A Tween and Teen Guide to Dystopian Societies

Mimi the Librarian’s Recommended Reading List

In Georgia Briggs’ book Icon, twelve-year old Euphrosyne has been renamed Hillary by the anti-religious government in the new “Era of Tolerance.” Her family has been killed, on Pascha (Easter) night, and she goes to live with her grandparents. Her teachers, psychologist, and even her grandfather want her to forget her past life and embrace the new secular tolerance. Euphrosyne struggles to hold onto her faith and identity in a new America hostile to religion. The one bright spot in her life is Mimi the Public Librarian, who provides thoughtful books which encourage Euphrosyne.  Of course, it’s only a matter of time before these books are censored by the new government . . .

Mimi doesn’t work at the Library anymore, but I offer you her Booklist, supplemented by a few titles of my own:

A Tween and Teen Guide to Dystopian Societies (and surviving our own, too)

Mimi’s picks:

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak.     High school is hard enough without being outcast, too. Freshman Melinda Sordino carries a dark secret. It is only when she learns to speak her truth that she can find true healing.

 

L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle In Time.   Meg Murray’s father has gone missing, and she and her brother Charles Wallace travel across space and time to find him. She battles the monstrous IT and saves her brother and father through the power of love. Chapters 9 and 12 are some of my favorite pages in all of literature.  (I sometimes use Meg’s technique from Chapter 9 to ward off intrusive thoughts.)

 

Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia.       This beloved fantasy series is enjoyable on its own merits and is also well known for its Christian allegories. In Euphrosyne and Mimi’s world, it is outlawed. In his essay “On Three Ways of Writing For Children” C. S. Lewis wrote: “Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” He provides these brave child-heroes and child-heroines in his classic Narnia tales.

 

Lowry, Lois. The Giver.      In this society,  sameness is celebrated while pain and emotions are regulated out of existence.  Will Jonas be strong and brave enough to change things?

 

 

Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars.     In Nazi-occupied Denmark, 10 year-old Annemarie helps hide her Jewish friend Ellen and learns about the courage required to resist evil.

 

 

Cynthia’s picks:

Butler, Alban. Butler’s Lives of the Saints 4 Volumes; arranged chronologically by saints’ days.    The classic reference book on Eastern and Western pre- and post-schism saints. Offers a saint (often more than one) for every day of the year. I wish Mimi had shown Euphrosyne this book. The life of St. Hilary of Poitier, although not Euphrosyne’s patron or true namesake, might still have encouraged her.  St. Hilary is best known for fighting heresy and enduring exile for the Christian faith. Available in many medium-to-large public libraries.  A close second is the Catholic Encyclopedia, originally available in print, but now available online at http://newadvent.org/cathen/

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Grimm’s Fairy Tales.          I especially want to get my hands on The Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm : the Complete First Edition translated & edited by Jack Zipes (2014) but really any edition will do. Stay away from sanitized, Disneyified versions.  C.S. Lewis wrote about the importance of fairy tales in order to teach children hope and justice: “let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book.”

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World.    In this dystopian future, a character commonly known as “the Savage” argues that beauty, poetry, and belief in God trump safety and mandated happiness.

 

Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.              Now available online at http://shakespeare.mit.edu/  All the Savage from Brave New World had to read on his reservation was William Shakespeare, and that’s good enough for me. One of my favorite Shakespeare quotations is from the play The Winter’s Tale: “It is an heretic that makes the fire, / Not she which burns in’t”

 

 

Go forth and read. Books, like Georgia Briggs’ Icon, have the power to inspire and transform. And give us courage to face our post-modern, dystopian lives.

Advertisements

St. Genevieve Defeats Attila

“St. Genevieve, St. Genevieve,
It’s Guenevere!
Remember me?
St. Genevieve, St. Genevieve,
I’m over here
Beneath this tree. . . .”

            For over thirty years, all I’ve known about St. Genevieve is that she was referenced in a song from the Broadway musical Camelot.  I was in Middle School, channel surfing, and one of the pay channels, probably HBO, featured a filmed version of the stage play on repeat all month. The first few times I’d bypassed it with a teenager’s disdain of musicals, but later I must have caught a scene with knights and decided it was cool.  Borrowed the album—yes, yinyl­­—from the public library. Learned all the songs. Never once wondered who St. Genevieve was.

In November 2015, St. Genevieve was all over my Facebook feed in the wake of the terrorism attacks in Paris; my religious friends prayed she would heal and protect her city. I still didn’t give her much thought.

            This is what I’ve learned recently:

St. Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris. She was born ~422 in Nanterre, a region a short distance outside of Paris. As a child she was blessed by a bishop, reportedly St. Germain of Auxerre who was traveling to Britain to refute the Pelagians; he encouraged Genevieve to pursue piety and a life dedicated to God. As a nun in Paris, St. Symeon the Stylite corresponded with her.  She was known for her teachings, for her charity and fasting, and for working miracles. Long after her death, in 1129, an outbreak of the Plague in Paris stopped after a procession was made in her honor.

St. Geneviève watching over the sleeping city of Paris / Sainte Geneviève veillant sur Paris endormi; Painting by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, French, ~1824-1898

I certainly don’t hold negligent my public school education for failing to mention her; I understand the importance of teaching history without indoctrination.  In 7th Grade we learned that such a thing called the Byzantine Empire existed—barely—and were remotely introduced to the Holy Roman Empire and Charlemagne (although what exactly they did or why they were important wasn’t stressed.) We learned that generic “barbarians” sacked Rome. (What more detail do you need to offer pre-teens, practically barbarians themselves?) Somewhere along the way, outside of my history classes, I learned about history’s great baddies: Attilla the Hun, Vlad the Impaler, Genghis Khan. (A Listverse article ranks Attila as #2 and Genghis as #1 worst all-time ancient history villains.)

Medieval painting of Huns attacking a city.

So back in 451, Attila “the Scourge of God,” unable to conquer the thick walls of Constantinople, turns to the Western Roman Empire instead. (Sidenote: Emperor Theodosius II built his double walls of Constantinople specifically to keep out Attila—although first he paid Attila tribute.) Attila crosses then-Gaul, closes in on Paris, and St. Genevieve starts to pray.

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

In one version, St. Genevieve criticizes the cowardly men of Paris who had wanted to flee, and emboldens them to stay and fight. In another, she and her nun sisters pray and fast. Perhaps a little of both are true. Either way, Attila and his armies turn away. In June 451, Attila is defeated—the one defeat of his career—at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, somewhere in Gaul. (Wikipedia tells us that the Catalaunian Plains are near Champagne-Ardenne in the northeastern part of present-day France.)

The Epistle of James says that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16), a verse I’ve long believed, even when I didn’t understand it or know what righteousness is. This much I know:

St. Genevieve the unknown-to-me defeated Attila-the-effing-Hun!, the #2 villain and conqueror of the ancient world, and I was robbed of the inspiration of her example by an anti-hagiography Protestant upbringing.

Dearest well-meaning Protestants, sweet brothers and sisters, do you even know the legacy you’ve jettisoned?

“One [he] can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.” — St. Cyprian of Carthage.

 

Evie Peoples at Giant’s Causeway, No. Ireland. Photo by Anna Love via Facebook. The Giant’s Causeway is one of my favorite places in the world. I didn’t know Evie personally, but this is how I would like to remember her.

This article is offered in remembrance of Evie Peoples, ~1997-2017. Memory Eternal. Rest in Peace.  

            St. Genevieve of Paris, pray for us, and for all who bear your name.

 

St. Genevieve; Painting ~1500-1599; from the Carnavalet Museum in the Netherlands

Resources / Further Reading

8 Things You Might Not Know About Attila the Hun from the History Channel /History.com

Attila the Hun from Ancient History Encyclopedia

Attila the Hun from Biography.com

Genevieve of Paris from Orthodox Wiki

St. Genevieve from The Catholic Encyclopedia

Venerable Genevieve of Paris from The Orthodox Church in America

 

 

 

Execution, Forensics, Faith, and Saints: Getting to Know the Grand Duchess Maria

         romonov-new-yorker

          My fascination with the Romanovs began in 1995, although it lay dormant for twenty years. In 1995 The New Yorker magazine published a piece on the forensic and DNA identification of the nine bodies found in a forest in the Urals near the Russian city of Ekaterinburg close to the boundary between Europe and Asia. In his article “The Last Romanov Mystery” author Robert K. Massie compellingly told the story of Tsar Nicholas and his family’s last night, their brutal execution, hasty burial, removal and reburial, and eventual exhumation and identification 73+ years later. The horrific and gripping details—bullets bouncing off the Grand Duchesses because they had sewn jewels into their corsets—made a lasting impression, as did the account of one of the daughters waking up from unconsciousness and crying out in pain amid the corpses of her family being loaded onto a truck. Compelling and grisly.  What impressed me the most was the author’s explanation of the scientific evidence in a detailed yet accessible manner which was comprehensible to laypersons like myself. I renewed my New Yorker subscription for several years based on the strength of this piece alone.

It was the history and science which interested me; I’ve never gone gaga over royalty. I’d had zero desire to see the 1997 animated film Anastasia which I knew would be romanticized drivel. Fast forward ~16 years.  At the time of my conversion to the Orthodox Church—a non-Russian jurisdiction I might add—my priest informed me that Tsar Nicholas and his family were saints, and I respectfully concealed my skepticism. It was only this past July, upon reading about the Feast Days for the Romanovs, that I began to understand why they were considered saints, and then I became completely captivated with the Grand Duchess Maria.

maria-romanov-1914-wikimedia

Grand Duchess Maria 1914.                           Photo from Wikimedia.

In Russia, the royal family is considered Passion-Bearers, those who face death in a Christ-like manner, although some recognize them also as martyrs. Whatever his flaws personal and political, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated for the good of his country; he choose to stay in Russia to share the suffering of his people. Later, when he tried to emigrate, it was too late. Fate slowly tightened around him and his family. (An example of an English passion-bearer is King Edward the Martyr.)

romanov-icon-2-wikimedia

          One religious website describes the Grand Duchess Maria as having “the rare quality of being perfectly happy in any surroundings, even when the family was imprisoned in Tobolsk.” Because of this good nature, “she was chosen by her parents to accompany them when they were forced to separate from the family and embark upon their last fateful journey to Ekaterinburg” (Sheniloff). I took a special interest in Maria—I have a history of depression amidst life trials less challenging than the horrors of political imprisonment—and I set out to learn to the truth about the Grand Duchess. Was her good temperament actual, or a religious gloss? I had to know.  Thus began my quest into the Romanovs.

romonov-last-days

          Helen Rappaport’s The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg was as compelling as the original The New Yorker article. She devotes a chapter to each of the key players—the four daughters are combined in one chapter—and the reader learns about Tsaritsa (Empress) Alexandra’s genealogy as Queen Victoria’s granddaughter and her marriage to the Tsar; some reasons for Tsar Nicholas’ ineffective reign; the tremendous courage of the Doctor and other household servants who  accompanied the royal family; and why the family was executed at that point in time: the Czech army and the pro-monarchy White Russian army was advancing on Ekaterinburg and closing in three miles away. Rappaport confirms that third-daughter Maria “seemed easily contented with very little, having no complaints about the family’s quiet life [under arrest] in Tobolsk.”  The author also verifies that Maria was “patient” and “stoic,” a natural caregiver for her oft-indisposed mother and her hemophiliac brother Alexey, the heir.  She alone initially accompanied the Tsar and Tsaritsa as they were moved from Tobolsk to what would become their final prison and execution site, the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg (81).  [Tsarevich Alexey was ill and couldn’t travel, and the rest of the family joined them later.]  Rappaport also addresses in brief their 2000 canonization and the founding of the Church on the Blood at the execution site; her book is copywritten 2008, before the identification of the bodies of Alexey and Maria, who were buried separately from the main mass grave.

Of particular interest to religious readers will be Rappaport’s description of the family’s final liturgy, a service called the obednitsa, a shorter liturgy-without-communion typically offered to soldiers in the field. When the serving deacon came to the part of the service commemorating the dead—“ ‘With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of your servant where there is neither pain, nor sorrow, nor suffering but life everlasting’ ”— he was compelled to chant rather than speak it, and the entire family “had all silently fallen to their knees” (162). They recognized their likely approaching death, and turned to God in their last days as they had throughout their entire lives.

romonov-church_built_on_site_where_last_tzars_family_was_killed_wikimedia

The Church on the Blood (Ekaterinburg, Russia), the church built on the Romanovs’ execution site. Note the photos of the imperial family posted on the church.                              Photo from Wikimedia

I remember being a little girl of 4 or 5 when my father compared me to Sesame Street’s Oscar-the-Grouch. It seems I’ve always been grumpy. Lately I’ve been thinking about Grand Duchess Maria. If she can be cheerful throughout house arrest, surely I can learn to stop complaining. An Atlantic article suggests that kindness is a muscle we can strengthen. Grand Duchess Maria is someone I aspire to emulate: I have recently taken Maria Nikolaevna Romanova as my patron saint.

To think it all started with a The New Yorker article.

 

Interesting Tidbits

  • New Yorker author Robert Massie  won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his book Peter the Great: His Life and World.
  • Helen Rappaport  has also written a 2014 book about the Romanovs, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra.

For Additional Reading

Maria Romanov: Grand Duchess Maria Niklaevna of Russia

References

Massie, Robert K. “The Last Romanov Mystery.” The New Yorker. Vol. No. August 21 & 28, 1995, p. 72 – 95.

Rappaport, Helen. The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg. N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press,  2008.

Sheniloff, Matushka Natalia. “Russia’s Crown Jewels: The Child-Martyrs.” Orthodox America [Newspaper]. Vol. XVI, No.6 (146), February1997, pp. 8 & 10. Posted online at http://www.serfes.org/royal/child-martyrs.htm

 

Hermits and Saints

I went to morning prayers yesterday and my priest commemorated, among others, St. Colman of Ireland. A Celtic saint I didn’t know! I was pleased and flummoxed. Flummoxed because I would now have to go and research him . . .

A perusal of Butler’s Lives of the Saints and a Google consultation soon followed (not necessarily in that order). Butler concisely informs that St. Colman was a bishop and hermit in Western Ireland who escaped to the barren Burren “because he had been made a bishop against his will.” (There’s been a few of those, no? Perhaps a topic for another day.) Apparently burren (boireann) means “great rock” in Irish—not a very habitable place. During my 2003 trip to Ireland, we traveled through the Burren. It’s an inhospitable mound of rocks about which one of Oliver Cromwell’s officers famously stated had “not wood enough to hang a man, water enough to drown him, nor earth enough to bury him.”

The Burren, photo by the author, 2003

The Burren, photo by the author, 2003

Tradition says St. Colman retreated to the Burren ‘forests’—had the forest had been cut down by the time of Cromwell a thousand years later? The St. Colman Mac Duagh Burren Forest page has pictures of the dense brush today; I’m not sure I would call those scrawny trees a ‘forest’ but landforms change over the course of a millennium. At any rate, it is a place far more austere than St. Kevin’s lush Glendalough. Not a place I would want to live.

St. Colman later founded a monastery at Kilmacduagh, near Galway. I can piece together the Irish meaning: Kil-mac-duagh, church (kil) of the son (mac) of Duagh. Butler eludes to the legends of St. Colman’s friendships with a mouse, fly, and cock without recounting them, and you’ll have to visit the Russian Orthodox Christianity page on St. Colman to read them yourself.

Kilmacduagh Monastery Ruins by Jerzy Strzelecki By Jerzy Strzelecki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Kilmacduagh Monastery Ruins by Jerzy Strzelecki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Once, I may have wanted to be a hermit . . .

In therapy, I talk quite a bit about my introversion and social anxiety—(although it’s not social anxiety as we normally think of it, it’s still a helpful if imprecise term). My therapist’s advice ranges from the self acceptance of embracing my introversion to cognitive-behavioral promises not to be the first person to leave a party. I attended a family event last weekend—a pleasant, wonderful visit which nonetheless left me utterly exhausted.

In my therapist’s office on the eve of St. Colman’s feast, I lamented adult-ing. I wanted to go back to my high school self and sit in a corner reading a science fiction paperback for the entire duration of a party. I entertained what I call my “Unabomber” fantasy [sans bombs] in which I daydream about living off-the-grid in a cabin in Wyoming and walking into town once a week to buy my groceries and check my email through the public library computers.

I am more functional than I was twenty years ago; I make the effort; I force myself to attend dreadful odious baby showers because it’s the right thing to do. I’m probably less lonely. I’m not sure if I’m significantly happier. People exhaust me.

Knowing of my faith, my therapist spontaneously asked me if there were any hermetic examples or outlets I could explore or learn from. Doubtful, I told him glumly. A good number of hermits are only temporary hermits; eventually, after many years of solitude, they end up getting dragged (against their will!) back into the community and end up abbot of a monastery or something. The solitude teaches them the fortitude they will need for their future endeavors. It happened to St. Colman, and many others. We had a good laugh.

The next morning I learned it was St. Colman’s feast day. Later in the afternoon I discovered it was also National Hermit Day—a day dedicated to stepping away from the frenzy of our lives and the tyranny of our electronic devices. We are encouraged to “retreat to someplace quiet.” The National Day Calendar tips their hats to St. Colman, their inspiration for this nouveau holiday.

Three hermit references within twenty-four-hours. Once upon a time, I would have considered it a message from the Universe.

Lughnasa, Transfiguration, and the Harvest Feast of Mary

August brings us two Feast Days—Transfiguration (August 6) and the Assumption (or Dormition) of the Virgin Mary (August 15). In Gaelic, the word for August is Lunasa; indeed Brien Friel’s acclaimed 1990 play, “Dancing at Lughnasa” (also a movie) takes its name from the Celtic Harvest Festival, Lughnasa, celebrated in August.

August 1 was (and to certain contemporary spiritual practitioners, is) known as a Cross-Quarter Day, halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox, and a festival to honor the Celtic deity Lugh. The myth of Lugh is one of my favorites, but today’s focus is on the harvest festival, and retelling his persistent convincing diplomacy to gain admission to the King at Tara must await another occasion.

August 1 marks a season of penitence, when the Irish faithful, often barefoot, climb 2500-feet tall Croagh Patrick (St. Patrick’s Mountain) in honor of St. Patrick’s own reputed forty-day summer fast in the year 441. Nowadays the preferred date to climb is the last Sunday in July.  In this same early August season, the English celebrated Lammas (“loaf-mass”), the festival of the harvested wheat, by bringing a loaf of bread to church to be blessed.

Knowing all this, I will still surprised by the Blessing of the Grapes in the Orthodox Christian tradition for the Feast of the Transfiguration. How pleasant to nibble blessed grapes as I made my way into work. So much essential similarity among so many diverse customs!

And if I am not climbing Croagh Patrick this year, nor fasting a full forty days like St. Patrick, I am at least doing my best to refrain from animal products for fifteen days until Mary’s feast. In the Gaelic, the Feast of the Assumption is known as Lá Fhéile Muire Mór sa bhFómhar—the Feast of Great Mary in the Autumn.[1]

August 1 (or thereabouts)—my friend tells me Lammas proper, the exact astronomical midpoint between the Solstice and the Equinox, was August 7 this year—as a Cross Quarter Day has an additional significance beyond the Harvest celebrations. We have heard of May Day (May 1) as being friendly to faeries, a Midsummer (June 21, solstice) night favorable to Shakespeare’s faieries and romance, and naturally Halloween (Samhain) as being a time when the veil between the worlds is markedly thin. Those familiar with Irish folklore know: all of the astronomical and cross quarter days are said to bear this quality of “thinness”.

 I reflect on the Transfiguration, also celebrated in early August: God broke through the veil of heaven to announce, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”  A little more impressive than the faeries trooping through the countryside to take up their autumn residences.

The heat wave has broken. My tomatoes are proliferating. School is around the corner. Be kind to each other. Autumn is here.

Croagh Patrick Photo by the author. 2003.

Croagh Patrick
Photo by the author. 2003.

God bless Thou Thyself my reaping,

Each ridge, and plain, and field,

Each sickle curved, shapely, hard,

Each ear and handful in the sheaf,

               Each ear and handful in the sheaf.

–Excerpt from a Reaping Blessing, from the Carmina Gadelica.


[1] O’Duinn, Séan. The Rites of Brigid, Goddess and Saint. Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland: The Columba Press, 2004, 157.

John the Baptist’s Sunburn-Soothing, Fairy-Dispelling Plant

St. John’s Wort is named for John the Baptist: the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist occurs on June 24, and it is now, in mid/late June that Hypericum perforatum is in full bloom.

stjohnwort

The Nativity of John the Baptist is noted on this date because, according to the Annunciation of the Angel to the Virgin Mary which is celebrated on March 25, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth “has herself conceived a a son . . . [and she] . . . is now in her sixth month.” Nine months being the standard pregnancy term, voila St. John’s Birthday is set three months later in June. (Or six months before Christ’s birth at Christmas, if you prefer).

St. John’s Day is also associated with the summer solstice, which has recently passed on June 21. From now until the winter solstice on December 21 (for those of us in the Northern hemisphere), the days get shorter; there is a little less sunlight each day. So too, when John’s disciples asked him if he was jealous of Christ’s ascendancy, John famously replied, “He must increase and I must decrease.” The sunlight of John the Baptist is decreasing as we prepare for the coming of light into the world with the Nativity of Christ which follows a few days after the winter solstice.

St. John’s Day is a public holiday in Quebec, Canada (St. Jean-Baptiste Day). The Eve of St. John the Baptist was often celebrated throughout Europe with bonfires. Wikipedia has three whole pages devoted to this midsummer celebration—one for the evening festival with customs across the globe, another for the daytime revelries, and a third for the Canadian legal holiday. It was an ideal day for picking herbs . . . including St. John’s Wort.

st jhn wort2

St. John’s Wort is a hardy perennial native to Europe and Western Asia, now naturalized in North America, known for clusters of five-petalled scented yellow flowers. The flowers, mixed with alum, make a yellow dye for wool, or when mixed with alcohol, yield a violet-red silk dye.

St. John’s Wort may not be a miracle herb, but it is close. Ancient Greek herbalists and medieval apothecaries used it to dress wounds and salve sword cuts. Like arnica, in lotion or infusion form, it eases bruises and sprains, especially those accompanied by swelling, and may also be used to treat varicose veins. Like aloe, a macerated oil of St. John’s Wort soothes sunburn.

Its most famous use is as an herbal anti-anxiety or anti-depressant. Once only available in natural food and herb stores, now most chain drug stores carry capsules of St. John’s Wort in their vitamins and supplements aisle. Any readers suffering from depression should of course first consult their physician and seek professional medical advice. From my own experience, St. John’s Wort helps elevate the mood if somewhat downcast, but is ineffective in addressing more serious psychological malaise.  St. John’s Wort often causes hyper-sensitivity to the sun, so wear sunscreen if taking it.

Folklore concerning St. John’s Wart is numerous. Pre-Christian pagans used it to cleanse rooms and drive away evil spirits. Anna Kruger, in her book An Illustrated Guide to Herbs: Their Medicine and Magic calls it “an herbal exorcist.”  After the coming of Christianity to Europe, the plant was believed to bleed on the anniversary of the Beheading of John the Baptist, commonly observed on August 29. Although its flowers are yellow, when crushed, they appear to ‘bleed’ red.

Natives to the Isle of Wight believed stepping on the plant at dusk would result in a terrifying overnight ride on the back of a fairy horse. Alternately, noted fairy folklorist Katherine Briggs cites St. John’s Wort as an herb, like the four-leafed clover, which can dispel the glamours of fairies as well as spells of evil spirits.

Someday I’ll grow this versatile plant in my own backyard herb garden. But I wonder, will it disperse the fairies from my yard? Or merely enable me to see them better?

 

References

St. John and the Annunciation: Luke 1:36

“He must increase; I must decrease”: John 3:30.

General info and folkloric references: Kruger, Anna. An Illustrated Guide to Herbs: Their Medicine and Magic.  U.S./Great Britain: Dragon’s World. 1993.  (This book is based in part on Maud Grieve’s A Modern Herbal, 1931, Penguin 1980).

Medicinal reference: Bremmes, Lesley. The Complete Book of Herbs: A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs. N.Y. Viking Penguin, Dorling Kindersley, 1988. (Out of print. Sorry).

Invaluable fairy-folklore resource: Briggs, Katharine. An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. N.Y.: Pantheon, 1976.

 

Extra: Gardening with St. John’s wort: advice from Fine Gardening Magazine.

Note: This information is presented for entertainment purposes only.

Please consult your doctor for all medical conditions.  

Photo credits: Upper: Joshua Mayer through Flickr/Creative Commons

Middle: B. Vasily through Flickr/Creative Comons

Irish Books and the World’s First Copyright Case

KellsFol027v4Evang book of kellsSt. Columba loved books. When he journeyed to the tomb of St. Martin of Tours, he brought back as a relic a gospel book which had lain with St. Martin for over one hundred years. And if you’ve ever seen the great Book of Kells, housed in Trinity College, Dublin, with its intricate Celtic knotwork, stunning details of the four evangelists, tiny images of creative genius—funny faces, stretching animals, two mice sharing a communion wafer—who could blame him for his love of books, especially those made with the superb craftsmanship of the Irish monks? A sister text, since lost to history, The Book of Kildare, was described by 12th century geographer Gerald of Wales as being so beautiful that it must have been “the work of an angel.” In those days, monasteries were publishing houses. St. Columba founded dozens of monasteries, including one at Kells.

At that time, books were hand-written, almost exclusively by monks, and unlike the hyper-pious continent, which tended to destroy anything un-Christian, Irish monasteries collected pagan Greek and Latin literature, which very well otherwise might have been lost forever. Voracious readers and scholars, the Irish collected it all.  Books were most frequently copied onto parchment, made of dried sheepskin, and in Ireland, sheep were (and are!) abundant.  Indeed, the shape of the modern book, more tall than wide, was based on the size of sheepskin.  The most important books were copied onto white Vellum, made from the calf.

Books—one book, a holy book—were St. Columba’s downfall. He coveted. He envied. He desired his master’s psalter. He had no Kinko’s, no Staples superstore, no recourse to Amazon.com to order another copy. He did it the old fashioned way, borrowing the book from his mentor St. Finian and copying page by page, night after night, until he had his own copy.

Perhaps he should have asked. (Perhaps he had asked and had been refused.) Either way, St. Finian considered it theft and appealed to King Diarmait.  King Diarmait thus considered the first copyright case in history. His ruling is famous: “To every cow her calf; to every book is copy.” As a child belongs with her parents (excepting abuse), a calf belongs to its cow, and a copy of a book is retained by the one who owns the original.

Long story short, an accidental killing led to war, some say at St. Columba’s urging, between Columba’s clan (not the churchmen; the tribe from which he came, the Ui Neills, whom today we would call O’Neills) and King Diarmait.  Columba beseeched God on behalf of his people while Finian prayed for the King who granted legal judgment in his favor.  Over one thousand warriors died in battle. For his penance, St. Columba exiled himself from his beloved Eire, travelled to Scotland, and founded the noted community at Iona, which flourished for centuries. In his travels through Scotland, reportedly he drove away the Loch Ness Monster with the sign of the cross. A few centuries later, in 804, monks from Iona fled to Kells for protection from raiding Vikings. The Book of Kells was probably created in Iona and taken to Kells for safety.

St. Columba, lover of books, founder of monasteries, died June 9, 597 and his feast day is celebrated on June 9.  The Scottish name Malcolm (Máel Coluim) means disciple or servant of Columba. He is also associated with a monastic rule (including this piece of good advice: “constant prayers for those who trouble thee”) and two or three Latin poems or hymns. Along with Patrick and Brigid, he is part of the triumvirate of patron saints of Ireland.

Oh, and that whole war bit above: probably, or at least possibly, a legend. Other sources claim the love of spreading God’s message of good news, and not a penance for untimely deaths, led Columba to Iona. But it makes a good story.

If you can’t found a monastery, write a poem, or banish a monster today, honor St. Columba by respecting copyright.  For one day at least, avoid pirated DVDs and illegally copied music, cite your sources, and practice MLA style.

For further interest

The Book of Kells online, from Trinity College, Dublin.

 Awesome video about The Book of Kells (with a wee bit about St. Columba). Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6Part 7. (Imperfectly edited but otherwise well done.)

The Iona Community is an ecumenical Christian community located in Iona, Scotland, which works for peace and social justice, rebuilding community, and renewing worship. Their symbol, the Wild Goose, is a Celtic symbol representing the Holy Spirit.

Closer to home in Southbridge, MA is St. Columba of Iona Orthodox monastery. Anyone want to take a pilgrimage with me?

Register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright office. . . just teasing. You know you don’t have to do this, right?Copyright exists from the moment the work is created” (from their website). For the dedicated, their article on Registration For Online Works is worth a glance.

St. Columba and the Loch Ness Monster info.

References  (I did not follow MLA style in writing this blog.)

Irish monastery libraries and the making of books (p. 158-168) and St. Columba’s copyright war (p.169-171) in Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization. NY: Doubleday, 1995.

Another view of events preceding St. Columba’s pilgrimage to Scotland from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

An objective/scholarly print source: Johnston, William M., ed. Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Vol. 1 A-L.  Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000. p. 319-321,

More details about St. Columba from Orthodoxwiki.

Photo credit: The Book of Kells folio 27v Symbols of the Four Evangelists, from Wikipedia Commons.

Note: Do not confuse St. Columba ( also called Columcille) with his disciple, Columbanus.