Category Archives: Religion & Spirituality

Thanksgiving, Legend, and American Indians

the_first_thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of the United States’ most significant national holidays. It’s probably second in popularity only to Christmas. Like most Americans, I grew up with it. There’s really not much to it other than cooking a lot of food and having a feast in the middle of the day, during which we are supposed to express our appreciation for all our good fortune as Americans. It has a slightly religious tone to it, but that is overshadowed by its more nationalistic implications.

Along with Columbus Day, and the Fourth of July/Independence Day celebration, the Thanksgiving story has served as one in the series of origin myths to help establish European roots in North America. It’s ritualistic like any holiday as we loosely reenact the nation’s “First Supper.”

The myth tells that in 1621 after the pilgrims came to America they failed to properly work the land and were in danger of suffering famine. The local Wampanoag Indians took pity upon the new arrivals and taught them how to work the land and most importantly how to grow corn. I seem to recall as a child I learned that the Indians taught the Pilgrims to plant their seeds with a fish and this insured a strong and healthy crop, but I haven’t encountered this part of the myth as an adult. After the Pilgrims had a successful harvest they invited the Wampanoag to a great feast to celebrate. The two peoples partied and had a Kumbaya moment. The Pilgrims made this an annual tradition and this became Thanksgiving. There isn’t much truth to this story, but it seems harmless enough.

Of course Thanksgiving has taken some flack in recent decades for its usage of Native Americans as props in a story that seems to essentially justify the usurpation of American Indian title to the North American continent by colonial society. Now there is even a video circulating on TeenVogue that uses teenage girls to try to convince us that Thanksgiving actually has its origins in feasts that white people celebrated after fighting and extinguishing a Native community. It really comes off as the type of faux-outrage you’d expect from half-educated adolescents with angst. I’ve been there. I think the real shame is that it’s lazy, shallow research. Myths and legends are one thing but this is almost a crime against history.

Thanksgiving is in reality a part of a long tradition of Anglo-Saxon harvest festivals that were celebrated every fall going back into historical obscurity. These were like any of the similar harvest celebrations held by agricultural communities throughout the history of the world including North America. It is essentially a part of the European wheel of the year, a vestige from the white continent’s indigenous and tribal past, but that’s true of most holidays.


Some people think Indians shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving for political reasons. I could never get onboard with that idea. Overall I don’t have any real problem with the holiday or its symbolism. I can get annoyed by the stereo-typical white-man’s Indian play-acting, redface, and other embarrassing behaviors it encourages in non-Indians from time to time. I am left feeling bereft at the sense of equality and brotherhood it depicts between whites and Indians that rarely if ever really existed, especially when today Native communities are still being deprived of rights, and resources by the colonial governments, and the dominant society seems so unmoved and so unconcerned by it. Considering how little attention Indians get in American history and modern social and political discourse I guess we should be glad we get to be the second most significant part of the country’s second most significant holiday.

At the end of the day I am an advocate for all people returning to their roots and their native traditions adjusted to their modern geographic and political circumstances. In large part that requires a meaningful celebration of the seasonal cycle for all people. Thanksgiving is a day, or an entire weekend for some folks to take time and celebrate the earth’s bounty and to strengthen our bonds with family, clan, tribe, and nation. I see a national harvest celebration as part of this ancient tradition kept alive in modern America with a uniquely American symbolism.

Some people will choose not to celebrate Thanksgiving for reasons they attribute to their values, and that’s cool with me. For me Thanksgiving is a real time of gratitude, reflection, and preparation for the road ahead. I’ll get back to work after the festival.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Easter Rising, Easter Lily

As Easter week draws to a close I thought I’d write a little bit about my most recent painting “Easter Rising.”

www.Lojah.com

The Easter Lily is a calla lily, adopted by Irish republicans symbolically to commemorate the revolutionary combatants who died as a part of the 1916 Easter Rising.  It is traditionally worn at Easter time.  It is also used by various factions of Irish republicanism to commemorate the deaths of their soldiers and activists.

 

Easter Rising

On Easter Monday, April1 24, 1916 Irish revolutionaries took up arms against British rule in Ireland, seeking to establish an independent Irish republic.  The majority of the conflict took place in Dublin, planned and led by seven members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council.

Patrick Pearse, a schoolmaster and Irish language activist led the Irish Volunteers.  He was supported by the Irish Citizen Army led by James Connolly, and 200 women from Cumann na mBan – the Irish Women’s Council.  They seized key points in Dublin, making the General Post Office the headquarters of the uprising where they delivered the Proclamation of the Irish Republic claiming independence from Britain and the establishment of an Irish Republic.

The following day the British authorities declared martial law, and deployed thousands of reinforcements to suppress the uprising.  The streets of Dublin were in open warfare that lasted for six days.  The Irish revolutionaries put up a tough resistance and the fighting was fierce.  Frustrated British troops began engaging in war crimes against Irish civilians.

The Portobello Killings

On Tuesday, April 25 British soldiers took the pacifist activist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington hostage and used him as a human shield.  They blew up a tobacco store and captured Labour Party councilor Richard O’Carroll, two journalists Thomas Dickison and Patrick MacIntyre , and the young boy James Coade.  They executed all the captives and secretly buried them in Portobello Barracks.

The North King Street Massacre

North King Street was the scene of some of the heaviest combat between Irish and British soldiers.  On Saturday, April 29th after British soldiers succeeded in overrunning a well barricaded rebel post, they broke into the homes of noncombatant civilians and shot and bayoneted them, killing 15 men.  The soldiers then pilfered the bodies and secretly buried them in backyards and cellars.

           

There were numerous other civilian casualties suffered as a result of the British assault amounting to more than half the loss of life during the uprising.  British forces eventually surrounded the Irish factions and bombarded them into submission, laying waste to vast areas of the city.  Between the superior military strength of the British Army and the fear that more innocent civilians would be killed, Patrick Pearse ordered an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April 29.

In the aftermath the British arrested 3,500 Irish, sending almost 2,000 of them to prison camps.  The leadership of the rebellion was executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol between May 3 and 12.

Even though it was technically a failure the Easter Rising succeeded in inspiring hope in an independent Ireland.  The British response to it caused a strong negative reaction in the Irish population and a wave of support for Irish independence swept across the island.  By 1919 the Irish War of Independence broke out and lead to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State.  The technical defeat resulted in the Independent Ireland it had sought to achieve.

In 1926 during the tenth year anniversary of the Easter Rising the Irish Women’s Council introduced the calla lily as a badge sold outside of Catholic churches to be worn on Easter Sunday in commemoration of the uprising and to raise relief money for the families of Irish political prisoners.  To this day it is still a symbol of Irish identity and remembrance.

Many songs have been written in commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising.  One of the most well known and perhaps the unarguable official song of remembrance of the rising is “Foggy Dew,” written by Father Canon O’Neill.


The Wise Words of Tecumseh

Tecumseh02“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

~ Chief Tecumseh

          


The Law of Attraction

The Law of Attraction is a metaphysical theory asserting that “like attracts like,” or those things that a person thinks about the most are those that will naturally be attracted to him.  Though recently popularized again by the 2006 book and film The Secret by Rhonda Byrne the term “Law of Attraction” was originally coined by New Thought Movement guru William Walker Atkinson in his 1906 book Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World.

Simply stated the Law of Attraction is established upon the premise that thinking positive thoughts naturally attracts positive affects and negative thoughts just as naturally affect one negatively.  If a person can form a clear and strong image of one’s desire in their mind and recreate it consistently, the acquisition of the desired object or goal will be realized.  Likewise if one obsesses over negative thoughts and fears, those things will become manifest in his life.  We become what we think about most of the time.

The key to activating the Law of Attraction in your life begins with simple visualization exercises.  Decide what you want, perhaps a better job, a pay raise or a new lover.  Sit down in a comfortable position and imagine yourself having this thing.  Make it as real in your mind as possible.  Feel the sensations you would have if you had this thing you desire.  If it is a new car, imagine the sensations of driving it, the new car smell and the way the sun gleams off the chrome.  Make this an enjoyable event, conjuring up all the positive feelings you can create and firmly attach them to all the sensations related to your desired outcome.

To avoid sabotaging yourself in this activity you must be sure to carefully monitor your words and thoughts.  Whenever we speak or think we effectively affirm certain beliefs in our minds.  Every time we say or think something like “I’ll never have that much money,” or some other limiting belief, we undermine our efforts.  You must maintain a constant certainty that your desired outcome is already yours and working its way to you at this very moment.

How Does it Work?

There are two main theories explaining how the Law of Attraction works.  The more metaphysical explanation is expressed in the book The Secret; that the thoughts we think are broadcast to the universe as if we were making an order from a catalog.  If we are thinking about and envisioning our success then the universe will deliver success.  If however, we are constantly fretting over our fears, those are what will be delivered.

A more pragmatic explanation for the Law of Attraction is that by practicing visualization techniques and by monitoring our thoughts we condition our subconscious minds to expect those things we think about most.  Since the subconscious mind cannot process a negative, then thinking about the things we don’t want is effectively the same as if we wanted them to come true.  By conditioning our subconscious minds to expect success, achievement or even failure, we become motivated to act and behave in ways that will bring that into reality.

                          

 

Either way one sees the process unfold, the core lesson to be learned from the Law of Attraction is that we are responsible for our own lives and conditions based off our own thoughts and conditioning.  This is more than just “positive thinking” or simple recitation of affirmations encountered in the typical self help seminar.  The Law of Attraction requires consistent maintenance of positive belief and deep visualization in order for it to be effective.  Love, wealth and happiness are ours for the taking if only we can visualize ourselves having them, not at some future point, but right now regardless of our current predicaments.


The Basics of Jewish Mysticism

In Jewish mystical traditions there is a Four Worlds philosophy. This philosophy teaches us that human beings cohesively inhabit four separate states of being, each governed by a particular aspect of human experience. These Four Worlds are the physical, emotional, intellectual and the spiritual. God is perceived to be in all four worlds at the same time. By meditating on each world it helps the meditator come to know God more intimately.

The Hassidic Jews have developed many chants designed specifically to assist in this meditation, to help bring the adherent more consciously into these Four Worlds. The chant Shalom for instance is very relaxing. The word Shalom means peace or completeness and with the slow pulse of the chant causes a sensation of relaxed and centered attention. As Rabbi Ostrich pointed out, it is a sense of oneness, “Like a drop of water becoming one with the ocean.” This plays strongly on the physical body and the loosening of muscles in order to help us to be more receptive to sub-dermal experiences.

Modeh Ani L’fenecha translates as “I acknowledge you.” This is a very cerebral statement to make. Acknowledgement requires the ability to scrutinize our experiences, to separate this from that. This very empirically based discernment to life experiences is no doubt rooted in the world of intellect.

            

When we approach the chant B’rich Rachamana with its full translation it comes to us as, “Blessed is the Compassionate One, Ruler of the World, Master of this food. You are the source of Life for all that is and, and your blessing flows through me.” This is designed to engage the adherent in the emotional experience of God. Giving Him titles such as Compassionate Master induce an emotional response to prayer and meditation. We learn to regard God as benevolent, awesome, steadfast and loving. He becomes somewhat maternal in this world, a nurturer.

Elohai Han’shamah calls to God and proclaims, “The Soul which You have put in me is pure.” This particular chant seems to be focused more upon the world of the spirit. The soul as focal point is pure. Many times in life we don’t feel physically, or emotionally clean much less pure. A person who practices regular prayer or meditation with a bit of diligence can come to experience the true purity of the human soul which was created by and is a part of the Greatest of all Spirits, G-d. That is the ultimate goal of “Four Worlds” Jewish Mysticism.

Mardi Gras – A Primer

Mardi Gras is a big event in my native home of the Southern Gulf States. It is celebrated heavily between Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. I’ve even seen evidence of attempts at celebrating it as far west as Monterey, California, but nobody does it like home. Although New Orleans is thought of as the home city of American Mardi Gras, the first American celebration of the holiday took place in Mobile, Alabama in 1703.

mardi_gras

Coming from the French tradition, Mardi Gras is similar to the Carnival traditions found throughout Europe and Latin America. It tends to occupy several weeks before and on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

Lent being a 40 day period of fasting and abstention in the Catholic tradition, Fat Tuesday and the days leading up to it is a time to let it all out, to party, to drink, and for many to sin.  As such it is a festival season celebrated with wild abandon, parades, carnivals and debauchery. Costumes and masks are an important part of the festivities, epitomized by the classic theatre masks.

A Mardi Gras parade can be a rowdy affair.  As the parade floats pass by (each one manned by a krewe, or in Mobile a “Mystic Society”) the attendants compete for cheap plastic beads and trinkets, and aluminum doubloons.

King cake is a tradition going back to the old world. The New Orleans variety consists of a twisted cinnamon roll iced with the colors of the holiday: purple, gold, and green. Traditionally, inside the king cake would be hidden a little plastic baby signifying the baby Jesus, but is often just referred to as the Mardi Gras baby. Whichever person gets the piece with the baby inside is promised a prosperous year.

As much as Mardi Gras is about the festival and indulgence, it should not be forgotten that this is leading up to a 40 day period of fasting. This is a significant time of year. To the ancestors this season heralded in a time of scarcity as the winter stocks began to dwindle before the season’s crops could provide any sustenance. Though the celebrations may seem excessive, it is intended to be followed by a month on penance and discipline.


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.”

wassail-herveygoat2

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.

the-icelandic-yule-lads

 

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.

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.

Krampus27

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.

tio

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.

yule_goat
A Scandinavian Yule Goat


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.

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.

A (reconstructed) Viking Longhouse

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.


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.

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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.

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m/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/benfranklin.jpg”> 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