Happy Hallowe’en.

Image

Today is Hallowe’en.  This is one of the few failed cases of a pagan festival being hijacked by the Catholic Church.  The word “Catholic” means “all encompassing”.  If you have catholic tastes in reading it means you will read anything.  The Catholic church “encompassed” elements of pagan religions, and overlaid the pagan holidays and high-days with a similar Christian rite.  Mid-winter solstice became Christmas – the birth of the Christ.  Beltaine/ Oester, the spring fertility festivals, became Easter, birth replaced by re-birth.   Imbolc became St Brigets day, replacing a Celtic goddess with a Christian saint.

Samhain was the biggest of the Celtic Cross-Quarter days.  The Celts celebrated 8 significant dates – the Solstices, the Equinoxes, and the 4 cross-quarter days that lie between (Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasa & Samhain).  There were three harvest festivals in the Celtic calendar.

Lughnasa (the grain harvest) is a cross-quarter day, and traditionally bonfire night – now celebrated as St Johns Night in many rural areas.

Fomhair is the harvest of fruits and nuts, and aligns with the autumn equinox.

Samhain is the blood harvest.  The Celtic farmers had to choose the animals that would overwinter and be fed.  The other animals had to be slaughtered and the meat preserved.  Any meat that could not be preserved would be feasted upon as fresh meat.  So it was a huge celebration of eating.  People who were too poor to eat meat at any other time of year were bound to get something.

Because of the number of animals slaughtered villages were awash with blood and guts.  Hence the link between hallowe’en and things bloody like vampires, zombies or werewolves.  The Celts believed that so much blood attracted the souls of the dead, and this was a time when the boundary between life and death was thin.  You could commune with the dead.  Hence the association of Hallowe’en with Ghosts and Ghouls.

Finally, in the Celtic Pagan Calendar, this was the celebration of the New Year, the biggest feast day of the year.  They marked the year end by the success of the harvest, at a time of plenty and excess.  To this day children celebrate Hallowe’en by eating as much as they can possibly eat, of all the things they really love.  It is a day when adults step back and permit kids to eat all the “bad stuff”.

The Christians tried to take over Hallowe’en by tying into the element associated with the dead, and created “all hallows eve”, the night before the celebration of “all souls day”.  But they failed miserably.  The Samhain festival was too multi-layered for the Christians to subsume.  All they managed to claim was the name itself.

Puritans in England were more successful.  They cracked down on all pagan style dancing and drinking and celebrating in the 17th century.  When Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament in 1605 in the Gunpowder Plot, he became a perfect distraction from Samhain.  The puritans converted the pagan feast into a bonfire immolation of effigies of the Catholic plotter.  They harnessed public outrage to kill off Hallowe’en and replace it with “Bonfire Night”.  Only in recent years is Hallowe’en making a comeback in England.

Mass immigration of Irish and Scottish to the USA in the 19th century brought the festival to the new world.  There it was commercialised, re-branded and sold back to Europe as an American holiday.

Here I give you a poem that gives a flavour of the dualism of Irish belief, a heady mix of the pagan and the Christian, with a strong fixation on ownership of land and kine.

The Banshee; by Alice Guerin Crist

As we came down the old boreen,
Rose and I – Rose and I,
At vesper time on Sunday e’en,
We heard a banshee cry!
Beyond the churchyard dim and dark,
‘Neath whispering elms, and yew-trees stark,
Where our star shone-a corpse-like spark-
Against the wintry sky.

We heard and shuddered sick with dread,
Rose and I- Rose and I,
As the shrill keening rang o’erhead
Where cloud-wrack floated high.
Our two young hearts long, sorely tried,
By poverty and love denied
Still waiting for some favouring tide,
And now! Death come so nigh.

‘Which of us two is called away
You or I-You or I?”
I heard my patient poor love say,
With bitter plaintive sigh.
‘Neither, dear girl,” I bravely said,
‘To Mary Mother bow your head,
And cry for help to Her instead,
Nor heed the Banshee’s cry’.

We raised our hearts in fervent prayer,
Rose and I-Rose and I,
Nor knew our troubles ended there,
Our happiness came nigh.
For ‘twas the grim old farmer, he-
My only kin, rich, miserly,
Who, dying left his wealth to me-
For whom the banshee cried.

Sea Change

STELLAN SKARSGRD

A sea-change refers to a gradual transformation process wherein the form is retained but the substance is changed.  It is a slow and gradual process.  Fossilization is a good example.  As the organic material decays away it is replaced gradually by inert silicates which take on the original form.  As a result petrified wood looks remarkably like wood, complete with cell structures, but made of stone instead of carbonaceous matter.

In character terms a sea-change might represent the transformation of a person in response to events.  Walter White in Breaking Bad comes to mind (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it).  His is a transformation from an ethical and impotent person to an amoral mover and shaker.  In fiction we usually see a sea change operate in the opposite way, as the flawed and weak character is transformed by events into a redeemed and sympathetic hero.  Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Jack Sommersby in the eponymous film or Christina Applegate’s character in Samantha Who?

A U-turn is a turn by a vehicle which completely reverses the direction of travel.  In politics in Britain & Ireland the term is used to refer to a reversal of a previous position.  In the USA it is called a Flip Flop, and in the antipodes it is called a backflip.  Whatever you call it the connotation is negative.  Politicians hate to be caught making a u-turn on policy to save a vote, a seat or an election, but it happens all the time.

So in Ireland the politicians have taken a leaf out of Shakespeare and have replaced the U-turn with the Sea-change.  Being cynical I guess if it is a U or a C that you inscribe you have reversed your direction in either case.  The intention amongst politicians is to dress up a position change as a positive thing.  But the metaphor is a nonsense.  The changes tend to happen in a very short time frame, so they are u-turns, not sea changes.  A political sea change might be a gradual emphasis shift from job creation to environmental improvement.  As a population matures the pressures on education systems ease and the pressures on health systems increase.  These kind of societal evolutions are sea-change issues for politicians through their career.  If you support asylum seekers this week and you cut funding for asylum seekers next week, that is a u-turn.

Ariel’s Song (from The Tempest) by William Shakespeare

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Curtsied when you have, and kiss’d
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
Hark, hark!
Bow-wow.
The watch-dogs bark.
Bow-wow.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, Cock-a-diddle-dow.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.

Full Fathom Five: by Sylvia Plath

Old man, you surface seldom.
Then you come in with the tide’s coming
When seas wash cold, foam-
Capped: white hair, white beard, far-flung,
A dragnet, rising, falling, as waves
Crest and trough. Miles long
Extend the radial sheaves
Of your spread hair, in which wrinkling skeins
Knotted, caught, survives
The old myth of orgins
Unimaginable. You float near
As kneeled ice-mountains
Of the north, to be steered clear
Of, not fathomed. All obscurity
Starts with a danger:
Your dangers are many. I
Cannot look much but your form suffers
Some strange injury
And seems to die: so vapors
Ravel to clearness on the dawn sea.
The muddy rumors
Of your burial move me
To half-believe: your reappearance
Proves rumors shallow,
For the archaic trenched lines
Of your grained face shed time in runnels:
Ages beat like rains
On the unbeaten channels
Of the ocean. Such sage humor and
Durance are whirlpools
To make away with the ground-
Work of the earth and the sky’s ridgepole.
Waist down, you may wind
One labyrinthine tangle
To root deep among knuckles, shinbones,
Skulls. Inscrutable,
Below shoulders not once
Seen by any man who kept his head,
You defy questions;
You defy godhood.
I walk dry on your kingdom’s border
Exiled to no good.
Your shelled bed I remember.
Father, this thick air is murderous.
I would breathe water.

Slooterdijck

Image

Aemilia (1631) Galleon of Dutch East India Company

This rude looking word is the name of a Dutch town.  It gets its name from a dike (dijck) built on the river Sloter or Slooter, to prevent flooding from the Zuider Zee.

In the 17th Century the name was adopted for one of the 9 Dutch Galleons which fought the Ming navy for control of the Taiwan strait back in 1633.  The Dutch lost.  Three galleons were sunk and Slooterdijck was boarded and captured by the Chinese.

Slooterdijck was notable because she was a “Kit Ship”, essentially a Flat Pack vessel that was shipped out from Holland and assembled in the Indies.

The Galleon was a development from two earlier ships of exploration.  The Caravel was a small, lateen rigged, shallow draught ship (think of the Niña & Pinta of Columbus).  The Carrack or Nao (Santa Maria for instance) was a larger, square sailed, less stable and unwieldy ship more suited for cargo.  The Galleon combined the best of both.  By lengthening the keel and lowering the forecastle the Portuguese developed a faster and more stable ocean going ship.  Smaller and more maneuverable than the Carrack, the Galleon rapidly developed a reputation as an effective all-rounder for exploration, trade and battle.  Big enough to carry significant armament and stable enough to fight, it became the battleship of its day.

From the mid 16th century Galleons were adopted by Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch and English fleets.  They remained in service until they were replaced by more specialised vessels in the 18th Century. Hence, the Galleon ruled the waves for 150 years more or less.  Though the early voyages of discovery were made in Naos or Carracks the great sea empires were built by the Galleon.

As time went by galleons developed for more specialised roles.  Some became larger and more suited to cargo carrying, and evolved into the East Indiamen.  Others were strengthened and became specialised military ships of the line.  Razed galleons were cut lower and lower to the waterline for increased speed and stability and evolved into frigates.

The reasons for these evolutions have more to do with the guns than with the Galleons themselves.  The primary ship to ship battle tactic of the Galleon was boarding.  The guns on board were slow to load and fire.  During the battles of the Spanish Armada it is calculated that each Spanish Gun fired on average only once per day.  By contrast the smaller English ships and their lighter guns could fire once per hour.

As gun technology advanced the gunners designed specialised trucks to carry shipboard guns, which the gun team could haul inboard for reloading, and push outboard for firing.  As the rate of fire increased ship to ship actions developed more into shooting matches than boarding actions.  This culminated in the invention of the broadside, firing of all guns simultaneously to disable an enemy both physically and mentally.

By the Napoleonic wars the Royal Navy had given up on the idea of firing accuracy in favour of reloading speed.  While the French and Spanish ships wasted their effort targeting the masts of British ships to disable them for capture, the British concentrated on closing up to bring the full impact of the broadside to bear.  Once beside their foe the British ship had the advantage of a higher rate of fire.  Even with smaller guns that was often enough to carry the day.

In a gun to gun action the high fore and stern castles of the Galleons, so useful for boarding,  became a liability.  They presented larger targets and made the ship more susceptible to cross winds than a lower vessel.

The only surviving original galleon is the Vasa in Stockholm which sank in 1628 all of 1,400 yards into her maiden voyage, in full view of her audience.  In an incident similar to the sinking of that other famous preserved wreck, the Carrack Mary Rose, it seems she had her lower gun ports open to fire a salute.  A gust of wind caught her by surprise and the gun-ports dipped below the waterline, flooding the ship.

If you have read this far, well done you salty old sea dog.  You are clearly a lover of all things nautical.  So here is another treat for you.

Psalm 107:23 (KJ V)

 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.

They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.

 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.

Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.

He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.

To Victory

image

The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838; J.M.W. Turner

October 21st is the anniversary of Trafalgar. These days it is difficult to conceptualise how significant a battle it was.  History permits us the luxury of looking back through time to find the root of a significant outcome. From the battle of Trafalgar (1805) until the battle of Jutland in 1916 (and some would claim another couple of decades) the British Navy literally ruled the waves. The sun did not set on the British Empire because of the power of the British Navy. This gave the British a mastery over world trade that allowed them considerable wealth for 100 years.

The British naval policy in this period was to have a naval strength greater than the combined fleets of the second and third largest forces. The Royal Navy, ever England’s bulwark against the world, and the “senior service”. A naval commission has always carried far more prestige in Britain than one in the army. Trafalgar was also a day of national mourning, with the loss of Lord Nelson, hero of the Nile and Copenhagen and the darling of the British public. Nelson was a living legend in his own lifetime, and the regency version of a rock star. One armed, one eyed, a small man with a high squeaky voice, women swooned wherever he passed.

The painting above, “The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up” is considered by many to be the requiem for the days of sail. The glorious Téméraire followed HMS Victory into battle at Trafalgar. When Victory was in trouble this plucky second rate ship of the line stepped in to rescue her, and finished the day with two captured Frenchmen to her name. (Such anthropomorphism!)

Turner captures the Swan Song of the great ship. Stripped down, we see a hint of her former glory in the fully rigged ship in the background. Téméraire is towed by a steam tug, belching sulphurous black smoke. With this powerful image we see the passing of a golden age of romance and chivalry and the blue skies of the left of the painting. It is replaced with the arrival of technological progress, inevitable, inexorable and dirty as seen on the right of the painting. It brings to mind the the dark satanic mills of William Blake in the poem now better known as the Hymn “Jerusalem”.

And did those feet in ancient time.

Walk upon Englands mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;

Bring me my Arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In Englands green & pleasant Land

Budget Baby

budget2014

Today the Irish Government announces the budget for 2014.  This is the one that is supposed to free us from “the clutches” of the Troika.  What a joke!  Not so long ago those “clutches” were “helpful hands”, perhaps even “comforting arms”.  Beware the pejorative language of politicians and journalists.  Beware pejorative language in general.  When someone couches a noun with an adjective ask why did they use that adjective?

Language aside, the government is making an attempt to step out of the controls that the Troika insist upon in exchange for financial surety.  This is not to say that the government can have a party, blow money and spend like it is 2005.  I wonder if the Irish Government is being sensible about this.  As long as you are under Troika control you can deflect negative sentiment away from yourselves.  As soon as the Troika is out of the picture the full weight of economic angst will fall squarely on the government parties.

Have we reached an end to recession?  Can the Irish government count on an upward trajectory in the coming years.  If the situation in the USA continues then I would say no!  Until the US financial crisis is settled the global economy hovers on the brink of another collapse.  Political brinkmanship by the Republican Party in the USA is a threat to the world.

What is most interesting is to hear the Chinese premier state that the world needs to move away from the US economic model.  Perhaps he is right.  The US model seems to be broken.  Perhaps a society driven by oligarchic capitalists, unmitigated greed and founded on debt funded rampant consumerism doesn’t work after all.

A radical idea, but one that has been around for a while:  http://vimeo.com/60345640

My first Grand-Nephew was born yesterday to my niece Eavan.  What world will he face?  When he is 50, in 2063 I will be 100 years old, if I am still alive.  He will hopefully be paterfamilias of his own clan.  Will he look back fondly at us and the legacy we have left for him?  Or will he spit on the generation who mortgaged his future so that we could have oak flooring, a newer car and an iPhone?

Infant Joy’ by William Blake

“I have no name;
I am but two days old.”
What shall I call thee?
“I happy am,
Joy is my name.”
Sweet joy befall thee!
Pretty joy!
Sweet joy, but two days old.
Sweet Joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while;
Sweet joy befall thee!

Image

Happy Thanksgiving

Image

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving.  My brother Rory is Canadian, and he is over in Ireland at present, so he is having a family get together.  Rory is the boy on far left of the photo.  I am the one beside him with my back to the camera.  My two oldest brothers are missing from the photo.  I am guessing that one of them took this.

It is a great photo for capturing the zeitgeist.  Clearly back in those days Batman was popular.  Imagine that!

If you saw a picnic today, would you see five kids drinking cups of tea?  Note the Primus stove against the wall with the kettle on it.  The kettle was a fundamental requirement of a picnic in those days.  No coke or sodas, and strangely enough, no overweight people.

We are all sitting on a rubberised groundsheet.  In those days people worried about damp the way we now worry about bird flu and Al Quaeda terrorists.  Damp was the enemy.  You did not sit on damp ground.  You did not wear damp clothes.  Laundry regimes ensured that clothes were dried, folded and stored in a hot press to drive out any residual molecules of moisture before the clothes were worn.

My sister Deirdre (far right) has one trouser leg riding up and one held down with a strap.  Remember when girls slacks had hoops that went around the foot?  They stretched the fabric to keep it sheer.  Do they do that anymore?

This was taken in Skerries, a seaside and Fishing village in North County Dublin.  The Quinn Family (Fergal Quinn of Superquinn fame) used to run the Red Island holiday resort there at the time.  The pink paint on the bench looks funny.  Nowadays it is all blues and greens for seaside furniture.  It’s like somebody wrote a manual of approved furniture paints for seaside applications.  If they painted promenade benches pink today there would probably be complaints from the “concerned public”.  Too racy by far.

Trying to put a date on this.  I am guessing it is the summer of ’69.  That would make me 5 and Batman (Cormac) 3.  He looks about 3.  But he could be 4, so it could be 1970.

My sister Síle (black hair) believed she was adopted.  I wonder why?  For info, the two missing older boys also have red hair.

Note that despite the glorious sunshine and a clear blue sky, there is an umbrella hooked on the back of the bench.  Well, it is Ireland after all.  It never rains on those with umbrellas!

Today also happens to be my mothers birthday, so the thanksgiving is also a birthday celebration.  Sadly I will miss it in person, but thanks to the wonders of Skype I hope to attend in spirit.  Happy 86th Maura.  Here is the poem that I always associate with my mom.  She learned it for her Diploma in Speech and Drama and I have vivid memories of arriving home for lunch from school, to hear her reciting it.  And I remember that my lunch was not ready.  Imagine, a parent having a life!   The indignity.

Stony Grey Soil ; by Patrick Kavanagh

O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick-tongued mumble.

You told me the plough was immortal!
O green-life-conquering plough!
Your mandril strained, your coulter blunted
In the smooth lea-field of my brow.

You sang on steaming dunghills
A song of coward’s brood,
You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch,
You fed me on swinish food.

You flung a ditch on my vision
Of beauty, love and truth.
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
You burgled my bank of youth!

Lost the long hours of pleasure
All the women that love young men.
O can I still stroke the monster’s back
Or write with unpoisened pen

His name in these lonely verses
Or mention the dark fields where
The first gay flight of my lyric
Got caught in a peasant’s prayer.

Mullahinsha, Drummeril, Black Shanco –
Wherever I turn I see
In the stony grey soil of Monaghan
Dead loves that were born for me.

You are your house

Image

I live in the countryside.  I love it there.  I love going to the City.  Usually it is Dublin City, a great city.  But where I spend most of my waking hours at present is in the limbo that lies between.   The soulless non-residential, half vacant wilderness that teeters on the M50.  The developers call it “Park West”.  It is neither a park, nor in the West, in the real sense of that word.

I am a great believer in the theory that physical well-being is strongly influenced by surroundings.  Church architects have long experience of this.

Catholic Church architects build churches as a celebration of the glory of God.  The theory being that the house of God should be a suitable vessel for God.  God’s house should be furnished better than the house of any Lord or Merchant.  Within the house of God there are touch points where you can talk to someone who can intercede with God on your behalf.  So there are side chapels dedicated to saints, altars, shrines, statues, votive candles etc.

Protestant church architects adopt a very different approach.  The more fundamentalist the church is the plainer is the chapel.  Bare boards bereft of ornament.  At its purest a blank space in which you can concentrate on a single goal, the contemplation of the Lord.

Farming community churches display sheaves of wheat, flocks and fruits, the cycles of ploughing, sowing, harvesting and flailing.  Farmers also like to hedge their bets, because they depend so fundamentally on nature to deliver a crop.  Farming churches are far more likely to incorporate elements of pre-Christian pagan fertility symbology.

The office space of a company tells you a huge amount about the values of the company and the way it operates.  If there are lots of offices you can expect a very hierarchical reporting structure.  Open plan offices tend to have a flatter structure, but don’t be fooled by an open plan floor that hides closed offices along one wall, or upstairs on the next floor.  The most collaborative companies tend to have multi-functional spaces where people flow in and out, join for a while and separate to corners for privacy.  They look more like restaurants than offices.

Houses also tell you about people.  So what does your house say about you?  Do you mind if your house is disordered as long as it is clean?  Are you happy to live in filth?  Are you an obsessive compulsive cleaner and organiser?  Does your house look more like an art gallery, or like a lumber room?  Do you like Zen-like clean space, or do you like to surround yourself with lots of beautiful, personal objects that remind you of people and incidents in your life?

If you cut out pictures of rooms that you like from Home Design magazines, and make a collage of them, what does your preferred home design look like?  Now, what does this say about you as a person?

Do you have a house that looks like an architect’s wet dream, all clear pure planes, light and space, a hymn to form, function and material integrity?  Do you live your life so others can look in and admire your style?  Are you prepared to wear clothes that are uncomfortable as long as they make you look stunningly good?

Or is your house like a comfortable womb?  A warm, cosy, personal space, for you and your close ones.  Somewhere you can retreat into away from prying eyes, out of the world.

Perhaps your home is a fortress, a castle, a refuge from the dangers of the world.

Or it could be a functional living space, an emotionless dorm where you perform needed functions of eating, sleeping, bathing etc until you can re-enter your real life.

Is the home you live in your creation?  Are you living in someone else’s dream?  How comfortable are you with that?  Is the compromise worth it?  Are you trying to change the other people you live with to live in the way that makes you happy?

Of course the Chinese have an entire science built around these questions.  Feng Shui.

Finally, how do you picture the landscape of the Jaberwocky?

Jaberwocky; by Lewis Carroll

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!’

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought —

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood a while in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

‘And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’

He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

Image