Sushi LVI

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Sevens are powerful.  Seven is the building block of the calendar, the week has seven days.

There were seven wonders of the ancient world.  The seventh son of a seventh son has the healing hands in Ireland, becomes a vampire in Romania.  Seven virtues and seven sins.  Highly effective people have seven habits.  Seven is the most significant number in the septet of Harry Potter books.

Multiple sevens birthdays are important and I celebrate one today.

My wife decided to make sushi for the first time ever and the result is delicious.  It is also extremely pretty.  I have never made sushi and I love it, and Louise is a vegetarian so on all levels I am impressed.  But then she is a great cook as my waistline can attest to.

Take more exercise you say!  I heard the best quote today “You can’t outrun a bad diet”.  Exercise is great for your heart, it reduces cancer risk, it reduces risk of dementia, it makes you feel good both physically and mentally, but the sad truth is it does almost nothing to make you lose weight.  The way to lose weight is eat less.

But today is my birthday and its my party, I’ll eat if I want to.

Now I remember this song so well.  It came out the year I was born.

Dublinvania

Bran_castle

Bran Castle in Transylania – Never a Vampire found.

Vampire hunters of the world where are you bound?  The soaring Carpathian mountains?  The forests of Transylvania?  The dark stretches of the Danube to the port of Varna?  Perhaps the dour English port of Whitby?  You are wasting your time.

If its vampires you want you will find them in Dublin.

The first appearence of a vampire in literature was the Lesbian Vamire Carmilla, the product of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a Dublin lad who wrote about the Evil immortal countess from a mysterious Eastern territory in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Her lust for blood is equal to her lust for pretty young girls.  Oh, the horror.  One of the short stories in his anthology “In a Glass Darkly” published in 1872 which is simply the greatest title for a book of horror stories.

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Some twenty five years later Dracula was published in 1897 by Bram Stoker rounding off the key elements of the canon of vampire lore, Van Helsing, Count Dracula, the demented human servant, the many brides of Dracula, wooden stakes, garlic, sacred weapons, lack of reflections and so on.

It is quite likely that Stokers imagination was fired by the stories of Sheridan Le Fanu.  While he never travelled to Eastern Europe himself it is known that in London he was friends with Ármin Vámbéry a hungarian Jew and fellow writer,  who regaled Stoker with tales of the Carpathians.

So from the pens of two Dublin writers of the late 19th Century we derive a body of vampire lore that has evolved into libraries of books, comics, graphic novels, films and television series.

Fangs for the memories guys.

Except…. it’s all lies.

There was Lord Byron with his poem The Giaour back in 1813

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
and suck the blood of all thy race;
there from thy daughter, sister, wife,
at midnight drain the stream of life;
yet loathe the banquet which perforce
must feed thy livid living corpse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
shall know the demon for their sire,
as cursing thee, thou cursing them,
thy flowers are withered on the stem.

Image result for the giaour

And then there was that night on Lake Geneva in 1816 during the year without a summer when Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and John William Polidori competed to write the scariest horror story.  The night that gave us Frankenstein from the pen of Mary Shelley.

Polidori wrote “The Vampyre”, and published it in 1819 in The New Monthly Magazine where the unscrupulous editor attributed it falsely to Lord Byron to up his sales.

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Happy Halloween Stephen Rea

Rea

Oooh, Scary!

Stephen Rea, Irish Actor, born on Halloween in 1946.

The photo above shows Stephen in the role of Santiago, the Joker of the Vampires of Paris from the film “Interview with the Vampire”

In 1795 the poet John Keats was also born on Halloween.  As a Romantic I’m sure it was a dark and stormy night, full of terrors and brooding portents.

The Eve of St. Agnes; by John Keats

St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
the hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
and silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
his rosary, and while his frosted breath,
like pious incense from a censer old,
seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

ARE YOU HOOKED:  Look up the full poem here

 

The Mummy’s Curse

Tutankhamun

November 26th, 1922 Lord Carnarvon asked Howard Carter “Can you see anything?” and Carter replied with those famous words; “Yes, Wonderful Things.”

The discovery of an almost intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings generated an explosion of interest through the media.  The press arrived in their droves to Luxor to visit the site.

“Almost Intact” refers to the fact that the tomb was burgled twice, shortly after it was sealed.  It is a small tomb, hurriedly constructed due to the early death of Tutankhamun.  The boy pharaoh ruled from the age of 9 to 19 and his short reign did not allow enough time for the construction of a magnificent tomb.

After being burgled the tomb was resealed by priests.  The entrance was then covered by stone chips either from a flood or the spill from the excavation of another tomb.  Later some workers houses were built on the site, completely sealing off the entrance.

As the other tombs in the valley were systematically plundered in antiquity the tomb of the boy king lay unspoiled, forgotten and pristine.

Egyptology became the must have fashion accessory of the 1920’s.  It made its way into art, furniture, design, clothing and entertainment.

Rumor abounded that Carter found a dreadful curse in the seals on the tomb entrance.  The first victim of the curse was Carters pet canary.  A messenger running to his home found a cobra in the cage of the deceased songbird.  This happened on the day the tomb was opened, and the Cobra is a well known symbol of divine authority in ancient Egypt.

When Lord Carnarvon died six weeks after the opening of the tomb, from an infected mosquito bite the media went into a frenzy.

Carter gave a gift of a mummified hand set in a paperweight to his friend Sir Bruce Ingram.  On the wrist was a bracelet inscribed with the text;  “Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence.”

Ingram’s house burned down and he rebuilt it.  Then it was destroyed by a flood.

Although skeptical of curses himself Howard Carter reported
that he saw jackals in the desert for the first time in his 35 years working there, of the same type as Anubis, Egyptian guardian of the dead.

 

The concept of the mummy’s curse rapidly became the stuff of book and film.  To this day the “Monster Mummy” remains firmly in the top rank of horror movie subjects along with the Werewolf, the Vampire and the Zombie.

In Memory of my Mother; by Patrick Kavanagh

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday –
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle – ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life –
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us – eternally.

Vampire Crusaders

Le Giaour by Vernet

Le Giaour by Vernet

On Dec 12th 1408 Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary, founded the Societas Draconistarum (Order of the Dragon) one of the most evocative of the Military Chivalric Orders of the middle ages.

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We are all familiar with the larger orders such as the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights. The smaller chivalric orders are less well known, but abounded all across Europe. Spain and Portugal had many orders, the best known being the Knights of Calatrava. The Baltic States had a number of orders in the Northern Crusdades against the Pagans, with the Livonian Sword Brothers playing second fiddle to the Teutonic order.

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Today we think of the Crusades as being particular to the holy land and nothing could be further from the truth. The Crusades represented a clash of cultures with Christian and Muslim states fighting for territory all across Europe.

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The Iberian peninsula was the Western theatre. The remnants of the Christian Vizigothic kingdoms fought for control against the Caliphate and then against Rif muslims such as the Almoravids and the Almohads. The Reconquista culminated in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella took the Kingdom of Granada and unified Spain under Christian rule.

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A second campaign was waged all across the mediterranean in places such as Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Malta, Crete, Cyprus, Rhodes etc to control the maritime trade routes. The key players on the Christian side were the Italian maritime states such as Genoa, Venice, Pisa, Amalfi, Ancona and Ragusa. The Ottoman fleet was the backbone of the muslim navies, but was ably supported by a variety of independent muslim rulers, traders and pirates. Two great battles signalled the ascent of Christian power; the Great Siege of Malta (1565) and the naval battle of Lepanto (1571). In both cases the Spanish Empire, freed of its own crusade, was able to contribute to Christian Victory.

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On the Eastern Front the Christians fared less well. After capturing Jerusalem in the first crusade they established four ‘crusader kingdoms’ collectively known as Outremer; the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli and the County of Edessa. They lost Edessa and Jerusalem to Saladin and then lost all the remaining land over the following years to Baybars, the Mameluke Sultan of Egypt. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, who then flowed into Europe and the Balkans.

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It was the Balkans that became the ‘front line’ of the crusades, the central theatre of the conflict. For Europe the most important single battle in the entire history of the Crusades was the Siege of Vienna in 1529. Under Sulieman the Magnificent the Ottoman Empire reached its high water mark. Had Vienna fallen then all of Eastern Europe could have become Muslim.

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It is in the context of this world that we understand the order of the Dragon, a knightly order for selected nobility who vowed to defend the Christian world against the Turks. As noble knights they were expected to act as the leaders in the defence of Christian lands. It had members in Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary and all across the Balkans. One of the more noted members of the order was Vlad II Dracul. The nickname ‘dracul’ was adopted when he was inducted into the order and means ‘Vlad the Dragon’.

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After the assassination of Vlad Dracul his eldest son, Mircea, was blinded and buried alive. From the confusion that followed arose Vlad III who took a diminutive form of his father’s nickname and called himself ‘Dracula’. He was better known by his people as ‘Tepes’ or The Impaler, for his habit of impaling his muslim enemies. Dracula earned great fame and loyalty from the Romanians of Transylvania for his defence against the Turks.

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Many years later, in the 1890’s Bram Stoker visited the town of Whitby in Yorkshire and was inspired by the gothic nature of the town to write a novel. A Dublin man, Stoker had taken a job as manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London. This gave him access to literary circles where he met Armin Vambery, a Hungarian Jew, traveler and author who was an expert on Ottoman Orientalism. It is undoubtedly from Vambery that Stoker learned of Dracula, and framed the central character of his famous novel. In many portrayals of the story the character of Armin Vambery serves as a model for Van Helsing.

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The Giaour ; by Lord Byron

. . . Unquenched, unquenchable,
Around, within, thy heart shall dwell;
Nor ear can hear nor tongue can tell
The tortures of that inward hell!
But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
But one that for thy crime must fall,
The youngest, most beloved of all,
Shall bless thee with a father’s name —
That word shall wrap thy heart in flame!
Yet must thou end thy task, and mark
Her cheek’s last tinge, her eye’s last spark,
And the last glassy glance must view
Which freezes o’er its lifeless blue;
Then with unhallowed hand shalt tear
The tresses of her yellow hair,
Of which in life a lock when shorn
Affection’s fondest pledge was worn,
But now is borne away by thee,
Memorial of thine agony!

Happy Hallowe’en.

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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.