The Drama of Hallowmas | Sally Thomas | First Things

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“As a friend of mine observed recently, there is something medieval about Halloween…”

Source: The Drama of Hallowmas | Sally Thomas | First Things

A very interesting “take” on Halloween, and the larger Hallowmas season (Eve of All Hallows, All Hallows / All Saints Day, and All Souls Day) of which it is a part. Sally Thomas writes, in this “web exclusive” for the excellent journal First Things,

“As a friend of mine observed recently, there is something medieval about Halloween. The masks, the running around in the dark, the flicker of candles in pumpkins, the smell of leaves and cold air — all of it feels ancient, even primal, somehow. Despite the now-inevitable preponderance of media-inspired costumes, Halloween seems, in execution, far closer to a Last Judgment scene above a medieval church door, or to a mystery play, than it does to Wal-Mart.

“To step outside on Halloween dressed as someone—or some thing—other than yourself is to step into a narrative that acknowledges that the membrane between our workaday, material world and the unseen realm of spirits is far thinner and more permeable than many of us like to think. This narrative disturbs a lot of people, as the proliferation of church-sponsored ‘autumn festivals’ and ‘trunk-or-treat’ parties suggests. To some of those who worry about it, Halloween is either a thoroughly secular or a thoroughly pagan observance, to be avoided by serious Christians…

“Halloween’s emphasis on darkness makes many Christians squeamish, but, to my mind, what my friend observed about the medieval feel of Halloween is more on the money. There is a drama to be played out, like a mystery play in three scenes, and it makes sense only if you observe all three days of Hallowmas — not only Halloween but All Saints’ and All Souls’ days as well. In this context, the very secularity and even the roots-level paganism of Halloween become crucial elements in a larger Christian story.”

She adds,

“What their costumes are is less important than the fact that, for a night, my children will be people other than themselves: each of them will be someone who, regardless of real-life fears about the dark, is not afraid to step out into the night. Armored inside their personae, they can laugh at the shadows, as well they should. On the one hand, the powers of darkness are no joke; on the other hand, although Christians have no traffic with these powers, we do not fear them.”

This is an important lesson to learn, and one of the reasons I get a bit impatient at those Christians – usually on the Evangelical / Fundamentalist Protestant side of the Christian spectrum – who get into conniptions over Halloween, and often refuse to celebrate it at all. They are missing the point. They are also surrendering to the demonic far too much power: as Ms Thomas points out, we have no traffic with these powers, but neither need we fear them: Christ has already won the victory over them.

[These are some of the same folks – doubtless good and well-meaning people – who act as if, even if they may not formally believe, that the Devil is God’s “opposite number,” so to speak. In fact, the counterpart to Satan (Lucifer, the fallen “angel of light,” who became the demon of darkness) is St. Michael the Archangel (see Revelation 12:7–10): God is utterly supreme, omnipotent and ineffable, and has no opponent! That the Devil thinks he is anything close to equivalent with God is but a conceit on his part (hubris: overweening pride), and a heretical error to any human who believes it.]

Halloween is (or should be; admittedly, there are some who use it to celebrate darkness to a psychologically and spiritually unhealthy degree, but Christians should know better) about mocking the forces of darkness, not embracing them. It is, in a sense, a victory parade for the battle that was won for us on the Cross of Calvary – a celebration in which some may choose to wear the uniforms of the defeated enemy.

Pyramid of captured German helmets, New York, 1918 (2)
Pyramid of pickelhauben (captured WW I German helmets), Grand Central Terminal, New York, 1919. While I do not necessarily applaud this sort of display, it does speak to the point of emphasizing the defeat of one’s enemy by displaying his “stuff.”

And it is also, of course, a harvest festival, celebrating the turning-point between the season of warmth and light, and that of cold and dark… between, that is to say, the seasons of life and of death, or seeming death. And this, too, is a Christian mystery!

For just as the myths of the “dying gods” recorded by Frasier in The Golden Bough, and others, were reflections of the seeming “death” (actually dormancy) of the natural world in the Winter, only to be “reborn” in the Spring, so that very seasonal cycle is a reminder of what C.S. Lewis called the “true myth” of Christ’s death and resurrection:

“Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself . . . I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose ‘what it meant.’

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference — that it really happened.”

Thanks be to God! Just don’t forget that All Saints and All Souls are yet to come – the drama is not yet complete:

“On All Saints’ Day, our parish holds a children’s festival, hugely attended, at which children and adults alike dress as their favorite saints… The party is such fun that we could almost dispense with Halloween, whose festivities, as we observe them, are minimal by comparison. But the cumulative iconography of being, first, a secular character confronting darkness, and then a saint in light, is imaginatively powerful and valuable.

“As our Hallowmas ends, the pageantry and excitement of Halloween and All Saints’ Day give way to the comparative quiet of the feast of All Souls. This final solemnity is a day without costumes. Having been denizens of the night and citizens of the household of God, the children step back into themselves to contemplate their own mortality and pray for our beloved dead. In three days they have enacted the story of their own eternal lives: from darkness to the hope of heaven and the joy of the saints who await them in glory. From mystery to mystery, it’s a drama I would not have them miss.”

Amen, and amen!

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Glories of the West: Oktoberfest in Bavaria!

Trachten- und Schützenzug (Folk-costume and Riflemen) parade in Munich, Bavaria, 2016.

Oktoberfest began on the 22nd of this month (September). Although originally specific to Bavaria, it has become associated with all things German – at least in American minds! – and is celebrated pretty much worldwide, wherever people live who claim German blood. But Bavaria (Bayern), and Munich (München) in particular, remains the epicenter.

Originally held on the 12th of October, 1810, to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, later to become King Ludwig I, to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, it was enjoyed so much that it became an annual event. Before long, it was moved to September, to take advantage of the longer and warmer days, but it kept the name it had picked up: Oktoberfest.

Although the Royal horse-races that were the original highlight of the event are no longer held, and the once-annual agricultural fair is held only every three years, Oktoberfest is still more than just its “beer and boobs” reputation (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with either…).

The parade of folk-costumes shown in the above clip – held on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest – originated in 1835, and became an “official” and regular part of the celebration in 1950. Since then, it has been expanded to include crossbowmen in medieval clothing, riflemen, folk dancers, flag-throwers, bands, carriages and floats, horses, and even goats, cows and oxen.

Tracht (plural Trachten), or folk-costumes, are the traditional or “national” costume of the region; descending from the working clothes of country folk, they are now proper attire for such festivals as Oktoberfest, and a few other festivals such as the late-summer Viehscheid (cattle drive) that celebrates the ceremonial return of the cattle (and their herders) from the mountain pastures, where they have spent the summer fattening up on the lush Alpine meadows, to the lowland towns where they will spend the winter.

Learn all you need to know (and then some!) about the wearing of this traditional attire at the “Great Big Guide to Bavarian Clothing.” Just be sure to click on the buttons near the bottom, to continue on to the next page. As this site notes,

“In recent years, traditional Bavarian clothing has had something of a revival and is now more popular than ever… It’s not just at the world-famous Wiesn [the “field” or “meadow” on which the Munich Oktoberfest is held] that lederhosen and dirndls are worn… Many towns and villages have local festivals at which locals don traditional outfits, as do they for special occasions such as Christmas or weddings.”

John F. Dausch notes that

“In 1887 the tradition began of opening Oktoberfest with a procession through town of the proprietors and brewers to the fair grounds on the Theresienwiese, (“Queen Theresa’s Meadow”), or Wiesn, for short. A young lady portraying the Münchener Kindl (the child monk, Munich’s symbol) leads off, followed by the mayor’s open carriage, after which, riding in flower-bedecked wagons, the proprietors, brewers, servers, concession workers, and kegs and kegs and kegs of beer.”

Here is a video of this parade of brewers and breweries (note – 35 minutes):

Beer is not sold, however, until the Mayor of Munich has tapped the first keg:

This year, he succeeded with only two blows of the mallet! John Dausch notes,

“In 1950, Munich’s mayor Thomas Wimmer introduced the tradition of officially tapping the first Oktoberfest beer barrel exactly at 12:00 o’clock on the first day of the fair, and then announcing loudly, ‘O’zapft is!’ – Bavarian dialect for ‘It’s tapped!’ From the Schottenhamel tent, where this ceremony occurs, word goes out to a team which fires a cannon twelve times, only after which beer is served at Oktoberfest.”

This year, Oktoberfest runs from September 22nd – October 7th, 2018. Some day, I hope to be able to attend!

Happy Independence Day (U.S.)!

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Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Americans! May God grant us the wisdom to cherish and preserve what our Founders gave us.

The Collect for Independence Day.

O ETERNAL God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Our Country

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

— from The Book of Common Prayer 1928.

Today is the “Fourth of July,” America’s Independence Day, when we celebrate the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, which was enacted (actually on the 2nd of July) by the Continental Congress in 1776. While as a Royalist and Anglophile, I have some regrets about this, as an American I am grateful for it, and deeply respect our Founders and those who have fought for our freedom in the years, decades, and centuries since.

And in light of some of the things that have been going on in Britain in recent years – mass immigration of alien peoples with alien creeds, a BREXIT that so far has gone nowhere, and an increasing stripping of the “rights of Englishmen” for which we Colonials were originally contending from the people of Britain itself – I find myself increasingly glad that we are not part of that. We have our own problems to deal with, without a doubt (and mass alien immigration is one of them, as is the existence of many who would strip us of our rights if the Constitution allowed, and/or who seek to find ways to circumvent the Constitution), but at least we are free from the specific problems that England, and the rest of Britain, are facing.

So it is a joy to celebrate our independence on this day, and today was a very good celebration of Independence Day for me, personally. I spent it in Gettysburg, in good company – with dear friends of mine – doing a good thing: living history. We were interpreting the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry “Rough Riders,” of the Spanish-American War: the war which not only helped to bring the U.S. back together after the horribly divisive War Between the States (the “Civil War,” so-called), but also established us as a world power. It was a real pleasure to be educating people about this little-known and almost forgotten, yet extremely consequential, conflict, and we had the opportunity to talk to quite a few very interesting people in the process!

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It was intensely hot and muggy: rather reminiscent, in fact, of the conditions in Cuba, 120 years ago, when the Rough Riders, led by then-Lt. Col. Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, participated in the assault on San Juan Heights outside Santiago, and then the attack on Santiago itself, to liberate the island from the Spanish. One can argue whether we should have been doing that, as one can argue many events in history; but there is no question that that war transformed the United States, effectively overnight, from an agricultural backwater to a world power. Interpreting one of the most famous episodes in that conflict was good way to spend the Fourth of July, heat, humidity, and bugs notwithstanding! Although I confess that it feels good to be clean, and in air conditioning, now. And bed will feel good, as well!

The Glories of the West, Old Midsummer, and a blessed Feast of St. John the Baptist!

In honor of this (“Old”) Midsummer’s Day – the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist – Sumer is icumen in (“Summer is a-coming in”)!

(… and of course, more of the culture that we Europeans don’t have…! *wry smile*)

Trinity Sunday: A Few Traditions and Links | The Homely Hours

The Collect for Trinity Sunday

“Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity; We beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us steadfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.”

Source: Trinity Sunday: A Few Traditions and Links | The Homely Hours

Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity: Trinity Sunday. While arguably the only feast day in the Church’s calendar to celebrate a doctrine, rather than a person or an episode in the life of Christ, in fact Trinity Sunday celebrates three Persons: the Holy Trinity itself, one God in trinity of Persons, but unity of Substance. This doctrine is at root a Holy Mystery, as is the Incarnation itself; yet it is, with the Incarnation, one of the two core doctrines of Christianity.

In an effort to explain its reality and significance, The Homely Hours points us to

“a beautiful post on Celtic Christianity and Trinitarian Theology, specifically how it manifests itself in the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of Gaelic hymns and prayers:

For the Gaelic writers, the Trinity is not an esoteric dogma to be recited and systematized but rather a living and lived reality, for God as Creator is near to us in creation, and all that he has made is a reflection of his power and his goodness. The triune life of the Three is not confined to the gates of heaven but spills overflowing onto earth, where those who call for aid find peace and rest in the divine communion. The Trinity is near to us in every aspect of our lives, and in the love of the Three we are complete and healed from our brokenness:

In nearness to the Trinity farewell to all my pains,
Christ stands before me, and peace is in his mind.

(Carmina Gadelica, 346, p. 312)

“You can also read more on Trinity Sunday at Full Homely Divinity:

As early as the ninth century, the first Sunday after Pentecost was being observed in some places as a day particularly devoted to celebrating our trinitarian faith in one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, the observance was far from universal and one pope even dismissed it as an unnecessary observance since every act of worship is offered in the Name of the Trinity. In 1162, Thomas Becket was ordained to the Priesthood on Ember Saturday in Whitsun week. On the next day, he was consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury. As Archbishop and Metropolitan, he obtained for all of England the privilege of celebrating the Sunday after Whitsunday as Trinity Sunday. After his martyrdom in 1170, and subsequent canonization, his shrine in Canterbury became one of the most important pilgrimage shrines in all of Europe and the popularity of Trinity Sunday also spread. In the 14th century Pope John XXII added Trinity Sunday to the calendar of the whole Western Church. For many centuries, the Sundays after Paschaltide were counted as “Sundays after Trinity,” and the season was known as “Trinitytide.”

And for those of us of a more traditional bent, of course, it still is.

See also:

While usually associated (understandably) with St. Patrick’s Day, the “Lorica (Breastplate) of St. Patrick” – also known as “The Deer’s Cry,” or simply “I Bind Unto Myself This Day” – is also highly appropriate for Trinity Sunday, being a majestic and inspiring invocation of the Holy Trinity!

“I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three…”

Wishing everyone a holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity Sunday, and season of Trinitytide which follows, and will last until Advent brings us ’round again to the Cycles of Christ’s Nativity, and later His Passion. May God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – One God in
Trinity of Persons and Unity of Essence – bless all who read this!

Happy May Day, Calan Mai, and/or Beltane!

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May Day as it was once celebrated! My mother recalled such Maypole dances from her college days (Western Maryland College, graduated 1949). This one is from Dover, Delaware: “The black and white photo below shows the Maypole dance in front of Old State House in 1950 (source: Delaware Public Archives).”

Hal an toe! Jolly rumbalo!
We were up, long before the day-o,
To welcome in the Summer-time,
To welcome in the May-o!
For Summer is a-comin’ on,
An’ Winter’s gone away!

— traditional song for May Day, British Isles

Happy Easter! A holy and blessed Feast of the Resurrection to all my Christian readers!

Easter – Empty Tomb

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.”

Luke 24:5b, Matthew 28:6

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast. Not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness: but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Cor. v. 7.

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more : death hath no more dominion over him.For in  that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin: but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Rom. vi. 9.

Christ is risen from the dead : and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For  since by man came death : by man came also the resurrection of the dead.For as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. – 1 Cor. xv. 20.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!