February: Women in Horror Month!

 

This February, 2019, kicks off the tenth annual Women in Horror Month, a celebration of all things feminine and horrific. The two go together perfectly ūüôā

Women in Horror Month is the brainchild of one Hannah Neurotica, creator of the Ax Wound website,  and winner of a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award. According to the website:

“Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre.”¬†

Horror is traditionally male dominated — as it is thought men are naturally more “violent” than women. But au contraire!¬† A closer look reveals that women are the true mothers of invention when it comes to the sinister, the supernatural, the occult and the ominous.

Women are vessels of the blood, keepers of intuition, soldiers of psychic activity and warriors of witchery.  We are the breeders, the birthers, the shadow dwellers and the invisible observers.  Nothing gets past our perceptive eyes and so, in creating horror, women are the deft and delving masters!

Consider for a moment all that women have contributed. Without women, the macabre would be missing out on some of  its finest moments.

There would be no Frankenstein — creator Mary Shelley — who wondered¬† what it might be like to give birth to a monster.

There would be no¬†Mysteries of Udolpho.¬†¬†This novel by¬†Ann Radcliffe¬†(arguably the ‘grandmother of Goth’) was first published in 1794. It is considered to be the prototype of Gothic romance, complete with sudden death, creepy castles, unprecedented misfortune, cruel strangers and forbidden love.

Jane Austen even used The Mysteries of Udolpho in her novel Northranger Abbey, to illustrate the idea of horror-loving women reading one too many Gothic novels and letting their imaginations take over their lives.

Let’s not forget vampires! Without women, there would be no Count Saint Germain (creator Chelsea Quinn Yarbro) no Dark Cathedral (creator Freda Warrington) and no Trueblood (creator Charlaine Harris.)

There would also be no infamous and notorious Vampire Lestat (creator Anne Rice.) Ms. Rice took it upon herself to explore these blood thirsty outsiders as they drifted through hundreds of years of history and struggled to survive. The result was The Vampire Chronicles, a compilation of over twenty  novels, delving into everything from ancient Egyptian deities to modern day rock stars.

Bring on the haunted houses!  Without women, there would be no Hill House (creator Shirley Jackson.)  Shirley wanted to explore poltergeists and paranormal activity in an eerie mansion. The result was overnight guests, foreboding dread and one of the best ghost stories in 20th century literature.

Let’s not forget the heart stopping Agatha Christie mysteries, the dark moor encounters of Emily Bronte,¬† the real world creepiness of Daphne Du Maurier and Joyce Carol Oates. And of course, the horrific dystopia created by Margaret Atwood in A Handmaid’s Tale, where fertile women are kidnapped and then forced to serve as baby making ‘handmaids’ to the powers that be. If you have not yet seen it, check out the series on Hulu, starring Elizabeth Moss.

According to Atwood, everything in¬† A Handmaid’s Tale had occurred at some point in history, somewhere in the real world, so it was not as fantastical as most people think…

Without women in horror, there would also be no Hitchcock Blondes — the whipped cream cool females that broke under the pressure of psychopaths, thanks to the acting expertise of Tippi Hedron, Janet Leigh, Kim Novak and Grace Kelly, to name a few.

There would be no Birds (writer Daphne Du Maurier) no Creature From the Black Lagoon (costume design by Milicent Patrick) and of course, no Halloween franchise (thanks to co-writer Debra Hill and the incomparable Jamie Lee Curtis!)

On a lighter note, plenty of women have taken horror and combined it with comedy. Consider Elvia, Mistress of the Dark (Cassandra Peterson),  Lilly Munster (Yvonne De Carlo)  and the fabulous Morticia Addams (Carolyn Jones.)

Morticia served as the general matriarch to the iconic Addams Family, complete with “Lurch” the butler, “Thing” (a severed hand with a mind of its own) her Gothic children Pugsly and Wednesday, her husband Gomez, weird Uncle Fester and crone Grandmama. Morticia had her hands full but she ruled with a funeral parlor cool, far removed from the average sitcom.

Who is your favorite woman in horror?

And finally, if you find yourself craving more tales of the terrible, please check out my very own horror stories in¬†The Box Under The Bed¬†and¬†Dark Visions.¬† Here, you’ll find Jack the Ripper, scary fairies, Charon the death messenger and Lucifer himself ūüôā

Happy February frights!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Chicago’s Coldest Day

 

This is our sunrise on Wednesday, January 30th. (Photo by Barry Butler, who actually went out a braved the cold to get this shot!  Thanks Barry!)

Today is, by historical records, the coldest day in 148 years of Chicago weather reports.  Temps are at -21 degrees Fahrenheit. And that is without the wind chill factor, which brings it down to about -50.

C-c-cold does not really describe it. Frigid? Cutting? Benumbed? Hyperborean? Arctic? Siberian?

This is how we earned our nick-name “Chiberia”.

This mural is actually made out of snow!

In Chicago we have a great sense of humor. You would too, if you were stuck in -50  degree temps.  Ice and snow might harden us, but they soften us too. What else can you do but laugh?

This tweet sums it up — by Chicagoan¬†David Taylor II‚ĄĘ

Everybody else be like: “Snowmaggedon! Snowpocalypse! IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD!!!!”

Chicago be like: “I might be a few minutes late to work.”¬† ¬†¬†

 

We have been called a bloodthirsty city. They even dubbed us “murder capitol of the world.”¬† But despite our bad rap, there is plenty of beauty in Chicago. If you can stand the blizzards.

Lake Michigan, with its ice and steam, is an eerie wonder. This video by weatherman Tom Skilling is almost surreal.

 

The good thing about the cold is it keeps people inside. No murders will be committed this week.  There is a certain peacefulness to be found in sub zero temps. A silence and a solitude. Schools close. Many businesses close. People have no choice but to gather around the hearth and home. It is in these times we take clues from our ancestors and go into survival mode.

Good thing we’ve evolved out of loincloths!

When it is unbearably cold, neighbors check on other neighbors. We bring each other food. We dig each other out the snow banks.  If someone goes on a grocery run, we offer to pick up stuff for everyone.

Image may contain: 2 people, meme and text

We get the chance to slow down and consider the importance of community, the importance of friendship, the importance of life.

Murder capitol of the world? Bah!

Just be careful when making tea in the tundra…

 

In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of summer. (This is us too!)

            Photo by Sven Brogan.

 

 

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

 

The very name evokes images of crumbling Gothic mansions, black cats, inescapable diseases, live burials and of course, the iconic Raven.  Where would we be without the Master of Macabre, the Denizen of Death, the Harbinger of Horror? I, for one, would be lost!

Edgar Allan Poe was born on this day, January 19th, 1809 at a boarding house in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents, Baltimore-born David Poe and London-born Eliza Arnold  Poe, were both actors then performing Shakespeare’s King Lear on a Boston stage. He was the second of three children, with an older brother Henry and a little sister, Rosalie.

Bleak Beginnings

Edgar’s parents didn‚Äôt last long. David Poe, reportedly an abusive alcoholic, abandoned the family in 1810 when Edgar was just one year old. The very next year his mother Eliza, sans husband, gave birth to a girl, Rosalie.¬† Eliza died of tuberculosis that same year, at the tender age of twenty-four.

David Poe also passed away in 1811, in Norfolk, Virginia.

Little Edgar was taken in by his godfather, a wealthy Virginia merchant named John Allan, and his wife Frances. ¬†Allan made his fortune from a variety of trades including tobacco, cotton, wheat and ‚Äď yes ‚Äď slavery.

In 1815 the family sailed to Britain. Young Edgar attended school in Scotland and England. His foster parents placed him in the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School at Stoke Newington, near London where Edgar stayed for three years.

So far, it may seem like a rags-to-riches childhood that should have had a happy ending. Not so. Dark forces were at work all throughout Poe’s life.

John Allan was a bit of a ‚Äėschizophrenic parent‚Äô, alternately spoiling and then severely disciplining his foster son. He reportedly had a bad temper. (Don‚Äôt forget the man was a slave trader.) ¬†Edgar had had a bad enough beginning ‚Äď but being shipped off to boarding school probably didn‚Äôt help his self esteem. Edgar returned to live with the Allans in 1820 when he was just eleven.

In 1825, John Allan became even richer when his uncle William Galt died, leaving him an inheritance of around  $750,000. (That is the equivalent to $17,000,000 in 21st century money!)  But John Allan was apparently a stingy millionaire.

In 1826, Edgar enrolled in the University of Virginia, with the intention of studying languages. He claimed that his step father did not send him enough money for books and a decent dormitory.  He also began gambling and raked up a lot of debts, which John Allan refused to pay. Within one year, Poe dropped out of school.

Military Life

Left to fend for himself, Edgar worked a series of odd jobs. He was unable to support himself and so, in 1827 he joined the US Army. He lied about his age, claiming he was twenty-two when he was in fact, only eighteen. He also used a fake name, “Edgar Perry.”¬† That same year, he released his first book of poetry, Timberland and Other Poems.

The army did not sit well with Poe. He ¬†left in 1829 (skipping out on what was supposed to be a five year stint). Apparently, he came clean about his age and name. John Allan then helped him out — but also devised a plan that Edgar be enrolled in West Point Military Academy.

Edgar did not fare well at West Point. As a matter of fact, he hated it so much that he maneuvered a way to get himself thrown out! By behaving consistently badly, Edgar knew he could become eligible for court martial.

On February 8, 1831, Poe was tried for ‚Äúgross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church.‚Ä̬† Poe pleaded ‚Äúnot guilty‚ÄĚ knowing all the while he would indeed be found guilty and subsequently dismissed.

Clearly, Edgar was not cut out for military life.

A Teenage Bride

Having been officially abandoned by his foster father, Poe moved to Baltimore and reunited with some of his blood kin. He lived with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter Virginia¬†(Poe’s first cousin who would later become his wife), his brother Henry, and his invalid grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe.

Death still surrounded him. His brother passed away in 1831, due to complications of alcoholism.

Edgar then began working in various writing jobs, including assistant editor for the Southern Literary Messenger and contributing author for the Baltimore Saturday Visitor.

On May 16, 1836 he married his cousin Virginia Clemm. She was thirteen and he was twenty-seven.

This was not so shocking back then as it would be today. Marriage between first cousins was legal in all states before the Civil War, and not frowned upon. Plenty of historical figures married their cousins — including Johann Sebastian Bach, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Queen Victoria herself , who married her first cousin¬†Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840.

And don’t forget Jerry Lee Lewis, who somehow got away with marrying his thirteen year old cousin in 1957!

In the 19th century, the age of consent for girls in most of the United States was (astonishingly!) just TEN years old! In Delaware it was actually SEVEN years old! Some of these laws were in effect until the 1960’s.

However, the stark age difference between Edgar and Virginia — although technically legal — would have raised a few eyebrows. ¬†For this reason, Virginia lied on her marriage certificate, stating that she was twenty-one years old. (Lying about their ages seems to run in the family…)

Edgar and Virginia were married in church by a Presbyterian minister. Biographers believe their marriage was a happy one. Perhaps Edgar, having been so abandoned in his past, was finally free to enjoy the company of his wife. The couple shared a love of music, poetry, cemeteries, and — believe it or not — playing leap-frog! During their brief years together, it was not all doom and gloom.

Poe the Poet

Poe published his first novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket¬† in 1838. That same year he became assistant editor of¬†Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. He published numerous articles, stories, and reviews, enhancing his reputation as a critic. Also in 1839, the collection¬†Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque¬†was published in two volumes.

He wrote some of the first literary criticisms, as well as some of the first short stories. He is considered the inventor of crime novels and detective stories. Some of his most famous works include: The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, The Telltale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum and Murders in the Rue Morgue.

On January 29, 1845, his poem “The Raven” appeared in the¬†Evening Mirror¬†and became an overnight sensation. It made Poe a household name almost instantly, and is still arguably his most popular poem.

But even in the midst of¬† his publishing successes, death and disease were not far behind. In The Raven,¬†Poe may have already been mourning the inevitable death of his wife.¬† ‚ÄúLenore‚ÄĚ of the poem, who would be seen ‚ÄúNevermore‚ÄĚ can easily be compared to Virginia, who had, by then already begun to exhibit symptoms of tuberculosis.

One winter evening in 1842, while playing the piano, Virginia began a fit of spewing blood. She would never recover.  Edgar tended and cared for her devoutly for the next few years as the disease progressed. Virginia passed away on January 30, 1847.

Sadly, and creepily, Poe’s wife died of the same disease, and at the same age, as his mother.

 

On the Streets of Baltimore

Needless to say, Poe never overcame Virginia’s death. His behavior became increasingly erratic and unstable. He tried to court other women but had difficulty sustaining romantic relationships.

Poe’s own death is shrouded in mystery. He had traveled to Richmond where he visited a woman named Elmira Royster, to whom he became engaged. He left Richmond on September 27, 1849 and was heading back to New York, where he had purchased a cottage in what is now The Bronx. Poe never made it home.

On October 3, 1849, Poe was found “delirious” on the streets of Baltimore outside¬† a pub called Ryan‚Äôs Tavern. He was “in great distress, and‚Ķ in need of immediate assistance”, according to Joseph W. Walker, a printer, who found him.

Walker sent a letter requesting help from an acquaintance of Poe, one Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass. His letter reads as follows:

“Dear Sir‚ÄĒThere is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the¬†cognomen¬†of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker.”

Snodgrass’s first-hand account describes Poe’s appearance as “repulsive”, with unkempt hair, a haggard, unwashed face and “lusterless and vacant” eyes. His clothing, Snodgrass said, which included a dirty shirt but no vest and unpolished shoes, was worn and did not fit well.

Dr. John Joseph Moran, who was Poe’s¬†attending physician, gives his own detailed account of Poe’s appearance that day: “a stained faded, old¬†bombazine¬†coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat”.

Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in this condition. It was believed the clothes he was wearing were not his own, as wearing shabby clothes was out of character for the usually well dressed Poe. (While promoting The Raven, Poe was known to show up at readings wearing a black cape, a top hat, and other elegant clothing.)

He was taken to the Washington Medical College where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849 at 5:00 in the morning. The true cause of his death is still unknown. Some have speculated he may have had a brain tumor, diabetes, an enzyme deficiency, syphilis,  apoplexy, delirium tremens, or epilepsy. Still other speculate his death may have actually been a suicide due to depression. (One year previous, Poe nearly died from an overdose of laudanum,  which at the time was easily available as a tranquilizer and pain killer.)

Or perhaps he simply reunited with his one true love, Virginia.

Some sources say that Poe’s final words were “Lord help my poor soul”. Suspiciously, all medical records have been lost, including his death certificate.

¬†But he leaves behind an amazing legacy — a body of literature that includes Gothic tales, dark romanticism and phantasmagorical poetry.¬†The man who spent his life shrouded in death now lives on as a never-out-of-print horror icon.

Happy Birthday Edgar!

 

 

 

Godiva

 

Anything to get the taxes lowered.

According to legend, Lady Godiva was an 11th century noblewoman, married to  Leofric, the Earl of Mercia. When Leofric levied an unfair tax upon the town of Coventry, in which Godiva herself was a landholder, Godiva pleaded with her husband to eliminate it. Leofric refused, but jokingly quipped that he would do so if Godiva would ride naked on horseback through the streets.

Surprisingly, Godiva took her husband up on the dare. With one stipulation. She demanded that the citizens of Coventry would remain indoors with their windows shut, and no one look as she rode naked through the town, covered only by her long hair.

The town folk, for the most part, honored Godiva’s request. Only one man, named Tom, dared to take a peek.¬† Tom was punished for his evil deed by being immediately struck blind. Hence the name “Peeping Tom” which is still used to describe nosy perverts who peek in the windows at naked ladies.

To be fair, while historians agree that Godiva and Leofric were real historical figures, most believe that the story of Godiva’s horseback ride is probably false. For one thing, the legend did not appear until the 13th century, almost 200 years after Godiva’s death. It was written¬†by an English monk, one “Roger of Wendover”, who was reportedly known for stretching the truth in his writings.

For another thing, the town in question was actually owned by Godiva herself.¬† She had inherited it from her father. (In 11th century England, women were allowed to own land.) So — the taxes imposed would be up to Godiva, not Leofric. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Leofric would have wanted to humiliate his wife in public. In Anglo-Saxon England, a woman could divorce her husband, and still keep her own property, so Leofric had a lot to lose.

The character of Peeping Tom did not become part of the story until the 17th century, and is attributed to Puritan sentiments about harsh punishments for sin.

Nonetheless, Godiva’s legend continues.¬† She even had chocolates named after her! It is a titillating idea, a naked woman on a horse.

No photo description available.

The above painting was done by female Pre-Raphaelite artist Ethel Mortlock (allegedly born 1865 –¬† died 1928. But those dates are debatable.)

Ethel was apparently quite a character. Even her given birth and death dates are uncertain, as she was known to lie about her age, systematically knocking off a few years to make herself appear younger.¬† She never married and had a son out of wedlock who was later adopted by another family member. Willie, the son, always referred to Ethel as his ‘aunt’, an artist who had work exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Ethel Mortlock studied under Sir William Orchardson, a prestigious Scottish portrait artist who became a knight in 1907.  Ethel, too, made her living  through portraiture. Her clients included world renowned figures such as Arthur Wellesley the Duke of Wellington, Abu Bakar the Sultan of Johore, Robert Lowe the 1st Viscount of Sherbrooke. and Edward, Prince of Wales (the famous abdicating king) whom she painted in 1926.

PORTRAIT OF THE DUKE OF WINDSOR

Ethel’s income as an artist enabled her to live pretty well. However, court records show that she filed for bankruptcy in 1901, having run up several gambling debts through betting on horses. (Ironically her portrait of Lady Godiva features a horse!)¬† In her own defense, Ethel claimed she had painted portraits of the Shah of Persia and the Chinese Viceroy, Li Hung Chang, but they had jilted her on their payments and owed her thousands of pounds. She could easily get herself out of debt if only the foreign royals would pay up! Apparently, the Shah and the Viceroy were not available for comment.

The bankruptcy did not dampen her artistic drive. She continued to paint and travel. Ship manifests show her coming and going to exotic places such as Buenos Aires, Jamaica, and New Zealand, as well as Ireland and the United States. She was often accompanied by her “ferocious bulldog”, named Grimshaw.

By¬†1904 Ethel had exhibited 29 works at the Royal Academy. No small achievement for a rather obscure and unconventional Pre-Raphaelite female ūüôā

For more info on Godiva, watch this short documentary by The History Guy. (Running time 10 minutes.)  Hope you like it!

 

 

 

Mermaids and Muses

 

Image may contain: 4 people, outdoor

“When first the sisters had permission to rise to the surface, they were each delighted with the new and beautiful sights they saw; but now, as grown-up girls, they could go when they pleased, and they had become indifferent about it. They wished themselves back again in the water, and after a month had passed they said it was much more beautiful down below, and pleasanter to be at home.

Yet often, in the evening hours, the five sisters would twine their arms round each other, and rise to the surface, in a row. They had more beautiful voices than any human being could have; and before the approach of a storm, and when they expected a ship would be lost, they swam before the vessel, and sang sweetly of the delights to be found in the depths of the sea…”¬†—¬† Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid

This lovely 1886 painting titled The Sea Maidens was done by female Pre-Raphaelite artist Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919.)¬† It was meant to depict the mermaid sisters in Andersen’s fairy tale.

Evelyn De Morgan (born Mary Evelyn Pickering)¬† was home schooled and began her drawing lessons at the tender age of fifteen.¬† Her work dealt mostly with mythological, biblical and literary themes. She was greatly influenced by Pre-Raph giant Edward Burne Jones. At age eighteen she enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London — although she, like many other Pre-Raph artists, objected to the formal curriculum and never finished her degree.

Evelyn married the ceramicist William De Morgan in 1887. The couple were pro-peace, pro-women activists, objecting to wars and advocating for women’s right to vote.

If the mermaids in this painting all look alike, there is a reason for it — they are all actually the same model, Jane Mary Hales.¬† Interestingly, according to ART UK, Evelyn had a “very close and passionate relationship” with Jane.¬† When she died, Evelyn was actually buried in between her husband, William, and Jane, at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.¬† ¬†Jane is referred to as “companion, model and muse”.

Pretty steamy stuff for a Victorian woman, eh?

Evelyn once wrote in her diary: “Art is eternal, but life is short. I will make up for it now, I have not a moment to lose.”

Evelyn de Morgan

 

 

New Year’s Traditions and Superstitions

 

With a 2019 right on the horizon, we hope to conjure up the luckiest, healthiest, most prosperous New Year ever!¬† Fortunately, there are plenty of practices and¬†traditions that can help us along the way. If you’d like to know more about the weird stuff people all over the world do to help ring in the new year, read on!

Want to ensure yourself financial freedom in 2019? Try eating some pickled herring at midnight on New Year’s Eve. This practice comes from Poland, Germany and Scandinavia. It is believed that the silver color of the fish, representing real silver, will help you acquire money.

Speaking of silver, another Slavic tradition holds that if you wash your hands with a piece of silver on New Year’s Day, you will be prosperous for the year to come. You can also fill the sink with coins and water, then wash your face with the coin saturated mix.

In Romania, it was believed that the object you have in your hand when the clock strikes midnight will indicate the most important plan of your life in the coming year.¬† Following this line of thinking, if you have money in your hand, you should be prosperous. If you are holding your loved one‚Äôs hand, the new year will see you happy in personal relationships. If you are toasting with a glass in your hand, your cup runneth over ‚Äď it will be an all around joyful year.¬† If you are eating something yummy, you will never go hungry. This tradition should allow a lot of room for creativity — so pick something that is important to you personally — and grab it before midnight ūüôā

The Romanians also believed that a wish you make at the stroke of midnight will most likely come true!

From the American South comes another food tradition — Hoppin’ John.¬† Originating from French, Caribbean and African influences, Hoppin’ John is a stew made with pork, black eyed peas and greens, said to bring good luck and prosperity.

Why is it called “Hoppin’ John”?¬† It is said this stew is so good that children, when being served, can’t sit still in their seats, and John “comes hopping” when his wife cooks it.¬† For a great Hoppin’ John recipe¬†click HERE.

If you don’t have time to prepare the entire stew, at least take in some green food on New Year’s Day. Spinach, collard greens, kale, or green peas will do. All of them are said to represent money and ensure prosperity.

But New Year’s Eve is not all fun and games. There are many superstitions regarding bad luck as well.

On New Year’s Day, make sure nothing leaves your house. This means NOTHING, not even garbage. Putting things out of the house is indicative of rejecting possessions, so if you throw things out, you just may lose something dear to you.

It is bad luck to hang a new calendar on the wall before the new year actually begins, so wait until Jan 1st to hang your calendar.

Also to be avoided ‚Äď washing clothes and washing hair. It is believed you will ‚Äėwash out‚Äô important things or people in your life. I once heard a story about someone who did laundry on New Years Day and had a loved one die shortly after, so take heed!

It is definitely bad luck to take your Christmas tree down before January 6th, Feast of the Epiphany.¬† (During this time, our ancestors were practicing the Twelve Days of Christmas — receiving partridges in a pear tree and so forth…) So leave that tree up! On New Year’s Eve, take all the gold, silver and gemstones you own, and place them under the tree. Leave them there until January 2nd. This presentation of precious metals and jewels will ensure that you will be gifted and prosperous in the year to come.

Be careful about whom you invite into your home on New Year‚Äôs Day!¬† In Scotland, it was believed that the first person to cross your threshold after the stroke of midnight should definitely be a tall dark handsome man. ¬†Blondes, redheads and women were considered bad luck.¬† Yes, it sounds biased…¬† However, this belief originated in Medieval times, when Scotland was susceptible to Viking invasions. The last ones they wanted showing up on their doorsteps were blonde Scandinavian savages, armed with blades and shields.

To make things even luckier, the Scots also hold that the dark haired man ought to bring coal, salt, shortbread and whiskey ‚Äď all essential elements for prosperity.

Romania, too, believed that a woman should not be your first guest on New Year‚Äôs Day. Women were considered bad luck, but men ensured good fortune. (This probably originates from back when women were expected to have a dowry in order to be wed — and men collected the dowry.) So, invite the guys over!

In Brazil,  it is traditional to throw white flowers in the ocean. These are considered an offering to the water goddess Yemoja, who is said to control the seas. Offering her flowers will ensure her blessings for the coming year.

If you are looking to have a baby in 2019, Italians hold that wearing red underwear on New Year’s Eve will help. This is because the color red is a symbol of fertility. Not to mention, a pretty and sexy color too. So bring on the Victoria’s Secrets!

The Greeks have an interesting custom involving pomegranates. The pomegranate symbolizes fertility, life, and abundance. Just after midnight on New Year‚Äôs Eve, it is customary for Greeks to smash a pomegranate against the door of their house — and it is said that the number of pomegranate seeds that end up scattered is directly correlated with the amount of good luck to come.

I have heard of a custom similar to this, but the pomegranates can be scooped into your mouth, and the seeds spit out. Count your future blessings by the number of seeds you do not swallow!

Speaking of swallowing, the Russians have an unusual custom. Folks write their wishes down on a piece of paper, burn them with a candle, and drink the subsequent ashes in a glass of champagne. (Sorry Russia, this one doesn’t sound safe to me!)

Many Pagan traditions hold the custom of writing your desires on paper, burning them in a cauldron, then scattering them to the wind ‚Äď thus putting all your desires out to the universe. Doing it right after the stroke of midnight is considered extremely powerful.

In Chile, necromancy takes center stage.¬† New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Masses are held, not in churches, but in cemeteries. It is believed that this custom literally invites the spirits of the dead to join their families in festivities.

You may have tried kissing under the mistletoe, but in Ireland they take it one step further. It is customary for single women to sleep with a mistletoe under their pillow on New Year’s Eve. The magical mistletoe will cause them to dream of, and then find, their future husbands.

In my home town of Chicago, we have our own little tradition, called ‚ÄúThe Polar Bear Plunge‚ÄĚ. This is organized officially by the Chicago Polar Bear Club. Each New Year‚Äôs Day, they put on bathing suits and jump in Lake Michigan. Yes, our weather here is c-c-c-cold, and this tradition is c-c-c-crazy. However, Polar Bear Plungers do it for a good reason. Each swimmer recruits sponsors to pay him/ her money for this bravery, and then the money is given to people in need. Since its initial plunge in 2001, the Club has raised over $270,000!

Whatever you do this New Year’s Eve, have a safe, loving and healthy celebration!

Happy 2019!

 

 

 

 

 

Our Ancestors at Winter Solstice

 

On this, the longest night, they waited. Waited in the Scandinavian darkness for the return of the life giving sun. They burned bonfires with Jul logs, crisp and crackling.  The return of the sun brought hope that once again summer would come, the fields would ripen and food would be abundant.

Druid priests slaughtered a white bull and gathered mistletoe, believed to be a magical plant. Likewise, the people slaughtered the last of their animals. The meat was salted and stored, in hopes of warding off starvation for the remaining winter.

In what is now the United Kingdom, monuments had been built, by the ancestors or others that came before them, awe-inspiring and bold as they stand to this very day. Perhaps an ancient race of giants or aliens had dragged the megalithic rocks that would form Stonehenge and Newgrange. Somehow this ancient race had aligned the rocks perfectly to catch the rising of the solstice sun. It was here the Druid priests performed their rituals.

During the endless night of Winter Solstice, it was believed that spirits of the dead walked the earth. These were the restless and the lost who could not find peace in the afterlife. Our Germanic and Slavic ancestors honored their own loved ones who had passed in the previous year by whittling wooden dolls to resemble the dearly departed. These dolls were placed in the forests and the bone-yards as beacons, to help the spirits of family members find their way home, in case they got lost with the wandering dead.

Ancient Celtic tribes had a custom of traveling to the forests and fields, singing and shouting to drive away any evil spirits who might keep the land from prospering. They poured wine and cider on the ground to purify it.

In later years, this custom would evolve in a different form, called wassailing, popular in Victorian England. Instead of pouring the libation on the ground, they would drink it. Instead of singing to drive away evil spirits, they would sing Christmas carols. Neighbors would go to each others houses, drink a cup of ‘wassail’ punch, and bless their homes under the new sun.¬† In yet later years, they skipped the wassail punch altogether and this tradition became simply Christmas caroling.

In ancient Rome, the great feast of Saturnalia continued (having begun on December 17th.) There was much eating and drinking and debauchery. In the long, stir-crazy darkness, people ran wild in the streets, honoring Saturn, Capricorn and all things goat.

In later years, reminiscent of Saturnalia, the revelry continued. In England, in upper-class households, a common servant was elected as The Lord of Misrule. He held a place higher than the master of the house. For one night, all roles were reversed. The lords and ladies waited on their own servants. Servants insulted their masters. In this long, glorious night, there was much dancing, masking and merriment. Come morning, the working class returned to their lot, the lords and ladies once again in command. This custom continued in England until the early 20th century.

Weird Winter Solstice Coincidences

On December 21, 1620, the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. With the return of the sun, in the brutal New World, they went about setting up a place where they hoped to worship and live as they chose. Many died, but those that remained tilled the land, relied upon their faith and took advantage of what the rocky Eastern seaboard could offer. They faced hardship and political unrest. Their ideas, both good and evil, brought challenges. Yet their discovery was the beginning of the United States of America.

On December 21, 1898, Madame Marie Sklodowska Curie made her discovery of  radium, thus ushering in the atomic age. The discovery was bittersweet, as the element itself is both helpful and deadly. Nonetheless, Marie Curie won a Nobel Prize in Physics for her efforts.

On December 21, 1968, the¬†Apollo 8¬†spacecraft launched. It was the first mission to the moon that included live astronauts. What followed was the Apollo 11 moon landing, “one small step for man, one giant step for mankind.” This too, however, was an event shrouded in darkness and mystery, as the US Government cancelled all further moon missions for mysterious and unknown reasons…

This holy day is a time of darkness and mystery, a time of ancestral communication and reverence. It is also a time of hope as we celebrate the return of the sun. Whatever you choose as your Winter Solstice ritual, have a merry time! And who knows, perhaps you will make a dark discovery of your own ūüôā