple 2000-odd word piece I wrote for my "Dialectology of the Iberian Peninsula" course in my final semester at Southampton. I have fond memories of that class and even of writing the essay: it was possibly the most enjoyable course I did during the whole four years, and it set firm my ambitions for postgraduate study. In a rather charming case of synchronicity, one of the set books for this course was the very book which had made me decide on applying for university six-odd years ago: Ralph Penny's A History of the Spanish Language. I had bought it from Borders one afternoon and sat reading it at work during my break. I paused for a moment and thought "this is really cool: I want to do this!" And so, in order to do so, I decided to quit my job and go to university.

Anyway, that particular essay only needed a light touch-up: a few spelling errors, some clumsiness of phrasing, the occasional mis-numbered reference. It was already the requisite length and so the editing took only half an hour. The second sample essay is actually an excerpt from my undergrad thesis, which was on the disappearance of the inflected future in colloquial French. The part in question actually dealt with Zwicky's concept of "markedness" in morphological change as it concerned the loss of apophonic variation between Old and Middle French, and I was always quite pleased with it. However, I was rather narked to discover that my initial draft in English has disappeared, and so I need to re-translate from my dreadful French version (there is no way I'm submitting the French: it's truly awful.) There's something particularly depressing and tedious about translating one's own work: when translating someone else's it's almost like an intellectual puzzle, something to fuss over and think about, with all the attendant sensations of triumph and pleasure when one hits upon the most apropos translation of a particularly knotty construction. Disheartened by the prospect of translating my own (rather turgid) prose, I pushed the damn script aside and turned to my other task of the evening: writing a job application letter.

As you may have gathered, I utterly loathe my job: laughing at it is the only way I can avoid the black depths of despair. My financial situation worsens with every passing week (I currently have exactly £7.23 in the whole world), and in order to simply meet all my bills I have to work close to a sixty-hour week. This, along with the worry and the drastic skyrocketing of my alcohol consumption, is killing me. I have a hollow, dead look around my eyes. I feel my brain slowly atrophying away, unable to concentrate on anything, or see anything to completion. So, I can either wallow in depression and self-loathing, ticking off the days until we are either evicted or menaced by bailiffs, or I can look for a new job.

I want out of the hospitality industry for good, so I'm applying for an assistant manager's position at a (rather classy) cookware shop in town. I don't have any previous experience in retail, so I can't just submit a CV and a quick cover note reading "Damn, I'm good. Give me a job.": I need to spell out exactly why I'm ideal for the position, and how my previous experience translates into useful skills for the fast-paced world of selling pots and pans. Which, in my opinion, it does. As a professionally-trained chef and self-confessed gadget freak, cookware is something I'm intimately familiar with. I have extensive experience in both managerial and customer-service rôles (you don't think this level of bitterness is natural, do you?). I'm a university graduate, from one of the country's better universities at that. I'm articulate, intelligent and quick to learn. Before actually getting to know me, people have told me that I'm also quite charming. So why can't I write a neat little cover letter modestly explaining all of this without sounding like a half-mad, stuffy fifty-something writing to his MP to complain about the prevalence of fag ends littering the gutters?

I hope to remain your obt. servant,

Deiniol Geraint Jones

Senior (!?) moment...

16.8.10 § 1 commentarius

Video utterly unrelated. Just happens to be an excellent expression of both Welsh patriotism and gay pride in the same video. One does so like convenience. I also just happen to really like Shirley Bassey. "The Living Tree" is wonderful in its expression of high camp, for example. I know, I'm a fucking queer. And, honestly, if I'm in the right mood, "We'll Keep A Welcome" can bring a tear to my eye. I'll also confess to singing this when pissed (along with "Yma O Hyd"... it's got to the point where my best friend can actually sing along to the latter without actually speaking any Welsh. For some reason he's also word-perfect on "Sosban Fach", and I swear to god I've not taught him.) and really I shouldn't be encouraged. Actually, while we're at it, it's something of an ambition of mine to join a male voice choir- pathetically sad I know, but surely I wasn't the only one who was fairly chuffed that Only Men Aloud won "Last Choir Standing"? Was I the only person in the UK to actually watch that (catching up on iPlayer, even)? Bugger, not only have revealed quite how sad I am, but this brief disclaimer has also rather over-run. To the post, therefore:

Arse, I've forgotten what I was going to say.

Occupational Hazards

13.8.10 § 4 commentarii

My apologies for the recent radio silence. As it happens, Pretty Chef has gone back home to Brazil for eight weeks, so we're a man down in the kitchen during our busiest period of the year. In order to cover him, I've been working a sixty-five hour week for the past three weeks, which is somewhat punishing. Also, as Pretty Chef is also our nominal "head chef", it's fallen to me to do all the administrative stuff in the kitchen. This, surprisingly, is quite a massive amount. Aside from obvious things like ordering and stocktaking, I'm also filling in and signing off on our due diligence records, weekly sales, wastage and complaints/meals ratio. Furthermore, due to our parlous financial situation I've also taken on the maintenance of the beer garden: it essentially means extra money for planting hanging baskets, tubs etc, repairing garden furniture (which is more my métier than actually dealing with plants: I'm happy enough with a powertool in my hand but become somewhat lost with a bunch of alyssum) and tugging the weeds/incipient trees out of the brickwork. For tax purposes, it's done through a gardening company called Gortos Gardening: an in-joke about five people in the UK are likely to get.

All of which means I haven't had the time to scratch my arse, let alone blog. Furthermore, my thoughts have been filled with work and little else. While this is excellent for my bank balance it rather puts a cramp in the old creative activities. And religious, for that matter: I'll confess that my observances have been perfunctory at best. I was also intending on working on essays for my MA application over this month (Mark, I may be cheeky and ask you to look over them), but that's also rather fallen by the wayside. He Whom I Call Beloved is also whining, as the last time we had sex was sometime in June (I can't be buggered with buggery.)

Nevertheless, my dear readers, I do feel a sense of duty and obligation to you faithful less-than-a-dozen, and so feel it needful to actually post something. Given that I've nothing interesting from a religious or linguistic point of view to talk about, I shall instead talk about something work-related. I've posted before about the occupational hazards of being a chef: knife wounds are worryingly common, and I've mentioned before how burns and hot temperatures in general have deadened the nerves in both of my hands. Additionally, I've heard that varicose veins can be a problem, although I suspect that's primarily a female complaint.

What they don't warn you about at catering college though is the dire condition of Chef's Arse. Nine or ten hours, in a very hot environment, while moving about like a crack-addled raver all adds up to a certain amount of sweating and thence chafing in the inter-buttock region. This can get quite raw: I have seen (and spoken to my therapist about) middle-aged chefs after service dropping their checks and rubbing emollients between their cheeks in order to combat this. It's one reason why chefs are so pleased if the staff changing room has a shower.

Back when I was in college and on day-release, I worked at a nice little pub with four other chefs. I was the lowest of the low: a commis, which is one step up from the guy who does the dishes. The chef de partie rather took me under his wing: Marcello taught me more about cooking than any of my tutors at Coleg Llandrillo. He was great: a fifty-something Portuguese dude who'd cooked and fucked on pretty much every continent except Antarctica. One day, when we were both getting changed, he told me: "the most important thing I can tell you is this: don't wear boxer shorts on service. You'll regret it." Like pretty much every man of my age, that was all I wore under my trousers: and I asked why the hell would I change my underwear preference? "They ride up. It just makes things worse." After a few shifts, I understood what he meant. I got the piss taken at rugby, but soldiered on: boxers do make the whole chafing issue so much worse. What one really needs is a bit of elastic to keep the cloth away from the danger zone.

About three weeks ago we took on a new chef, a commis on day-release from the college. After having watched him scratch his backside as if he were attempting to excavate the lost ark for a few weeks, I found myself passing on Marcello's advice. Of course, he ignored me: men don't tell other men what pants to wear.

This evening when we were getting changed, he bashfully told me that his girlfriend had bought him these Calvin Klein briefs, and he was stuck with them. Whatever gets you through the night... think I.

Children of the corn

27.7.10 § 4 commentarii

I had a vision yesterday. Or a hallucination, or an exceptionally vivid daydream: whatever terms you wish to couch it in. It's left me somewhat disturbed, and I've spent much of today puzzling over its meaning:

It is twilight, just after dusk. The sun has gone down, there's only the faintest traces of light left on the horizon. I am standing in the middle of a field of ripe wheat, its edges in shadow. The wheat reaches to my waist and is moving wave-like, but there's no wind. I have what seems to be a length of wood in my hands.

In the semi-darkness around the edges of the field, indistinct figures caper, mocking me with impossibly high voices. I'm flailing about with this lump of wood, shouting incoherently and shaking with rage and fear. The figures do not approach, but just continue to dance around the field, taunting me.

And then I came to my senses: thoroughly weirded out. I've been carrying a faint sense of unease with me ever since.

Sχaskari polyandry

20.7.10 § 2 commentarii

And now for something completely different:

Sχáskari Polyandry

The Sχáskari are unique among the peoples of Shurì for having historically practiced a form of polyandry. The prototypical form of marriage consisted of a single woman being married to two men. Even more unusually, as well as both being married to the same woman, the two men would also be married to each other. Such a practice is wholly unattested both for unrelated but neighbouring peoples, as well as for groups speaking genetically related languages.

Both Terrestrial and Shurin anthropologists have long found this aspect of Sχáskari culture fascinating, and a number of differing explanations have been proffered for it; these range from explanations based in the people's mythology to simple economic reasoning. It is not unlikely that aspects of all of these explanations are correct, but none of them offer complete satisfaction. The purpose of this short presentation therefore is to plot a via media between the varying viewpoints, and to situate Sχáskari polyandry within an appropriate historical context.

Historical background

We have decent enough evidence that their ancestors, the Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran tribes living around the eastern foothills of the Kharond Mountains, possessed a matrifocal society. This is not to say that political power was weilded by women, rather that descent and kinship were reckoned through the maternal line. Relics of this matrilinearity are still evident in certain aspects of the Kalpo-Lacaran descendant cultures. For example, since time immemorial speakers of Tailanca, a Lacaran language, have used matronymic surnames: the children of a woman named Radine have the surname Radinēsa. It is not unlikely that the historical polyandry of the Sχáskari developed within a similar context. Early Sχáskari society was undoubtedly matrilocal, with the husbands coming to live with the wife (stákaṡ, the verb used to indicate marriage from a woman's point of view etymologically means "take into one's house"), and wealth being concentrated in the maternal line. However, unlike the case in many polygynous cultures, it does not appear that having multiple husbands was a status-symbol in any way.

Essentially, the Sχáskari form of polyandry can be seen as the result of two discrete historical trends. As I say above, Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran society was matrilineal, with both descent and wealth passing down the female line. During this period, marriage relationships were probably much less concerned with "sexual fidelity": a woman could have sex with whoever she chooses, with marriage being a mere formality, if actually practiced at all. It is perhaps relevant that súθan, the Sχáskari cognate of Tailanca sunu "son in law", actually means "lover": the semantic development appears to have been "man having sex with my daughter" → "son-in-law" in Tailanca, but → "male sexual partner in general" in Sχáskari.

Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran speaking community fractured approximately three and a half millenia ago, with the Proto-Lacaran peoples leaving the Kherond Mountains and moving south-east into the Acaunic Plain. Those who remained behind buggered along much as they always had done until around two and a half millenia ago, when the Kherond was overrun by a crop of barbarians, who forced the Proto-Kalpan speakers north, to the rocky and inhospitable land around the Kalpan Gulf.

It is thought that monogamy became the primary form of marriage at this time: certainly, aside from the Sχáskari all the other Kalpan peoples practice monogamous marriages between one man and one woman. The reasons prompting this "tightening up" of the previous free-wheeling, women are sexually liberated norms, are difficult to pinpoint exactly: some have theorised that the inhospitable terrain around the Kalpan Gulf fostered the creation of tighter social bonds at the expense of more casual encounters. Women needed a permanent man on standby to help raise her children. Given a complex and rather specific set of incest taboos, where the communities were particularly small it would not take long for socially unacceptable degrees of consanguinity to develop. As such, exogamous marriages were preferred. Given that land was in the possession of the women, matrilocality was the norm, with the husband coming to live with his wife. Therefore a woman could not count on her brothers to help raise her children as had previously been the case: a man couldn't simply live in his mother's house and just visit his wife in the evenings, because his mother's house could well be on the other side of the mountain to his wife's. A corollary of this having to "import" masculine labour was the emergence of a tradition whereby unmarried daughters do not inherit: why leave land to someone who has nobody to farm it?

This situation of monogamous matrilocal marriages, with the exclusion of unwed daughters from the inheritance of land, probably held true for a good long time, and still remains the case in the other Kalpan societies. The crucial development in Sχáskari civilisation was the adoption of pastoralism alongside agriculture from their neighbours, the Ryghak. Essentially, the women and the married men would tend the fields while the unmarried men would bugger off in groups to the highland pastures and keep an eye on the cattle. As any group of bored young men will do when away from the supervision of their elders, Sχáskari youths caused trouble, raided cattle and developed intricate in-group bonding practices, the form of which was also borrowed from the Ryghak. The classical Ryghak warband was not unlike the Terrestrial Männerbunde known from Indo-European culture, particularly the ancient Indo-Aryans and Germans. These societies demanded initiation rituals, Rangdemonstration and what is known in a debased form to modern Western culture as "team-building". It was in this context that the Sχáskari practice of żasálgut, the forming of strong male-male pair bonds developed: essentially the ritualised kidnapping and "forest training" of a younger youth by an elder ultimately derived from initiation rituals.

A natural consequence of this strong pair-bonding was that the two young men were perceived as a single unit, which could not be dissolved by the marriage of one żasálan without the other. Most likely the earliest such marriages were between a pair of bonded men and a pair of sisters, but this eventually evolved into the classical structure described below. It is also not unlikely that the natural population controls offered by this social practice helped confirm this practice.

Ultimately, Sχáskari polyandry is simply the overlay of an unusual culture-specific "blood brotherhood" on top of a matrilinear monogamous system, which is itself the result of the particular geography of the Kalpan Gulf.

The mythic prototype

Sχáskari mythology is replete with stories of how two brothers, frequently twins, would woo and marry a woman between them. The prototype of such stories is the myth of Márnin and Márnum, the gods of the two moons and their sister Karní, the sun goddess. The story goes that Márnum, the elder twin, saw Karní bathing at dawn one day and was instantly smitten. he went to Karní's mother, Żáldi, and begged her to let him marry her daughter. In order to prove his worthiness, Żáldi sets Márnum a series of herculean tasks. He attempts each in turn and fails miserably. He begs Żáldi for a second chance, and this time around he enlists his cunning little brother Márnin to help. This time around, all the tasks are completed successfully and Márnum triumphantly returns to Żáldi to claim his bride. However, Żáldi points out that as Márnin helped his brother to complete all the tasks, he had as much right to marry Karní as Márnum. So the two brothers decided to both marry Karní (the myths are unclear on whether Karní's opinion was sought on this) and the three subsequently lived happily ever after, having many children.

Typically, then, a marriage would be contracted between two men acting as a pair and a single woman, as suggested by the myth. However, where this mythic prototype breaks down as a model for historical practice is that the two men were most frequently not brothers genetically, and they generally did not pair up solely in order to get married. Rather, the association between the two men would generally pre-date their marriage to the woman by a significant amount of time. Before considering the wife's part in the marriage, we should first look at the association between the two husbands.


That the Sχáskari considered husbands to naturally come in pairs is reflected in their lexicon: the term for husband is dávit, which is historically a singulative form of the Proto-Kalpan *danū "two men". These pairs would normally be formed in early adolescence, some time after a boy's dangút manhood ceremony, which in prehistoric times would mark the boy's adoption into a warband at around the age of thirteen. The formation of these bonds normally took the form of a ritualised abduction: one of the senior unattached adolescents, generally about sixteen or seventeen years old, would choose a younger boy that he particularly admired. He would go to the boy's friends and tell them of his intention to abduct the boy: if they did't think that it to be a good match they would hide the target boy. If, however, they thought it to be a good match, they'd allow the boy to be captured. The adolescent would take his target into the forest, where they would hunt boars, feast and generally drink too much beer. After a lunar month had passed, they would return to the village and the boy would be given arms by his abductor. The boy then offered a feast for his friends and declared whether he would consent to become the żasálan or sworn brother of his abductor. If he did, the friends would present the pair with a goblet full of beer: the pair would cut their right forearms, allow the blood to mix with the beer and then drink it together (etymologically, żasálan derives from Proto-Kalpan *ĵes-élnu "man to drink with").

Thereafter, the pair were considered to be an indivisible unit, having promised to share sva tain aχtá sva sain one fire and one bread. They would generally live together in the elder one's mother's house. The oath which bound together the two żasálni took precedence over all others, including any vows of marriage. Therefore, any marriage would have to include both men: it is pertinent here that monogamous marriages only took place between women and a man who didn't have a żasálan. In effect, a woman did not marry two men, but one "unit of men".

It is unclear to what degree the relationships between the two żasálni were of a sexual nature. Contemporary sources from literate cultures certainly indicate that outsiders thought they were: one Tailanca text makes the bald declaration that hascari dārut radya cecoi cāthmashar the Sχáskari men all fuck each other. However, in modern żasálan relationships, although differing in detail from the classical picture presented above, it is as likely for relationships between the two men to be entirely platonic without as they are to be physical.

When Tailanca-speaking missionaries first reached the Sχáskari some four centuries ago, bringing with them literacy, organised religion and the other civilised arts, they were scandalised both by the "homosexual" relationships and by the practice of taking multiple husbands. In the first couple of centuries after the conversion of the Sχáskari to Athaulism, stringent efforts were made to eradicate both practices, with only limited success. The practice of żasálgut, or male sworn brotherhood, has remained strong: the Athaulist clergy has only succeeded in limiting marriages between one man and one woman. In urban areas, it is not uncommon to find a pair of żasálni who have separate wives all living together in one house. In rural areas, where traditional habits have been difficult to stamp out, it is still common for only one żasálan to be "officially" married (generally the elder male of the partnership), with the other żasálan remaining unwed and either living with the married couple or nearby.

The surplus women

In pre-Athaulist Sχáskari society, there was a strong tradition of female religious functionaries. While not priests as such, these ṡrásani, which we'll translate as nuns, were held in extremely high regard. In earliest times, like a male priest, your average nun was a mendicant: they would go from settlement to settlement, travelling in small groups for safety, begging for alms and distributing what passed for "spiritual wisdom". It was generally expected that an unmarried girl would join one of these groups: it was considered a great honour for the family. However, with the rise in frequency of żasálgut, a surplus of unmarried girls naturally developed. The Sχáskari economy was not particularly able to support a large class of non-productive religious functionaries. This lead to the creation of ṡrástari nunneries: largely self-sufficient estates, ran and worked by the women who inhabited them.

These were generally in isolated places in the countryside, or on small isolated islands in the Kalpan Gulf. The isolation of these communities made them highly tempting targets for neighbouring peoples: entire communities would be raided, with all the women raped or taken as slaves. Sχáskari society had no precedent for arming women and entrusting them with their own defense, so frequently the warbands mentioned earlier would be stationed at a nunnery. Eventually, it became the accepted social practice to send all young girls to a nunnery for her education, in much the same way that all young boys used to be sent to a Buddhist monastary in South-East Asia. An upshot of this was that frequently a woman would meet her future husbands at the nunnery, while they were guarding the nuns. Those women who found husbands left to start up a family, while those who didn't mainly stayed.

Of course, not everybody is cut out for the religious life. With the rise in urbanism, young women might run away from the nunnery and make for a life of adventure and prostitution in the big towns along the coast. More common were those who simply went back to their home villages, where they would live in their mothers' houses, possibly taking a discreet lover of either sex: male homosexuality had some degree of sanction in the context of a żasálan relationship, but female homosexuality was frowned upon. The Sχáskari word séɣri unmarried adult woman did not carry the same kind of negative connotations as the English "spinster".