Tell Me Why / I Don’t Like…

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Nature art in Coole Park

… Halloween.

Before you start throwing things: I think it’s completely fine to enjoy Halloween, and all the dressing up and decorating and whatnot. I’m not one of those people who think something should be banned just because I don’t like it! I know a lot of people, including many pagan friends, who love this time of the year, and I love seeing my friends happy so I’m not going to complain.

What I am going to say is that the way old customs are watered down beyond recognition these days, doesn’t sit well with me. I feel the same discomfort around the way “goddess” seems to have become a general term for femininity and the names of ancient goddesses are thrown around carelessly by just about any unicorn-dust and fairy-wands wielding New Age enthusiast. I like the fact it empowers women, and people in general. I don’t like how most of them are clueless as to what powerful entities they are dealing with, and that magic isn’t just a word or a fun idea.

There is so much more to this. And to get back to the subject of Halloween, it’s essentially the christianised version of the old Samhain, one of the two times of the year when the veil between the worlds is particularly thin (the other being the eve of Bealtaine). We’re talking about a time when having your child stolen by the fairies and replaced by a soulless changeling was a very real fear. People put scary disguises on their kids to fool the fairies.

The transparency of the veil was also used to contact and commune with the dead. It’s a great night to honour our ancestors and to tell our beloved dead what we never got to tell them while they were still alive. It is this association with death which has been adopted by Christianity in the shape of All Hallows (31st October) and All Souls (1st of November). My Catholic mum used to take us to visit the graves of departed family members on the 1st of November, and one of my earliest childhood memories is the sight of a graveyard with “wind lights” (as they are called in German) on every grave, candles in red plastic cups to keep the wind from extinguishing them.

It was a cosy, quiet time, full of contemplation and mystery. Maybe that’s one reason why I dislike the loud, in-yer-face dressing up and partying on Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, I have on occasion participated and enjoyed myself too. Two years ago I dressed up as a pirate for my then workplace and I had fun, but I remember the tons of decorations we pulled down weeks later, most of which were too damaged or worn out to be saved and reused. My costume has been in a box ever since. There is so much unnecessary waste produced and sold in the commercialisation of this holiday, it makes me no less uncomfortable than the overload of plastic Christmas decorations in the shops a few weeks later.

But enough with the grumpy hag now. I have stocked up on conventional chocolate for the trick-or-treaters tomorrow evening, and after that quietens down, I’ll have my Samhain ritual. I’ll be feasting on mead and apple pie, as this is one of two occasions in the year when I eat sugar. Come to think of it, a lot of things happen on Samhain and Bealtaine respectively for me, as they are also the two times of the year when I thoroughly clean my house (I try to keep it reasonably clean at all times, but on these two occasions I do the corners I never usually touch, like the insides of kitchen cupboards and the blinds on the windows).

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And I’ll prepare for the “dark weeks”, the time between now and the Winter Solstice when the light returns. That’s probably the main reason why I feel a little gloomy: I look ahead to the cold season and the discomfort I always feel then, and just wish I could fast-forward to spring. Ah well, all things in balance, right? At least I’ll celebrate and make the most of it.

To top it all off, I’ll go up to Massbrook on my day off Tuesday for some archery, complete with lunch at my favourite cafe in Ballinrobe along the way. And whatever you may get up to, I wish you a blessed Samhain!

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Non-Violent Martial Arts Hag?

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Picture by Harald Hoellrigl
Woah, what happened to the “blogging regularly” thing? It’s not that I don’t want to share, or don’t have anything to tell you, there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day sometimes! Tonight I’m finally reaching out again.

The moon is full and I feel all twitchy from all the energy flowing through me. One of the things which happened since my last blog post is that I’ve arrived in Gort safely and love my new home, although having a wall-to-wall neighbour once again is as challenging as it has always been for me, as in, I have trouble sleeping (although they are awfully nice and are really trying to be quiet!).

What I was going to say is, the moon shines into my new bedroom window and it’s the best thing ever. I have blinds, which I keep tilted just enough to allow me to see Her in the sky whenever it’s not too cloudy. And then I lie there in my heavenly comfortable bed, all cuddled up and warm and with Her gentle light on my face, magic pulsing through me. I love it so much!

Gort is lovely in other ways as well: I’m that much closer to many people I know and have already had more visitors in my first month here than I had in an entire year in Ballinrobe. Coming here was definitely the right thing to do! I also have Coole Park right next door, one of the central places of the Celtic Revival around the likes of Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats, and the first thing I did on my first morning here was visit the park and admire the famous signature tree with my wonderful Inga, who had come over to help me move in (because I had a broken rib. Yes, that happened too in the nearly two months since the last blog post!):

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I’m definitely going to write more about my new home and what’s been going on, but my main subject today is something I’ve been sitting on for a while, so to speak. It concerns the way people seem to be confused about how I can describe myself as a non-violent pacifist and anti-militarist whilst practising historical martial arts and field archery. Why, I’m glad you asked!

Before I proceed to share my views, though, I will answer the other question, the unspoken one: How can a peace-loving hippy like me have friends who are in the military, or hunt live animals? Simple, because of tolerance. None of my “military friends” are in their respective country’s army for reasons of power gain; they are there because they believe in things like honour and responsibility. These are values I share. We may disagree in our approach, but the underlying values are the same, and therefore tolerance allows us to be friends. In other words, I don’t expect all the world to agree with me on life choices, but I do expect those I call friends to be decent people – and they are.

Now as for me… You might know that I am an omnivore but I tend towards veganism. In practice, I eat about 80% vegan food, about 15% ovo-lacto (meaning about once or twice a week) and 5% meat (once or twice a month). So I don’t judge anyone, I just reserve the right to eat what makes my own body happy and energetic.

At the same time, I practice archery on 3D plastic targets, which have a circle called the “kill” roughly where the heart would be in a real animal. So you could say that I practice how to kill. I do this first of all because it’s way more fun crawling through the forest and kneeling down, shooting near and far, up- and downhill instead of the ever-same distance at the ever-same targets the way olympic archers do. But I also do it because to me, it makes sense to learn how to kill an animal if my choice not to do so is to carry any actual meaning. If I have no clue how to kill, it’s easy to say that I won’t – it’s like the tale of the sour grapes. Learning the skill makes non-violence an actual choice.

It’s similar with my practice of martial arts. Simply put, what we’re practising there is based on old training manuals used for people who went to war, who learned to kill others in order to stay alive. Now I don’t really expect to ever use these in an actual combat situation but it’s a good feeling to develop strength and skills, especially as a woman living on my own. Even if the best defence in a real-life situation would still be running away, it feels good and gives me confidence to get some experience in fighting and defending myself.

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Picture by Caroline Walsh

Again: If I know how to hurt someone, I can make a real choice to stay non-violent. It won’t just be the default option because I couldn’t defend myself anyway. See the difference?

It might not make sense to everyone, but it’s important to me. Call me a weird hag.

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