Monday, December 29, 2008

heraldry wrongitude

Spotted on a sign near Castle Combe, Wiltshire:

Arms of Scrope; Azure, a bend OrThe shield above depicts the arms of Scrope; its blazon is Azure, a bend Or.

Every heraldry geek knows that the arms of Scrope are azure a bend or (not "argent a bend" - a bend what? besides you don't get metal on metal). You would have thought it would not be beyond the wit of sign-writers to obtain a decent proof-reader...

The reason that every heraldry geek knows this is that there was a
dispute between Scrope and other families (Carminow and Grosvenor) over who had the right to use azure a bend or.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

the old woman and the antlered man

Medieval literature contains copious reference to a custom on New Year's Day, in obedience to which men disguised in deerskins or as old women took part in riotous dances and processions. Though the performers were Christians, the rite was clearly borrowed from heathendom.... It was called cervulos facere, and incurred the bitterest hostility from official quarters in the Early Church. From the fourth to the eleventh century bishops and saints in Gaul, Germany, Spain, and Italy denounced it in monotonous unison from cathedral and pulpit ; it was even definitively banned by the Council of Auxerre at the end of the sixth century, though without effect. In England its observation was less general, or else ecclesiastical tutelage was more indulgent, for the fulminations are much scarcer. Yet it existed, and was proscribed anew under the Christian kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons by the Liber Poenitentialis of Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury from 669-670 and a celebrated disciplinarian. The book, which may be in part later than Theodore, yet exercised a great influence from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, prescribed three years' penance for the sin:-

" Si quis in Calendis Januariis in cervulo aut vetula vadit, id est, in ferarum habitus se tommutant et vestiuntur pellibus pecudum et assurnit capita bestiarum ; qui vero taliter in ferinas species se transformat, III annos poeniteat, quia hoc demoniacum est." Lib. Poen, Thorpe, xxvii, 25.

The original significance of the custom it is hardly the purpose of the present note to examine. De Gubernatis (Zoology and Mythology, p. 88) explains the old woman, the second form of disguise, as representing a sort of winter-witch. It is worth observing that St. Augustine also mentions a third disguise, viz., as a goat :-
"indui ferino habitu et capreac aut cervo similem fieri," (Op. Migne, vol. v, col. 2003, ad Cal. Jan.).

"The Running of the Deer"
Richard D. Barnett
Folklore, Vol. 40, No. 4. (Dec. 31, 1929), pp. 393-394.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mumming 2008

On the last day of Saturnalia (aka Christmas Eve) we went mumming as usual in Lacock. N was Bold Slasher and I was Dick the Horse. N has been playing Bold Slasher for 2 years now (he used to be Beelzebub). The Ragged Heroes Mummers have been going for over 25 years to mum in Lacock on Christmas Eve, but some people in Lacock are still confusing us with the Marshfield Mummers (be sure to view the video from 1967), who appear on Boxing Day in Marshfield. Their style of performance is different to ours, their play is different, and their costumes are different.

Mumming is a wonderful folk custom, but for me the most magical bit is the torchlit procession across the bridge over the River Avon. There's something deeply primal about fire in the darkness.

I also enjoyed scaring lots of girly girls (who screamed not once but three times) with the horse's skull. Well, it is green (due to having been cleaned in acid that had been used for acid-etching copper).

Whether or not it is really about the death and rebirth of the sun at the solstice, mumming is powerful and dramatic. There is definitely something archetypal about it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

weird dream

This morning I dreamt that I was in a part of South America that was formerly colonised by Greeks (I knew this because there was Greek writing on the buildings) with a bunch of Pagans, and we were adding a small trilithon-like entrance to an ancient burial mound, which had also been augmented by the symbols of other religions on stones around the perimeter wall.
Probably my subconscious's reinterpretation of some difficulties with local interfaith events.
Obviously this all took place in some alternate reality where a part of South America had been colonised by Greeks in the 19th century and its pre-colonial inhabitants built burial mounds that look roughly like European ones.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

artificial languages, artificial religions

A post over at Evn's place got commenters thinking about fictional religions. My favourite fictional SF religion is the earth-based one depicted in Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin. My second and third favourites also appear in her books (The Telling and short stories about the people of Ki'o). I also rather like the religion of Minbar in Babylon 5.

And then there was a post over at Bo's place about artificial languages, specifically Brithenig, which reminded me that there is even a Language Construction Kit.

It's probably fun to construct both fictional languages and fictional religions (and there is a similarity between language and religion) because it helps us to think about how they are structured, what makes a good or bad language or religion, and whether other species would have anything that we could recognise as religion, and how they would communicate (maybe using pheromones, like the aliens in Liz Williams' Empire of Bones).

Friday, December 12, 2008

leave them kids alone...

This child should be given a medal, not a detention:

Well done that child — good to see someone is still awake and thinking! 

I once told my English teacher that he had mis-spelled murmur (as "murmer"), and he accepted the correction (he was a bit embarrassed but he checked in the dictionary).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

kinky SF

Chas Clifton: Kink on other planets reports on a blog-post of ten of the kinkiest SF/F novels ever.  According to the commenters, several are missing.  (Well, I suppose it's not claiming to be a definitive list.)  I noticed that the kinks were somewhat skewed towards BDSM (as opposed to plain old SM).  There's nothing wrong with a bit of that sort of thing as long as it stops at the front door (I usually say the bedroom door but that would preclude use of the stairs).

There was quite an interesting kinky scene (BDSM and drugs) in The Poison Master by Liz Williams, plus an entire planet given to restrictive clothing and poisoning each other, possibly because the planet represented the Sephiroth of Geburah on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

I can't think of any other kinky bits in SF novels.

I had a dream once in which I was having it away with an alien, which was quite strange — it was two-tone purple and green.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

installing software

Why, when software is being downloaded and installed, can't the installation program ask you all the necessary questions at the start of the process, so you can walk away and leave the computer while it's installing?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Just heard yesterday that I got a distinction for my MA in Contemporary Religions and Spiritualities from Bath Spa University.

72% for the dissertation and 70.7% overall. Yay!