Happy Birthday Hadrian

Busts of Hadrianus in Venice cropped.jpg

Roman Emperor Hadrian is probably best known for his walls and his beard.  He sits right in the middle of the good times as the 3rd of the five “good” emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

One of the reasons the emperors were considered good is because they chose good successors, not family.  On this measure Aurelius failed and the lot is reduced to four.

Hadrian was the second Spanish emperor after Trajan, he was born 24th January, 76 AD   in Italica, which is just outside modern day Seville in Spain.  I visted in the summer of 1978.  It was hot.  There was no shade and I am no daywalker.  Bring water – wear sunscreen and a hat!

After the expanision of the empire to its greatest extent by Trajan there was a period of consolidation by Hadrian – hence the walls.  The most famous of which spans northern England.  Less famous but equally impressive are the walls erected in Africa.

Hadrian is responsible for naming Palestine.  His reputation amongst the Jews is not very nice and his name in Jewish texts is often followed by “may his bones be crushed”.  This is because Hadrian put down the final Jewish uprising in the Province of Judea – the Bar Kokhba revolt.

If you look at it from Hadrian’s point of view it is clear that the Jews were a major problem and the empire had been fighting revolt after revolt since 66AD and the reign of Nero.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt was put down the Romans pulled down the fortifications from 50 Jewish cities, leaving their populations exposed to danger.  The Roman provinces of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were reformed and renamed as “Syria Palestina”.  This is seen as a calculated insult, to rename Jewish lands for their ancient enemies; the Philistines.

The Jews date the Diaspora from the end of the war with Hadrian, and it was the spread of the Jewish people accross the Roman Empire that led indirectly to the flowering of Christianity in the Empire.

Hadrian was also openly gay in the modern sense.  He loved all things Greek, earning him the nickname “The Greekling”.  This love extended to his boyfriend Antinous, a Bythinian Greek Youth who was deified by Hadrian when he drowned in the Nile on an Egyptian holiday (not joking).

The poem below is said to have been inspired by a poem of Emperor Hadrian: Animula, vagula, blandula.

Animula; by T.S. Eliot

‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul’
To a flat world of changing lights and noise,
to light, dark, dry or damp, chilly or warm;
moving between the legs of tables and of chairs,
rising or falling, grasping at kisses and toys,
advancing boldly, sudden to take alarm,
retreating to the corner of arm and knee,
eager to be reassured, taking pleasure
in the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree,
pleasure in the wind, the sunlight and the sea;
studies the sunlit pattern on the floor
and running stags around a silver tray;
confounds the actual and the fanciful,
content with playing-cards and kings and queens,
what the fairies do and what the servants say.
The heavy burden of the growing soul
perplexes and offends more, day by day;
week by week, offends and perplexes more
with the imperatives of ‘is and seems’
and may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
curl up the small soul in the window seat
behind the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Issues from the hand of time the simple soul
irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame,
unable to fare forward or retreat,
fearing the warm reality, the offered good,
denying the importunity of the blood,
shadow of its own shadows, spectre in its own gloom,
leaving disordered papers in a dusty room;
living first in the silence after the viaticum.

Pray for Guiterriez, avid of speed and power,
for Boudin, blown to pieces,
for this one who made a great fortune,
and that one who went his own way.
Pray for Floret, by the boarhound slain between the yew trees,
pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.

 

 

The long dark night.

Winter-Solstice-Stonehenge

Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

In 2019 December 22nd is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night.  Tonight the Sun dies and tomorrow it is reborn.

This is the night of Druantia, the white goddess, the Celtic tree goddess, the moon goddess, the triple goddess of Birth, Love and Death, the muse of the Celtic poets. Queen of the Druids, Wiccans and Neo-Pagans.  Virgin, drudge, whore, muse, hag and crone. Daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, fertile cornocopia or barren spinster.  She is the queen of the faeries and she is personified as a Wren.

In Celtic Druidic tradition the “Hunting of the Wren” was a ritual to see out the old and see in the new as the darkest day of winter passed.  The Christian Church in Ireland worked hard to eliminate the Celtic practice of Goddess Worship.  They made the wren into a traitor, who revealed the hiding place of St. Stephen who was then stoned to death.

 

To Juan at the Winter Solstice; by Robert Graves

There is one story and one story only
that will prove worth your telling,
whether as learned bard or gifted child;
to it all lines or lesser gauds belong
that startle with their shining
such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
or strange beasts that beset you,
of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
below the Boreal Crown,
prison to all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
from woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
the never altered circuit of his fate,
bringing twelve peers as witness
both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin’s silver beauty,
all fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
when, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
how many the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
whose coils contain the ocean,
into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
battles three days and nights,
to be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow if falling, winds roar hollowly,
the owl hoots from the elder,
fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses:
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
do not forget what flowers
the great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
but nothing promised that is not performed.

Imbolc Eve

imbolc

February 1st is St Bridgets Day in Ireland, celebrated by school children making St. Bridget’s crosses, like all good little catholic children do in Ireland.

Only it is a pagan celebration, a pagan symbol and a pagan goddess.  Brigid was an Irish Celtic Goddess long before the Christians came.  The “St. Bridget’s Cross” is in fact a pre-Christian pagan sun motif, celbrating the arrival of spring.  Brigid was a goddess of fertility.  Imbolc is the first cross quarter day of the Celtic calendar, lying halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Brigid had a sanctuary in County Kildare where an eternal flame was kept forever burning.  The sanctuary was surrounded by a hedge.  Any man who attempted to enter the precinct could not pass through the hedge without becoming confused, being driven mad, or dropping down dead.

Irish Celtic women never needed a feminist movement.  They were boss.

Brigid was also the Celtic goddess of smiths, healing, midwifery and poetry!

 

 

Dec 8th

This is the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  In the Irish School calendar it was a holy day which deserved a day off school.  As a result it became the traditional day for mothers to bring the kids to town to buy them their Christmas clothes.

In rural Ireland it is often known as the day you went up to Dublin (or nearest large town or city) to do the Christmas shopping.

In these days of online shopping it has lost some of its relevance.  The date retains its position in the Irish calendar as marking the start of Christmas activity.  For many people it is the day on which you buy your tree or put up your Christmas decorations.  Certainly most of the trees and all of the good ones will be gone by next Saturday.

What always confused me was the reason for the day off school.  If the “immaculate conception” only happened on Dec 8th then how in holy Halloween was Jesus born on Dec 25th.  Of course it is not Jesus who was immaculately conceived on Dec 8th, but rather his mother.

It is a really interesting facet of the Catholic Church that the Messiah could not be born into any old womb.  The Christian and subsequently the Catholic church is pretty much a men only club.  Anything that smacks of “women stuff” is tainted.  Wombs with their nasty habit of sloughing off their linings every month are especially filthy things.  Which presented a real difficulty given that Jesus had to be born of a woman.

They solved this problem by creating a magical mystical shield around the womb of Anne, mother of Mary.  Although she was conceived from regular dirty old physical sex Mary was nurtured in this sanctified magical mystery womb that was dreamed up by the dirty old gang of geezers who sat on whatever ecumenical council that cobbled together this particular fairy story.

This enabled Mary to become the pure vessel which could carry the birth of Jesus, who was magically implanted into her womb directly by God with no intervention by Joseph who happened to be married to Mary.

It took a lot of hard thought and debate by generations of dirty old geezers to effectively remove any trace of real woman stuff from involvement with the birth of Jesus.  You kind of have to ask……what were they so afraid of?

mary

An Irish Giant

Columbanus_at_Bobbio

Ireland is often called the ‘Isle of Saints and Scholars’.  The reason for this is Celtic Orthodoxy.  During the dark ages, and the 5th Century in particular, civil systems in Europe broke down.  The Roman Empire fragmented under the migrations of Goths, Vandals, Alans, Suebi, Burgundians, Franks, Huns, Lombards etc.  The Christian Church in the West lost cohesion and direction in this period.  Heresies flourished in the vacuum of central control.

Continental reformists tried to hold it together, the most famous being St Augustine (who resolved the Faith Vs Belief dichotomy and established the “City of God” as an ideal that could withstand the loss of place) and St Benedict (who gave the best known of the Monastic rules).  Benedict died in 543 AD, the year in which St Columbanus was born.

Columbanus is the monk who most represents what people mean when they talk of the isle of saints and scholars.  Columbanus brought Celtic Orthodoxy to Europe.  The Irish Monks began a pagan conversion mission with Germanic tribes that can be argued to have persisted in one form or another until the Eastern and Western Churches met in the Baltic States in the 14th Century Northern Crusades.

The story goes like this.  Christianity came to Ireland in the early 5th Century, when Europe was in turmoil.  A strong Celtic monastic tradition was founded and the monasteries were the dominant clerical force in Ireland.  The Irish Monasteries were insulated from the turmoil in Europe, and the invasions of pagan Angles, Saxons and Jutes experienced in England.  They acted as a reservoir for orthodox Christianity.  They also served as a well of education.  Nobles from all over Western Europe sent children to Irish Monasteries for an education in a safe environment.  Many of these children returned to their own lands as educated Christians.  They were a cohesive force for the development of Christian cooperation, and paved the way for the ascent of Christian kings in Europe such as Clovis and the Merovingian dynasty.

Arianism was more pervasive than Catholicism in the Frankish courts when Clovis came to power.  His alignment with Catholicism was controversial and may have lost him some military support.  Ultimately it gained him allies from non-Frankish races, such as the Britons and the remaining Gallo-Roman aristocracy.

Without Clovis we would not have had a unified Frankish kingdom in the West.  Without the Franks Charles Martell could not have risen to power.  The Armies of Islam could have smashed Europe unopposed in the 8th Century.  We would never have had Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire.  The Irish Monastic Education system was the little acorn from which the Holy Roman Empire grew.

From Ireland St Columba established missions to Britain from his Monastery in Iona in Scotland, seeking to convert the pagan Picts of Scotland and the Anglo-Saxon tribes of England.

At the same time St Columbanus took Irish missions to mainland Europe.   The significance of his mission might be suggested by the fact that he took 12 companions or ‘apostles’ with him.   Of these two Columbanus can be seen to have had the more significant effect on the wider stage.  In Europe he established Celtic monasteries in France and in Italy.  He challenged the emergence of heresies such as Arianism and Nestorianism.  In doing so he was criticizing Papal Authority, because he questioned why the Papacy was allowing the dilution of orthodoxy.  He established an Irish monastic tradition on the European mainland which demanded a response from Rome.

Many Celtic practices differed from those in Rome.  The rule of Columbanus was stricter than the rule of Benedict.  The tonsure was visibly different, the Celtic monks shaving the front of the head and the Romans shaving the crown.  The date of Easter was calculated differently also.  All of these things brought the Irish monks on a collision course with Rome.

Columbanus, by coincidence, was born in the year Benedict died, and died on this day in the year 615AD.   Over the following decades the Papacy rebuilt its influence and Roman practices replaced those of the Irish.  It was 50 years before the clash between the Celts and Rome was fully and finally resolved by the Synod of Whitby in the Jute Kingdom of Northumbria, in England.

The legend of Ireland, as an isle of Saints and Scholars, was attributable to actions that happened largely in a period of only 50 years but had impacts over thousands of years.