Celtic Class: Knotwork, Tin Whistles, SCA–and Drinking from a Skull–College Memoirs: Life At Roanoke–January 1995, Part 2

Sharon wrote in the Journal,

Nyssa, answering your inquiry about how I used to see you.  For a long time you were very quiet and never said anything.  You sat with all of us at meals but you never joined in the conversations.  We didn’t really know you.  You were a part of the group, but you were a stranger for a long time. 

I asked you to room with me this year for a reason.  I didn’t know you and I could tell there was an extremely interesting person in that shy, reserved exterior.  And I was right.

You talk so much more than you used to.  You are a completely different person than I had once thought.  I love the ‘you’ that I have gotten to know this past year.  Meeting the real ‘you’ has been one of the highlights of my year 🙂 .

I wrote,

I’m surprised you say you didn’t really know me before and that I didn’t talk much. It seemed different to me. I had long talks with you and Pearl and others, and I felt closer to you all than I did to almost everyone else. Like here were people that actually knew me. Now I’m a bit confused about the whole thing.

Sharon replied,

I didn’t mean to make you doubt yourself or the way you see yourself now or in the past. You really didn’t talk to me as much as you talked to Pearl (and Cindy when you lived in Krueger).

You did talk a lot when you were with one person, but I usually saw you with the “group” and you really didn’t say much. But that’s not bad. Usually I don’t say much in the midst of a large conversation. I just can’t keep up and my mind goes blank.

****

I was the only one in the apartment with a Winterim class.  Sharon and Pearl were probably working at their work-study jobs, giving them an excuse to stay in the apartment during Winterim.  Tara had an internship, and also stayed in the apartment.

For me, the studying wasn’t at all bad, though, because I enjoyed the Celtic Roots class.  I think I often read the chapters at work in the morning.  In the afternoon, I practiced playing the tin whistle while my friends were out of the room.

Yes, studying the tin whistle was part of the class, since Dr. Bard, the teacher, played French folk music with his wife.  They even played at the campus Open Mike and at gigs around the area.

Dr. Bard, a 30ish, social science teacher with glasses, had red hair and a beard, and combed his hair down over a bald spot to look like bangs.

We had two textbooks, little paperbacks.  The Celts by Nora Chadwick was one.  The class and even the teacher agreed that this, though informative, was very dry.  Still, I found it useful when writing my novel Tojet.

We liked The Elements of The Celtic Tradition by Caitlin Matthews a lot better.  It was a fun book, going into the religion of the Celts, from pagan days to after they converted to Christianity.

She, a Druid, included exercises in the back of the book for such things as finding your totem or your destiny through meditations.  But in the rest of the book I noticed no bias for or against any religion.

Helene and Catherine had Celtic class along with me, and I would usually sit between them.  The class was held in the Honors classroom, room number 24 in Old Main.  We had a lot of fun in that class, and would talk about it afterwards.  It seemed everyone in the class had a good time.

I believe we all had to pay for our tin whistles, but once we did and Dr. Bard gave them to us, we’d practice simple songs for the first fifteen minutes of each class.  The tin whistle played like a recorder, with very little wind, which was good for me because I didn’t have enough wind in me to play anything more strenuous.  (It’s hard enough for me just to talk loud.)

When the course ended, Dr. Bard asked how many of us would continue to play our tin whistles.  Most of us raised our hands, including me.  However, though I still have the music sheets we used, along with sheets showing examples of knotwork, I haven’t played my tin whistle since 1998.

This class helped me get over Phil by giving me something fun to do that wouldn’t remind me of him, and by proving I didn’t need him to have a good life.

One day, in fact, Catherine and I and maybe Helene went to check mail in the Campus Center, as we did every day (though I, of course, couldn’t check mine there anymore).  We took out our tin whistles and practiced a particularly challenging and beautiful tune, which we learned in class that day.

The door to the Pub was across from the mailboxes, so I happened to see that Phil was in the Pub.  I hoped he’d see and hear us, that he’d realize I moved on and was now doing new and interesting things.  I wanted him surprised to see me standing there playing a tin whistle.  I wanted him to think he’d lost a talented, imaginative, and intelligent person, and would never get her back again.

We were supposed to practice our tin whistles outside of class.  One day soon after we started playing them in class, Brigitte said she was practicing hers in her dorm room one day when a girl went out into the hall and cried, “What is that?”

On probably the 18th or 19th of January, Dr. Bard taught us how to draw Celtic knotwork.  Mine wasn’t very good, but during class I began to practice.  During the lectures and while we listened to various types of modern Celtic music, I drew knotwork all over my plain Roanoke folder (which was my Winterim folder) and colored it with my yellow highlighter.

At night, I filled in the knotwork with other colors as well, using a set of markers.  I drew spirals, knotwork, snakes and torques, and I even filled in various letters and other things with the highlighter.  In the end, it was a folder to be proud of.  Of course, by then I was probably done with the course, so I used it for other things.

We sometimes listened to old- or new-fashioned Celtic music in class.  When we did, there was little else for us to do except listen.  Helene said to me once, “Dr. Bard should notice how uncomfortable people get during the music, and maybe play it in the background while we’re doing other things.”  We liked the music, but it would be more pleasant to listen to it that way.

At least several people in the class were Christians like us.  One girl, however, was vehemently anti-Christian.  She was bad-tempered and seemed to like nothing better than to sit there and rip on Christians.

She spoke of a Christian couple who used to live next door to her when she was a child, and treated her awfully.  We Christians wondered what they had done to her, and wished she’d realize that one couple did not represent all Christians or Christianity.

When a group of Wiccans spoke to the class, she was intrigued and asked many questions.  But religion should not be about running away from or rebelling against another religion.  It should be about true beliefs.

We learned about the head-cult of the Celts, that they displayed the heads of defeated enemies and sometimes even drank out of their skulls.  Dr. Bard also told us that the one who came late to a revel (or meeting?) got his head chopped off.

I looked at Catherine, and we joked that if we lived back then, we would be dead before we reached age 21.  I drew a stick-figure cartoon about this: First there were the feasters, then some guy came late and got his head chopped off, and then the feasters went back to their revel.  I wish I could find it now.

On the 16th, three speakers explained to us the modern-day Wiccan religion as it relates to the Celtic nature religions.  I wasn’t sure what to think about them at first because at least one of them wore a black T-shirt and an upright pentacle on a chain around his neck.  This one also had long, dark hair, and looked to be no older than his 20s or 30s.

(I knew nothing about the pentacle other than its supposed “Satanist” associations.)  The other two were a married couple, not yet middle-aged, who were Christian Wiccan.  Dr. Bard had invited them.  (I have no idea what Dr. Bard’s religious beliefs were, by the way.)

(For the truth about the pentacle and pentagram, click here.)

They gave fascinating information about Neo-Pagans and their beliefs, and how Celtic nature religions fit into the Middle Ages.  The class took notes.  The speakers said the Church Christianized certain holidays to help keep new, formerly pagan converts from turning back to their old ways.

Now, since then, I’ve heard various theories about why holidays and pagan deities were Christianized.  This is one; another is that the pagans-turned-Christians themselves made deities into saints and pagan holidays into Christian ones because they didn’t want to give up their beliefs.

Another view is that the Christian missionaries were wise and adaptable in incorporating the local festivals rather than just forbidding them.  And, of course, a view you commonly hear is that the Christian church just wanted to steal everybody else’s religious practices.  I reject that view wholeheartedly.  See here for more information.

The speakers said some Wiccans, like them, actually believe in both Christianity and Wicca, and are called Christian Wiccans.

They also explained some of the magic they use, that it’s a science, that it isn’t always so much casting a spell as it is positive thinking and changing yourself to get what you want, just as a businessperson might wear power suits to be more successful.

They also explained other kinds of magic that actually used spells and the powers of creation.  They said love spells weren’t charms, but learning how to change yourself and your traits to be more attractive to the person you love, so he/she will want to date you.

One of the traditional students, a girl, her religion unknown to me, said, “But if you have to change yourself to be more attractive to this person, aren’t you better off finding someone else who appreciates you the way you are?”  She was right, of course, though I don’t remember what, if anything, the speakers said in reply.

One day, on Catherine’s request, a friend of hers from the SCA, Ayesha, came to speak to the class.  (I can use her name because she has long since passed away.)  She was about 35, with short, dark hair.

I’d just heard about the SCA, or Society for Creative Anachronisms, a medieval re-creation group, over Christmas.  A couple met in the South Bend SCA group, then the Shire of White Waters, and had an SCA wedding ceremony.  The South Bend Tribune ran an article about it.  I thought the SCA sounded neat.

Though my friends apparently knew all along, I had no idea that Catherine used to go to SCA meetings when we were freshmen.  Ayesha was a member of the Catherine’s group, which I later discovered was a certain shire, based in S– and M–.

After Ayesha spoke to the class, I went with Catherine as she helped Ayesha take her speech props back to her car in the Jubilee parking lot.  They tried to talk me into joining the SCA, and I thought about giving it a shot.

Catherine told me there were “hot guys in the SCA, and they love to flirt with you.”  This attracted me: Now that several months had passed since the breakup, the Vampire train had derailed, and neither of my crushes were interested, I felt ready to find a new man or two.

She said the meetings would suit me because they were always late and laid-back.  They’d go on for hours, constantly getting sidetracked, and then someone would say, “Hey, isn’t Star Trek:TNG on?” and turn it on.

(She hadn’t been to a meeting for some time, so neither of us knew they’d become more businesslike and boring.)

These SCA people were also like Catherine and loved to hug.

I wrote a story for my presentation, which was in place of a final.  I sat down with paper and my Iona (Christian Celtic) tapes, made a list of Celtic names I found, and wrote a story about a girl named Gwyn Duncan.  I thought Gwyn was a girl’s name, but later found out it was probably male.

The story was short and simple, with a few sets of lyrics and a typically Celtic, unhappy ending.  It was about a girl taken by the sidhe, or fairies.  It took a few hours to finish, and once started and put into a Celtic mood by Iona, I didn’t want to break the spell for anything.

Here it is, including my pictures.

I later revised the story, typed it up, and decorated it with various Celtic-style pictures.  I read it in class on the 27th.  As I read, I tried to forget myself and just read, because if I remembered I was reading in front of a classroom full of students I’d get nervous and self-conscious.

When I finished I passed it around before giving it to the teacher, so everyone could see the pictures.  I didn’t know what people would think of my story, and feared they’d think it was stupid, but this wasn’t the case at all.

Dr. Bard liked it and gave me 50 points out of 50, along with this note: “A good story integrating much Celtic terminology and imagery.  I enjoyed reading it.  Good work!”

Helene complimented me on it and its simplicity, though she didn’t like Brì marrying Elva at the end.  I think one reason for the sad ending was my own cynicism about love at the time.  Another reason was to make it seem more Celtic, since Celtic stories were typically depressing.

I’ve made a few minor changes: Gwyn Duncan became Goewin daughter of Duncan, the tin whistle became a flute–basically, grammar fixes and things which fit better historically.  I also added short definitions, since the story was originally written for a class familiar with the Celtic terms.

One of the non-trad women in the class made a variety of Celtic foods for her presentation.  She feared she hadn’t made them right, but I told her they were delicious.  There were different types of breads, including one that was called barmbrak or something like that, and there may have been other kinds of food as well.

Remember the girl who detested Christians?  She did a Celtic pre-battle ritual.  She even passed around a real, human skull full of sparkling grape juice.  She said it was clean, but I passed it on without drinking from it.  Ewww!  Catherine and Helene also took a pass.  But Dr. Bard took a big swig.

Brigitte did her presentation on her clan’s history (she had a Scottish last name).  She discovered that it was related to Kenneth MacAlpine.  After class I told her we were probably related, because my own ancestry goes back to MacAlpine through Duncan I.

Some people said Brigitte had a crush on James, whom she knew from Circle K.  James was sure popular that year!  He wasn’t a handsome stud, either, so you can’t blame it on that.  Some men don’t have to be handsome to be desirable.

I heard that she was amusingly obvious about her crush, and asked James to take her places all the time.  She succeeded, and the latest Roanoke alumni book shows that James married her and moved to Green Bay.

Dr. Bard showed us beautiful medallions his mother made, which were painted with figures of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John from the Book of Kells.  They had metal loops at the back so they could be strung onto necklaces.  He told us we could buy them for about $3 (if I remember correctly).

I couldn’t get mine until at least Wednesday, February 15, after Winterim was already over, and he was afraid I would never buy it, but I was just in time to get the St. John.  I chose that one because I liked the eagle, and it was the prettiest.  Catherine bought the St. Mark.  (Anyone who knows us personally knows why this is ironic and funny.)

I strung the medallion on a spare chain.  Maybe it belonged to one of my old watches, or maybe it was a chain my Irish penpal sent me for Christmas 1991.  Later, Cugan cut me a leather thong for it instead, making it more “period” for SCA events.  (More about him later.)

Index 
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

 October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995:

 

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