Scottish Lentil Soup

Cheap, nutritious and easily vegan. My camera isn’t working at the moment so no pictures this time. This should make about three portions but mess with the proportions all you like as I measured by eye.

  • One onion
  • Two carrots
  • One rib of celery or celery leaves
  • Red lentils
  • Veg stock or ham hock
  • Frozen peas (optional but added because more veg is good)
  • Mixed herbs or thyme and parsley to taste

If you want to make it more delicious then fry the aromatics after you’ve chopped them before boiling it all up. If you’re looking for healthier just dump them all in the pot, it’ll still taste good. Make sure you boil the lentils for ten minutes to denature the enzymes. It also freezes well and if you don’t have celery to hand it’s still good without it.

 

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More Plant Necromancy

Its been about two months since I came back to a dead looking avocado tree whose leaves had all dried up and fallen off. Because the stem was still green I didn’t get rid of it, continuing to water it and hope. Today its put out little buds.20161015_145959

Apologies for the blurry photograph, I’ve drunk slightly too much coffee today so there was some camera shake involved.

Moral of the story, if its still green there’s hope.

Plant Necromancy

Before I went to Ireland in the Summer I managed to give most of my plants to friends to take care of. Unfortunately the person who was meant to take custody of my spring onions and avocado tree didn’t turn up so I had to leave them to die in the sun.

I noticed when I got back that one of them still had a green bulb under all the straw so I lazily decided to put off uprooting the rest for a while only to discover they were nowhere near as dead as I thought.

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So I continued to leave them, with regular watering, and more of them resurrected themselves than not.

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The moral of the story is that often your plants are not as dead as you think. The avocado tree still has no leaves but the stem is also still green so I’m waiting and seeing.

 

Winter Prep

Before it gets really cold I like to stock pile a series of ginger based cold and flu cures.

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This is literally just chopped ginger put in honey. I let it soak in like this in the fridge and use a teaspoon full in hot water to make a really throat soothing, sinus clearing tea. The juice flows out of the ginger, thinning the honey and making a sort of syrup.

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This is my Ginger Soup, loosely based on Hot and Sour soup and something I’ve been inflicting on sick friends since undergrad. Of course as its my secret remedy there’s no one to make it for me when I’m the one whose sick so I like to keep two tubs of it in my freezer (that’s all I have room for).

You will need;

  • One large thumb of ginger
  • Four spring onions or one white onion
  • Six cloves of garlic
  • Two chilis (less if you like spice less)
  • Oil of your choice
  • Rice vinegar (I’m using Chianking)
  • Soy Sauce
  • Stock of your choice

This is really easy to make and I like to use it as the base for a lot of soups. All you have to do is dice the vegetables and brown then in the oil, then add everything else and cook until the flavours are dispersed.

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Castle Leslie

I’ve just come back from cousin’s wedding in Ireland so I’m going to take a brief detour from my usual themes and talk about the wedding venue: Castle Leslie.

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Castle Leslie is deeply intertwined with my own family’s history. We’re descended from one of the original architects, Thomas Kerr, who was brought over from Scotland for the project and then chose to settle locally and marry a Monaghan woman. I mentioned I was going to write this blog post to one of the staff and he actually took me to see some of the original plans so I could photograph them.

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Thomas’ descendants have continued to work for the family, most often as jewellers, although my great grandmother also upholstered most of the furniture at one time. According to my grandfather, who used to play on the grounds while she worked, some of that furniture is still there. (I completely failed to get a picture of it of course). I do have a picture featuring the original wallpaper however. Its crooked because I took it in a hurry but isn’t it and the fireplace beautiful?

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The portico outside has four arches with relief profiles of the first owner’s four children,. He had three daughters and a son and I think its nice he wanted to celebrate all of them like that.

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The grounds themselves and much of the interior are inspired by the Italian palazzo’s, and the weather was so unnaturally good for Ireland that it actually felt a little like being in Florence.

I would love to have that conservatory to write in.

The best and weirdest part of the place are the bedrooms, because each one has been redesigned uniquely. One of the cousins had the haunted disco bathroom (by the time she showed me my phone was out of power so no pictures sadly). Its a basement bedroom where the previous lord’s disco equipment (he was a big fan) is all set up in the bathroom, so you can turn out the main lights, turn on the flashing red and green ones and have a bath under the disco ball. We’re not sure who the ghost is though.

Another bathroom had LED constellations set over a jacuzzi while one of the rooms, which once belonged to an actress had murals of her painted on the wardrobe and a mirror covered in lights, Hollywood style. The room mum and I were in is the old Nursery and it was creepy as anything. We actually thought it was a prank the cousins were playing on her at first because she hates clowns and things like that but apparently we were given the room at random. It looked like this:

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With the bathroom built into a life size playhouse (that had a scary parachuting clown in the toilet).

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My favourite part was the delightfully classist alphabet border.

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Origins of the Species: who named us Pagans and why.

It isn’t only contemporary politicians who are masters of spin, the Romans were masters of propaganda. You only have to look at Imperial Rome’s surviving architecture to understand that. So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that as soon as the Empire had converted to Christianity, the name they chose for non-Christians was a distinctly unflattering one. To the Roman, a pagan was a “country dweller”, which on the face of it doesn’t sound too bad, until you realise it was the equivalent of calling somebody a “hillbilly” today. To the metropolitan Christian Romans pagans were stupid. They believed that they were backwards, uncultured and incapable of critical thinking, as this was the only explanation for their not having the truth of the gospel and turned to Christ. In short, pagan wasn’t a nice word.

 

As Christianity, and more importantly, Western Christian Imperialism, spread across the globe pagan (along with its sister word heathen) was coercively applied to people to whom the word was meaningless. That was until Christianity, armed with guns and missionary schools, arrived and started to forcibly reshape their lives. Its doubtful whether the majority of people who used the word after the fall of the Roman Empire knew how it came about or its original meaning, but this no longer mattered. Pagan had become a proper noun, one which still carried the original connotations of barbarism and stupidity, but had also managed to pick up “evil” along the way. This new vision of the pagan had chosen to worship manifestations of Satan on earth since they were not just too stupid to see the truth, but had wilfully rejected virtue for the sake of hedonism.

 

Christianity was integral to the construction of the white man’s burden. Along with civilisation, Christianity was something that white people had a duty to bring to the rest of the world (and never mind that the oldest forms of Christianity aren’t found in the West, to the white Christian imperialist they didn’t count – God was an Englishman after all, and less facetiously, the monarch was head of the church). If that required a degree of brutality well, just like burning heretics in the middle ages, what was earthly violence to the immortal soul? More than that, pagan peoples couldn’t be trusted on their own. Their paganism became a sign of some innate flaw, a reduced humanity that left them moral children in need of guidance from White Christians – and they had to be white because whiteness and Christianity had become conflated in the colonial mind, with paganism a symptom of non-whiteness (never mind that the first Christians were anything but white, facts have never mattered to ideology).

 

However while all this was going on in Africa, Asia, and other colonised lands, back at home interest in pre-Christian religions and the supernatural had well and truly taken root. Neo-Druidism, interest in the occult, Theosophy and Spiritualism arose, providing more forgiving and less repressive forms of spirituality. Paganism for these practitioners was an alternative to orthodox Christianity and the cultural values that went along with it, providing a gentler and more forgiving spirituality and sometimes the welcome freedom to engage in taboo sexuality. At the same time many of these people cultivated an interest in Buddhism, Hinduism and other living Eastern religions, some even converting and blending their practise with Theosophy as in the case of Helena Blavatsky. For these white people an interest or even attempt to practise Eastern religions was viewed quite differently by society than the continued practise of these faiths by indigenous persons. White pagans could be subject to disapproval, even outright condemnation from many circles, but they were also fashionable in others and thanks to their wealth and white skin shielded from the

 

negative consequences suffered by the native practitioners. There was something interesting about an Englishman studying Buddhism, something that showed he was sensitive and spiritually enlightened, while an Indian Buddhist was merely a foreigner practicing alien customs.

 

Fast forward a hundred years or so and we can see that this still going on today. White people are still picking and choosing the parts of non white cultures that they like and being credited as intellectual, interesting or unique for doing so while the people who actually come from those cultures are often derided for doing the exact same thing. The modern pagan community is not exempt from this having inherited the traditions of Victorian alternative spirituality and the New Age beliefs of the 1970s; whether its lifting aspects of Buddhism and merging them with European polytheism or taking on closed practices they have no connection to, non Abrahamic religion is often treated as a grab bag that is open to everyone in any way that they choose. They’re all pagan, people will argue, and according to the Victorian colonisers that’s right. But is the Victorian colonial perspective one we want to share and embrace or do we want to stop using Christianity as the lodestone for how we should think about religion, faith and the default human?

 

I’m not the first person to say this. There’s considerable dialogue about it out there in the pagan community right now; discussions of what a closed religion is and what it means, of respectful ways to approach non-western religions versus shallow appropriation. The blanket categorisation of non-Western religion as pagan and the desire of many members of these faiths for it not to be has become a recurring issue.

 

For some its a rejection of the Christian and European centrism of the term, for others its that they do not feel that they and the reconstructed or newly created polytheism of the West have anything in common nevermind being subtypes of the same religion (because there is also a tendency to class all the faiths categorized as pagan as being part of one over-faith, Pagan with a capital P). And, when lack of Christianity is taken away as a unifying factor, they’re right. This isn’t a black or white rule of course. There are members of non Western religions who consider themselves pagans, some of whom blend traditional practises with neopaganism, and there are non Western religions, like the Kemetics, who specifically do think of themselves as pagan.
The key here is respect and receptivity, a willingness to listen and allow people to define themselves as they wish, and to respect the boundaries of closed religions and cultures. As a historian I try to avoid using the word pagan to describe peoples, especially outside of the Roman Empire, because it was not a word they would have used themselves or even found meaningful. When speaking about people who are alive today I use pagan only for people who actively claim it for themselves, or to refer to faiths that self describe as pagan. I believe that this is the only respectful way to apply the word, that the definition of a pagan has to include “identifies as such.” Like witch, or queer, pagan is a reclaimed term, something once used to hurt that now empowers, but not everyone will want to reclaim it. Going on to call them pagan after they’ve rejected it does nothing but reinforce a Western, Christian-centric vision of the world, one that we’re trying to move away from.

 

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