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In August/Lammas Heat, our Thoughts Turn to Water

IN AUGUST/LAMMAS HEAT, OUR THOUGHTS TURN TO WATER
Finding Respite in the Hottest Summer Yet

Mother Orca carrying her dead baby for over a week, slows her progress south with the herd


Monthly Hideaway for Insecure Writers and Others in need of a Cool Corner

This August seems hotter than most.

U.S. East Coast tropical storms began early. Now, with forest fires in California barely under control, homes and businesses are being evacuated from Redding, in Shasta-Trinity Forest’s Carr Fire, with volunteer fire crews being flown in from other states to combat its ‘tornado’ effect of flares spreading. It now covers 115,000 acres, 20% contained.

That’s twice as much acreage as last month’s Yosemite fire. Mendocino continues to battle its own Complex-Elk forest fires to the south. Emergency evacuation and road closure information here.

With all the burning going on, it is natural to turn to water, both metaphorically and literally. For the heroic firemen, a reliable source—river run-off, brackish or waste water—will work, as back-up for their ‘controlled burn’. The Carr fire is nevertheless not expected to be 100% controlled until at least mid-August. Our prayers go to Shasta and Trinity Counties. And to the 4,151 firemen there now, saving lives.

Cooling Contrast with Liquid Refreshment
To cool tempers and change our perspective a little, Washington Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA have been tracking/caring for a small pod of the last Southern Resident Orca in the wild. Numbering just 75, the group’s first baby to be born in three years just died. Mama Orca, above, has continued to carry her child, balancing the inert body on her snout and pushing it through the water. The pod are sensitive to her grief—the Museum record them grieving with her—which slows their progress in their brief migration.

Orca—the black-and-white so-called ‘killer’ whale is not much bigger than a dolphin. Their diet is a little more carniverous than their cousin the Humpback whale—plankton preferred, hence the name. Like dolphin, they are great mimics, playful in human company, some say boat-friendly.

16-yr old Orca Wiki with her calf born in captivity in French Aquacenter can say hello, goodbye & count to 5

In contrast, researchers at a French Marine Aquacenter are stretching the Orca’s fondness for communication in teaching their whale companions how to speak.

English, mostly.
Wiki, seen left with her calf, can say ‘Hello’, ‘Amy’, ‘goodbye’ and count from one to five.

Chesterton Windmill Crop Circle formation in Warwickshire shows musical/vibrational notation

Prelude to the Heat of Summer
Among the IWSGers here who (sometimes) emerge from our beloved (writing) cave, at our Ninja Cap’n Alex‘s call, I cannot resist a partial—if exoplanetary—explanation for such summer extremes:
July assembled a full moon in total eclipse for many parts of the world (except U.S.A.) and the auspicious heliacal rising of Sirius—worshipped and calculated to the millisecond by ancient Egyptian timekeepers—occurred within days of each other.

Unlike the parched West Coast U.S.A, in ancient times, Sirius foretold the rising of the Nile, providing much-needed water to abundant crops in the Egyptian delta. Eclipses, as we know, predict change.

Crop Circling PostScript
A ‘vibrational’ crop circle—noted for sound anomalies and making people’s wifi malfunction—also appeared on July 26th 2018 near a windmill in Warwickshire, creating woven nests in the wheat like little safety/comfort zones. Past crop circles with windmills have clearly encouraged human reuse of such traditional water/wind power.

Just a reminder from our interstellar relatives.
Let’s try to enjoy the heat. Or at least let us be grateful for the H2O.
©2018 Marian Youngblood

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August 1, 2018 Posted by | art, astrology, astronomy, authors, blogging, calendar customs, crop circles, energy, environment, festivals, seasonal, volcanic, weather, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hathor Blessing: Crop Circle Finale & Farewell

Salutation to Hathor, goddess of love, music and beauty and Lady of the Stars, whose ritual Menat necklace represents the Souls of the blessed ones

Last week on Friday the thirteenth what may be seen as the swan song of the 2010 Crop Circle season appeared: an Egyptian-style ritual collar with trailing neckgear shining from a Wiltshire field of golden corn. It is the height of the harvest, days before they start wholesale cutting of wheat and barley in the western countryside.

The formation’s simple lines and clear message to crop circle followers may be overlooked among a plethora of dimensional designs which have dominated the 2010 crop circle season.

Linking its unadorned but glorious glittering shape to a Menat necklace — the symbol of primeval mother goddess Hathor in both the Old and New Kingdoms of ancient Egypt — is not difficult. A ritual curving jewelled shoal of splendour, its form is emblazoned in our collective memory, even as a northern species, derived from classical and prehistoric civilization of Europe and the Mideast.

She is the world’s most ancient goddess, embodiment of the planet Earth herself. It is she who cradles the sun each night as he sinks in the west.

Even the current fashion in heavy female neckware harks back to that classical curve: row upon row of minute turquoise beadwork and beauty created to invoke delight in a child, desire and pleasure in a model on the catwalk.

In present-day Wiltshire, we may not admit to being familiar with Egyptian hieroglyphics, hieratic script or deathmasks and tomb-paintings of the earliest dynasties (Great Pyramid of Khufu, 2589 – 2566 BC). But we have dormant memory banks, our bodies contain suppressed genetic code which probably remembers such a time, can ‘feel’ the weight of such a beautiful collar round our necks, desire the touch of such a ritual necklace.

It belonged to the Earth’s primeval goddess, Hathor: bringer of love, abundance, joy, fertility and regeneration.

As a swan song for the Wiltshire crop circle season of 2010, it seems a fitting statement to place at the height of English summer, when crops of wheat, barley, maize and even oats glorify in eight-hour days of beating sunrays pounding health and vitality into their stems and cells, literally seconds on the cosmic clock before the combine harvesters slice through life, growth and celestial graffiti.

Judging by a pronounced extra-terrestrial bent to this season‘s creations — despite a fairly good supporting cast of ‘plankers’ (man-made designs) — and with Science now firmly convinced of genuine CC enhancement in grain nutrient value and crop size by ET’s ‘light treatment’, I fervently hope someone is buying up Wiltshire wheat to bake into ‘DNA-enhanced’ bread, or wonder-pasta for our general wellbeing!

While there have been many man-made attempts this summer to emulate the light-bent nodes of superluminary crop circles, the Beckhampton message from the goddess appears to be genuine.

But, back to symbolism. Why Hathor? Why choose to imprint English fields — and thereby all of croppiedom — with a blessing from an ancient goddess who ruled heaven and earth before most of the western world could write?

Hathor, Earth-Mother Cow-Goddess bestowed bounty

Some time in Egypt’s pre-dynastic past the Goddess Hathor came into being, considered a major force in the creation of the world. Hathor was worshipped for over 3,000 years. Alternate forms of her name are Hwt-Hrw, Het-Hor, Het-Hert, Athor or Athyr.

Hathor, frequently seen as Egyptian Cow Goddess whose horns ‘held the Sun’, is probably Earth’s most ancient female deity. She encompassed so many different qualities and roles that it’s near impossible to list them all. She has been known as Sky Goddess, Sun Goddess, Moon Goddess and Goddess of the West. She was known as goddess of Moisture, and of Fertility, Agriculture and Motherhood; Goddess of the Underworld, Mistress of the Necropolis and, in her role as Protectress of the City of the Dead at Thebes, she became Goddess of the Dead.

Amenhotep III's ritual Menat necklace of bronze, faience, stone, glass and turquoise was gifted by goddess Hathor to pharaoh to engender his rebirth; courtesy Metropolitan Museum of New York

She was worshipped as Goddess of Love, Ecstasy and Beauty, and enriched the lives of her followers as Goddess of Music, Dance, Drinking and Joy. She was patroness of Women and Marriage and Protectress of Pregnancy. Hathor ultimately became special guardian spirit for all women and all female animals, and had such titles as ‘Lady of the Turquoise’ and ‘Lady of the Sycamore.’

The Menat Necklace was a ritual object first seen adorning the neck of the goddess and later used in ritual ceremonies to Hathor. The bejeweled necklace had many strands which ended in a counterpiece that, when originally worn as a collar, would hang down the back of the neck. In later use it had a ceremonial purpose and was wafted and waved as an amulet over the devoted to convey a blessing from the Goddess. The Menat symbolized fertility, and some sources see its offering a mystical union between the Goddess and her followers.

Are we earthlings now ‘followers’ of the wise goddess? Do we rate a heavenly blessing from the most high?

All summer long we’ve been expecting a message from God. Finally, as the year turns to autumn, we get a blessing from Goddess.

Much like the goddess Ishtar, Hathor’s attributes were a complex combination of the sacred feminine, death and the afterlife. It was she who bore bodies of the dead to the Underworld, she who actually took ownership of them. In this role Hathor became Queen of the Underworld.

Sun blessing embedded in a Wiltshire crop circle: Hathor regalia ends the 2010 season

In her association with Sun God Ra, Hathor was granted the title ‘Golden One’, while also sharing the name, ‘Eye of Ra’ with goddesses Sekhmet and Bast. Hathor was Protectress of Horus, the falcon god, and called a wide variety of names in that role. Some attributes appear conflicting and confusing and, as Mother Goddess, Hathor was often confused with both Isis and Nut. What confuses even more is the fact that she subsequently ‘became’ Isis who, in a later period, absorbed and acquired many of the aspects previously attributed to Hathor.

When she governed in her principal place of worship at Dendera, Hathor’s role as Goddess of Fertility, Women and Childbirth was venerated specifically. Her temple there was filled with incense, intoxication and pleasure. At her other temple in Thebes, however, Hathor changed into her robes as Goddess of the Dead, known as ‘Lady of the West.’ In Thebes she cradled in her arms the sun god Ra, as he descended below the horizon in the west.

Goddess Hathor wearing the Menat, holding her sacred Sistrum (rattle)

Hathor has represented the erotic in femininity and procreation, and was frequently identified with Greek goddess Aphrodite, Roman Venus. In her role as Goddess of Fertility, Hathor represented Nature’s creativity, and as Goddess of Moisture, she was associated with the annual inundation of the river Nile. In this aspect, Hathor was linked to dog-shaped constellation Sothis (Sirius, ‘dog-star’) which, at its heliacal rising on the eastern horizon — immediately before the Sun — announced yearly flooding of the Nile in July.

Eventually, in a later period, when Hathor’s role began to change, Isis/Osiris (Serapis) cults gained popularity in Egypt and then spread through the Roman empire and Greece. Because of her fertile and life-bringing nature, Hathor was considered capable of reviving the dead; she welcomed them to the Underworld, dispensed water to them from the branches of a sycamore tree, and offered them food. In various New Kingdom tombs at Thebes Hathor is depicted embracing the dead.

In pre-dynastic times, and certainly in the early dynasties, Hathor is seen as the cow-consort of the Bull of Amenti, the original deity of the Necropolis. As queen or ‘Lady of the West’, her mortuary title as Protectress of the Necropolis valley on the west bank of the Nile, in her role as protector she not only oversaw where the sun (Ra) went down, but this choice location for later kingdoms’ burial tombs.

Amazingly Hathor, one of the world’s greatest goddesses, was worshipped for a longer period than Christianity or Islam have reigned. Hathor’s religion of joy and celebration dominated for over 3,000 years. It continued strong throughout Egypt, and through both Greek and Roman empires, where it spread and became assimilated.

Her cult was in its heyday when the first great pyramids were built and used as sacred pharaonic tombs, and lasted until pyramids were no longer used for that purpose, by which time royal patrons continued under her protection on the west bank of the Nile in the great Necropolis Valley of the Kings.

She is the equivalent in Nordic, Celtic and Anglian territories of the Old Goddess of the pagans. She perpetuated in popular speech, in rituals of hearth and earth, in festival custom with its cargo of symbol and myth. She was seen as the source of life, power and wisdom. People prayed to her for wellbeing, abundance, protection, and healing. They invoked her during birth, and the dead returned to her and moved in her retinue.

They say that the Old Goddess, Crone who rode the winds, caused rain and snow and hail on earth, and that she revealed omens of weather and death and other momentous things to come.

In this sense she and Hathor are one and the same: primeval Eve, Brittonic Bride, Norse Auohumla, the great cow-giant goddess, true ancestor of the Norse gods. She is also Gaia, Sumerian Antu (who later ‘became’ Ishtar, goddess of love and procreation).

Apex of inspirational 'Hathor crop circle' at Northdowns, Beckhampton, Wiltshire, photo courtesy Bert Janssen

It is significant, too, that the ‘Hathor crop circle’ at Beckhampton appeared on a Friday the 13th.

The superstition held today of Friday the 13th being unlucky may stem from the betrayal of the Knights Templar on Friday, October 13th 1307 (Old calendar) when their monastic military order in France was arrested en masse by King Philip. The Spanish, however, hold Tuesday as their unlucky day; so the suggestion is a tentative one. Perhaps ET used the date merely to get our attention. It’s a familiar technique he’s employed over the years to combine crop images and Calendar.

An alternate explanation occurs: in later European tradition Friday was observed as ‘holy day of the goddess’, beginning with its eve on Thursday night. In that sense she is Norse goddess Freyja. The dark of the year was sacred to Old Goddess. On winter solstice nights, she was said to fly over the land with her spirit hosts. Tradition added that shamanic witches rode in her wake on the great pagan festivals, along with the ancestral dead.

Reverting to the Hathor connection, one ancient tale is retold of a group of goddesses, bearing cow horns and playing tambourines who went by the name the Seven Hathors. These Hathors were able to foretell a child’s destiny; similar in many ways to the weaving of the Tapestry of Life by the Fates, the Norns or the Disir. The Hathors were more than clairvoyants who could see into the future. They were questioners of the soul as it made its way to the Land of the West. In addition to knowing a child’s destiny, the Seven Hathors could foretell the exact hour of his death.

Egyptian mythology held that a person’s destiny was decided by the hour of his death and therefore his fortune, or lack of it, stayed with him throughout his life. The Hathors were known to have extreme powers, and were able to replace a prince, born with a bad fortune, with a child born with a good one. In this way they had the ability to protect both the Dynasty and the nation. The Seven Hathors are presently receiving some attention through the works of musician and psychic channeler, Tom Kenyon. When Hathor’s ‘old’ attributes became overshadowed by those of Isis and new kingdom beliefs, the Hathors were sent into the sky. There they have become identified with the Pleiades.

In more northern latitudes, reverence was paid for centuries to the Old Goddess in planting and harvesting, baking, spinning and weaving. The fateful Spinner was worshipped as Holle or Perchta by the Germans, as Mari by the Basques, and as Laima by Lithuanians and Latvians. She appears as Befana in northern Italy and as a myriad faery goddesses in France, Spain, and Celtic countries (Brittonic Bride). In Serbia she is Srecha; in Russia Mokosh, Kostroma or the apocryphal Saint Paraska.

Corn dollies embody ancient goddess Mother Earth

The Old Goddess was commonly pictured as a crone or aged woman, and origins of her veneration are lost in the mists of time. While goddesses of ancient ethnic cultures have unique qualities, they share traits, a deep international genetic root. Old Goddess is like the weathered Earth, ancestor of all, a tangible presence in forests, grottos and fountains. In her infinite guises she manifests countless forms: as females of various ages, she shapeshifts to tree, serpent, frog, bird, deer, mare and other creatures. Surviving the European Reformation, she remained beloved by the common people.

When farmers, and those who worked the land, were less dependent on technology to produce our food, Mother Earth and nature played a much more important role in the annual cycle of life. In particular, the harvest of cereal crops was a major event in the calendar.

We are now three weeks into ancient Lammas, the traditional harvest season.

In pre-industrial times a summertime ‘Lord of the Harvest’ would be given the responsibility of planning the harvest and marshalling the workforce, and when harvest was finally done they would celebrate with a ‘Harvest Home’ feast.

Corn Dolly made from the last (Clyack) cut sheaf, held sacred through winter, a blessing of Earth's bounty

The first and last sheaves of corn to be cut had major significance. Grain from the first sheaf (the ‘Maiden’) was made into a sacred loaf of bread while the last sheaf – the Clyack – was reserved for transformation into a corn dolly: symbolic of Mother Earth and the Spirit of the Corn.

Straw from this last sheaf was woven or plaited into the complex shapes of corn dollies, as cornucopiae, horns of plenty, horse shoes, knots, fans and lanterns. Ultimately, shape depended on local tradition, but in every case a symbolic ‘dolly’ graced the top table at the end-of-harvest feast and was then carefully guarded over the winter months. When spring crops were sown, the dolly re-emerged to be carried round the fields to pray that Nature and corn goddess delivered up another good crop.

In Wiltshire they’ve already started the harvest. Even in my native Aberdeenshire winter barley is going under the combine. Three weeks into Lammas (which pivots round August 1st), harvest is in full swing.

Our consciousness these days has become less aware of such natural cycles of food-cultivating-and-cutting; we are lulled into ignorance of the provenance of our daily bread. Perhaps it is this lulling that the crop circle presence wants to jerk us out of: to rekindle in us an appreciation — even reverence — for Earth’s bounty and her unconditional gifts of life and nourishment. More significant may be the appearance of a ritual symbol in the crop to help us understand our civilization’s most ancient ancestral traditions which show respect for (Earth’s) sacred creator gods.

Hathor was probably civilization’s earliest goddess. Her blessing showered on us now from above, five thousand years after the zenith of her devoted following, emblazoned in golden grain for our delectation and visual appreciation (aerial photographs superbly provided by Frank Laumen and Bert Janssen, thank you guys); it sparks our earliest memories of civilization. Are we being given a futuristic jab in the arm, to trigger our DNA? or to learn to appreciate more fully what our ancestors understood?

Our senses are being stroked, honed, we are receiving her gifts again. Not only was she goddess of birth and death, she was goddess of REBIRTH.

It’s just possible she has returned in essence now to show us that — at the end of the 2010 season of remarkable cosmic signs — our species is poised on the brink of rebirth: that we humankind are jointly headed for regeneration.

Dare we hope? As we come together as a race, as we feel joy in our rebirth, may we also see a faint promise of Hathor’s greatest gift? Immortality?

August 16, 2010 Posted by | ancient rites, belief, calendar customs, consciousness, crop circles, festivals, New Age, ritual, sun | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gab o’ May to Gemini June

Ne’er cast a cloot till May be oot
Old Scots rhyme

May blossom: Kanzan ornamental cherry, cedar and pale green maple leaves

The old Scots of our little rhyme applies not just to the month of May, but also to the hawthorn bush, the Maytree. Thereby hangs a tale.

Gemini offers a kindly doorway to summer: and we are now thankfully a few days into this communicative astrological sign. Gone the stress and hardship of winter, cold spring, slow growth. Enter the Cosmic Twins: dualism, communication, seeing both sides of the same situation. In other words, enter the mercurial element. And warm.

Fingers crossed.

Gemini is usually a forgiving zodiac month. It fills one third of the calendar month of May. Its communication is tangible. Emblazoning shocking pink blooms dance on pale green leafy branches next to russet peeling-bark maples. Purple blossoms shout color from bending lilac boughs. Who wouldn’t want to communicate, yea, rejoice, in May? at least in the latter part of it.

“The world’s favorite season is the spring.
All things seem possible in May.”
– Edwin Way Teale

Not only has the zodiac sign of Gemini the backing of communicative Mercury to support it, but this year Mercury has only recently turned from retrograde to direct. Time for winter silence to end, stilted conversation, lack of fluidity gone; communication can start up again. The earth, too, a little miffed at having to wait so long to see the sun, is throwing caution to the winds, and everything is blooming at once.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a Godsend. It has been a long hard winter. We can all do with some relaxation. A little light relief, duality, multi-vision. Spring, however late, is welcome.

Trees this year are coming into leaf together all at the same time. We are reminded by birdsong of the fullness of life – fresh greenness of trees and shrubs – blossoms open. Life coughs and restarts.

If the oak comes out before the ash – we’re in for a splash;
If the ash comes out before the oak – we’re in for a soak
‘ more Scots wisdom

All trees came into leaf at the same time

In ‘normal’ years, the ash and oak are the last to open leaf and flower buds and rivalry between them to prognosticate rainy or dry weather of this old wives’ saying is noticeable. All beech, birch, lime and cherry buds are in full leaf before bare branches of the oak and ash decide to join them. Not this year. It was like a race had been initiated to see which species might rival the traditional early budders. They all won the contest.

What potent blood hath modest May.
– Ralph W. Emerson

Other aspects of the season begin to rub off on our chill northern disposition. We loosen up a little, feeling perhaps not so obsessed to compete or complete projects under the pressure of frost. Northern character is driven by cold: it precipitates one into working harder; showing that one is capable of braving hardship along with challenging temperatures. Mañana doesn’t work here. No cultural bias here, but who ever heard of a multi-million-dollar operation run by a Jamaican?

Is it any wonder that the Scot is Scotland’s greatest export? And, as a corollary, that the Scots hard-working northern ethos is one which takes well to leadership? Historically, successful world empires have been run by expatriot (and patriot) Scots: think Andrew Carnegie 1835-1918 (coal, steel and museums), Thomas Blake Glover 1838-1911 (Mitsubishi), John Paul Jones 1747-1792 (founder of the US Navy). Or politics, art and philosophy: think Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832 (lawyer, poet, novelist), Adam Smith 1723-1790 (author, Wealth of Nations, first modern economist), John Sinclair 1754-1835 (politician, writer, first to coin the word ‘statistics’). Or naturalist John Muir 1834-1914, founding father of the environmental movement.

That said, the Scots, like the Germans, are addicted to exotic places — but only as a place to ‘chill’, to ‘get away from’ their ‘real world’. Nowadays Scots populate world cruises and Germans overrun southern Italy. But then they come back home.

Mary Queen of Scots, at one time claimed the thrones of Scotland, England, France and Ireland

A friend on a recent visit from the Pacific Northwest made an interesting observation: more of a cosmic comment:

what if Mary Queen of Scots had not been executed in 1587 by her cousin Elizabeth I?

Would we Scots still be the same feisty underdogs, over-achievers striving to pit our wits against the Universe? If she the Roman Catholic queen, rather than her protestant son James VI & I, had reigned in Great Britain, would we be more stay-at-home? more continental (‘auld alliance’ Scotland/France)? more laid-back? less prickly? less worldly or world-travelled?

Would we have been motivated to invent anything? (James Watt 1736-1819, steam engine; John Logie Baird 1839-1913, television).

Would we tolerate living in a climate which supports, in the words of Lord Byron – whose mother came from Aberdeenshire:
“Winter – ending in July
To recommence in August” ?

Is it any wonder we are obsessed with May?

The Gab o’ May is a harsh word for the beginning of such a gentle month, but historically its behavior has been erratic. The ‘Gab’ or ‘maw’ of a new month which perpetuates the weather of its predecessor is given short shrift. Lest the unwary shepherd forget, ancient tales tell of sheep dying in the fields in May.

Aye keep in some corn and hay
To meet the caul Kalends o’ May

The old earthman’s repeated rhyme about the Kalends of May sounds antiquated and without relevance to the modern ear, but in the North of Scotland this year his words had meaning.

Icy April

Weather in this Icelandic neighbourhood reached Arctic climax proportions between December and March. April’s showers were icy rather than gentle and the psyche of the ‘stoic’ Scot hardened and bristled. It’s the traditional way in a northerly, long-suffering people to cope with the harsh realities of living at the 57th degree of latitude and farther north.

The Pentland Firth, chosen to host the World Surfing Championships, presented contestants with ice floes. Not a single tree opened its spring foliage in April.

A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July
Is not worth a fly.
– Rhyme from England

Not a bee in sight. Not even an over-wintering midge. And May was imminent. Back to the Kalends, though.

Fearless spring inhabitant: peacock butterfly in early May

The Kalends was a Roman term which looks a little anachronistic now on the page of the poem. But it is good to remember that until Pope Gregory initiated a calendar change from Julian to Gregorian in 1582, only a brief time into Scotland’s own revolutionary change — the Reformation, which itself did not fully take hold until 1660 — the Church commanded people’s lives; dictated what was read to them (most of them didn’t read themselves) and what the Church read was Latin. So the first of the month was, in the minds of the rural farmer and countryman at least, still referred to by its Roman calendrical name, the Kalends.

It was the Roman name for the beginning of the month which gave us the word for Calendar in the first place. In Roman Scots it’s the same as the Gab o’ May – Maw of the month – the cold raw maw of May.

So what does it mean?

In times before there were trains, buses, mechanized transportation, when every countrydweller lived close to the land, the only modes of travel other than foot were a horse or a bicycle. And one of the surest ways of surviving was to keep a cow, or a sheep or a goat close to home. It’s what many rural communities still do in countries other than the First World. In Scotland before the 18th century, little “but ‘n’ ben” shacks were built of turf and earth. When stone building became more common at the end of that century, the same structure was converted to stone, but of similar design: a ‘but’, (abutting the ‘byre’ or stable with access to outdoors) where the animals lived and kept the building warm with their cozy breathing; they provided easy access for milking before being put out to pasture in the fields at the end of May. The ‘ben’ was the other part of the house, ‘through’ the house where guest humans went, away from the warm kitchen hearth and adjoining beasts. Until well into the 20th century, ‘company’ were invited into the ‘ben’ part of the house. Only the family spent time in the ‘but’, within soundwave proximity of the beasts. Even after the advent of a more leisured farming class – those in stone farmhouses with separate quarters for farm animals, barns and other sheds – no good practitioner of husbandry would send his animals out into the fields before the end of bad weather.

You kept your feathered friends indoors until all risk of frost was past

When the weather became kindly – as garden centres so often remind us “plant out after all risk of frost has passed”: So with hen, cow, pig, sheep or goat. You kept your life-giving feathered and four-footed companions warm and fed indoors, not venturing to put them out to pasture until all risk of frost was over.

That’s where the calendar and the month of May come in.

The original Roman calendar calculated according to a 13-lunar-month regimen. Julius Caesar, after an extended visit with Cleopatra in Egypt, upgraded the Roman ‘Julian’ calendar in 46BC to run along lines similar to the Egyptian solar one which he admired. The Julian year was on average 365.25 days long. It worked well until extra ‘leap’ days started to mount up over a period of 1500 years. When the Gregorian calendar took over from the Julian calendar, the western hemisphere ‘lost’ 11 days. In country districts in the northern hemisphere – Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles – country people saw this as being robbed of life’s most precious commodity – time.

Because the original Roman calendar had run on cycles of the moon, even the revised version began to clash with solar time and calculation which made sense in the first centuries AD by the 18th century had lost relevance. An adjustment had to be made. September 2, 1752 was chosen as the date on which the old calendar would ‘switch’ to the new. On that day, the British Isles and all English colonies, including America, lost 11 days–September 3rd through 13th. People went to bed on September 2nd and when they awoke next morning, the date had become September 14th.

Country ways: living in harmony with your neighbours

There were riots in rural villages when people thought the government was trying to cheat them out of 11 days of their lives. Though these days disappeared in English lands in 1752, a number had already vanished in other places–France in 1582, Austria in 1584, and Norway in 1700. Tsarist Russian, on the other hand, did not convert to Gregorian until 1918. And the Berber people of North Africa still operate on Julian time.

Naturally they were upset when Christmas fell 11 days earlier that year, Epiphany 11 days earlier the next January and then it played havoc with spring. May started 11 days before the accustomed season and so our title quote, another favored Scots expression, became meaningless:

‘ne’er cast a cloot
till May be oot’

It has often been said that the ‘May’ of the quotation refers to the blossom of the May or Hawthorn and this would tie in well with spring timing. In calendar terms, however, in now (Gregorian) time, the Scots are seen to suggest caution when divesting winter woolies, extra layers of ‘vests’ (underwear) until the month of June has begun!

The original aphorism may have applied to the hawthorn, which did indeed bloom during the latter weeks of May; but when 11 days were subtracted from the old calendar, May became 11 days chillier and so in northern Scotland at least, the hawthorn no longer blooms until the last week of the month or the first week of June.

‘Ne’er cast a cloot till May be oot’
becomes the month as well as the tree. i.e. don’t take off anything until June.

… and now is not the time for me to tell the tale of the Victorian Scots bothy loon (farm worker) who was sewn into his underwear in November by the ‘kitchie deem’ (kitchen lass, maid) only to have the stitches removed the following summer solstice.

I’ll leave that delight for another story-telling session…

May 25, 2010 Posted by | astrology, calendar customs, culture, festivals, organic husbandry, seasonal, weather | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments