Kernel: When I decided to be an artist

Franklin was asking a couple weeks ago for me to write another Imbolc blessing. Imbolc is a Celtic holiday, halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. It’s associated with Brigid, goddess of inspiration, poetry, and smithwork. For me, the holiday is also about cheese, and fire at the heart of snow, and making it through the stored foods of winter to the first through-the-frost greens and new milk. The previous Imbolc blessing I wrote was for babies—or newcomers, really. And since that writing, it has also been used as a farewell. Continue reading Kernel: When I decided to be an artist

Yule Tree Family Tradition

I might put more about the whole tradition here, but right now I just need a link to the song…

Tree-Hunting Song

Tune = Polly in the Holly (trad.) | Words by Anna-Marie York and Simone Parrish, circa 2001

*Oh the Oak rests in the winter time to marshal his strength
But the Holly stays bright and green the whole winter’s length
Green branches in the winter promise life to be,
and the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Oh the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.

*Oh the fir waits in the wood, its boughs bearded with snow
To come inside for the Yuletide the axe it must know
Green branches in the winter promise life to be,
and the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Oh the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.

*The Stag leaps through the wood with his proud crown of horn
And it is through his sacrifice the Sun is reborn
Green branches in the winter promise life to be,
and the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Oh the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.

With an axe we go a-hunting the green-boughed fir tree
as our forebears have done through the long centuries.
Green branches in the winter promise life to be,
and the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Oh the first tree in the greenwood it was the holly.

The Oak burns in the hearth for to give us good cheer
From the Darkness comes the Light at this turn of the year
Green branches in the winter promise life to be,
and the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Oh the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.

The Wheel keeps on turning, through dark and through light,
and we sing to its honor, on this longest night.
Green branches in the winter promise life to be,
and the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Oh the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.

*These are the verses we sing most often.

 

Children’s Song: Green Grows the Mistletoe

[Edit: I’m updating this post on May 1, 2017, significantly enough that I’m going to re-post it with a new publication date.]

I wrote this in January 1999, as a nursery rhyme for my then-baby godson Aiden. Its tune and structure are borrowed from “Green Grow the Rushes-O,” which dates back to at least the mid-1800s. It’s traditionally sung as a call and response, but that’s totally optional. I sing it by myself all the time.

I posted the lyrics as a Facebook note in May 2013, and moved them to this blog in August 2016. At this re-writing, in April-May 2017, I am grieving Aiden’s untimely death. In considering whether I could sing this at his memorial gathering on April 29, 2017, I was worried about choking up. I started experimenting with Garage Band so I could sing along with myself to get the song back in working vocal memory. During a day of practice in the car, I realized I was often dropping in little bits of harmony, so I recorded those as a separate track. I’ll probably do another more-polished version with more harmony lines eventually, but this one’s OK, and at least it’s complete.

Green Grows the Mistletoe, Take 3 with improv harmony track, April 25, 2017 (see P.S. for Take 1…)

Lyrics:

I’ll sing you one, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your one, o?
One Great Wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you two, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your two, o?
Two, two, for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you three, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your three, o?
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you four, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your four, o?
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you five, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your five, o?
Five are the points on an apple-star
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you six, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your six, o?
Six is still a mystery
Five are the points on an apple-star
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you seven, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your seven, o?
Seven returned from Caer Sidi*
Six is still a mystery
Five are the points on an apple-star
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you eight, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your eight, o?
Eight for the kinds of poetry**
Seven returned from Caer Sidi
Six is still a mystery
Five are the points on an apple-star
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you nine, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your nine, o?
Nine for the woods on the Beltane fire
Eight for the kinds of poetry
Seven returned from Caer Sidi
Six is still a mystery
Five are the points on an apple-star
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so

I’ll sing you ten, o
Green grows the mistletoe
What is your ten, o?
Ten, for Brigid and her maids
Nine for the woods on the Beltane fire
Eight for the kinds of poetry
Seven returned from Caer Sidi
Six is still a mystery
Five are the points on an apple-star,
Four for the sacred quarter-days
Three for the Morrigan
Two, two for day and night, spinning round and round, o
One great wheel a-turning, and ever more shall be so!

* “Except seven, none returned from Caer Sidi” is a line in Robin Williamson’s version of The Spoils of Annwn, a poem attributed to Taliesin.

**I don’t know where this came from, so it might be totally without documentable basis, but I have the lore in my head that bardic poetry has eight purposes: Arbitration, blessing, cursing, worship, prophecy, remembrance, praise, and mockery. (This one is blessing, worship, and remembrance.)

P.S. Here’s Take 1 because Franklin asked for it. It’s a partial take and ends with a funny mistake. (I would have re-recorded it anyway, because I wasn’t warmed up and was trying to sing very quietly/not disturb neighbors late at night, so I’m not pleased with how long it took me to find the tuning/breathing.)

How I Woad: Using Woad for Body Painting

(This is mostly about body painting, but if you like you can skip down to the bit about the colors you can get using woad as dye.)

Caution: Woad can cause allergic reactions and irritate eyes and other sensitive areas. Your use of any techniques or instructions herein is at your own risk. Be sensible.

TL;DR: For the impatient, here’s just my recipe: 1 packet (5g) powdered woad pigment, 2 tsp whisky, pinch of rosemary, wet-ground in a mushroom-shaped mortar and pestle. That makes a concentrate. Mix 1/2 tsp of the concentrate with another 1-2tsp of whisky to achieve your desired coverage quality. Many, many more details below. Gum arabic is optional. I’ve started but not completed some chalk experiments. Continue reading How I Woad: Using Woad for Body Painting

On Blessings for Babies

My tribe has some new children. We have been around for long enough as a tribe that we have seen a broad range of challenges and triumphs in parenting. We’ve got a greater awareness of the pressures and factors that we didn’t have to contend with ourselves, but that are major stressors on our children. Being asked to write a blessing for them this Imbolc, I started thinking about baby-blessings in general–what I wanted to accomplish or avoid in this new piece.

Most baby-blessings I have seen tend to be parental wishlists, or paeans to innocence and potential (boiling down to “be healthy and happy and successful, you precious little angel, and also reflect well on me”). I wanted to avoid putting any expectations on our children. I also wanted to avoid being the unwitting thirteenth fairy–afraid that by writing a list of wishes, I would leave something out, making room for a curse or a specific weakness. And I’m tired of rose-colored glasses, of trying to put the best face on everything.

Life is hard, and we’re not perfect, and it’s still all worth the striving.

Welcome to Preachain

Welcome, child now among us. We’ve waited for this day.
We’re your tribe. We are your family. We will love you, come what may.
We are glorious, and broken. We are fine, and we are frayed.
We are strong, and we are ailing. And we’ll love you, come what may.

We are druids, bards, and warriors, and cooks, and smiths, and fools.
We are drunkards and we’re gossips; we are kind, and we are cruel.
We’re hard workers, and we’re lazy. We are hopeful, and dismayed.
We are generous and selfish, and we’ll love you, come what may.

We are proud, and we are shame-faced; we’re holy, and profane.
We are horrible and lovely, and we’ll make mistakes again.
We are greedy and mean-spirited and wise and calm and brave.
You may be these things, or others, and we’ll love you, come what may.

 

Fuse: An Old Find

[Edited, May 2017: I had a paragraph here about a video, but the link I had is broken. I’ll ask my friend Zoe, who made the video, if she still has it.]

I wrote this sometime in the early aughts, but I can’t find exactly when–and if I wait to find that information, this won’t get posted. So, I’m posting it. [EDIT, May 2015: I located the original manuscript! I wrote it between Feb. 20 (first draft) and March 1 (last edit), 2002. I’m pleased that my “sometime in the early aughts” guess was correct.]

Fuse

I beg, amid this day’s frustrations
Beg, O You who pattern pathways
Beg of you your secret sacred
Taste of truth, of sure and certain
Yes, your concentrated influx–
Sudden blaring pulsing fusion
Light-and-music, shells-and-blossoms
Sap-evaporate-infusion
Straight to vein-spike bee-hummed starshine
Shatter skull and reassemble
Kiss my fury gone with glory
Wrap me tight in all that’s holy
Slide molecular through mundane cares,
Remind me: Here’s What Matters.
Words and fibers, these I spin now
Breath and meat are what I’m made of
Silver-falling fertile springtime
Rain on long-parched fragrant soil
Rootlets tremble, jagged, fractal
Feed me free-born flesh and apples
Corded forearms, hammer-wielding,
Raising skill and crops and striking
Magma-stirring stones set just so.
Frozen crystals splitting sunrise,
Synapse-crackle, strong embraces,
Drums and honey, woolen prickle,
Wooden, copper, cobalt, amber
Bleached-white bone and deerskin supple
Scales soft rustle, silent feathers
Sudden-indrawn breath for shrieking
Crow-beak pierces through the curtain
Song and laughter, my voice gifting
Tears of gratitude, my treasure
Night and fire, silken beauty
Brainstem-clutching pale Muse grasping
Pre-dawn dreams: I am beloved.
Wild-eyed kin call me their bard,
and nothing less than howling loss
of poetry itself shall break me.

-Simone Parrish / Etaíne na Preachain, February 20-March 1, 2002

The Turning Round

My friend Morag recently discovered that a song I wrote for our Celtic reenactment group a few years ago can be sung as a round with itself, and woven into another piece we already sing as a round. (We don’t sing that other piece quite like the examples I’ve found online, though–we’ve somehow turned it from three lines to four, and added a second verse.)

My song, “Quarter Days,” is rarely sung all at once. It forms part of our quarter-day celebrations, the four big holidays on the cross-quarter points (between the solstices and equinoxes) at the spokes of the Wheel of the Year. Usually I only sing the verses for the specific holiday–the Beltaine ones for our Maypole, etc. I originally wrote the piece for Lughnasadh, which is in August, so even though the Celtic year begins at Samhain I think of the Lughnasadh verses as the beginning of the song.

There’s no recording of this, yet, but as we work on the weaving we might work on recording, too.

Quarter Days

Come we now to mark Lughnasadh,
Three quarters ’round the Wheel.
Now give we thanks for tribe and allies
As battle bruises heal.

Hearth and harvest, welcome brothers
And sisters to our feast.
We’ve fought with valor, shared our treasures;
The crow comes home to nest.

Chorus (2x):
‘Neath our feet the earth is turning.
Stars dance their shining whirl.
The fire in our hearts bright-burning
Feed our passion, light our world.

Samhain night is now upon us.
We turn to the new year.
Our honored dead may walk among us;
The Otherworld draws near.

Darkness gathers. Winter’s waking,
as since the Wheel began.
Into his arms all fears now taking
So burns our Wickerman.

[Chorus, 2x]

Imbolc draws us back together.
Winter’s grip is loosening.
Forge-flames dream of warmer weather
Through cold nights’ slumbering.

Share we now what we’ve created,
Our craft and skill we bring.
Let joyous work be unabated.
Through Brigit this we sing.

[Chorus, 2x]

Beltaine’s beauty blooms before us.
Desire warms the world,
Bursting forth in joyous chorus,
New buds and leaves unfurled.

Sap has risen; now breath quickens,
Life’s forces flowing strong.
Wrap the Maypole wreathed in ribbons.
Dance to life’s sacred song.

[Chorus, 2x]

Edit, March 26, 2015: At Gulf Wars, we were thinking we might want to do something particular to mark the Vernal Equinox, and I wrote this, which means I guess I’m on deck for the rest of the solar holidays, too. (I didn’t end up singing it there, though. We did an egg-hunt, with prizes.)

Balanced days are now returning
Tilting back toward the sun
Light is waking, stretching, growing
Dreams hatch through work well-done

Plant we now for future’s reaping
Make plans for summer’s height
Longhall’s rhythm, strong hearts beating
Bright friendship warms the night.

Edit, August 2016: We had some losses as a tribe this year, so our Lughnasadh ritual focussed on the cycle of loss and growth. I added these verses to the Lughnasadh ones.

Our hearts grieve from long-fought battles
And weep for absent friends.
Well-stored crops and slaughtered cattle
Take us through the Wheel’s next bend.

Each night’s fire feeds our story.
Each life that starts anew
Feeds on every former glory
Strengthening the cauldron’s stew.

Scattered seed grows corn to feed us.
Through the dark we reach the dawn.
All that’s been has led us hither;
All that’s here will lead us on.

(Those last two lines are drawn from Robin Williamson’s For Three Of Us, which has become my traditional last-night-of-Pennsic song.)

Nine: A Song of the Varian Disaster

My telling of the battle of the Teutoburg Forest, in the year 9 CE. This song was commissioned by Sigismund of the Basternae at the Potomac Celtic Festival in June 1999, and first sung at Pennsic XXVIII in August 1999. I’m not opposed to other people singing this in non-commercial contexts, with proper attribution (to Etaíne na Preachain, if you’re singing at a reenactment event). I don’t have a recording to offer, but I’m thinking about it. EDIT (Aug. 12, 2015): Wait, I do have a recording! Video by Tim Morin (thank you!!), taken at Tir Thalor’s open camp at Pennsic 44, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2015. The lighting is a little crazy (campfire + torch + moon + light bouncing off a helmet…) but the sound and atmosphere are right on.

I wake from vivid dream, my heart all a-drum.
I stood among black trees, hung with garlands bright,
Livid in the gloom of a forest deep:
Chalk-white blooms, crimson-streaked.

I’m called Arminius. I’m a citizen of Rome.
I was made a knight by the emperor’s own hand.
Quinctilius Varus is the legate I serve
As deputy, here on the German frontier.

As a boy I left my homeland for schooling in Rome;
I learned to speak their tongue, learned how they behave,
But Varus is a creature of Rome through and through:
He does not know a thing of barbarian ways.

Rome did not sweep over this land all at once.
It crept in by degrees, here a road, here a town.
One thread at a time can make a strong web, and
Once it is built, it is hard to tear down. Continue reading Nine: A Song of the Varian Disaster