The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

 

In all the bloody legacies of the Tudor family, perhaps there is none quite so tragic as the death of sixteen year old Lady Jane Grey. Also known as the “Nine Days Queen” the shy reluctant Jane ruled England for exactly nine days before she was jailed and eventually executed.

Jane Grey was born on this day, October 13, 1537 in Bradgate Park, England. It was her great misfortune to have been born into a faction of the Tudor dynasty. Jane was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII through his younger daughter Mary. This made her  first cousin once removed to King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII.

 

Sins of the Father

Those of you that know Tudor history might remember Henry VIII’s nearly impossible quest to bear a son. After blowing through two marriages, Henry finally wed queen’s maid Jane Seymour who bore him their son Edward. (Jane died in childbirth, and Henry blew through three more wives after her, but that is another story for another day.)

Little Prince Edward was a treasure to Henry, who treated him like a delicate doll, constantly in fear that his only son might fall ill and not continue the Tudor dynasty. Upon Henry’s death, the nine year old Edward took the throne. But alas. Henry’s darkest fear actually did come true. Edward only ruled a few years until he passed away at the tender age of  fifteen.

Before he died, young Edward made some rather unconventional arrangements about his own succession. He chose his cousin Lady Jane Grey as the next queen.

Edward had two half sisters, Henry VIII’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth. Henry VIII had actually written a will that eldest daughter Mary should succeed Edward in the event he had no sons (which, at age fifteen he did NOT.) However, Mary was a Roman Catholic, and this did not sit well with young Edward, a strict Protestant.

On his deathbed, Edward wrote a new will. This will removed his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, from the line of succession on account of their “illegitimacy”. It was probably pretty easy for Edward to declare his sisters illegitimate. They were the daughters of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, respectively. Henry VIII had managed to annul, disintegrate and destroy those marriages, banishing Catherine and beheading Anne, in his frantic attempt to marry someone who could give him a son.

 

Overburdened

Young Jane was somewhat of a little pawn in a big game. When she was called to become queen, Jane was a timid, bookish teenager. She, like the rest of England, had no idea about the new will.

She had been given an excellent education and had a reputation as one of the most learned young women of her day. She was also married. In May 1553, Jane had been married off to Lord Guildford Dudley. He was a younger son of Edward’s chief minister John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. The marriage had, no doubt, been arranged by John Dudley in his own hopes of advancement, knowing his new daughter in law had some chance of becoming queen.

Edward VI died on July 6, 1553. On July 9 Jane was informed that she was now queen. Still unsure of herself and her shaky claim to the throne, Jane accepted the crown with reluctance.  She was moved to residence in the Tower of London, and on 10 July, she was officially proclaimed Queen of England, France and Ireland.

 

Cliques and Coups

Meanwhile, Mary Tudor got busy. As soon as Mary was sure of King Edward’s demise, she traveled to East Anglia, where she began to rally her Catholic supporters. In turn, John Dudley got some troops together to capture Mary. He was unsuccessful.

Mary had a lot of support from the English people. There were still many Catholic strongholds in the country and even Protestants backed Mary because they believed she was the rightful heir to the throne. In addition, another nobleman, one Henry Fitz -Alan, 19th Earl of Arundel, engineered a coup d’etat in Mary’s favor.  Under pressure from the English people and other forces, the Privy Council  switched their allegiance and proclaimed Mary as queen on July 19, 1553.

And that was the end of Jane. On that same day, she was imprisoned in the Tower’s Gentleman Gaoler’s apartments.

Her husband went to Beauchamp Tower. John Dudley, for his part, was executed on August 22, 1553. Jane — hitherto referred to as “Jane Dudley, wife of Guildford”, was charged with high treason. Her husband and two of his brothers were also charged. Their trial took place on November 13, 1553.   All defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Jane’s guilt was evidenced by a number of documents she had signed as “Jane the Quene”.

Jane’s fate was to “be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases.” Burning was the traditional English punishment for treason committed by women.

 

To Burn or Not To Burn?

The decision seemed a bit harsh. Jane was so young. She was still beloved by many. She even seemed to have little to do with her own fate. The Imperial Ambassador began a petition in her favor, pleading to Charles V,  the Holy Roman Emperor, that Jane’s life be spared.  Even Queen Mary herself was reluctant to sign the death warrant. Some historians believe that if Jane would have agreed to accept Catholicism, she could have saved her own life and gained favor with Mary. However, during her imprisonment Jane remained a dedicated Protestant. She even wrote letters condemning the Catholic Mass, going so far as to call it a “Satanic and cannibalistic ritual.”

As she awaited her sentence, Jane’s family were busy scheming again.

In January, 1554, the “Wyatt Rebellion” began. This was a plan instigated by Thomas Wyatt the Younger to destroy Queen Mary’s reign. Jane’s father, Henry Grey, and two of her uncles joined the rebellion. Upon hearing this news, the government assumed they could never trust Jane. Mary then signed the death warrant for both Jane and her husband Guildford.

Her beheading was first scheduled for February 9 1554, but was then postponed for three days to give Jane another chance to convert to the Catholic faith. Mary sent her chaplain John Feckenham to Jane. Although Jane would not convert, she became friends with Feckenham and requested he accompany her to the scaffold.

 

Blindfolded and Bewildered

Jane’s execution, with Feckenham by her side, is depicted in this famous painting by Paul Delaroche, 1833. No one knows for sure what Jane looked like, as she was the only Tudor monarch who never had a portrait done.

On the morning of February 12, the authorities took Guildford from his rooms at the Tower of London to the Tower Hill. Instead of a simple beheading, Guildford suffered the sadistic punishment of being drawn and quartered — a process in which the victim was kept alive while his entrails were cut out. A horse and cart brought his remains past the rooms where Jane was staying. Seeing her husband’s corpse return, Jane cried out: “Oh, Guildford, Guildford!”

She was then taken out to Tower Green for her own beheading. Jane gave this speech from the scaffold:

“Good People, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, indeed, against the Queen’s highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day.”

Jane’s wording should be noted. “… touching the procurement and desire thereof by me… I do wash my hands thereof in innocency…” It is a fancy, 16th century way of saying she never wanted the crown in the first place.

The executioner asked her forgiveness, which she granted him, pleading: “I pray you dispatch me quickly.” Interestingly, Jane then pointed to her own head and asked, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” The axeman answered: “No, madam.” (Anne Boleyn’s executioner, a skilled swordsman, snuck up on Anne, behind her back, theoretically to soften the blow.  So maybe Jane was just checking.)

She then blindfolded herself.  But once blindfolded, Jane could not find the block with her hands, and cried, “What shall I do? Where is it?”  Sir Thomas Brydges, the Deputy Lieutenant, helped her. With her head on the block, Jane spoke the last words: “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!”

Jane and Guildford are buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula on the north side of Tower Green. No memorial stone was erected at their grave.

 

Lingering Legacy

Jane is gone but not forgotten. Her youth, the unfairness of her death and the sheer romanticism of her story have elevated her to an icon.  Known as the “traitor-heroine” of the Protestant Reformation, she became viewed as a martyr. Jane was featured in the Book of Martyrs (Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Dayes) by John Foxe.

Jane’s story grew to legendary proportions in popular culture. She has been the subject of many novels, plays, operas, paintings, and films. One of the most popular was Trevor Nunn’s 1986 film “Lady Jane”. Helena Bonham Carter played the lead role.

Happy Birthday Jane. We hardly knew you.

 

 

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10/6 Mad Hatter Day!

 

The Mad Hatter has always been a beloved character, and a bit of a cultural icon. He occupies just a small amount of the Alice stories, but he is one of Lewis Carroll’s most popular inventions. In fact, he is so popular, we even have a day to celebrate him! Today,  October 6, is National Mad Hatter Day.

Why October 6th? Well, if you remember the original Alice illustrations by Sir John Tennial, you might know that there is a slip of paper on the Hatter’s hat that reads: “In this style, 10/6.”

This means the Hatter has an order to make a hat in exactly that style, and it will cost ten shillings and sixpence. (It has nothing to do with October. But then again, Pi has nothing to do with March 14th, and we celebrate Pi Day on 3/14 anyway.)  In U.S. date representation, the month comes first and then the day, so 10/6 means October 6th.

Mad Hatter Day was founded in 1986 by a group of computer programmers in Boulder, Colorado who noticed the “date” on the Hatter’s hat. They thought it would be a good idea to make this a national holiday, and petitioned for it. Although it is not official, Mad Hatter Day is recognized by hat enthusiasts, time travelers, March Hares, and Alice fans worldwide.

But where did the Hatter come from? Was he really mad? And what exactly was his big gripe with Time?

Madness and Mercury

Lewis Carroll did not invent the idea of an insane hat maker solely on his own. The phrase “mad as a hatter” was part of popular jargon as early as 1837, some thirty years before the Alice stories were published. Many real life hatters were known to exhibit erratic, flamboyant behavior, talk to themselves and have mood swings.

What made the Mad Hatters mad?

In the 18th and 19th centuries, hat makers typically used mercury nitrate as part of the process for curing felt.  Exposure to mercury resulted in some weird behavior. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include anxiety, muscle weakness, memory loss, hearing and vision problems, slurred speech, drooling, and diarrhea. Top hats, so popular during the Victorian era, used a great deal of cured felt, so maybe there was a “rise” in madness during the time Carroll wrote Alice. Hence “mad as a hatter” became a popular phrase.

Luckily, use of mercury was eventually banned from the hatting industry. In 1898, laws were passed in Europe that protected hat makers from the risk of exposure. By the 20th century, mercury poisoning among British hat makers had become a rarity. The United States, however, did not ban mercury until 1941, when the Public Health Service deemed it hazardous and finally prohibited its use.

Insane Inventions

Ironically, Carroll is said to have based his Hatter not on a real hat maker, but on a furniture dealer named Theophilus Carter, who was known locally as the Mad Hatter. Carter always wore a top hat. (But apparently not in this picture.)

Carter was an eccentric with some far out ideas, and he produced some wacky inventions. One such invention was  the “Alarm Clock Bed”. This contraption contained a mattress that would tip the sleeper out of bed and into a tub of cold water to wake them up. According to the Virtual Victorian website: “At the appointed hour of alarm, after the sound of ringing bells to wake the ‘modern’ sleeper, an automated mattress tipped and flung the poor wretch from his bed to a bath of cold water  – supposedly refreshed and restored for the brand new day ahead.”

I am not making this up! The bed was actually featured as an attraction in Prince Albert’s Crystal Palace Exhibition, which took place in Hyde Park in 1851. We don’t have a real picture of this notorious thing, but it was thought to look something like this:

The ladder on the bottom would slide the victim into the refreshing tub of “seaside” cold water below.  Yeah, I can see why this invention didn’t take off…

Time Waits For No One

Or does it?

Perhaps it is significant that Carter’s invention involved a clock. Both Lewis Carroll and his Hatter were obsessed with time. As you may recall, at the Mad Tea Party, it was always six o’clock, tea time.

The time never changed, and this was because the Hatter was being punished. It all started at a concert where the Hatter was appointed to sing for the Queen. Halfway through the song, the Queen yelled that the Hatter was “murdering the time!”

As a result, Time would not cooperate with the Hatter.  “And ever after that,” says the Hatter, “he won’t do a thing I ask. It’s always six o’clock now.” (Time, according to the Hatter, is actually a “he” not an “it”.)

At the Tea Party, time stands still. They must keep full table settings all around, as they move from place to place to get clean cups  — because time never changes.

Interestingly, Albert Einstein himself held a point of view similar to the Mad Hatter’s!

Einstein was obsessed with, and distressed by, the conundrum of the present moment, or the “Now”.  According to Einstein, “the experience of the Now means something special for man, something essentially different from the past and the future, but this difference does not, and cannot occur within physics.”

Think about it. It is always Now.  You are reading these words Now, but I am also writing these words Now.  It is always Now. You can’t do anything tomorrow, or yesterday. You can plan or recall, but you cannot act. And what you actually do, you DO RIGHT NOW.  But Einstein tells us the experience of the Now cannot be grasped by science nor explained mathematically! Perhaps the Hatter was right. It was always six o’clock. Because it is always now. 🙂

In his sequel Through the Looking Glass, Carroll puts the Hatter in another unique time experience. Hatta (aka Hatter, in the version also the King’s messenger) is in jail for a crime he has not yet committed. The Queen explains to Alice: “He’s in prison now, being punished, and the trial does not even begin until Wednesday, and of course, the crime comes last of all.”

Alice wonders what will happen if he never commits the crime.

Similarly, the Queen justifies not serving jam. “The rule is jam yesterday, and jam tomorrow, but never jam today.” So they just never have jam. Which is a shame. They should have it NOW.

Crazy, right? But in his book Relativity (1952) Einstein wrote: “Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent “now” objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.”

Einstein believed in an undivided solid reality, with no true division between past, present and future. When Einstein’s dearest friend Michele Besso died, Einstein wrote a letter of consolation to Besso’s family, summing up his thoughts:

“Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. For us physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future only has the meaning of an illusion.”

Lewis Carroll was an Oxford mathematician. I have argued before that he was ahead of his time. Perhaps Carroll was toying with the concept of non-linear time years before Einstein was even born! But then again, it is all in the NOW, so, from that perspective, one CANNOT BE “ahead of one’s time.” 

This is clearly a holiday worth celebrating! To make the most of Mad Hatter Day, you might want to:

Drink tea!

Wear hats!

Re-read the Alice stories.

Watch some Alice movies.

Ponder Einstein and time. Do it NOW 🙂 No time like the present. Or wait a minute… (CAN  we wait a minute??) See what I did there?

Have a great Mad Hatter’s Day!

 

 

 

 

 

Friday the 13th, Harvest Full Moon and Notorious Events!

 

Happy Friday the 13th!

As some of you may know, today is no ordinary Friday the 13th. We are also blessed with a full moon, known as the Harvest Moon (so christened by Native Americans and coinciding with the September harvest.) The Harvest Moon is said to be so bright, farmers could actually go out at night and reap their summer harvests beneath it.

A full moon occurring on a Friday the 13th is a bit of a phenomenon in itself. We haven’t experienced this since October 13, 2000, and there will not be another one until August 13, 2049. So be sure to celebrate this rare occasion, harness this full moon power and perform whatever festivities you so choose.

September 13th is no ordinary day either. Some pretty rare and phenomenal events have happened on this day, and some significant characters share this birthday. For example:

On this day in 1224, Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have been affected with a stigmata. Forty year old Francesco went off to pray at the lonely mountain of Alvernia. He planned on undertaking a 40 day fast in order to prepare himself for the Feast of Archangel Michael, the most powerful of angels.  It was during this time that Francesco received the condition known as “stigmata” — the Sacred Wounds of Christ appearing in his hands, feet and side.

According to Catholicism.org “The wounds Jesus gave him stayed in his hands, feet and side, and continually bled for two more years.” When the bleeding finally ceased, Francsco died, at the age of 42.

Speaking of famous Italians, Cesare Borgia, Italian nobleman, politician and spy, was born September 13, 1475. Cesare was the bastard son of  Pope Alexander VI, child of the Pope’s long term mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei. (It was pretty common back then for popes to have children.)

Cesare grew up to be unscrupulous and terrifying in his quest for power. He was groomed by the Church and originally held a position as Cardinal of Valencia at the tender age of 18, but he abdicated to become a war strategist. He is said to have murdered his own brother Giovanni. The two men shared the same mistress, Sancha of Aragon. (Sancha was actually married to their other brother, Gioffre Borgia! You can’t make this stuff up!) It was rumored that Cesare may have been jealous Giovanni’s involvement with her, and also his military position.

Interestingly, Sancha, also known as the “Jezebel of Naples” was thought to be a witch. After being imprisoned in 1503 she somehow charmed her way out of an execution and went on to live a productive life as the guardian of her young nephew Rodrigo, son of Cesare’s sister Lucretzia.

Cesare was promoted in the military and given the title Duke of Valentinois, which led to his nickname “Valentino”. He ruthlessly commanded mercenaries and Papal armies, bloodthirsty and horrendous in his ambitions.  He was the  inspiration for Niccollo Macchiavelli’s novel The Prince, which has been a toolbox for power mongers ever since (including King Henry VIII!)

For his notorious spying activities, Cesare is often called James Bond of the 15th century.

Who doesn’t love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach and The Witches? The author of these children’s classics, Roald Dahl, also entered our world on this day, September 13, 1916. Born in Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegian parents, young Roald was educated at the Cathedral and Repton schools. He was no stranger to the barbaric practices of canings and hazings, often receiving punishments for his pranks, or subject to bullying by upperclassmen. After graduation, he worked for the Shell Petroleum Company, and during WWII served in the Royal Air Force.

Dahl’s books are known for their unsentimental outlook, use of the macabre, and their dark comedy. They often feature villainous adults and sweet underdog children who are victorious in the end. Perhaps they are a bit reminiscent of his caning and hazing days at Repton, where he was often the victim of cruelty.

Beware the Weird Sisters and their book of spells!

Speaking of chocolate factories, today is also the birthday of Milton Hershey, the chocolate tycoon and founder of the Hershey Company. Milton was born on September 13, 1945 in Derby Pennsylvania.

Gotta love Hershey!

And don’t forget the music! Also born on this day in New Orleans, 1953, was Larry Shields, an American jazz clarinetist. Larry was one of the players in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

So there you have it! Today is no ordinary Friday the 13th. Tonight would be a great time to do some moon gazing, eat some chocolate, listen to jazz and read a copy of The Witches.  Braver souls may want to channel the spirits of Cesare Borgia or Saint Francis. Whatever you do, have a safe, healthy and happy Friday the 13th.

 

National Book Lovers’ Day!

 

Are you a reader? Are you an obsessive reader?  Do you become enmeshed in the other worlds of fantasy, futuristic sci-fi or dystopian societies? Do you like heady romances, frightening horror, or historical recreations? Perhaps you like thought provoking non-fiction, or the vicarious thrill of a good biography.  If so, you are in luck. Today, August 9th, is National Book Lovers Day!

While the nay-sayers keep trying to convince us that the art of reading is dead, book publishing and its various forms continue to thrive. And why wouldn’t it? Ever since the dawn of time, humankind has loved story.

The Need to Read 

Storytelling has always been a part of human culture. Some scientists believe as far as 60,000 years ago our ancestors, the Neanderthals, were making their own crude attempts at it.

Cave painting was perhaps the first form of story telling. It can be dated back to around 40, 000 years ago.  The oldest known cave painting is that of a bull in  Lubang Jeriji Saléh cave, East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Was there a tale that went along with the bull? Most likely.  “Once upon a time, Jack took his cow to the market in search of some magic beans…”

For thousands of years, oral tradition has existed among the ancients. Eventually they developed the tools to keep the stories in print.  In around 3000 BC, the people of  Mesopotamia developed round cylinder seals for rolling images onto clay tablets.  Societies in China and Egypt also created small stamps that were used to print on cloth. In around  the second century A.D., a Chinese man named Ts’ai Lun is credited for first inventing paper.

The oldest European book in existence was taken from the grave of Saint Cuthbert in the year 1104. The book contains the Gospel of John in Latin. It is believed that the book was buried with Cuthbert in around the seventh century. This leather bound gem is in excellent shape, considering its age!

Throughout the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth century, woodcuts were used for printing in Europe and Asia. Reproduction was a tedious and laborious task taken on by scribes. But in 1440, a miracle happened. A man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. The printing press was the first device which used movable type to produce books. It revolutionized publishing.

The press was vastly modernized over the next few hundred years, creating news print, typewriters and eventually the keyboards we have today. Nonetheless, if you are a book lover, you have Gutenberg to thank for the printed word as we know it.

Great Books

Reading frees the mind,  reels the senses and opens doors to the imagination.  What is your favorite book? Perhaps you have several. Here’s my short list, in no particular order:

** Dracula by Bram Stoker. Oh you have never known horror and apprehension until you have read it! Enter the dark abyss of Castle Dracul where the infamous Count lives among his howling wolves and coffins.

** The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. Travel down to New Orleans and become acquainted with the creepy Mayfair sisters. Dark and diabolical things have long occurred in their mansion home, not the least of which are murder and ghost sightings.

** The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Enter the ritzy world of Daisy and Tom Buchanan in 1920’s New York. Daisy keeps a passionate secret regarding neighbor Jay Gatsby, with whom she once had a doomed love affair. Can she rekindle it, now that Jay has amassed a fortune and is on a level playing field with the Buchanans?

** On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Hit the highway with Sal Paradise as he travels the road of America in tears, all the way to Frisco to hang out with some hip cats, perhaps better known as Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg.

** Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The moors are alive with haunting and torment, as Heathcliff, who was once a nice little orphan, turns into an abusive tyrant who can never reconcile his lost love.

** Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.  On the cliffs of Cornwall, the newly married narrator is inundated with memories of her  husband’s first wife Rebecca, who died in a mysterious boating accident. Or did she? The creepy housekeeper will do her best to drive our heroine insane.

** Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  It’s not just for children! Travel down the rabbit hole with Alice, a girl to be reckoned with.  She comes of age, questions authority and learns to stand up for herself. Among the mad tea parties, faux beheadings and painted roses there lurks political satire, as well as cutting commentary about human nature.

My list could go on and on. What about you? Let me know your favorites in the comments! And whatever you do, take some time out today to enjoy a book 🙂

 

 

The First Harvest: Lughnasadh or Lammas?

 

Happy August! As the golden sun winds down and the days ever so slightly grow shorter, we find ourselves in the midst of the first harvest feast also known as Lughnasadh or Lammas. This is a cross quarter festival which falls midpoint between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox in the northern hemisphere.

Some folks call this holiday “Lughnasadh.” Most folks call it “Lammas.” That is probably because Lughnasadh is a mouthful to pronounce. Plus it has a weird spelling. Most people are intimidated by the very sight of the word. Some folks might remember the old movie with Meryl Streep called “Dancing at Lughnasa” and they try to pronounce it.

Be not afraid.

Lughnasadh (also spelled Lughnasa) is pronounced LOO – NAH -SAH. Lammas is pronounced LAH-MIS. The two festivals are similar, and although they are celebrated on the same day, they are not exactly the same.

Lughnasadh & The Sun King

Lughnasadh dates back to prehistoric times. The name “Lughnasadh” is derived from the Celtic sun god Lugh. (Pronounced LOO, or LUKGH rolling the G in the back of your throat.)  The name Lugh literally means “The Shining One”. As the sun god, Lugh’s special mission was to make sure the sun stayed under control and did not burn us up. Hence, this time of year, with the sun’s first fading, is associated with him.

But Lugh was more than a mere sun god.  He was also the patron of all craftspeople, including metalworkers, musicians, magicians, healers, and warriors.

As a Jack of All Trades, Lugh covered a lot of territory and was an extremely popular god. He was the elected King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the tribe of Fair Folk.  Lugh was a master builder, harpist, poet, warrior, sorcerer, metalworker, and physician. He was also extremely beautiful and eternally youthful.  It’s easy to see why he was worshiped and loved throughout the Celtic world.

Lugh has an interesting history which is necessary to tell in order to fully understand how Lughnasadh came to be.

Forbidden Birth, Unlikely Death

Although Lugh was obviously a golden child, the circumstances of his birth were weird. His father was Cian of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and his mother was Ethlin, daughter of Balor, of the Fomorians. It should have been a great match, uniting the two tribes. However, there was one severe problem; Ethlin was forbidden, by her father Balor, to ever  have children. This was because Balor had once been given a prophecy from a sorcerer that his own grandson would kill him.

Balor’s solution? Simply lock his daughter in a tower and keep her away from all men.

Needless to say, it did not work. Ethlin had already fallen in love with the powerful and dashing Cian. He, using obvious Rapunzel style tactics, found ways to get into that tower.

When Ethlin became pregnant, the Tuatha Dé Danann knew there would be trouble. Balor would seek to kill the baby.  And so, Cian and Ethlin were whisked away to a nearby island. When Lugh was born, he was given to the harvest goddess Tailtiu (pronounced TAL-TU.)  It was she who raised the baby Lugh, and turned him into the fine young man he became.

Alas, poor Tailtiu! She had a lot of work to do. As grain goddess, she had to clear all the fields of Ireland for planting, then reap the harvest. As she grew older the burden became too much. One morning on the first of August, the poor goddess collapsed from exhaustion and died.

Lugh wanted to honor his foster mother. She had requested that only celebrations, with happiness and no grieving, should commemorate her death. And so Lugh held a great harvest feast. There were games, drinking and merry-making. (Arguably this could have been the first Irish wake. These wakes were known to last days on end, mired in celebration.)

Perhaps this festival should have been called “Tailtiuanasadh.” (That would have been an ever bigger tongue twister!) But instead it was named after Lugh, the beloved god who threw the party. It is always associated with the harvest, as Tailtiu was a grain goddess and Lugh was the god of the waning sun.

Lammas — All About the Bread

Some time in the 4th century AD, the Emperor Constantine advanced Christianity in Roman dominated Europe and the British Isles. A lot of Pagan practices, as followed by the Celts and other tribes, were outlawed. The festival of Lughnasadh was probably forbidden, or at least it went underground. However, the first harvest morphed into a new holiday called Lammas.

The word Lammas literally means “loaf mass”. This made sense because, as wheat was harvested in late July and early August, a lot of bread baking took place.  Lammas-tide was not just a one day festival, but was considered more of a baking season. It began on August 1st and lasted for a few weeks.

What’s In a Name? 

Lammas also has an interesting history and entomology. In medieval times the feast was sometimes known in England and Scotland as the “Gule of August”.  The true meaning of “gule” is unknown, but in Welsh there is a term Gŵyl Awst which means “feast of August”. Gule may have just been an alternate spelling. The word gule is also associated with “gullet”. This also makes sense, as all that bread goes into the gullet!

In the medieval agricultural year, Lammas also marked the end of the hay harvest that had begun after the Midsummer Solstice.  At the end of hay-making the tradition was to release one sheep into the meadow. (A rarity because this was not lambing season.)  Anyone who could catch the sheep could keep it. This leads to the suggestion that “Lammas” could also have been derived from “lamb mass”, an additional celebration at the harvest.

Shakespeare famously mentioned Lammas, as Juliet’s birthday in Romeo and Juliet.

“Even or odd, of all days in the year,
Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen.”

Thus, the festival of Lammas was well known and would have been easily recognizable to Elizabethan audiences.

Regardless of how the words and legends came to be and to be remembered, one thing is certain: Lugnasadh/ Lammas is a great time of year to celebrate!

In Modern Times

We may not all be farmers, and we do not live as close to the land as our ancestors did, but there are still many ways to honor the harvest.  Even the modern day city dweller can hit the local farmers market for some corn on the cob, or the local bakery for a fresh loaf of bread. (Or if you are skilled in the kitchen, bake your own!)

Have some fun today, and also over the next few weeks as “tide” sets in. Thank the earth for her abundance. Thank the overlooked goddess Tailtiu for her hard work and sacrifice. Create an altar dedicated to Lugh, Tailtiu, or Mother Earth.  Offerings could include corn, tomatoes and berries. Candles could be yellow and orange, the colors of the sun. Carnelian, amber, citrine and other yellow crystals are great decorations. Sunflowers are always perfect, as are marigolds and daisies.

Whatever you do to celebrate, have a safe, happy and healthy Lunasadh/ Lammas-tide! Blessed be.

 

 

Mermaid Mentors

 

“I must be a mermaid… I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
― Anais Nin

“The mermaid is an archetypal image that represents a woman who is at ease in the great waters of life.” — Anita Johnson

“Mermaids don’t drown.” ― Suzanne Palmieri

The mermaid represents a woman’s physical and emotional depths. The Siren’s song, in mythology, was typically a thing to be feared, for sailors who followed it often ended up in a shipwreck. And yet, without these mesmerizing mythical creatures, our seas would be sadly lacking.

Mermaids not only weather the storm, they welcome it. Mermaids live in duality, embodying humanness along with a wild, animalistic and instinctual side. They are as changeable as the water itself, and yet they are ancient, a thing of complete and utter permanence.

How long have mermaids been around? Forever! Which is one reason why we should heed the wisdom of these divas from the deep.

The archetype of the mermaid has appeared in the folklore of every culture and people. They have popped up in the South Seas, the Greek Islands, the tundras of Siberia, the coasts of Africa and sun worshipping Scandinavia.

In Brazil, tribute is paid to the water goddess Yemoja. From Syrian legend came the Dea Syria, mother of all mermaids.  Slavic cultures have tales of the Rusalka, water nymphs that can both harm and help humankind. Lithuanian folklore tells of  Jurate, who lived in an amber palace beneath the Baltic Sea.

The far east also has no lack of mermaids. Korean mythology tells of Princess Hwang-Ok from an undersea kingdom of mermaids known as Naranda. There is also the tale of Kim Dam Ryeong, the Korean mayor of a seaside town, who once saved four hundred mermaids from being captured by fishermen. Chinese literature dating as far back as 4 B.C. speaks of mermaids who “wept tears that turned into pearls.”

Folklore from the British Isles is peppered with tales of mermaids. The Norman chapel of  Durham Castle, built by Saxons, contains an artistic depiction of a mermaid that dates back to 1078. (One must wonder why busy Saxon masons would bother to etch a mermaid into the wall. They had cathedrals to build!)

In Cornwall, there is a legend of a mermaid who came to the village of Zenmor.  There, she listened to the singing of a chorister named Matthew Trewhella. The two fell in love, and Matthew went with the mermaid to her home at Pendour Cove. Needless to say, he was never seen again.  On summer nights, it is said the lovers can be heard singing together.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus reported seeing three mermaids near the Dominican Republic.  Henry Hudson (of Hudson River fame)  recorded in his captain’s log in 1608  that his crewmen had spotted  a mermaid in the river. The sailors claimed that from the navel up “her back and breasts were like a woman’s” but when she dove under the water “they saw her tail, which was like the tail of a porpoise.”

In 1614, Captain John Smith (of Jamestown Colony and Pocahontas  fame) recorded a mermaid sighting in his captain’s log. While sailing near the coast of Newfoundland, Smith wrote that he saw a woman “swimming with all possible grace.” He stated: “Her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive.” (Green hair!)  He also claimed “from below the stomach the woman gave way to the fish.”

Are mermaids real? Would these prominent men lie, and risk looking ridiculous in their logs?

A more recent mermaid sighting occurred in 2009.  In the seaside town of Kiryat Yam, Israel, dozens of other people reported seeing the same astonishing sight: a mermaid frolicking in the waves near the shore.

A mermaid’s endeavors are not to be taken on by the shallow of heart. She moves in synchronicity with the ocean’s tides, rides the waves, rules the waters.   The mermaid is passionate and generous, sometimes even granting wishes.  Just don’t cross her; she can be deadly.

I hope summer finds you near an ocean, lake, pond or pool. (And if you happen to see one of these watery women, approach with caution.)

These beautiful portraits were done by contemporary Russian artist Victor Nizovtsev. Have a lovely, magical and mer-aculous day!

 

 

Happy Fourth of July!

 

“In a chariot of light,

from the region of the day,

the Goddess of Liberty came.

She brought in her hand,

as a gift of her love,

the plant she named Liberty Tree.”

— Thomas Paine, American patriot and Founding Father of the United States

“Give me liberty,

or give me death.” — Thomas Paine

Have a  safe, happy, healthy and blessed Fourth of July! 🙂