Tuesday, 4 October 2016

What I Am Doing In September: Ritual

This has spilled into October a bit, but nicely wraps up the ‘Month of Stuff’. I did have another item I wanted to write about and post pictures of but time has meant I couldn't get good photos so will have to do that another day.

So ritual, it turned out from a discussion and blog post with another devotee of Gwyn, she marks Gwyn’s feast on the 29th September for various reasons (for a quick rundown, have a look here). This seemed like a fine idea and as I don't have anything like a regular feast day or specific event to make offerings this worked out nicely as a point to do so.

Now, I have one main shrine space in the hearth and a smaller one in an old wooden box upon the mantelpiece above it. At the moment the hearth is set up for Rigantona and the box to Gwyn. The intention is to switch the as winter draws in. I figured I may as well do that now as I was about to mark Gwyn’s feast and autumn has at last taken hold - bit early I guess, but not entirely untimely. So the shrine space was set, candles and incense lit.

I did some purification and got myself into a light trance, made an offering of incense and said the first hymns to Briganti the Mother of the Flames.

I made an offering of meat (game seems most fitting) and dark rum and said an ad-lib hymn.

At this point I wanted to read one of the poems from Lorna's Enchanting the Shadowlands and so flipped the pages until it felt right, and so found myself saying a hymn to Rigantona-Epona. A spring time poem, to the Goddess I had just evicted from her shrine. Message received loud and clear. I read the poem, acknowledged that She need to be moved back to her shrine and tried again. This time it was a more fitting poem, but again horses were mentioned…ok, ok point taken.

I said a few words, blew out the candles and made a mental note that things need to go back t the way they were on my altar space, at least for a few more weeks.


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

What I Am Doing In September: Flying Ointments

Following on from the previous post in my 'What I Am Doing In September' series, it is time to move on to something occupying my time at the moment...

Flying ointment. 

These have a lot of history and evoke images that stem more from fantasy and the imagination than from actual practices. Some described are phenomenally dangerous, and on the other hand, some being sold on the internet and around various sources have nothing in them at all with pharmacological effect and are thus entirely ineffective and something of a waste of money.


Traditional Flying Ointments

Almost all of the 'traditional' flying ointments make use of various plants in the Solanaceae family (on one hand containing all the poisonous nightshades, and on the other the third most economically important group of plants such as potatoes, chillies, tomatoes and tobacco amongst others). The poisonous members of this family DO have chemicals with psychoactive and pharmacological effects; this isn't the placebo we are taking about. These plants can be turned into effective flying ointments, but to my mind this really needs to be done with a lot of experience and practice rather than something for someone to give a go out of interest. So, rather than go on about them here, this is a link to a talk I gave at a conference on entheogenic plants and fungi. Drop a message in the comments if it doesn't work - I will sort something out.

So, moving on...the other entheogenic compound of interest is the one I have done more work with and have had plenty of success with to boot.

Thujone

Thujone inhibits the activation of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors in the nervous system, as GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, this means that by inhibiting these receptors, nerve transmission flows more freely and rapidly. Much like adjusting the timings on traffic lights to allow for a faster and greater low of traffic along roads. It is this effect that is of interest here for Artemisia flying ointments.





In practical terms, and based on my own and other people’s experiences using this type of ointment, the overall effect is to enhance ritual and trance work. Sounds, movements and sensations are more intense and heightened. That being the case, this ointment works really well as an aide to fully immerse yourself in the work being done.

Thujone is not without its toxicity though. Too high a dose will lead to muscle spasms and convulsions. Based on lab experiments, the toxicity really starts to kick in when you get above 30mg/kg and it becomes pretty fatal at 60mg/kg. To put this into context, an average person weighing 80kg would need to consume more than 2.4g of thujone to begin getting into realms of spasms, above 3.6g and convulsions are likely and once you reach 4.8g of thujone you are looking at death. 10ml of essential oil of wormwood is about 4ml thujone, so drinking a whole 10ml bottle is likely to lead to serious adverse effects.

All of the above in mind, the flying ointments I have made have not been close to risking those sorts of concentrations and that much exposure.


My current recipe looks like this;

A 1litre la parfait jar is filled just over half full with lightly packed dried mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), about 700ml of sunflower oil is poured in and it is given a bit of a mix.

This is left for 3-4 months out of the way to infuse; not too warm and not in direct sunlight. It can be done in sunlight over a shorter time period, or in a very low oven for a few hours. It works for me to leave it longer - mainly because I am lazy.

After a few months the oil has gone a deep emerald green colour (very pretty), strain out the mugwort, this might take a couple of goes to get a clear oil. Add in 20ml of wormwood essential oil (Artemisa absinthum) and place in an ovenproof jug or bowl. This goes in the oven set to 50-60° C, just enough to warm it up for the beeswax to melt. Then the wax goes in! This bit will take some trial and error. For 100ml of oil infusion, it might need 10-15g of beeswax. Add the beeswax to the warm oil and leave for an hour or so in the low oven for the wax to melt.

At this point I would decant it into the jars it will be kept in, and keep these in the oven but turn it off and leave the door slightly ajar. This means it cools slowly and sets (the first time I put it in the fridge and it formed a hard wax layer on top and an oily slurry underneath), so this will probably take overnight. The next day, try it out and see if it can be scooped out and rubbed into the skin. My first batch wasn’t firm enough so I melted it again in the low oven – in the smaller jars – and added another pinch of beeswax to each. Once cooled this was fine. As I said, it might require trial and error.Anyway, that initial batch set perfectly and was easy to rub onto-into the skin.

To use it, first of all apply a small amount to the inside of your wrist to do an allergy test. Leave it all day or overnight and be sure it doesn’t cause itching, redness or other symptoms. If all goes well you are ready to rock!


About 30 mins before you begin whatever it is you are doing, apply about as much as a walnut half/level teaspoon/end of your thumb sized blob. Soft and thin skin areas on the body are best; behind the ears, temples, inside of the forearms, behind your knees. You can even go the whole hog and get a bit more intimate – some people I know did this and there were no…problems shall we say.




Next up in the 'What I Am Doing In September...ritual!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

What I Am Doing In September: I


Inspired by John Beckett’s Patheos blog post and by then ensuing challenge by Dver, I thought this might be a simple and easy way to get a couple of more day-to-day blog posts done about the things I am doing at the moment with ‘my polythesim’. It should be a good way to have a few simple and short blogasms covering a range of things I get up to.

First off, the autumn equinox is coming up and I am writing the ritual for our coven. As we continually cycle who is writing and leading each ritual we get the chance to work on all of the festivals and bring a flavour of our own praxis to a Wiccan setting. Normally the equinoxes and solstices are ‘open’,  in that we can invite non-initiates along to get a sense of what we do if they are interested in joining and working towards initiation, or guests can come along who are simply keen to be a part of it or experience it (family members for instance). Now, a case can and has been made that as these are open we should ‘tone down’ for want of a better phrase; these aren’t initiates and we don’t want to get too full on. My view on this is rubbish…of the two rituals I have prepared I haven’t held back at all, and in the case of the previous one at Samhain (open again, but for different reasons) we blew everyone’s socks off with a Seidr focussed ritual.

This equinox, we are going to enact the Horse Sacrifice. When it I done I will post up a summary of the ritual and thoughts on how it went.

Yesterday I started off a new batch of flying ointment. I realise I haven’t written about these or how I make them and use them. I suppose it might be good to do that in the future some time. The ointments I make don’t use any of the ‘traditional’ Nightshade family (the Solanaceae) as after some research (handy having access to a huge botanical library) they are very risky and potential for catastrophic damage or death is too large. So I make an ointment using Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum), the active ingredient in this is thujone. It is safer than the nightshades, though not without its own toxicity at high doses, and is simple to make. I made about 300g earlier this year for use at a large ritual (60 witches) and everyone got to use it and had good results. No adverse reactions to the ointment either. Rather than induce hallucinations or an out of body experience, thujone has the effect of ‘enhancing’ experiences making them more intense. Kind of like adding a turbo-boost button to ritual and trance work. Anyway, more on that in another post when things are progressing with the making process, for the moment the mugwort will be infusing in sunflower oil for the next couple of months.



Dried mugwort in 1.5 litres of sunflower oil

Inspired by some people I met over the summer I have also started getting a bit craftier; I have started making some devotional items with clay with a view to making a lot more. On top of that I have had a stab at linocut printing to make some bits and pieces for a few projects. Again…maybe a separate blog post when I have something I am happy to show off.

Next up will be some ritual practice.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

#MyPolytheism

#MyPolythesim is about me, the land and the Gods.

It is about the Gods and the Ungods, the primal spirits of the landscape and the Andedion that live beneath it.

There are many Gods, there are many spirits and my polytheism is about how I live and interact with them.

My Polytheism says the Gods arise from the landscape and the world at large. The Gods are as much a part of the ecosystem as I am, or a tree or a stag beetle. They are a part of the ecology of the land I live on. I am the landscape, the Gods are the landscape and the landscape is part of us. The three are as inextricably linked as the arms of the triskele.

Polytheism isn’t my religion. Polytheism is a handy word that describes how I see the world and the world behind it.

My Polytheism is about night-time cavorting and howling. It is burning herbs and smothering ecstatic ointments. It is about being with others, about a shared experience of the presence of the Gods and Ungods. It is about finding places to push aside this world and find a space in the one behind it and beneath it.

My Polytheism is about scratching away the patina of time and memory and bringing the Gods back into this world – Worlding them – again. About taking the forgotten, bringing them here and watching them spread like ripples over and over.


My Gods don’t seem to want regular offerings, hymns and prayers every full moon and libations poured out on specific times and specific days. I tried this but I am shit at keeping it up long term, nevertheless, the Gods speak and give signs and on occasion hit me with the hymns and rituals they want in their honour. They want to be Worlded and they want me to do this for them. Offerings of passage into this world, libations of words to be spread and shared. This is what they want from me.

I am a witch. I am part of a coven. I am part of a much larger extended family of witches all over the world. My witchcraft is a vehicle in which I World the Gods, bringing them thundering, dancing and galloping into this world. 


Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Harvest Season

It is harvest season. I have moved away from the notion of a single celebration at the beginning of August (though happened to be in Italy with a group of witches who held an Italian style harvest ritual: Priapus statue procession, figs, olive oil and wine and a lot of sunshine), and am taking part in a number of festivals marking harvests across the late-summer months. I did some writing about this on the Brython Blog out of interest.

Autumn Equinox is coming up in a few weeks and i am writing the ritual for our coven. The standard fare of balance between light and dark is a bit insipid to me - it isn't really something to celebrate in my mind, so have written the ritual as another harvest ritual but with more focus on the other harvests; fruits, nuts, hedgerow harvest and the like.

This is the perfect chance for me to begin working on and actually enacting the Horse Sacrifice Ritual I have had fermenting in my mind for a number of years. Back then, I had it in mind that rather than use the ritual to inaugurate a new sovereign as was done in the past, use it to affirm sovereignty has been granted at the harvest; the land is fruitful and supplying life and sustenance, so we enact the ritual not only to affirm that relationship with the gods and the land but also as a reminder of what is happening out there.

All this food, all this sustenance comes at a cost; all life springs from death. We kill and bring a small shred of entropy and chaos into being so that we transform it into life and growth. In the same way the mythic Dyeus is killed and has his very being torn to shreds to create the cosmos, we repeat that life-from-death cycle over and over. Now, I don't literally think the cosmos was formed from the body of a colossal cosmic father, but our own planet formed in the dust of the creation of our sun, and that sun coalesced from dust and debris from other stars dying and obliterating their own solar systems (and possibly life); death-life-death and onwards until our own sun goes supernova and obliterates the planet we live on. That dust will seed the galaxy and one day form new suns, new planets and new life.

By sacrificing the Horse, we ritualise this process; we are acknowledging that the land provides through its own death what it is we need to live on. The land doesn't 'die' for ever, but is itself sustained by a thousand small deaths and decompositions. 

Anyway, the ritual is almost written and as seems to happen when needed, a hymn came forward from 'I can guess where';




A Grey Mare lies in the sun,
Body heaving under his warm caress.
A single exhalation under the burning gaze.

Upon her flank a thousand wheaten shades of gold,
Upon her shoulder orchards heave with fruit,
Her brow is crowned with every blackened-red of berry 
As her thigh browns under groaning hazels.
With slow exhalation her body ripens.
The sun to catch her final breath;
As wine flows from her throat
Her tears brim with swimming silver bodies
And her flesh bears fat roots and tubers.

A White Mare rises in the twilight
Bone and skin a broken mass,
Bare browed and hollow bodied,
Holding Her breath.


Monday, 6 June 2016

This is what I am taking away from the sunken lands

I.
The gods come and go. Sometimes they drift in, make themselves known and cause a flurry of interest and relationship for a few months and then drift on out again. Sometimes they stay and other times they hang about in the background waiting for the right moment known only to them.

II.
My favourite part of ritual is trance possession, for those moments you are either a vessel for the gods or sit before someone who isn't entirely themselves and is speaking words they have no say in. For those minutes, you are before the gods in a way it is rare to find yourself in otherwise. For me, I see and feel them coming; my upper body reverberates in a way I have never felt before and I am totally guided by someone else.

The purpose of this is to convey something to the other people gathered there. I only do this with gods I have some sort of relationship with or if the person I am trancing with has a relationship with them. Recently, I had cause to seek out a particular god for a particular purpose, he was someone I had poured out libations for and made oblations to in the past, but wasn't a god I was very well acquainted with. It doesn't matter who, because on the way to the gathering, a different god who I do have a longer and more fruitful relationship with stuck his oar in and pretty much said “Nah, it’s me you are after for this”, being sensible about this sort of thing I changed my plans to accommodate.

Anyway, the short version is that he came across in a very different way to what I know and what might be expected; this was an agricultural god who made himself very clearly as a boar. What was once a ‘man’ with a plough tending the fields and bringing from them fruitfulness and life, became a huge tusked boar gouging and tearing up the soil and shitting our fertility in the trenches he left behind. In the cold of winter he took that which was dead and lifeless and started moulding it into something else - something with potential. What strikes me about this is that this almost exactly how I have perceived Mokkonos; the swine god. Almost forgotten Mokkonos who survives only as Moccus-Mercury in Roman Gaul.



Both he, and to a similar extent the divine ploughman, had drifted into the background by the time I had begun exploring the Indo-European cultures and sources for my own religious praxis, and now that I am more acquainted with them, the connections between the ploughman and the boar are glaringly obvious.

III.
The sunken lands around this island tell a very simple message; this is not how things have always been. This land has been older, this land has been different, and the hidden and invisible history is still there - beneath the surface. The landscape was not lost in an eye blink, it was swallowed and consumed slowly by the seas - tide by tide, wave by wave.

The gods; century by century, generation by generation were lost or transformed. Nodens becomes Nudd who becomes Lludd.

Lludd is the landscape we see before us now, the shoreline is where he slips into Nudd and just beneath the breaking waves we get a glimpse of Nodens. The question is though; after a storm, who do we see exposed by the seas violence? When the sands of the shore are churned and stripped back, who will we find washed up like an ancient antlered skull?

Amaethon wasn't always a plough-man, a storm in my past has washed up and uncovered a Great Black Boar with a bristling hide and shining sickle tusks.

People have been on this island before it was an island, when it was a peninsula. They knew of the gods that formed the landscape they lived on, they knew their names and gave them animal masks of a sort to clothe themselves in. The masks were handed down through the generations - the first people here are the ancestors of the people still here now, there was no great washing away and repopulating. The masks were passed on from generation to generation, the gods they clothed changed with the people and the landscape.



IV.
Nodens is a patina on a mask. He is covered with the patinas of Nudd and Lludd, and under him are more gods hidden away by time.


These gods are there, buried by time and tide. But they are still there, they just need a storm to scratch away the names we have remembered to show us the faces we have forgotten.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Sometimes the world really does try to get your attention

More of the submerged land starts to be revealed

Friday, 6 May 2016

Children of the Submerged Woodland

Out of curiosity about the inundation of the lands lost following the Ice Age, I came across a couple of articles about submerged forests being exposed in Pembrokeshire (my home area) following the 2014 storms.  I had totally forgotten about them and their impact; Newgale beach, which I used to spend nearly all of my summers every year on with my family, was almost demolished and he valley behind it almost entirely returned to the sea. It seems that these storms turned up the inundated landscape too.  



Newgale before the storm



 Newgale after the storm




The exposed peatlands from the submerged land

Then I remembered being told when I was a child about the sunken forests off another beach around the coast from us at Abermawr beach. In these latter two, the exposure is less wood and tree stump and more of a peat soil surface which gets exposed, the age is more Mesolithic but with some Palaeolithic beneath it – including stone tools. Hazelnuts and other fruits can be found in the peat. What appears to have happened is that following the glacial retreat, there were a few thousand years of land exposed here, enough to lay down peat and have woodland covering. Then, from about 5000 to 2000 BCE the sea advanced and these lands were eventually lost completely and we get the coastline as we see it today pretty much.


The same sort of peaty exposure at Abrmawr



I had also been doing some reading up on 'fairy' folklore from my area in north Pembrokeshire. There are stories about a group of 'people' who were known as the Plant Rhys Dwyfn, who lived under the sea in Cardigan Bay and used to go to the market in Newport. They would always pay well and as one of the merchants there gave them good quality goods for which they paid a good price. Eventually other salesmen started trying to get more money from them by inflating their prices and so the undersea folk stopped going to the market and started frequenting Fishguard (my hometown) on marketday. There is also a tradition amongst fishermen in the area that they would see the fields and pastures of these Underseaworlds beneath the waves.

What makes me wonder, is the possible link between the stories of these cardigan bay Plant Rhys Dwyfn, the submerged landscape and the inundation itself. 

Was the inundation preserved in story? What is the relationship between the sunken lands and the Plant Rhys Dwyfn for instance?  Did the occasional exposure of the landscape inspire stories about sunken lands and people who still live there?

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Land Under Wave

‘When waves crashed on the sea-shore
with thunder in its wake
The bells of Cantre'r Gwaelod
are silent 'neath the wave’
(from Clychau Cantre'r Gwaelod JJ Williams (1869–1954))

I am sure I have said something before how everything seems to come together at some point and scream “Look At Me!” and the only reasonable thing to do is to pay attention.

Recently I bought a copy of Gordon White’s Star.Ships. I won’t go into a full review here because it has been done  better  elsewhere, suffice to say the take home messages from it that strike a chord with me are;

1.    Human ‘civilisation’ is a lot older than we think and prehistoric man was every bit as complex as we are today and capable of great feats

2.      Ancient history – we are talking ice age levels of prehistory here - can be and is remembered in myth. The notable one here is the flood myth, which White makes a compelling case for being a remembrance of the post Ice Age sea level rises.

It is the post Ice Age flooding which stands out to me here. Britain is well known to have been connected to mainland Europe curing the Ice Age and it was only as the sea levels rose that the landmass known as Doggerland for instance, sank beneath the waves. There is an increasing collection of remains and artefacts – human and other animal – displaying the sorts of ecosystems that have been lost. Also, at the same time, Wales was connected to Ireland by a landmass now beneath the Irish Sea.



There has been a recent spate of news items about submerged objects being exposed by storms in the Cardigan Bay area; 4000 year old stag antlers for instance, plus the semi-regular occurrence of submerged prehistoric forests being exposed by low tides or storms.

Lorna and Crychydd have been blogging over the past few months about Cantre Gwaelod; the 'legendary' story about a settlement whihc was lost beneath the waves. There are a couple of versions of the story, but the most compelling is about Mereid; a cup bearer and well maiden who neglected her duties and caused the well to overflow thus drowning the land for ever (or at least until the next big storm).

The version I learned at school was that there was a great party and the guards at the gate who were responsible for closing the gates against the incoming tide, had gotten drunk and fallen asleep.

What stands out with the Mereid story is that it has all manner of echoes of the remnant practice of cup bearing women who were of huge and significant importance to ruling bodies. They were representations of sovereignty, oracular and seemingly human stand-in for the goddess of sovereignty such as Rosmerta in Gaul and probably Rigantona in Britain. This story also has echoes of the Irish Boand too and similar stories involving inundations from Italy.

So, what are we to make of this?

Well, Mereid bears some striking resemblance to the cupbearer discussed in Michael Enright’s ‘Lady With a Mead Cup’, with her association with sovereignty and its inevitable loss as the lands are sunk it may be that we have the older remembered historical event of the Cardigan Bay area sinking beneath the sea tied up with stories of sovereignty and the people’s place in the landscape and the possibility for that place to be lost.
Lorna discussed the events of the story of Taliesin and the cauldron of Cerridwen poisoning the landscape after it split open, and how this too might relate to an historical mining disaster in the area. It occurred to me that another possibility is that the inundation of the land would also ‘poison’ it over the years as such a process occurred. It is unlikely to have been a one day flooding of Hollywood scale, more a creeping loss of pasture and home to the waves.

Either way, what is important here is that real world events have been remembered and passed on in myth. The things we think of as myths tend to have a general feel as being ‘not real but carrying something important’, like Aesop’s fables, we don’t think a crow got busy with stones and a jug of water (though knowing corvids, it is entirely possible) but the message being conveyed is what we should be focussing on. These stories of Cantre Gwaelod and Gwyddno Garanhir (and Gwyn of course!) need another looking at, as do other similar stories because we could quite literally be missing some important information hidden in plain sight under the guise of ‘just a myth’.

Monday, 25 April 2016

A Brythonic Polytheist Blog

So, we have set up a Brython blog to have a steady stream of content being created out there. It is also a much better way of disseminating and sharing information and praxis as folk can follow it rather than checking up on a website periodically.



Monday, 11 April 2016

Jon Randall

On Sunday morning, about 8am, a man named Jon Randall died.

I hadn't spoken to him in a couple of years, he had mentioned me in a comment on Facebook only the day before but I didn't reply or respond. I hadn't spoken to him in years because I didn't think he was a good person to be around. He could be brilliant and wonderful to know, but also at times toxic.

Jon and his wife initiated me into Wicca.

Jon and his wife were the people who introduced me to some of the most important people in my life, they are the primary reason I came to London. They are the reason I met the person who eventually led me to join a different coven in Wiltshire. Without Jon and his wife I definitely wouldn't be where I am today.

I made the right decision for me in cutting off contact with him, but now find I wish I had spoken to him one last time, told him that I am good where I am and perhaps started to have some contact again.



A friend Dewi wrote a nice comment that sums Jon up perfectly;

I heard this morning that Jon Randall had suddenly, shockingly died.
He was a witch. He wasn't "also a witch", nor did he just "call himself a witch". Everything he did grew from his witchcraft. He was a stage magician, a writer, a web designer, a programmer, a political campaigner. But primarily a witch, with all of the positive and negative connotations that that entails.
He taught me a lot. Not every lesson was pleasant. Many of the lessons were distinctly unpleasant, but each one was important.



It is only now he is dead that I recognise I owed him a lot more than I realised.

He will go on my ancestor altar, I will drink cider and remember the many, many good times. I will start to loosen my memory on the bad times.


Baph

Roots

The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a kickstart at getting me to write something here. So, it began with a visit to Preston and the surrounding area to spend a weekend with Lorna and Heron. The plan being to meet up and have some discussions about Brython (spangly website update and a new blog incoming) and generally have a catch up. I will probably do a write up of that another time. Suffice to say coming away from that weekend I had something confirmed what I had probably been aware of it a roundabout way; I don’t feel and sense of roots to a place any more.

I grew up in Fishguard on the west coast of Wales; lots of history, much of it prehistoric and a long family history on that patch of land (300 years I can find in genealogical documents and 2000 years from Y chromosome analysis). When I was living there and for the first few years after moving away, it had a strong and definite sense of home to me. Since leaving almost 18 years ago, I have lived in Cardiff and Portsmouth for a few years each and have been in London now for 9 years. In London though I still don’t feel a strong sense of belonging to the place and am definitely leaving in the next couple of years to move to a more rural or at least much less urban area – I am not meant for long term city living. I find the one place I know about the landscape; know its history, its stories and have a sense of connection to the landscape itself is the one place I don’t live and wouldn't really consider to ever go back to living in again.

Which leads on to the next thing I want to mention. Lorna has a VERY strong sense of the landscape and it’s hidden history, she showed us around, showed us the lane the faery funerals walked, where the springs were than were broken up and the aquifer that was killed…all tied together by Mary of the Marshes. When I got back to London I did a little searching to see if I could recall some of the similar stories about my hometown – the one story that keeps coming up isn't so much as folkloric or mythic but is rooted in historical fact; the Last Invasion of Britain.

Back in 1797 the French had a go at invading Britain via my hometown. They were foiled by a local shoemaker called Jemima Nicholas. She and the local ladies scared off the French who were about to land by wearing their traditional costume (red and black) which the French mistook at a distance for British soldiers. They landed further round the coast, looted a farm, got pissed and were rounded up and forced to surrender by Jemima and her cohort.

Local lady becomes Folk heroine. 

There was a huge bicentenary celebration back in 1997, a 100ft tapestry made by the locals to mark the story and its events (very Bayeux Tapestry) and a woman from the town ‘voted’ as Jemima Nicholas. She spent years wearing the costume, being something of a tourist attraction in and of herself whilst also working for charity – kind of like a really awesome mascot and figurehead for the town. I knew of the lady in question, Yvonne Fox, and she was a bit of a character. What I know of Yvonne and how she came to be this badass historical lady has made me think that the ‘Jemima’ of them is worthy of being on my ancestor altar.

I might well have written about this before, but I have a problem with ancestors; most of them were very devout Catholic or Baptist, so the notion of ancestor veneration seems inappropriate. Sure, we could do the condescending thing of saying “Oh, but they know better now” but that really doesn’t lie well with me. To me, my more recent ancestors are best honoured by my genealogical work, remembering them, who they were and how they lived.

Jemima is more of a tribal ancestor; not direct but embodying something important. Yvonne – she died a few years ago too embodies something of the spirit of my hometown; that slightly badass and strong female character I know of in many other women from Fishguard.


I found a photo the other day of Yvonne as Jemima and it is beautiful. This is going to go my altar and drinks – Yvonne liked a drink – will be raised for her.