Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Feeling Hawkish...the hawk in Native American lore

"Red Tailed Hawk" photo by KL Wood
On August 15, 2015, my husband, mother, and I attended the Nansemond Pow Wow held on tribal land recently returned to the Nansemond people by the city of Suffolk, Virginia. We were invited to experience this amazing event by the head male dancer whom we met at our home this summer in Edenton, North Carolina. The drumming and singing and dancing were spectacular and touched a deep-seated connection within me. Although we know nothing about her, family lore has it that my great-great grandmother was Native American. Physical connection, or not, I certainly felt a spiritual one, especially with their relationship to the natural world and its deeper other-worldly relation with animals. One of the highlights of the day, for me, was the opportunity to pose for photos with a gorgeous, female red-tailed hawk. As she was held aloft behind me, the wind from her beating wings wafted against my head stirring my hair in her avian breeze. I loved it!

"Male Dancers" photo by KL Wood
The hawk is an important symbol of many Native American tribes across the continent. It is seen as a protector in the skies and associated with the elements of rain, wind, lightning and thunder, known by some as the Thunderer. Iroquois tradition has the Thunderer armed with a bow and flaming arrows as it fights a continuous battle against the forces of evil.

The author's Power Animal for the day.
 The feathers of the red-tailed hawk are considered sacred by many and used in religious rituals and ceremonies. They are worn as an honored part of Native American regalia. (One of the things I learned at the Pow Wow is that the appropriate name for the traditional clothing worn at such an event is never "costume," but always "regalia"--a costume being an outfit one wears when pretending to be something they are not.)

The hawk is a "Power Animal" or "Spirit Animal." The best definition of Power Animal I have found is at . Here is a quote from the website: "Power Animals are strongly associated with the Native American Indian belief in Animism that is a belief based on the spiritual idea that the universe, and all natural objects within the universe, have souls or spirits.  Power Animals are believed to be a supernatural power that embodies, attaches or conveys influence empowering a person with the powerful traits and characteristics of the animal. The doctrine of this belief is that everything is alive, and possesses an inherent virtue, power and wisdom. Power animals represent a person's connection to all life, their qualities of character, and their power. Power Animals are  regarded as guides who appear in dreams or Vision Quests in the form of an animal. Power Animals, or spirit guides, walk through different stages of life with a person, teaching and guiding them,
"Pow Wow Dancers" photo by KL Wood
and in some instances protecting them."

As a Power Animal, the hawk is a Messenger and represents Guardianship, Far-Sightedness, and Strength. Coming into such close contact with the beautiful red-tailed hawk, I could feel how she would symbolize all those qualities.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Close Encounters of the Wolfish Kind...Amarok of the North

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ever since I stroked the thick, coarse hair of a wolf in "goodwill ambassador's clothing," I have had a fascination with wolves. Many years back in my college days at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, a group of people dedicated to preserving and protecting wolves brought a pair to campus for a hands-on experience. They also showed us an informative and heartrending film about the plight of the wolf in the wild--how it was hunted down for its coat or for its undeserved reputation as a savage killer. I would like to think such actions are now a thing of the past but, having recently encountered a man in Alaska who bragged about how many wolf pelts he bagged on a regular basis, I am disheartened to know such exploitation still exists. OK. Now that I've gotten that particularly bitter pill out of my system, I will share the Inuit mythology of Amarok, the Wolf God. 

Amarok is a wolf-being of enormous stature, far larger than normal wolves. It is thought the
By Scott Flaherty [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
basis for Amarok may be in the real life interaction between the Inuit people and now-extinct animals, particularly the Dire Wolf, a formidable predator that prowled the northern landscape until the end of the Ice Age. It was about 25% heavier than the largest of modern wolves. Skeletal remains put them in at about five feet in length, from head to tail, and between 150 and 200 lbs. 

Unlike ordinary wolves, Amarok does not hunt in a pack but is the quintessential "Lone Wolf." It is said he is quick to kill anyone who is foolish enough to hunt alone in the dark of night. Perhaps he is just culling the herd as real-life wolves do when they kill the weak and sick, an action that increases the health and strength of the herding animals. Instead of pulling out the weak caribou, he is eliminating the weak-minded humans! (And, of course, I mean weak-minded in the sense of foolish--not mentally challenged.) 

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Although Amarok is known as a fearsome deity, there is at least one story told of his kindness. There was a young Inuit boy who was chided and bullied by people of his village due to his stunted growth and subsequent frailty. In frustration he called out to the Lord of Strength to help him. Amarok appeared and wrestled the boy, easily pinning him down with his heavy tail. In the struggle, several small bones fell from the boy's body--bones which, Amarok explained, were prohibiting his growth. He told the boy to return each day and he would wrestle with him to build up his strength. The boy trained with Amarok until he was so strong he overcame three large bears with his own hands. That duly impressed the other villagers who then held him in highest regard.

Although I did not get to see a wolf, myself, on our journey through Alaska, my husband
Wolf Print by Copper River, Alaska by KL Wood (author)
encountered one at dusk while walking our two small dogs. We were the lone campers by the Copper River near Wrangell St. Elias National Park and I was busy inside our little travel trailer making us cups of tea. Bill burst through the door and practically threw the dogs in ahead of himself. He had seen what at first appeared to be a very large dog closely monitoring their progress but, when it disappeared into a ditch and then reappeared ghost-like much closer to them, he realized it was a wolf. Tawny and gray, with intent, intelligent eyes focused on our little, black shaggy pups. The next morning, I saw and photographed large canine-type paw prints just a few yards from our trailer. When the larger of our dogs, Betsy--weighing in at 25 lbs, stepped on the ground, she barely made any indentation at all. As you can see from my photo, the wolf's 4-inch long prints made a very visible impression. Wow.

Lessons learned? Don't go out hunting...or walking your dogs...alone at night (or at dusk) in the northern wilderness. Unless, of course, you are that wolf-killer I mentioned earlier, then...go ahead, make my day. All Hail Amarok! 

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Real Tickle Monster...not so funny!

 "A-maze-ing Laughter" by Yue Minjun, Vancouver, British Columbia-
photographed  by Antony Stanley via Wikimedia Commons
As we swelter in the deadening heat of summer, my thoughts return again to the colder regions of the far north-- Canada and Alaska (although I hear it's been a long, relatively hot summer up there as well this year!) In researching Inuit legend and lore, I ran across a particularly diabolical creature aptly named "Mahaha."

Why aptly named? Well, because Mahaha tickles his prey to death. Literally! Any of us who have ever fallen victim to aggressive ticklers who were unrelenting, even when we gasped for breath and begged them to stop, can imagine the unique horror of being tickled into twitching oblivion. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it. Those murdered by malicious Mahaha are usually found with agonized, twisted smiles contorting their faces. 

So, as a public service announcement to those of you lucky enough to go wandering the cooler lands up North, this summer, I am posting this all points bulletin, below.

Perpetrator's Name: Mahaha
Perp's Warning Sound: Giggling (usually from behind the victim)
Perp's Build: Scrawny with long bony fingers and razor sharp nails
Perp's Skin: Blue and icy cold
Perp's Eye Color: White
Perp's Hair: Long and Stringy, hanging over his face
Perp's Clothing: Nearly none and always barefoot
Perp's Strength: Powerful muscles
Perp's Weakness: Easily tricked
Last seen: Being swept away downstream in a strong current after his intended victim invited him to lean over for a drink of water and then pushed him in. 
Author and Husband, Kenai Fjords, Alaska, 2011

Enjoy your respite from the heat, fortunate northern adventurer, but be on alert. That giggle you hear sneaking up behind you just may be the excited delirium of Mahaha, the real Tickle Monster! 

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Now You See Them, Now You Don't...Shadow People of the Inuit

"Shadow Person" photographic illustration by K.L. Wood
What was that? Did you just see something flicker beside you but when you turned your head…it was gone? Optical illusion? Ghostly apparition?

The native Inuit people of the far northern climes of Canada and Alaska might say it was one of the shadow people. Among their many legends is that of the tarriassuit, the shadow people, who live alongside the Inuit in a kind of parallel universe. The origin of the tarriassuit is said to be of Inuit who strayed too far north on hunting trips and found themselves in a strange land halfway between the living and the dead. They could not leave this odd plane of existence and became beings with one foot in the visible and one foot in the invisible world.

The tarriassuit cannot usually be seen by humans but can sometimes be glimpsed from the corner of one’s eye. When they are, somehow, visible they are said to look and act just like contemporary Inuit…same clothing, hairstyles, hunting equipment and modes of
Map of Inuit Dialects per Wikimedia Commons
transportation. (That means snowmobiles in the 21st century.) Some Inuit say you can only see their shadows, hence the name shadow people, but can sometimes hear their footsteps and voices. There are Inuit legends that claim the amorphous creatures become visible when they die.

Although rare, it is said that sometimes humans can cross over into the land of the tarriassuit and even marry shadow people. There is the story of a woman who was wed to a shadow man but after some time she became frustrated with her inability to see her husband clearly. She grabbed a hunting knife and plunged it into the place she thought he stood. The shadow man fell dead to the ground, materializing into a handsome young man.
"Eskimo Figure, near Wrangell St. Elias Ntl Park, Alaska" photograph by Wm. Ahearn

The tarriassuit are thought of as kind, gentle, and helpful beings. The ending to the story of the murdered shadow husband is that, although the tarriassuit felt the need to seek revenge, they restrained themselves, believing it unfair to attack people who could not see them to fight back. This concept of benevolence is in sharp contrast to the tales of fear and horror associated with sightings of what current American ghost hunters call shadow people. I see the difference as how one society accepts and venerates that which is beyond our five senses versus another society (ours) that pushes other-worldly experiences into the realm of superstition and fear.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Hills are Alive...with the Little People

Emerald Green Forest, Roan Mountain, photo by K. L. Wood. 
Spending this week hiking the beautiful wooded trails of the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains, it's easy to imagine otherworldly beings hiding among the craggy rocks and moss covered trees. Walking the paths through the natural rhododendron gardens and emerald green forests of
Roan Mountain State Park, my mother described them as "enchanted" and "fairy land." Seems most civilizations have their own legends involving fairies, dwarves, elves, pixies, leprechauns, etc. The Cherokee, some of whom still live in the mountains of North Carolina, have their own race of lilliputian forest dwellers, the Yunwi Tsunsdi  (pronounced: yun-wee joon-stee,) translated as "Little People."
Rhododendron, Roan Mountain, photo by K. L. Wood

The Yunwi Tsundi are considered benign most cases. They are usually helpful to humans but do not suffer fools gladly especially if they treat the Yunwi Tsundi with disrespect. If you find a knife or trinket in the woods, you must say something like, "Little People, I would like to take this," (since it may belong to them) or you might feel stones being thrown at you all the way home. They like to be left alone and if you hear drums far off in a lonely stretch of forest, do not follow the sound for it may lead you to the Yunwi Tsundi's home. If they discover you on their land they may throw a spell over you to
Young Cherokee Woman Pointing to Smoky Mountains, NC, 1942, AP
disorient you and if you do manage to find your way back home, you will feel dazed for the rest of your life. 

They are said to love music and dancing and resemble handsome Cherokee men and beautiful women and are either black, white, or have the golden skin of the natives. They stand about eighteen inches tall and have hair so long it nearly brushes the ground. The Yunwi Tsundi are divided into three groups: the Laurel People, the Rock People, and the Dogwood People. 

The Laurel People are fun-loving and enjoy playing little harmless tricks on humans. It is said that if you are fishing and feel a strong tug on your line, sure that it is a huge fish, only
Mountain Laurel, North Carolina, photo by K. L. Wood
to reel in a stick, it is the Laurel People pulling your leg and having a laugh. Their hope is that you will laugh, too, and not take life so seriously. The Cherokee say that if children are laughing in their sleep, it's the Laurel People at work (or play, that is.)

The Rock People are considered the mean-spirited ones, even to the point of stealing human children. They are expert at "getting even" but are said to be that way because their space has been invaded. They are the manifestation of what can happen to you if you do not treat others with kindness and respect.

The Dogwood People are the kind and helpful ones. If you wake one morning to go to work in your fields but find your crop has already been harvested and stacked in your barn, it must have been the Dogwood People spreading their goodwill. They like to remain anonymous, however, so you mustn't go out and watch the Yunwi Tsundi at work because the price for such a sight may be death.

So, what do we learn from these Little People? Live life joyfully--always ready to laugh at yourself-- treat others with respect because "what goes around, comes around," and treat others kindly and generously, never looking for recognition of your good works.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Scotland's Kelpie...your final ride

Photo of Kelpie statue in Falkirk by Rosser 1954 via
Wikimedia Commons
It seems many of Scotland's legends center around water-centric supernatural beings. I suppose that makes sense as the land is surrounded on three sides by the sea and is dotted liberally with rivers and lakes (or, I should say, lochs.) One of these creatures that haunts the dreams (or nightmares) of Scottish folk is the Kelpie, sometimes called the Water Horse.

The Kelpie, 1913 by Herbert James Draper
The Kelpie appears as a beautiful black, gray, or white horse, notable for its smooth, cold, almost seal-like hide and always with its long mane dripping with water. It is said to lure folk onto its back and, once in place, the hapless riders find themselves stuck like glue and unable to jump ship when the Water Horse dives into the water. Then woe betide the poor riders because they are then taken to the bottom of the loch where their drowned bodies are eaten by the Kelpie. It's often said that children are the victims of the Water Horse, perhaps because children are drawn to the beauty of the horse-like creature. But...the Kelpie has another way of securing its prey. It is known to do a bit of shape-shifting--taking the form of a beautiful woman who
lures men to her side before transforming back into her true Water Horse self and pulling the men down into the depths of the cold water.

Kelpies are spoken of all over Scotland and are known by different names according to region. In Orkney they are called "Nuggles" (not to be confused with those unmagical "Muggles" of Harry Potter fame) and in the Shetland Islands they go by the wonderful name of "Shoopiltie."

Photo of Chapel House Black Magic by By V8Jess
 via Wikimedia Commons
So, if you're ever walking around a body of water in Scotland and you spy a handsome horse with a dripping mane (or a woman of unearthly beauty...probably nude according to all the illustrations I've seen) resist the temptation to get any closer!

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fairy Flags and Bridges...legends of Dunvegan

"Land of the Mountain and the Flood" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood
Well, dear and faithful Reader, while Through the Hourglass is searching for its literary champion,  I have begun work on my next novel which includes a fair dose of Magical Realism and I will be sharing my research into all things magical and legendary. Magical Realism, as a fiction genre, presents what one may think of as supernatural as perfectly natural in the protagonist's world and what one normally sees as ordinary is appreciated as extraordinary. For example, my main character may take the receipt of a leather-bound journal whose text periodically changes (and I'm not talking Kindle or Nook, here) in stride, but is awestruck by the changing colors of a sunset. Having traveled to that most magical of places, the Isle of Skye in Scotland, I am excited about sharing some of its legends and lore and will begin by sharing the stories behind the Fairy Bridge and the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle. I am happy to include some of my own photographs taken during my mystical journey of the misty isle.
"The Fairy Bridge" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood

About three miles away from Dunvegan Castle is a picturesque stone arch of a bridge known as the Fairy Bridge. As with many ancient legends, there is more than one story behind it so I will use my novelist's prerogative and choose the one that most tickles my fancy. Long, looooong ago, the Chief of Clan MacLeod fell in love with a beautiful fairy lady who agreed to marry him. Only problem was that after twenty years of nuptial bliss she must return to her own people (fairy folk, that is.) When the time came, the Chief and his fairy wife bid farewell atop the bridge and she left him a token of her love in the form of a golden, silk scarf. This leads us directly to the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle.

"Dunvegan Castle" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood
The Fairy Flag, (the remnants, of which, can still be viewed at Dunvegan Castle) was said to be a gift of favor from the fairies to the Clan MacLeod. The most prevailing legend is that the silken banner could be unfurled three times to provide aid to the clan during time of battle or other crisis and the golden flag with its red, woven "elf spots," was indeed used for that purpose. Some say the flag was the parting gift of the Chief's fairy wife and others say it was brought by fairies to enfold a Chief's fretful infant along with a lullaby blessing that was then sung to all MacLeod babies who would, one day, wear the mantle of clan Chief. (The photograph I have included, here, of Dunvegan Castle was one I shot from pasture land complete with sheep and Highland cattle. The good folk of Scotland are generally quite amenable to travelers entering their fields as along as they are careful to securely close the gates upon entering and leaving.) 
"Highland Cow" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood

The Isle of Skye is fairly bursting with such tales and, exploring its green hills, rippling brooks, deep lochs, and rocky cliffs, it's easy to fall beneath its spell where belief in fairies and their magical flags seems altogether reasonable.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Isle of Skye, Scotland--Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown
 copyright and database right [CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Great Balls of Fire! with fireballs in the South

By Haloeffect via Wikimedia commons
When I told my ninety-one-year-old mother about a newspaper article from 1893 New Bern, North Carolina about a night's entertainment by a lantern swinger, it reminded her of a childhood memory. Kerosene balls. Kerosene what? Balls. Flaming. Flying through the air. At that point I sat down and asked for details.

By Sebastian Ritter via Wikimedia Commons
Back in the 1920s and early 30s when Mama was a child growing up on a farm near Swansboro, North Carolina, entertainment was as homegrown as the food on their tables. On special nights like New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July, when more affluent communities paid for fireworks displays, the farmers and fishermen of coastal Carolina gathered on open expanses of farmland or sandy beaches to toss around balls of kerosene-soaked cloth or yarn. Many an old, holey sock was unraveled and wound into a tight sphere, soaked in vats of kerosene for a couple weeks, then dried and ready for fiery fun.

On the appointed night, folks would gather and watch as young men lit the kerosene balls and tossed
them into the inky darkness, usually with bare hands although they might coat their palms with dirt first. As a little girl, standing back out of harm's way watching the fireballs streak through the night sky, she found the display beautiful and exciting. I did an Internet search and found the practice is called fireballing or kerosene balling and often saw it noted as a form of entertainment in rural
By Elmer Guevara  via Wikimedia Commons
Alabama. There's a YouTube video showing a modern-day gathering of Alabama fireball tossers keeping up their family's annual tradition. In addition to tossing the balls into the air and playing flaming games of catch, there was a version called "Hail-E-Over" in which people would stand on either side of a tin-roofed house and toss a fireball over its top. The idea was to keep the ball in the air, lobbing from one side to the other until the losing side allowed the ball to thud to the ground.
Stonehaven Parade By MrPurple , via Wikimedia Commons

The roots of such flaming entertainment may reach back to Scotland. One notable example is the annual fireball parade in Stonehaven on the night of Hogmanay (New Year's Eve.) Balls of fire encased in wire cages are swung overhead from chains as the participants process through the town. The traditional thought is that the fire burns away bad spirits of the old year, clearing the way for the new year. There's even a Stonehaven Fireballs Association!
Quite a bit further south in El Salvador there is an annual Bolas de Fuego or "Balls of Fire" festival in which teams hurl kerosene-soaked flaming balls at each other. Apparently throwing fire around knows no borders!
Bolas de Fuego By Elmer Guevara via Wikimedia Commons

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! (And...Remember, Only YOU, can Prevent Forest Fires!)

Smokey and Me By William Francis Ahearn (Author's Husband)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

18th Century Headache? …sniff this and call me in the morning

Photograph of Webb House Colonial Revival Garden,by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons
In our 21st century lives, we often reach for bottles of pills when illness strikes. Back in the 18th century, however, you were more likely to go out to the herb garden or even forage for plants in the forest to relieve your distress. This week, I’ve gathered a list of some of the commonly used medicinal plants our ancestors depended upon. Some were ingested, some rubbed on the skin, and some strewn on the floor for freshening the air and deterring vermin. You may even have some growing in your own backyard. Think of it as Nature's Medicine Cabinet!

BASIL - Sometimes called St. Joseph's Wort, it was used dried as snuff to relieve headaches and colds as well as a strewing herb.

BEE BALM - Used for bee stings. Tea brewed from its leaves was called Oswego tea and was used as a substitute for Chinese tea imported from England after the 1773 Boston Tea Party (and the 1774 Edenton Tea Party, too, of course!)

CARAWAY - The boiled roots of caraway were eaten by Native Americans and recommended for those with a cold or weak stomach.
Photograph of Chamomile by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

CHAMOMILE - Infused as a tea for indigestion, gas, and stomachaches. Also used as a strewing herb and insect repellent.

COMFREY - Used as a poultice to heal wounds and reduce swelling.

CORIANDER. The seeds were chewed as a breath freshener.

ELECAMPANE - Used to treat skin diseases in sheep and horses; also as a diuretic and for coughs (for people!)

FEVERFEW - For "female hysteria," melancholia, headache, and constipation.

GERMANDER - For gout, rheumatism, fever, and melancholy.

HOREHOUND - Used to make a cough syrup, often in combination with honey and other herbs. Mixed with plantain for snakebites. Soaked in fresh milk to repel flies.

HYSSOP - Strewn on the floor to prevent the spread of infection; also used to treat respiratory illnesses.
Photograph of Lemon Balm by P. Wagner via Wikimedia

LAVENDER – The oil was rubbed into the temples for headache, strewn on the floor and also used as an insect repellent.

LEMON BALM - Infused as a tea for headaches, indigestion, nausea. Distilled as a treatment to clean and heal wounds.

LOVAGE - Used to treat kidney stones.

MARJORAM –Used  to cure insomnia, nasal congestion, and loss of appetite.

PARSLEY - Seeds used as a diuretic.
Photograph of Pennyroyal by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

PENNYROYAL - Strewing herb. Flea and mosquito repellent.

PEPPERMINT – The leaves were chewed to sweeten the breath and drunk in tea to aid digestion.

PLANTAIN - (The herb; not the banana-like fruit.) Used as a poultice to heal wounds, and the seeds to prevent miscarriage. 

QUEEN ANNE’S LACE - Used as a diuretic and for kidney stones; the seeds were used for birth control.

ROSE HIPS – Used to prevent scurvy. (Very high in Vitamin C.)

ROSEMARY - Oil used as a rub for sore muscles. Promotes liver functions.

RUE - Externally to cure warts, ringworm, and poisonous bites. Internally as a treatment for colic and epilepsy. Decocted for earaches. (Decoction is the boiling or heating of a plant to derive its concentrated essence.)

SAGE - Used in combination with other herbs for headaches. Decocted and as a mouthwash for sore throats and infected gums.
Photograph of St. John's Wort by Anne Burgess via Wikimedia Commons

SORREL – Used as a poultice for infected wounds. (And to remove stains from linen.)

SPEARMINT – Used as a breath freshener and for indigestion.

ST. JOHN’S WORT - Leaves used to treat burns and wounds. Flowers used as a tincture for melancholy.

STINGING NETTLES - A mixture of the seeds, bayberries, gunpowder, and honey was used for rheumatism.

TANSY - Its seed was used as a vermifuge (to kill internal parasites like roundworms) for children; the root was also used to treat gout.

THYME – Used as an antiseptic and for toothaches, gout, headaches, and to cure nightmares. Sprigs of thyme were placed on lard and butter to keep them from becoming rancid.

YARROW - Leaves were chewed for toothaches.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Make a Wish!...a brief history of birthday tradtions

" April"--Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry by Limbourg Brothers
April is a pretty big birthday month in my little corner of the world with several friends celebrating their natal days, including my own on the sixth. It set me to wondering about some of our traditions and just how they got started. Thanks to the wonders of the Web I ran across several interesting articles and I'm happy to share some of the research with you this week.

By Jeff Dahl (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

You can't celebrate a birthday without the aid of a calendar of sorts so the first festivities originated after the advent of means to mark the passing of time. Ancient Egyptian astronomers used the stars to note the passing of one year to the next since the movement of the heavenly bodies was constant and observable. It is no great surprise, then, that some of the earliest recorded birthday celebrations were for those of the Pharaohs who were considered gods on earth. Most birthday parties of the ancient world were reserved for royalty and this may be the origin of the later day wearing of special birthday crowns. We're all kings and queens on our birthdays! A little later on, the Greeks celebrated their goddess, Artemis, by baking moon-shaped cakes and lighting them with candles to simulate lunar light. Romans followed by being the first to celebrate the birthdays of mere mortals, with those reaching their fiftieth birthdays given special recognition with cakes made from wheat flour, olive oil, honey and grated cheese. Of course, those special days were reserved for the male population until around the 12th century when us lowly females were deemed worthy of celebration. 

By Francesca Cesa Bianchi, Milano via Wikimedia Commons
In the good old pagan days, it was thought that people were surrounded by evil spirits who especially liked to gather about on special days such as birthdays. In order to ward off such dangerous influences, the birthday honoree would be surrounded by friends and family who would bring good wishes and positive thoughts to the occasion (and if they brought gifts, so much the better!) These were noisy events with the notion that such loud revelry would discourage malevolent spirits. Noise maker, anyone? And what's a birthday without blowing out a bunch of candles and making a silent wish as the smoke of the extinguished flames drifts upward? To the ancients, smoke sent prayers and wishes skyward to the realms of the gods who might grant such desires.

Mildred and Patty Hill
Marilyn Monroe sings "Happy Birthday Mr. President"
Yale Joel/Life Magazine/Time&Life Pictures, Getty Images
It seems the ubiquitous song, "Happy Birthday to You", has been around forever but it's a relatively new tradition. The melody was written in 1893 for a class of kindergartners by sisters Mildred and Patty Hill who penned the song  as "Good Morning to All". At some point, soon thereafter, the lyrics were changed to "Happy Birthday" and the little tune has been sung with gusto and varying levels of musicality ever since. (You might recall Marilyn Monroe's infamous public Madison Square Garden rendition to President John Kennedy in 1962.) 

So, next time you celebrate a birthday, break out the noise makers, wear a paper crown, and make a good wish when you blow out the candles on your cake as your well-wishers gather around singing "Happy Birthday to You!"

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

You've Been Pranked! the press

From Connor Magan's Luck and Other Stories by M.T. W., 1881
As April 1st approaches and thoughts turn to all things foolish, my research uncovered the fact that many April Fool's Day jokes have been played upon a gullible public by the newspaper industry. As a matter of fact, it appears to be a tradition with many newspapers but somehow many of us forget from one year to the next. I have been temporarily fooled, myself, by outrageous articles printed in the April 1st editions of the Virginian Pilot. Knowing that many folk over the ages have believed anything printed in the papers must be true, media pranksters have taken full advantage of that trait and had a field day each year. I have included three historical examples, below:

On an April 1st of the 1840s, the Boston Post announced that a cave full of treasure
was discovered beneath Boston Common, uncovered by workmen as they removed 
(Wikimedia Public Domain)
a tree. Beneath the tree they discovered a stone trap-door with a large iron ring set in it which opened to a stone stairway leading to an underground cave. In this cave, reported the Post, lay hoards of jewels, old coins, and weapons with jeweled handles. As word of the discovery spread throughout Boston, a large number of excited curiosity-seekers began crowding the Common to view the treasure. As time went on and no treasure was to be seen, it finally dawned upon them that the date was 
April 1 and they'd been duped.

A notice ran in Chicago papers announcing that on April 1,1858 at one o'clock, a "famous
St Paul's Church, photograph by John Carbutt, 1832-1905
gymnast" would climb to the top of the steeple of St. Paul's Church from the outside "and stand upright on the summit, returning the same way to the ground — all to be accomplished in the space of twenty minutes." By one o'clock, over 300 people gathered, including eager reporters from other newspapers. As the time passed and no such feat occurred, the spectators realized they'd been taken in by an April Fool's Day joke and according to the Weekly Hawkeye (Burlington, Iowa) "the crowd suddenly discovered it was time to go to dinner, which they did with a rush."

On April 1, 1938, North Carolina's Twin City Sentinel ran a front page story, complete with photo, stating that "a long sleek transatlantic steamer," the S.S. Santa Pinta, had "plowed through the muddy waters of Yadkin River and anchored ten miles west of Winston-Salem."  A huge traffic jam blocked the highways as hundreds of people drove out to see the steamer
Stranded "TransAtlantic Steamer" from Twin City Sentinel, April 1, 1938
stranded some 300 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. If they'd taken the time to finish reading the whole article they'd have seen the words at the end: "An April Fool's Dream!"

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! (And don't believe everything you read in the papers...especially on April 1st!)


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When is a Seal not just a Seal?...when it's an Irish Selkie!

"Harbor Seal" Photograph by Terry Wood (my talented brother!)
 'Tis the month we celebrate all things Irish, and having a husband with Irish ancestry, I'm happily wearin' a lot of the green and baking up the Soda Bread. Ireland is a country aglow with wondrous legend and lore so I am happy to share an excerpt from my novel, Sea Snow--the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse, in which a young Irish lad relates his story of the Selkie his family claims as part of its ancestry. Selkies are also known as Seal People, Silkies, and Kelpies-- those mysterious beings who are people in seal's clothing.

Excerpt from Sea Snow-- the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse:

July 29, 1898

…“Now,” I said, settling myself in front of him at the table, “just what is a selkie?”

 “Well,” he began, wiping his milk mustache away with his blue cotton sleeve, “some folks say my great-great-great-grandma was a selkie and that’s why we have this color hair,” he said, running a hand through his shock of thick, black hair.

 “Your great-great-great-grandma was a seal?”

 “No, no,” he said, laughing and shaking his head at my ignorance, “a selkie—there’s a big difference, you know.”

"Seals on Ice" Photograph by Terry Wood
 “Nope, I don’t know. Please explain, Danny.”

 “This is what Auntie Kate told me—it seems my great-great-great-grandpa was comin’ home late one night after a long day fishin’. He’d just pulled his boat up on the beach behind a pile of rocks when he heard them.”

 Danny paused to dip his cookie into his milk and bite off the dripping half. He sat there contemplatively chewing awhile. I waited.

 “He crawled up over the rocks and saw a big group of seals squirmin’ their way onto the beach—except they weren’t seals at all, ‘cause, one by one, their black skins split clear down the back and out stepped a man or a woman. The men were big and well muscled and the women were the most beautiful creatures he’d ever seen, with long, black hair hangin’ down their bare backs. The moon was full that night and he could see everything, nearly plain as day. As each selkie left its skin, it ran and joined the others—laughin’ and dancin’ in the sand.

"The Selkie" Photograph by Kathryn Louise Wood
“He saw one step out of her seal skin that took his breath away—her skin was the color of moonlight and her eyes were as dark as the night sea. As soon as she danced off with the rest of the selkies, Grandpa dashed over to the empty skin and snatched it. He hid it in a sack in the bottom of his boat beneath his fishin’ net. Then, he went back and peeked over the rocks at the selkies. He stayed there all night, watchin’ and waitin’.

“Just before dawn, when the air grew stiff and cold, the selkies made their way back to the sea’s edge to find their skins. They slipped back into them and launched themselves into the tide—lookin’ for all the world like an ordinary bunch of seals…all except for one. She searched and searched, racin’, wild-like, around the beach as her friends quietly departed. When they’d all left and she stood there alone, tremblin’ with fright, Grandpa walked from behind the rocks with his coat in his hand.

“ ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘I’ll take care of you, now.’

 “She stared at him with those shiny, black eyes, the sun just beginnin’ to lighten the sky. He saw her heave a great sigh and her white shoulders lower. She knew what had happened and, like all selkies, she resigned herself to her fate. Grandpa placed his coat over her bare skin and led her to his house. They were wed the very next day and she became a quiet and obedient wife, blessin’ him with five children.
"By the Sea" Photograph by Kathryn Louise Wood

“One day, many years later, she was diggin’ in her vegetable garden when her hoe struck somethin’ hard. She scratched all the dirt away and found an iron chest beneath the ground. She pulled it up and pried it open to find her seal skin, her husband buried there so long ago. She dropped her hoe and ran down to the beach, clutchin’ the skin tightly to her breast. Her youngest child, a girl about ten years old at the time, saw her and chased after her. When the selkie reached the water’s edge, she threw off her clothes and wrapped the skin about her. By the time her daughter reached her, all that was left was her mother’s empty dress lyin’ there on the sand. Her seal mother dove into the sea before her eyes.

“ ‘Ma!’ she cried.

“The selkie raised her seal head above the waves and stared at the little girl a long time, then rolled into the sea. From then on a seal could be seen, from time to time, driftin’ just off shore, watchin’ the beach closely, especially when Grandpa or any of his children were down there. They say it was the selkie, keepin’ watch over her human family.”

Danny stopped and took a big gulp of milk.

“Oh, my,” I said, feeling a lump rise in my throat despite my rationality telling me it was just a fairy tale.

I went to the window and looked at the seal, still lolling on the rocks with Noah.

“If your seal’s a selkie, it would explain what I saw the other night,” Danny said through a mouthful of cookie crumbs.

“What do you mean,” I asked, turning back to him.

“Uncle Samuel and I were out moonlight fishin’, when I saw a woman standin’ out there on
Front Cover of Sea Snow by Kathryn Louise Wood
those rocks,” Danny said, rising and pointing toward the rocks near the dock.

“She had long, black hair and bare arms. I couldn’t tell if she had any clothes on ‘cause of the moon shadows. I pointed her out to Uncle Samuel and asked if it was the lady who lives at the lighthouse. He turned around and looked at her. First, he squinted his eyes and then they got real big, and his mouth dropped open.

“ ‘What is it, Uncle?’ I asked. ‘Who is she?’

“ ‘It’s nothin’, Danny,’ he said, ‘just shadows and moonlight, shadows and moonlight.’

 “And he turned us around and headed home even though we hadn’t caught any fish yet. I know there was a lady there and I know, now, it wasn’t you—so it must have been a selkie.”

Danny planted his elbows on the windowsill, chin resting in his hands.

“Perhaps you’re right, Danny,” I said, fighting hard to control my voice, “a selkie.” 

"My Irish Soda Bread" Baked and Photographed by Kathryn Louise Wood
Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! And Happy St. Patrick's Day!


(You can read more about my novel, 
Sea Snow, the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse, at