Monday, 15 December 2014

Mystery Anxiety And The Rash

Mystery Anxiety And The Rash
I had a rotten night. I spent it in hospital. Hunched over my keyboard, impossible deadlines biting my elbows, my pale little body betrayed me with some plainly ridiculous rash. It started on my neck and soon consumed half my face and the pain was appalling. I took my battered manuscript with me to the casualty ward; even as they strapped my arm with the pressure pump thing and passed around the little plastic cups with pills in them, I was still marking changes in the margins. Aspiring writers take note: when you do this for money, you too shall become this person.

Part of the plan for this blog is to chart not only my progress to publication, but also the accumulation of the research that informs the book; lore and tales of the witch world. Since Burnt Snow began, my daily life has overflowed with spellbooks and histories of witchcraft, compendiums of crystal magic, herbals, star charts and i Ching coins. As I'm a writer who likes to *know* the things she describes, I've invested in the paraphernalia of witch candles, crystal balls, anatomical models of bears and bagfuls of "magic rocks" - that is, the polished lumps of serpentine, onyx, snowflake obsidian and other geologic delights to which some ascribe spiritual properties and others just think are pretty.

Of my many treasures I count a copy of the annual Witches Almanac, collected on one of my rounds to Treadwell's. The truly enchanting Treadwell's will receive a description in due course, but the my concern today is with the Almanac, and the experiment ahead of me this year.

I grew up in Australia, in a post-colonial, multicultural family where all major religions were represented, the house always air-conditioned and any kind of fruit you want available at the local supermarket all year round. Australia has its popular rituals, and my multi-faith family has engaged with them with only minor vairiations on the theme. Australia's imported the traditional British Christmas, and it's held on the same day it is in Europe, as well as can be imagined when you're eating roast turkey at it's 40C outside. We do a European Easter, too - with bunnies and chickens and the celebrations of the Spring... held at the beginning of Autumn.

What I'm saying is, for all the cultural influences my family and country have inherited, I've got absolutely no experience of how festivals and feasts can work with a seasonal calendar, as opposed to against it. I barely understand harvest cycles, and I've got no idea about seasonal eating. This may be the great luxury of being Australian, but somewhere I think it may be bad for my health.

As a compendium of dates for pagan festivals, calendar of moon cycles and go-to for astrological phases, the Witches' Almanac confronts me in is detail as to how separated from the natural patterns of the earth and skies I am. In Sydney, of course, you can barely see the stars for light pollution and maybe its an apt metaphor for the division the city - or any city - creates between its inhabitants and the rituals of the pre-urban past.

So, anyway, what I'm doing in 2010 - as much out of curiosity as a form of research (as you can imagine, the rituals of the earth are most important to the witches of Burnt Snow) is I'm going to try and live my life around the events of the Almanac, follow the old Celtic pagan festivals and turn with the "Wheel of the Year". I have an advantage in that I'm going back to London on the 1st of February - *just* in time to miss the worst of the cold, and with a calendar of activities laid out for me that doesn't require adaptation of dates. The first event approaching is Imbolc, which is celebrated by Christians under the name of Candlemas. Whatever name it goes by, the tradition demands the lighting of candles and the serving of crepes.

Crepes! I love this experiment already.