Lucia and Lussi: Celebrating the Darkness and the Light

 

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Today, December 13, marks the well known festival of Saint Lucia. But it is also a celebration for her lesser known counterpart, the witch Lussi. This is a magical time of delicious darkness as we wait for the Winter Solstice. Fairies, elves and all sorts of supernatural beings are said to be out and about on their Wild Hunt.

The Christian feast day of Saint Lucia is celebrated with songs, a procession, and a young girl being selected to play the role of Lucia. This girl wears a white robe with a red sash, and a crown of lingonberry greens with seven candles.

(A strategic balancing act! No fires reported so far.)

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Originating in Sweden, these processions are now conducted in Finland, Denmark and Norway. (And sometimes the US and Canada.)  In these cold and bleak nights before the Solstice, the vibrant figure of Lucia wearing a wreath of candles is a great reminder that the sun will soon be returning.

The chosen Lucia is at the center of a procession of girls, all clothed in white robes with red sashes as symbols of purity. They sing hymns and carry special cakes  (called lussekatter.)  However, the fairies and elves are also out on their Wild Hunt    (called Oskoreia.)  Traditions holds that if during the procession the girls hear the sound of the Wild Hunt behind them, they should toss one of the cakes over their shoulder to appease the elves.

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Who was the real Santa Lucia? Ironically, she did not start out as a Swede. She was originally Sicilian. The story goes that Lucia was helping Christians hiding in the catacombs by bringing them food and water while they dodged persecution from the evil ruling empire. Lucia, always a resourceful girl, put candles on her head to light her way and was thus able to hold more food in her hands.

Lucia was martyred for her Christian activities in 304 CE.  Legend has it they attempted to burn her on a pyre, but she remained alive. A Roman soldier then tried to kill her by slicing her throat. No luck. Stubborn Lucia did not die until she was given the Christian sacrament of Extreme Unction.

She became a very popular saint, and by the 6th century her feast day was honored in Anglo-Saxon England. Gradually she was acknowledged in Northern Europe, although the first Lucia candle processions were not recorded until the 19th century.

However, as with many legends, there is another, darker side to the story! Enter the witch Lussi.

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Who is Lussi?  A Nordic sorceress, close in parallel to the Germanic goddess Holle or Perchta.  Not much is known about her, but she is said to be a powerful figure. She is the initiator of the Oskoreia and rides through the air with her followers – a troupe of wandering elves, fairies, nymphs and the like. They are called the Lussiferda, a band of trouble-making nuisances, out on a Wild Hunt intended to cause chaos and frighten humans.

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December 13 is called Lussinatta or Lussi Night, a time to honor and fear her.

If you happen to see Lussi and her elven group, beware!  Any human who encounters the Wild Hunt might be abducted to the Underworld. It is also believed that people’s spirits can be pulled away during their sleep to join the cavalcade.  (So be very conscious of your dreams tonight. You might want to skip sleep altogether… More on that later.)

During the long nights between Lussinatta and Yule, trolls, daemons and the spirits of the dead are thought to be swirling about outside, enjoying the darkness. They are particularly active on Lussi Night.  Naughty children are advised to hide away.  According  to some traditions, Lussi herself can come down through the chimney and abduct children who have been bad.

 

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(Seems to me Lussi might be in kahoots with Krampus and Old Saint Nick…)

But adults should beware too.  Lussi is particularly sensitive to all those dull and time consuming chores that must be done before Yule. You know — gathering wood for the fire, stocking the larder, salting the meat and making jam…  If you (lazy human!) have not completed your winter tasks, you just may be abducted, along with your nasty children!

Some people do not want to take that chance, even in their dreams!

In a tradition called  Lussevaka  folks would stay awake all night through the long Lussinatta in order too guard themselves and their households against abductions.  However, in the 21st century, Lussevaka has apparently taken on a different form.  It’s called partying till the break of dawn!

If you don’t make it through the entire night, it still might be fun to stay up extra late tonight, light a few candles and be on watch for Lussi and her band of fairies.

Whether you choose the reverent road of singing hymns for Saint Lucia, or the decadent road of partying all night in hopes of seeing the Wild Hunt, have a jolly and elegant season as we wait for the return of the sun.

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Happy Krampusnacht!

 

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Have you been naughty or nice? If you have been naughty you’d better watch out!  In punishment for your nasty behavior, your holiday season just may be stained with the grimy patina of that famous Christmas devil known as… (drum roll please)

KRAMPUS!

Beware tonight, December 5th, as he comes to visit!

Who is Krampus, you ask?  He is, of course, the goat-footed companion of Saint Nicholas. Together they work in a good cop/ bad cop fashion to reward and punish children (and maybe adults?) for kind as well as naughty deeds. The benevolent will receive candy and gifts. The not-so-nice will receive coal and may get carried off to hell in Krampus’ sack.

Originating in Germanic mythology, Krampus celebrations have long been part of Bavarian traditions. For Krampuskarten (Krampus cards), greeting cards are exchanged with the heading Gruss vom Krampus (Greetings from Krampus). The cards often feature humorous poems and Krampus himself looming menacingly over frightened children.

For Krampuslauf (Krampus Run), men wear scary-looking horned masks and run through town terrorizing people. These villains have been known to kidnap a Fraulein or two while they are at it, so ladies beware!

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As a dark alternative to Saint Nicholas Day, Krampusnacht is quickly gaining popularity in many parts of the world, including the US.  Sound intriguing? If so, you might want to initiate a Krampus celebration of your own. It would be great fun, a chance to wear costumes and conduct all kinds of irreverent activities! (Because Halloween is long past and we can never get enough of this stuff, right?)

Do you celebrate this weird festival?  Let me know what you think of it.

To learn more about Krampus, his history and his growing fan base, please watch the following (very short) documentary. (Running time about 7 minutes.)

Hope you enjoy it, and Happy Krampusnacht!

 

 

 

Remembering Michael Hutchence

 

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It was twenty years ago today.

On November 22, 1997, Australian rock star Michael Hutchence was found dead in a Ritz-Carlton hotel room in Sydney. His death was ruled a suicide, although family and friends have continued to dispute this.

The question remains: What would cause a young man, at the top of his game, a wealthy international superstar, a new father, much loved by family, friends and the public, to take his own life?

But maybe there is more to this story.  The human mind is a complexity, full of perceived tragedies and horrific imaginings.  There are dark nights of the soul when problems explode and life simply gives no mercy. 

Hutchence was apparently in the middle of one.

Michael Hutchence

Michael Hutchence was born in Sydney, Australia on January 22, 1960, to working class parents. The family lived in Hong Kong for much of Michael’s childhood, but returned to Australia in 1972.  Michael joined a rock band with his friends the Farriss brothers when he was just 17 years old. That band was eventually named INXS. They rose to fame and fortune in the 1980’s and 90’s. Some critics consider INXS to be one of Australia’s finest bands.

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They had a fresh, funky sound, exemplified in their best selling album ‘Kick’.  Writing team Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence came up with catchy pop songs as well as deep and soulful ballads. The six talented musicians included horn, keyboard and saxophone players.  None, however, could match the illustrious Hutch on stage.

As the band’s lead singer, he had a seductive voice, plenty of feral cat moves, and a Mick-Jagger-like star quality that is rarely duplicated.  Anyone who saw Hutch in concert was hooked.  And I mean anyone!  Men, women, young, old, straight, gay, no matter.  All went gaga for Hutch.

Michael Hutchence

In 1994, Hutchence began having an affair with celebrity Paula Yates, who was then married to another famous rock star, Bob Geldoff.  Eventually Paula divorced Bob, but what followed was a nasty custody battle that apparently made everyone miserable. In the meantime, Hutch and Paula also had a child of their own, a daughter named Tiger Lily. Legal issues forced Paula to remain in England, continually separated from Hutchence.

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Hutch had also experienced a terrible head injury which reportedly left him with a bunch of physical ailments, including loss of his sense of smell. These difficulties were exacerbated by the fact that the band was, by then, losing its star status, no longer filling stadiums and playing to smaller crowds. According to some, Hutchence had entered the dreaded realm of (gasp!) “aging rock star”. (At the ripe old age of 37.)

I know!  Who makes these dumb rules?

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Michael Hutchence’s corpse was found  at 11:50 AM on the morning of November 22, 1997 in the Sydney Ritz Carlton.  He died alone.  Friends and visitors had been partying with him in the hotel room as late (or early!) as 5AM the same morning. Allegedly the activities included lots of alcohol and unnamed drugs.  Strangely, no coroner’s report was filed as to which substances Hutch actually had in his body when he died. The official cause of his death was strangulation by hanging.

But there is another side to the story. By many accounts, Hutch was a bit kinky. He may never have intended to actually kill himself, but was merely involved in a few rounds of autoerotic asphyxiation.

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‘Nuff said.

This story gets even sadder. Three years later, Paula Yates died of a drug overdose, leaving Tiger Lily an orphan.  Bob Geldoff became her legal guardian.  She recently began a modeling career,  no doubt owing a lot to her father’s gorgeous looks.

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Michael Hutchence remains one of the great, gone too soon artists. On this day we honor him. Here, INXS perform a patchwork of their song ‘Mystify’. Hope you like it!

Hutch Rock In Peace!

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Georgia O’Keeffe

 

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Today we celebrate the life of Georgia O’Keeffe!  She was an American artist, most famous for her abstract paintings of flowers, bones, and natural landscapes. She herself was a force of nature as well, leaving an imprint and legacy not easily forgotten.

Once you experience her artwork — well — flowers will never look the same again!

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Born on November 15, 1887, in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia was the second of seven children. Her parents were dairy farmers who valued education and encouraged their children to explore various interests. The wide Wisconsin landscape, with its vibrant hollyhocks, lilies, irises and greenery, no doubt influenced the young Georgia.  Artistic talent seemed to run in the family, as two of her grandmothers had been amateur painters.

Georgia attended college at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, quickly climbing to top of her class. Later she studied at New York City’s Art Student’s League. It was in New York that she was first introduced to modern art movements of the early twentieth century. She visited galleries, in particular Gallery 291, founded by photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen.

Located at 291 5th Avenue, 291 frequently introduced new work of modern European and American artists.

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It was Alfred Stieglitz who first displayed O’Keeffe’s work — a series of charcoal drawings — at a gallery exhibition in 1916. The unusual drawings were an overnight success. Within two years, Georgia, who had earned her living through teaching, moved to New York City and became part of a group of avant-garde artists.

For a woman, recognition in the male dominated art world was dubious and rare. Nonetheless, Georgia held her own, winning recognition among critics and patrons. She became the highest paid female artist in the US. O’Keeffe, however, never considered herself a ‘feminist’. She wanted to be thought of as simply ‘an artist’ rather than ‘a female artist’.

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Although Alfred Stieglitz was a married man, and twenty three years older than O’Keeffe, the two became lovers. In 1924 Alfred left his wife to marry Georgia.

Like all aspects of his life, Alfred made his new bride into a work of art.

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Georgia continued to develop her craft. She began to experiment with perspective, painting close-ups of flowers. The first of these was Petunia No. 2, which was exhibited in 1925, followed by works such as Black Iris (1926) and Oriental Poppies (1928).

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“If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because… the flower is small. So I said to myself –  I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.” — Georgia O’Keeffe

I should mention that these are no quaint little blooms, but more like Alice Through the Looking Glass, grow-so-incredibly-high jungle blossoms, painted on canvasses big enough for you to walk into.

For almost a century, art critics have been insisting that O’Keeffe’s flower paintings were meant to resemble female genitalia. Georgia herself vehemently denied this. What do you think?

Georgia O'Keeffe art

“I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore.” — Georgia O’Keeffe

In the 1930’s, Georgia found new inspiration in the American west and Navajo culture when she began to visit New Mexico. She found simple yet sublime beauty in the desert, frequently painting landscapes and animal skulls. Cool, huh?

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Meanwhile, back in New York, Stieglitz had begun to mentor a young photographer named Dorothy Norman. The two developed a close relationship and – you guessed it! The married Stieglitz began an affair with Dorothy. Georgia became jealous and suffered  bouts of depression. In 1933 she was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown and did not paint for a whole year.  The nervous breakdown was reportedly due to ‘a broken heart’.  (Oh Alfred, you philanderer!)

Her recovery lead her back to New Mexico where she eventually bought property at Ghost Ranch and lived there permanently.  However, she never divorced Stieglitz who remained her one true love.

In his later years, Stieglitz’s health deteriorated. He died of a stroke in 1946 at the age of 82. Georgia was with him when he died and was the executor of his estate.

In 1949, Georgia was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In the 1950s and 1960s, she continued to paint and travel the world, finding inspiration in places she visited.  In 1970, a retrospective of her work was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

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“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing.  It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis — that we get at the real meaning of things.”  — Georgia O’Keeffe

Unfortunately, as Georgia became older she suffered from macular degeneration and began to lose her eyesight. She painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972. However,  she never los her love of art and her desire to create. She still continued to create art in the form of sculpture and writing. Her bestselling autobiography Georgia O’Keeffe was published in 1976.

Georgia died on March 6, 1986 at the age of 98.  Her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered, as she wished, on the land around Ghost Ranch (perhaps becoming its final ghost?)  The spirit of Ms. O’Keeffe will remain influential forever!

“I have lived on a razor’s edge. So what if you fall off? I’d rather be doing something I wanted to do. I’d walk it again.”  — Georgia O’Keeffe

Happy Birthday Georgia!

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