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June 2014

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Jun. 23rd, 2014

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The Curse of Chalion and The Paladin of Souls

Most fantasy writing is cotton candy, sweet and predictable.  The worst is cotton candy with non-digestible fillers.  Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion duology is neither but reflecting on what it is not is inadequate.  Both books fit into that rare category of fantasy based on spiritual fact.  There are others of course.  Robert Holdstock's Ryhope Wood and Celtika series both come to mind immediately.  It is entirely clear from interviews and the books' radiant power that Holdstock drew directly from experience.  And so it is with McMaster, but differently.  I won't go into the plot except to say that both of her books are well written and plotted, as one might expect of Nebula and Mythopoeic Society award winners. What is interesting to me is the fully formed polytheistic religious system and some of the best writing on the direct experience of Deity that I've encountered.

The religious system is Quintarian.  There are five deities: the Father; the Mother;  the Son; the Daughter; and the Bastard.  Pretty standard until the last eh?  The first four have their seasons in order:  Winter; Summer; Autumn; and Spring.  The Bastard has a day but is ever present.  The creation myth begins with a World Soul that creates the Father and Mother so that it can apprehend itself.  And from their love flow the Son and the Daughter.  The Bastard has, as you might expect, an interesting parentage.  A reclaimed demon and the Mother produce the Bastard though the mechanics are somewhat in theological doubt.

Death customs support much of the plot.  At death, holy animals of each of the deities approach the corpse and one will stay with it to indicate that the god or goddess has accepted the soul.  Usually it is simple, the Father accept the fathers, the Mother accepts the mothers, the Son the unmarried males and the Daughter the unmarried females.  The Bastard accepts all others although it is possible, through a thoroughly messed up life, to be unaccepted and go on to a a slowly diminishing discarnate existence. What is clear through death customs and the cycle of festivals is that religious life is vibrant and Deity is real in the hearts of the people although outside of death ritual Deity rarely touches daily life.

That touch is made manifest in the chief protagonists of both novels.  In The Curse of Chalion, the hero Cazaril's life is sustained directly by the Daughter in a condition of Sainthood, the direct presence of Deity in the world.  He opens himself to be a cup for the gods in willing surrender, the cup perhaps related to Celtic three cauldron tradition.  Surrender must be willing because Deity has no direct power in the world.  In this there is a sympathy with R. J. Stewart's work wherein he states that there are things we cannot do that the fey can and things that the fey cannot do that we can.  Deity searches for a vessel to undo the Curse and Cazaril is the unwilling and mostly unhappy victim.  How that victomhood evolves into awe and poetry is masterfully prosecuted.

Ista, the heroine of The Paladin of Souls, is twice sainted first by the Mother, leading to disaster, and then by the Bastard (and briefly by the Father in a sidejob).  Her prayers to the Bastard are highly inventive curses from the heart.  And yet, in the end, there is that same surrender and being filled with Deity's purpose.

Throughout this, there is no inflation of ego, no power for power's sake although magic does happen.  Rather, neither Cazaril nor Ista want anything to do with Deity as it has lead them mostly to pain until the end of both books. The world of Chalion requires a willing partnership between Deity and human or it fails. That partnership, while a hard and uncertain road, leads to spiritual fulfillment beyond any personal power.  May it be so!

If you don't get to the books, the wikipedia article on the religion of Chalion is quite thorough.  Obviously others have been touched by these works.

May. 19th, 2014

green tara

The Immodesty Rail

I don't generally refer other blogs.  However, this series by Hannah Ettinger on growing up in the Purity Culture is just astonishing.  Lengthy, but worth every minute spent.  Note, it comes up in reverse order so scroll to the bottom.  Also, not all posts are tagged so also look at the tag marriage.

Mar. 1st, 2014

maple snow

Remembering my father

My father has been dead for thirty years now.  We buried him on a winter day in the cemetary where so many of my ancestors lay.  In typical fashion, my mother got one of the free bronze veteran's markers for his grave. I'll replace that with a proper stone when she's gone.

Harry Miley was forced to retire early.  He had been a construction carpenter and strongly built.  His heart, though, was damaged from a case of disseminated strep AKA scarlet fever when he was a child.  It did not help that he had the same disease as an adult and tried to go to work anyway.  Missing work was not something one did, especially when construction shut down for the winter.

He was an intelligent man. His IQ was 121, same as mine and my son's.  He did not finish the 9th grade for a number of reasons.  His father was a raging alcoholic, they were dirt poor, and reading between the lines he probably had the same written language deficits that both my son and I had.  We had a chance to overcome and compensate and he really did not.  He did finish a GED in his 60's and even took a college English course at a community college.

He was a kind man who wanted a few simple things in life after he retired, some of which he achieved and some he did not.  I have a slow smoldering anger for the things he could not achieve that mostly gets vented in my politics.

I'm  now older than he was when he died.  I wish that he could have met his grandson.  He'd be bewildered by him, but love him none the less.
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Jan. 13th, 2014

marion

Lavandyss and Ralph Vaughan Williams

Hearing a piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams in church yesterday brought me back to a long standing puzzle.  One of the true strangenesses of Robert Holdstock's Lavondyss is that the aged Ralph Vaughan Williams is a character.  The composer, probably best known for The Lark Ascending, has a set of intense dialogs with the main character of the novel, a girl named Tallis.

There are lots of interesting external connections.  One of the other beloved RVM compositions is A Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.  The subtitle of Lavondyss is Journey into an Unknown Region which is similar in title to a reworking of a Walt Whitman poem Darest though now O Soul into the RVM composition Toward the Unknown Region.

At first, I thought that perhaps RVM was a practitioner.  He was a close friend of Robert Graves and at the time of his death was working on an operatic mashup of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer.  Those two ballads have been noted by RJ Stewart as being initiatory in nature. But this is largely beside the point.  What I think is important in terms of our pagan history is that works like The Lark Ascending and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis evoke the spirit of the Land itself. That is a piece of magic in and of itself and the reason, IMHO, that Holdstock tips his hat to him so directly.

Dec. 23rd, 2013

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One year into retirement

A year has now gone by since I retired.  Much of the torpor has worn off.  I've picked up the mandollin again and thanks to an FB post from dulcimergoddess on making failure a friend, I haven't smashed it against the wall:-)  I've also signed up for a 400 level Chaucer course at the University of Md.  One of the perks of living in a high tax state are actual benefits.  Retirees over 60 can audit any class they're qualified for zero dollars (not counting the $75 yearly registration fee).  I'm also going to act as stage hand for my friend Tom Meylan's corporate goodness video series.  Short pearls of wisdom captured for posterity.  So far this will lead to a free lunch.

My practice goes through waves of activity.   For the most part, when I do ritual I'm resorting to some of my oldest forms - rising light below (but the OBOD version),acknowledging my own local loop of spiritual beings and the spirits of the land.  The regression seems comfortable. I'm hoping to integrate the mandolin into ritual.  It has worked in the past.  This poem came nearly complete and also with music.

Occassionally I have innovations, the latest of which was that after drawing ogam sticks for a reading I can get another level of meaning by pressing the stick to my third eye position.  And stick is both a verb and a noun here as there seems to be some sort of electromagnetic attraction for some of them not wanting to let go for over a minute. Not going to try that with huath or ceirt however.  Perhaps erynn999 will have something to say about this.

Nov. 22nd, 2013

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mandolin lessons

I've been taking mandolin lessions for the past three weeks.  I've played guitar in the past, but never had a lesson and never made much progress.  The mandolin was a gift for my 55th birthday, but I never really learned how to do it and it has sat idle.  So far things are going well.  I'm getting stronger and a little more accurate with some left thumb pain.  But I'm taking it easy when it flares up and that seems to be helping.  When I not learning humility, I'm having fun:-)

Nov. 17th, 2013

Silver Maple leaves

Dream as novel plot

Two nights in a row I've had a dream about  a heroine in a ye olde type civilization.  She has the ability to immediately understand other peoples intentions toward her.  As it turns out this ability is central to the civ's ability to defend itself against stronger external enemies.  I may have a novel writing in my dreams:-)

Nov. 11th, 2013

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Cape Breton Vacation Pics

The link is to an October Cape Breton Island flickr photoset.  Its particularly nice to view this in slideshow mode.  Sample below.

Oct. 27th, 2013

Silver Maple leaves

Jennifer Cutting Ocean Quartet Concert - Oct 26th

After having done day after day of 80 mile plus round trips over not so great roads to hear concerts in Cape Breton, a mere hour to go to Galesville, Md to hear Jennifer Cutting seemed quite easy.  We arrived early in a tiny community hall near the western shore of the Chesapeake.  Tickets were had and we mingled with the other early arrivals.

Since this was a Halloween/Samhain concert I decided to wear my leather ocean themed crown.  A number of folks recognized Shane and Leah Odom's work. Jennifer was bustling (literally) around in a victorian costume with a witches hat greeting everyone.  She recognized the crown and took a picture along with my wife in elven ears.  I thought it a bit odd that a performer was socializing before a concert.  And then, five minutes before start, a man came in with a keyboard and plunked it down.  I noticed a flurry of activity with Jennifer suddenly in real concentration with another woman who turned out to be the keyboard's owner. Her own keyboard had died during sound check and this was an emergency fill in keyboard. So, one disaster averted.

The concert was wonderful.  Jennifer is not the lead singer.  That honor belongs to the truly gifted Lisa Moscatiello .  Jennifer is lead composer, keyboard and accordian player.  Bringing in the reels is fiddler Andrew Dodd who loses nothing to the folks I heard on Cape Breton.  Stephen Winick finishes up the quartet with a highly malleable voice sounding ye olde England in on set and Gilbert and Sullivan in another.  His is the very distinctive voice on the Ocean Orchestra Songs of Solstice for those of you who have it.

There was an interesting mixture of songs. Jigs and reels made their appearance every third or fourth turn.  Humorous songs like "I only want to eat your brains" and "Mrs. Rangoon" appeared at about the same  frequency along with some older ballads.  Then there were Jennifer's compositions.  Most of her work is strongly pagan themed.  A green man song, the cycle of the seasons, and appropriately for Samhain, the living supporting the dead towards the Otherworld.  The subtheme of the concert was the death of Paul diBlasi a manager at the House of Musical Traditions and one half of the sea chanty duo Calico Jack with his wife Janey.  Janey  was the organizer of this concert and kept on after Paul died suddenly and unexpectedly a few weeks ago.  As she said, Paul was all about the music.  The final number of the night, was the helping hands to the Otherworld  song.  It was Paul diBlasi's favorite song.  While dedicated to Paul, Jennifer asked for all names of those who had passed over the following year to include in the dedication.

As a side note, I won the raffle.  A handmade bottle bag with an evil spirits theme.  How the bottle of an unnamed substance eventually ended up in there is a mystery as the raffle clearly stated that the prize was a bottle bag:-)

Oct. 20th, 2013

Silver Maple leaves

Cape Breton continued (long)

Here's how our schedule works - breakfast, drive 2 hours to a hike, hike, drive to a 5pm dinner, catch a 7:30 show, drive 2 hours and do it all again the next day.  There has been no down time for blogging until now with the festival over and a final day of hiking and glorious scenerry ahead of us.
Of the Cape Breton fiddlers, I think I like Wendy McIsaak the best.  While others like Dwayne Cote may be more technically proficient on the pyrotechnic end, Wendy's plays with more heart and energy.  At it's core the CB style is dance music and Wendy's captures the island's signature drive.
This year the Celtic Colours festival had a nordic focus and I have to say that the music is really attractive.  Nuala Kennedy's Irish/Norwegian mashup, the Snowflake Trio, played tunes from both trads with energy and happiness.  Like them on FB, they need encouragement to put out a CD.
The surprise Nordic style was from Fanoe Island, Peter and Ole don't do concerts, they play for dances and weddings in their community of less than 4000 people.  A sweet/sour sound that is really highly attractive.  i could hear them again.  Our final concert in Mabou included a flotilla of Fanoe Island grade and middle school fiddle players who had raised money to come over to CB.  Apparently 8 percent of the population are fiddle players with another 2 percent playing guitar or accordion.  13 years ago, the late Jerry Holland, the greatest of all CB fiddlers , made a trip to Fanoe and forged such bonds that there is a CB Fanoe Music Society with regular exchanges of musicians.
The best single performance may have been Liz Carroll on Thursday night. I had heard the same set twice before and was cringing at the thought of hearing it again. And then she just went to another level as only truly great musicians can do. Somehow the interior of each tune opened up and it was like I was hearing it for the first time. Yes she can be faster than anyone when she wants to be, but her real strength is pulling unimaginable depth out of each song.

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