Tag Archives: midsummer

Almanac – December 25

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A happy Midwinter festival (Midsummer in the southern hemisphere) of your choice to all our readers.

The Robin in the picture is the one that’s hanging around my garden this winter.  They’re generally pretty inquisitive birds, but this one is positively fearless.

 

This  Christmas song is made up of bits of all the other Christmas songs – truly the soundtrack for Xmas In Hell !

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1066 – William the Conqueror  crowned king of England, at Westminster Abbey, London.

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1137 – Saladin born. Salāh ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb,  Kurdish Muslim, who became the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, and founded the Ayyubid dynasty. He led Muslim opposition to the Franks and other European Crusaders in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Hejaz, Yemen, and parts of North Africa.

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1924 – Rod Serling born.  American screenwriter, novelist, television producer, and narrator best known for his live television dramas of the 1950s and his science fiction anthology TV series, The Twilight Zone. Serling was active in politics, both on and off the screen and helped form television industry standards. He was known as the “angry young man” of Hollywood, clashing with television executives and sponsors over a wide range of issues including censorship, racism, and war.

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1925 – Carlos Castaneda born. Peruvian author and student of anthropology. Starting with The Teachings of Don Juan in 1968, Castaneda wrote a series of books that describe his alleged training in shamanism.

The books, narrated in the first person, relate his supposed experiences under the tutelage of a Yaqui “Man of Knowledge” named Don Juan Matus. Critics have suggested that they are works of fiction; supporters claim the books are either true or at least valuable works of philosophy and descriptions of practices which enable an increased awareness.

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1950 – The Stone of Scone, traditional coronation stone of British monarchs, was taken from Westminster Abbey by Scottish nationalist students. ( It later turned up in Scotland on April 11, 1951.)

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2008 – Eartha Kitt died. American singer, actress, and cabaret star.  Orson Welles once called her the “most exciting woman in the world.”

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Almanac – June 24th

MIDSUMMER DAY

In Great Britain from the 13th century, Midsummer was celebrated on Midsummer Eve (St. John’s Eve, June 23) and St. Peter’s Eve (June 28) with the lighting of bonfires, feasting and merrymaking.

In late fifteenth-century England, John Mirk of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, gives the following description:

At first, men and women came to church with candles and other lights and prayed all night long. In the process of time, however, men left such devotion and used songs and dances and fell into lechery and gluttony turning the good, holy devotion into sin.

The church fathers decided to put a stop to these practices and ordained that people should fast on the evening before, and thus turned waking into fasting .

Mirk adds that at the time of his writing,

…in worship of St John the Baptist, men stay up at night and make three kinds of fires: one is of clean bones and no wood and is called a “bonnefyre”; another is of clean wood and no bones, and is called a wakefyre, because men stay awake by it all night; and the third is made of both bones and wood and is called, “St. John’s fire”.

These traditions largely ended after the Reformation, but persisted in rural areas up until the nineteenth century before petering out.

637 – The Battle of Moira was fought between the High King of Ireland and the Kings of Ulster and Dalriada. It is claimed to be largest battle in the history of Ireland.

1314 –The Battle of Bannockburn concluded with a decisive victory by Scottish forces led by Robert the Bruce, though England did not  finally recognize Scottish independence until 1328 .

1374 – A sudden outbreak of St. John’s Dance caused people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapsed from exhaustion.

1519 – Lucrezia Borgia died.

1717 – The Premier Grand Lodge of England, the first Masonic Grand Lodge in the world (now the United Grand Lodge of England), was founded in London, England.

1901 – Birth of Harry Partch, American composer

1916 – The First Battle Of The Somme began.

1916 Mary Pickford became the first female film star to sign a million dollar contract.

1935 –  Birth of Terry Riley, American composer

1947 – The modern UFO age could be said to have begun – Kenneth Arnold, flying near Mount Rainier, Washington State, USA, encountered 9 unidentified flying objects.
He was later to describe their motion as: “like a saucer would if you skipped it across water” – and thus the term Flying Saucer was born.
Personally, I like another quote he made to reporters: “It seems impossible, but there it is.” A good motto for Forteans everywhere.

1968 – Death of Tony Hancock, British comedian

1985 – STS-51-G Space Shuttle Discovery completed its mission, best remembered for having Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the first Arab and first Muslim in space, as a Payload Specialist. And maybe a contender for the title of astronaut with the longest name ?

2007 – Death of Derek Dougan, Northern Irish footballer. The name might not mean much to you, but he was my first sporting idol, playing for Wolverhampton Wanderers. I wrote asking him for his autograph, and he sent a signed photo back – pretty thrilling for a 9- or 10-year old. I’d like to say that I still have the photo, but sadly it vanished over the intervening years.

Mr. Frankenstein

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Almanac – June 23rd

MIDSUMMER EVE

“Midsummer Eve is counted or called the Witches’ Night: and still in many places on St John’s Eve they make Fires on the Hills: but the Civil Wars coming on have put all these Rites and Customs quite out of fashion.

Wars not only extinguish Religion and Laws, but also Superstition: and no suffumen is a greater fugator of Phantoms than Gunpowder.”

John Aubrey Remains Of Gentilism, 1688

 

1894 – The International Olympic Committee is founded at the Sorbonne in Paris, at the initiative of Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

1942 – The first selections for the gas chamber at Auschwitz take place on a train full of Jews from Paris.

1961 –The Antarctic Treaty, which sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve and bans military activity on the continent, comes into force.

 

 

Mr. Frankenstein

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SUMMER SOLSTICE

Today is the Summer Solstice… well, not exactly – a solstice is a point in time rather than a day, and in 2012 that point in time was 23:09 UT  last night. And only in the northern hemisphere – if you’re reading this south of the equator, your Summer Solstice is of course 6 months distant, at 11.12 UT, December 21. Something to look forward to anyway…

So, the Summer Solstice – pay attention now, there may be questions asked later :

The summer solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet’s semi-axis in a given hemisphere is most inclined towards the star that it orbits. Earth’s maximum axial tilt to our star, the Sun, during a solstice is 23° 26′. This happens twice each year, at which times the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the North or South Pole respectively.

The summer solstice is the solstice that occurs in a hemisphere’s summer. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the Northern solstice, in the Southern Hemisphere this is the Southern solstice. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the summer solstice occurs some time between December 20 and December 23 each year in the Southern Hemisphere  and between June 20 and June 22 in the Northern Hemisphere  in reference to UTC.

Though the summer solstice is an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midsummer to refer to the day on which it occurs. Except in the polar regions (where daylight is continuous for many months), the day on which the summer solstice occurs is the day of the year with the longest period of daylight.

Thank you Wikipedia.

As is usual for the British Summer Solstice, an estimated 14,500 people descended on Stonehenge to see the Sun rise – or not, as the usual British Midsummer weather was, well, the usual British Midsummer weather. Or as one report put it:   “The sunrise at 4.52am was welcomed by rain-sodden crowds with a loud cheer and applause despite the sun being blanketed by dark clouds.”  Just so.

I’ve never really understood why crowds wishing to celebrate the Solstices always seem to think it’s de rigueur to descend on Stonehenge and  similar places. I have to admit that I’ve never visted Stonehenge myself, but various acounts from sources that have – including members of my own family – suggest that it’s actually rather sterile spiritually.

Of course, there’s also the fact that I dont like crowds much either, so the thought of spending the darkest hour before the dawn in the rain-soaked company of 14,500 strangers doesn’t, if I’m honest, really appeal. I guess I lean more towards the hermit-mentality, spiritually speaking, and dont really see the need for an extra layer of bureacracy between me and whatever gods  I might choose to believe in…whether its  a Church of England vicar or a  neo-Druid Priest at Stonehenge.

And of course there’s the fact that many – most ? – of those at Stonehenge probably travelled long distances to be there. Fair enough, if that’s what they want to do, but don’t they have any sacred sites nearer to home ? 

And sacred doesn’t have to mean there’s an ancient stone circle there. Myself ?  Early this morning I was up and out to my allotment garden, walking 3 miles across town to get there. Just a rectangle of land, one-sixteenth of an acre surrounded by other one-sixteenth of an acre plots by a railway line on the edge of town

But I’ve worked it for two decades, and it’s become a very personal sacred space to me. Being here alone on the Summer Solstice is far more meaningful to me than mingling with the crowds far away in Wiltshire could ever be.  But each to their own, I guess.

Here’s the song I sing as I work –

 

For the record – it was overcast here too. By 08:00 BST the rain had started. By 09:30 I’d given up and gone home. Then a fog came in from the sea. Oh to be in Britain, now that Midsummer’s here…

 

Mr. Frankenstein

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