Archive for July 2010

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".

Exercise of the mind, exercise of the tongue

§ 3 commentarii

One of the things I miss the most about university (already!) is the conversation. Discourse at O'Murphys tends not to be quite so elevated. I am not, of course, saying that my co-workers are thick: far from it. Some of them are fearsomely intelligent (others just fall into the category of "cunning"): after all, I'm not the only person to have worked their way through university in a pub. One charming young girl from Ukraine is currently studying medicine, and her intellect truly dwarfs that of anybody else I've met. No, what I miss is being able to talk about things of a linguistic nature: a conversation about Occitan or Indo-European without having to explain what these are first. I long for someone with whom I can share my current infatuation with Middle Persian, for example.

Conversations at work, in general, tend to centre around sex. Particularly in the kitchen. Who's taking it up the arse, who's a faggot, whose sister is on the game, who got fucked last night, and who of the floor staff will get fucked this evening (the English girl, obviously.) Conversation tends towards the locker-room variety[1], with multilingual profanity being the order of the day. As an example, we derive an inordinate amount of pleasure from the fact that "cocotte", the dish in which we serve things like shepherd's pie, is homophonous with the Slovakian word kokot, meaning "dick". Not, of course, that we use the word "homophonous"[2].

From this, one might draw the conclusion that chefs are an inherently misogynistic and homophobic bunch. The former, certainly. One of the first chefs I worked under was fond of terming a recipe "so simple that even a woman could do it." Stoner Chef, who has impeccable contacts, recently informed us that the pub over the road has recently employed a woman in their kitchen. We received this news in a suitably derisive manner, of course. The only woman I've ever worked with in a kitchen was a truly terrifying lesbian who had the disconcerting habit of dry-humping any passing waiting staff.

The latter, however, I can't say I've ever really experienced. Sure, I've always worked in an environment where variations of "faggot", pédé, viado or maricón has done duty for everything between opprobrium and affection, but I've never really had any kind of problem. On the other hand, I don't tend towards the camper end of the homosexual spectrum[3], but even then I've worked with any number of mincing, Kylie-listening lisping waiters and never known them to be on the receiving end of homophobic abuse. Quite to the contrary, I've known heterosexual chefs listen with utter fascination to a gay waiter narrating his nocturnal adventures in great detail. In fact, I've only ever once experienced full-blown homophobia at work.

It was quite a shock. I'd recently been kicked out of college (for various unsavoury habits, full description of which will have to wait until a later date), and I was working as a commis in a shitty little hotel back home. I had a colleague who'd gone to college with me, who subsequently discovered that I like fucking men. Until this point, we'd gotten on fine: we'd gone drinking, he'd cheated off me in a couple of exams, I'd borrowed his spare whites. But as soon as he discovered that I had an unquenchable yen for the cock, he turned weird on me. Sly comments on the line, refusing to change if I was in the locker-room, loudly announcing "backs to the wall, lads!" when I entered the kitchen. The usual actions of an insecure seventeen year old boy: simple attempts at Rangdemonstration (not that I would have called it that, back then.) I was, of course, offended and hurt by this. On the other hand, I had been schooled since childhood that all he wanted was a rise out of me, and not to give it to him. While I have gone through several periods in which violence was the answer during my life (I have the scars and missing teeth to remind me of this), I always simply smiled and ignored him.

However, while I might not have demonstrated how offended I was, I knew that my fellow chefs were getting irritated. While, on the whole, an irascible lot, we do look after our own, and I'd easily proved that I was the better chef than him, his GNVQ aside. Ultimately, the sous took him aside and told him that in a kitchen we care about how someone cooks, not who they fuck. And, given that I cooked better than him and exhibited more taste in who I fucked, he would be better advised to keep his "leetle boy opinions" to himself.

A few years later, my homophobic colleague moved down to Moriconium and asked me for a job. I said yes, because he wasn't a bad chef. The last I heard, he was dating a drag queen.


1) Having said that, my experience of locker-rooms has entirely been one wherein people awkwardly avoid looking at each other and don't speak. Porn has clouded my expectations here: I have this idea that locker rooms are filled with buff, depilated men in jockstraps rogering each other with total enthusiasm. As you might expect, joining a gym was something of a disappointment.

2) At the last place I worked, we had a lot of daft foreign waitresses who had quite literally just come off the boat. Their English was never great, and being kind, helpful caring sorts, we in the kitchen decided to help them with their acquisition of English. By carefully informing them of the name of everything they took to the table: "This is a medium-rare sirloin with peppercorn sauce, haddock and parsley fishcakes, cock, and sole fillet with lemon and caper butter." Bless them, they would go to the table and say "Cock? Cock? Who's having cock, please?" Until the manager realised what we were doing and put a stop to it, of course. By that point, however, we'd bribed the bar staff to draw dicks on the Guinnesses for the restaurant.

3) I hardly object to those who are more familiar with the Art of Camp than me. After all, I have a fairly fluent command of Polari. Ultimately, however, I am at time stereotypically blokeish. When we moved in together, He Whom I Call Beloved and I worked out a division of labour: I would cook, and he could clean. Even to this day I have to be reminded that if I don't wear fresh underwear every day he won't try to take my trousers off. And, left to my own devices, I will pick clothing up off the floor, sniff it and wear it if it doesn't make me gag. His side of the bedroom is, unsurprisingly, pristine. On mine, I discovered an undershirt the other day that has been worn about five times in the past week but washed only once. I also have to be bullied into getting my hair cut. I am a Bad Gay.

The intersection of faith and food

19.7.10 § 0 commentarii

One of the small pleasures of being a chef (or indeed, anyone who cares about buying local, or minimising their carbon footprint), is the necessary incorporation of the seasonal cycle into one's life through food. For me, food and the seasons are inextricably linked: I eagerly await spring and early summer not just for the revivification of the land and its attendant rituals, but also for the exciting prospect of the first crop of Jersey Royals, or the beginning of the asparagus season. While every professional chef north of the Nile repeats, mantra-fashion, that he only uses the "finest, locally-sourced seasonal ingredients" to the point that it has become as much a cliché of modern cuisine as tiny portions and sliced mangoes were of that of the eighties, I do get a very deep sense of religious satisfaction from eating and cooking with local produce through the seasons.

A while ago over on Caer Feddwyd we had a discussion of food taboos, in which I unearthed a passage from Caesar's Gallic Wars about a Brittonic food taboo:

Leporem et gallinam et anserem gustare fas non putant; haec tamen alunt animi voluptatisque causa.
They do not think it lawful to eat hares, chickens and geese; however they raise them for amusement and pleasure.

As all of these animals were relatively recent introductions from the continent, I'm left wondering if this was actually a taboo as such, rather than just an unwillingness to eat a recently introduced foodstuff: after all, it took a century or so for people to start eating potatoes after they were introduced from the Americas. When it comes to meat, about my only reservation is that I won't eat carnivores. They're unclean.

A more fruitful (there is indeed a pun here) avenue for exploration to my mind is something Francis mentioned: taboos about when foodstuffs should be avoided. Like not eating pork during the summer, or as Francis says of blackberries: "don't pick or eat them after the end of September 'cos the Devil will have pissed on them". These taboos are generally based on scarcity and health reasons: essentially restricting one's diet to produce which is in season. Now, in the modern world we are afforded a bewildering luxury of choice: if I want strawberries in January, I can go out and buy them, what with them having been flown overnight from Kenya, Venezuela or wherever. Our ancestors, of course, did not have this luxury: they had no choice but to eat what the land provided. As such, restricting one's diet to seasonally appropriate foodstuffs would probably not have been seen as a religious activity, or a food taboo to our ancestors. I'm sure they would have been amazed and thrilled by the idea of strawberries at midwinter: this idea of "protecting the environment" is, alas, one we've only come to hold since we realised what we're actually doing to it. The ancients, it seems to me, viewed the environment as little more than a stockpile of raw materials.

However, we do have a choice. And with choice comes responsibility: would it really be responsible of me to buy and eat salad in February, when I know it's been flown from Africa, or grown in heated polytunnels? Knowing what the energy costs of those are, I would say no, not if I care anything for the health of the planet. As such, I only buy seasonal foods: primarily British produce, preferably from Dorset if I can. Sometimes I bend this a little: I'll allow myself to buy from European countries if absolutely necessary, but no further than that (with the exception of spices- the spice trade from India is a fine old tradition, after all!) I'm lucky enough to work for a company which takes its produce seriously: virtually everything I cook with at work is sourced either from here in the UK or from Ireland. I won't even drink New World wines (and not just because I believe that wine travels well).

Naturally, even buying locally I try to be careful. Eggs from free-range hens, and free-range organic meat wherever possible. This drives up the cost of food, particularly meat, but I believe firmly that we no longer respect meat as should. A chicken should be a treat, not the default choice when imagination fails.

Not only does this make me feel wonderfully smug about doing my bit for the environment (I bask in the tacit approval of the Independent here), but it also makes me feel more in touch with my ancestors: I am trying to live my life as they did, suitably adapted to the modern age. This, of course, is the whole rationale behind reconstructionism.

How can I feel pain?

14.7.10 § 0 commentarii

I fucking hate Tuesdays.

As part of our "commitment to live music" at O'Murphys, we have an open mic night every Tuesday. Think karaoke, but pretentious.

Essentially, what this means is that every Tuesday, every talentless muso git in the two counties are who's ever been given an acoustic fucking guitar for his fifteenth birthday gets dolled up in his indiest finery and descends upon O'Murphys. In the bar one literally cannot move for spotty middle class boys with ironically-slogan'd t-shirts and artfully shaggy hair, all standing around discussing their "influences" and sipping from tumblers containing the weirder shit off the back bar. Midget Chef[1] paused briefly before nipping out the back door and leaving me to my fate and remarked "oooh, fancy dress night? Looks like everyone's come as a douchebag."

Then, by all the gods, it begins. The same three chords, over and over again. The same off-key vibrato wail, "artist" after "artist". Occasionally, one one hears a recognisable song: I'm not convinced that this evinces a large proportion of original material being played, but rather the fact that none of the cunts can sing.

Even barricading the kitchen doors with sacks of flour and turning the radio up as loud as I can, I can still hear them. With every fumbled chord progression, with every bum note, my mood sours. Normally, when I'm feeling in a grump I cheer myself up by bullying the floor staff[2]. But on Tuesdays, I just don't have the heart. The anguished, tormented look in their eyes makes me want to contact Amnesty International.

The event is contracted out, so the organisers aren't actually on the company payroll. The compere is a tall, witty androgynous Wiccan in chaps and a top hat, who wouldn't look out of place marching in a gay pride parade. You can see the despair in his eyes as well. As the night goes on and the singers get worse, "the Colonel" (as we shall call him) sinks ever further into drunkenness, sinking gin after gin while the acts are on stage. He once confided that of all the nights he organises, the Moriconium night is by far the most dreadful. The "live music scene" here is notably more pretentious and self-adoring than is normal (and musicians of this stripe are rarely the shy and retiring kind).

Once, a couple of months ago, we had a small group of puzzled Irish musicians wander in, with fiddle, bodhrán and what looked like a bouzouki. Obviously the seisiún is an important part of Irish culture, and for some curious reason they clearly thought that an open mic night at an Irish bar might be something along the same lines. They duly got their turn on stage and treated us to some fantastic music: the bar staff's faces were radiant with joy and the chefs even came out of the kitchen to watch. The assorted muso gits, however, were not impressed, muttering snottily about "folk music" having its own places.

Cacophonous arseholes, the lot of them. It's the only time I'm ever tempted to spit in the food.


1) There's four of us, and we've all been given descriptive nicknames. There's Midget Chef, Pretty Chef, Stoner Chef and Stroppy Chef. Guess which one's me.

2) My former strategy was to stand at the kitchen door and try to throw peas into the customers' drinks, but the boss has told me to stop this. Apparently it's "bad for business" or something.

The rites of dawn

4.7.10 § 0 commentarii

As the attentive might have noted, the posts to this blog are frequently made during the early hours of the morning. This is, in part, due to a habit I have of writing after work: I try to write at least something every day, but very little of it ever gets published. However, it's much more to do with the fact that for as long as I can remember, I've had a great deal of difficulty getting to sleep. I recall that as a child I would lie in bed for a good few hours after bedtime before falling asleep: steadily getting more and more bored with every passing minute. Over the years I've tried pretty much everything to remedy this: I even used to make my own valerian tincture.

A side effect of this is that (particularly during the summer months), I am frequently awake at dawn. These years of only ever seeing dawn from the "wrong" side have coloured my thoughts about it considerably: while most people associate dawn with waking up and starting the day, for me dawn generally feels like a conclusion, a renewal of hope and a promise that everything will be fine. After witnessing the rising sun, I can go to sleep confident in the knowledge that the world has been restored once more, that the darkness has been successfully negotiated.

It also gives me opportunity to put some thought into my religious observances. Rather than yawning and stumbling through a brief prayer, I can offer a more measured and meditative ritual, which pleases me greatly. I've shared a prayer I wrote to Grannos here before, and now I'd like to offer a context for that prayer. This, then, is what I've been doing over the past month or so on those occasions where I've been awake at dawn:

When I see the first brightening of the sky in the east, I begin my preparations. I believe that one should only approach the gods while in a state of ritual purity, so before any kind of observance involving the gods I go through the following steps.

I light a candle next to my cooker, which symbolically represents the hearth. Technically, lighting a sacred flame should also be done in a state of ritual purity, as it's an interaction with the hearth goddess. However, I take the view that ritually speaking, re-lighting a candle is much the same as stirring up the embers of a hearth fire which has already been lit. Whenever I begin a new candle from fresh, I endeavour to light this with some ritual trappings, but otherwise I simply offer the following words when the candle is lit:

Brigantī noibisamā, mātīr dau̯ēs sīrodi̯ās, ro·u̯essū canta matu aidu.
Holiest Briganti, mother of the ever-living flame, may I pray with a good fire.

Then I take a cupful of fresh water (I have a nice clay beaker I use for this) and place it next to the flame. Facing east, I light a spill from the candle and then extinguish the flame in the water, with the following words:

Ro sunerton Briganti̯ās dau̯et·i̯o dau̯in, eti Niχtonī trebāt·i̯o dubnobi, ro·buu̯et glanon sin dubron.
In the name of Briganti who kindles the flame, and of Niχtonos who dwells in the deeps, may this water be pure.[1]

This water I then pour over my hands, first the right then the left. Then I touch my forehead, lips and sternum, saying the following:

U̯edi̯ū Niχtonon, con·i̯o au̯et lucaton, are·i̯o niχset mon culā. Ro·buu̯ū glanos are comarcūi dēu̯on.
I pray to Niχtonos, the lord of the well, that he may wash away my impurity. May I be pure to meet the gods.

And so in an appropriate state of ritual purity, I can begin the ritual in honour of the dawn and the rising sun.

Facing east (I'm lucky enough to have an east-facing window), with my hands stretched out in front of me I recite the following short salutation to the Goddess of the Dawn[2]:

Noibos est u̯olougus nemesos.
Noibā est deu̯is loscet·i̯o u̯er tamu̯ātan.
Noibon est sin u̯āri dī·i̯o celet u̯olougun.

Holy is the light of the sky.
Holy is the fire that burns on the tongue.
Holy is the dawn that unveils his light.

I bow, straighten and remain silent for a minute or so. Then I say a prayer of praise in honour of Grannos. As well as the prayer I referred to earlier, I've since composed a few others, of differing lengths and construction. I pick one (generally either the first or second one, as those are the ones I have memorised more fully!) and recite it slowly.

There's the original, which uses the attested epithet amarcolitanos "of the broad gaze", which I've always liked.

Altii̯os U̯ārēs amarcolitanos,
i̯oude Granne, in carrū suroton,
eχsredis to aidī, lātis nemesos,
ēron dedmāi, ēron u̯iri̯āi.

Broad-gazing fosterling of the Dawn,
Lord Grannos, in your well-wheeled chariot
ever riding out, hero of the skies,
according to the sacred laws,
according to the truth.

A companion piece to the last one, I suppose, this one uses another couple of attested epithets of the sun god: Maponos and Moguns (the mighty). I've also made use of the Vedic and (IIRC?) Homeric motif of the sun god's mother being Night.

Grannos Maponos, gnātos eχs noχtī,
dī·agis galaron, dī·agis temellon.
Molār moguntan to·i̯o meditro dii̯ūs,
u̯edi̯ū noibon canta u̯odi̯ās suu̯reχtās.

Grannos Maponos, born of the night,
you drive out sorrow, drive out the dark.
I praise the mighty one who measures the days,
I offer the holy one my well-wrought prayers.

And finally, a slightly more terse, hymn-like prayer. This is less of a general praise-poem, but incorporates a general request for protection. Interestingly, the motif of the sun's chariot being drawn by bay mares is rather widespread in IE myth.

Pisū epās ācūs subodi̯ās,
Ro·bundont Grannon dēu̯on,
gnātos eχs brusonī noχtos.

U̯er eχsangūs clounīs,
to·aidet mapos Taranēs.
Boucolis auset doni̯ūs.

U̯ēdū sodesē nemesos i̯oudē,
tepont su̯ergos eti sēbrī.
Su̯ēssos est noibos sau̯ūl.

I see swift bay mares,
heralds of Grannos,
born of Night's womb.

Over broad pastures,
shines Taranis' son.
May the Herdsman watch over us.

Before heaven's lord,
flee sickness and spectre.
Sweet is the holy sun.

Once the prayer is said, I bow to the sun three times, and then stand quietly for a few minutes. I've not thought about making physical offerings beyond poetry of praise so far, but were I to make an offering it would probably be fresh, clean water, and I'd probably do it about now.

And then, dawn prayers completed and a new day starting, I can finally go to bed...


1) The Proto-Celtic cognate of Latin "pure" is *φūro-, which gives Middle Irish úr "fresh, bright" and Middle Welsh ir "green, verdant". I guess that it could also work in this case instead of glanos, which essentially means "clean".

2) Explicit evidence for a Celtic dawn goddess is lacking. West is of the opinion that Brigantī could fit this mould, and the more I think about it, the more I can see where he's coming from: Brigid's fostering of the infant Jesus seems to fit well, and the Sanskrit cognate bṛhatī is an epithet of Uṣas, the dawn goddess.

A dog's life

3.7.10 § 3 commentarii

This is the life of a chef[1].

My hands and forearms are covered in a web of blisters, scars and knife wounds. They have been for years. I recently spoke to a Normal Person who remarked upon this, and several moments of mutual incomprehension followed as I explained that I have fairly good hands for a chef.

At this end of the trade, it's not all about signature dishes and experimenting with flavours. It's about turning out the same thing time and time again both consistently and prettily. My fellow chefs at O'Murphy's all come from, let us say, a somewhat basic background. All of them got their experience at a Wetherspoons pub: I've had to hold my ground even for cutting onions correctly. And presentation? Gwae, gwae a thriwaeth gwae i fi. I don't even have fucking parsley to play with. But, even so, is it too much to ask to stick a pat of butter on top of the mash, or garnish some tuna mayo with a bit of spring onion? Not that any of them have the basic knife skills to chop some sping onion thinly.

There's not a night I don't go home without being at least slightly pissed. If I'm not having a couple of drinks "to relax" after work, I'm getting utterly slaughtered in order to forget quite how crappy my life is. Below, for example, is a picture of me "having a quick drink after work". I got home that night at about four in the morning and went on to work the following day at eleven.

(I'm the one on the right.)

This evening, for example, I closed the kitchen at ten and got out by half past. I then encountered my friend from the restaurant over the road and we swopped stories, pints and tequilas for the following two hours. That, for me, is a "quick drink".

Unsurprisingly, I long for the day when I can wear a suit to work rather than whites (not just because I look fucking good in a suit, obviously.) I need to get out of this trade, for the sake of my liver if nothing else. Which doesn't explain why I applied for a sous chef job at a nice little pub on the quay...


1) Yes, I'm depressed and feeling cynical. Indulge me, it's been several months. I promise that my next post will be about something religious, and not cynical-religious either.

Reconstructionist Archetypes

1.7.10 § 2 commentarii

You know, it's always struck me that out of the ever-growing strands and subtypes of neopagan reconstructionism, Celtic Reconstructionists generally seem to be the flakiest. This could, of course, simply be an unfavourable impression garnered from the inside (familiarity breeding contempt, of course), but if you read a number of articles, blogs and sites (mainly written by Americans), it seems very much as if the spectre of that ghastly mythical creature, the Wild and Romantic Celt, is still haunting CR. It's all Tain and Tuatha de Danann, filid and fianna. Nobody seems all that bothered about communities or personal practice as they're all too busy buggering about in the countryside looking for imbas and being inspired by nature. Everyone wants to be a bard or a warrior, but nobody really fancies being a taeog. It seems that everyone has the Morrigan as their patron and nobody gives a shit about Moguns.

Now, if it seems that all Celtic Reconstructionists want to be bards, then what of the other reconstructionist groups? Asatruar obviously all want to be Vikings, and Hellenists are split between wanting to be philosophers or bacchants (or both.) Roman reconstructionists are a staid lot, and most I believe would secretly really like to be Cato the Elder. Adherents of Romuva, as far as I can tell, just want to be left alone.

It is Romuva that I have the greatest respect for.