Friday, April 28, 2017

Supernatural Friday: Raven Myths and Legends




Because of its black plumage, croaking call, and diet of carrion, ravens has long been considered birds of ill omen and of interest to creators of myths and legends. Even Edgar Allan Poe had written a poem with the bird a central figure in it. Who hasn't not read The Raven? And in the fantasy television show on HBO, Games of Thrones, a three-eyed raven is used. 

The raven is the national bird of Bhutan, and it adorns the royal hat, representing the deity Gonpo Jarodonchen (Mahakala with a Raven's head; one of the important guardian deities of Bhutanese culture.).  As a carrion bird, ravens became associated with the dead and with lost souls. In Sweden they are known as the ghosts of murdered persons.

In Irish mythology, ravens are associated with warfare and the battleground in the figures of Badb and Morrígan. The goddess An Morrígan alighted on the hero Cú Chulainn's shoulder in the form of a raven after his death. 

Ravens were also associated with the Welsh god Bran the Blessed (the brother of Branwen), whose name translates to "raven." According to the Mabinogion, Bran's head was buried in the White Hill of London as a talisman against invasion. The name of the god, Lugh, is also derived from a Celtic word for "raven." He is the god of the sun, and the creator of the arts and sciences.  He is depicted as giant and the King of the Britons in tale known as the Second Branch of the Mabinogi. Several other characters in Welsh mythology share his name, and ravens figure prominently in the 12th or 13th century text The Dream of Rhonabwy, as the army of King Arthur's knight Owain.


According to legend, the Kingdom of England will fall if the ravens of the Tower of London are removed. It had been thought that there have been at least six ravens in residence at the tower for centuries. It was said that Charles II ordered their removal following complaints from John Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer. However, they were not removed because Charles was then told of the legend. Charles, following the time of the English Civil War, superstition or not, was not prepared to take the chance, and instead had the observatory moved to Greenwich.


The earliest known reference to a Tower raven is a picture in the newspaper The Pictorial World in 1883.  This and scattered subsequent references, both literary and visual, which appear in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, place them near the monument commemorating those beheaded at the tower, popularly known as the “scaffold.” This strongly suggests that the ravens, which are notorious for gathering at gallows, were originally used to dramatize tales of imprisonment and execution at the tower told to tourists by the Yeomen Warders. There is evidence that the original ravens were donated to the tower by the Earls of Dunraven perhaps because of their association with the Celtic raven-god Bran. However wild ravens, which were once abundant in London and often seen around meat markets (such as nearby Eastcheap) feasting for scraps, could have roosted at the Tower in earlier times.

 
During the Second World War, most of the Tower's ravens perished through shock during bombing raids, leaving only a mated pair named "Mabel" and "Grip." Shortly before the Tower reopened to the public, Mabel flew away, leaving Grip despondent. A couple of weeks later, Grip also flew away, probably in search of his mate. The incident was reported in several newspapers, and some of the stories contained the first references in print to the legend that the British Empire would fall if the ravens left the tower. Since the Empire was dismantled shortly afterward, those who are superstitious might interpret events as a confirmation of the legend. Before the tower reopened to the public on 1 January 1946, care was taken to ensure that a new set of ravens was in place.


To the Germanic peoples, Odin was often associated with ravens. Examples include depictions of figures often identified as Odin appear flanked with two birds on a 6th century bracteate and on a 7th century helmet plate from Vendel, Sweden. In later Norse mythology, Odin is depicted as having two ravens Huginn and Muninn serving as his eyes and ears – Huginn being referred to as thought and Muninn as memory. Each day the ravens fly out from Hliðskjálf and bring Odin news from Midgard.
The Old English word for a raven was hræfn; in Old Norse it was hrafn; the word was frequently used in combinations as a kenning for bloodshed and battle.


The raven also has a prominent role in the mythologies of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, including the Tsimishian, Haida, Heiltsuk, Tlingit, Kwakwaka'wakw, Coast Salish, Koyukons, and Inuit. The raven in these indigenous peoples' mythology is the Creator of the world, but it is also considered a trickster god. For instance, in Tlingit culture, there are two different raven characters which can be identified, although they are not always clearly differentiated. One is the creator raven, responsible for bringing the world into being and who is sometimes considered to be the individual who brought light to the darkness. The other is the childish raven, always selfish, sly, conniving, and hungry. When the Great Spirit created all things he kept them separate and stored in cedar boxes. The Great Spirit gifted these boxes to the animals who existed before humans. When the animals opened the boxes all the things that comprise the world came into being. The boxes held such things as mountains, fire, water, wind and seeds for all the plants. One such box, which was given to Seagull, contained all the light of the world. Seagull coveted his box and refused to open it, clutching it under his wing. All the people asked Raven to persuade Seagull to open it and release the light. Despite begging, demanding, flattering and trying to trick him into opening the box, Seagull still refused. Finally Raven became angry and frustrated, and stuck a thorn in Seagull's foot. Raven pushed the thorn in deeper until the pain caused Seagull to drop the box. Then out of the box came the sun, moon and stars that brought light to the world and allowed the first day to begin. 


In the Talmud, the raven is described as having been only one of three beings on Noah's Ark that copulated during the flood and so was punished. The Rabbis believed that the male raven was forced to ejaculate his seed into the female raven's mouth as a means of reproduction. Interestingly according to the Icelandic Landnámabók – a story similar to Noah and the Ark, Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson used ravens to guide his ship from the Faroe Islands to Iceland.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Schedule at Ravencon This Weekend


I have my schedule for Ravencon this weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia (April 28th, 29th and 30th). http://www.ravencon.com/ 
Friday
6:25 - 6:50 pm (Reading) Room 4-I will read from my upcoming urban fantasy, How the Vortex Changed My Life
7 pm (Opening Ceremony) Large Auditorium (all guests)
Midnight (Panel) My Favorite Horror / Room G
Saturday
6 pm (Panel) Buying Cover Art / Room E
Sunday
Noon - 2 pm (Workshop/Presentation) Children's/Young Adult Writer's Workshop / Room 5


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Supernatural Friday: Vampires

Vampire-like creatures date back thousands of years, and pop up in dozens of different cultures.  Humankind has always been fascinated with them, or more likely in fear of,  at least until modern times, such as why we have vampires in contemporary books, movies and television shows. According to the predominant mythology, every vampire was once a human, who, after being bitten by a vampire, died and rose from the grave as a monster. Vampires crave the blood of the living, whom they hunt during the night. They use their protruding fangs to puncture their victims' necks. At least the European ones anyway.


Since they're reanimated corpses—the living remains of a deceased person—vampires are often referred to as "the undead." This means they are deceased and yet, not. Vampires are potentially immortal, but they do have a few weaknesses. They can be destroyed by a stake through the heart, fire, beheading and direct sunlight, and they are wary of crucifixes, holy water and garlic. Vampires don't cast a reflection, and they have superhuman strength.


This vampire figure, with its particular combination of characteristics and governing rules, is actually a fairly recent invention. Bram Stoker conceived it in his 1897 novel, Dracula. The vampire changing into a bat came from this novel also, thanks to the real vampire bats in South America. Other authors reinterpreted Dracula in a number of plays, movies and books.



The legends of vampires date back at least 4,000 years, to the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians of Mesopotamia. Mesopotamians feared Lamastu (also spelled Lamashtu), a vicious demon goddess who preyed on humans. In Assyrian legend, Lamastu, the daughter of sky god Anu, would creep into a house at night and steal or kill babies, either in their cribs or in the womb. Believers attributed sudden infant death syndrome and miscarriage to this figure. Lamastu, which translates to "she who erases," would also prey on adults, sucking blood from young men and bringing disease, sterility and nightmares. She is often depicted with wings and birdlike talons, and sometimes with the head of a lion. To protect themselves from Lamastu, pregnant women would wear amulets depicting Pazuzu, another evil god who once defeated the demoness.


Lamastu is closely associated with Lilith, a prominent figure in some Jewish texts. Accounts of Lilith vary considerably, but in the most notable versions of the story, she was the original woman. God created both Adam and Lilith from the Earth, but there was soon trouble between them. Lilith refused to take a subservient position to Adam, since she came from the same place he did. Lilith however came to Adam as he lay asleep and coupled with him in his dreams. By this means, she became mother of all the uncanny beings who share this planet invisibly with mortals, and are known as the fairy races or the djinnIn one ancient version of the legend, Lilith left Eden and began birthing her own children. God sent three angels to bring her back, and when she refused, they promised they would kill 100 of her children every day until she returned. Lilith in turn vowed to destroy human children. Accounts of Lilith as a child-killer seem to be taken directly from the Lamastu legend. She is often described as a winged demoness with sharp talons, who came in the night, primarily to steal away infants and fetuses. Most likely, the Jews assimilated the figure of Lamastu into their tradition, but it's also possible that both myths were inspired by a third figure. While she is often depicted as a terrifying creature, Lilith also had seductive qualities. The ancient Jews believed she would come to men at night as a succubus. They also regarded her as a queen of evil spirits, and made amulets to protect themselves against her. She is a personification of the erotic dreams which trouble men; the suppressed desire for forbidden delights. Charles Godfrey Leland, in his Etruscan Roman Remains (London, 1892), identifies Lilith with Herodias, or Aradia. He notes that in the old Slavonian spells and charms, Lilith is mentioned, and that she is said to have twelve daughters, who are the twelve kinds of fever. This is another instance of the witches’ thirteen.”
Dracula, along with all those modern vampire books and movies (and even the flesh eating zombies since Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, too) are inspired by the folklore of eastern Europe. History records dozens of mythical vampire figures in this region, going back hundreds of years. They have their particular habits and characteristics, but most fall into one of two general categories: demon that become reanimated corpses so they could walk among the living and spirits of dead people that would not leave their own body.

The most notable of the demon vampires would be the Russian upirand the Greek vrykolakas. Sinners, babies not baptized, and those outside the Christian faith were more likely to be reanimated after death. Those who practiced witchcraft are also included, as they would be particularly susceptible because they had already given their soul to the devil in life. Once the undead corpses rose from the grave, they would terrorize the community and feed on the living. Not just blood, but the flesh, too.

Most of these legends account that these undead corpses must return to their grave regularly to rest (notice that it never said day or night—though night  would seemed the most fearsome time for evil to walk). When townspeople believed that someone had become a vampire, they exhumed the corpse to get rid of the evil spirit. They might try an exorcism ritual, but more often they would destroy the body so it would no longer have a form to use. Various methods include cremation, decapitation, even driving a wooden stake through the heart. Bodies might also be buried face down, so the undead corpses would dig deeper into the earth, rather than up into shallower ground. Other families might also secured stakes above the corpse so it would impale itself if it tried to escape.


Vampires in Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania (part of Romania) were called strigoi. Strigoi are almost exclusively human spirits who had returned from the dead. Unlike the upir or vrykolakas, the strigoi go through different stages after they have risen from the grave. Initially, a strigoi might become an invisible poltergeist, tormenting its living family members by moving furniture and stealing food. Eventually, it becomes visible, just as the person looked in life. The strigoi returns to its family, stealing cattle, begging for food, and bringing disease. It also feed on humans, at first the family members; of course, eventually the myths changing to anyone else they happened to come across. In some accounts, the strigoi sucked their victims' blood directly from the heart.

The strigoi need to return to the grave on a regular basis, just like the upir did. If townspeople suspected someone had become a strigoi, they would do the same as those did to the upir, exhume the body and burn it, or run spikes through it. But after seven years, if a strigoi still hung around, it could live wherever it pleased. It was said that strigoi traveled to distant towns and would begin new lives as ordinary people. These secret vampires even met with each other in weekly gatherings.

In addition to undead strigoi, referred to as strigoi mort, people also feared living vampires, or strigoi viu. Strigoi viu were cursed living people who were doomed to become strigoi mort when they died. Babies born with abnormalities, such as a tail-like protrusion or a bit of fetal membrane tissue attached to the head (cauls), were usually considered strigoi viu. Also, if any strigoi mort living among humans had children, the offspring were cursed to become undead strigoi in the afterlife. When a known strigoi viu died, the family destroyed its body to keep it from rising from the grave.

In other parts of eastern Europe, strigoi-type creatures were called vampir, or vampyr, most likely a variation on the Russian upir. Western European countries eventually picked up on this name, how the term became “vampyr” and later “vampire" in the English language.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, vampire hysteria spread through eastern Europe. People reported that they saw their dead relatives walking around, attacking the living. Authorities dug up scores of graves, burning and staking the corpses (like those accused of being witches and even werewolves earlier in history were burned at the stake). In eastern European folklore, it was said that a vampire could be warded off by scattering seeds on the ground, either on top of the vampire's grave or outside your house. Vampires, said to be obsessive creatures, were compelled to count all the seeds. If you hid a nail in the seeds, it pricked the vampire midway through the count. The vampire would then drop the seeds and have to start all over again.

Finding a vampire can have many ways to do so worldwide. According to one Romanian legend, you need a seven-year-old boy and a white horse. The boy should be dressed in white, placed upon the horse, and the pair set loose in a graveyard at midday. Keep an eye on the horse as it wanders around, and whichever grave is nearest the horse when it finally stops will be a vampire's grave. Potential revenants can be identified at birth, usually by some abnormality, some defect, as when a child is born with teeth. Children born with an extra nipple in Romania, with a lack of cartilage in the nose, or a split lower lip in Russia are suspect. When a child is born with a red caul, or amniotic membrane, covering its head, this was regarded throughout much of Europe as presumptive evidence that it is destined to return from the dead. Minor deformities were looked upon as evil omens at the time.

The vampire scare spread to western Europe. This led to academic speculations on the creatures, as well as vampire poems and paintings. It was these works that inspired an Irishman named Bram Stoker to write his own vampire novel, "Dracula."

Abraham (Bram) Stoker, a theater manager and part-time novelist, was not the first author to feature the vampire in a literary work, but his version is the one that really caught on. This is largely due to the novel's unforgettable villain, Count Dracula, as well as the foreboding setting. Stoker arrived at both elements through extensive research. He set much of the action in the mysterious mountains of the Transylvania province of Romania, and he based his vampires on eastern European and gypsy folklore.

Selectively sampling from several versions of the vampire myth and adding some details of his own, Stoker formed the standard for the modern vampire. Unlike the vampires in the eastern European tradition, Stoker's monster loses power in the sunlight, is repelled by crucifixes and has acute intelligence. Interestingly, Stoker's vampires do not have reflections, while many earlier vampire creatures were fascinated by their own reflection.


Stoker's research also turned up a name for his villain, based on a real Dracula. Vlad Tepes’ father was known as Vlad Basarab (inducted into the Royal  Order of the Dragon, a branch of the Brotherhood of the Wolf). From then on, until his death, Vlad Basarab referred to himself as Vlad Dracul. Dracul is a Romanian word for “dragon,” but also means “devil.” The suffix “a” means “son of,” so when Vlad Dracul’s second son, also named Vlad, was born later that year in Sghisoara, he became Vlad Dracula, Son of the Dragon. More often he was called "Vlad Tepes," meaning "Vlad the Impaler." This was in reference to his predilection for impaling his enemies on long wooden stakes. This form of torture and punishment actually came about due to both him and his brother, Radu, captured as prisoners of the Turks, and were allowed to watch the Turks do this to their enemies.


The real Dracula had a reputation for unfathomable brutality (a reputation many Romanians claim is inaccurate, but then again, they believe him to be a hero, due to defeating the Turks), but there is not much evidence showing that people believed he was a vampire. Stoker's fictional villain is not closely modeled after the real Dracula, though they are sometimes linked in movies based on the book. Stoker borrowed the name, as well as his social standing, for his vampire. Unlike the wandering, homeless strigoi, Dracula was written as a wealthy count, hiding out in a grandiose castle.



In the 1927 play "Dracula," and the film adaptation that followed in 1931, Bela Lugosi embraced this aristocratic notion. Dracula's familiar outfit – black formal wear and a billowing black cape, also was introduced. In the novel "Dracula," the count is described as a withered, ugly old man, more like Max Shreck's portrayal in the 1922 silent film adaptation, "Nosferatu," than Lugosi's presentation. But the suave Dracula caught on, showing up in scores of vampire movies, television shows and cartoons, even to this day, besides the creepier “nosferatu” version (like in 30 Days of Night, Salem’s Lot, and I Am Legend)

The vampire continues to evolve over the years, as novelists and filmmakers reinterpret and expand the mythology. In Anne Rice's popular novels, she takes vampires to the next level, giving them a conscience and a range of emotions. In her work, vampires are not necessarily evil -- they are presented as real, rounded people. On the television show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," creator Joss Whedon has pursued similar ideas, exploring the idea of a vampire with a soul and if you remember, his soulless vamps were called demons, not unlike the Russian upir and the Greek vrykolakas



                        (Countess Elizabeth Bathory: said to have bathed in virgins' 
                                blood to keep her skin supple and young. She was a real person.)


Sunday, April 16, 2017

My Interview Tuesday, April 18th on Haunt Jaunts

I will be interviewed on a paranormal radio show, Haunt Jaunts, on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, at 7-8 p.m. CT, 8-9pm EST. You can learn more about the show at http://paramaniaradio.com/SHOW.php?showid=101 and listen to sheo live Tuesday at http://paramaniaradio.com/ . Afterwards, if anyone cannot listen to it live, it will be at OnDemand at http://paramaniaradio.com/On-Demand.php


From Haunt Jaunts: ParaMania Radio has a chat room.
The show encourages anyone o come hang out and ask questions and interact with the other listeners.
All you must do is show up to http://www.paramaniaradio.com/ to hear the show and participate in the chat room. Then they can log on as a guest or via Facebook and they’re good to go!
Use this link: http://www.paramaniaradio.com/chat/ during the show. (It’s “silent,” whereas the chat room from the main page plays the show which will cause feedback.)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Supernatural Friday: Write the End of the Supernatural Story



What would we humans do if suddenly another species that have been living among us suddenly decided it was time for them to inherit the Earth? This species may be shapeshifters, vampires, or even demons as our ancestors called them. Whatever they may be, what would we do? Our militaries would be called out, of course, but maybe these beings would destroy many of the soldiers and sailors. Then they would come after the humans. City by city, humans might be massacred and buildings end up empty and silent, except for the monsters. Armageddon would be the cry on our lips. What do you think those few surviving members of humanity do against these beings of supernatural strengths and magic? Tell me the ending of this paranormal story if you wrote it by leaving a comment.



comment..

Friday, April 07, 2017

Supernatural Friday: Eggs in a Basket Equals Easter Breakfast-Legends and Myths





Easter is a time of springtime festivals. In Christian countries, Easter is celebrated as the religious holiday, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God. But in actuality, Easter has many customs and legends that are pagan in origin and with nothing to do with Christianity.

The word, Easter is thought to come from the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Ostern" or "Eastre." Both are goddesses of mythology that signify spring and fertility. Festivals for them were celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox. Like the Easter Bunny.  The rabbit is a symbol originating with the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the hare or rabbit.

The date of Easter is determined by the moon—symbolism strongly tied to the hare. Ever since the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21st.

The Easter Bunny was introduced to American folklore by German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700s. "Oschter Haws" was considered "childhood's greatest pleasure," of course after a visit from Christ-Kindel on Christmas Eve. If children had been good, then the "Oschter Haws" would lay a nest of colored eggs. The children built their nest in a secluded place in the home, the barn or the garden. Boys used their caps and girls, their bonnets, to make the nests . The use of elaborate Easter baskets came much later as the tradition of the Easter bunny spread through out the country.

The Christian celebration of Easter embodies a number of traditions particularly due to the relationship of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach). Pasch, another name used by Europeans for Easter, is derived from Pesach.

A Spanish festival commemorates the resurrection of Easter with colorful fireworks and booming cannons. Judas images often are shot at by the soldiers. Greeks would buy Easter candles and colored eggs for Good Friday, and on Easter, served the traditional lamb for dinner. They sometimes would do solemn processions wound through the streets, carrying lighted candles and holy pictures. A Bavarian custom concerned fashioning of little crosses and they would set those up in the fields. They also did Easter parades along with children rolling Easter eggs downhill for fun. In Tyrol, musicians would tour every valley and sing Easter hymns. The villagers of villages they did this would join in, and after dark, light the way with torches.

Other legends connected to Easter:

Easter Bells These were rung in France and Italy throughout the year, but never rung on the Thursday before Good Friday. The silence of the bells had to do as remembrance of the death of Jesus. On Easter, they were rung  as a way of telling people Jesus lived again.


The Cross A symbol of Christian religion as Jesus was put on a cross, then was brought back to life.


The Easter Lily The lily was a reminder to the Christians of how Jesus came back to life.



Easter Flowers These being daffodils, narcissus and tulips. Because bloomed late in spring, they became meshed with Easter as symbols.



Pussy Willows Especially picked at Easter in England and Russia, people tapped each other on the shoulders with a branch of it for good luck.



Lambs A symbol for Jesus as the Good Shepherd who would watch over them as they were lambs.


Rabbits Rabbits are symbols of spring and new life (though I would consider lambs too, since born around this time), besides also the favorite animal of the spring goddess Eastre.




The Egg A sign of spring and Easter, they are a sign of new life. Interesting Fact: Back in the 19th century, families too far from town hall, took an egg and dye it, inscribing it with an infant's name and date of birth—making eggs into birth certificates. It was accepted as a legal document.



Chicks The chicks are born from eggs and are a reminder of spring and Easter.



Enjoy two tales that are legends to do with Easter, too. Unlike pagan ones, these are more Christian in relation.

Hot cross buns and other breads marked with an X symbolizing the cross are a tradition on many Easter tables. There are many kinds of sweet breads from all over the world, like Choreg (Armenia), Paska (Ukraine), Babka (Poland), Tsoureki (Greece). There is a traditional Italian Easter Bread that has eggs baked right in (talk about hiding the Easter eggs!). The breads are risen breads which may also show a desire for Easter traditions to be different from Passover which includes unleavened breads.

Legend of the Dogwood

An old and beautiful legend says at the time of the crucifixion, the dogwood was comparable in size to the oak tree and other monarchs of the forest. Its firmness and strength got it selected as the timber for the cross, but to be put to such a cruel use greatly distressed the tree. Crucified Jesus in his gentle pity for the sorrow and suffering of all said to it: "Because of your sorrow and pity for My sufferings, never again will the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. You will remain slender, bent, and twisted, and your blossoms in the form of a cross—two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints—brown with rust and stained with red. There will be crown of thorns in the center of the flower, remembrance for all who see this."


The Easter Lily

One of the most famous biblical references to the lily is the Sermon on the Mount, when Christ told his listeners: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

Often called the "white-robed apostles of hope," lilies are said to have been found growing in the garden of Gethsemane after Christ's agony. It is said these beautiful white flowers sprang up where drops of Christ's sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of sorrow and distress. Christian churches at Easter by filling their altars and surrounding their crosses with masses of Easter lilies, commemorating the Resurrection and hope of life everlasting.

The pure white lily has also long been closely associated with the Virgin Mary. In early paintings, the Angel Gabriel is seen holding out a branch of pure white lilies to her, announcing that she is to be the Mother of the Christ child. In other paintings, saints are pictured carrying vases full of white lilies that they give to Mary and the Infant Jesus.

Lilies had a significant presence in the paradise of Adam and Eve. Tradition says Eve left the Garden of Eden, shedding real tears of repentance, and from those remorseful tears sprang up lilies.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Supernatural Friday: Fool Me Once; Shame on You!




April Fools' Day has been also called All Fools' Day.  Its origins are uncertain, though some see it as a celebration related to the turn of the seasons, while others believe it stems from the adoption of a new calendar.

Ancient cultures that includes the Romans and Hindus, celebrated New Year's Day on or around April 1. It closely followed the vernal equinox (March 20th or March 21st.)

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar—the Gregorian calendar—to replace the old Julian calendar. The new calendar called for New Year's Day to be celebrated Jan. 1. Supposedly, many people either refused to accept the new date or did not learn about it, but continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April 1. Other people made fun of these traditionalists, and sent them on "fool's errands,” trying to trick them into believing something false. Eventually, playing jokes on April 1st spread throughout Europe.

Problem with this is it doesn't fully account for the spread of April Fools' Day to other European countries. The Gregorian calendar was not adopted by England until 1752, for example, but April Fools' Day was already well established there by that point. There’s also no direct historical evidence for this explanation, only conjecture made recently.

Another explanation of the origins of April Fools' Day was provided by Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University. He said that the practice began during the reign of Constantine, when a group of court jesters and fools told the Roman emperor that they could do a better job of running the empire. Constantine was amused by this and allowed a jester named Kugel to be king for one day. Kugel passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day, making it an annual event. Brought to the public's attention in an Associated Press article printed by many newspapers in 1983, there seemed to be one problem: Boskin made the whole thing up! It took a couple of weeks for the AP to realize that they'd been victims of an April Fools' joke.

Many different cultures have had days of foolishness around the start of April. The Romans had a festival named Hilaria on March 25, rejoicing in the resurrection of Attis. The Hindu calendar has Holi, and the Jewish calendar has Purim. The French call April 1 "Poisson d'Avril," or "April Fish," where French children might tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates and yell out "Poisson d'Avril" when the prank is discovered.


Monday, March 20, 2017

It's the First Day of Spring!



Most of us think of Spring in terms of flowers, grass needing mowing, birds chirping in the early morning, and warmer temperature, there’s more to it than that. It’s also about the equinox.

The word equinox is derived from the Latin words meaning “equal night.” There are two equinoxes every year – in March and September– when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal. Seasons are opposite on either side of the equator, so the equinox in March is also known as the "spring equinox" in the northern hemisphere. However, in the southern hemisphere, it's known as the "autumnal (fall) equinox". The Southern Hemisphere: (Australia, New Zealand, South America, Southern Africa). The Northern Hemisphere: (USA, Central America, Canada, Europe, Asia, northern Africa).

The spring and fall equinoxes are the only dates with equal daylight and dark as the Sun crosses the celestial equator—12 hours – all over the world. At the equinoxes, the tilt of Earth relative to the Sun is zero, which means that Earth’s axis neither points toward nor away from the Sun.

But, though accepted, it isn't entirely true. Equinoxes don't have exactly 12 hours of daylight though. On these two days, the geometric center of the sun is above the horizon for 12 hours, and one might think this would indicate that the length of the daylight would be the same. Sunrise is defined as the instant when the upper edge of the sun's disk becomes visible above the horizon – not when the center of the sun is visible. In the same sense, sunset refers to the moment the upper edge disappears below the horizon. At both instances, the center of the sun is below the horizon, and therefore the equinox day lasts a little longer than 12 hours. The Sun is visible longer than 12 hours on an equinox because the Earth's atmosphere refracts sunlight. Refraction causes the Sun’s upper edge to be visible from Earth several minutes before the edge reaches the horizon. In the evening, we can see the sun for several minutes after it has dipped under the horizon. This causes every day on Earth, and not just the equinoxes, to appear at least 6 minutes longer than it does.

The March equinox occurs the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator. It’s an imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north. This happens either on March 19, 20, or 21 every year. On any other day of the year, the Earth's axis tilts a little away from or towards the sun. But on the two equinoxes, the Earth's axis neither tilts away from nor towards the sun.

Equinoxes – along with solstices – have been celebrated in cultures all over the world for long as we have written history. One of the most famous ancient Spring equinox celebrations was the Mayan sacrificial ritual by the main pyramid in Chichen Itza, Mexico.

In the northern hemisphere, the March equinox marks the start of spring and has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth. Many cultures and religions celebrate or observe holidays and festivals around the March equinox, like the Easter and Passover. There is also some weird traditions connected to the Spring Equinox.

Such as:
An ancient Chinese belief says that you can stand an egg on its end on the first day of spring.
The theory goes that, due to the sun's equidistant position between the poles of the earth at the time of the equinox, special gravitational forces apply.
This is, of course, nonsense. But it does still make for a fun party game - and you can save your eggs to paint on Easter Day.
Holi is an ancient Hindu festival celebrating the victory of good over evil. It takes place each year around the time of the vernal equinox.
Known as the "festival of colors", it is celebrated by tossing vibrant coloured powders onto each other and dancing in the streets.
The symbolic plant of the equinox in Druidry is the trefoil or shamrock, which is also customarily worn on St. Patrick's Day.
The three leaves shaped like hearts were associated with the Triple Goddess of Celtic mythology, otherwise known as the "Three Morgans"
The shamrock is thought to be symbolic of the regenerative powers of nature.
The spring equinox is symbolic of rebirth, renewal, and growth, and in ancient Italy, it was traditional for women to plant seeds in the gardens of Adonis on this day.
The custom persists in Sicily, where women plant seeds of grains - lentils, fennel, lettuce or flowers - in baskets and pots.
When they sprout, the stalks are tied with red ribbons and the flowers are placed on graves on Good Friday, symbolising the triumph of life over death.
Many of the world's ancient monuments were built as astrological calendars, to map the movement of the Sun over the course of the year.
The equinox is therefore a great time to visit these monuments, as they are often aligned to make the most of the Sun's unique position in the sky.
At Stonehenge in Wiltshire, the sun can be seen rising precisely between two stones, while at Chichén Itzá in Mexico, the rising sun transforms one edge of the giant pyramid into a blazing serpent, representing the Mayan god Kukulcan.

What does spring mean to you. And how do you celebrate it?