In the interest of moving forward without worrying about catching up, this week I’m kind of bouncing around. I didn’t quite review all of Unit 1 from the Herbal Course. I didn’t really write all of the episodes of my Vella that didn’t get written last week. But I did some of both of those things.
Then I did a bunch of other random things that are loosely connected to my writing process and progress.
I alpha read a new story for someone who read my WIP (and it’s going to be really good once she gets it all worked out. The concept is so intriguing).
I exchanged feedback with my critique partner, who continues to get me and my writing in ways that make it seem impossible that we have never met in real life.
I took advantage of Amazon’s Vella promo to go and unlock a bunch of episode of stories I’ve been wanted to read, but never had enough tokens to get.
And now that my brain is starting to work again, I’m getting my learning from a bunch of different sources:
- The Rebel Author Podcast with guest Shane Millar, talking about 9 Critical Story Beats.
- Writing with Maggie Stievater 2020, videos 11 and 12 about Character
- The Herbal Academy: Introductory Herbal Course, unit 1
- A Spell in the Wild by Alice Tarbuck, October
The October chapter of A Spell in the Wild focuses on Samhain. In it, the author talks about traditions of ancestor-worship, as well more modern customs around interacting with ghosts – especially around Halloween and All Hallow’s Eve, when the veil between the living and the dead is thought to be at its thinnest. I can definitely relate to some of her guilt around not having a strong strong ancestral connection. It does feel like something has been lost that can’t be recovered through researching the family tree.
Her descriptions of ancient and modern rituals are fascinating. Divided into “those designed for honouring the dead and those that help with keeping unwanted supernatural forces at bay,” the author details practices connected with ancient Greece, historical Scotland and Wales, and their connections to modern activities, like American trick or treating (58). I love her explanation of ‘guising’ and the idea of a “mutual exchanging of luck and protection” through shared performance in place of the demands for candy (60). It makes Halloween seem almost more like Christmas, as a communal cultural practice to help us through a long, dark winter season.
The rest of the chapter is devoted to the author’s appeal to the Cailleach, a personification of the ancient world, a goddess of death, and power. It is a series of passages that include academic sources, personal storytelling, and rich descriptions of a landscape that feels foreign and familiar in a way that I think might be particular to an American impression of Great Britain. I’ve been there, but I’m not “of” there. I feel connected by a common history and the knowledge that my ancestors might have seen places like the ones described with their own eyes (and I have, in fact, seen them myself during my study abroad), but my day-to-day personal experience is much closer to the urban nature walks the author described in September.
What sticks out about this chapter is that the author doesn’t get the answer she sets out to find. There is no sudden revelation in her communion with the deity, although she does eventually find meaning in her experience. “Sometimes, the answers we want do not come in the shape that we want, and that is alright” (75). It feels like a continuation of September’s walk in the woods, where she was “learning to recognise and value that which is usually overlooked” (31). Now she’s not just seeing the ugly and neglected things that might be of use in ways that people don’t immediately recognize, but she’s embracing the broken parts for their own sake with the faith that understanding may come later. “Magic is patience” (77).
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