Highland Dancing History

Excerpted from: http://www.angusmackenziedancestudios.com

HIGHLAND FLING
As was traditional of the old kings of Scotland, Highland dancing was used to choose the best men for their men at arms.  These dances tested the culminate of warrior skills including accuracy, agility and stamina.  Prospects danced upon a small round shield (called a Targe) and they learned quickly to move with dexterity as a false step would land them upon the spike in the middle.  The dance is said to have been inspired by the capers of the stag – the dancers upraised arms representing the animal’s antlers. Danced vigorously and exultantly, it is now highly stylized and calls for the greatest skill in technique and exactness of timing.

SWORD
Tradition suggests a Celtic prince, Ghillie Callum, was a hero of mortal combat against one of MacBeth’s Chiefs at the Battle of Dunsinane in 1054.  He is said to have crossed his own bloody claymore with the sword of the defeated Chief and danced over them both in exultation.  This dance of exultation became a tradition among the highland warriors.  It is believed that to complete the dance without touching the sword is a good omen and indicative of a successful battle.

Sounds like good dances from survivor warriors!

Soundtrack for a Survivors Sword Dancing Road Trip

I’m planning to rent a bus to drive up to my father’s grave with all the survivor friends I can muster. So far I have about six, including my Aunt.  (He’s not dead yet, but  a girl can hope.)

I’m thinking of having a road trip CD. When we got married, I spent months crafting four cds of music I wanted played at the wedding. It was great to have.

On the road trip I want women warrior music. Here’s what I’ve got so far.  It’s kind of amazing this music exists.

Dixie Chicks – Goodbye Earl – the story of a domestic abuse survivor and her good friend who poison the survivors husband because he is trying to kill her despite her having left him and having a restraining order.

Dar Williams – Flinty Kind of Woman – The story of a group of New England matrons who mobilize immediately to garotte a child molester in a marsh.

Martina McBride – Concrete Angel – Tells the story of how an abused girl appears to teachers who see bruises but don’t intervene and how she is beaten to death by her mother.

Martina McBride – Independence Day – Story of how a battered mother, when her community looks the other way and will not help her, burns down her house while her child is away, killing herself and her abuser.

Goddess protection song – “I invoke the protection of the Divine Mothers embrace. I invoke the protection of the Divine Mother’s grace.”

George Straight – She let herself go – Story of a woman whose husband leaves her, thinking she’ll fall apart without him, and she starts to have fun and adventures.

KD Lang – Big Boned Gal – Story of a joyously dancing curvaceous woman in small town Alberta.

Terry Clark – She didn’t have time – Story of a woman left by her husband with a small baby and how she puts aside grief and hopelessness to go on living.

Pat Humphries – Bound for Freedom – “Here I go bound for freedom, and my truth takes the lead” ” I will organize for justice, I will raise my voice in song, and our children will be free to lead the world to carry on.”

The Wyrd Sisters – Warrior – “I will a brave warrior be, till not another woman dies.”

Tery Clark – Emotional Girl – “I’ve got a passionate heart, and that’s just the way things are.”

Holly Near – I am willing

Martina McBride – When God Fearin’ Women Get the Blues – “When God-fearin’ women get the blues, There ain’t no slap down or tellin’ what they’re gonna do, Run around yellin’, I’ve got a Mustang, it’ll do 80, You don’t have to be my baby, I stirred my last batch of gravy, You don’t have to be my, be my, be my baby”

Pat Humphries – I will be with you – “You must be who you are, you will find your way through”

Pat Humphries – Swimming to the Other Side (check out the lyrics, they’re beautiful.)

Pat Humphries – Keep on Moving Forward (Never turning back)

Maybe we’ll bring instruments and sing too.

Non-Random Events

One of the things I believe as part of my religion is that communication with the Gods is not just a one way flow.  Events that feel significant in one way or another, probably are. Many people believe that their Gods answer their prayers for help or guidance in this way.

Photocredit:  Zanastardust
Photocredit: Zanastardust

I went downtown on the weekend where there was a big community festival and stumbled into a speech given by an aboriginal woman who was an Olympic gold medalist. She talked about how she had gotten severe PTSD from being near-fatally stabbed by a Canadian soldier during a historic conflict between the military  and her nation that happened when she was a child.  The conflict is a shameful event in Canadian history when the Canadian military supported developers wanting to turn her people’s burial ground into a golf course. Since her nation, like many aboriginal cultures (and my Pagan tradition), practices ancestor worship/veneration, desecrating a burial site is a sacriledge. She was speaking to a mostly aboriginal audience, and talked about how her determination to be the best in her sport saved her life by giving her meaning. It had affected her powerfully when a person from her first nation had won a gold medal in the Olympics, how it counteracted the racist prejudices and beliefs of the majority culture against aboriginal people, and she wanted to give that gift to other aboriginal children. She said to consider how your descendants would remember you. She also said that her people alive today are survivors, and by the process of survival of the fittest, were therefore the best of her people.

This had me in tears and I left the hall and went out into the street where I walked away from the crowds. A few blocks away there was a bagpiper in traditional dress just standing on the sidewalk, playing traditional songs I’d heard in my highland sword dancing days. Again I had a strong emotional reaction and thought immediately of the sword dance. I  felt a strong sense that this was important.

I continued down the street and went into a cafe and ordered a latte and some cake. I sat down and a few minutes later, in came a woman I had met at a Pagan conference about a year ago, and run into recently at another Pagan event. She came over and greeted me in a friendly way and we spoke for a couple of minutes.

Three events occuring at a time that affected me emotionally and spiritually, like there was something inside that resonated with each.

Making meaning of trauma by providing inspiration…Sword Dance…Pagan

I should have prefaced this with the fact that I’ve been seriously considering what I’m meant to do with this new evidence about the abuse, and how to make meaning of what happened.

These events helped me come to the conclusion that the best way on is forward.  It’s like I got permission from the Goddess not to go to court, that it’s okay, he doesn’t have some little girl held captive I need to rescue. The sword dance is enough. Perhaps knowing about the scar tissue will help me be more definitive when talking about what happened. I certainly feel more confident that what I remember is correct.

Photocredit: Wigwam Jones
Photocredit: Wigwam Jones

Like Cazaril, I need to trust that the talents I have been given are the ones I am to use for good. Like the speech-giver (I’m withholding her name not to deny her honour but for my own privacy), I have a duty to give hope to the survivors and children who come behind me. My Scottish heritage has given me a tool to reframe how society sees survivors, as warriors and veterans who fight for justice and virtue. My Pagan training and faith gives me a way to structure that fight that is meaningful and powerful, as well as, in my faith, a spell that actually changes reality for the better and focusses people’s will on stopping child abusers.  

I think I’m finally ready to be at peace with my father/abuser’s death (if it ever comes) and to celebrate surviving him with a sword dance.

Now would he please just die already?

Photocredit:  byronv2
Photocredit: byronv2

A gift

“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?

And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, ‘Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.’”
-Audre Lorde

Getting to Core

I just reread my last two posts (and found and fixed some typos).

Getting to certainty is important. When I read Tarot, I get myself calm and centred, and then reach down to my roots and dwell there. This helps me be grounded in my intuition and my connection to the Goddess. If I don’t do this, the cards are just cards, and nothing magical happens.

But when I connect deeply, I know with certainty. I can judge my emotional and spiritual health, no matter what is going on, by how deeply connected I feel. I am a tree with deep roots. I am a bird who rides the updrafts. I am the sunlight sinking into muscles and the green generators of plants. I am the water seeping into the porous soil, filling every tiny crevice and crack.

When I am connected, magic happens. A month or so ago I read a book about the science around psychic phenomenon. I’m not going to get into all the interesting double-blind, scientific evidence that certain kinds of extra-sensory perception exists, which was amazingly credible to a gal with a university education and a sharp analytical mind. This book validated something I have believed for a long time.

When I changed my first name, the name I chose fit me so well that even my mother agreed it was better. I chose it because it was a name I’d given as a child to several of my most precious stuffed animals and dolls in succession from early childhood. Then I looked it up in one of my mythology books and liked what it meant. It fit in a way that my birth name had not. I hadn’t intended to change my first name, only my last one, as a symbolic disowning of my father, but ended up changing both when I connected with this new name so deeply.

I have spent many times in the past twenty years connecting with myself as a child, talking to her, sending her love and the assurance that things will work out well in the end, that she will survive and that I love her. I have told my younger self this during flashbacks and when her fear and pain makes me afraid at night. I have done this for years.

As a child I had no-one, really. I drew my comfort from plants and my self-centred older brother, my books and my dolls and my teachers. I had few friends, a precarious social existence with my peers and a mother who was the complete slave of my father. I had a dear younger brother, who was also my bratty younger brother.

But I did feel connected, somehow. Connected with rocks, and trees and the stuffed animals and dolls. I named the most important and comforting of these, the ones that were an extension of my self,  with this name I now wear.

I believe that I felt then the love I’ve been sending to that self.  This kind of retro-time communication is one of the effects documented in the book I read. I believe that it actually, literally reached me in my most painful and terrifying moments and that’s why I’ve done so well for myself despite being alone and abused.  The Goddess used me to reach out to myself.

Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my favourite authors, writes through a character named Umegat in the Curse of Challion that “The Gods are parsimonious”, meaning that they work through people rather than the flashy miracles most of the time. And yet the more open we are to the path we are led to, the more beautiful and right what flows through turns out to be. The lead character in the book, Cazaril finds his way to a place he’d lived as a boy after a horrible ordeal and betrayal in war, and is drawn by his own good character and at times reluctant willingness to be used by the Gods into ending a powerful curse.

Perhaps we survivors are suffering in the service of a greater goal, to end a powerful curse on the whole biosystem, a curse of domination and greed.

In the book, the curse can only be broken by someone who dies three times for his country. Cazaril turns out to die three times, once by intervening as a galley slave to save a younger slave from a likely lethal beating, which he incurs instead. The second time he performs an act of death magic to kill a villain who  is forcing a princess Cazaril has been entrusted to protect to marry him and intends to rape her. The spell itself is a prayer for justice and price of is one’s own death in addition to that of the guilty party, who must truly be guilty. When a Goddess by miracle seals the soul of the guilty man inside a tumour in Cazarils body, the death of the enemy is accomplished without Cazaril’s death but Cazaril is burdened with constant and physically painful haunting. The last death is when Cazaril is fatally stabbed by the villain’s even more evil brother, who pierces the tumour, and ends up paying the death magic price in Cazaril’s stead, freeing him of his brother’s soul as well.

The whole point of this convoluted tale is that all this was actually necessary. The Gods needed Cazaril to learn the skills of surrender that allowed them in the end to enter the world through him so they could correct what was causing the curse.  It was all a lesson in becoming empty and getting out of the way.  They really wanted to end the curse causing so much pain, but couldn’t do it without an agent in the land of form and matter.

As clumsily as I have paraphrased Bujold’s beautiful story, it inspires me. It makes me believe that the lessons of being a survivor are worth something that are worth the price paid.

When Cazaril experiences the miracle sealing his enemy’s soul inside him (with effects very reminiscent of being a trauma survivor, actually) he becomes a saint, and is recognized as such by a temple priest Umegat, also a saint, who has been holding the curse back from killing the king. Cazaril asks Umegat what the duties of a saint are.

Umegat says”

“You cannot outguess the gods. Hold to virtue—if you can identify it—and trust that the duty set before you is the duty desired of you. And that the talents given to you are the talents you should place in the gods’ service. Believe that the gods ask for nothing back that they have not first lent to you. Not even your life.”

Then Cazaril says:

“If the gods are making this path for me, then where is my free will? No, it cannot be!”

Ah.” Umegat brightened at this thorny theological point. “I have had another thought on such fates, that denies neither gods nor men. Perhaps, instead of controlling every step, the gods have started a hundred or a thousand Cazarils and Umegats down this road. And only those arrive who choose to.”

“But am I the first to arrive, or the last?”

“Well,” said Umegat dryly, “I can promise you you’re not the first.”

So, taking Bujold’s lesson to heart, what does that mean in my quest to do the Goddess’ will in making the world a better place?

Hold to virtue, if you can identify it.

Trust that the duty set before you is the duty desired of you. (hmmm… I  see a court case in my future.)

And the talents given you are the talents you should place in the gods’ service. (I see a squad of holy sword dancers outside a courthouse in northern Canada. I see speaking and writing and singing about this. )

Believe that the gods ask for nothing back that they have not first lent you. (I will have what I need.)

Talking to a lawyer

The Goddess Brigid

So I did end up talking to a lawyer about my father and the scar tissue last night, but not in the way I expected.

I asked a friend of mine, who is a lawyer about how I might go about finding a suitable lawyer. She asked what about and we got into it. She was very helpful, and told me a few things.

Criminally, there’s no time limitations on being charged for raping kids. Unless charges were laid and dropped, I’m good to go.

My aunt’s testimony wouldn’t be usable, since you can’t use ‘he did things like that to other people’ as an argument apparently.

She knows some women in the system and is going to ask around about who might be helpful. In one case she knows of a witness for the crown (which I would be) hired a lawyer to advise her about her records (journals, therapist notes etc…)

Because I was assaulted as a child, there might be an automatic publication ban on my name and by association the name of my father, which would be against what I want, which is to out him as a rapist.

I could put a stop to the proceedings at any time if it got out of hand just by refusing to cooperate, since I’m the main witness. They’d be unlikely to force me to testify.

The judge reads over journals and notes and medical records and such and decides what is relevant before allowing it into the court, but don’t give anything to the police that you don’t want my father’s side to have. The thought of him having access to my private information is creepy.

And she’d be willing to come and watch me dance on his grave, if it came to that.

Aren’t allies wonderful?

Do I really want to do this? As you know if you’ve been reading my blog, I’ve been mulling over what the spiritual meaning of my fathers ongoing near death experiences are for a long time.

I believe that the Goddess gives us help to do what we’re meant to do:

I have proof now.

I have more support now.

I have a job that will tolerate me going to another city for a court case now.

He’s old and sick and the stress of being charged would do him good.

The question I have to answer for myself is  the same one I was asking in my last post. What do I want to have happen? What do I need for me?

My friend said to be clear about what I need and want. If I go to dance on his grave, who do I want with me, how do I want to travel there? What do I want to have happen? She said to treat it as if I needed a lot of medical attention and expect the same support. People support someone with cancer or whatever by rallying around. I could invite that around either the court case or his death.

What does the sword at the top of my blog mean for me? Is it the sword of the sword dance on his grave, or the sword of justice? Is it the Pagan sword of the East and air that cuts the circle and sets the boundary around oneself? In what way am I meant to be the sword dancer?

I hate and may regret when he’s dead that he got away with it. He may be up there raping kids and women all these years because I didn’t go through with the court case all those years ago. Not that he’d have been likely to have gone to jail, even then. Convictions don’t stop abusers from offending, we know that. Psychopaths like my father just keep offending. Only the Goddess can stop that. My hope is that his poor health has kept him from his usual activities.

What is happening to me this past year is a rite of passage, the rite called, “Death of an Abuser” or maybe some level of warrior initiation. The first initiation was all those years ago, when I was in university and was safe enough to recognize the intrusive and fragmented memories for what they were and who they were. This plunged me into a kind of isolation, where my whole world was healing for about five years. I’d always felt separate and different from other people, but now I knew why, I’d experienced something that most people don’t want to think about.

The second stage was reporting him to the police. I did it to protect my younger brother, and because it was the right thing to do, but I don’t know if I ever expected it to go to court. The crown didn’t even contact me about it and the police didn’t investigate till several years later, when some political pressure was forcing them to get old sexual abuse cases off the books.

At that point I told my first lawyer in full about what happened. He interviewed me for seven hours, but it was a relief rather than an ordeal. I discovered that I actually did remember a lot of detail. He told me that abusers are always at a disadvantage in court, because they’re lying and people can tell.

I don’t know what this stage is. Facing some hard realities I guess. My mother was complicit in the abuse. My formerly revered older brother is behaving a lot like my father and is now essentially dead to me because he won’t deal with what happened directly. I now wonder if my nephews have been safe all this time. My only reassurance is that my sister in law is a strong woman, who I hope would know what to do if there were concerns. The memories I have of being raped as a tiny child are absolutely real. It really happened. It happened to me in this body. I not only still have the scars, the damage still physically affects my ability to do something as simple as having sex with my wife without pain.

The Goddess Brigid

Or perhaps this stage is knowing the possibilities and having the opportunity one last time, to choose. How do I approach justice? Do I just begin speaking about the abuse, doing whatever activism I feel is necessary? Do I earn myself a sword in that battle, the sword of truth, by fighting the monster in his den? Do I wait for him to die and dance the sword to celebrate my victory over him?

When I pray for guidance from the Goddess, I have to be willing to listen to it. She doesn’t always make it easy, but doing the right thing has it’s own blessings attached.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.” WH Murray

I believe this to be true.

I wish I could say I knew in my soul what I’m meant to do. Or can I? All this is adding up to taking him to court. The scars, the friend coming back into my life at this time, the support from my aunt, all my ducks in a row. When I found out he was dying (or so I thought) I literally could not stop crying, something that almost never happens. Not grief for the dying psychopath, but what? Regret? Relief? Fear?

I was afraid of him dying and haunting me, but now I’m not. That’s a good thing. No matter what I decide, it’s about me. The important things I’m meant to do with my life could be about the arts rather than justice. Or the arts and justice. I’m meant to write, I’m meant to sing and write songs, and who knows whether a long court battle would just drain and distract me from that? Perhaps dancing on his grave is enough. Or perhaps I’m avoiding, as anxiety is wont to make me do. To do what I’m most anxious about would be to go to his door and confront him – and having the RCMP at my back would only make it stronger.

I don’t want to disrespect Her gifts. I want to honour them, and myself. I don’t want to be a martyr for the cause. My ‘scars to prove it’ song has been running through my head. A concert tour to raise awareness about incest. Could I go public about the incest without ‘earning my chops’ in court? Am I entitled? Are the scars enough? Do I want vengeance? Of course I do. Who wouldn’t? What I need is a Pagan to talk to about this.

Have I committed myself? Perhaps not yet. I’ve committed myself to dancing the sword, but the ‘stream of events’ could carry me away if I’m not sure where my tiller and my sail are intended to take me. That is what I need to decide and commit to. It’s clear the Goddess is ready with a wind at my back.

Boxed in

Photocredit: Erix! Title: Circle

Last night I watched a show called ‘the listener’ where the hero is this paramedic with the ability to listen to people’s thoughts. Often this leads to him helping people. The episode I watched, he hears/sees in the brain of a street kid about a young girl being held captive in a steel box and begging to be released. The girl looks a lot like I did as a young girl, same hair and everything.

I wasn’t particularly scared during the episode, my wife was there, and it worked out well in the end, with the girl being released and the guy who captured her committing suicide by cop. However, you know that she’s been assaulted by this guy all this time, and she’s just frantic to get out of that box. I had that suspense feeling, waiting for her to be rescued (I was pretty sure she would be, it’s that kind of show, thankfully.) which normally I try to avoid. I’ve been trying to learn to tolerate and invite anxiety lately (I read something fairly convincing that avoidance reinforces the anxiety and by ‘welcoming’ anxiety, I could dial it down), and it was manageable and once I started watching it I had to keep watching till she was all right.

Anyhow, so at 5 this morning (I normally wake around 9, so that’s early for me) I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. Maybe it was the green tea I had last night too, but regardless, here I am, wide awake. For once my wife is asleep (she has menopause sleeping problems), so I couldn’t really get comforted by her without waking her, and I wasn’t distressed enough to feel okay about doing that.

And I get to thinking about my mom and how I should probably confront her about the scars on my vulva/vagina, and hear her explanation about how she didn’t know her 5 year old girl had torn her perineum. Or hire a lawyer to coerce my father into confessing or sue him. Now that I’ve got my aunt as witness that he tried to assault her too, it kind of makes sense.

Wait a minute.

My aunt is quite a bit younger than my mom. Like 8 years or so. My mom married my dad when she was 21 and the assault happened when they were still living in Winnipeg, which was when my older brother was very little. My aunt could have been as young as 14 when he ‘got fresh’ with her. I think of my aunt as an adult, but she wasn’t then. I need to ask her. It’s amazing I didn’t think of that before.  More validation. I wonder if my grandfather knew. My mom said once that he’d have killed my dad/abuser if he’d known about the rapes.

If I sue my dad and my aunt was as young as I think she was, she could witness for me. I bet my other aunt that he insulted would too.

I skipped last week at the boxing gym, and am going to try and go this week. This morning I feel like it would feel good to hit something. Now that I’ve given my self permission not to hit ‘Bob‘ or do the ‘lay on your back and kick your attacker in the small of the back’ exercises it should be better. I also found a ‘sea band’ that presses an acupressure point to suppress nausea. Last time I almost threw up after exercising. My friend who also works out at the gym says she sometimes gets nauseous too and she’s in way better shape than I am. It’s kind of crazy really, that we pay money to do this stuff.

Tonight I’m going to the first rehearsal of  a choir a friend is in. It’s supposed to be a nice choir, so I’ll see. I’m not a choir person exactly any more, but I thought it would be social and help me get my voice going a bit.

My wife is doing a bit better. She’s on hormones for the menopause thing, and has been more attentive. We’ve been doing a lot better this week, and yesterday was particularly good. I keep forgetting my promise not to nag her about her health, but after my therapist reminded me, I’ve been able to stay off her about it for about a week. I made a promise I’d leave her to do her health stuff without nagging until March, and I’m going to keep it. In March, if things are still rocky between us, I’ll push hard for couples therapy, but perhaps we won’t need it by then. One can hope.

You know, I was looking at my categories, and realize that I don’t talk about spirituality and sexual abuse much any more. Faith has always been my main antidote for fear and anxiety. I was talking to a friend yesterday about spells. She’s feeling hopeless about her love life and I suggested a love spell. I was explaining how spells work. When casting a spell properly, you focus on the one essential thing about what you need to happen. It’s like a lever. You have to apply the small amount of energy to a specific point to change the course of something. Or it’s like sailing a boat, you need to take into account the winds and water of reality, and even if they’re blowing against you, if you set your wind and tiller right you can still go where you want if you are clear and firm about it.

I had a student once who got frustrated with me because she had wanted me to teach her how to cast prosperity spells. She said she kept trying and it wasn’t working. When I tried to tell her what was wrong, she wouldn’t listen. She wanted exactly what she wanted in lots of detail, against considerable real world obstacles. This was the equivalent of trying to steer your boat into a headwind. She wasn’t willing to tack. I said, focus on the one small thing that is the core of what you want. You don’t really want a million dollars, you want to feel safe. Or you don’t want a tall, brown- haired woman who speaks another language and owns her own house, you want someone perfect for you. By leaving open all the variables that don’t really matter and letting go of the need to control how it happens, you can get what you need. It’s like the rolling stones song.

So if I approach the situation with my father that way, what is the core of it? What do I really want to happen?

Photocredit: deVos Title: Dome - Passage - The Hague

I want my experience to have meaning – I want what happened to me to be part of the Goddess’ plan for making the world a better place.

That’s not quite it.

I want to be happy.

I want justice.

I want to reclaim my power from him. (This one is closer to core, I think)

I want to not be afraid of him any more. (this is also close)

I want social support. I want allies. (so I am safe from betrayal by his collaborators)

I want to walk tall in my own space.

I want the body feeling of being strong and assertive and unafraid more of the time. I want to stop being controlled by PTSD anxiety.(this is also more like it)

I want to push back against the abusers, to feel my strength there and make them afraid.(this too)

I want a public sex offenders registry in Canada so parents can vett the people who have access to their children. I want the justice system to lock anyone they can’t cure up for life. (this would satisfy my meaning making)

I want meaning and justice.

I want wholeness.