Here We Come A-Wassailing; The Roots of a Christmas Tradition

It’s not Christmas without Christmas carols.  Many of our most traditional carols are filled with lyrics and lines that leave the modern caroler bewildered.  One of my favorite holiday tunes is “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” also commonly known as “Here We Come A-Caroling.”  Just what is wassailing?  Is it just an archaic word for Christmas caroling?  Actually no, it isn’t.  While the two terms have become generally accepted as interchangeable, caroling is just one aspect of a much deeper and more profound tradition of wassailing.

wassail

Wassail is also a common name for a variety of mulled or spiced beverages such as apple cider, served hot and traditional during the winter months, especially at Christmastime.  In medieval England wassail was a common fermented drink, a type of ale, or mead, served with bread or toast and consumed ceremonially and socially like beer or wine in modern society.  Typical ingredients of wassail included sweetened apple cider, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.  Modern popular varieties may use a fruit juice, ale, or wine as a base, sometimes spiked with liquor.  Originating in England, wassail was traditionally used as a beverage for making important ceremonial toasts, a ritual closely related to the sumble.  The word itself is derived from the Middle English term waes hael, which means “good health to you.”  Similarly it corresponds to the Old English “wes hal,” and the Old Norse “ves heill.”

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In ancient Europe, wassailing was an important element in the highly tree oriented Anglo-Saxon religious complex.  The Yuletide rite consisted of a parade of revelers singing hymns and playing their drums and other musical instruments, roving between the orchards, leaving offerings and pouring libations.  The ceremony was intended to awaken the apple trees and chase away malevolent spirits in order that the trees should be healthy and produce an abundant crop the following year.  Hot mulled cider, prepared from the recent harvest was the traditional and symbolic drink consumed and offered at these ceremonies.

During the medieval period, under feudalism the wassail developed into a midwinter ritual in which the wealthy Lord would distribute goods from his storehouses to the peasants who worked his lands.  In exchange for gifts of his best foods, beers, ales, and wines, the Lord could be assured his people’s allegiance and fealty for the next year.  During the late sixteenth century, bands of young men would travel from orchard to orchard on Twelfth Night, performing the wassailing rite.  They would take their wassail bowl with them and leave offerings of bread or toast on the roots or branches of trees.  Libations of cider were poured on the roots in order that the trees would produce an abundant harvest the following year.  Wassailing cups and bowls were important communal ceremonial items used within all levels or society.  Wassail vessels came in many varieties from the large and intricately decorated silver goblet used by the Worshipful Company of Grocers guild, to the simple white maple bowls used by commoners.

santa-Wassail

During the later historical era wassailing became associated with roving bands of the poor who would descend upon their wealthy neighbors’ homes at Christmastime.  Singing and dancing, they wassailers would demand entrance into the house, and shares of the residents’ best liquors and deserts.  This rite is forever enshrined in the words to the popular carol We Wish You a Merry Christmas; “Now give us some figgy pudding,” and “we won’t go until we get some!”  The estate’s owner was fully expected to play along and contribute to the “good cheer.”  If he didn’t, he could expect his reputation to plummet and possibly his property vandalized.  The old Yuletide holiday was celebrated in a fashion more similar to Halloween and trick-or-treat than to our modern Christmas. This drunken disorderliness is one of the reasons used to outlaw Christmas celebrations by the newly empowered puritans in the Commonwealth of England during the mid seventeenth century.  Over the past few centuries, the roving gangs of wassailers have become tamed into the serene image of the Christmas caroler singing from door to door in the white winter weather, sipping on hot apple-cider.  The hooligan shaking down the neighborhood for treats has been reserved for Halloween.

Wassailing in the old way however, is still practiced especially in the cider-producing western counties of England.   In Carhamptona and Whimple, Wassails are held on Twelfth Night, January 17th*, as a means of asking God to bless the community with a healthy orchard and a plentiful apple harvest.  A Wassail king and, queen are selected to lead a procession from orchard to orchard as the participants sing and play music.  During this rite, the wassailers drink large droughts of cider until they are quite full of good cheer. Upon entering an orchard the participants form a circle around the largest apple tree.  The Wassail queen is lifted into the branches where she leaves a piece of toast dipped in wassail as an offering to the “tree faeries,” or the “good spirits,” commonly represented by the local robins.  A blessing to the tree is recited and near the conclusion of the ceremony a man fires a shotgun in the air to frighten away the evil spirits.  Then the revelers begin beating drums, some using pots and pans while singing a traditional invocation for a rich harvest before proceeding to the next orchard.  A popular wassailing song from nineteenth century Somerset County, England went as follows;

 

“Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,

Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,

Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills,

Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah, Holler biys, holler hurrah.”[5]

 

Another old lyric from England says;

 

“Wassaile the trees, that they may beare

You many a Plum and many a Peare,

For more or lesse fruits they will bring,

As you do give them Wassailing.”

 

Our modern tradition of wassailing has taken an intriguing path on its way to us.   Now we can make a little more sense out of the opening lines of that old favorite at Christmastime.  “Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,” is reminiscent of the old ritual of visiting the orchards, singing to the health of the apple trees to ensure the following year’s harvest.

“Love and Joy come to you,

and to you your wassail too,

And God bless you and send you a happy new year.”

* The date of Twelfth Night is in dispute in certain parts of Britain.  The date on the Gregorian calendar corresponds to January 6th, or the eve of January 5th.  The pre-Gregorian, Julian date which is followed by the old traditionalists falls on January 17th.

Eight Christmas Characters Most Americans Don’t Know

To most Americans Santa Claus is the face of the Christmas season popularized most heavily by the poem T’was the Night before Christmas which essentially codified the Santa tradition in the United States.  Based heavily off of the earlier European models like Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Old Man Winter, and of course St. Nicolas, the poem took these old world variations and developed the jolly old elf we know and love today, complete with his sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.  Rudolf would have to wait until much later to be introduced into the mythology.  But throughout Europe there is a broad range of Christmas characters less familiar to Americans, who reveal the richness of this holiday tradition.  Here are eight Christmas characters most Americans don’t know.

 

1) Yule Lads

In Iceland, 13 mischievous Yule Lads start coming to town one a day beginning thirteen days before Christmas, each one staying for two weeks.  They appear to be quite troublesome spirits, partaking in all sorts of impish behavior, robbing, pulling pranks on, and generally harassing the townspeople.  Each of the thirteen Yule Lads or Yulemen have rather unique names that express the character of their misdeeds such as Meat-Hook, Window-Peeper, and Sausage-Swiper.

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2) Christkind

Christkind is the Christ child, or the baby Jesus.  While Christmas is commonly celebrated as the birth of Christ, He is typically not thought of as the Christmas gift-giver in the United States.  In several Eastern European and Latin American countries this little Jesus comes secretly and leaves presents for the children set up around the Christmas tree. Christkind was popularized by Martin Luther during the Protestant Reformation as a reaction against the overly Catholic symbol of St. Nicolas.  He is usually depicted as an angelic child complete with wings.  The name Christkind has been suggested as the origin of Kris Cringle, one of Santa Claus’ many names.

3) Knecht Ruprecht

In German folklore the Servant Rupert, is a companion of Sinterklaas.  He is depicted as a man with a long beard, dressed in fur, covered in soot, carrying a walking staff and a sack of ashes with jingle-bells hanging from his clothes.  He is sometimes in the company of fairies and men with blackened skin dressed as old women.  When he arrives, he asks the children if they know how to pray.  Those children who can are rewarded with fruits, nuts and cookies.  Those children who cannot pray, he beats with his sack of ashes.  In the shoes of naughty children he places lumps of coal, rocks, or switches for their parents to use in spanking them.

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4) Befana

To Americans witches are associated with Halloween and are the furthest things from our minds during the season of cheer and good will.  That’s not the case in Italy where the Befana is the popular symbol of the Christmas season.  Befana is an old woman who brings presents to the good Italian children on January 5, the Eve of the Epiphany.  Instead of a jolly old elf, she is known as a raucous and shameless Witch.  Instead of a sleigh, Befana flies through the air on that most traditional instrument of witchy aeronautics, her broom.  For the good children she leaves presents and candies in their socks. For the bad children she leaves a lump of coal.

 

5) Krampus

Krampus is a popular Christmas spirit especially around Austria and Hungary.  A traveling companion of St. Nicolas, he is charged with punishing the naughty children.  He appears as a fearsome beast like a goat dressed in black rags, carrying old heavy chains.    Some traditions tell that Krampus is the devil and the chains are representative of his servitude in Hell.  At the beginning of December, especially on the night of December 5, men don regalia made from goat-hair, hideously detailed masks with red horns, long tongues and chains.  They get drunk and wander the city streets with switches to threaten and frighten the children.  Late at night, when St. Nicolas is preparing to visit a house and leave his presents, the children are warned that they must go to sleep and not try to peak out and catch a glimpse of St. Nicolas, otherwise the Krampus might snatch them up and carry them away in his sack.

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6) Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) is an elfin figure with blackened skin stained from the soot of all the chimneys down which he descends on Christmas.  A popular character in Belgium and the Netherlands, Zwarte Piet is a companion of Sinterklaas and shows up during the weeks preceding the Feast of St. Nicolas.  The Zwarte Pieten entertain children and toss out cookies and candies.  The origin of Zwarte Piet is mysterious.  One tradition says that Sinterklaas defeated Satan and pressed him into service but, in the 19th century Zwarte Piet was remade to resemble a Moor.  Some traditions say that he was a slave named Peter, rescued and liberated by the Sinterklaas, becoming his regular companion.  In modern festivals Zwarte Piet is depicted with black skin, red lips, dressed in bright, colorful Renaissance attire.  To the good children Zwarte Piet brings presents and candy.  For the bad children he carries a bundle of birch branches for their parents to use in punishing them.  Especially naughty children face the prospect of Zwarte Piet throwing them in a giant sack and spiriting them away to Spain.

 

7) Tió de Nadal

The tradition of Tió de Nadal comes out certain regions of Spain such as Catalonia and Aragon.  In some ways it bears a striking resemblance to the Yule Log, common in Anglo and Germanic countries.  The iconic Tió is a hollowed out log, roughly one foot in length, often with one end painted with a smiling face, set up as a decoration in certain households.  Beginning on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, and throughout the Christmas season the Log is cared for like an idol.  He is treated with offerings of food every night from the Feast until Christmas.  At night someone in the house will cover the Log with a quilt to keep him warm.  Although similar in theme to the Germanic Yule Log, the Tió differs in a quite profound and rather unique manner.  Another name for the Tió de Nadal is Caga tió, or the “pooping log.”  On either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day the household sings traditional Christmas songs associated with the Tió while beating him with sticks, encouraging him to poop.  When the Tió opens up he “poops” candy, dried fruit, and nuts which everyone share together.

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8) Yule Goat

The Scandinavian Santa Claus and is often referred to as the Yule Goat, a tradition native to Northern Europe.  Yule is the old Germanic name for the Midwinter festival that became associated with Christmas, on which day the Yule Goat was slaughtered and eaten.  Scholars connect this tradition with Thor, the Nordic god of thunder who rode his chariot through the night sky at Yule drawn by two goats named Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr.  In countries such as Finland the Yule Goat was a horrid beast that terrified children and could only be pacified with gifts rather than delivering them.  In other parts of Scandinavia the Yule Goat was a benevolent spirit who monitored the Yule festivities to assure that the rituals were performed properly.  One tradition has a man dressing in the furry costume of the Yule Goat, complete with long horns which was theatrically sacrificed and resurrected to the tune of a traditional Yule song.  Modern Yule Goats however, are often ornaments fashioned from straw into the shape of a goat and adorned with red ribbons used to decorate for the Christmas season.  Larger than life sized Yule Goats, also made from straw are set up around town and are often the unfortunate targets of hooligans who set them on fire on the days leading up to Christmas.

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The Tavern: Bedrock of Western Civilization

The tavern is an intrinsic feature of Western society. Contrary to the reputation commonly associated with drinking establishments as dens of debauchery, locations inappropriate to delve into subjects of religion or politics, the whole of Western civilization in fact owes much of it existence to the local pub. The roots of this tradition run back through the centuries and helped bring Europe out of the dark ages toward the Age of Enlightenment.

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The Temple Bar

Ancient Roots

The historic progenitor of the bar or nightclub in the West is the Germanic and Nordic mead hall, popular especially during the European Dark Ages. Originating in the Germanic and European longhouses, from around the fifth century onward the mead hall was the primary residence of the king or chief and his theigns or other retainers. Often the most well fortified structure in the Anglo-Saxon village, the mead hall served a similar purpose as did the keep in later medieval cities. As the preeminent building of the Dark Age kingdom, the mead hall hosted the stately ceremonies and celebrations of the community.

 

The mead hall played such an important part in the religious and mythological system of Western Europe that even the gods lived in halls much resembling those of the people. In Norse mythology Valhalla is Odin’s hall and home of half of the valiant dead while the other half resided in Freyja’s hall Sessrúmnir. Much of the epic poem Beowulf takes place in the mead hall named Heorot where a lot of ceremony and merry making goes on. Such examples are the basis of the Sumbel, multiple rounds of ceremonial toasting still performed today by those whom practice indigenous Germanic religions.

viking longhouse
A Viking era styled longhouse/mead hall

The Medieval Era

As Western Europe became steadily more Christianized, amongst the aristocratic classes the Germanic mead hall along with its social and ceremonial focus was transformed into the banquet hall. But amongst the working classes and the poor, the social and ceremonial significance of the mead hall was transferred to the taverns and workhouses. In fact the word tavern is derived from the Latin taberna which was a workhouse or retail center for craftsmen as well as an apartment style lodging, housing freedmen and travelers. This is the origin of the public house or pub that is so common in Western Europe and her colonial nations.

Throughout the medieval period the public houses or taverns became centers for lodging travelers and merchants. They became the central gathering points of craftsmen seeking safety from bandits and highwaymen and thereby became the focus of trade meetings. It was within these taverns that the medieval guilds were established whereby craftsmen and artisans could share and protect the secrets of their trade such as architecture, glassmaking and other crafts. For this reason taverns and lodges became the few places in the intellectually oppressive medieval European society where freedom of speech, especially of a religious, philosophical and political nature could be exercised and protected, if only clandestinely.

 

The Enlightenment

There should be no wonder that during the Enlightenment era of European society that the tavern or lodge is where Freemasonry and other secretive societies emerged from the shadows. Freemasonry is the inheritor of the European architectural guilds transformed into a philosophical society complete with ancient rituals and respect for religious and political diversity. The four primary lodges upon which modern Freemasonry is established originally met at four respective taverns; the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse in London in St. Paul’s Churchyard, the Apple Tree Tavern, the Crown Alehouse, and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern.

 

In 1716 these four lodges gathered at London’s Apple-Tree Tavern where the first pro Tempore Grand Lodge was established, the eldest Master Mason was instituted as Grandmaster and an agreement was made to hold annual meetings amongst themselves to formalize and regularize the Craft. The following year; June 24, 1717 the four lodges met at London’s Goose and Gridiron Alehouse where the Grand Master was elected and the founding of the first regular Grand Lodge of Freemasonry was finalized.

 

Like Freemasonry briefly before it representatives from all over England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Brittany met at the Apple Tree Tavern on September 22, 1717 to form the Revivalist Druid order An Druidh Uileach Braithreachas (The British Circle of the Universal Bond).

Colonial America

The ancient tradition of the Tavern acting as meeting house for gathering warriors, the discussion of philosophy and politics continued in the American colonies. In the absence of a national media the Tavern was the primary place where early Americans heard the news and discussed their political opinions. The Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, like the Apple Tree Tavern before it was used by multiple groups and organizations. The St. Georges Society, a charitable organization devoted to assisting newly arriving poor Englishmen to the colonies was established here in 1720.

 

Hailed as the birthplace of American Freemasonry, in 1732 St. John’s Lodge No. 1 of the Grand Lodge of the Masonic Temple was established in the Tun Tavern. And like the St. George Society before, in 1747 the St. Andrew’s Society was founded here as another charitable organization, this time assisting newly arriving Scottish immigrants.

 

In 1756 Benjamin Franklin used the Tun Tavern as a recruiting station for the Pennsylvania Militia. In 1768 the New York Chamber of Commerce was founded in the Tun Tavern’s Long Room where its officers continued to meet until 1770. This same Tun Tavern Long Room was also used by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson for the meeting house of the Continental Congress and as the recruiting station for the Continental Marines, now known as the United States Marine Corps.

 

Fraunces Tavern in New York played a central role in the organizing of the American Revolutionary War. The Son’s of Liberty used this tavern as a meeting place to discuss their revolutionary activities. In 1774 Fraunces Tavern hosted a tea party much like the Boston Tea Party before it, in which the patriots dressed as Indians and dumped British tea into New York harbor. And in 1776 the New York Provincial Congress met at Fraunces Tavern.

 

According to the Memoirs of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge; at the end of the Revolutionary War on December 4, 1783, Fraunces Tavern hosted George Washington’s victory banquet in the Long Room where this iconic general said farewell to his officers as he resigned his post in order to insure that the newly established United States did not become a military dictatorship. After the ratification of the United States Constitution, Fraunces Tavern was used to house the departments of the Treasury, War and Foreign Affairs.

 

Bars, pubs and taverns are the traditional establishments where the freedom to speak one’s mind and offer challenging and revolutionary ideas has been protected. Concepts like liberty, republicanism, democracy and rebellion emerged from these establishments throughout the centuries. The United States’ First Amendment freedoms owe their existence to freethinkers exercising their philosophical muscles over a pint of beer or a glass of wine. From its roots as a tribal ceremonial house to its later adaptations as a place of revolutionary thought and activism, the tavern has been the lifeblood of Western civilization.

Ebola, Deadlier than HIV

Since the recent entry of Ebola into the United States there has been a mixture of reactions from people.  It seems the majority of people are very aware that this is a monumental issue with possible epidemic potential.  Then there are the minimizers trying to convince us that it’s just no big deal.  I find it unsurprising that the minimizers tend to have a certain political persuasion about them.

They’ve told us that Ebola is not as scary as the common flu (really!).  They’ve tried to sell us the idea that Ebola is safer than hamburgers and beer (no shit!), and that we’re all just dumb ‘muricans for being concerned for our health and safety.  And of course it makes us racists too, because Ebola comes from Africa.

A new line being pushed by the minimizers is that Ebola is no worse than HIV.  This has all the signs of political talking points because of the above mentioned context, but also because it so obviously does not come from a legitimate comparison of the two viruses.

Ebola is far more contagious than HIV. 

According to the CDC, HIV can only be transmitted through blood, breast milk, or sexual intercourse.  Ebola can be spread not only through blood and sexual fluids, but also through urine, saliva, sweat, feces, and vomit.

In the early days of HIV awareness, there was a quite unfounded fear that one might contract the virus from a toilet seat that had been previously used by an infected person.  With Ebola, the risk of contracting the disease from a toilet seat is actually possible, not only from any urine sprinkles someone might come into contact with, but just from the sweat of the carrier’s body left behind.

Unlike Ebola, HIV is also not a direct killer.  It deactivates the immune system making regular illnesses more deadly, but many medicines and treatments have been discovered to lessen the likelihood of death in this manner allowing HIV victims to live decades with the disease.  Some people live for a decade before even showing any symptoms.

Ebola destroys the cells in your body and with few effective treatments most victims die in a matter of days to weeks after contracting the virus as their internal organs liquefy.

And perhaps the most compelling evidence that Ebola is far more dangerous than HIV is as follows:

HIV is a biosafety level 2 agent and can be prevented with nearly 100% success by following simple precautions.

Ebola is a level 4 biosafety agent which requires fully internally pressurized hazmat gear with a segregated air system and a host of decontamination procedures within a negatively pressurized laboratory to keep the contagion from spreading to even come close to the accuracy of SIMPLE HIV procedures.

Comparing HIV to Ebola is at best a false equivalence based on low information.  Or much worse, it’s a dishonest political talking point perpetuated to deflect any perceived blame from the current administration by minimizing the concerns of people who should be preparing for the worst, thereby putting us all at greater risk

Either way it’s incorrect.


Workplace Violence? Well, if that’s what we’re calling it …

The world is on fire with Islamic Jihad.  But we’re not supposed to call in Jihad, and we certainly shouldn’t call it Islamic.

Of course liberal apologists for Islam like US President Obama talk down to us from their golden thrones explaining that Islam is a religion of peace and in no way encourages violence.  I guess we are all just supposed to dishonestly pretend that these verses in the Koran (the foundation of Islamic theology) encouraging the exact kind of violence being perpetuated by Muslims in the world just don’t exist, because a lot of Muslims ignore them.  Sorry folks, heretics don’t define a religion, and in the case of Islam those “peaceful” Muslims not following the dictates of the Koran and the example set by their prophet are the heretics.

Just weeks after the Islamic State called for Muslims in the US to participate in lone-wolf attacks on Americans, Alton Nolen, a recent convert to Islam in Oklahoma beheaded his former co-worker after having been fired for starting an argument with her in which he advocated the brutal execution of women who violate Islamic law by stoning.  And the FBI is looking at it as just “workplace violence.”  Shit, they won’t even call it a hate-crime.

Meanwhile Jacob Mugambi Muriithi, a native of Kenya, was arrested Friday after he identified himself as a Muslim who “represented ISIS” saying that “ISIS kills Christians.”  Just mere coincidence, not a problematic paradigm? Just workplace bullying?

Of course it all brings back the story of Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan, the Muslim with provable connections to al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki.  Hassan not only murdered 13 of his fellow American soldiers on a US military base, he did so while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” the battle-cry of militant Islam.  And of course the federal government labeled it as “workplace violence.”

Workplace violence?   Well, if that’s what we’re calling it …

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The Handlebar, Pensacola

handlebar

The Handlebar is a hub of the Pensacola music scene.  Located at 319 N. Tarragona St. the Handlebar has had a reputation for being a heavy metal and punk rock hangout.  Due to the implications in the name, it has often been mistaken for a biker bar.  The truth is that the Handlebar is a melting pot of styles and genre, with musical features which naturally include heavy metal and punk rock, but pop, folk and even country as well.

Ever since the bar first opened, the Handlebar has provided a stage for local and touring bands to perform and promote themselves.  Some of the better known acts that have performed at the Handlebar include Run DMC, Black Flag and TSoL.

The Handlebar serves beer and wine in a single community room with plenty of open space providing a clear view of the stage.  It’s a simple brick and mortar design splashed with black graffiti, decorated with vintage photos hanging crookedly on the walls.  At the north end of the bar, opposite the stage sits a piano I’ve never seen played ornamented with a Pet Rose Plaque and a skull in voodoo fashion, capped with a bud light sign.

There is a single billiard table and jukebox that plays when there are no bands onstage.  Typical selections include anything from the Dead Kennedy’s or Led Zeppelin to Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.

The back courtyard of the Handlebar makes for great escape sometimes from the volume and activity inside.  With two tables outside, patrons of the handlebar can enjoy their drinks, company and the fresh air of the mild Pensacola climate.

The Handlebar is a required stop in Pensacola if you enjoy the atmosphere and music of an underground music scene.  It has been an active part of the Pensacola music scene for so long that anybody playing original music locally inevitably plays many shows at the Handlebar.  It’s been one of my regular hangouts for years.

If you want to know more about the Handlebar, check out their webpage here.

What is Enlightenment?

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“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.”

This first passage from the Book of Genesis hearkens back to the earliest times, the times even before light. Though allegorical at best, these words illustrate the scene of our great creator, for the first time shedding light on an infant world.

Similar creation myths from around the world illustrate the same basic imagery of a world in darkness which only truly comes to life after the divine powers create the sun, bringing the land out of darkness, enlivening it so it may become fruitful and prosperous. The lesson in these stories seem to be pointing us toward a certain direction, as if to suggest that only after being brought from darkness to light that a person can truly live to his full potential. This is the earliest seed of enlightenment.

The word inlihtan first appeared in Old English around 1382. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the term was used figuratively meaning “to remove the dimness or blindness from one’s eyes or heart.” (1) In this case enlightenment would be the state or process of doing so. Light, figuratively is what has been sought by all of humanity from birth, whether theologian, legislator or scientist. Countless symbols both secular and religious illustrate this point. The solar cross, an equal armed cross within a circle is likely the world’s most ancient invented spiritual symbol. It can be found throughout all of history inscribed from Ireland to Japan, from northern Scandinavia down through Africa, Australia and Pacifica. The solar cross is said to represent the solar calendar, marking the solstices and the equinoxes and is often credited to “sun-worship.”

In the Americas, Native religions also fixated on this solar symbol as the most significant spiritual metaphor. In English, this pan-Indian circumscribed cross is referred to as the Medicine Wheel. Amongst its many uses the Medicine Wheel is not only a symbol of the sun but wheelit is also a gauge by which to judge an individual’s level of knowledge and insight. The four corners of the cross usually represent the four directions, each one associated with a particular animal or spiritual being, representing certain desirable attributes associated with them. In the book “Seven Arrows,” Hyemeyohsts Storm allegorically describes the process by which the individual may come to enlightenment by way of the Medicine Wheel, attaining the various attributes associated with each point and thereby becoming a complete human being.

In more Buddhist circles enlightenment is described as a state of “wisdom that arises from the direct experience of all phenomena being empty of independent existence.”(2) This definition is more literal than the figurative definition previously given; “to remove the dimness or blindness from one’s eyes or heart,” but in essence it still remains the same. When one “sees” the light, he effectively “sees” or comprehends reality on a much higher than mundane level, no longer bound by flawed reason operating in darkness. Light has been shed upon obscure and often mysterious phenomena. The enlightened is knowledgeable and wise regarding his relationships, his role in society and the significance of everyone and everything else with whom he interacts. It is from the human quest for this figurative light that all our arts, sciences and religions were developed, originally as one quest for knowledge and meaning and later breaking up into separate specialized disciplines.

buddha

In the modern western world we have been brought up to think of religion as an organized system of belief and practice, following particular creeds and professing faith in a divine being. This idea certainly fits the definition of religion but the word is hardly confined by it. The Latin origin of the word had a far more pragmatic application regarding its relationship, not only to the divine but to everyone and everything around the person. In Latin the word religre means to bind and comes from the verb “ligre, to close or combine, to create an alliance or to make a deal to form a bond or to create a relationship.

Other words such as legislation and delegation also find their roots in this verb; the process of defining morality and proper behavior between a person, his fellow humans and his government or between governments religre. Ideally, this is achieved through the constant pondering of right and wrong, propriety and impropriety and through discourse with others doing the same. In society both ancient and contemporary, legislation even defines kinship, of who can and cannot marry due to how they are related or how it is perceived that they should or should not relate to each other. As any anthropologist will likely agree; kinship is one of the most vital foundations of coming to terms with a society’s traditions, laws and religion.

It is clear that the word religion in its truest definition reflects a system of relationships, not just a system of belief. It more properly refers to cultural paradigms and organized principles of morality. What is morality other than the proper behavior one human should have towards all his relations? Enlightenment is the state or process of pondering the mysterious or seemingly inexplicable, to organize thoughts, create theories and test them for the purpose of bettering the self and society. Philosophers, physicians and metaphysicians have continuously sought to shed light on obscure and illusive subjects, rendering them into workable formulas of knowledge and theory. Physical science perhaps most of all has sought and often achieved creating light from darkness and knowledge where none existed before and defining relationships between geometric shapes and numbers or strands of DNA. This is the most natural of human aspirations; to learn and develop, to mature into wisdom, organize it and apply it, passing it on to the next generation. This is the process of enlightenment.

Some theories suggest that the linguistic use of the word enlightenment is a remnant of “sun-worship,” an outdated and archaic form of religion. How unfortunate that they should have such an unenlightened perception of the subject. Sun-worship, if it ever really existed in any true form was no doubt an outgrowth of humanity’s natural inclination to seek the light of truth and understanding, the sun being the earliest example of luminescence and its contrast to darkness. In the light of day, primitive man could analyze his environment and learn. Darkness represented ignorance and lack of perception. Therefore it is only through light, even the dim glow of the stars that one could discern, learn and develop.

benfranklin
Benjamin Franklin

It should come as no surprise that the first great period of European discovery, development of the arts, sciences, government and religion, emerging from the ignorance and oppression of the Dark Ages is typically referred to as the Age of Enlightenment. The Enlightenment Age was defined by reason and that humans by nature are autonomous, responsible for their own self development and the welfare of society. Self-development was often defined as the citizen’s responsibility through their own efforts to be educated and participate in politics in order to help reform the ills of society. It is from this era of enlightenment that the United States Declaration of Independence was written declaring that it was the people’s right and our destiny endowed by our Creator, entitled by the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God to liberate ourselves from tyranny. This was revolutionary thinking in its day. Political revolution was everywhere and it redefined Europe from the ground up. The Age of Enlightenment was defined by revolution and redefinition

Enlightenment is more than a metaphor and it is not just an abstract idea involving transcendental escapism from worldly suffering. Nor is it the result of diligently following a particular creed or maintaining a particular set of teachings and exercises or any other magical formula. Such things are merely working tools to help along the way. Enlightenment is a process of seeking and uncovering the truth about ideas, traditions, institutions and relationships and then putting them into action. Enlightenment is only enlightening in action even if that action is pursuing stillness. Balance and propriety must be nurtured. Wrong action and reaction must be subdued. The path of enlightenment is a process of discovery, reflection and devotion. It is the continuously seeking of the light of knowledge and defining our world, liberating the human race from darkness and tyranny.  Only in this way will we ever see a truly enlightened age.

(1) Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 13 Nov. 2007. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/enlighten

(2) http://www.kusala.org/udharma6/enlightnirvana.html

Should Felons have the Right to Vote and to Bear Arms?

It’s been an issue of debate for decades, and recently it’s a hot topic once again: should felons be allowed to vote?  And what about their rights to keep and bear arms?

In most states citizens convicted of a felony lose their right to vote for a period of time.  In some states such as Florida, Iowa and Kentucky, this right is lost forever unless granted clemency that reinstates that right.  Under federal law a citizen convicted of a felony loses their 2nd Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.   I’ve heard and read the arguments from people who support these perpetual abridgements of citizens’ rights for felony convictions, and for the most part I’m simply not convinced.

To boil it down the argument seems to essentially be a matter of “they chose to commit the crime, so they can’t be trusted with these rights.”   While I am an avid supporter of the 2nd Amendment (as well as the other 9 in the Bill of Rights), I can at least see a certain amount of logic regarding the right to own and carry a gun being restricted from a person who has been convicted of a violent crime in which the perpetrator used a firearm.  Similarly restricting the right to vote of a felon may be reasonable if the citizen was convicted of something like election fraud for voting multiple times in the same election.  But the majority of felons are convicted for outlawed activity nothing like those.

Consider for a moment that laws are made and unmade by humans, and the judicial system is not infallible.   In a lot of states felonies include behavior like driving on a suspended license more than twice, and the most commonly committed felonies include possession of a controlled substance like marijuana.  And more than a few times innocent people have been convicted of felonies.

But it begs the question: if these three rights: the right to vote, the right to keep arms and the right to bear arms can so easily be abridged by committing a felony, then what other rights should be taken away when you are convicted of a crime?  This gets even more interesting if we also apply the “once convicted, can’t be trusted with that right forever” argument.

Convicted of a felony involving a church scandal: lose your 1st Amendment freedom of religion

Convicted of fraud: lose your 1st Amendment freedom of speech

Was that fraud committed in written form and disseminated?: Lose your freedom of the press

Convicted of harboring a fugitive, or keeping some outlawed paraphernalia in your home, maybe an empty shell casing in Washington DC: Lose your 4th Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure

Convicted of a crime on your own private property: lose your 5th Amendment right to private property

Convicted of ANYTHING: lose your 5th, 6th, & 7th Amendment rights to a fair and speedy trial by jury (Why not? You’re a criminal.  You can’t be trusted to plead your case honestly anyway … right?)

This could go on and on.  We could have all sorts of fun finding reasons to restrict your 3rd Amendment rights against boarding soldiers.

One more disturbing argument I hear comes mostly from social conservatives who are afraid that the majority of felons would vote for social liberals and economic socialists if allowed.  While I might tend to share the second concern, that’s a bias that I can’t ethically support legislatively.

Many states have a treason law on the books.  Perhaps the current administration could reinstate some form of Sedition Act, thereby outlawing criticism of the government.  Then republicans, libertarians and disappointed democrats could be rounded up and charged with sedition, having their rights to vote and keep and bear arms removed.  Hey, it would be law; they would be guilty; and felons can’t be trusted right?

Freemasonry and the Great Seal on the Dollar bill

dollar bill photo: Dollar Bill before dollarback.jpg

The intriguing imagery of the Great Seal on the back of the United States’ one dollar bill is cause for much curiosity and speculation.  This has been a discussion amongst fans of the occult for decades, but in recent years the success of the movie “National Treasure” has brought the subject to the attention of popular culture and revived the myth that the symbols on the Great Seal represent a secret Masonic code.  While it is true that several of the United States founding fathers were in fact Freemasons, it is not true that the United States One Dollar Bill contains any symbolism adopted from or inspired by Freemasonry.  The true meanings behind the symbolism of the Great Seal on the dollar bill, while having a great depth of meaning is not so mysterious or esoteric.

The Symbolism

The Great Seal of the United States consists of a bald eagle spread with 13 arrows held tightly in his left talon. His right talon clutches an olive branch with thirteen leaves. Supported on the eagle’s breast is an escutcheon or shield containing a representation of the United States Flag-a blue field and 13 alternating red and white stripes. In his mouth he carries a banner which contains the Latin Phrase “E pluribus Unum.” Above his head is a radiant six-pointed star composed of 13 five-pointed stars.

On the obverse side of the Great Seal, found on the left side of the dollar is a representation of an Egyptian style pyramid with 13 layers and a flat, truncated top. Just above this sits an eye inside a triangle. At its base are inscribed the Latin numerals indicating the year 1776, the year of American independence from Britain. Circumscribing the image are the Latin phrases “Annuit Coeptus” above and “Novus Ordo Seclorum” below.

The Explanation

The repetition of the number 13 on the Great Seal and the United States Flag is a subject of great interest to conspiracy enthusiasts and occultist speculators who parrot inaccurate resources claiming the number 13 has special meaning to Freemasons. The fact is that the number 13 has no special significance to Freemasonry and never has. Freemasonry does place special emphasis on certain numbers such as 3, 5, 7 and 15, but not on the number 13.  The number 13 does however, have a rather special significance to American history. The number 13 happens to be precisely the number of the American colonies who rebelled against Britain, becoming the United States. This is why the designers of the Great Seal emphasized the number time over again.

The bald eagle, the national bird of the United States was adopted from interaction with Native Americans. Many traditional Native American communities have considered the bald eagle the most sacred of all birds and a symbol of the Creator. The founders of the United States in imitation of their Indian neighbors adopted the bald eagle as the greatest symbol of freedom and liberty and the highest aspirations of the new nation.

great seal dollar photo: The Seal on the Dollar Bill GreatSealofAmerica.jpg

The escutcheon resting on the eagle’s chest contains the symbol of the American flag. The last man who worked on the seal’s design, Charles Thomson described the meaning behind the colors of the flag and the other symbols in this manner;

“The colours of the pales are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue, the colour of the Chief signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice. The Olive branch and arrows denote the power of peace & war which is exclusively vested in Congress. The Constellation denotes a new State taking its place and rank among other sovereign powers. The Escutcheon is born on the breast of an American Eagle without any other supporters to denote that the United States of America ought to rely on their own Virtue.”*

It is also interesting to note that the colors red and white are often used by Native Nations of the Eastern United States to represent war and peace respectively. Many of the Muskogean towns were historically divided into red-military and white-diplomatic communities which were loosely united under various confederacies. It should come as no surprise that the seal of the United States contains so much Native American symbolism when one considers the fact that many of these same founders had stormed a British ship during the “Boston Tea Party” dressed in war paint and feathers just a few years earlier.

The arrows and the olive branch held in the eagle’s talons represent two diametrically opposing principles that help to establish and maintain a nation; war and peace. The symbol of the arrows held together was adopted from the Iroquois Confederacy which influenced much of American democracy.  The Iroquois used the image of seven arrows which represented the seven different ‘tribes’ who composed the Iroquois League.  The symbolism teaches that one arrow alone (a single tribe) is easily broken, but all seven held together in a single common defense are much more difficult to break. The Founders of the US used the same symbolism, altered slightly to account for all the 13 United States.  This coincides with the Latin motto displayed on the eagle’s banner; “E pluribus Unum” which translates as “Out of many, One,” illustrating the Union formed by these States. The United States is after all, many states which make up a single nation.

The olive branch is an ancient symbol of peace and vitality from western cultures. It was used widely by the ancient Mesopotamians, Greeks, Egyptians, Hebrews, Romans and Persians. The olive has been a widely adored fruit, the oil of which was anciently claimed to have many healthful and spiritual properties. The many designers of this seal used these two images of both the “Old World” and the “New World” to symbolize the integration of the new nation, based on both European and Native American ideals.

great seal dollar photo: the great seal thegreatseal.jpg

The pyramid side is sometimes called the spiritual side of the seal. The pyramid design was chosen as a symbol of duration, a nearly eternal nation and of the West’s ancient heritage, much of which has its roots in Ancient Egypt. It is important to note that people during the Enlightenment Era marking the democratization of the West were heavily involved in speculation upon ancient symbols and histories. This is also the era that birthed the remarkable discipline of archaeology.

The Eye of Providence sits at the pyramids zenith. Historically the All-seeing-Eye motif has been used by countless civilizations on all continents but interested parties who promote the Masonic Dollar theory like to point out that a very similar motif is in fact used by Freemasons today. This is true however; those who promote this theory often fail to recognize that during the Enlightenment the eye motif was used repeatedly by many different artists and organizations unassociated with Freemasonry. It is also often overlooked that the Eye motif had been an element of the design on the Great Seal since the seal was first proposed on August 20th, 1776 and finally adopted by Congress on June 20th 1782. Freemasons did not begin using the all-seeing-eye emblem until 1797 in “The Freemasons Monitor of Thomas Smith Webb” fifteen years after the Great Seal was finalized. In fact it is more likely that Freemasons adopted the motif from the Great Seal rather than the other way around.

The Latin phrase “Annuit Coeptus” means “He has favored our undertakings,” which refers to the founding belief that the success of the American revolution was a matter of divine Providence as can be found written in the Declaration of Independence. The next phrase is another point that conspiracy enthusiast enjoy kicking around like a rusty old tin can, telling themselves it’s actually a football.

“Novus Ordo Seclorum” does not mean “New World Order” as so often incorrectly translated. It means “New Order of the Ages.” It refers to the Founders recognition that they were creating a new order in a new era. They recognized that they had begun an age of reason, logic, and spiritual and practical liberty from dogmatic institutions. The new order was liberty, democracy and republicanism in opposition to the old order of submission to monarchical regimes.

The seal of the United States is a proud symbol of our heritage, our determination and our history. The symbolism reveals that we are one nation of many different people, unlike any other, striving for peace but prepared to go to war to protect each other. We are free and strive for more freedom. Our nation is divinely inspired and protected by God and its legacy will survive for as long have the ancient monuments of the past. The quest for freedom is not a conspiracy. That is the propaganda of tyrants. The quest for freedom is the nature of the human soul and our natural state, eternal and can never be crushed by the illegitimate rule of dictators.

___

* http://www.state.gov/www/publi cations/great_seal.pdf

-http:// masonicinfo.com/eye.htm

-Exiled in the Land of the Free Democracy, Indian Nations and The US Constitution by, Lyons, Mohawk, Deloria Jr., Hauptman, Berman, Grinde Jr., Berkey, Venables

-http://en.wikipedia.o rg/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment

-The Federalist by Hamilton, Madison and Jay

 

Alexander McGillivray, Emperor of the Creek Nation

Alexander McGillvray, Emperor of the Creek Nation

Alexander McGillivray (1750-1793)

Many great historical chiefs are celebrated in Native American popular culture. The most commonly remembered names include Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Red Cloud, Tecumseh and Chief Joseph. Along with these belongs the 18th century Muscogee Creek chief Alexander McGillivray, a great man who is not as commonly spoken about, but is just as significant to both Native American and United State history as those formerly mentioned.

Alexander McGillivray was the principle chief of the Creek Nation near the end of the 18th century. He was the son of Sehoy Marchand, a French-Creek woman from the powerful Wind Clan. His father was the prominent Scottish trader Lachlan McGillivray who immigrated to Creek country in 1736 from Dunmaglass, Scotland, and spent the majority of his time in Little Tallassee and Otciabofa which was also called Hickory Ground [1] on the Coosa River. This is where Lachlan met Sehoy.

Lachlan secured lands amongst the Creek people near the ruins of the French Fort Toulouse close by Little Tallassee. There, he planted a garden and built a plantation house, naming it the “Apple Grove.” In time Lachlan became a wealthy trader, entrenched and well respected among the Indians.

When Alexander was a young man his father sent him to Charleston, S.C. to be educated in the British tradition. After returning to his home on the Coosa River, Alexander was honored as a chief on the Creek National Council and given the name Hopue-hethlee-Mekko or “Good-Child King.” Shortly thereafter he was commissioned a colonel in the British army and installed as the English Agent to the Indians. He donned the uniform of a British officer, with the headdress of a Creek chief, complete with the white feathers of his rank and led a faction of Creek warriors in the Battle of Pensacola.

Before long, Alexander rose to prominence, becoming the principle chief of the Creek Nation. Being a fan of European history, he preferred to use the term emperor, though his actual power in the nation was severely limited and somewhat tenuous. He was a frequent visitor to and property-owner in Pensacola, FL, negotiating treaties with the Spanish who were the dominant European power in the region. He led Spanish funded attacks on American frontier settlements in Georgia. After the American Revolution, McGillivray was invited to Virginia where he received a paid Generalship from George Washington in the United States army.

An eager capitalist, Alexander McGillivray was also an investor and silent partner in Panton, Leslie and Company who opened a trading post on McGillivray’s property, the first brick and mortar building established in Pensacola, FL. His first wife was Vicey Cornells who bore him two daughters: Peggy and Lizzie. His second wife was Elise Moniac, the sister of the Choctaw chief Red Shoes and they had three children: Margaret, Alleck and Elizabeth.

As a native statesman, McGillivray worked tirelessly throughout his career to create a Creek Nation recognizable and respected by European nations, but still distinctly Creek, distinctly “Indian.” Much like his Cherokee neighbors he succeeded, at least until 1830, when the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by Andrew Jackson, robbing the people of their lands.

In January 1793 McGillivray traveled to Pensacola for a business meeting with William Panton. On the trip he developed a fever and never recovered. On February 17, 1793 at eleven o’clock at night, in the home of William Panton, Alexander McGillivray died. He was buried in the garden of Panton’s house in Pensacola, laid to rest with full Masonic honors [2]. Alexander McGillivray was such a loved and respected leader that he was mourned throughout the lands. His obituary ran in London in the Gentleman’s Magazine.

Feb. 17. At Pensacola, Mr. McGillivray, a Creek chief, very much lamented by those who knew him best. There happened to be that time at Pensacola a numerous band of Creeks, who watched his illness with the most marked anxiety, and when his death was announced to them, and while they followed him to the grave, it is impossible for words to describe the loud screams of real woe which they vented in their unaffected grief. He was, by his father’s side a Scotchman, of the respectable family of Drummaglass, in Invernesshire. The vigor of his mind overcame the disadvantages of an education had in the wilds of America, and he was well acquainted with all the most useful European sciences. In the latter part of his life he composed, with great care, the history of several classes of the original inhabitants of America; and this he intended to present to Professor Robertson, for publication in the next edition of his History. The European and the American writer are no more; and the MMS of the latter, it is feared, have perished, for the Indians adhere to their custom of destroying whatever inanimate objects a dead friend most delighted in. It is only since Mr. McGillivray had influence amongst them, that they have suffered the slaves of a deceased master to live.”[3]

[1] Hickory Ground; a very special town and meeting place within upper Creek Country. Creek; Ocē vpofv, also called Little Tallassee.

[2] It is believed that Alexander McGillivray was the first Mason in the State of Alabama. Some researchers claim that A.M.’s remains were shipped to Scotland and buried on his father Lachlan’s land.

[3] Gentleman’s Magazine, Printed under the caption: Marriages and Deaths of considerable Persons,” August, 1793, Vol. LXIII, London, p. 767

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