Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Every little hurts, as someone once said.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

(Edwin Morgan)

innumerable worlds and worlds unmade,
half-made, the universe immense, displayed,

half-hidden, hidden, infinite, arrayed

with lights or lying back in hungry black
till knots unknot and darkest packs unpack
and pouring creatures run through every crack:

oh yes they do! why should we think it dead,
that vast ubiquitous flicker overhead?
The staff of life may not be only bread!

Why would the lord of life confine his writ
to this one ball of water, flesh, and grit?
You say it's special? Ah but transcending it

are specks we see, and specks we cannot see
but must imagine, in that immensity.
It is reason sets imagination free.

Configurations still unfigurable,
visions and visitations still invisible,
powers to come, still impermissible -

these give the slip to my incarceration.
Chains and a cell are but one suffering station.
Multiple worlds need multiple incarnation.

- But earthly powers were called for, and were shown.
There is a sequence when the torch is thrown:
smoke, screams, a little ash and bone.

I was puzzling over the meaning of the last verse, until I remembered that Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy. I'm sure that the first two lines are Bruno's. I'll try to confirm this.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

I copied this charm from a book of Highland (Gaelic) verse in translation. This particular translation is by Alexander Carmichael and was reported as being from his "Carmina Gadelica", but I have yet to find it there.


Let me dip thee in the water,
Thou yellow, beautiful gem of power!
In water of purest wave,
Which pure was kept by Bridget.

In the name of the Apostles twelve,
In the name of Mary, Virgin of virtues,
And in the name of the High Trinity,
And all the shining angels,
A blessing on the gem,
A blessing on the water, and
A healing of bodily ailments to each suffering creature.

This charm is of interest to me because the same practice of charming away illness with a stone is reported in the kirk session records in the parish where my family was living at the time. I quote the records here, spelling unchanged, emphasis added.

“John Young, in the Valleyfield, delated for charming, summoned, called, and appearing, interrogated as to his charming, declared as follows—viz., that being some time ago called to cure a certain sick person, he used these words: ‘ Little thing hath wronged thee, nothing can mend thee but Father, Son, and Holie Ghost, all three, and our sweet Lady. In etemitie let never wax, but away to the waine, as the dew goes of yeard and stane. I seek help to this distressed person in thy name.’ He likewise acknowledged that he used the same words in curing of a woman in the Blaire, who was for years thereafter weell; and that by the same words he cured Robert Bruce in the Shyres miln,—and the disease these persons had, he said, was a splen, which he siemed to the session to understand as of a disease put upon them through envy and splen. And being interrogat if he used any gestures or postures whiles he was pronouncing these words, he could not deny but that first he rubbed his own hand upon a bare stone, and rubbed the breast, stroaking it 3 times, of the person affected, and siemed to say that he prescribed the use of some herbs to the patient. The session did unanimously conclude him guilty of charming; whereupon being again called, the minister did endeavor to hold out the evill of his way, telling him that his cures were not effected without the help of the devill, and not only to forbear the same in tyme comming, but to mourn before God, and to seek mercie through Christ for using of the divel's prescriptions, and that the witches and warlocks used God's words and made mention of the name of God and Christ in theire services; and he being removed, the session did think fit to advise with the presbetrie how to carrie with him.”
28 August 1693.

(from David Beveridge, "Culross and Tulliallan", vol.ii, p.19)

Some other examples of curing stones and associations (?) with Celtic saints.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Alexander the Great, the plonky who conquered the world.

(Raymond Carver)

Reading a life of Alexander the Great, Alexander
whose rough father, Philip, hired Aristotle to tutor
the young scion and warrior, to put some polish
on his smooth shoulders. Alexander who, later
on the campaign trail into Persia, carried a copy of
The Iliad in a velvet-lined box, he loved that book so
much. He loved to fight and drink, too.
I came to that place in the life where Alexander, after
a long night of carousing, a wine-drunk (the worst kind of drunk–
hangovers you don't forget), threw the first brand
to start a fire that burned Persepolis, capital of the Persian Empire
(ancient even in Alexander's day).
Razed it right to the ground. Later, of course,
next morning–maybe even while the fire roared–he was
remorseful. But nothing like the remorse felt
the next evening when, during a disagreement that turned ugly
and, on Alexander's part, overbearing, his face flushed
from too many bowls of uncut wine, Alexander rose drunkenly to his feet,
grabbed a spear and drove it through the breast
of his friend, Cletus, who'd saved his life at Granicus.
For three days Alexander mourned. Wept. Refused food. "Refused
to see to his bodily needs." He even promised
to give up wine forever.
(I've heard such promises and the lamentations that go with them.)
Needless to say, life for the army came to a full stop
as Alexander gave himself over to his grief.
But at the end of those three days, the fearsome heat
beginning to take its toll on the body of his dead friend,
Alexander was persuaded to take action. Pulling himself together
and leaving his tent, he took out his copy of Homer, untied it,
began to turn the pages. Finally he gave orders that the funeral
rites described for Patroklos be followed to the letter:
he wanted Cletus to have the biggest possible send-off.
And when the pyre was burning and the bowls of wine were
passed his way during the ceremony? Of course, what do you
think? Alexander drank his fill and passed
out. He had to be carried to his tent. He had to be lifted, to be put
into his bed.