International Fairy Day!

 

Shakespeare was a believer. Are you?

June brings a long line of holidays. Not only do we have the Solstice, but also Saint John’s Eve (June 23), International Pink Day (June 23) and finally, the grand slam, June 24, International Fairy Day!

It’s a heady time of year.  Everything is in bloom, the seasons are changing, the air is full of lush, hypnotic smells and the veils are lifted. Everyone gets a little crazy.  Poets dream and lovers love. June is still the most popular month for weddings.

Ever wonder where we get the name ‘honeymoon’? Honey that is gathered under the full moon in June is said to be the most potent. In Medieval times it was used to make a magical mead served at weddings, specifically designed to bless the newlyweds.  Hence the name ‘honeymoon’.

The magic of the month did not escape Shakespeare. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he created three weddings and a reunion between Oberon and Titania, the Fairy king and queen.

Shakespeare had a lot of inspiration.

In the sleepy, backwoods town of Stratford, fairies were never far away.  Folks believed in  all kinds of superstitions, including changelings. Fairies were said to kidnap healthy human children and in place of them leave a sickly ‘changeling’.  Boys were particularly in demand, and families took precautionary measures to guard them.

Terrified that the fair folk would come and kidnap their male children, mothers in Stratford kept their sons dressed in gowns and did not cut their hair till the child’s seventh birthday! (Seven being the age of reason.) The boy was then finally put in pants. This was called ‘breeching’. They even had a little ceremony for it.  (Apparently, they thought the fairies would somehow miss this…)

Have you ever wondered about those weird, overlapping, thatched Tudor roofs? Well, there’s a fairy superstition behind them!

Some historians say that overlapping roofs  were designed to block the moonlight. This was because people believed the fairies could manipulate moon’s energy to cause insanity — or at least pixie-lead them for the night. The fairies could cause illusion, make you mad, turn you into an animal or bring you into the Other-world.

And then you never know what might happen!  Titania has been known to trap a man or two in her bower…

But it wasn’t all bad. Shakespeare’s fairies may have gotten a bit mischievous, yet they always gave a blessing in the end. Indeed, some of the fairies were more humane than humans! (At least they did not stab Caesar in the back…)

TITANIA: “First, rehearse your song by rote 
To each word a warbling note: 
Hand in hand, with fairy grace, 
Will we sing, and bless this place.”

OBERON: “Now until the break of day, 
Through this house each fairy stray. 
To the best bride-bed will we, 
Which by us shall blessed be.” — A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.I

For more about fairies, witches, aliens, and their symbiotic relationships, click here.

Have a fantastic fairy day, and count your blessings!

 

 

 

 

 

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Flowers, Myth and Magic

 

Happy Midsummer (or Midwinter)  Solstice!  There are a whole bunch of cool flowers said to have magical properties which are associated with the Solstice.  I thought it might be fun to review a few.  First let’s take a look at WILD PANSY.

Queen Elizabeth I may have avoided a husband and maintained a life of celibacy as a result of  this little flower.

According to Shakespeare,  in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”,  Cupid once aimed his arrow at  “A fair vestal, throned by the West”  (meaning a western virgin queen). Cupid “loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow, as it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts.” The arrow, however, never made it to Cupid’s intended destination.

This “vestal” (or vestal virgin) was England’s reigning monarch, Elizabeth I.  Cupid’s arrow missed the Queen and landed instead upon a flower.  The flower  had previously been “milk white in color”, but now turned purple with the  wound from the arrow.

Because of this incident, Queen Bess was destined to never fall in love. Shakespeare says she “passed on in maiden meditation, fancy-free” forever known as The Virgin Queen. The flower, however, absorbed all the love potion from Cupid’s arrow.  On Midsummer night when Oberon the fairy king and his servant Puck decide to make mischief with star-crossed lovers, they of course use this flower.

‘The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid 
Will make or man or woman madly dote 
Upon the next live creature that it sees.”

The first creature Titania saw just happened to be a donkey 🙂

The flower ‘s technical name is viola tricolor. It has several fun nicknames, including heartsease, heart’s delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, and Oberon’s favorite, love-in-idleness. 

In addition to being a love potion, wild pansy has been used in folk medicine to treat epilepsy, asthma, skin diseases, and eczema. It is a natural expectorant and is helpful with respiratory problems such as bronchitis, asthma, and the common cold.

HAWTHORN

Thomas the Rhymer was a 13th century  Scottish mystic and poet. He claimed he once met the Queen of Elphame (Elf’s Home) beneath a hawthorn tree.

“Her skirt was o the grass-green silk, 
Her mantle o the velvet fyne, 
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane 
Hang fifty silver bells and nine.” 

The Elphame Queen led him into the fairy Underworld for what Thomas thought was a brief visit. However, upon returning to the human world, he discovered he had been gone for seven years.

 “When seven years were come and gane,
The sun blink’d fair on pool and stream;
And Thomas lay on Huntlie bank,
Like one awaken’d from a dream.”

Themes of people being taken into the Underworld by fairy folk is common in Celtic mythology. The hawthorn tree is one of the most likely places where this could happen,  and Midsummer is one of the most likely days, so beware of standing near hawthorn trees today, unless you are planning a visit to fairyland!

The hawthorn is technically called Crataegus and is also known as thornapple, May-tree, whitethorn, and hawberry. It bears edible fruit, similar to small apples, which can be used in jellies or salads.

The fruit is quite healthy, containing phytochemicals such as tannis and flavinoids, valuable in purging toxins from the body.  In modern medicine, a salve made from hawthorn trees has been effective in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. (Further proving that the fairies give us some goodies along with their magical portals!)

FOXGLOVE

This lovely plant, which reaches full bloom at Midsummer is a favorite among fairy folk. Shaped like bells, it is said that the fairies designed them for foxes. One story tells of foxes wearing them around their necks. The ringing bells cast a spell to protect the animals from hunters.  The spots inside are made when fairies touch the flowers.

Another story tells of a fairy giving them to a fox to put on his toes so he could sneak into the chicken house and silently rob it without being caught.

The technical name for foxglove is Digitalis (derived from digit, meaning finger). They are also called witches’ glovefolks’ glove, (folk meaning fairy) and fey-glew, meaning ‘fairy music’.  (Listen closely to hear the bells!)

Foxglove was once thought to be effective in  epileptic seizures, but this idea has since has been debunked as quackery. Some historians believe that Vincent Van Gogh suffered from digoxin toxicity from the foxglove that was used at the time to treat his epilepsy.

It has been speculated that Van Gogh’s frequent use of the color yellow in his painting (art historians call it his “yellow period”)  may have been due to the disease. Victims often see the world in a yellow green tint, or surrounded by yellow spots. Cutting off his own ear may have been caused by grief and complications from the disease as well.

Also, Van Gogh painted a portrait of his doctor, Paul Gachet, holding a strand of purple foxglove, so the flower must have had significance.

At any rate, the plant is highly toxic and should never be eaten! Foxglove are also called Dead Man’s Bells. Consider yourself warned.

Have a safe, happy and healthy solstice!

 

 

 

 

When Bloggers Leave…

 

I was dismayed this week to discover that one of my favorite bloggers, HocusPocus13, a.k.a. “Jinx” has left the building.

Jinx was a voracious blogger and re-blogger. In addition to her own really cool and unique posts, she also scoured WordPress for the best of the best. Jinx often put up as many as 20-30 posts a day, all containing a bit of magic. Her motto was “path to a more productive life.” Her wise words were full of sound advice, scintillating spells, yummy recipes, beauty and creativity.

Over the past few days, I noticed there had been nothing posted by HocusPocus13 in my feed. This was unusual. Perhaps she was slowing down the pace? Maybe she was on vacation, or had taken a brief hiatus? (After all, blogging can be hard work!)

Upon further investigation, and much to my dismay, I found out that her site had been deleted. No warning, no reason, just disappeared like a result of the spell-work she so fondly purported.

Ah well.

This is cyberspace. Bloggers, Twitter posts, Instagram hits come and go, quickly as changing weather. Society in cyberspace is sporadic and erratic. We rely upon the fickle nature of satellites, nodes and WiFi crisscrossing to bring us together.

In reality,  what are we? A combination of electricity and Ram, motherboards and mother’s wombs, fragments of ethernet and memory.  Stardust.

And yet.

Just how ‘virtual’ is virtual reality? Some spiritualists and channelers now believe we are creating a new dimension within cyberspace, something between physical and non-physical, yet every bit as solid and real as what we have known before.  At any rate, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss when one of us leaves.

So Jinx, if by some chance you happen to read this, know you were appreciated, your blog was Important and you are greatly missed!

This goes for bloggers everywhere. Whatever message you are communicating into the great wide stratosphere, please know:  IT MATTERS.

Somewhere, someone is reading you. You are bringing a bit of insight, a bit of connection, a bit of horror or humor or courage or controversy into someone’s otherwise dreary day. Your unique perspective is contributing to our world.

Your thoughts matter. Your words matter. Your ideas and opinions matter.

WordPress Warriors, keep on bloggin’!  (And if you do decide to leave, for goodness sake, let someone know!)  🙂

“Words are, of course, the most powerful thing used by mankind.” — William Shakespeare

 

 

 

 

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.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ides of March

 

 

Shakespeare knew betrayal. He wrote about many. Perhaps one of the most chilling was the death of Julius Caesar, who apparently believed himself to be invincible.

On March 15, 44 BC Roman emperor Julius Caesar was stabbed to death near the Theater of Pompey, where his senate held a meeting.  His enemies, who had been conspiring for months, were unbeknownst to him. Total backstabbers! Caesar was loved by many and had apparently done little to provoke the attack.

The assassination, however, did not come without its warning. One month previous, Caesar had been approached by a soothsayer who told him: “Beware the Ides of March”. In ancient Rome, the “Ides” would have been understood to be the middle of the month, or March 15th.

Have a happy March 15th and watch your back!

Here is a re enactment from the 1970 film, Julius Caesar.  Hope you like it!

 

 

 

 

Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 50th Anniversary

 

Today, March 4th, 2018, marks the 50th Anniversary of the premiere of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film”Romeo and Juliet” at London’s Odeon theater.

With a host of talented actors, rich period costumes and lush cinematography, this gorgeous movie is arguably the best ever adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.  Famous critic Roger Ebert included it in his list of ‘Top 100 Films’. Ebert wrote, “I believe Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made.”

The movie won a Golden Globe Award for Best English Language Foreign Film.  It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (Pasqualino De Santis) and Best Costume Design (Danilo Donati).  It was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture, making it the last Shakespearean film to be nominated for Best Picture to date. Coincidentally, the anniversary of its London premiere just happens to fall on the same day as this year’s Academy Awards presentation.

This movie is unique in may ways. Director Zeffirelli had the innovative idea of using  teenage actors for the roles of the star-crossed lovers.  This was the first time in the history of the play’s performances that actual teenagers were cast to play the teenage roles. Olivia Hussey played Juliet and Leonard Whiting played Romeo.

Hussey and Whiting both received Golden Globes for ‘Best New Stars of the Year’.

Zeffirelli also chose unique historical locations, adding to the rich authenticity of the movie, which was set in 14th century Renaissance Italy.  These locations included:

The Palazzo Borghese, which was used for the famous ‘balcony scene’. The Palazzo was built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 16th century. It is located in Artena, 20 miles south of Rome.

“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!”

The interior church scenes (where Romeo and Juliet are wed) were filmed at a Romanesque church named St. Pietro Somaldi in Lucca, Tuscania, 50 miles northwest of Rome.

“For by your leaves you will not stay alone, till Holy Church incorporate two as one.”

The tomb scene (where both lovers commit suicide) was also filmed in Tuscania.

“O happy dagger, this is thy sheath. There rust and let me die.”

The Palazzo Piccolomini, built in 1460 by Pope Pius II, served as Capulet’s magnificent palace. It is located in Pienza, Siena province.

“His name is Romeo, a Montague, the only son of your great enemy.” 

The dueling scenes  were filmed  in the old Umbrian town of Gubbio.

“A plague on both your houses!”

Some fun facts:

  • Paul McCartney was being considered for the role of Romeo, before Zeffirelli plucked Lenoard Whiting from the London stage. Although I love the Beatles, Paul as Romeo would have been a terrible mistake!

Paul McCartney as Romeo

  • Anjelica Houston was considered for the role of Juliet, but her father, director John Houston, insisted she work on another film (one of his own) at the time.
  • Olivia Hussey was originally rejected because Zeffirelli thought she was overweight. Upon her second reading, she had apparently lost weight and was accepted.
  • During the Italian filming, Zeffirelli once again became concerned with Olivia’s weight and insisted she not be served any pasta on the set. (I know!  Rude, inconsiderate, and possibly damaging — both physically and psychologically — to a teenage girl.)

  • Because there were nude scenes in the film, Zeffirelli had to get special permission to film 16 year old Olivia topless. Len Whiting was already 17 and of legal age for nudity.

  • Sir Laurence Olivier, who happened to be in Italy at the time of filming, reportedly showed up on set asking if he could contribute.  He became the narrator, and also dubbed lines for the actor Antonio Pierfederici who played Lord Montague but had a thick Italian accent. Sir Laurence’s contributions are not listed in the credits and he would accept no pay for them, stating he did this out of his ‘great love for Shakespeare’.  What a guy! 🙂
  • In 1977, Olivia Hussey and Laurence Olivier reunited, along with co star Michael York (who played Tybalt) for the production of  Jesus of Nazareth. Hussey played Mary the Mother of Jesus, Olivier played Nicodemus and York played John the Baptist.

  • Produced with a budget of just $850,000, the movie went on to earn nearly $40 million at the box office and later earned another $18 million in re-releases and rentals.
  • Thom Yorke of Rodiohead reports being very moved by Zeffirelli’s film. He later went on to compose music for the 1996 version of Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrmann. Yorke said, “I saw the Zeffirelli version when I was 13, and I cried my eyes out, because I couldn’t understand why the morning after they shagged, they didn’t just run away.”

Many readers of R & J have wondered the same thing. Young love can be messy.

If you have not yet seen this phenomenal movie, I suggest you rent or stream it at once!

And finally, in honor of the 1968 London Premiere, here is a youtube compilation where Queen Elizabeth herself greets the young stars. Hope you like it!