Monthly Archives: October 2012
Halloween is perhaps the most understood day of the year next to Valentine’s Day. It’s riddled with misconceptions and folklore. But, unlike Valentine’s Day, Halloween has its roots in ancient religious practices. As you might suspect, the Roman Catholic Church has much to do with the mythology surrounding October 31; that is, the advent of Christianity. But, Halloween also owes much of its mystery to ancient Celtic beliefs.
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies who populated most of Europe for thousands of years. The Greeks encountered the Celts around the sixth century B.C. and called them Keltoi. When Julius Caesar encountered the Gauls (the early peoples of present-day France) around 58 B.C., he said they called themselves Celts. The word may have derived from the Indo-European ‘kel,’ which means ‘hidden.’ But, the term ‘Celt’ applies to any of the European peoples who spoke a Celtic language. Greeks and Romans depicted the Celts as barbarians, but archeology has proven they were a socially and technologically advanced people. They built complex settlements with sustainable farming practices and made significant breakthroughs in metalworking. They essentially created the Europe that exists today.
Like every society in the ancient world, the Celts lived in accordance with the weather and the seasons. Their calendar began on what now corresponds to November 1, which marked the start of winter. They had to move their cattle and sheep to closer pastures and secure all animals for the cold months ahead. They also harvested and stored their crops, again before winter’s arrival. The Celts divided the year into four major holidays, and on what now roughly corresponds to October 31, they celebrated a festival called “Samhain,” pronounced ‘sah-ween.’ Since October 31 was technically their New Year’s Eve, the Celts believed the spirits of the dead would mingle with the living as part of the overall life cycle. During Samhain, the Celts celebrated that the souls of all those who had died throughout the year would pass into the next world. They feasted upon meats, fruits and vegetables and lit bonfires to help the deceased on their journeys. Some Celts wore masks to ward off any evil spirits that tried to disrupt the celebrations or stop dead loved ones from moving onward.
Then, as Christianity began to spread across Europe, Celtic traditions came under attack. Early Christian leaders denounced holidays like Samhain as pagan and even demonic. While they succeeded in altering the ideological landscape of Europe, Christians didn’t completely eliminate Celtic rituals; the latter just changed their practices. In 601 A.D., Pope Gregory I issued an edict to his missionaries concerning the beliefs and customs of the Celts. Rather than try to obliterate Celtic rituals, Gregory instructed his missionaries to incorporate them. If the residents of a town or village worshipped a tree, for example, the missionaries wouldn’t cut it down; instead, they would consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.
But, as the Roman Catholic Church increased its power, all non-Christian beliefs and practices were declared malevolent. The Celtic spirit world became associated with the Christian “Hell.” Any remaining practitioners of Celtic ideology were forced into hiding and were branded as witches.
Sometime in the 4th century A.D., the Catholic Church designated November 1 as “All Saints Day.” It honored every Christian saint, especially those who did not have a special day devoted to them. It was meant to substitute for Samhain, to draw the devotion of the Celtic peoples, and ultimately to replace it. That did not happen, of course, but the traditional Celtic deities diminished in status, becoming fairies or leprechauns of more recent traditions. Once again, though, Christianity didn’t triumph completely as its esteemed leaders had hoped.
In the 9th century, the Church designated November 2 as “All Souls Day,” when the living prayed for the souls of the dead. Christians also referred to All Souls Day as “All Hallows” – hallow means sanctified or holy. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural. As the centuries progressed, people continued celebrating All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but they gradually came to associate supernatural beings with evil. Any soul that hadn’t moved into Heaven was deemed unholy – and so was any celebration of those souls.
Celtic traditions are now most closely associated with the British Isles. That’s mainly because the peoples of those islands – separate from the European mainland – were the last holdouts against Christianity. Even after the time of St. Patrick, many Irish refused to convert to Catholicism, which is ironic considering that Ireland is now predominantly and staunchly Roman Catholic.
Most contemporary Halloween traditions can be traced to Samhain. The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats correlates to the Celtic belief that the souls of the dead wandered around, along with more malevolent spirits. The Celts made offerings of food and beverages to placate all of them. As Christianity became more entrenched in European society, people began dressing up like witches and demons and performing antics in exchange for food and beverages. This practice is called “mumming,” from which trick-or-treating evolved. The term ‘mumming’ is derived from either the German word ‘mumme,’ which means mask or masking, or the Greek word ‘mommo,’ which basically means a frightening mask. Even now, in many small towns in England and Ireland, people stage ‘mumming plays.’
There is no evil in celebrations honoring the dead. Christianity is what made that connection. Every society across the globe honors its deceased loved ones. It’s done out of respect and admiration. Most Indigenous Americans, for example, conducted similar rituals, which – as early Christians tried to do with the Celts – Catholic missionaries worked to eliminate. But, as with the Celts, some Indians merely incorporated Roman Catholic practices into their religion as a means of survival. There were some holdouts, though, who refused to convert and often suffered the bloody consequences. Even now, México celebrates “El Dio de los Muertos,” or “Day of the Dead,” which is a modernized version of indigenous Indian rituals that literally go back thousands of years. People build temporary alters to honor their deceased relatives and friends, which includes offerings of food and beverages.
That’s not evil – that’s love.
BLESS, O GOD, THE DWELLING
Bless, O God, the dwelling,
And each who rests herein this night;
Bless, O God, my dear ones,
In every place wherein they sleep;
In the night that is tonight,
And every single night;
In the day that is today,
And every single day.
“One thing he’s gonna be asked is, why did he jump on [the hurricane] so quickly and go back to D.C. so quickly when in…Benghazi, he went to Las Vegas? Why was this so quick?… At some point, somebody’s going to ask that question…. This is like the inverse of Benghazi.”
– Former FEMA Director Michael Brown, criticizing President Obama’s rapid response to Hurricane Sandy as opposed to his alleged dismal response to the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Syria last month.
Brown was head of FEMA when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, and of course, we all know what a stellar job he did with that mess. Aside from the blatant mendacity in claiming Obama reacted “too fast” to Hurricane Sandy, dragging the Benghazi attack into the debacle is the epitome of partisanship. But, I would expect nothing less arrogant and disrespectful from a Bush appointee.
“The president has been all over this, and he deserves great credit. He gave me his number at the White House and told me to call him if I needed anything, and he absolutely means it. It’s been very good working with the president and his administration. It’s been wonderful.”
– New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, praising President Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy Tuesday morning.
Abrasive and controversial, Christie doesn’t offer quaint platitudes, which makes him a favorite of the Republican Party. But, during times of crisis, politics has no place.
After Hurricane Sandy’s long trek up the eastern seaboard of the United States, the New England area is just beginning to assess and clean up the extensive damage. The Category 1 storm made landfall in southern New Jersey late Monday, the 29th, and quickly collapsed into a sub-tropical cyclone. Categories aside, this is already proving to be several times worst than last year’s Irene. Sandy collided with an arctic hurricane that swept down from the north to create something of a super-system, or what some called a “Frankenstorm,” an obvious reference to Halloween. But, some 8 million people are without power from West Virginia to New York. Thus far, authorities have recorded 43 fatalities directly related to the storm. New York’s financial district is scheduled to reopen tomorrow morning after being closed these past two days. Now, cold weather is moving into the region and could hamper recovery. As always, please think of the victims and their families.
Survivalist Tip: The Houston Museum of Natural Science is trying to assuage troubled souls about the upcoming apocalypse by displaying Mayan artifacts and therefore, assure people that the sun will rise on December 22, 2012. I’m quite certain, too, the sun will rise – over a new universe, of course! But, the Houston exhibit, titled “Maya 2012 Prophecy Becomes History,” hopes to clarify the mystery surrounding the ancient Mayan calendar. Nearly every item on display dates back a thousand years or more; some as far back as 3,500 years. Carefully reconstructed murals depict images in the jungle monuments from southern México and Central America. There are replicas of large pyramids, various inscriptions and the calendars themselves.
All of this illuminates how the date of December 21, 2012 coincides with a rare celestial event: the sun will pass through the Milky Way during the winter solstice; something that occurs only once every 26,000 years. Thus, will begin the New Baktun, according to Mayan legend. Museum officials are wise to point out that the ancient Mayans, in a sense, created their own apocalypse in that they overbuilt and outstripped their resources. But, that’s all part of the grand design of the Great Creator. If you abuse your world, God will wipe out your ass and start all over.
Last Tuesday, October 23, a group of men defaced political campaign signs for President Obama and then, physically attacked a local man, Leo Flores, who is running for office in Lubbock, Texas. Flores captured most of the action with his cell phone camera. Once the attacks came to light, Lubbock Republican Party Chair Carl Tepper dismissed it all by saying, “I have a weird suspicion that the Democrats might have damaged their own signs. It’s an outlandish story.”
Lubbock, which isn’t exactly a mecca for academic and scientific intellectuals, is already deep in Republican territory. Of course, there are a lot of places in Texas that can make that claim. It doesn’t surprise me that the local Republican Party Chairman negates the severity of the vandals’ actions. These are the same bunch of clowns who helped put George W. Bush into the governor’s mansion twice and the White House twice and have helped Rick Perry hold onto the current governorship like the papacy. Yes, it’s getting increasingly dangerous to be even a moderate Democrat here in Texas. But, free speech isn’t a privilege – it’s a right.
Thank goodness for Hurricane Sandy! It’s provided some respite from the ongoing presidential campaigns. That a major tropical storm system could strike New England just before Halloween is news enough – without the inevitable destruction and loss of life. We have eight more days until election day here in the U.S., and Sandy could provide a twisted sort of the proverbial “October surprise.”
If it’s bad enough, both President Obama and Mitt Romney may not be anywhere near Washington, D.C. Obama could hunker down at his Chicago abode, while Romney could seek refuge in one of his many estates. Their responses to the disaster will prove what they really think of the American people. Obama most likely won’t stay in Chicago; he’ll want to head back to Washington to coordinate recovery efforts. I suspect Romney will take the traditional conservative Republican stance and just let New Englanders fend for themselves. After all, that’s been the mantra of his campaign; if you don’t have enough money in your bank account or drive a couple of Cadillacs, then you’re not worth saving.
Aside from November 7 being the birthday of one of my closest friends and former colleagues, it’ll be the first day after the elections and thus, the end of this campaign season. I got tired of this crap – oh – I’ll say around July 1. Political campaigns here in the U.S. are never-ending – like Thanksgiving turkey, deep space and the Harry Potter series. They just go on and on and on.
I suppose it’s inevitable in a truly democratic society. But, as a frequent, dedicated, tax-paying voter who’s experiencing firsthand the worst this dismal economy has to offer, I have some advice for all would-be candidates.
- Focus on what good you’ve done for your respective communities. In other words, run on your record, for God’s sakes! If you don’t have much of a record, then don’t run for public office! That’s like a high school graduate applying for an engineering position at NASA. You don’t have to walk on water, or even build homes for the impoverished (although the latter would be more practical and appealing), but show us something positive. What have you done for us?
- Stop, or at least limit, the negative ads. If you have to point out the adverse traits of your opponent instead of highlighting your positive attributes, then you don’t have much of a campaign. Karl Rove had to do that with George W. Bush. Bush was such a lame-ass that the only way the ignorant masses could be convinced to vote for him (other than because of their ignorance) was for the opposition to be demonized. The 2004 presidential campaign is a perfect example. There was nothing good about Bush’s tenure in office at that point. He couldn’t prove that he’d completed his stint in the Texas National Guard, and no one had found the elusive “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. So the Rove goblins questioned John Kerry’s military record and made him out to be indecisive; e.g. a “flip-flopper.” It didn’t help that Kerry tried to take the high road, which was like Albert Einstein trying to explain quantum physics to Ron Jeremy. I wasn’t too crazy about Kerry anyway, but look at the mess we ended up with as Bush left office.
- Stop saying, ‘I promise to do .’ Instead, say something like, ‘I promise to cooperate with , or to do my best to accomplish .’ Every political candidate – especially those for the presidency – promises massive changes without realizing this not a dictatorship, or even an oligarchy. There are 3 branches of government, and they have to work with one another. Think We Are the World, or better yet, I Want to Teach the World to Sing. I suppose that’s a bit much to ask from grown people with Mount Everest-size egos. Merely promising to do your best goes a long way. Most people are smart enough to understand that an elected official – even the President of the United States – can’t do everything alone. I mean, William H. Taft’s wife, Helen, once answered the doorbell to the White House, and Harry Truman used to wash his own socks. Either way people won’t be too disappointed when an elected official can’t get X, Y and Z done – which is one reason why the American people should blame the Republicans in Congress for keeping things screwed up. They won’t work with Obama. But, that’s a different essay.
People are always glad to see election season come to an end. Yes, the candidates are tired, but so are we. Our elected officials don’t seem to get it sometimes. I’m still unemployed and have massive student debt to pay off. I don’t care about gay marriage; don’t want to hear your definition of when life begins; don’t want too much of our tax dollars go to treat diseases in foreign countries where people should have figured out by now that having sex with a virgin doesn’t cure AIDS. I want to see some real action in Washington – and not on the dance floor. I want to see our elected officials handing out water bottles after Sandy hits.
The National Geographic Society plans to auction 240 photographs and pieces of art from its vast collection this December at Christie’s. Since 1888, National Geographic has amassed millions of images and artworks from across the globe. The auction could garner upwards of $3 million. It’s the first time the institution will sell anything from its archives.
They are being auctioned “to celebrate our legacy …. and to give people a chance to buy a little part of this great institution’s history,” said Maura Mulvihill, senior vice president of National Geographic’s image and video archives.
“We think of ourselves as the unsung fathers of modern photojournalism,” she added. “I don’t think people are aware of what a massive instructive archive this is.”
Proceeds from the auction will serve to promote and preserve the archive, as well as “the nurturing of young photographers, artists and explorers … who are the future of the organization,” Mulvihill said.
National Geographic sponsors and funds scientific research and exploration through its signature publication, National Geographic Magazine, which reaches 8.8 million people worldwide in 36 countries and in 27 languages. The society reaches millions more through its National Geographic Channel, books and other sources.
Among the photos is a 1908 shot of Arctic explorer Adm. Robert E. Peary; the artwork includes an oil painting by Tom Lovell of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Civil War surrender at Appomattox. While National Geographic is known for its extraordinary photography, early editions were filled with artwork.
National Geographic is my single favorite periodical, and – I believe – one of the most significant in the world. It transcends politics and religion and makes us realize how interconnected we are on this tiny, but otherwise fascinating planet.