‘In Like a Lamb – Out Like a Lion’ – Anon
Traditional wisdom surrounding weather in March Farmers’ Almanac
Lord Byron – whose mother Catherine Gordon was born at Gight in Aberdeenshire – had a healthy disregard for British weather – possibly one of his reasons for self-imposed exile in Italy and Greece. Genetically a Scot, his lineage shows in his:
“English winter – ending in July
To recommence in August”
After my previous long blog on weather, particularly the singular non-summer of 2009, I promised myself I wouldn’t allow it to dominate my consciousness. But circumstances never quite follow the rules and as I’m not alone in experiencing a return to winter over the March 2010 full moon, I think I’m allowed to empathize with others in our shared predicament:
‘What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen’ William Shakespeare
While the extreme North of Scotland may have had all the ‘freezings’ it can possibly endure, I feel sorry for the people of Perthshire who tonight, under this March full moon’s anomalous influence, are being subjected to their seventh storm of sleet and freezing rain this winter/(spring). It certainly fosters strength of spirit.
Colorado – at this time of year the so-called Recreation State, because Aspen welcomes thousands in ‘spring break’ from school – has had yo-yo conditions: similar to those experienced by Vancouver for the Winter Olympics in early February. That means no snow on the Aspen runs (expensive snow-blowers and snow-creation turbines hauled in to coat ski slopes), while a few miles distant at Mount Evans, highways have been blocked by mammoth snowdrifts, rockfalls from heavy snow and, essentially, a return to January.
Snow is currently descending again on Mount Fuji in Japan, at the same latitude as Los Angeles in Southern California.
But it’s nearly over.
American poet Wallace Stevens talked of the ‘distant glitter of the January sun’ and yet we know its light is coming closer now. Days are getting longer. Global clocks have sprung forward.
John Masefield spoke of our challenges during ‘Mad March Days’ in his exquisite poem on ocean traders: ‘Cargoes.’ Metaphors mixed with gold moidores, amethysts and topazes borne by his Spanish galleon, and his peacock-bearing quinquereme take his reader to heights, only to bring him back down to earth with the salt-caked smokestack of his ‘dirty British coaster’ ‘butting through the Channel.’
His spirit could fly, however, in spite of his description of ‘wind like a whetted knife’. He may have felt the chill of British isolation amid a ‘grey mist on the sea’s face’, but he had presence-of-mind to dream of far-off places to stave off the chill days of Mad March.
‘… all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.’
In these long drawn-out days between winter and spring, we in sodden Scotland do indeed need a star to steer by.Since Autumn 2008, along with Mars, the solar system’s three largest planets, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus have been slowly moving into position to form a Cardinal Grand Cross in mid June 2010. A series of Crosses follows on, including one in June 2012 and another in June 2014. This June should give us a taste of what’s to come.
In astrology the cardinal signs signal the beginning of each new season: Aries stands at spring equinox; Cancer at summer solstice; Libra at autumn equinox and Capricorn, at midwinter. Energy in cardinal signs is characterized as active, outgoing, taking initiative. Its negative side is associated with lack of stamina or staying power.Cardinal equals primary, fundamental, an energy standing at a hinge or doorway in time. People whose astrological charts feature cardinal zodiac signs are unafraid to try something new. A cardinal cross signifies a meeting of great influential heavenly bodies at a hinge of the seasons and the upcoming Grand Cross begins on June 25th (three days after solstice) and lasts until August 5th. Its second phase stretches from November 1st until December 26th.
In an individual’s zodiac birth chart, the presence of a Grand Cross – or four ‘squares’ – represents a potent combination of conflicting energies. If/when resolved, it can create a determined, dynamic and forceful personality with a strong sense of purpose or destiny.
The individual in the middle of this year’s Cardinal Grand Cross in June is the planet Earth and we earthlings perched on her surface are in for a rocky ride.
At this Cosmic Doorway we the human race will be stretched, pushed, pulled, tested, chewed and, possibly, even spat out by the Cosmic Forces. It will take all our fortitude, peace-of-mind, spiritual discipline and love and devotion to our fellow beings to guide us through this challenging time.
An astrological Cross occurs when four (or more) planets connect in a giant square: two in opposition to one another at right angles to two more, also in opposition. The configuration brings energies into conflict, a period of tension, but is often a catalyst for (spiritual and societal) growth. It is certainly a time of great change.
This June, against a backdrop of Uranus squared Pluto (the planet of birth and death), three days after summer solstice at a time considered sacred in all formative cultures, Jupiter and Uranus will stand in early degrees of Aries in square polarity to a Full Moon standing conjunct Pluto in Capricorn, opposite the Sun.Age-old superstition and tradition show especial respect and awe for the Full Moon closest to the longest day and this Moon is no exception. Its synchronicity suggests an urgency for Mankind to pay attention.
In the third corner Saturn stands alone in late Virgo (on the cusp of cardinal Libra) while the Sun and Mercury in Cancer form the fourth corner of the Great Square or Cross. Polarizing Saturn in a square is the planet Mars (in Cancer), which, since March 12th this year has turned once more to direct motion. This implies a tendency to act rashly and sometimes without discipline: a trait which in the coming Cross could lead to difficulties.
The planets form a cross-grid. Think of it as four people sitting as partners at a bridge table, opposite each other and at right angles to their opponents. Opposing sides use the tension of their position to intuit and understand what hand the other is playing. After a series of push-pull negotiations, a ‘contract’ is reached and the four parties find a meeting place in the middle – a point of balance – where all four may use their skills and unique talents to focus on a central point of force, pave the way for a final resolution.
Slowly, inexorably, dragging their great bulk to stand in giant opposition within identical degrees in the four cardinal zodiac signs come the huge ‘partners’ in the ‘game’: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Pluto – with the Moon and Mars adding spice.
These powerful entities – representative of expansion, discipline, spiritual growth and death – want to express and release their energies fully but are restricted (by the squares) from doing so. The tension thus created will be enormous. However, as the Grand Cross does indeed bring great change and eventually the spiritual strength to grow beyond our narrow vision, there is a powerful message of hope in the configuration.
Psychologist-linguist-astrologer Jessica Murray writes most knowledgeably about a 20-year prelude to this massive shift in human consciousness. Her work includes detailed analysis of the changes society went through starting with the great astrological conjunction – New Age ‘Harmonic Convergence’ in Aquarius of 1987. It continues through the 1989- 2007 conjunction when Saturn held hands with Neptune: from the ‘melting’ of the Berlin Wall (seen as Neptune’s softening influence on rigid societal structures – Saturn) through massive floods in New Orleans and Bangladesh, earthquakes and global warming. She sees this prelude as ‘softening up’ society to prepare ourselves for the coming confrontation.
About the imminent Grand Cross, she writes:
‘It is from the vast, slow-moving outer-planet cycles (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) that we expect the most far-reaching effects; and when these make major aspects with the social planets (Jupiter and Saturn) as well as with the personal planets (such as the Moon and Mars) at the same time, the rarity of the patterns that result puts them into a category that deserves a unique degree of awe, respect and attention.’
She sees us as having to come to terms with the contrast of the ‘real’ world (Saturn) and the ‘surreal’ (Uranus/Neptune, the ‘quantum field’, ‘Spirit’) in our lives.
Dedication and staying power to follow through on projects and activities are not the strong suit of Cardinal Grand Crosses. And the two oppositions suggest external challenges – our motives and deep beliefs questioned by others. We shall need all our faith, our self-belief and a will to be consistent in our personal connection to Spirit; to show loving intent, a calm center and compassion in dealing with others, possibly amid derision and disbelief.
Both Neptune and Uranus have been traveling in each other’s signs of exaltation: Neptune in Aquarius and Uranus in Pisces (each rules the other’s sign). They’ve been paving the way for the last seven years asking us to open our minds and hearts to our spiritual selves, to incorporate spiritual principles into our everyday lives.
The coming Grand Cross will test our resolve. With planning and forethought, we may still succeed in achieving our goals, but tried and traditional avenues may not be available. Above all, we shall have to take each day as it comes, live and enjoy our increasing awareness of our place in the great unfolding, and be true to who we really are.
The good news is that a Grand Cross involving the outer giant planets brings with it enormous energy which, if used with the power of intention, in loving ways, will open new doors, provide unprecedented opportunities. It may be a time when many will be able to reconnect with their Inner Knowing, their guiding star.
A time to reinvent ourselves.
So while the Lion of March roars outside, dispersing the last ghosts of winter, we may look to the months ahead with hope that we mere mortals may, with the assistance of giants, find a portal through which to step; to create a better world.
What is it about phases of the Moon and our need to believe in doom and gloom?
Nostradamus, French apothecary and seer Michel de Nostradame (1503-1566) was famous not only for thousands of quatrains, but for the obscurity and multiplicity of their interpretation. He wrote the following quatrain:
It has so far escaped attribution. In recent years the most famous of his quatrains (Century I Quatrain 87) has been interpreted (usually by re-writing its context), to apply to the World Trade Center tragedy of 9/11, 2001. In the original it appears:
‘The Moon in the full of night over the high mountain, The new sage with a lone brain sees it: By his disciples invited to be immortal, Eyes to the south. Hands in bosoms, bodies in the fire’ Century IV number 31
‘Earthshaking fire from the centre of the earth will cause tremors around the New City. Two great rocks will war for a long time, then Arethusa will redden a new river’
When rewritten to tie more closely into the the Twin Towers scenario, it reads:
‘Sea of fire at the world centre, The tower of the new city will tremble: Two great blocks will be at war for a long time, Then Arethusa will redden a new river
Lost in the thrill of proclaiming the French mystic’s ability to see five hundred years into the future with such precision, the interpreters failed to notice a suggestion by a contemporary volcanologist that Vesuvius is sited between two great massifs, did in fact tremble and erupt shortly after this prediction and Arethusa – a Greek mythological Neried who was turned into a fountain – appeared to influence ‘rivers’ of lava which cascaded down its slopes. Nearby Napoli/Naples, in translation does also mean ‘New City’.
Such is the nature of perfect prognostication.
Its interpreters may never agree. And yet it is human nature to ‘see’ the alternate reality, poised, ready to believe.
In the months following 9/11 public hysteria whipped up by veiled suggestion had books on Nostradamus and those quoting his work catapulted to best-seller status in both Amazon and Barnes & Noble reading lists.
In Nostradamus‘s time, the Scots-Gaelic equivalent of the French prophet was one favored by Clan Mackenzie in their talented son ‘Dun’ Kenneth (Coinneach Odhar), the Brahan Seer. While first reference to him in print does not appear until Thomas Pennant’s ‘Tour of Scotland’ (1769) “Every country has its prophets… and the HIghlands their Kenneth Odhar,” it is likely this refers to Keanoch Owir, ordered prosecuted by Rossshire authorities for witchcraft by two Commissions of Justice in 1577. Oral tradition says he predicted the fate of Fairburn Tower, seat of the Mackenzies overlooking great landholdings in Rossshire river valleys of the Orrin and Conon:
The castle did indeed become a ruin and in 1851, when a cow calved in the garret, it was being used by a farmer to store hay. The prophecy was so well-known that people came by train to Victorian health-spa Strathpeffer and on by coach to see the cow. She had climbed up the tower following a trail of hay, had a good feed at the top and become stuck. She gave birth to a fine calf and both were carefully led down some five days later, allowing enough time for the incredulous to visit and see the prophecy fulfilled for themselves.
‘The day will come when the Mackenzies of Fairburn shall lose their entire possessions; their castle will become uninhabited and a cow shall give birth to a calf in the uppermost chamber of the tower.
A laborer on the Brahan Seaforth estate, Kenneth was summoned by Isabella, Lady Seaforth to give her news of her husband, then on a visit to France. He saw in his mind the Earl cavorting with a Parisian demoiselle and wouldn’t answer his mistress. She threatened him with dismissal and insisted until he told her what he had seen. The revelation cost the oracle his life. Traditional reward for the bearer of bad tidings was death by ‘tarring’ in a barrel of boiling pitch. Before receiving his sentence, he threw his ‘divining’ stone into Loch Ussie and foretold the end of the male line and the extinction of the Seaforths.
In its Georgian heyday, one mile west of Brahan House the grounds stretched to meet the A835 Dingwall-to-Ullapool road. A monument rests by the road. It was here that the Brahan Seer’s final prediction of the fall of the Seaforths became a reality.
When the last Lord Seaforth died (after his four sons) the estates went to his eldest daughter, Mary. She had married Admiral Hood, spending several years stationed in the East Indies. When the Admiral died, Lady Mary Hood, (later Lady Stewart-Mackenzie) returned wearing the traditional Indian white coife of mourning. In 1823 Lady Mary was in control of a pony carriage near Brahan accompanied by her sister, Lady Caroline Mackenzie. The ponies bolted and the carriage overturned. Lady Caroline was thrown out and died of her injuries.
Dun Kenneth’s last words before he was ‘tarred’ were that Lord Seaforth’s possessions would be
‘inherited by a white-coiffed lassie from the east and she is to kill her sister’
Two of his predictions remain, so far, unfulfilled:
‘One day black rain will fall on the City of Aberdeen’
Optimists hope this refers to North Sea Oil and not nuclear fallout. And
‘Rome was; London is; Edinburgh shall be’
While this could refer to the present condition of Scots parliament sitting in the Scots capital, it may imply a future time when Edinburgh becomes more important than the capital of Great Britain…
Scotland’s most famous seer, however, is 13th-century Thomas the Rhymer, Thomas Learmounth of Ercildoune (c. 1220 – c. 1298), from a district now called Earlston near Berwick in the Borders. There is documentary evidence of a Thomas Rimor de Ercildoun witnessing deeds in the 1260s.
Nearly all his sayings have been recorded, and were first published in 1603, but it is remarkable that in the handing down through oral tradition of his many prophecies, the rhyming and rhythm has been maintained, so that his legacy is indeed a series of poetic prognostication.
And, remembering that what a poet, bard or seer of the 13th century was usually expected to foretell was the fate or future of a great house or a noble family, his words have a way of telling an alternative history of ‘lowland’ Scotland stretching from the Moray Firth to the Forth.
Sir Walter Scott became fascinated by him and created the ‘Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer’ to include in his ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border‘, 1802.
The tale goes that Thomas Learmounth, while out walking near his Tower House of Ercildoune, sat to rest under the ‘Eildon Tree’, a hawthorn, known to have magical powers. While he slept, the Queen of Faeryland spirited him away to live with her, some say for three, others for seven, years and when he returned from what he thought was a nap of a few minutes, the world had changed by several years.
Syne they came to a garden green,
And she pu’d an apple frae a tree:
‘Take this for thy wages, true Thomas;
It will give thee the tongue that can never lee.’ Thomas and the Queen of Fairyland 17thC Anon
And he returned with the power of prophecy.
The Queen’s gift was bestowed on condition he should always speak the truth, but also on the strict understanding that he would return immediately at her summons.
His elf-given powers predicted some historically life-changing events:
The death of King Alexander III in 1296 in a fall from his horse
The succession of Robert the Bruce as King of Scots
The disastrous defeat of King James IV of Scots at Flodden in 1513
The defeat of Mary Queen of Scots at the Battle of Pinkie in 1567 and
The Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603.
The downfall of many a great landed family was until the age of film and television attributed to the powers the Queen of Elfland had bestowed on Thomas the Rhymer. Now fantasy is the stuff of moviemakers.
However, some of his prescient pronouncements bear repeating.
The family of Gordon from whom George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (the poet Lord Byron) was descended, suffered in a typically Thomas fashion:
‘When the heron leaves the tree
The laird o’ Gight shall landless be’
On May 12, 1785, his mother Catherine Gordon of Gight, the last female descendant of an estate overlooking the river Ythan in Aberdeenshire, married Hon. John Byron. The estate was sold soon after the marriage. Tradition says that about the time of the marriage the falcons or ‘herons’ which had built their nest for many years in a ‘fine tree near the castle’, left and took up their abode in the woods of nearby Haddo. Gight is now a ruin. Another, that
‘At Gight three men a violent death shall dee
And after that the land shall lie in lea.’
This prophecy was also fulfilled.
One of the most famous tragedies to befall a family in Aberdeenshire was that of the hereditary Earls Marischal, (former Knights Marischal), Masters of Horse to the Royal Household from time immemorial. The honour was traditionally given to the house of Keith, earlier known as Keiths-Falconer, later Earls of Kintore, Lords Inverurie and Stonehaven, a family with hereditary lands at Dunnottar south of Aberdeen, and Inverugie near St Fergus in Buchan. Their medieval power was so great that when county boundaries were drawn up in the 12th century after Norman nobles moved north with the Court, St Fergus (and Inverugie) was allowed to maintain the status of being part of Banffshire, from where the family originated. It is to this day an enclave of ‘Banffshire’ within the confines of ‘Aberdeenshire’ in this Buchan corner.The family had been immensely wealthy, with lands stretching from the Moray Firth (Banffshire and north Aberdeenshire) through Kincardineshire (the coastal fortress of Dunnottar) to the Esk river boundary with Angus and the Mearns: an area half the size of Switzerland.
They were trusted, loyal to the Crown, had held their hereditary position as protector of the King’s person and his stable for centuries. They were elevated to Earls Marischal after supreme acts of bravery on behalf of the Royal House, concealing the royal regalia – the Crown Jewels of Scotland – after the coronation of James II in 1650, from the eyes of Cromwell’s soldiers, whose most ardent quest was to remove and destroy them, as they had so recently melted down the English regalia.The Knights Marischal were the trusted recipients of the precious Crown, Orb, regal Sword and Sceptre after the hastily-conceived coronation at Scone, and they concealed them at Dunottar until it, too, lay under siege. The situation became urgent. The ‘Honours’ were lowered by rope to a serving woman in a boat who took them to the nearby village church of Kinneff and hid them in the cellar. For this act of bravery and allegiance the Keiths – after the king’s “Restoration’ – were elevated to Earls Marischal and once again their power and position seemed untouchable.
Until some of Thomas’s prophecies started to bite.
One relates him standing personally within Inverugie Castle grounds on a huge prehistoric boundary stone revered as sacrosanct in his time:
“Inverugie by the sea
Lordless shall thy lands be
And underneath thy hearth-stane
The tod* shall bring her birds hame.”
*tod = fox
“As lang’s this stane stands on this craft
The name of Keith shall be held alaft’
But when this stane begins t’ fa’
The name of Keith shall wear awa'”
In 1715 the Inverugie property of the Earl Marischal at St. Fergus was ‘attainted’ (put in disgrace). This meant that by order of the Crown, descendants could not inherit. The estate at St Fergus was bought from the Crown by York Buildings Co. Trustees of that Company sold it in 1761 to George, Earl Marischal, son of the attainted earl.
The stone of Thomas’s recital was removed in 1763 and built into the church of St Fergus which was then under construction. This seemed to add to the family’s downfall. The ‘new’ owner went into debt and he sold Inverugie in 1764, the year after the stone was removed, to Lord Pitfour, one of the senators of the College of Justice. Inverugie has not been in Keith hands since that time.
Dunnottar, too, fell into ruin.
One of the family’s other houses was at Auchmedden, near Pennan in Aberdour parish on the North Coast.
“As long’s there’s an eagle in Pennan
There will be a Baird in Auchmedden”
Baird was another family name of the Keiths. In historical records of the House, a pair of eagles built their nest in the cliffs near the village of Pennan and the Bairds protected them with the greatest care and fed them by placing daily on a ledge of rock near their eyrie food and tidbits. Willam Baird joined ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie as an officer of his bodyguard at Culloden. He continued in hiding for some years after and then lived the remainder of his life at Echt House (central Aberdeenshire) where he died in 1777. Auchmedden was not confiscated, but Mr Baird had to sell it in 1750 to relieve debt contracted in support of the Stuarts. When it was bought by Earl of Aberdeen in that year, the eagles left.
There is one final Keith prediction which may be their death knell, although Thomas’s words do not specifically mention the family:
‘When Dee and Don shall run as one
And Tweed shall run with Tay
The Bonnie Waters o’ the Urie
Shall bear the Bass away.’
The Bass is a man-made medieval mound used to garrison troops of David I (1170). It is situated at the confluence of the Urie and Don in Inverurie which meets the boundary of the lands of Keith Hall, where the Earls Marischal built their glorious edifice after they were elevated and once more restored to royal favour. The Hall is a superb example of 17th century style and elegance and its surrounding woodland reminiscent of once-great royal hunting forests.It lies on the edge of the modern town of Inverurie and the town is encroaching.
The river floods regularly and in these last floodings, the Bass got its feet wet.
Within the last decade, the great Hall was sold and converted into a condominium; while the Earl and Countess of Kintore remained on the estate – making a comfortable residence in the Stables – they both seemed to have ‘lost’ something in the move.
Lord Kintore then ‘lost his seat’ in Tony Blair’s insensitive reshuffle of the House of Lords and the light went out of his life.
The Countess contracted cancer and was given a few months to live. One Hallowe’en, before events could progress too far in that direction, the Earl took his own life. His wife died within the year. Their son, the present Earl, no longer makes his home in Aberdeenshire.
The lands are walked upon by Inverurie passers-by who use the once-great ‘hunting forest’ to promenade their dogs on weekends, in the evenings; in fact at any time of the day or night. How many of them are aware of the great history that lies under their feet?
“The name of Keith shall wear awa'”
has come true in ways even Thomas could not have imagined.
So, did the Queen of Elfland ever summon Thomas back? Maybe so.
He disappeared one day in 1298 after walking out of his Tower House and was never seen again.
According to legend, he will return and come to Scotland’s aid in the hour of her greatest need…
‘First come Candlemas
Syne the New Meen
The niest Tiseday efter that
Is Festern’s E’en.
That Meen oot
An’ anither at its hicht
The niest Sunday efter that
Is aye Pasche richt.’
Ancient Scots Easter calculation. Anon.
The Calendar according to the Moon was regular as clockwork. It was reliable, you could see it in the sky and you could set your life rhythms by it. The old Scots rhyme above spoken slowly will make sense even to the least son of the soil of Ultima Thule. But non-Scots may need a little help in translation.
Festern’s E’en – as Hallowe’en – was an ancient calendar fire festival celebrated, like all pre-Christian revelry, at night. And, like Hallowe’en, it still is. Only we call it by another name: Carnival.
Translated simply, it is the evening before the ‘Feast/Festival’. With a capital F, this celebration was one of the greatest fire festivals in the Celtic Year. When it became absorbed into the Christian calendar, its importance and significance to the populace was so great, that it was deemed necessary to give it a place of prominence second only to Christmas. As such it has remained. The festival that precedes Easter is throughout the world celebrated with fire and puppetry,processional and masqued balls, dance and music and food and drink.
If you ask a South American about Carnival, ‘Carnaval’ in Portuguese, he will tell you they prepare for it all year round. In some cultures it has become almost more important than Christmas – a reversion to type, backtracking to pre-Christian times.
In Brazil, it makes complete sense to hold Carnaval precisely on its February moon date in the ancient calendar because in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires it is full-blown summer. By contrast, German Fasching, held similarly in February, is pretty chilly dancing in the noctural streets of northern Hamburg!
Carnival used to be held in the Bahamas in February too, when spring is at its height and the casuarinas blow carefree along Nassau Beach. But in the summer of 1965, Chubby Broccoli and Sean Connery made a James Bond film set on Paradise Island and commissioned the Carnival Committee to stage an ‘extra’ Carnival, so they could weave festive fiery scenes into ‘Thunderball’; since then Bahamian Carnival has been a summertime festival. Similarly, the London Carnival of Notting Hill, begun in 1964, is held on the last weekend in August. No connection to Lent or Easter any more.
But originally, before the Gregorian calendar took over calculation and reckoning by the moon in 1582, Carnival was high festive season in that ancient stream of festivities used by Man to celebrate the return of the Light to a dark winter world.
Candlemas, as I’ve mentioned before, is the first glimpse of light waxing and adding grace to the darkest days of winter. On February 2nd – or Bride’s Day, before solar months took over as calendrical norm – the measure of light from the heavens increases to such a degree that birds begin to mate, petals on spring flowers open and the Earth softens its frozen grip.
In lunar terms, the first New Moon of the second month (Gregorian) was celebrated in every northern hemisphere culture planet-wide from prehistoric times. From Buddhist to Inuit culture the return of light to nurture the earth’s crucial growing plants was a calendar custom worth celebrating.
When Christian calendar calculators were devising Roman Church high and holy days, they took care to incorporate these ancient fire rites as an integral part of Christian culture and ‘lore’. it did not do to lose a single ‘soul’ in the transition from a pre-Christian to a Christian world.
And, as it was a long-standing tradition for local people to mark ancient quarter days – the solstices and the equinoxes – with festivals of fire, it seemed right that they should transit unaltered into the Christian calendar: marked instead with candlelight inside church buildings.
Christmas was chosen at the time of (northern) winter solstice when the ‘ignorant’ (pagan) desperately needed to celebrate the return of ‘light to the world’. Christ was called the ‘Light of the World’. The Son of the Sun.
Midsummer was fully taken up with a light celebration of its own – in northern latitudes the longest days of the year brought bountiful harvest and genuine thanksgiving by a rural population for the gifts of the earth continuously provided from midsummer through to Lammas, an August ‘cross-quarter’ day. No Church overlay was necessary; nevertheless Roman Catholicism superimposed the feast of John the Baptist on midsummer’s day and frowned heavily on pagan corn dollies and such Celtic fripperies perpetuated by an agricultural society.
The Equinoxes, however, required more serious contemplation.
Most rural (so-called ignorant) converts were aware of the movement of both sun and moon. While that may appear to us today to be rather sophisticated intellectual knowledge, it was commonplace then to note changing seasons, hours of light and dark and the phases of the moon. When equinox arrived it was – in the human mind at least – a miracle that every place on earth had exactly the same number of hours of light and dark for one earth period of 24 hours. The sun rose at 6 and set at 6 on every man, woman, child and beast on earth. The phenomenon was in itself worth celebrating. In astronomical terms, the event occurs precisely at the moment the Sun (traveling along the ecliptic) appears to cross the celestial equator, and while ancient Man may not have known that added sophistication, his life was changed by its occurrence twice in every year. In addition, he celebrated the spring (cross-quarter) festivals of Wesak, Beltane, May Day, along with any events providing an excuse for Morris and maypole dancing, The Church allowed these to continue, so long as the requisite saints were also remembered and offerings given.
While Archangel Michael was given dominion over autumnal equinox, Easter was chosen as a fitting ‘high’ celebration to take over the vernal equinoctial light-and-dark balance.
What put a spanner in the works was that – late in the seventh century – when two contemporary Christian systems were running alongside in mutual cooperation, the internal systems within the Celtic and Roman Churches came to a clash; an impasse.Hugely influential, powerful and wealthy King Oswiu of Northumbria had been happy to run his Christian nation along the lines of Columba’s Celtic (thirteen-month lunar) calendar issued and maintained from Iona. This Celtic doctrine conveniently recognized the King as head of religious affairs. His Anglian Queen Eanfled, a devout Roman Christian recognized not the King but the Pope as head of the Church. They might have reconciled their differences, had it not been for a calendrical anomaly which in some years had the King ordering huge feasts for Easter at exactly the moment when his Queen was still fasting in Lent. Because another such year was due to happen in AD665, with the assistance of Wilfrid, new abbot at Rippon, and recently returned from Gaul and Rome, the King called the Synod of Whitby in AD664 and led a thorough investigation into the rites and rituals of both systems. The event is described in detail by Jarrow churchman Bede (673-735) who completed his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731.
While the Synod changed lives, split families and royal houses, even intra-kingdom alliances, thereafter church festivities centred on Easter were standardized throughout the land and celebrated in accordance with Roman custom.
Easter remained the highest festival of the Christian church until the Scots Reformation when (after 1660) presbyterian austerity superimposed simplicity, reduced dogma and a return to ‘speaking to God’ directly.
For the rest of the British Isles, however, and for descendants and dependents the world over, Easter remains one of the great festivals of the Christian calendar.
Curiously, for a celebration washed, ironed and folded so neatly by successive synthesized systems – prehistoric, early-historic, pre-Christian, Celtic and Roman Christian – Easter emerges as a supreme highlight in the Church year.
Its one concession to its pagan past is that is remains to this day a date fixed according to the Moon.
And, in order not to offend other faiths which, like Anglian Eanfled, might take offence at the bulldozing approach (e.g. Spanish Inquisition, Salem witch trials), there is a built-in mechanism of calculation which ensures that Easter and Passover never collide and that the Christian High Festival should never occur BEFORE equinox.So the little rhyme above, translated, simple enough and sympathetic to Scots ears, sums up global lead-time to Pasque, Pasche, Oster/Easter, the pagan event of maiden-goddess Eostre/Ostara, the Highest Festival in the Christian Calendar: when in the High Days before the Fast of Lent, the Roman Catholic world celebrates. From Italian Carnivale to German Fasching (Fastnacht, the eve before the Fast), prelude to French Pasque, in Portuguese Carnaval and on ‘Fat Tuesday’ of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, bead-festooned feasters and revellers make merry because tomorrow their stomachs will die.
The modern gesture to Pancake or Shrove or Fat Tuesday (Festern’s E’en) is not lost on marketers for supermarket chains who do a roaring trade in maple syrup and readymix batter. It’s the ‘stock up while the going’s good’ mentality, because the body must endure the subsequent fast of Lent for a regulation 40 days. Once more the Roman Church succeeded in condensing multiple events in Christ’s life into one festival: this fast represents the period of time He spent without food while meditating in the desert.
Nowadays, nobody questions that its immediate successor in the calendar is representational of His death and resurrection, when historically the two events happened years apart. Once again, ancient symbolism is used to gloss over detail.
‘First arrives Candlemas (Feast of Bride); Then the New Moon
The following Tuesday will be ‘Fastnacht’/Fasching or Shrove Tuesday
Allow that ‘moon’ to wax and wane
And watch till the next moon is full
The Sunday thereafter will be Easter Day.’
translation by Scots descendant, non-Anon
It worked for King Oswiu in 664. I can assure you, the calculation works still!
©2010 Marian Youngblood