Summer Solstice

Solstice

June 20th : Summer Solstice, 2020

1. What is the Summer Solstice?

– The longest day of the year

– The start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere

2. What does “solstice” mean?

– It is Latin for “sun-stopping”

– The sun appears to stop and reverse direction in the sky after this day

3. What actually happens to the sun on this day?

– It is at its annual highest point in the sky

– The sun’s zenith is furthest away from the equator

4. Why is the solstice important?

– It was a visible calendar sign to help ancient agricultural societies

– People often used the passage of the sun to track time

5. Why is Stonehenge associated with the Solstice?

– Many people believe Stonehenge was created as a sun temple

– The stones are lined up to capture the sun at specific points on certain times of the year (the Solstice being the most important)

6. What else happens on this day?

– Your shadow at noon is the shortest it will be all year

– You are most likely to get sunburn on this particular day

Enjoy your summer!

Kit’s Crit: God Help The Child (Toni Morrison)

Morrison

Photo: Kit Perriman

I have long suspected that Toni Morrison’s novels can be paired, each one offering a different insight into a familiar (often harrowing) situation.  Her latest book, God Help the Child (New York: Knopf, 2015) is no exception.  Indeed, it makes a splendid companion to her first publication The Bluest Eye, as both stories focus on the aftereffects of childhood trauma, using a variety of narrative devices and a sprinkling of magical realism.

The Bluest Eye (1970) shows a young black girl’s descent into madness as a result of her ethnic inferiority complex and her father’s sexual abuse.  Pecola is destroyed by her circumstances.  In God Help the Child, however, the blue-black Bride is rejected by her high-yellow parents, and harshly treated by a mother trying to prepare her for the skin privileges in racist America.  But instead of being crushed, Bride not only survives with great dignity, she turns her blackness into a hot commodity and becomes a successful cosmetics mogul.

But Bride feels guilty about a lie she told as an eight-year-old child that sent an innocent woman to jail.  When the woman is released she tries to make amends, and at that point her carefully-shaped life starts melting away.  She confesses her perjury to her lover, a jazz musician called Booker, who promptly declares, “You not the woman I want”(8).  This sends Bride into a form of arrested development where her body slowly shrinks back to its childhood state, still craving forgiveness and acceptance.  And only when she has gone on a quest — been reunited with Booker — and he cries, “I love you! Love you!”(164) does she start to become whole again.

Bride has “something witchy” about her eyes (6), a clue that this is a modern fairy tale.  Like The Ugly Duckling, she grows from being a unattractive reject into a stunning success, and the dark child who lied and ruined an innocent life transforms into a beautiful goddess from the warmth of human love.

Like all of Morrison’s books, God Help the Child is full of poetic language, though in this sparse novella there is transcendence and a positive resolution. While not as complex as Paradise, or as poignant as Beloved, I enjoyed the story and the resilience it portrays.  Childhood trauma warps and shapes the adult life – but it can be overcome!

Pure magic.

Vampires: The Devil’s Minions

Eve

The vampire is one of the archetypal embodiments of evil.  These cursed, damned creatures are claimed by Satan, and act as his followers to lure human souls away from God.  For this reason, they cannot tolerate any reminders of what they have lost – crucifixes, holy water, rosaries, consecrated ground – and are forced to wander in the dark realm of night alongside the dead and undead.  Traditionally thought to be the reanimated evil souls of witches, suicides, and malevolent spirits, these corpses prey on the living in search of gratification and blood.  So how did this weird form of demonic possession becomes so sexy in the popular imagination?

Our literary fascination goes back the nineteenth century when Gothic horror writers began exploring the vampire myth.  Perhaps the most influential book was Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), which has since defined the legend for many generations.  Having spent seven years exploring Transylvanian folklore, Stoker based his demonic character on Vlad the Impaler (Vlad II, Dracula of Wallachia) who killed 40,000 – 100,000 enemies by impaling them on wooden poles – providing us with the method of ending a vampire’s reign by driving a wooden stake through the heart.  Vlad’s other atrocities included roasting children and serving them to their mothers, burning entire villages to the ground, and making men eat the severed breasts of their women.  Interestingly, the name Dracul can mean both dragon and devil.  But Stoker’s villain is much more attractive and sophisticated.  His Dracula is a worldly aristocratic count who skillfully stalks and seduces his prey.

During the twentieth century, the TV show Dark Shadows featured a sympathetic monster called Barnabas (1967).  In Interview With A Vampire Anne Rice introduced the sensual character, Lestat (1976).  And before long the disgusting blood-sucking creature of nightmares turned into a metaphor for redemption.  If the sad, lost vampire can be saved – by love or compassion – surely there is hope for everyone!   This also seems to be the  hook in books like the Twilight series.

Today, the vampire has become a sex symbol, the hero of YA fiction and cable TV.  But this is not a modern phenomenon.  Ever since Eve was tricked in the Garden of Eden, the devil has been portrayed as being both attractive and seductive.  He does not lure Eve into temptation in human form – he chooses to appear as the phallic snake, a reminder that woman is lustful and open to the sins of the flesh.

When Eve eats from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil she dooms the human race to mortality, and in aligning herself with Satan she becomes the prototype witch.  But when European mythology made evil the polar opposite to good, it seems the devil came up with an intriguing alternative.  Instead of God’s promise of eternal life, Satan offers immortality on earth through becoming one of his minions.  Vampirism is an attractive solution to the Christian rigors of heaven or the painful tortures of hell.  And so, I would argue, the Dracula myth was born.

Who does not want to overcome death and live forever?  Most of us have a secret craving for love, immortality, power, and freedom.    The vampire realm requires an initial sacrifice of blood to the master, but thereafter there are no punishments or rules, no aging and pain, no guilt or taboos.  Surrendering to the darkness is erotic, exciting, mysterious, and adventurous.  The vampire remains suspended in time and the lustful soul is free to roam at will.

As modern day religion and morality changes with the times, so does our perception of good and evil.  It is only natural that our mythology alters too.  Few people would have found Bela Lugosi’s demonic Dracula very attractive:

Bela

But True Blood’s Eric Northman is a whole different beast!

Vampire

Sources:

Wikipedia: “Dracula” – “Vampire” – “Vlad the Impaler”

Dawidziak, David.  “When Did Vampires Turn From Monsters To Sex Symbols?”

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Penguin, 1990.

 

Rasputin: Devil or Saint?

Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916) was a complex Russian cunning man, sometimes called a monk, yet also described as a demon.  Why is he still such a fascinating figure?

Rasputin

Born a Siberian peasant, Rasputin rose to fame as a mystical faith healer to Tsar Nicholas II and his family.  His name, however, is often associated with trickery, debauchery, and the lust for power.

Following the death of his two young sons, Rasputin claimed a holy vision led him to become a religious wanderer.  In 1907 he was summoned to the royal palace to attend Alexei – heir to the throne – who secretly suffered from hemophilia.  Although traditional medicine could do nothing for him,  Rasputin healed the young man with special prayers (and possibly his own herbal remedy), offering the Tsar and his wife their first glimpse of hope for their son’s future.

At a time when most of educated Europe was interested in mysticism, Rasputin claimed to have access to the spirit world.  This – and his sway over the royal family – earned him many critics, some of whom claimed he was the Tsarina’s lover.  The newspapers of the day continually hounded him, yet by 1914 he was a firm influential force in Russian politics.

Multiple assassination attempts were made on the cunning man’s life.  One the first occasion he was stabbed.  But the night his enemies finally murdered him, Rasputin was poisoned with cyanide, shot three times at close range, bludgeoned with a shoe, and dumped in an icy river.

Scholarship suggests Rasputin was not a saint – he was never ordained in any religious order.  Rather, he was a charismatic personality with hypnotic eyes, who clarified the scriptures and made them accessible to everyone.  Most likely he was a herbalist and a gifted faith healer.  But his strong male appetite for power, fame, sex, and entertainment ultimately led to his downfall.

At the end of the day Rasputin was human, and like all of us he had both good and bad qualities.  Yet the widespread public fascination he evoked (and continues to evoke) suggests he may have been one of the first modern pop-culture icons.

Perhaps that is why his fame has stood the test of time.  Rasputin was the undisputed paparazzi star of his era!

Olde English Spotted Dick

Spotted Dick is an amusing name for a delicious suet-based fruit pudding that is best serve with custard!

Spotted Dick

Ingredients

40z fresh white breadcrumbs

3oz shredded vegetable suet

3oz plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2oz sugar

4oz dried currants, raisins, or sultanas

1 lemon – grated rind and juice

1 orange – grated rind and juice

4oz milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Method

1. Grease a heat-proof pudding bowl.

2. Place the breadcrumbs, suet, flour, salt, sugar, and dried fruit in a large bowl.

3. Add the lemon rind and juice, orange rind and juice, vanilla, and milk.

4. Stir well with a wooden spoon until thoroughly mixed.

5. Place in the pudding bowl.  Cover with pleated greaseproof paper and tie off with string.

6. Steam in a metal culinder or sieve over a large pan of boiling water for 1 – 2 hours, checking the water regularly, and topping up the pan so it does not boil dry.

7. Serve hot.

Power

“Is it not glorious to ride on the wind –

to mount the stars –

to kiss the moon through the dark rolling clouds?

Witch

She loathed her own form and her own species –

earth was too narrow for her desires.”

(John Roby: Lancashire Myths and Legends)

Kate Bush’s Waking the Witch

Waking The Witch (Kate Bush)

Goddess

Wake Up
A good morning ma’am, your early morning call
You must wake up
Wake up
Wake up, man
Wake up child, pay attention
Come on, wake up
Wake up, love
You shouldn’t make the night, but see your little lights alive
Stop your lying and sleeping in bed! Get up!
(Come on! Your ma needs a shower)
Little light
Can you not see that little light up there?
Where?
There?
Where?
Over here…
You still in bed?
Wake up you sleepy head
We are of the going water and gone, we are of the water, and the holy land of water…
Don’t you know you’ve got to wake up?
Look who’s hear to see you…

Listen to me…help me baby…talk to me, baby…tell them…listen to me…help me

You won’t burn
Red red roses
You won’t bleed
Pinks and posies
Confess to me girl
Red red roses
Go down

Spiritus sanctus in nomine…
Spiritus sanctus in nomine…
Spiritus sanctus in nomine…
Spiritus sanctus in nomine…

Poor little thing
Red red roses
The blackbird
Pinks and posies
Wings in the water
Red red roses
Go down
Pinks and posies

Deus et dei domino…
Deus et dei domino…
Deus et dei domino…
Deus et dei domino…

What is it child?

Bless me father, bless me father, for I have sinned…ugh
Red red roses
Help me baby, listen to me, listen to me, tell them baby
Red whole rose
Help me baby
Don’t you know?
I question your innocence

This black bird…
Is a stone around my neck
Ha! Damn you woman … Ah! Ugh!
This black bird…
Is a stone around my neck
What say you good people?
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
This black bird….
I am responsible for your actions!
Whoa….
Not guilty!
Help this black bird.
Wake up the Witch

Get out of the waves.

Get out of the water.