Saturday, November 1, 2014

"Meek Child of Sorrow"

From Reading Treasure:
Sir Herbert Croft (1 November 1751 - 26 April 1816) was an English-born author who was best known for his proposed English dictionary and his popular novel, 'Love and Madness, a Story too true, in a series of letters between Parties whose names could perhaps be mentioned were they less known or less lamented.' Although Croft's proposed dictionary never got off the ground, his novel--which many people thought was a real collection of letters--was fairly successful.

In 1814, Croft composed and published the following 'Consolotary verses' to Madame, the duchesse d'Angouleme, who had been newly restored to France with the rest of her family. The verses were published after May 30th, 1814, the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Croft dedicated these verses to George III, the prince regent of England, as a "small mark of gratitude for the favours conferred ... through a long series of year.' What these favours are, exactly, is unknown.

The complete versions can be read for free on Google Books. I've transcribed a small excerpt below.
Meek child of sorrow, whose still-wearied eyes
Stream over such unusual miseries!
Lov'd, royal Lady, whom, we, all, confess
Virtue has mark'd, ev'n more than wretchedness!
I don't deny the sources of your grief;
But let a stranger try to lend relief.
Stranger! yet Hartwell's bow'rs and allies know
You do not term the British muses so.

'Twas there the muse of Young consol'd your mind;
And made it, if more sad, still more resign'd:
There Thomson prov'd how each kind season fills
The world with charms, that balance life's worst ills:
There Rogers taught your tender soul to see
The pleasures, sadly sweet, of memory;
Which, sometimes, in a visionary trance,
Hurried your rapt thoughts back to your lov'd France.
(Read more.)
For more about the life and adventures of Marie-Antoinette's daughter, read Madame Royale. Share

There's More to Life Than Being Happy

From Atlantic:
In 1991, the Library of Congress and Book-of-the-Month Club listed Man's Search for Meaning as one of the 10 most influential books in the United States. It has sold millions of copies worldwide. Now, over twenty years later, the book's ethos -- its emphasis on meaning, the value of suffering, and responsibility to something greater than the self -- seems to be at odds with our culture, which is more interested in the pursuit of individual happiness than in the search for meaning. "To the European," Frankl wrote, "it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to 'be happy.' But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to 'be happy.'"

According to Gallup , the happiness levels of Americans are at a four-year high -- as is, it seems, the number of best-selling books with the word "happiness" in their titles. At this writing, Gallup also reports that nearly 60 percent all Americans today feel happy, without a lot of stress or worry. On the other hand, according to the Center for Disease Control, about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Forty percent either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Nearly a quarter of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research. "It is the very pursuit of happiness," Frankl knew, "that thwarts happiness." (Read more.)

Friday, October 31, 2014

An Irish Halloween

The picture above was painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833, inspired by a typical Irish Halloween party. (Click on picture for details.) It was called "snap-apple night" and they did not wear costumes. Here is the caption which accompanied the painting:
There Peggy was dancing with Dan/While Maureen the lead was melting,/To prove how their fortunes ran/With the Cards ould Nancy dealt in;/There was Kate, and her sweet-heart Will,/In nuts their true-love burning,/And poor Norah, though smiling still/She'd missed the snap-apple turning.
For the ancient Celts, November 1 was Samhain, their New Year's day. It is not necessary to detail some of the more gruesome pagan customs which accompanied the festivities in pre-Christian times, customs which eventually disappeared as the Faith spread and took hold. Nevertheless, on a more positive note, the Celts believed that on the day in question the veil between the worlds grew thin, and one could easily pass from world to world, from time into eternity.

As Christians, in celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints, the sacred liturgy permits us to glimpse the place where the blessed ones dwell in light. We are led to think of all the dead, of the awe-inspiring realties of death, judgment, heaven and hell. On All Souls' Day we recall those who are still undergoing purgation in the realm beyond time. We, too, through the Mass and through prayer, pass from world to world, for all are present to God.

Here is an article (via A Conservative Blog for Peace) which elucidates on the history of All Hallows' Eve, the pagan versus Christian aspects and how the Irish, French, Germans, and English brought it all to North America. To quote:
Halloween can still serve the purpose of reminding us about Hell and how to avoid it. Halloween is also a day to prepare us to remember those who have gone before us in Faith, those already in Heaven and those still suffering in Purgatory. The next time someone claims Halloween is a cruel trick to lure our children into devil worship, I suggest you tell them the real origin of Halloween and let them know about its Catholic roots and significance. (By Fr Scott Archer)

Charles Dickens and Ghost Stories

From Anglotopia:
Just as any modern movie-goer knows that screams and laughter constantly intermingle during horror films, Dickens understood that, at their heart, ghost stories are just good plain fun. His supernatural writings exemplify “the kinship between gaiety and the grotesque”, said biographer G.K. Chesterton. And, when appropriate, Dickens was brave enough to walk the fine line between the two. For instance, in “The Lawyer and the Ghost”, a mortal makes the tongue-in-cheek argument that ghosts should haunt more pleasant places, and not just the place they were most miserable. “That’s very true,” responds the spirit, “I never thought of that before…it never struck me till now; I’ll try change of air directly.” It’s these light-hearted moments that warm us up from the usual spine-chilling monotony and remind us that, in the title words of one of Dickens’ last ghost stories, such spooky tales are always “To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt.” (Read more.)


The Irish people have a colorful folklore, rich with stories of creatures from the Otherworld. In spite of the obviously pagan origins, many legends have endured to modern times. One legend is that of the banshee (bean-sidhe), a spirit which is supposed to haunt certain Irish families when a member is about to die.
According to Ireland's Eye:
The bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy) may be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. According to tradition, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, the O'Gradys and the Kavanaughs. Intermarriage has since extended this select list.
Here is a more detailed description from Irish Culture and Customs:
The Bean Sidhe or Banshee makes her appearance when someone in the household is about to die. She haunts only the families of the "high Milesian race" - those whose names have an "O", "Mac" or other prefix. One exception to this rule has been granted by virtue of the Irish poets who have given her to some of the Norman-Irish families - the FitzGerald's for example. In any event, she heralds the demise of only those who are of authentic noble stock and it is with great dread when her piercing "caoine" or keening is heard. In many respects, this mysterious creature resembles traditional Irish keeners or mourners of old; as with her mortal counterparts, those who have seen her describe her as drawing a comb through her hair, similar to tearing the hair out in anguish, which the ancient mourners used to do. Incidentally, or maybe not, while the Banshee is considered benign, she supposedly has a sister force who isn't; this force is called the Lianhan Sidhe and her sole purpose is to seek the love of mortal men. Their desire for her ultimately destroys them.
The banshee, according to legend, is usually heard at night, but sometimes in the morning, and at noon. An old Irish poem refers to the appearance of the Banshee in the morning:

Hast thou heard the Banshee at morn,
Passing by the silent lake,

Or walking the fields by the orchard?

Alas! that I do not rather behold

White garlands in the hall of my fathers.
There were a few banshee stories among some of my older relatives. (I suppose being descended from the Kavanaughs and the O'Neills as well as the O'Connors made them especially worthy of hauntings!) Irish lore is full of tales of the preternatural; the banshee is definitely one of the most interesting.


Horror and Faith

On the impact of the novel and film The Exorcist. To quote:
The novel's author, William Peter Blatty (who also penned the Academy Award-winning screenplay for the film), marked the 40th anniversary of the novel's appearance by writing a column for, in which he reveals that "I haven't the faintest recollection of any intention to frighten the reader, which many will take, I suppose, as an admission of failure on an almost stupefying scale." Rather, Blatty, the son of devout Lebanese Catholic immigrants, reveals "'The Exorcist's Secret Message": It is "a novel of faith in the popular dress of a thrilling and suspenseful detective story—in other words, a sermon that no one could possibly sleep through."

Principalities and Powers

That is not, of course, the way that the novel and the subsequent film have been portrayed by either their fans or their detractors. Indeed, many Christians have accused Blatty of opening up readers and filmgoers to demonic influences—missing not only the point of the novel but misunderstanding Christ's own teaching regarding the principalities and powers of this world. Demons hold no sway over those who are firm in their faith; but they do, in the words of Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, "prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls." By denying their existence, and treating the world of spiritual warfare as a parlor game, we open ourselves to their influence and even, in extreme cases, to possession. (Read more.)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kale, Cabbage, and Matrimony

Some old Celtic customs.
For Hallowe’en...kale was used in the traditional dish, colcannon, or “white-headed cabbage” when translated from its Gaelic roots cal ceannann’.  Charms hidden in the mush of cabbage, kale and chopped onions, were thought to determine who at the table would be the next to tie the knot. If you were lucky enough to find a ring concealed in your meal, no longer would you spend your Halloween dinner single and sighing—wishing you’d find a piece of metal in your food. The other hidden object was a thimble, which meant the life of a spinster...(Read entire post.)

Remembering the Bubonic Plague

Will it help us fight ebola? From the Daily Mail:
Bubonic plague is one of the most devastating diseases in history, having killed around 100million people during the 'Black Death' in the 14th century. Drawings and paintings from the outbreak, which wiped out about a third of the European population, depict town criers saying 'bring out your dead' while dragging trailers piled with infected corpses.

It is caused by a bacterium known as Yersinia pestis, which uses the flea as a host and is usually transmitted to humans via rats. The disease causes grotesque symptoms such as gangrene and the appearance of large swellings on the groin, armpits or neck, known as 'buboes'. It kills up to two thirds of sufferers within just four days if it is not treated, although if antibiotics are administered within 24 hours of infection patients are highly likely to survive.

After the Black Death arrived in 1347 plague became a common phenomenon in Europe, with outbreaks recurring regularly until the 18th century. Bubonic plague has almost completely vanished from the rich world, with 90 per cent of all cases now found in Africa.

However, there have been a few non-fatal cases in the U.S. in recent years, while in August 2013 a 15-year-old boy died in Kyrgyzstan after eating a groundhog infected with the disease. Three months later, an outbreak in a Madagascan killed at least 20 people in a week. A year before 60 people died as a result of the infection, more than in any other country in the world.

Outbreaks in China have been rare in recent years, and most have happened in remote rural areas of the west. China's state broadcaster said there were 12 diagnosed cases and three deaths in the province of Qinghai in 2009, and one in Sichuan in 2012. In the United States between five and 15 people die every year as a result, mostly in western states. (Read more.)