Friday 26 February 2010

Best Blog Comments Award

Rue of Rue and Hyssop and Inannasstar of Ramblings of a Domestic Goddess have both given me a Best Blog Comments Award! I am truly appreciative of this -- thanks so much, you lovely bloggin' gals! I have a few comments about comments, so to speak, but first -- the rules of this award.

1. Link back to the blog/blogger who nominated you.
2. Paste the picture of the award into your post.
3. Nominate other bloggers who you think deliver great comments to your blog.
4. Email/post/tweet or do whatever you need to do to inform these bloggers that they have been nominated.

When I first started reading blogs three or four years ago, I was a classic lurker. I never left comments. In fact, I didn't even know how. But once I started my own blog, I soon realized how important comments are. They let you know that someone is actually reading your stuff. You're not just babbling to yourself in cyberspace!

It's hard when you first start blogging and no one leaves comments. I still remember the thrill of receiving my first one! OMG, someone out there had actually read my blathering! Squeeeee!

So now I make a point of trying to leave a comment on many posts that I read. And I'm always grateful for each and every comment that is left on my blog. Thank you all very much! I enjoy reading them immensely.

For this award, I'd like to nominate four bloggers who often leave comments on my blog that make me laugh out loud at their quirky wit. Check out their blogs if you like writers with an extra-good sense of humour!

Corey James at Madtexter

Jackiesue at Yellowdog Granny

Eternally Distracted at Eternally Distracted

Elly at Bugginword

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Gypsy Letter #2

Another letter finally arrived today from my AWOL cat, Madame Zara, who ran off with the gypsies earlier this month --

Sorry I haven't written in a while, but I've been busy having a whirlwind romance! Our gypsy band decided to travel down south to keep warm. So we went to Texas but damn if it didn't snow while we were there! Jeez, if I wanted snow, I should have just stayed in Canada! What freaky weather!

Anyway, we set up camp outside some town called East or West or something -- one of the four directions, I don't know. That night we danced by the fire, told fortunes, picked a couple of pockets -- you know, the usual. As I was dancing my wild gypsy dance, I noticed a handsome tom in the audience. He was definitely giving me the eye! Well, one thing soon led to another, as they say. His name is Dexter. Here's his photo:

Isn't he handsome? His eyes can go kind of crazy once in a while, but just look at his gorgeous big ruff -- almost like a lion's! And you know what they say about a big ruff! *giggle*

Dexter wined and dined me and swept me off my paws! We ate at only the finest dumpsters, like the one behind the pizza and BBQ joint. Our main course was a discarded local delicacy called a "skunk egg," if I remember correctly. We washed it down by lapping up a spilled puddle of Dublin Dr. Pepper. Yum! The vintage was superb!

Our love affair was pure heaven for the week that it lasted. But eventually, our gypsy band decided to move on because, after all, we are vagabonds. I begged Dexter to run away with us, but he refused. Turns out that little two-timing bastard had another pussy in his life the whole time -- name of Jackiesue or something -- and he wouldn't leave her for me! So you better believe I gave him a good scratching and threw the bum right out of my life!

Now my heart is broken and I've sworn off toms forever. However, I will triumph in the end and turn this whole ugly experience into Sublime Art by becoming the greatest tragic gypsy dancer that the world has ever known!

Farewell until next time! Many hugs and purrs! Love, Madame Zara

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Boscastle Fish & Chips

While in Britain, my Rare One made it her mission to sample fish & chips from as many restaurants as possible. Most were delicious, while others ranged from fair to mediocre and (on one occasion only) terrible. They all involved deep fried battered fish, of course. Except in Boscastle. This is the fish & chips order that arrived at our restaurant table --

My Rare One calmly removed the heads, tails and skin and ate the fish, which she said was very fresh and tasty. I discreetly covered the heads and other remains with my napkin. I just couldn't bear having those little fishy eyes looking at me while I ate my meal.

[All Boscastle photos in these four posts were taken by my Rare One, except for the first exterior shot of the Museum of Witchcraft]

Monday 22 February 2010

Boscastle's Museum of Witchcraft, Part 3

For me, some of the most interesting exhibits at the Museum of Witchcraft concerned a few of the British witches and occultists who reinvigorated and reinvented the Old Religion in modern times. For example, the Museum displays a silver chalice that belonged to Aleister Crowley, ceremonial magician and occultist, creator of the Thoth tarot deck, who was popularly known as "The Great Beast." Another display has a few artifacts that belonged to Stewart Farrar, the creator of Alexandrian Wicca.

A large glass case contains a painting of Gerald Gardner, the creator of Gardnerian Wicca, along with various of his possessions . . .

. . . including his High Priest ceremonial robes.

These are the kinds of things that make the Museum of Witchcraft unique!

Friday 19 February 2010

Boscastle's Museum of Witchcraft, Part 2

I was very interested in the Museum of Witchcraft's display about England's historical witch hunts and persecutions. We don't see these types of artifacts in North America (except perhaps in Salem, I don't know). The exhibit is horrifying, of course, but its lessons are important to remember.

This photo shows a ducking-stool, an instrument historically used for the social humiliation and punishment of women deemed to be wicked.

Usually these women were accused of being "scolds," which meant that they had dared to challenge male authority in some way or were just generally uppity. The "scold" would be bound to the chair and either exhibited to public humiliation in the street or ducked in a river or pond as further punishment. In medieval times, ducking-stools were sometimes used to determine whether a woman was a witch. Bound to a wooden ducking-stool and thrown in a river, the unfortunate woman would be found to be a witch if she floated, but innocent if she drowned. Witches, of course, were executed by hanging or burning. Not very good odds either way.

This photo shows two examples of a "scold's bridle."

The iron muzzle or cage would be placed on the head of a woman accused of being a scold, shrew, gossip or practitioner of witchcraft. A heavy iron bar (often with spikes) would project into her mouth. So long as she did not speak, everything was fine. But if she tried to speak or protest, the movement of her tongue would cause painful torture by the bridle. The lesson to women publicly humiliated by forcible wearing of a scold's bridle? Hold your tongues.

Today we are rightly horrified about the persecution of Islamic women by the Taliban. But we must never forget that our Western forebears also had a similarly brutal history of using physical and emotional violence to keep women in a subordinate position.

On Monday, a cheerier post about other exhibits at the Museum of Witchcraft.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Boscastle's Museum of Witchcraft, Part 1

Not far from Tintagel is a picturesque Cornish village called Boscastle. With a natural inlet harbour, it is a valuable fishing port. Over the past decade, Boscastle has suffered a couple of devastating floods, but you would never know it now by looking at its charming buildings and lovely shops. One of Boscastle's main tourist attractions is the Museum of Witchcraft located just off its main street.

When you arrive at the Museum, there is a sign directing you to park your broom in the space provided. Very cute!

Inside the Museum are two floors of densely packed exhibits on all kinds of witchy, occult matters. When visiting this Museum, it's important to keep two things in mind:

(1) This is not a professionally curated museum. It is a labour of love by those who are devoted to witchcraft. There's a real feeling that you have just entered "collectors' heaven" with eclectic exhibits all cheek-by-jowl with each other. Sometimes there's not enough information about what you're looking at. Sometimes there's too much. But we were charmed by much of what we saw and found almost everything interesting.

(2) This is very much a museum of British witchcraft. It focuses on local, practical folklore, superstitions and traditions of England and Cornwall. So there are lots of exhibits on poppets, curses, herbology, poisons, fertility symbols, etc. This is most definitely NOT a museum about modern Wicca or today's pagan movement as experienced in North America. Almost everything in the Museum predates the 1960s (at the very latest).

In the next two posts, I'll tell you about the exhibits which we found most fascinating.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Happy Birthday, Loreena McKennitt!

Like many people, I'm a big fan of the multi-talented Celtic singer-songwriter Loreena McKennitt. But not everyone knows that she was born and raised in my home province of Manitoba. Yay, Manitoba! On this date in 1957, she was born in Morden, which is a small farming community located one hour south of Winnipeg near the U.S. border. She lived in Manitoba until moving to Stratford, Ontario in 1981, which is still her home base.

Around 1980 when I was a university student in Winnipeg, everyone was raving about a fabulous young harpist who was playing in the Drummer Boy Lounge at the Hotel Fort Garry. No one knew her name, but they all said "Hey, get this -- she's from Morden!"

The Drummer Boy Lounge was much too swanky for my starving student lifestyle in those days, so I never did see the wonderful unnamed harpist. Years later, however, I put two-and-two together and realized she must have been Loreena McKennitt. What a missed opportunity!

I've always followed Loreena McKennitt's career with great interest. She has known great professional triumph due to her amazing talent and incredible hard work. She has also known great personal loss. In 1998, her fiance died in a tragic boating accident on Georgian Bay. Recently, she was forced to take legal action in England against a former trusted friend and employee who published a book full of personal details and intimate information. Refusing to back down, Loreena pursued her case all the way to the highest British court. The court confirmed her right to privacy and set a valuable legal precedent to protect other celebrities in the future.

Monday 15 February 2010

Merlin's Cave

From the Admission Gate at Tintagel, a different path leads down the cliff to the shoreline and the sea. At low tide, you can go down to visit Merlin's Cave. Wooden stairs with railings lead down the cliff about three-quarters of the way to the bottom. Then, for no apparent reason that I could see, the stairs simply stop -- just as they reach an immense pile of huge, slippery boulders and rocks. At that point, you must (as best you can) clamber down over this granite obstacle course in order to reach the shore.

Excuse me, but I must pause here and rant. Talk about a lawsuit waiting to happen! Over the years, surely people have slipped and fallen and broken Gawd-knows-what getting over those rocks -- how could they not? Why on earth the stairs do not go all the way to the bottom is beyond me. At a Canadian tourist site, they most certainly would. Plus there would also be an elevator or funicular to transport the elderly or disabled. We believe in accessibility in Canada! And no lawsuits!

Anyway, with the help of other people in our tour group, I made it over the boulders and down to the shore. Kelp littered the beach, which was an interesting sight for those of us not used to the seaside. A lovely waterfall cascaded down the cliff a short distance away:

Across the beach we entered Merlin's Cave which was large and easily accessible. People could stand upright and move about without difficulty. Here's the entrance:

Merlin's Cave is open at both ends. At low tide, there is just a trickle of sea water flowing across the cave's gravelly floor. But at high tide, the North Atlantic comes roaring through! Of course all we saw was sunlight, as shown in this photo:

The walls of the cave have large veins of whitish quartz running through them. Perhaps this was the basis for Mary Stewart's novel about Merlin, called The Crystal Cave, which I read as a teenager. I don't know. But it does make the cave walls look rather eerie:

Mara Freeman led us in a keening Celtic chant in the heart of Merlin's Cave, which suited this wild and mysterious place. Then we had time to explore the cave further and take photos. Dare I say that it was a magical experience?

[All photos of Tintagel and Merlin's Cave in the past few posts were taken by my Rare One, who is fast becoming the Official Photographer of the She Who Seeks blog!]

On Thursday, I will start a series of posts about Boscastle and the Museum of Witchcraft.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Gung Hey Fat Choy, Valentine!

So not only is it Valentine's Day today (smooch, smooch, mwah!) but it's also the Chinese Lunar New Year! 2010 is the Year of the Tiger, which means it will be a year of unexpected opportunities, bold and decisive actions, and major life experiences. Yowza!

Here's a little traditional ritual to encourage prosperity and abundance for the upcoming year. Exchange a penny (or other small coin) with another person while wishing them Gung Hey Fat Choy (Happy New Year)! Make sure each of you brings your own coin of equal value to give to one another -- don't just pass the same coin back and forth. You don't want prosperity to simply swirl or circle around -- you want it to come and stay with you!

Friday 12 February 2010

Climbing to Tintagel: Part 2

I mentioned that Tintagel Castle is perched high atop an impossibly steep crag, didn't I? From the base of the crag, it's possible to hire a Land Rover to drive you up to the Admission Gate. But after that you're on your own, you poor bastard!

As we stood at the Admission Gate getting our tickets, I looked up the crag face at the line of tourists snaking their way up the almost vertical stairs (yes, at least there were stairs! and handrails!) It reminded me of that famous old photo of the Klondike Gold Rush where all the desperate fortune seekers were crossing the Chilkoot Pass. I thought, Oh crap! Can a pair of nonathletic old babes like us make it to the top?

Well, yes we could, as it turned out. We climbed the stairs slowly and rested often. And eventually we reached the top and entered Tintagel Castle through an ancient iron-and-wood door. The ruins which lay beyond the door were magnificent -- open to the sky, the wind and all the elements. We explored the site and marveled at the amazing vistas looking out to sea.

We saw King Arthur's Footprint -- a rectangular depression in a rock which was indeed vaguely foot-shaped if you used your imagination. Our guide, Mara Freeman, said it was the strongest evidence that this location may once have been an actual ritual spot for swearing in Celtic kings, who would have placed their foot in the depression while being crowned. It was common ancient practice to use a sacred rock or stone to seal a coronation. Even today, for example, Scotland's Stone of Destiny is always present under the seat of the Coronation Chair in which British monarchs sit while being crowned.

Moreover, recent archaeological discoveries now show that the site of Tintagel Castle was, in fact, occupied long before the current castle ruins were built. So perhaps Tintagel really was the birthplace of King Arthur after all! Who knows? All I know is that my ass muscles were incredibly stiff and sore for the next few days because of that climb.

On Monday -- Merlin's Cave!

Thursday 11 February 2010

Climbing to Tintagel: Part 1

When I was a teenager, I was absolutely nuts about the Arthurian legends. I read everything I could get my hands on about these myths. So it was a big thrill to go to Tintagel!

Now, the truth about Tintagel is quite prosaic. The castle ruins which currently occupy the cliff top don't really date back to Arthur's time. The castle was actually built in the middle ages as a summer home for a wealthy nobleman who simply wanted to associate himself with the Arthurian myths for reasons of prestige. But the castle ruins are still very impressive. Since Victorian times (when there was a big resurgence of interest in the King Arthur legends), Tintagel has been a classic tourist town, cashing in as much as it can on King Arthur, Merlin and the Round Table.

I still found Tintagel to be utterly charming. I'm no snob or purist about the King Arthur myths. Nor am I one of those people who think that, unless the stories are proved to have been based on historical fact, they cannot have any true significance. No, anything about King Arthur is grist to my mill. Beautiful, bogus or tacky -- I love it all!

Tomorrow -- the climb, my Gawd, the climb!

Wednesday 10 February 2010

The Legend of Tintagel Castle

According to the Arthurian legends, Tintagel Castle belonged to Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall. King Uther Pendragon lusted after Gorlois' wife, the Lady Igraine. So Gorlois placed Igraine in Tintagel Castle for safekeeping while he waged war nearby with Uther.

Merlin the Magician transformed Uther into the likeness of Gorlois so he could safely go to Tintagel and have sex with Igraine, who innocently thought her husband was visiting her. This deceit resulted in the conception of Arthur. Gorlois was ultimately defeated and killed by Uther, who then married Igraine. Apparently she held no grudge against him. Or if she did, it didn't matter.

During Igraine's pregnancy at Tintagel, Merlin bided his time and waited in his cave on the shore below the castle. When Arthur was born, Uther Pendragon immediately transferred his son and heir into Merlin's care. Merlin whisked Arthur away, placed him with a noble foster family and personally trained him to become the Once and Future King.

Again, Igraine's thoughts and feelings about these actions were seemingly not important. She definitely got the short end of the stick in this story.

Tomorrow -- Tintagel as tourist attraction.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Cornwall: On the Trail of King Arthur

As part of our Mystical England: Journey to Avalon tour last September, we spent two days in Cornwall. Tintagel, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur, is located on the rugged Cornish coast. The ruins of Tintagel Castle are found at the top of a very steep cliff. At the cliff's base is Merlin's Cave, located on the sea's rocky shoreline. In the next few posts, I'll tell you all about our Arthurian adventures.

The other interesting spot which we visited during our brief stay in Cornwall was the Museum of Witchcraft in the town of Boscastle. I'll post some pictures and comments about that, too.

Stay tuned!

Monday 8 February 2010

Gypsy Letter #1

Today a letter arrived from my cat, Her Royal Highness. Sorry, I mean "Madame Zara" which is what she now calls herself. You may recall that she ran away a week ago to join the gypsies over at Traveling Gypsy Caravann. Here's what her letter says:

I arrived safely at the gypsy encampment and am now settling in very well. Everyone was so welcoming! I sleep in a different caravan every night. And I eat whatever the other gypsies are having for supper.

But it's not a free ride! I must earn my keep and help bring money into the communal pot. So they are trying me out in the gypsy orchestra. However, playing the violin posed a bit of a problem for me due to its size. Who am I supposed to be, frickin' Yo Yo Ma? And cellos don't really enhance the wild gypsy sound, you know.

So they switched me to the accordion, which worked much, much better. I even started singing along with the music. But then my accordion disappeared and now I cannot find it anywhere! By the way, what does "caterwauling" mean?

It turns out that I was not born to be a musician after all. No, I was born to be a dancer! A wild, exotic gypsy dancer! Now I bring in money like nobody's business! Don't you just LOVE my costume?

Bye for now! Many hugs and purrs! Love, Madame Zara.

Friday 5 February 2010

Another Judy Chicago Pilgrimage

Earlier this year, I wrote about my pilgrimage while in New York to see The Dinner Party by feminist artist Judy Chicago (read here and here if interested). About a month ago, I made another such pilgrimage -- but this one was much closer to home! My Rare One and I piled into a van along with some art-loving friends for a little road trip down to Calgary (about 3 hours south of Edmonton). The Art Gallery of Calgary was hosting an exhibit called If Women Ruled the World: Judy Chicago in Thread. Yay!

The exhibit was a retrospective of selected needlework, textile and mixed media works from various Judy Chicago projects. There was nothing from The Dinner Party, but there were pieces from some of her other major installations including The Birth Project, The Holocaust Project and Resolutions: A Stitch in Time. There were also some fabulous short films about Judy Chicago and the women who render her artistic vision in needlework and textiles.

The Birth Project rivals The Dinner Party as Judy Chicago's most ground-breaking and powerful installation. Created from 1980 to 1985, The Birth Project is the first serious representation in Western art of women's experience of giving birth.

Think about that astonishing fact for a moment -- 5,000 years of Western Civilization art deliberately ignored this specific experience as being too unworthy, unclean or unimportant to portray or acknowledge. Not until women achieved sufficient equality to become serious artists ourselves did this central human experience first get addressed in Western art -- a whole 25 years ago! That just staggers me.

The Birth Project is a radical, searing vision of female pain and female power. Its images can be raw and shocking but then again, isn't all truth-telling? Judy Chicago portrays the creative act of birth as connecting women both to the Earth and to the Divine Feminine.

Here are photos of a couple of the larger installation pieces. The first is crocheted in black yarn. It is an absolutely exquisite piece of work. The double shadow effect comes from being hung about an inch away from the wall.

The second piece is created with a short yarn rug-hooking technique and is very lush in both colour and texture.

It was an amazing exhibit and one which I will not forget for a long time!

[All photos taken by my Rare One]

Thursday 4 February 2010

A Rather Pointed Question

I have won three wonderful giveaways since October -- a box of beautiful witchy goodies from Rue at Rue and Hyssop, a gorgeous Halloween Knitty Kitty from Mrs. B at Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom (courtesy of Thalia Took at Amused Grace) and now the wonderful cat art collection from Shelagh at Alice in Paris Loves Art and Tea. I have been amazingly lucky and blessed.

So I don't blame anyone who might be giving me the ol' stink-eye and saying, "Hey, when are YOU going to cough up a giveaway, huh? HUH?"

May I just say . . . plans are in the works. IN THE WORKS! My intention is to have a giveaway when my Blog Followers List breaks 100. I figure that's a great milestone to celebrate!

Wednesday 3 February 2010

A Wonderful Giveaway Win

Shelagh Duffett is a super Halifax artist whose blog is called Alice in Paris Loves Art and Tea. On her birthday in January, Shelagh had a giveaway and -- yes, woo hoo! -- I was the lucky winner! I've now received a print of this beautiful star-gazing kitty entitled "All is Well." Plus Shelagh also sent me a copy of her 2010 calendar -- every month features one of her cheery cat paintings. The painting below is one of my faves called "Check Mates." I highly recommend visiting Shelagh's blog and etsy shop! You'll feel so good afterwards!

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Imbolc, Candlemas and Groundhog Day

Today is Imbolc, the pagan festival sacred to the Goddess Brigid. Not so coincidentally, it is also Candlemas, the Christian festival sacred to Saint Brigid. And of course, it is also Groundhog Day here in North America.

Last year I bitched mightily about the difficulties of celebrating Imbolc in winter-bound Canada (here and here) and about how Groundhog Day really suits us better (here). This year I choose to follow the brilliant lead of Goddess artist Thalia Took, who tirelessly promotes Groundhog Day over at her blog Amused Grace. She has created a whole series of witty Groundhog Day cards that you really should check out at her shop. Her illustration of Brigid and the Groundhog surrounded by Sacred Candles is one of my favourites!

And as Thalia Took says: Remember -- the Groundhog is the Reason for the Season!

Monday 1 February 2010

The Raggle Taggle Gypsies O!

Despite her posh name, Her Royal Highness has always been a bit of a gypsy cat at heart. She secretly longs for adventure and the open road. She yearns to dance wildly by firelight to the sound of tambourines and sobbing violins.

So it really wasn't too much of a surprise the other day when HRH informed me that she is changing her name to Madame Zara and running off to join the gypsies. She will tell fortunes and have her paw crossed with silver. She will break the hearts of many toms and steal their catnip to boot.

There is a whole gang of wild gypsy bloggers over at Traveling Gypsy Caravann whose ringleaders are Pattee, Sonia, Renee and kj. They are inciting gypsy mayhem all over the internet, encouraging women, men and now cats to kick over the traces and run away with them.

Have fun, Madame Zara! Send me a postcard every now and then!