Sunday 25 December 2016

A Stranger Came Ashore

The White Castle of East Lothian

"Did you hear about the newcomer, Caled?"

Wednesday 7 December 2016

The Adventures of Saint Andrew, Part Eight: Martyrdom in the Land of Lost Gods

Persecution caused the followers of Asura to hide their temples with cunning art, and to veil their rituals in obscurity; and this secrecy, in turn, evoked more monstrous suspicions and tales of evil.

But Conan’s was the broad tolerance of the barbarian, and he had refused to persecute the followers of Asura or to allow the people to do so on no better evidence than was presented against them, rumors and accusations that could not be proven. "If they are black magicians," he had said, "how will they suffer you to harry them? If they are not, there is no evil in them. Crom’s devils! Let men worship what gods they will."

- "The Hour of the Dragon," The Bloody Crown of Conan, p151-152
Part One: Seas Red and Black

Part Two: Riders Beyond the Silk Road

Part Three: In The Country of the Man-Eaters

Part Four: The Cross on the Ice

Part Five: The Outermost Ends of the Earth

Part Six: A Cave in the Realm of the Wolf-People

Part Seven: "This Day A Martyr Or A Conqueror!"

The last tour of Saint Andrew would be through civilised lands - and, as tends to be so typical throughout life, it's often the civilised peoples who are the least tolerant of those who are different.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

The Adventures of Saint Andrew, Part Seven: "This Day A Martyr or a Conqueror!"

Part One: Seas Red and Black

Part Two: Riders Beyond the Silk Road

Part Three: In The Country of the Man-Eaters

Part Four: The Cross on the Ice

Part Five: The Outermost Ends of the Earth

Part Six: A Cave in the Realm of the Wolf-People
One of the elements that came from the Roman and Thracian celebrations was the one about wolves. Is it only a coincidence that we, the descendants of Dacians, whose flag was shaped as a wolf, have chosen the patron of wolves as our protector? During this night, the wolves are allowed to eat all the animals they want. It is said that they can speak, too, but anyone that hears them will die soon.

Early on St. Andrew’s day, the mothers go into the garden and pick tree branches, especially from apple trees, pear trees, cherry trees, but also rose -bush branches. They make a bunch of branches for each family member. The one whose bunch will bloom by New Years day will be lucky and healthy next year.

On St. Andrew’s night ghosts haunt and harass the people. For protection, one should rub the entrance door with garlic and turn all the dishes upside down. A special party takes place now, called “Guarding the garlic”. Boys and girls gather in a house with the doors and windows rubbed with garlic. They also put garlic (three bulbs for each girl) in a wooden tub that is to be guarded till day-break by an old woman, in a candle-lit room. They party all night, and in the morning, the wooden tub is taken outside and they dance around it. Then they all take some garlic home as protection against illness or spells.

St. Andrew is the patron of the wolves, being the one who protects the people attacked by these animals. St. Andrew is also celebrated in order that the wolves should stay away from the households or from the travelers. The salt is charmed and buried under the door of the stable. It will be taken out on St. George and given to the cattle, as a protection against the wolves and other evil things.

- St. Andrew's Day in Romania
St. Andrew is the patron saint of wolves? That explains a lot.

I mentioned Thracians of what is now Bulgaria in an earlier post, but it's worth revisiting this fascinating people. Thrace was one of the first lands Andrew was sent to preach the Gospel, but he may have returned during, or following, his 20 year sojourn in Dacia (Romania). He ordained bishops and priests to Thrace, so perhaps he wanted to check up on them. Knowing the Thracians, that was probably a good idea.

Monday 5 December 2016

The Adventures of Saint Andrew, Part Six: A Cave in the Realm of the Wolf-People


Part One: Seas Red and Black

Part Two: Riders Beyond the Silk Road

Part Three: In The Country of the Man-Eaters

Part Four: The Cross on the Ice

Part Five: The Outermost Ends of the Earth
After dwelling in the veritable hinterlands of the Far North - possibly even Scotland, since the opportunity and route was there - Andrew turned south towards "civilisation." Coming through what is now Poland, he may have encountered other tribes - the early Rugians, Burgundians, and Vandals, who would go on to cause so much trouble for the Romans in the coming centuries. Andrew was deep in the Country of the Barbarians, and far from home.

Sunday 4 December 2016

The Adventures of Saint Andrew, Part Five: The Outermost Ends of the Earth


Part One: Seas Red and Black

Part Two: Riders Beyond the Silk Road

Part Three: In The Country of the Man-Eaters

Part Four: The Cross on the Ice
It's often remarked how strange it is for Scotland's patron saint not to be from Scotland (usually from folk who don't know that much about patronage and saints). Not only that, Scotland's thousands of miles from Jerusalem: there's no way could Andrew have even visited Scotland... is there?

Saturday 3 December 2016

The Adventures of Saint Andrew, Part Four: The Cross on the Ice


Part One: Seas Red and Black

Part Two: Riders Beyond the Silk Road

Part Three: In The Country of the Man-Eaters

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of several countries: Scotland, of course, but he's also the patron saint of Barbados, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Sicily, Ukraine, and the medieval Kingdom of Prussia. Would it surprise you to learn that there is a possibility he has visited most of them?

Friday 2 December 2016

The Adventures of Saint Andrew, Part Three: In the Country of the Man-Eaters

When to this far-famed city Matthew came, There rose great outcry through the sinful tribe, That cursed throng of Mermedonians. Soon as those servants of the Devil learned The noble saint was come unto their land, They marched against him, armed with javelins; Under their linden-shields they went in haste, Grim bearers of the lance, to meet the foe. They bound his hands; with foeman's cunning skill They made them fast—those warriors doomed to hell— – Andreas: The Legend of St. Andrew, translated from the Old English by Robert Kilburn Root (1899)
Part One: Seas Red and Black

Part Two: Riders Beyond the Silk Road

And now for something completely different.

Thursday 1 December 2016

The Adventures of Saint Andrew, Part Two: Riders Beyond the Silk Road


Part One: Seas Red and Black

Andrew's second adventure was rather more ambitious than his first. After he reached Antioch, he caught a boat to Cyprus, then to Epheseus: from there he went back to Antioch, Nicaea, Pontus, and Armenia. Then, Andrew goes south through Persia, and reaches Gedrosia.

There he meets the Cynocephali... and this is where thing get a bit crazy.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

The Adventures of Saint Andrew, Part One: Seas Red and Black

The true nobility and merits of those princes and people are very remarkable, from this one consideration (though there were no other evidence for it) that the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ, after His Passion and Resurrection, honoured them as it were the first (though living in the outmost ends of the earth) with a call to His most Holy Faith: Neither would our Saviour have them confirmed in the Christian Faith by any other instrument than His own first Apostle in calling (though in rank the second or third) St Andrew, the most worthy brother of the Blessed Peter, whom He would always have to be over us, as our patron or protector. - The Declaration of Arbroath
Part of the joy of history is knowing that there is so much left unknown to discover. For all the artefacts, relics, finds, studies, and research of the ages since humanity started to wonder about those who came before, there are always new things to discover. This is, naturally, true on an individual level, as you pore over a book, browse a site, or gaze on a museum's collection for the first time.

The Scotland of today is a nation with many faiths and ideologies, but for most of its history, it was a Christian country. This continues to permeate Scotland's cultural being, from our flag, to the declaration above, to some of our greatest historical achievements. The history of Christianity is one of scholarship and superstition, peace and war, love and hate, celebration and tragedy, and few figures exemplify Scotland than our adopted patron saint.

So let me tell you the tale of Andrew of Galilee and his adventures through the ancient world...

Monday 31 October 2016

Never Far Away

Every time I thought of doing a blog post, I started, but never finished it. Then I'd start another, not finish. Then another. Eventually I got horribly embarassed about the whole thing. This is how you get 4 month absences.

Well, something came through the post which reminded me that Howard and Conan, the reason for this blog's existence, is never that far away from me.

Things have a way of coming around.

Friday 10 June 2016

To A Bard

Is there a whim-inspired fool,
Owre fast for thought, owre hot for rule,
Owre blate to seek, owre proud to snool,
Let him draw near;
And owre this grassy heap sing dool,
And drap a tear.

Is there a bard of rustic song,
Who, noteless, steals the crowds among,
That weekly this area throng,
O, pass not by! 
But, with a frater-feeling strong,
Here, heave a sigh.

Is there a man, whose judgment clear
Can others teach the course to steer,
Yet runs, himself, life's mad career,
Wild as the wave,
Here pause-and, thro' the starting tear,
Survey this grave.

The poor inhabitant below
Was quick to learn the wise to know,
And keenly felt the friendly glow,
And softer flame;
But thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stain'd his name!

Reader, attend! whether thy soul 
Soars fancy's flights beyond the pole,
Or darkling grubs this earthly hole,
In low pursuit: 
Know, prudent, cautious, self-control
Is wisdom's root. 

 - Robert Burns, "A Bard's Epitah," 1786

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Exile of Cimmeria

It's been 7 years to the day since Steve Tompkins left us. For the first time since, I've felt really apart from Howardom.

I've contributed to the upcoming Conan board game (which is, as of writing, the most successful board game Kickstarter of all time) and the Conan RPG (which is the fourth most successful RPG Kickstarter campaign of all time), not least because my Howardian scholarly pals Jeffrey Shanks, Patrice Louinet, Chris Gruber, and more are personally involved in their development. I lament the passing of the Robert E. Howard Forums, even in what is a great time to be a Howard fan. I'm long past caring about whatever iteration of development hell the next Arnold Conan is in. I've allowed my memberships of REHupa and the REH Foundation to lapse. And I came to the personal ultimatum that I would not be able to return to Howard Days until certain conditions are met.

I haven't been in regular touch with my Howard friends - but it is far from apathy. I would love to talk about the new board games, new collections and scholarly criticism, new books and films and art that evokes Howard's themes and ideas. I should be shoving my way into discussions about developing Iranistan and the Border Kingdom, asking who thought that dragon design was a good idea, giving my tuppence ha'penny worth on anything and everything. I'd even just love to see how they're doing, how the house and family and work is coming along. But for reasons I think regular readers will guess, I cannot - not until the cause is won.

I sometimes wonder what Howard would do in a situation like mine. Early 20th Century Cross Plains and early 20th Century Inverclyde have a few pointed similarities (formerly industrious towns with busy railroads, now a fraction of their former size, a history as a "frontier"), but for the most part, they might as well be different planets. What if the prospect of true change, to turn away from the corruption and decadence of the political class, were possible in Texas then? Would he continue to do what he truly loved, and type away, rather than take up political cause - when the savage realm of politics is as likely to chew you up and spit you out as you are to affect real change? Or would he try to change his corner of the world at the expense of his art, his long letters to his friends, his roughousing at the ice house? Am I being melodramatic, in comparing my politics to a great Cause and my personal interests as Art?

Who knows. All I know is that if I chose to take a different path, I don't think I could ever forgive myself. I posted this on my political blog, but I think it should be on here, to explain what I'm doing until I'm ready to ride back to Cimmeria.

Since 2010, I’d been going to Cross Plains in Texas. It’s the biggest extravagance I took part in each year, owing to the sheer expense of flights to America in recent years – to say nothing of the security gauntlet. The last time I went was in 2014. There were only a few months left until the referendum. I left Scotland for a month. The final result was decided by 86 votes.

Most of the campaigners I know still wring their hands – if only I did more. Everyone felt that. “If only I didn’t take that night off from canvassing on Sunday.” “If only I helped out at the stall more.” “If only I helped deliver more papers.” If only I stayed this year – of all years. Instead, I went to Cross Plains. I saw all my friends and relatives. I talked about the referendum any chance I got. I was sure we’d win, and win comprehensively. I was itching to get back home, to continue campaigning – but I figured I wasn’t that needed. Everyone at Yes Inverclyde worked hard. A recharge, a break, to come back rejuvenated and revitalised, was my justification.

Would it have changed anything? Would my mere presence in late May and early June in this most important year in Scotland’s history have had any effect on the official count? Nationwide, I doubt it – but it’s hard not to think that a constituency decided by 86 votes might have been affected by even the smallest nudges in a different direction. Would it have turned 86 more votes for No in the official count into a Yes result? Who knows.

I can never go back to America – not without Scotland’s independence assured. Every time I think of how optimistic and determined I was talking to my friends in America, I cannot help but feel the most profound sense of shame. Shame in so many of my countryfolk politely and democratically refusing what scores of countries fought for with every nerve and sinew, sure. Shame in my own misplaced confidence and naivete, that the British Establishment could be so easily defeated, undoubtedly. But most of all, shame in myself. Even putting aside any influence I, or any one individual, may have made on the result locally, what matters is that I left my people in the most important time of my country’s existence. There are people I can hardly bear to talk to online anymore, so deep is my personal sense of failure and mortification. How could I bear to show my face outside Scotland ever again?

I have two choices: either slink back to America with the contrived, pathetic, false nobility of the Dying Gaul, or I stride back with the assurance that my people were not the dog who handed back the leash to its master as soon as we were given the choice of freedom. I don’t want to keep my pals in America waiting much longer.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Lan' o' Derkness and th' Nicht

110 years ago today, Robert E. Howard was born: as a happy coincidence, it comes only a few days before Burns Night. Like the royal Robert before them both, I find they're never far from my life.

Both the Roberts were self-taught champions of the common man who expressed themselves through poetry, drawing upon the rich history of their lands and telling new tales. Howard had a copy of Harvard Classics' Poems and Songs of Robert Burns, and poems like "Rane of the Sword" clearly show a love for the Scots tongue.

So in that spirit, I thought I'd merge my appreciations for the Twa Rabbies on this day.


I mynd

Th' derk woods, masking sclent o' oorie braes;
Th' grey cloods’ leaden ayebidin' airch;
Th' duskit burns that flowed wi'oot a sound,
And th' lane wins that whispered doon th' passes.

Sicht on sicht mairching, brae on brae,
Sclent ayont sclent, ilk derk wi' dour trees,
Oor gaunt lan' lay.  So when man speelit up
A rugged peak and leukit, his happit een
Saw but th' endless sicht – brae on brae,
Sclent ayont sclent, ilk hoodit lik its brithers.

It was a dreichit lan' that seemed tae haud
A' wins and cloods and dreams that shun th' sun,
Wi' scud beuchs brattlin' in th' lanely wins,
And th' derk woodlands bruidin' owur a',
Not even lichten by th' rare dim sun
Which made squat shadaes oot o' men; they ca'd it
Cimmeria, lan' of derkness and gey Nicht.

It was so lang syne and hyne awa'
I hae forgot th' verra name men ca'd me.
Th' axe and keezle-stane spear are lik a dream,
And hunts and wars are shadaes.  I mynd
Anely th' stellness o' thon dour lan';
Th' cloods that cloddit ivermair on th' braes,
Th' mirkness o' th' ayebidin' woods.
Cimmeria, lan' o' Derkness and th' Nicht.

Oh, sowel o' mine, born oot o' shadaed braes,
Tae cloods and wins and ghaists that shun th' sun,
How mony deiths shall sair tae brak at lest
This heritage which haps me in th' grey
Brawery o' ghaists?  I sairch my hert and kythe
Cimmeria, lan' o' Derkness and th' Night.