Saturday/ Caturday

 

a jasper peace 2

Jasper likes to hang out, lounge around and indulge guilty  pleasures on the weekends. He hopes you’ll do the same 🙂

“Cats know how to obtain food without labor, shelter without confinement and love without penalties.” — W.L. George

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Wedding and a Funeral

 

All eyes will be on St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle next Saturday, May 19, 2018 as Prince Harry ties the knot with his American princess, Meghan Markle.

The event has been dubbed the ‘wedding of the century’ – much in the same way the wedding of Harry’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer back in 1981 was the ‘wedding of the (20th) century’.  These nuptials, however, are filled with controversy.

In case you have been living under a rock, or missing the News, I will fill you in on the juicy details.

Former bad boy and beloved troublemaker Prince Harry – AKA Henry Charles Albert David Windsor, Prince of Wales – announced his engagement to American actress Meghan Markle on November 27, 2017.  Harry’s former outrageous antics include underage drinking, pot smoking, dressing as a Nazi for a costume party, and being photographed naked after he lost at a game of ‘strip billiards’ in Las Vegas.

Prince Harry Blames Wild Behavior On Princess Diana's Death

But now!

In making Meghan his bride, Harry the rebel is breaking with tradition, big time!

First of all, Meghan is an ‘older woman’. (Only by three years. But still.) Second of all, Meghan is a divorcee. (Not such a big deal, considering Harry’s father is also a divorcee who married a divorcee.) Meghan was an actress. (Gasp! Luckily she quit that scandalous profession.)  She is an American, she is of mixed race and a commoner.

Meghan is not the first American commoner to enter the Royal Family. Before her there was Wallis Simpson, who in 1936 famously caused Kind Edward VIII to abdicate his throne in order to marry her. (Read more about Wallis Simpson HERE.)

Neither is Meghan the first woman of mixed race. Before her there was Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who married King George III in 1761.  Charlotte was a direct descendant of  Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a black branch of the Portuguese Royal House.  Harry is also a descendant of Queen Charlotte, so technically Harry is part black too. Albeit some 250 years past. (Read more about Queen Charlotte HERE.)

Perhaps the most controversial thing about Meghan is that she was raised Catholic. Prior to 2015, the law would have forbidden Harry from marrying outside the Anglican Church. The new law declared that the reigning monarch would be considered ‘defender of the faiths’ rather that ‘defender of The Faith’ (meaning only the Anglican Faith). Hence Catholicism is sort of okay.  Although Henry VIII is perhaps turning in his grave. Read on.

Some people are welcoming this new, 21st century style marriage with open arms, while others have condemned it. And yet! There is one more, less talked about ‘controversy’ that everyone seems to be ignoring, except those of us who are (like me!) rabid Tudor fans.

The glaring elephant in the room here is… NOT Meghan’s background. Consider this: The royal wedding will occur on PRECISELY THE SAME DATE that QUEEN ANNE BOLEYN was BEHEADED AT THE TOWER OF LONDON!!

Cue eerie organ music.

What were they thinking? This is surely bad luck. The ghost of Anne has been known to haunt various locales in and around London. These include:

  • Hever Castle, her childhood home
  • Blickling Hall, her alleged birthplace
  • The Tower of London, where she was executed
  •  Windsor Castle, where Anne and Henry resided during their marriage

Was it unwise of Harry and Meghan to choose this ominous date? Are they stealing Anne’s thunder in doing so? Will there be consequences?

Maybe not.  After all, Anne, like Meghan, was a bit of an ‘outsider’ herself when she decided to wed the still married King Henry.

Anne Boleyn became a lady in waiting in the court of Henry’s wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, in 1521. Henry was anxious that Catherine (also an ‘older woman’ being six years Henry’s senior) was unable to bear him a son. By 1527 Henry was questioning the validity of his marriage and set his sights on the younger and presumably more fertile Anne.

Henry begged Catherine for a divorce. She said no way.  Henry began a relationship with Anne, flaunting her in public and taking her on various outings. In the meantime he started bugging his religious people, Cardinal Wolsey in particular, to figure out a way that he could get a ‘legal’ divorce from Catherine. Wolsey petitioned the Pope. The Pope said no way.  England was a Catholic county, divorce was impossible.

Henry and Anne got married anyway, in a secret ceremony which took place on November 14, 1532. Henry was of course, still married to Catherine.

Anne soon became pregnant. There was a second wedding service, which took place in London on January 25, 1533. Henry was of course, still married to Catherine. Eventually Henry decided to break from the Catholic Church and create his own church where he was essentially the Pope.

And you thought Prince Harry was controversial?

To make a long story short, Anne gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth, but ultimately failed to give Henry a son. So… Henry needed to get out of that marriage too. He got his legal counsel to nail Anne and several men on charges of adultery/ treason. These so-called adulterers even included Anne’s brother George Boleyn. All were arrested, taken to the Tower and executed. Anne was the last to die, thus leaving her to witness the long line of bloodbaths. She was beheaded on May 19, 1536.

But the restless spirit of Anne is far from dead. According to eye witness accounts, Anne has been known to haunt the Tower of London.

In one story, a Captain of the Tower Guard claimed he saw a light flickering in the Royal Chapel one night.  The chapel was locked, so the Captain tried to find the source of the light by climbing up a ladder and looking inside. He then saw a wondrous sight; a procession of Knights and Ladies dressed in ancient costumes were parading around the chapel.  Their leader, he claimed, resembled Anne Boleyn from the portraits he had seen. The procession soon disappeared.

In 1864, a soldier, on duty near the Lieutenant’s lodgings, made another sighting of Anne’s ghost. He claimed to have seen an intruder, the pale figure of a woman. He confronted her but when she refused to respond he plunged his bayonet into what he thought was her flesh.

To his complete shock, the weapon went straight through her. There was another witness to this event; an officer stationed in the Bloody Tower claimed to have seen the whole incident from his window and verified the soldier’s story.

Blickling Hall in Norfolk is believed by many historians to be Anne’s birthplace. Each year on May 19th, Anne is said to return to Blickling Hall in a carriage drawn by six headless horses and driven by a headless coachman. The carriage gallops up the driveway to reveal a headless Anne sitting inside. She is dressed in white and holds her severed head in her lap.

When the carriage reaches the front doors, Anne goes inside where she roams the halls until daybreak.

Also on May 19 Anne’s brother, George, has been seen being dragged across the countryside by four headless horses. His headless ghost then wanders around the grounds of the Blickling estate, pleading for justice.

Blickling Hall is also said to be haunted by their father, Sir Thomas Boleyn. (Sir Tom, it should be noted, dropped the ball on his own children, choosing not to come to their defense when they were accused of incest, adultery and treason. Instead he sided with Henry, mostly to save his own skin and stay in the King’s good favor.)  Some say Thomas Boleyn is the driver of the coach that delivers Anne to Blickling Hall. After dropping Anne off at the front doors at midnight, Sir Thomas continues on. He is pursued by hoards of screaming demons who condemn him for his betrayal of his family.  According to this legend, Sir Tom is forced, as his penance, to drive the spectral carriage over 12 bridges between Wroxham and Blickling for 1,000 years.

But Blickling Hall is safely far away. What about Windsor Castle, where the wedding of Harry and Meghan will actually take place?

Anne’s ghost has reportedly been seen standing at a window in the Dean’s Cloister of Windsor Castle. Henry VIII also haunts the castle — guests claim to have heard his  footsteps echo along the corridors. Henry, who in life suffered ill health and a painful leg wound due to a jousting accident, has apparently brought these ailments with him to the afterlife. The ghost of Henry moans and groans as he miserably drags his ulcerated leg  behind him through the hallways.

And that’s not all.

The ghost of Queen Elizabeth I haunts the Royal Library of Windsor Castle as well.  Bess’ heels have been heard clicking along the floorboards in a steady gait. Her ghost then appears, passes through the library and disappears into an inner room.

Bess’ ghost has been seen standing at a window in the Dean’s Cloister, wearing a black dress with a black lace shawl. Since Anne has also been seen in the Dean’s Cloister, perhaps mother and daughter have reunited in the afterlife.

But all that is old history. Surely the date of Anne’s execution should have no bearing upon the date of this current wedding. Right?

It is interesting to note that Prince Harry is a descendant of Anne Boleyn. How so, you ask? Well…

It seems Queen Elizabeth II (Harry’s Grandma) is related to Anne Boleyn through the children of her sister, Mary. Mary Boleyn, we may recall, is famous for having an affair with King Henry before Anne came into the picture.

The Queen Mother (Harry’s Great Grandma) is descended from Catherine Carey, the daughter of Mary Boleyn.

Furthermore…

Catherine Carey was the mother of Lettice Knollys, the Countess of Essex. Lettice, who was Queen Bess’ cousin, was also her Lady in Waiting. Lettice made the great mistake of marrying Robert Dudley, Master of the Horse, who was Queen Bess’ favorite, and also rumored to be Bess’ lover.

And you thought Meghan Markle was controversial?

Needless to say, Bess disapproved of the marriage.  Lettice was banished from court, never to return again. Bess, however, forgave Robert and restored his position.

But back to the blood line. Queen Elizabeth II, and hence Prince Harry, descend from the Boleyn line through Lettice Knollys. In further controversial news, a very high degree of probability exists that Mary Boleyn’s children, Catherine and Henry Carey, were the illegitimate children of Henry VIII. This is because Mary’s pregnancies coincided with the time she was having an affair with Henry.

Therefore:  the current Queen of England can presumably claim descent from Henry VIII both through her patriarchal line (via Margaret Tudor who married James IV of Scotland) and through her matriarchal line by way of the Queen Mum.

Got that? Prince Harry descends from both the Boleyn and Tudor bloodlines.  With all this haunting going on – perhaps it would have been wise for him to choose a less ominous day for his wedding…

Come what may, Meghan and Harry are very much in love, and they will be married next week. We wish them the best of luck!

What do you think of Meghan, Harry and the hauntings? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Walpurgis Night – Halloween in April?

 

I know, I know.  All you ghost and goblin lovers feel neglected at this time of year.  Horror aficionados begin lamenting as early as November. “Let’s plan for next Halloween!” they tell me.  However, you don’t have to wait that long! There is a holiday going on right now to appease your ghastly self, and it should not be ignored.

We all know of Beltane, the fire festival celebrated on May 1st. But the night before Beltane, called May Eve, Walpurgis Night or Walpurgisnacht, is a notable time for spooky celebration in its own right.

Just as Halloween/ Samhain marks the turning of the seasons, so does Walpurgis Night/ Beltane. In the Northern hemisphere we see the changeover from winter to summer, and in the Southern hemisphere from summer to winter. The cross quarter festival of Samhain corresponds exactly with Beltane, six months later in the wheel of the year.

It is a shoulder-season, marked by the quasi-reality of one thing merging into another.  Nature blooms or nature dies, depending on what side of the world you are on. During this time the veils are lifted, leaving us particularly vulnerable to the influences of all things other-worldly.  This includes, of course, the dead, the faeries, the vampires, the werewolves, etc. We should therefore prepare ourselves for hauntings, divination, costuming, scary movies and general mayhem.

What are the origins of Walpurgis Night, and what exactly IS a Walpurgis?

Well…

The festival of May Day was probably first celebrated by the ancient Romans.  At the beginning of summer,  the goddess Flora, a deity of vegetation and fertility, was honored with a five day festival.

The celebrations ended in a blood sacrifice offered to Flora, as a way of ensuring she would make the land prosperous all summer long. The Vikings also had a version of this feast, as did the ancient Celts, Picts and Goths.

Later, in medieval Germany, May Eve was called Hexennacht or “night of the witches”. On this night the local wise-women would gather on the Brocken, the uppermost point of the Harz mountain range. There they would call upon spirits to bless the land and prepare it for summer. Hexennacht was a wild time of dancing, bonfires and fertility rituals, as well as spells and divinity.

As Christianity spread through Europe, the Church began to merge Christian and Pagan holy days.  May Eve became known as Walpurga’s Night. This was a festival to honor the Saint Walpurga, an abbess who was canonized on May 1st, 870.

It seems Walpurga herself was a great health advocate who protected people from rabies, pestilence and all sorts of diseases. She was not so different from the witches at Hexennacht. The two festivals were probably a bit interchangeable and may have coexisted side by side. Some Scandinavian stories even describe Walpurga as a type of Valkyrie, and have her joining Odin in his ‘wild hunt’ through the sky.

However, in around the sixteenth century, when the Church decided to go crazy with witch hunts, they created a new legend and apparently appointed Walpurga as their guard dog against witches. The wise-women who had called for land blessings now  suddenly became suspect, as the Church linked them to the devil and Satanic myths. And of course, Walpurga’s feast day “just happened” to correspond to Hexennacht. The lines between good and evil were clearly plotted. Traditional bonfires became a tool to ward off ‘demonic’ witches. People were encouraged to fear, rather than embrace, the other-world and the lifting of the veils.

In later years, Saint Walpurga’s Night became known as “Walpurgis Night”, inextricably bound to evil and chaos. Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust (1808) in which the main character sells his soul to the devil, takes place in the Harz mountains on Walpurgisnacht.  Bram Stoker’s short story Dracula’s Guest (1914) also begins on this fateful night:

‘The dead travel fast.

There was something so weird and uncanny about the whole thing that it gave me a turn and made me feel quite faint. I began to wish, for the first time, that I had taken Johann’s advice. Here a thought struck me, which came under almost mysterious circumstances and with a terrible shock. This was Walpurgis Night!

Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel. This very place the driver had specially shunned. This was the depopulated village of centuries ago. This was where the suicide lay; and this was the place where I was alone—unmanned, shivering with cold in a shroud of snow with a wild storm gathering again upon me! It took all my philosophy, all the religion I had been taught, all my courage, not to collapse in a paroxysm of fright…”

You get the idea.

In modern times, Walpurgis Night is celebrated in many European countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia and Finland. The festivities include bonfires, dancing, dressing up in costumes, parades, feasting and music.

If it’s scary enough for Bram Stoker, it’s scary enough for me!

And so, if you find yourself  longing for a Halloween fix, despair no more!  Walpurgis Night is the perfect time to watch frightening films or create some witchy rituals of your own.  Go to the woods, light a bonfire, don a mask, bless the land. Whatever you do, feel free to celebrate April 30th with some good old fashioned horror, hallucinations, and of course hexes 🙂

 

 

 

 

A Mad Tea Party

 

Today, April 21 is “National Tea Day” in the UK.  It also happens to be the 92nd birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. It seems a day could not be more authentically British. In honor of this I am wishing all my friends in the UK (and tea drinkers everywhere) a Happy National Tea Day!

No tea celebration would be complete without stopping by what is perhaps the most famous tea drinking occasion in history – Alice’s Mad Tea Party.

After chasing the White Rabbit down his hole, Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat,  who tells her she will definitely be meeting up with mad people. It’s unavoidable.  ( “We’re all mad here,” the Cat assures Alice. “I’m mad, you’re mad.”) Alice  asks the Cat how he knows she is mad. “You must be,” he replies, “Or you would not have come here.”

Alice then wanders upon a tea table in the middle of the forest.

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. `Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; `only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’

*** We know right away there is going to be trouble. The March Hare is a wild animal, known for his crazy antics during mating season. The sleeping Dormouse seems pretty benign, but watch out for the Hatter, as they were known at the time to have some mental deficiencies due to mercury exposure involved in the process of making hats.

The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: `No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. `There’s plenty of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

`Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. `I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.

`There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.

`Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’ said Alice angrily.

***  Alice is only seven years old. Good thing the Hare did not actually have any wine to offer her. Today he might be arrested for child endangerment.

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, `Why is a raven like a writing-desk?’

*** Again, the mercury exposed Hatter is known to be wacky.

`Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. `I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.–I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

`Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.

`Exactly so,’ said Alice.

`Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

`I do,’ Alice hastily replied; `at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’

`Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, `that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!’

*** The study of “meaning what you say” and “saying what you mean” is an interesting one. Carroll shows us how just a few words of juxtaposition can give a completely different meaning. Try it yourself, just for fun! “I know who I am — I am who I know? I believe what I see — I see what I believe? We are what we eat — we eat what we are?” Yes, it should drive you a bit mad 🙂

`Have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

`No, I give it up,’ Alice replied: `what’s the answer?’

`I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter.

`Nor I,’ said the March Hare.

*** The riddle is never actually solved, but I heard a possible answer: Why is a raven like a writing desk? Because Poe wrote on both.

What follows is a discussion of time in which the Alice states she must beat time in order to learn music. The Hatter insists that time is a ‘he’ not an ‘it’. Furthermore: ‘He won’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!’

Finally Alice can take it no longer. She gets up and leaves.

`At any rate I’ll never go there again!’ said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. `It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!’

Contrary to Alice’s belief (and providing we don’t dine with Hatters) more tea drinking would probably be good for us. Tea is full of anti-oxidants and is known to boost our immune systems. According to sage wisdom, tea with honey is great for soothing sore throats. Besides that, many cultures celebrate tea drinking with particular rituals and ceremonies.

A tea ceremony is like a meditation — time set aside for rest and contemplation. In fact, tea drinking could probably bring about more civility, peace and sanity for us all.

Whatever you do today, take some time out to enjoy a nice cup of tea 🙂

a mad tea

 

 

 

 

 

Rusalka and the Titanic

 

I boarded the ship at Southampton, on England’s southern coast, a city they called Gateway to the World.  It was appropriately named. New worlds would indeed open to those that dared sail on the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

Southampton was seafaring town of busy docks, commerce and fishermen who, given half the chance may have recognized me for what I was. Yet I went ably and quietly about my business, our custom being to operate in stealth. My disguise was well put together, a simple blue dress, lace up boots and one bag of luggage that contained only my combs, mirrors, candles and an ancient grimoire. For all the crew and passengers knew, I could have been any normal woman, a widow perhaps, traveling alone with a full purse and a certain destination.

My nature necessitated a room in first class, where I could have daily baths in the salt water swimming pool. The engineers had designed it to provide diversion for wealthy passengers with plenty of leisure time. Little did they know it was my mainstay of survival. Without it I could never have attempted my feat.

I socialized moderately, took dinner with new acquaintances, but left my comments to such mundane topics as the weather and other non-committal matters.  This was my strategy, to avoid drawing attention to myself. Until of course, the very last.

The captain, one Edward John Smith of the Royal Naval Reserve, was a stately man, well-seasoned and of good capabilities.

When I inquired of the ship’s dimensions, her tonnage and resistance, Captain Smith looked at me funny. He must have thought it strange, a woman interested in such things. Still it was important I establish this knowledge. Else all my plans could go afoul.

We traveled for four days, stopping at Cherbourg Harbor in France and Queenstown in Ireland where more passengers boarded. They were a grand sight; well-heeled women in dresses of silk and gabardine, with enormous steamer trunks that held entire wardrobes. Scruffy emigrants in fisher caps and babuskas, with only hobo sacks of clothes. Excitedly they took their bunks in steerage. No matter that the class was third, for this was an ocean voyage. Poor innocents, all of them! They had no idea of their fate. Yet they sought new lands and opportunity. Those were things I could well provide.

On the night it happened the ship rounded the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The moon was new, providing no extra light to the blackened sky. I had planned it as such, the first new moon after the spring equinox, when my powers of sorcery were at their ripest.

Just before midnight I slid from my bed. I combed my hair carefully, leaving it loose over my shoulders, but untangled. I took one large hand-held mirror with trimmed decorations of pearl and abalone. I also took three candles and my book of spells.  Naked and in bare feet I tiptoed across the deserted deck. Facing starboard, I lit the candles, then dangled my mirror toward the rushing ocean below me. I recited these words:

“Raise me an iceberg, unbreakable and dense, 

Black as this night, an invisible fence!

Raise me an iceberg, impenetrable and true

Black as this night, unseen by the crew.

Raise me an iceberg, grown from the sea

Black as this night, to set them all free!”

I then shattered the mirror and flung it overboard, crystalline shards drifting in the wind and falling like glittering stars to the churning water.

It was done.

Black icebergs are a rare phenomenon that neither the captain nor crew were familiar with. When my mountain arose from the water none could see it at first.

By the time the watchful lookout man spotted the iceberg, it was too late. The great Titanic hit the dense rock, damaging her hull. The sea began to seep in. Soon all five of the ship’s watertight compartments were flooded. This meant certain disaster.

Or did it?

I was elated. As the water rose I could contain myself no longer. Rushing below deck, I shifted to my mermaid’s body. I swam through the hallways, through the ever-rising tide of the elegant and soon to be flooded rooms.

The passengers, already in a state of shock, saw me and turned a whiter shade of pale. They were helpless.  I tried to talk to them, to reassure them that all would be well. But they were so frenzied, in such throes of panic, they could not hear my words. One shipmate grabbed a pistol and attempted to shoot me, bludgeoning a bloody hole through my tail. However, the sea’s salt water, now slowly immersing every floor, quickly healed me. As a Rusalka, I was immortal.

I finally perched myself upon the rail of the deck, curling my tail beneath me. In amusement I watched. Crew and passengers scurried about, securing lifeboats. There would never be enough. The captain, in his foolishness of believing the Titanic was unsinkable, had only equipped her with half of what was necessary. This was all the better!

“Women and children first,” called the first mate. I smiled. Yes, they would save the women and children first, as was human protocol.

From flooding corridors and slippery decks the men ran. Handsome, swarthy sailors, savvy men of business, emigrants in rags. All unsuspecting. All clueless.

Finally the ship cracked in two, her bow submerged, her back end rising upright like a serpent in the water. The remaining passengers slid to their death.

I balanced on my tail, stretched my arms before me and called out in my voice, loud as any canon: “Undines! Rusalki! Sirenas! Come forth!” I then dove off the rails.

Down, down I plunged into the ocean’s depths. There, rising on the crests of waves, my Mer-sisters emerged.

“Make your choices ladies,” I shouted. “This cargo is ripe for the picking!”  It was a welcome gift.  We had heretofore been sadly lacking in male companionship.

I grabbed a young sailor, his skin gone translucent blue, his eyes open in the cold stare of the dead. I pulled him to my breast, kissed him boldly on the mouth. His eyes then flickered in a strange and frightened recognition. He was the one who had attempted to shoot me with a pistol. Blood rushed to his cheeks.

“I should not forgive you,” I chided. Yet he was handsome and able, and in that instant I determined to make him mine.

My Mer-sisters followed suit, awakening the sea’s dead with kisses of life. One by one, the drowned became conscious, still in shock, but alive.

“Take heart, gentleman,” I said.  “Although you will never return to your earthly homes, you will now have refuge in our sea, in the abode of the Rusalki. As time passes you will come to love us and the ocean shall provide you with grand adventure.”

The men were new in their surroundings, but, being sailors, most had immense love of the water. At the very least they were grateful for their renewed life.  I was confident they would be happy. And if not? Well — I had more mirrors and candles and more spells to cast,  didn’t I? Not the least of which might bring love.

My mission was complete.

 

** HISTORICAL NOTE: On this day, April 15, 1912, the real RMS Titanic, headed on her maiden voyage to New York City, sank off the coast of Newfoundland. She had hit a “black” iceberg which caused irreparable damage to her hull.

The massive ship was 882 feet long with a breadth of 92 feet. Her total height, measured from keel to bridge, was 104 feet.  She weighed 46,328 tons. Among her more novel features, available only to first-class passengers, was a 7 ft. deep saltwater swimming pool, a gymnasium, a squash court, and a Turkish bath.

Because of her gargantuan size, the Titanic was considered virtually unsinkable.

Whether out of carelessness or limited storage capacity, the ship only held enough lifeboats to carry about half the passengers. These were quickly depleted.

On the night the Titanic sank, conditions were calm, clear, dark and cold. The black sky held a new moon, the ocean lit only by the stars. The “invisible” iceberg, a rare phenomenon, seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Approximately 1500 passengers lost their lives. Due to the “women and children first” rule, most of the deceased were men.

 

 

 

 

 

Hans and the Scary Fairy Tales

 

He was a weaver of tales who brought us The Little Mermaid, The Wild Swans, The Emperor’s New Clothes and the Ugly Duckling.  In the course of his lifetime he wrote novels, travelogues, and over three thousand fairy tales which have been translated into 125 languages. His stories have universal appeal, transcending age and nationality. He created a unique mythology which continues to  haunt us and remains part of our collective consciousness.

Hans Christian Andersen was born on this day, April 2, 1805 in Odense, Denmark. His own life story is a classic rags to riches that could have been one of his fairy tales.

His father, also named Hans, was a struggling tradesman and his mother Anne Marie a washerwoman.  Hans Sr. died in 1816. Two years later Anne Marie remarried. It was then decided, for some odd reason, that  Hans Jr. should no longer be allowed to live in the house. At the tender age of eleven, Hans was sent away to a boarding school. (Evil stepfather, banishment. Do you see a pattern here?)  Although the family was poor, Hans was somehow allowed to study and receive a good education. (Fairy godmother perhaps?)

At boarding school, the boy was expected to fend for himself and he earned money as a tailor’s apprentice. He showed a natural talent for singing and at age fourteen, he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theater.  However, as luck would have it, Hans hit puberty that year, experienced the voice change, and could no longer sing the soprano part he had been assigned.  But all was not lost — Jonas Colins, the theater director, saw something special in Hans and made arrangements that he could  attend prestigious school in Elsinore. (Fairy godfather?)

Young Hans might have been considered privileged, but his story goes a bit dark here. He was sent to live with a school master who routinely abused and bullied him and discouraged him from writing. He went into a deep depression, and later wrote that his days at Elsinore were the darkest of his life.

The story, however, has a happy ending. Andersen graduated school in 1827 and almost immediately became successful writing short stories, plays and poetry. King Christian VIII of Denmark was so impressed with his work that he gave Andersen a grant to travel around Europe. Hans felt most comfortable on the road and later wrote, “To travel is to live.”

All these fairy godmother type favors may not have been an accident. There was a rumor that Hans Christian Andersen was actually the illegitimate son of King Christian. This rumor, however, has not been substantiated by any reliable source. (If true it would make a great story!)

It was during his travels across Europe that Andersen began writing fairy tales.  In 1838 he wrote Fairy Tales Told for Children. This book earned him immense popularity when, in 1845 it was translated to English and other languages. It became a world wide best seller.

Andersen’s tales were often dark and creepy. His heroes and heroines often go through enormous difficulties. Although the endings are usually happy, they pay great prices for that happiness, often undergoing physical, mental and spiritual changes. For example:

— Karen, the protagonist in The Red Shoes, loves to dance and wear her beautiful shoes. However, it gets to the point where she cannot stop dancing and eventually her feet must be cut off!

 

 

— The Little Mermaid trades her fish tail for human legs. In the process she undergoes excruciating physical pain,  is betrayed by  a handsome prince, and even commits suicide before she is freed to the Daughters of the Air.

 

— In The Wild Swans,  Eliza wants to free her brothers from a terrible curse, but to do so she must knit sweaters made of poisonous nettles that cause her fingers to bleed.  To make matters worse, she has taken a vow of silence! During this time she is arrested for witchcraft and thrown in the dungeon.

And the list goes on. These stories remain popular because they entertain in a way that enables problem solving — while giving kids the scare of their lives! 🙂 The message is always that virtue will be rewarded.

Andersen never married, although he courted several women and wrote a few love letters to men as well. Some historians believe he was bisexual. He seems to have harbored terribly romantic ideas about love and often chose partners that were either unavailable or inappropriate.  At one point he proposed marriage to the Swedish singer Jenny Lind.

She turned him down, but this did not stop Hans from writing a fairy tale which was inspired by her. It was called The Nightingale, about (you guessed it) a precious and beautiful bird that serenades the emperor.  After that, Jenny Lind was given the nickname “The Swedish Nightingale.”

Andersen had a long and prosperous life. He died in Copenhagen on August 4, 1875,  His death is thought to be caused by complications of liver cancer.

Andersen’s stories are still widely read. Many have been adapted as Disney features, including The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and Frozen — adapted from The Snow Queen. In the original story the Snow Queen was an evil kidnapper, nowhere near as kind as Elsa!

Tribute statues to Andersen have been built all over the world, including New York’s Central Park, California, Sydney Australia and Rosenborg Castle Gardens in Copenhagen.

And of course, if you ever happen to be at the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen, you can say hello to The Little Mermaid herself!

Happy Birthday Hans!

 

 

 

Death of a Queen

 

Queen Elizabeth I of England died on this day, March 24, 1603.  She had reigned for 44 years, one of the longest reigns in the history of English monarchs. She was the second female to ever take the throne in England, the first being her sister Mary who ruled for only five years.

Bess was born on September 7, 1533 — thus making her nearly 70 years old at the time of her death. This was REALLY OLD by Elizabethan standards, a time when plague and disease ran rampant, not to mention poor nutrition, excessive labor, wars and general hardships.  The  average person only lived to be about 38 years old.  Monarchs, of course, had access to the best lifestyles and health care.

Bess’ death was caused by a combination of things.

Having survived a bout with smallpox in 1562 which had left her skin very scarred, the Queen took to using a cosmetic covering which was made of eggshells and lead. (Yes LEAD!) This could not have been healthy! This concoction lent to the appearance of her  unnaturally white skin, considered fashionable at the time.

But what were the long term effects of these applications? Symptoms of lead poisoning include abdominal pain, headaches, irritability, memory problems and inability to have children. (Hardly worth the fashion statement!)

Also, Bess’ teeth, by all accounts, were rotten.  King Henry IV of France, after having audience with her, reported: “her teeth are very yellow and unequal … and on the left side less than on the right. Many of them are missing, so that one cannot understand her easily when she speaks quickly.”

While we now know that dental health greatly aids in preventing disease, this was not the case in Tudor England.  Bess, along with her father Henry, enjoyed excessive sweets. Bess, however, did not reach Henry’s status of obesity.

The French King also said of Elizabeth: “her figure is fair and tall and graceful in whatever she does; so far as may be she keeps her dignity, yet humbly and graciously withal.”

Nonetheless, no one can escape Father Time, and by 1602 the Grim Reaper was on his way.

In the winter of 1602 Bess had caught a chill after walking out in the cold air. She complained of a sore throat as well as aches and pains. She retired to rest in her private apartments, but would not go to bed, staying awake for days on end.  Elizabeth knew she was not well, yet she refused to see her doctors. When her chief adviser Robert Cecil told her that she must go to bed, she snapped “Must is not a word to use to princes, little man!”

Some of her contemporaries believed she could have recovered had she been willing to fight off her illness.  Elizabeth, however, seemed to have a death wish.

For a number of years the Queen had been suffering from some form of of mental instability and depression. This was apparently caused by the stresses of the monarchy and the many fickle decisions she had made, which toyed with people’s lives. (And perhaps it could have been the LEAD…)  In the course of her reign Bess had  been responsible for several deaths which left her guilt ridden and paranoid. The most noteworthy of these was the beheading of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she had executed after the Scottish Queen was caught in a plot to overthrow Bess.

Another death that agonized her was that of Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, who had once been Elizabeth’s favorite courtier.

Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex

In 1601 Essex lost his head after he tried to raise a London rebellion against the Queen. Although she had ordered the execution, it was reported that afterward Bess was known “to sit in the dark, and sometimes with shedding tears to bewail Essex.”

To make matters worse, as often happens in old age, Bess had lost, and greatly missed, a number of her dearest friends. She never overcame the untimely death of her one true love, Sir Robert Dudley (also stepfather of Essex) whom she had decided not to marry.

Her closest adviser and father-figure, William Cecil, Lord Burghley  (whom she had dismissed from office after the agonized decision of beheading Mary Queen of Scots) had now passed away as well.

Elizabeth was no fool. She knew her popularity could not last forever, and she had always depended upon the love of her people. An aged and feeble queen could not hold the hearts of England’s youth.  A new day was dawning with the discoveries in the New World, as well as expanding trade and commerce. The country was looking for young, fresh leadership.

As Elizabeth’s condition deteriorated, her favorite clergyman, the Archbishop Whitgift of Canterbury was called to her side.  Whitgift reported that the Queen was at this point unable to speak, but she held onto his hand. The Archbishop tried to encourage her with words of recovery, but she made no response.  However, when he spoke to her of the joys of Heaven, she squeezed his hand, as if in anticipation of the after life.  By this time it was clear to all of those around that Elizabeth was dying.

There was, of course, the question of Succession.  As the famous Virgin Queen, Bess had never married and bore no children. There were several descendants of the York and Lancaster bloodlines who had potential claim the the throne. The most likely of these was Elizabeth’s cousin, King James of Scotland who was favored by her Privy Council.  The question was once again put to the Queen on her deathbed. The Privy Council urged her to sign the succession document. She did not.

Elizabeth took her last breaths in the wee hours of the morning, March 24, 1603. John Manningham, an Elizabethan lawyer and diarist, wrote:  “This morning, about three o’clock her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree…” 

For the sake of the peaceful transition of power, it was later announced that Elizabeth had gestured in agreement for James to succeed her. Chief adviser Robert Cecil then took it upon himself to make arrangements for the transition.

During her reign, Queen Bess’ accomplishments were many.  She defeated the Spanish Armada, protected the realm against a number of foreign entities, brought peace to her previously divided country and restored the prosperity that her father Henry had depleted.  She also created an environment where the arts flourished, including drama which elevated Shakespeare to superstar status.

She was called Gloriana, The Faerie Queen, The Virgin Queen  and Good Queen Bess. To this day, the time of her monarchy is considered a Golden Age of Great Britain.

She once said:  “To be a king and wear a crown, is a thing more glorious to them that see it, than it is pleasant to them that bear it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All About Leprechauns!

 

St. Patrick’s Day would not be complete without leprechauns! If you attend a parade or celebration today, you may see a few of them — those funny looking guys with tall green top hats and scraggly orange beards.

The image of the leprechaun has been used to advertise everything from lottery tickets to Lucky Charms. They are the mascot of the Boston Celtics and the face of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish.

They have been portrayed as dishonest, aggressive and annoying little creatures. Yet I can’t help but think leprechauns have been unfairly stereotyped (much like their human Irish counterparts) as brawlers, drunkards and all-around trouble makers.

Real leprechauns have a much more sophisticated history.

In Irish mythology, leprechauns are part of a race called the Aos Sidhe (pronounced aes-shee). These are supernatural tribes of faeries that include (but are not limited to) Banshees, Changelings, Gancanagh, Pucas, Selkies, Mermaids and Sluagh. These entities live in various places — some underground in fairy mounds, some in oceans, and some in an invisible world, or parallel universe, that coexists with the world of humans.

Leprechauns are believed to be among the first inhabitants of Ireland, arriving long before the Celtic tribes.  Their life-span can last several hundreds of years. Some folklorists consider leprechauns to be the true natives of Ireland, descended from Irish kings and queens. To this day, Leprechauns can only ever be found in Ireland. They are usually sighted in rural areas away from the general population, or burrowed deep in underground caves, or within the hollow trunk of a Fairy Tree.

They are great musicians, known for their love of traditional Irish music and dance. They often hold cèilidh (pronounced kelli — a party of music, dance and story-telling) that last for days on end. Their favorite instruments are the fiddle, the tin whistle, the Bodhran (Irish drum) and the harp.  A generous leprechaun might even bestow musical abilities upon an unsuspecting human.

fairy violin

What do leprechauns look like? Although in modern times they are depicted wearing green, tradition holds that leprechauns usually dress in red coats. According to author David Russell McAnally, who wrote Irish Wonders, a collection of stories first published in 1888:

“He is about three feet high, and is dressed in a little red jacket or roundabout, with red breeches buckled at the knee, gray or black stockings, and a hat, cocked in the style of a century ago, over a little, old, wrinkled face. Round his neck is an Elizabethan ruff, and frills of lace are at his wrists. On the wild west coast, where the Atlantic winds bring almost constant rains, he dispenses with ruff and frills and wears a frieze overcoat over his pretty red suit, so that, unless on the lookout for the cocked hat, ye might pass a Leprechaun on the road and never know it’s himself that’s in it at all!”

Leprechauns are industrious. They work as shoemakers — one of the few species of the Fae world that have their own designated occupation.  Irish author William Butler Yeats, who wrote extensively about faeries, and may have even had a few encounters with them, is quoted as saying, “Because of their love of dancing they (the Fae) will constantly need shoes.”

Leprechauns are rich. Because they are so hard-working, they also accumulate a lot of gold, which they keep (of course!) in a pot that might be hidden somewhere at the end of a rainbow.

Leprechauns generally avoid humans, and with good reason. If a human is able to capture a leprechaun, the leprechaun must then reveal the hiding place of his gold in order to earn his escape.  However, if you do manage to catch one of these little sprites, beware! They have been known to promise a lot but deliver nothing. They are fast talkers, full of confusion and trickery.  As a matter of fact, no human has ever gotten rich from capturing a leprechaun!

The following story, an oral tradition called The Leprechaun’s Gold, illustrates this point perfectly:

“’TWAS a fine sunny day at harvest time when young Seamus O’Donnell, walking along the road, heard a tapping sound.  Peering over the hedge, he saw a tiny man in a little leather apron, mending a little shoe.

“Well, well, well!” said Seamus to himself.  “I truly never expected to meet a leprechaun.  Now that I have, I must not let this chance slip away.  For everyone knows that leprechauns keep a pot of gold hidden nearby.  All I have to do is to find it, and I am set for the rest of my life.”

Greeting the leprechaun politely, Seamus asked about his health.  However, after a few minutes of idle conversation, Seamus became impatient.  He grabbed the leprechaun and demanded to know where the gold was hidden.

“All right!  All right!” cried the little man.  “It is near here.  I’ll show you.”

Together they set off across the fields as Seamus was careful never to take his eyes off the little man who was guiding him.  At last they came to a field of golden ragwort.

The leprechaun pointed to a large plant.

“The gold is under here,” he said.  “All you have to do is to dig down and find it.”

Now Seamus didn’t have anything with him to use for digging, but he was not entirely stupid. He pulled of his red neckerchief and tied it to the plant so that he would recognize it again.

“Promise me,” he said to the leprechaun, “that you will not untie that scarf.”
The little man promised faithfully.

Seamus dropped the leprechaun and ran home as fast as he could to fetch a shovel.  Within five minutes, he was back at the field.  But what a sight met his eyes!  Every single ragwort plant in the whole field — and there were hundreds of them — had a red neckerchief tied around it.

Slowly, young Seamus walked home with his shovel.  He didn’t have his gold.  He didn’t have the leprechaun.

And now, he didn’t even have his neckerchief.”

Moral of the story? Perhaps humans should not meddle in the affairs of leprechauns!

Have a safe and magical Saint Patrick’s Day!