The 2nd of June is St Erasmus of Formia’s day – better known as St Elmo. He is said to have kept preaching during a thunderstorm and even when lightning struck near him. Sailors therefore look on the electrical discharges that hit masts or other protuberances as a sign that the saint is watching over them, and call this St Elmo’s Fire.
St. Elmo’s fire is a bright blue or violet glow, appearing like fire in some circumstances, from tall, sharply pointed structures such as lightning rods, masts, spires and chimneys, and on aircraft wings or nose cones. St. Elmo’s fire can also appear on leaves and grass, and even at the tips of cattle horns. Often accompanying the glow is a distinct hissing or buzzing sound. It is sometimes confused with ball lightning.
Invoking Saint Erasmus
In addition to being the patron saint of sailors, Saint Erasmus is also the patron saint of a host of other groups, including explosives workers, ordnance workers, and women in labor. He is also invoked against colic, birth pains, intestinal disorders, stomach diseases, and storms. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints regarded as special protectors against various illnesses.
Invocation of St. Erasmus
Holy martyr Erasmus, who didst willingly and bravely bear the trials and sufferings of life, and by thy charity didst console many fellow-sufferers; I implore thee to remember me in my needs and to intercede for me with God. Staunch confessor of the Faith, victorious vanquisher of all tortures, pray Jesus for me and ask Him to grant me the grace to live and die in the Faith through which thou didst obtain the crown of glory. Amen.
Account of His Life and Martyrdom
Erasmus was Bishop of Formia, Italy. During the persecution against Christians under the emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Maximian Hercules (284-305), he left his diocese and went to Mount Libanus, where he hid for seven years. However, an angel is said to have appeared to him, and counseled him to return to his city.
On the way, he encountered some soldiers who questioned him. Erasmus admitted that he was a Christian and they brought him to trial at Antioch before the emperor Diocletian. After suffering terrible tortures, he was bound with chains and thrown into prison, but an angel appeared and helped him escape.
He passed through Lycia, where he raised up the son of an illustrious citizen. This resulted in a number of baptisms, which drew the attention of the Western Roman Emperor Maximian who, according to Voragine, was “much worse than was Diocletian.” Maximian ordered his arrest and Erasmus continued to confess his faith. They forced him to go to a temple of the idol, but along the saint’s route all the idols fell and were destroyed, and from the temple there came fire which fell upon many of the pagans.
That made the emperor so angry he had Erasmus enclosed in a barrel full of protruding spikes, and the barrel was rolled down a hill. But an angel healed him. Further tortures ensued.
When he was recaptured, he was brought before the emperor and beaten and whipped, then coated with pitch and set alight (as Christians had been in Nero’s games), and still he survived. Thrown into prison with the intention of letting him die of starvation, St Erasmus managed to escape.
He was recaptured and tortured some more in the Roman province of Illyricum, after boldly preaching and converting numerous pagans to Christianity. Finally, according to this version of his death, his stomach was slit open and his intestines wound around a windlass. This version may have developed from interpreting an icon that showed him with a windlass, signifying his patronage of sailors.
Traditional weather lore has it that St. Dunstan was a great brewer who sold himself to the devil on the condition that the devil would blight the apple trees to stop the production of cider, Dunstan’s rival drink. This is said to be the cause of the wintry blast that usually comes about this time. (May 19)
Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then, indeed, he would have roared to lusty purpose.
~A Christmas Carol
This piece of folklore seeks to explain the late May frosts, known as ‘Franklin Days’ in the West Country, which often hit between 17-19 or 19-21 May. The tale was apparently particularly popular in Devon in the 19th and 20th centuries and goes thus:
Dunstan had bought some barley and made some beer, which he then hoped to sell for a good price. Seeing this the Devil appeared before him and offered to blight the local apple trees with frost (the tale is presumably set in Somerset, perhaps when Dunstan is Abbot of Glastonbury). This would ensure there was no cider and so drive demand for beer. Dunstan accepted the offer but stipulated that the frost should strike from the 17-19 May.
Stories About St. Dustan and the Devil:
According to legend, St. Dunstan had a number of encounters with the devil. The most famous story, which entered popular folklore, tells how he pulled the devil by the nose with his blacksmith’s tongs.
The story goes that while he was living as a hermit in a cell at Glastonbury, he occupied himself with various crafts, including metalwork. Against the old church of St Mary he built a small cell five feet long and two and a half feet deep. It was there that Dunstan studied, worked at his handicrafts, and played on his harp. It is at this time, according to a late 11th-century legend, that the Devil is said to have tempted Dunstan.
One day, as evening was coming on, an old man appeared at his window and asked him to make a chalice for him. Setting aside what he was working on, Dunstan agreed to the request and set to work. But as he was working his visitor began to change shape: one moment he was an old man, then a young boy, then a seductive woman.
Dunstan realized that his guest was the devil; but, pretending not to notice, he went on with his task. He took up the tongs from among his tools and laid them in the fire, waiting until they were red-hot. Then, pulling them out of the fire, he turned round and seized the devil by the nose with the tongs. The devil struggled and screamed, but Dunstan held on until at last he felt he had triumphed. Then he threw the devil out of his cell and it fled, running down the street and crying “Woe is me! What has that bald devil done to me? Look at me, a poor wretch, look how he has tortured me!”
St Dunstan stood in his ivied Tower,
Alembic, crucible, all were there;
When in came Nick to play him a trick,
In guise of a damsel passing fair.
Every one knows
How the story goes:
He took up the tongs and caught hold of his nose.
~Lay of St Dunstan, 1840
Many people heard and saw this, and the following day they came to Dunstan and asked him what had happened. He said to them, “These are the tricks of devils, who try to trap us with their snares whenever they can. But if we remain firm in the service of Christ, we can easily defeat them with his help, and they will flee from us in confusion.” And from that time he dwelt safely in his little cell.
The story was of course retold in other forms, as here in playful fashion in the South English Legendary:
þe deuel he hente bi þe nose & wel faste drou;
He twengde & ssok hure bi þe nose þat þe fur out blaste.
þe deuel wrickede here & þere & he huld euere faste,
He 3al & hupte & drou a3en & made grislich bere.
He nolde for al is bi3ete þat he hadde icome þere!
Wiþ is tonge he strok is nose & twengde him euere sore,
Forte it was wiþinne ni3te þat he ne mi3te iseo namore.
þe ssrewe was glad & bliþe inou þo he was out of is honde
And flei & gradde bi þe lift þat me hurde into al þe londe:
“Out, wat haþ þis calwe ido? wat haþ þis calwe ido?”
In þe contreie me hurde wide hou þe ssrewe gradde so.
As god þe ssrewe hadde ibeo habbe ysnut atom is nose,
He ne hi3ede namore þuderward to tilie him of þe pose.
He seized the devil by the nose and pulled very hard; he tweaked and shook him by the nose so that fire burst out. The devil wriggled here and there, and he still held fast. He yelled and hopped and pulled away and made a horrible commotion. He wished for all the world that he’d never come there! With his tongs Dunstan yanked at his nose and nipped him very sore, until night came on and he could no longer see. The villain was glad and happy indeed that he was out of his hands, and fled and cried out so it was heard all over the land: “Alas, what’s this bald one done? What’s this bald one done?” It was heard far around how the wicked one cried out. The villain had got such a good tweaking of his nose, he never hurried back there again to heal his cold!
On another occasion, when Dunstan was praying alone, the devil appeared to him in the likeness of a wolf with a gaping mouth, snarling and baring his teeth. Dunstan would not be distracted from concentration on his prayers, so the devil suddenly changed himself into a little fox, trying to get Dunstan’s attention by jumping about, contorting himself and trying to get Dunstan to laugh at him.
But, smiling a little, Dunstan only said, “You are revealing how you usually behave: by your tricks you flatter the unwary so that you can devour them. Now get out of here, wretch, since Christ, who crushed the lion and the dragon with his heel, will overcome you by his grace through me, whether you’re a wolf or a fox.”
Another legend regarding the Devil and St. Dunstan also occurred in Mayfield when the convent there had just been built. The Devil appeared to St. Dunstan and said that he was going to knock down all the houses in the village. St. Dunstan bargained with the Devil and got him to agree to leave standing any house with a horseshoe on the outside. At that time, the custom of nailing horseshoes to doors for luck wasn’t well known so the Devil agreed but St. Dunstan managed to nail a horseshoe to all the houses in the village before the Devil could get to them so the village was saved.
The Devil managed to get some measure of revenge against St. Dunstan by repeatedly setting Mayfield church, then built of wood, off its normal East-West axis, leaving St. Dunstan to repeatedly correct it. According to the lore, this was accoplished by pushing the church back into the proper east-west alignment with his shoulder!
Another church is involved with yet another St. Dunstan story. This time it is the steeple of the church in the village of Brookland, just over the border into Kent. The Devil took the steeple and was chased by St. Dunstan who caused the Devil to drop the steeple near Hastings by application of the tongs mentioned in the Mayfield story.
According to one version of the story, the injured devil flew off from Mayfield to cool his nose in the springs of Tunbridge Wells, and that’s how its famous waters got their reddish tint (don’t let anyone tell you it’s because of the iron in the water). Alternatively, he flew away with the tongs still attached to his nose, and they dropped off in the place near Brighton which is now called Tongdean (for, I hope, obvious reasons).
About Saint Dustan:
- Feastday: May 19
- Patron of armorers, goldsmiths, locksmiths, and jewelers
Born of a noble family at Baltonsborough, near Glastonbury, England, Dunstan was educated there by Irish monks and while still a youth, was sent to the court of King Athelstan. He became a Benedictine monk about 934 and was ordained by his uncle, St. Alphege, Bishop of Winchester, about 939.
After a time as a hermit at Glastonbury, Dunstan was recalled to the royal court by King Edmund, who appointed him abbot of Glastonbury Abbey in 943. He developed the Abbey into a great center of learning while revitalizing other monasteries in the area. He became advisor to King Edred on his accession to the throne when Edmund was murdered, and began a far-reaching reform of all the monasteries in Edred’s realm.
Dunstan also became deeply involved in secular politics and incurred the enmity of the West Saxon nobles for denouncing their immorality and for urging peace with the Danes. When Edwy succeeded his uncle Edred as king in 955, he became Dunstan’s bitter enemy for the Abbot’s strong censure of his scandalous lifestyle. Edwy confiscated his property and banished him from his kingdom.
Dunstan went to Ghent in Flanders but soon returned when a rebellion replaced Edwy with his brother Edgar, who appointed Dunstan Bishop of Worcester and London in 957. When Edwy died in 959, the civil strife ended and the country was reunited under Edgar, who appointed Dunstan Archbishop of Canterbury. The king and archbishop then planned a thorough reform of Church and state.
Dunstan was appointed legate by Pope John XII, and with St. Ethelwold and St. Oswald, restored ecclesiastical discipline, rebuilt many of the monasteries destroyed by the Danish invaders, replaced inept secular priests with monks, and enforced the widespread reforms they put into effect. Dunstan served as Edgar’s chief advisor for sixteen years and did not hesitate to reprimand him when he thought it deserved.
When Edgar died, Dunstan helped elect Edward the martyr king and then his half brother Ethelred, when Edward died soon after his election. Under Ethelred, Dunstan’s influence began to wane and he retired from politics to Canterbury to teach at the Cathedral school and died there. Dunstan has been called the reviver of monasticism in England. He was a noted musician, played the harp, composed several hymns, notably Kyrie Rex splendens, was a skilled metal worker, and illuminated manuscripts.
The feast day of St Agathius is May the 7th, (formerly May 8th). It is unclear why the date was changed, and some information online still has it listed as May the 8th. He is a patron saint of soldiers, and most often invoked against headaches.
- About him:
Saint Agathius (Greek: Ακακιος; died 303), also known as Achatius or Agathonas or Acacius of Byzantium, according to Christian tradition, was a Cappadocian Greek centurion of the imperial army, martyred around 304.
Agathius was arrested on charges for being a Christian by Tribune Firmus in Perinthus, Thrace, tortured and then brought to Byzantium where he was scourged and beheaded, being made a martyr because he would not renounce his Christian faith. The date of his martyrdom is traditionally May 8, when his feast is observed.
St. Acacius the Centurion is not to be confused with the St. Acacius who was crucified in the second century along with 10,000 (!) companions. Neither of these martyrs is the St. Achatius numbered among the “14 Holy Helpers.”
- For Headaches:
I’ve found that amethyst is one of the best gemstones to help relieve headaches and reduce stress and tension. You can simply sit quietly and hold a piece of amethyst against your forehead, or you could make a gem elixir so that you can take a drop or two of the liquid when necessary.
Another traditional spell is to find a pebble and hold it against your head and say: ‘Pain from my head go into this stone, go into this stone, go into this stone. Pain from my head go into this stone, go into this stone and stay there.’ Then take the stone outside and hurl it away from you with as much force as you can manage.
January 21 is the Eve of St Agnes. There are many traditions associated with both this night and tomorrow night, all intended to bring dreams of the future husband. Here are some of them.
- Walking thrice backwards around a churchyard in silence at midnight, scattering hemp seed over the left shoulder.
- Boiling an egg, removing the yolk and filling the center with salt and then eating the whole, shell included!
- Sticking 9 pins into a red onion, taking it backwards to the bedroom and sleeping with it under the pillow.
But the most often repeated one is that of making a Dumb Cake. Here are the instructions:
Three, five or seven maidens should gather together on St Agnes Eve and make a cake from flour, salt, eggs and water. While they are mixing and baking the cake all the girls should stand on something different and which they have never stood on before. Each girl should take a hand in adding each of the ingredients and each girl should turn the cake once. When the cake is baked they should eat it all between them. Then, walking backwards, they should all retire to bed where they will dream of their future husbands. The whole process from start to finish should take place in complete silence and should be completed just before midnight.
It is interesting that all these methods include the elements of silence, walking backward, and retiring to bed at midnight.
Here are some more old old spells for St Agnes night:
On Saint Agnes’ night, take a row of pins and pull out every one, one after another, saying a Pater Noster, sticking a pin in your sleeve, and you will dream of him or her you will marry. “Knit tne left garter about the right-legg’d stocking” (let the other garter and stocking alone), and as you rehearse these following verses, at every comma knit a knot:
“This knot I knit,
To know the thing I know not yet,
That I may see
The man that shall my husband be,
How he goes and what he wears.
And what he does all the days.”
Accordingly in your dream you will see him, if a musician, with a lute or other instrument; if a scholar, with a book,” and so on.
Another dream-charm for St . Agnes’ Eve was to take a sprig of rosemary and another of thyme and sprinkle them thrice with water, then place one in each shoe, and stand shoe and sprig on either side of the bed, repeating:
“St Agnes, that’s to lovers kind.
Come ease the trouble of my mind.”
In many places the notion prevailed that to insure the perfection of these charms the day must be spent in fasting. It was called “St . Agnes’ fast.”
Keat’s beautiful lines commemorative of the day seem doubly exquisite when read after conning the clumsy folk-rhymes:
They told me how upon St. Agnes’ Eve
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the hony’d middle of the night.
IF ceremonies due they did aright;
As supperless to bed they must retire
And couch supine their beauties lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.
In Scotland the lasses sow grain at midnight on St . Agnes Eve, singing,—
“Agnes sweet and Agnes fair
Hither, hither now repair.
Bonny Agnes, let me see
The lad who is to marry me.”
And the figure of the future sweetheart appears as if reaping the grain.
Here is yet another one:
A key is placed in the Bible at the second chapter of Solomon’s Song, verses 1, 5 and 17, and the book tied firmly together, with the handle of the key left beyond the edges of the leaves. The tips of the little finger of the charm-tester and of a friend are placed under the side of the key, and then they “tried the alphabet” with the verses above named; that is, they began thus:
“A. My beloved is mine, and I am his. He feedeth among the lilies. Until the day break and the shadows fall away, turn, my beloved,” etc.
At the word “turn” the Bible was supposed to turn around if A were the first letter of the lover’s name. Thus could the entire name be spellled out.
Dwynwen was Wales’ patron saint of lovers, and January 25th is the Welsh equivalent to St Valentine’s Day. However, it is a romantic country, and they also celebrate St Valentine’s day on 14 February!
She is also known as:
Her most well known saying is “Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness”
The story of Dwynwen dates back to the 5th century. She was a beautiful Celtic princess, the prettiest of all the King of Wales’s 24 daughters (Brychan Brycheiniog of Brechon also had 11 sons!).
Dwynwen was in deeply in love with the handsome Maelon Dafodrill, but her father had already betrothed her to another, so he refused to give them his consent. On finding out, Maelon cruelly forced himself upon her and fled. With a broken heart, and grieved to have upset her father, Dwynwen ran to the woods and begged God to make her forget her love for Maelon.
Exhausted and aungished, Dwynwen eventually fell asleep. Whilst dreaming, an angel visited her and left a sweet smelling potion. This would erase all memories of Maelon, and his callous heart would also be cooled, but so much so that he turned to ice. Dwynwen was horrified to find her love frozen solid. She prayed again to God, who answered her prayers by granting her three wishes.
Her first wish was to have Maelon thawed and for him to forget her; her second, to have God look kindly on the hopes and dreams of true lovers whilst mending the broken hearts of the spurned; and her third was for her to never marry, but to devote the remainder of her life to God, as thanks for saving Maelon.
Dwynwen devoted the rest of life to God’s service. She became a nun and lived on Llanddwyn Island on the western coast of Ynys Mon (Anglesey), an area accessible only at low tide. She founded a church there, remains of which can still be seen today. After her death she was declared the Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers and ever since, Welsh lovers have looked to St Dwynwen for her help in courting their true love, or for forgetting a false one.
On the island there is a well where, according to legend, a sacred fish (an eel) swims. It is said that the eel can predict the happiness of relationships.
Her well, a fresh-water spring called Ffynnon Dwynwen, became a wishing well and place of pilgrimage, particularly for lovers because of the story above. The tradition grew that the eel in the well could foretell the future for lovers – ask questions and watch which way they turn. Women would scatter breadcrumbs on the surface, then lay her handkerchief on water’s surface; if the eel disturbed it, her lover would be faithful.
Visitors still go to the well today, hoping that the water will boil, meaning that love and good luck will follow them. Her well continues to be a place of pilgrimage; there’s a tradition that if the fish in the well are active when a couple visits, it’s the sign of a faithful husband.
Visitors would leave offerings at her shrine, and so popular was this place of pilgrimage that it became the richest in the area during Tudor times. This funded a substantial chapel that was built in the 16th century on the site of Dwynwen’s original chapel.
Prayer To St Dwynwen
Oh Blessed St. Dwynwen, you who knew pain and peace, division and reconciliation. You have promised to aid lovers and you watch over those whose hearts have been broken. As you received three boons from an Angel, intercede for me to receive 3 blessings to obtain my heart’s desire (state request) and if that is not God’s will, a speedy healing from my pain; your guidance and assistance that I may find love with the right person, at the right time, and in a right way; and an unshakeable faith in the boundless kindness and wisdom of God and this I ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
St. Dwynwen, we beseech thee, comfort lovers whose vision is unclear. Send mending to those with love lost. Protect companions. In your name we seek to do the same. In your name we choose love first. With the love of you, Mary and of Jesus Christ. Amen.
April 16 is the feast day of Saint Bernadette, although in France it is sometimes celebrated on February 18. Saint Bernadette is best known for her visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858 in Lourdes, France and for the healings that have taken place at the location of the visions. St. Bernadette is the patron saint of:
- Physical illness
- Lourdes, France
- Shepherds and shepherdesses
- Those insulted for their faith
The young shepherdess who saw Our Lady in Lourdes, St. Bernadette, found solace in her suffering by turning her eyes to Our Lord. Suffering today? Pray this prayer from St. Bernadette
“O Jesus, Jesus,” she prayed, “I no longer feel my cross when I think of yours.”
If you’re suffering today, pray this excerpt of one of her prayers:
Let the crucifix be not only in my eyes and on my breast, but in my heart.
O Jesus! Release all my affections and draw them upwards.
Let my crucified heart sink forever into Thine and bury itself in the mysterious wound made by the entry of the lance.”
Saint Bernadette and The Goddess
If you think the visions of Saint Bernadette have no connection to magick and the Goddess think again – here is an alternative version to the traditional story:
On the cold morning of February 11, 1858, there was no wood in the Soubirous home, and no fire to warm them. Bernadette set out with her younger sister Toinette, and a neighbor girl, Jean Abadie, to scrounge in the forest for kindling. Maybe they would get lucky and find a rag or a bone to sell.
Heading out of town, the girls neared the foot of Massabieille, a massive, cliff-top rock formation, within view of the ancient hilltop fortress that served as the traditional landmark of the town. To reach the woods, they had to ford the river Gave at the bottom of the cliff. Bernadette’s mother had warned her not to get her feet wet, for that would surely bring on the asthma, so while the other two girls scampered across the river, Bernadette reluctantly hung back.
According to her own accounts, as she lingered near the banks of the Gave, the girls calling after her as they hurried into the woods, she heard a sound like rushing wind. The sound seemed to be coming from a dark grotto in the rock wall under Massabielle. The noon Angelus bells were ringing from the town. As Bernadette turned to investigate the source of the wind, she saw what looked like a glowing young girl, tiny, white, and smiling brightly. She appeared to be standing above the eglantine, or wild rose, that draped the niche over the entrance to the grotto.
Bernadette rubbed her eyes and looked again. This time, the tiny demoiselle nodded, as if to greet her, and opened her arms, smiling all the while. Bernadette’s initial reaction was fear, but she couldn’t run away. She said she felt like she couldn’t move, but she did manage to instinctively put her hand in her pocket and draw out her rosary for protection. She tried to make the sign of the cross, but found that she couldn’t.
In response, the shining little maiden also produced a rosary, and crossed herself in a gesture of surprising beauty and grace. This time, Bernadette found she could respond, and after crossing herself, she began to feel calmer and a little less overwhelmed. Dropping to her knees, Bernadette began to pray her rosary. The little lady fingered her beads along with her. When they had finished, the tiny thing beckoned her to come closer, but Bernadette was too overawed to move. She then vanished, all smiles and delicate grace, leaving Bernadette to rejoin her companions.
Bernadette’s descriptions of the tiny, white maiden were consistent throughout the course of her visions. The apparition, whom she called aquero, or “that thing” in the local dialect, appeared youthful and girlish. There was nothing particularly matronly or maternal about her. Bernadette repeatedly said that aquero was about the same size as herself, if not a bit smaller. Bernadette was very small for her age. Although she had recently turned fourteen, the combined ravages of illness and malnutrition kept her about the size of an average 10- or 11-year-old. According to Bernadette’s earliest descriptions, aquero looked to be about 12 years old. This is an important distinction, and one that the well-meaning supporters of Lourdes apparently prefer to ignore.
Aquero, according to Bernadette’s initial descriptions, was a jeune fille; a bien mignonette, glowing in a white dress spun of a luxurious, soft, shiny stuff. Her head was covered in a white veil of the same magic fabric, so that only a tiny bit of her hair was revealed in the front. Her eyes were bright blue, and set in a long and very white face. The whole figure shone with a gleaming, white radiance. Around her waist was a blue girdle, which folded in the front and fell almost to the hem of her robe. Her tiny feet, barely visible beneath her robe, were bare, but each was adorned with a single, golden rose. Her rosary gleamed as well, with shining white beads and links of gold.
This costume is quite significant, for in this particular area of the Pyrenees, the locals maintained a tradition of fairy lore that told of the petito damizela in white who still lingered in the forests and grottoes of the region. When Bernadette first called the apparition a petito damizela, which translates as a petite, unmarried young lady, she may have actually been referring to aquero as a Pyrenean fairy woman. These Pyrenean fairies were tiny, enchanting ladies in glowing, white robes. Charming, helpful, and better natured than most fairy folk, they were recognized by their gleaming garments and said to spend much time washing them to snowy whiteness in the fountains outside their grotto homes.
The roses on aquero’s feet were yet another aspect of local fairy lore, as was Bernadette’s reluctance to call her by any name other than “that thing.” According to the tradition, these delightful fairy women sometimes married mortal men, making good wives and housekeepers – for a time. Eventually, the husband would slip up and call his fairy wife by her name, at which point she would disappear back into the fairy world forever.
In the Basque population of the Pyrenees, we have a unique link into the mindset of our most distant ancestors. There is reason to believe the Basques have occupied the Pyrenees region from the remotest antiquity, possibly even to the time of the Cro-Magnon cave painters. The inaccessibility of their mountain fastness kept them relatively isolated from the Indo-European influences that swept the rest of the continent. Consequently, the Basques have retained a unique language and a culture that, while not entirely untainted by foreign contact, still reveals roots reaching down into our most shadowy origins.
Furthermore, the Basques, with their extensive folklore and mythology, are relative latecomers to Roman Catholicism. Religious writers of the 1400 and 1500s continue to speak of the Basques as “gentiles” or “pagans.” The widespread persistence of their ancient beliefs and practices provoked the full wrath of the Spanish Inquisition. The brutal repression of centuries of witch hunts has left its mark, and clearly, some of the tradition that remains is highly adulterated and Christianized, but we can still trace influences extending far back into the Neolithic, and perhaps beyond.
Basque beliefs are rooted in the landscape, in the rugged mountains, the waters, and the caves reaching deep into the earth. They held to that most primitive fundamentalism, the belief in the divinity of the masculine Sun and the feminine Moon. The terms Ost or Eguzki refer to the light of the sun and their god of the firmament. This masculine force, similar to Zeus or Thor, ruled the day and the world of light, but the night belonged to Ilargia, the Moon. Ilargia ruled the hidden, dark side of nature, the underworld of the dead. The Basques were forever fascinated with her mysterious phases and cycles.
However, the Basque people’s deepest and most widespread devotion, long before the arrival of Christianity in the Pyrenees, centered on their female deity, the great goddess who lived in the caves. Her name, perhaps the ultimate irony, was Mari. Devotion to Mari spanned the entire Basque territory, and any respectable hilltop boasted a shrine to Mari, and a statue as well, but the caves remained her favorite habitation.
Within the vast lore and ritual dedicated to her worship, the image of Mari emerges, complex and glorious. She moved like a fireball from mountaintop to mountaintop, trailing wild storms from the subterranean caverns in her wake. She demanded honor and charity from men, punishing those who failed to keep their word or refused to help others. Oddly enough, tradition holds that Mari must only be addressed in the familiar pronoun, putting a unique twist on Bernadette’s surprise at being addressed formally by her aquero. Mari commanded legions of fairy spirits, with varying titles in different locales: the Mairi, or Maide of the mountaintop cromlechs and stone circles, and the fey laminak, often spotted combing their hair in the caverns.
This great and very ancient goddess spawned a vast body of tales and traditions, and the rituals of her devotees in the caves of the Pyrenees kept the Spanish Inquisition busy for years. One of her most vicious persecutors was Juan de Zumarraga, who, in 1528, assisted in the biggest Basque witchhunt. Zumarraga eventually moved on to Mexico, where, as bishop, he persecuted and destroyed the native Aztec culture and religion just as vigorously as he had brutalized his Basque brethren.
One of Mari’s more popular minions is a creature known as Beigorri, a red-haired bull or calf. One of several cattle deities associated with her worship, Beigorri’s chief function is to serve as the guardian of the houses, or shrines, of Mari. Seen in that light, the tales of a magical bovine unearthing a long-lost statue of a female divinity, which then refuses to be worshiped in a Christian sanctuary but instead draws her devotees back to congregate at her wilderness origins, starts to make a certain kind of sense. Perhaps, in these unique Marian traditions, which continue to spring up so freely, even after centuries of repression, we can trace both the reemergence of the Basque Mari, and her conflation, in the aftermath of the Inquisition, into the all-encompassing image of the Christian Mary.
There is a Mexican saying that we die three deaths: the first when our bodies die, the second when our bodies are lowered into the earth out of sight, and the third when our loved ones forget us.
Some believe that the origins of All Souls’ Day in European folklore and folk belief are related to customs of ancestor veneration practiced worldwide. It is practically universal folk belief that the souls of the dead (or those in Purgatory) are allowed to return to earth on All Souls Day. In Austria, they are said to wander the forests, praying for release. In Poland, they are said to visit their parish churches at midnight, where a light can be seen because of their presence. Afterward, they visit their families, and to make them welcome, a door or window is left open. In many places, a place is set for the dead at supper, or food is otherwise left out for them.
In any case, our beloved dead should be remembered, commemorated, and prayed for.
During our visits to their graves, we spruce up their resting sites, sprinkling them with holy water, leaving votive candles, and adorning them flowers (especially chrysanthemums and marigolds) to symbolize the Eden-like paradise that man was created to enjoy, and may, if saved, enjoy after death and any needed purgation.
Today is a good day to not only remember the dead spiritually, but to tell your children about their ancestors. Bring out those old photo albums and family trees! Write down your family’s stories for your children and grandchildren! Impress upon them the importance of their ancestors!
Around the world:
The formal commemoration of the saints and martyrs (All Saints’ Day) existed in the early Christian church since its legalization, and alongside that developed a day for commemoration of all the dead (All Souls’ Day). The modern date of All Souls’ Day was first popularized in the early eleventh century after Abbot Odilo established it as a day for the monks of Cluny and associated monasteries to pray for the souls in purgatory.
Many of these European traditions reflect the dogma of purgatory. For example, ringing bells for the dead was believed to comfort them in their cleansing there, while the sharing of soul cakes with the poor helped to buy the dead a bit of respite from the suffering of purgatory. In the same way, lighting candles was meant to kindle a light for the dead souls languishing in the darkness. Out of this grew the traditions of “going souling” and the baking of special types of bread or cakes.
In Tirol, cakes are left for them on the table and the room kept warm for their comfort. In Brittany, people flock to the cemeteries at nightfall to kneel, bareheaded, at the graves of their loved ones, and to anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water or to pour libations of milk on it. At bedtime, the supper is left on the table for the souls.
In Bolivia, many people believe that the dead eat the food that is left out for them. In Brazil people attend a Mass or visit the cemetery taking flowers to decorate their relatives’ grave, but no food is involved.
In Malta many people make pilgrimages to graveyards, not just to visit the graves of their dead relatives, but to experience the special day in all its significance. Visits are not restricted to this day alone. During the month of November, Malta’s cemeteries are frequented by families of the departed. Mass is also said throughout the month, with certain Catholic parishes organizing special events at cemetery chapels.
In Linz, funereal musical pieces known as aequales were played from tower tops on All Soul’s Day and the evening before.
In Mexico “Dia de Los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) is celebrated very joyfully — and colorfully. A special altar, called an ofrenda, is made just for these days of the dead (1 and 2 November). It has at least three tiers, and is covered with pictures of Saints, pictures of and personal items belonging to dead loved ones, skulls, pictures of cavorting skeletons (calaveras), marigolds, water, salt, bread, and a candle for each of their dead (plus one extra so no one is left out).
A special bread is baked just for this day, Pan de Muerto, which is sometimes baked with a toy skeleton inside. The one who finds the skeleton will have “good luck.” This bread is eaten during picnics at the graves along with tamales, cookies, and chocolate. They also make brightly-colored skulls out of sugar to place on the family altars and give to children.
Collected from various sources
Lovely, summer-like days that occur around October 18 are called St. Luke’s Little Summer in honor of the saint’s feast day. In olden days, St. Luke’s Day did not receive as much attention in the secular world as St. John’s Day (June 24) and Michaelmas (September 29), so to keep from being forgotten, St. Luke presented us with some golden days to cherish before the coming of winter, or so the story goes. Some folks call this Indian Summer, but that officially occurs between November 11 and November 2
Traditional Catholic Celebrations:
Saint Luke’s Feast Day can be celebrated by reading the Acts of Apostles and praying the three canticles he preserved for us – the Benedictus, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis. As the first Christian physician, Saint Luke is the patron saint of physicians and surgeons. For this reason, we honor Saint Luke on his feast day by praying through his intercession for doctors and those who care for the sick.
Found at: Almanac.com
Many churches celebrate the Feast of St Francis of Assisi on October 4 each year. The feast commemorates the life of St Francis, who was born in the 12th century and is the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment. It is a popular day for pets to be “blessed”.
About St Francis
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was the founder of the Franciscan Order. The son of a wealthy merchant named Pietro di Bernardone, he publicly denounced his father’s wealth in 1206 and dedicated his life to prayer and serving the poor. Pope Innocent III eventually gave Francis and his followers permission to preach, and he ordained Francis a deacon. The followers of Francis were called Friars Minor, or “the lesser brethren.” Francis died on October 3, 1226, and was canonized in 1228.
Text from his Sermon to the Birds:
“My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.”
-Saint Francis of Assisi (c.1220)
St. Swithin was a beloved ninth-century bishop of Winchester, England, who requested that he be buried in the churchyard–some say to be close to the common people, whom he loved; some say so that he could enjoy God’s gift of rain for all eternity. When he died in 862, his request was honored.
About 100 years later, however, it was deemed unseemly that so holy a man should rest in a common grave. On July 15, the saint’s feast day, the people attempted to enshrine his remains in his church.
Legend has it, however, that St. Swithin caused torrential rains to fall for 40 days, until the intended transfer was abandoned. This is the source of a very old Scottish weather proverb regarding rain on July 15:
“St. Swithin’s Day if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain.”