Luceo non Uro
I identify with the old Highland Clans' history and people. Their stories are full of dramatic fighters and lovers. People who created an agrarian religion that celebrated life without fearing death. People who loved dogs and horses and hunting and music—who told stories, danced and sang, and understood the import of a hot meal on a cold, rainy day. I love these people. I love their lives, their livestock, and even their miserable weather. I may not be Scottish, but both by deed and elevation I am certainly a highlander. Alba Gu Brath, Mac.
When I joined the SCA I was told I was supposed to pick out a name from the country of origin I wished to study and participate as. This is what people would call me, know me as. (It's not often you are told to pick a new identity, an exciting idea.) Naturally I chose Scotland and I picked the name Corbie Mackenzie. Corbie is an old slang term for crow from traditional music of the period. Mackenzie was in honor of the modern clan in the serial novels I was reading that brought me to traditional archery in the first place. Since I joined the Society to learn to be an archer it was a nod to author S.M. Stirling, who's Clan Mackenzie were renowned archers in those books I came to love. Honestly, I didn't know much about the Clan outside of that whimsical fiction. But as I started to study their real history I couldn't help but fall in love with it. Here's why:
The Mackenzie's have two clan crests. An old one with a giant stag and war cry in Gaelic and another, newer, one with a torch-lit mountain and a romantic phrase in Latin. Yup, the Clan Mackenzie has two historic symbols: Antlers and a mountain in need of heat? They are the original, dramatic, identity-changin' Cold Antlers.
Knowing this, how could I not dive into their tales, battles, religion, history and everyday life? These people also knew what it felt like to ride a Highland Pony in a kilt, tend blackface sheep during lambing season, and work with wild sheepdogs that ran across the hillsides like loosed arrows. So I read on, and studied. And the more I learned the harder I fell. Let me share a story about why the Clan Mackenzie has two crests.
See, It started with the stag, and just the stag. That was the symbol of the clan. And the old motto was in Gaelic, Cuidich 'N Righ, which means "Help The King". It's a pretty standard motto for highlanders whose identity was based on war, country, and family. Their motto was a battle cry that was surely screamed out in those endless clan wars. But back in 1605 all that changed. A Mackenzie Chief fell in love with a McLeod and going against tradition and family pleading he changed the crest and motto for his love. He fell for a daughter of the Lewes family, of the McLeod's. The romantic Mackenzie took the Lewes' Family Crest of a bright sun and their motto "I shall Burn without being consumed" and rebranded the Clan Mackenzie with a mountain on fire and a new motto. Which means he literally took a piece of the heavens and represented it on earth with a torch and changed their martial slogan to this, single, amazing phrase:
Luceo non Uro — I Shine, Not burn.
I Shine, not burn! What a beautiful way to see the world! to choose to be a part of light instead of destruction. We live in a culture of victims and anger. We are surrounded by nonstop news foaming at the mouth with rage and fear. Pundits, disaster, crime and threats. All around us there is this fire, this burning. And if you let yourself fall into it you too will be consumed by it. You'll become angry, depressed, unhealthy, scared, and worried. You will stop living the life you were meant to live. Why would you not choose love? Who cares about the fallout?
Tomorrow is a big day. It's Samhain. A holiday those Highlanders knew well. It was the Celtic New Year, and the end of the Harvest and beginning of winter. Not a lot of people celebrate Samhain anymore, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you're a diehard Christian, Atheist, Pagan, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic or none of the above. If you are reading this with a heartbeat then you are a fellow celebrant because you're alive. You pulse makes you my brother or sister in a world on fire. We need to help each other shine. We do it through memory, and kindness, second chances, love and forgiveness. You don't have to believe in anything to be a part of those things. All of us can take a moment to think about what inside us needs to change, and who we loss that we don't want to let down, and to be grateful we're still alive to do those things.
Since last October my life has changed in ways I could have never anticipated. Things I didn't plan, not really. I didn't plan on quitting my job when I did. I certainly didn't plan on Merlin. I didn't plan the heartbreak, the arguments, the loss of loved ones, or the hundred things I can not write about here. But in just twelve months I am an entirely different person. I really am. I'm someone who decided to take her own life by the horns and follow a dream most people think is dead in America. To leave the desk and corporate world behind and become a full time writer, shepherd, and farmer. I did it because I was burning there. I was falling apart and fading fast. I just wanted to shine.
So many people are going to wake up tomorrow and go through their day with the absolute certainty that will fall asleep that night. Everyone who dies tomorrow will be wrong. There's no rule out there that says it isn't going to be me. I hope it isn't, because there are so many more stories I want to tell, and love I want to find. But I don't make the rules. I never expect to die, but I also never assume I'll live. Not since I almost died in Tennessee on sunny day. I think that's what really brought me to Cold Antler, a fear that life could be cut short and I was spending it doing something I didn't love. It went against everything I believed in, and everything I believed this life could be. I didn't understand what could be more important than following that goal of a meaningful life? What else is there to do with this gift of time than to spend it being happy? Not everyone can make their wildest dreams come true, but hell, everyone can try can't they? So why do so many people choose to put off happiness? Choose to not try? Why do they do things that make them sad? Why do they choose fear and anger and step into the fire that consumes them instead of lighting the path towards something better?
I can't answer that. But I know on this Samhain Eve that there's a flock of sheep, a black pony, a loyal sheepdog, and a beating heart of a Mackenzie on this mountain farm. All of it is here because that's what this short, blessed, life lead me towards. I chose to Shine, not Burn. And it is a choice, for all of us. And it can all change to be whatever you are willing to create. So will it.
Now go light your torches and enjoy the New Year.