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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Things You May Not Know About Halloween


Wikipedia, has a great article on Halloween that you can visit at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween#History with the proper footnotes.  I've taken the liberty of copying much of their article below to share with you during this spooky, but fun, season.


"Halloween or Hallowe'en (a contraction of "All Hallows' Evening") also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows' Eve, or All Saints' Eve,) is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows' Day. It initiates the triduum (three days) of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers. Within Allhallowtide, the traditional focus of All Hallows' Eve revolves around the theme of using "humor and ridicule to confront the power of death."

According to many scholars, All Hallows' Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with possible pagan roots from the Gaelic Samhain. Other scholars maintain that it originated independently of Samhain and has solely Christian roots.
Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (or the related "guising"), attending costume parties, decorating, carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted house attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films. In many parts of the world, the Christian religious observances of All Hallows' Eve, including attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead, remain popular, although in other locations, these solemn customs are less pronounced in favor of a more commercialized and secularized celebration. Because many Western Christian denominations encourage, although no longer require, abstinence from meat on All Hallows' Eve,[ the tradition of eating certain vegetarian foods for this vigil day developed, including the consumption of apples, colcannon, cider, potato pancakes, and soul cakes.

Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while "some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain", which comes from the Old Irish for "summer's end". Samhain (pronounced sah-win or sow-in) was the first and most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Gaelic calendar and was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It was held on or about 31 October – 1 November and kindred festivals were held at the same time of year by the Brittonic Celts; for example Calan Gaeaf (in Wales), Kalan Gwav (in Cornwall) and Kalan Goañv (in Brittany). Samhain and Calan Gaeaf are mentioned in some of the earliest Irish and Welsh literature. The names have been used by historians to refer to Celtic Halloween customs up until the 19th century, and are still the Gaelic and Welsh names for Halloween.


Samhain/Calan Gaeaf marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or the 'darker half' of the year. Like Beltane/Calan Mai, it was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí) could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. Most scholars see the Aos Sí as "degraded versions of ancient gods [...] whose power remained active in the people's minds even after they had been officially replaced by later religious beliefs". The Aos Sí were both respected and feared, with individuals often invoking the protection of God when approaching their dwellings. At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated (pleased through offerings or deeds) to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink, or portions of the crops, were left for the Aos Sí. The souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes. Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them. The belief that the souls of the dead return home on one night or day of the year seems to have ancient origins and is found in many cultures throughout the world.

In 19th century Ireland, "candles would be lit and prayers formally offered for the souls of the dead. After this the eating, drinking, and games would begin". Throughout the Gaelic and Welsh regions, the household festivities included rituals and games intended to divine one's future, especially regarding death and marriage. Nuts and apples were often used in these divination rituals. Special bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them. Their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers, and were also used for divination. It is suggested that the fires were a kind of imitative or sympathetic magic – they mimicked the Sun, helping the "powers of growth" and holding back the decay and darkness of winter. Christian minister Eddie J. Smith suggests that the bonfires were also used to scare witches of "their awaiting punishment in hell".


In modern Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales, the festival included mumming and guising, the latter of which goes back at least as far as the 16th century. This involved people going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food. It may have come from the Christian custom of souling (see below) or it may have a Gaelic folk origin, with the costumes being a means of imitating, or disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. In Scotland, youths went house-to-house on 31 October with masked, painted or blackened faces, often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed. F. Marian McNeill suggests the ancient festival included people in costume representing the spirits, and that faces were marked (or blackened) with ashes taken from the sacred bonfire. In parts of Wales, men went about dressed as fearsome beings called gwrachod. In the late 19th and early 20th century, young people in Glamorgan and Orkney dressed as the opposite gender. In parts of southern Ireland, the guisers included a hobby horse. A man dressed as a Láir Bhán (white mare) led youths house-to-house reciting verses—some of which had pagan overtones—in exchange for food. If the household donated food it could expect good fortune from the 'Muck Olla'; not doing so would bring misfortune. Elsewhere in Europe, mumming and hobby horses were part of other yearly festivals. However, in the Celtic-speaking regions they were "particularly appropriate to a night upon which supernatural beings were said to be abroad and could be imitated or warded off by human wanderers"

As early as the 18th century, "imitating malignant spirits" led to playing pranks in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Wearing costumes at Halloween spread to England in the 20th century, as did the custom of playing pranks. The "traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters abroad on the night in some places was provided by turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins". These were common in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands in the 19th century, as well as in Somerset (see Punkie Night). In the 20th century they spread to other parts of England and became generally known as jack-o'-lanterns."


For some videos and other information, visit:
http://www.history.com/topics/halloween

Saturday, February 1, 2014

How did February become associated with Hearts, Flowers and Valentines?



So, who was St. Valentine, and why do we celebrate him every February 14 with hearts and flowers? Well, to answer that question we have to go back to the Roman Emperor, Claudius II, commonly known as Claudius Gothicus.

Claudius reigned from 268 to 270.  Not a long reign, but a bloody one, because Claudius liked to wage war a lot.  During his two years, he fought successfully against the Alamanni and scored a crushing victory against the Goths at the Battle of Naissus.  It is possible Claudius gained his position and the respect of the soldiers by being physically strong and especially cruel. A legend tells of Claudius knocking out a horse's teeth with one punch. When Claudius performed as a wrestler in the 250s, he supposedly knocked out the teeth of his opponent when his genitalia had been grabbed in the match.

But I digress.... As legend has it, in the 3rd century, Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, so, he outlawed marriage for young men (as soldiers were sparse at this time and he needed men to serve fearlessly in the army without the distraction of a wife or girlfriend making them homesick). However, Valentine, a priest serving near Rome, recognized the injustice of this decree and defied Claudius by continuing to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.. He was caught and imprisoned. While in prison, so the story goes, he may have fallen in love with the daughter of his jailer, and wrote her a letter signed "From your Valentine." He was beheaded on February 14, around 270 A.D., and Pope Gelasius declared St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D.


So, Valentine was a true romantic at heart.  But how did the heart become linked with emotion? In China, the heart is related to thought, life, and emotions. It brings together everything from understanding and recognition to the flow of emotions. The Romans thought the heart contained the soul. Before them, ancient Egyptians believed the heart to be the center of emotions — and intellect. And before them all... pictures on cave walls depicted animals with red hearts in the center of their bodies — evidence that even cave dwellers understood the heart's significance.

However, the symbol we now associate as a heart, really doesn't look much like the human heart at all. That leads us to ask how we arrived at such a symbol to begin with.  According to Symbols.com (http://www.symbols.com/symbol/1809) "Specific suggestions include: the shape of the seed of the silphium plant, used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive, and stylized depictions of features of the human female body, such as the female's buttocks, pubic mound, or spread vulva. A heart is not the only symbol for love."

Hmm.  Not sure the female buttocks to represent St. Valentine was what the church had in mind at all. And, since the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred, we may ask why do we associate February 14 with St. Valentine's Day?  Though some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial--others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "Christianize" the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

Romulus and Remus being suckled by the she wolf

The Roman festival began with members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, gathering at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. Once everyone was present, the priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat's hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. (Lovely, right?) Far from being fearful of the bloody whippings, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Fertility and marriage, a good combination.  Yup, that story makes me want to hop right into the car and buy a box of candy and a dozen roses.  You, too?

Back to history.  Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”--at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius (remember him?) declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine's Day should be a day for romance.


And we return again to the hearts and flowers decorating the greeting cards of Valentine's Day. Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written valentines didn't begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (I'm not sure what he wrote, exactly, but his poem is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

Cards decorated with black and white pictures painted by factory workers began to be created in the early 1800s; by the end of the century, valentines were being made entirely by machine. Sociologists theorize that printed cards began to take the place of letters, particularly in Great Britain, because they were an easy way for people to express their feelings in a time when direct expression of emotions was not fashionable.


Manufactured cards notwithstanding, increasingly beautiful handmade Valentines were often small works of art, richly decorated with silk, satin or lace, flowers or feathers and even gold leaf. And many featured Cupid, the cherubic, be-winged son of Venus, and a natural Valentine's Day "mascot." Though Venus, Cupid and Psyche's story is too long to go into here, suffice it to say after many trials and errors they end up happily-ever-after, and we continue to celebrate their successful union in our Valentine's greetings today.