Tra-la! It’s May

It’s been a busy, successful Spring.

I have two exciting announcements:

My story, “The Good Neighbors” has been published in Wild Musette Journal. Wild Musette is a home for “Dancers, Dreamers, Drummers, [and] Readers.” They offer books, short stories, cards, coloring books, and poetry. They are organizing an Irish Dance Vacation to County Sligo, Ireland in July 2018. I’m so proud and happy to be a part of this community.

“The Good Neighbors” is a story about the fey disrupting a young marriage. Set in Boston, the young woman protagonist studies Library Science at Simmons College–where I myself studied and earned my MLS. The rest of the story is fiction. Purchase a copy of Wild Musette Journal Issue #1701 to read my story.

 

Issue 1701

My poem, “The Faerie Queen” has been published in the Beltane 2017 issue of Three Drops From A Cauldron. Read it online for free, or purchase a copy.

More good news coming soon. Stay tuned!

 

 

The Janus Stone [Book Review]

Janus Stone

That I missed the first installment of the Ruth Galloway Crime series wasn’t a deterrent at all. In her follow-up The Janus Stone, Norfolk [England] police find a child’s body under a threshold at a demolition site and a cat skeleton elsewhere at the same location. What links the two sets of bones: headless. No skulls. An archaeological dig outside of town provides a nice counterpoint and plenty of information about Roman and Celtic burial rites and sacrifices. Janus is the two-faced Roman God, simultaneously looking forward and backward, the god of doorways and boundaries; once sacrifices were offered to him, buried under doorways. Hence the title. But the bones at the construction site are much more recent. Forensic archaeologist—bones expert—Ruth Galloway is called in to consult.

Part mystery/detective story with a healthy splash of soap opera, The Janus Stone is a fast, intelligent read. The relationship elements (which guy for Ruth? Police detective Nelson? Archaeologist Max? Druid Cathbad? A question complicated by her first-term unrevealed pregnancy. . .) are mostly dramatic seasoning and only occasionally stray into comedy/melodrama, as in the climactic scene when the three leading men all join forces to confront the villain.

The present-tense voice is fresh and the multiple characters’ viewpoints are expertly handled.  Griffiths portrays an England where Protestant/Catholic tensions and biases are still acknowledged, counterpointed by Ruth’s scientific agnosticism and Cathbad’s paganism, painted in wry humor. (“You don’t have to be religious to be Catholic,” Nelson claims at one point [45], and Ruth is disinterested in what she calls “the age-old struggle between Catholic and Protestant.” Although, she concedes, “Catholicism has nicer pictures” [79].) Priest Father Hennessey is portrayed sympathetically, which is to say as human.  Even Ruth’s staunchly Born-Again parents come around to compassionately accept her illegitimate pregnancy. It’s a nice balance, completely free of authorial bias.

Although Cathbad might be the most interesting character of the lot. Generally clad in purple druidic robes, he has an uncanny sixth-sense and susses out Ruth’s pregnancy—and the identity of the father—with an unexplainable intuition. In the penultimate dramatic scene, as Nelson and Cathbad are racing to rescue a kidnapped Ruth, Cathbad is preternaturally calm:

                        Nelson reaches forty miles an hour before he has backed out. . .but, beside him, Cathbad is calm and serene. He is the only person Nelson has met who is not terrified by his driving . . . . Nelson puts the siren on and they weave madly between lanes . . . [while] . . . Cathbad hums a Celtic folk song (292).

He even puts on a black shirt for the funeral which follows identification of the child’s body: none of the religious characters are caricatures.  It’s wonderfully refreshing.

Smart, humorous, and well-paced, with an appropriate and intriguing subplot (although again, the subplot veers toward soap operatic), The Janus Stone is a good read. The focus on relationship elements skews it more to a female audience, but it is nowhere near the romance genre and is firmly a female-oriented who-dunnit.

One quibble: no self-respecting druid would celebrate Imbolc on May 23, even if Cathbad does acknowledge that “the weather’s been so bad . . .I don’t expect Brigid will mind” (50).  I assume that the author is trying to tie [saint and/or goddess] Brigid’s threshold connections to Janus in order to provide thematic unity. As bloggist Jan Richardson reminds: “Brigid was known as a bridge-builder and a threshold figure, symbolized in the story that tells that her mother, Broicsech, gave birth to her as she crossed through the doorway into her house.” And despite my neo-pagan familiarity, I can’t actually confirm if pagans really do dance around a bonfire (so is it possible there is a touch of caricature—or merely that everyone loves bonfires?) but the inclusion of families and children at the bonfire was realistic.  Bonus: they didn’t dance ‘skyclad’ or as my friend would say ‘bucky tale nekkid’.

A strong, entertaining read.

The Blessing of the New Year

Here’s a Highlands New Year’s Blessing from the Carmina Gadelica. It’s traditional to say this poem “the first thing on the first day of the year.” (I’m a little late.)

"Camhanaich" by John McSporran.Creative Commons License. https://www.flickr.com/photos/127130111@N06/16477446765/in/photolist-r74dRK-pCvAqb-3vH1uX-742jEJ-5WoZyN-5WjHAx-jgcbLB-5NA2iD-59z2D5-5Wp1ao-5Wp1rN-idk3uu-quULh1-NtL9m-5NBxs8-3ujV2S-idket1-qpVmtD-dGi73e-qD5eAS-3gxPUj-6tnBKg-4fWSH4-pYVokH-teYUrb-6vk4bs-pVvZZS-8E7XxW-ifnC2R-dz925x-4f1gn3-CsoXck-8HAAKT-nkGcMA-axsW3e-nCbMGx-s8u7Rp-9dyfK4-4nsuoU-41wC45-4nsvnA-5Sqb6x-9dBg8b-9dBc5d-6cbe6Q-diHrH5-uJWiXq-APLtMP-qYDTsk-ASuxXP

“Camhanaich” by John McSporran via Flickr. Creative Commons License.  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

GOD, bless to me the new day,

Never vouchsafed to me before;

It is to bless Thine own presence

Thou hast given me this time, O God.

.

Bless Thou to me mine eye,

May mine eye bless all it sees;

I will bless my neighbor,

May my neighbor bless me.

.

God, give me a clean heart,

Let me not from sight of Thine eye;

Bless to me my children and my wife,

And bless to me my means and my cattle.

.

Happy New Year and many blessings for a brand new day: a new beginning every day.

Hermits and Saints

I went to morning prayers yesterday and my priest commemorated, among others, St. Colman of Ireland. A Celtic saint I didn’t know! I was pleased and flummoxed. Flummoxed because I would now have to go and research him . . .

A perusal of Butler’s Lives of the Saints and a Google consultation soon followed (not necessarily in that order). Butler concisely informs that St. Colman was a bishop and hermit in Western Ireland who escaped to the barren Burren “because he had been made a bishop against his will.” (There’s been a few of those, no? Perhaps a topic for another day.) Apparently burren (boireann) means “great rock” in Irish—not a very habitable place. During my 2003 trip to Ireland, we traveled through the Burren. It’s an inhospitable mound of rocks about which one of Oliver Cromwell’s officers famously stated had “not wood enough to hang a man, water enough to drown him, nor earth enough to bury him.”

The Burren, photo by the author, 2003

The Burren, photo by the author, 2003

Tradition says St. Colman retreated to the Burren ‘forests’—had the forest had been cut down by the time of Cromwell a thousand years later? The St. Colman Mac Duagh Burren Forest page has pictures of the dense brush today; I’m not sure I would call those scrawny trees a ‘forest’ but landforms change over the course of a millennium. At any rate, it is a place far more austere than St. Kevin’s lush Glendalough. Not a place I would want to live.

St. Colman later founded a monastery at Kilmacduagh, near Galway. I can piece together the Irish meaning: Kil-mac-duagh, church (kil) of the son (mac) of Duagh. Butler eludes to the legends of St. Colman’s friendships with a mouse, fly, and cock without recounting them, and you’ll have to visit the Russian Orthodox Christianity page on St. Colman to read them yourself.

Kilmacduagh Monastery Ruins by Jerzy Strzelecki By Jerzy Strzelecki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Kilmacduagh Monastery Ruins by Jerzy Strzelecki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Once, I may have wanted to be a hermit . . .

In therapy, I talk quite a bit about my introversion and social anxiety—(although it’s not social anxiety as we normally think of it, it’s still a helpful if imprecise term). My therapist’s advice ranges from the self acceptance of embracing my introversion to cognitive-behavioral promises not to be the first person to leave a party. I attended a family event last weekend—a pleasant, wonderful visit which nonetheless left me utterly exhausted.

In my therapist’s office on the eve of St. Colman’s feast, I lamented adult-ing. I wanted to go back to my high school self and sit in a corner reading a science fiction paperback for the entire duration of a party. I entertained what I call my “Unabomber” fantasy [sans bombs] in which I daydream about living off-the-grid in a cabin in Wyoming and walking into town once a week to buy my groceries and check my email through the public library computers.

I am more functional than I was twenty years ago; I make the effort; I force myself to attend dreadful odious baby showers because it’s the right thing to do. I’m probably less lonely. I’m not sure if I’m significantly happier. People exhaust me.

Knowing of my faith, my therapist spontaneously asked me if there were any hermetic examples or outlets I could explore or learn from. Doubtful, I told him glumly. A good number of hermits are only temporary hermits; eventually, after many years of solitude, they end up getting dragged (against their will!) back into the community and end up abbot of a monastery or something. The solitude teaches them the fortitude they will need for their future endeavors. It happened to St. Colman, and many others. We had a good laugh.

The next morning I learned it was St. Colman’s feast day. Later in the afternoon I discovered it was also National Hermit Day—a day dedicated to stepping away from the frenzy of our lives and the tyranny of our electronic devices. We are encouraged to “retreat to someplace quiet.” The National Day Calendar tips their hats to St. Colman, their inspiration for this nouveau holiday.

Three hermit references within twenty-four-hours. Once upon a time, I would have considered it a message from the Universe.

A Spring Flower Garland

The Annunciation, f.45v from Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary; vellum, 15th C; courtesy of the University of Edinburgh

The Annunciation, f.45v from Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary; vellum, 15th C; courtesy of the University of Edinburgh

Five days after the announcement proclaiming the arrival of Spring we have it: The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary: “For behold, you shall conceive and bring forth a Son . . .”

Winter has been long and brutal. I am cold; I am weary; my heart is frozen. I long for life. In the Northeast this Winter has been especially harsh, and I am just now starting to see the sprouts of daffodils and tulips poking through cold soil. The new life of Easter is just around the corner.

How many times a day do I become flustered and discombobulated—and downright cranky—by disruptions to my “plan,” my routine? Mary’s acceptance of the news brought by her unexpected visitor gives me a hint of how to experience blessing in my own life. May I learn to say, like Mary, “May it be unto me as you have said. . .”

Spring will come; it always does. I long for a fresh springtime in my permafrost heart.

 

In honor of Mary and Springtime, here’s a poem collected and recorded by Alexander Carmichael in his Carmina Gadelica:

 

Praise of Mary

 

Flower-garland of the Ocean,

          Flower-garland of the land,

Flower-garland of the heavens,

          Mary, Mother of God.

 

Flower-garland of the earth

          Flower-garland of the skies,

Flower-garland of the angels

          Mary, Mother of God.

 

Flower-garden of the mansion

          Flower-garland of the stars

Flower-garland of paradise,

          Mary Mother of God.

 

 

From Slave to Saint: Enlightener of Ireland

 

St. Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland, courtesy of the Orthodox Church in America (oca.org)

St. Patrick, courtesy of the Orthodox Church in America (oca.org)

“I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many . . .” thus begins St. Patrick in his Confessions.

            We are so accustomed to seeing St. Patrick as a larger-than-life Bishop, enlightener of Ireland, his successful ‘career’ behind him, that we forget his humble beginnings; we forget his ever–present humility:

            “I am imperfect in many things, nevertheless I want my brethren and kinsfolk to know my nature so that they may be able to perceive my soul’s desire.” He continues, “I am, then, first of all, countrified, an exile, evidently unlearned . . . I know for certain that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and He that is mighty came and in His mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favors in this world . . .”

Slave-to-bishop lacks some of the glamour of the more common phrase rags-to-riches. A rustic shepherd slave became the symbol of a nation. Somewhere along the way his account of his humility and faithfulness has mostly been forgotten. Now all too often his feast has become an excuse to get drunk.  As we listen to our craic and eat our lamb stew or corned beef and colcannon, I ask you to remember the real St. Patrick, as described in his own words.  This is the Patrick I urge you to get to know:

            “But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God [. . .] and my faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day I said from up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number, besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain . . .”

Patrick didn’t live and labor in a vacuum.  His effectiveness was fueled by prayer. May we emulate St. Patrick on his feast day by an equal commitment to prayer so that we also may say:

“I fear nothing because of the promises of Heaven; for I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God who reigns everywhere.”

Remember the real Saint Patrick today: slave and struggler, faithful endurer, servant of God.

 

Source

The Confessions of Saint Patrick, courtesy of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Priest Communes Good Werewolves

From Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) and his Topographia Hibernica, Topography of Ireland (Twelfth Century):

            I now proceed to relate some wonderful occurrences which have happened within our times. . .

It chanced that a priest [and his assistant] was journeying from Ulster towards Meath. He was watching by a fire which he had kindled under the branches of a spreading tree. Lo! a wolf came up to them, and immediately addressed them: “Rest secure, and be not afraid, for there is no reason you should fear.”

Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hibernica Image from British Library Royal MS 13 B VIII.

Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hibernica
Image from British Library Royal MS 13 B VIII.

The travellers being struck with astonishment and alarm, the wolf added some orthodox words referring to God. The priest then implored him, and adjured him by Almighty God and faith in the Trinity, not to hurt them, but to inform them what creature it was that in the shape of a beast uttered human words. The wolf, after giving catholic replies to all questions, added at last: “There are two of us, a man and a woman [who] are compelled every seven years to put off the human form, and depart from the dwellings of men. Quitting entirely the human form, we assume that of wolves.

“And now, she who is my partner in this visitation lies dangerously sick not from hence, and, as she is at the point of death, I beseech you, inspired by divine charity, to give her the consolations of your priestly office.”

The priest followed the wolf trembling as he led the way to a tree [and] beheld a she-wolf, who under that shape was pouring forth human sighs and groans. On seeing the priest, she gave thanks to God. She then received from the priest all the rites of the church duly performed, as far as the last communion. This also she importunately demanded: holy communion.

Priest communes werewolf. Note the missal around the wolf's neck. Topgraphia Hibernica,  From British Library Royal MS 13 B VIII.

Priest communes werewolf. Note the missal around the wolf’s neck. Topgraphia Hibernica, From British Library Royal MS 13 B VIII.

The priest stoutly asserted that he was not provided with it, then the he-wolf, who had withdrawn to a short distance, came back and pointed out a small missal-book, containing some consecrated wafers, which the priest carried on his journey, suspended from his neck, under his garment, after the fashion of the country. The wolf then entreated him not to deny them the gift of God. . .

The she-wolf immediately presented the form of an old woman. The priest, seeing this, and compelled by his fear more than his reason, gave the communion; the recipient having earnestly implored it, and devoutly partaking of it. These rites having been duly, rather than rightly, performed, the he-wolf gave them his company during the whole night at their little fire, behaving more like a man than a beast. When morning came, he led them out of the wood, and, leaving the priest to pursue his journey, pointed out to him the direct road for a long distance.

Epilogue: Later the priest confesses this incident to his bishop. The bishops asked Gerald, who was also a priest, to comment on the incident, but alas, he could not attend the meeting.

 

From Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hibernica.

Edited and abridged by Cynthia June Long.

Images from the British Library manuscript Royal MS 13 B VIII.