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Yoga Korunta

Life & Politics

Location: United States

One learns, as nothing endures but change.

31 December 2006

The Mayfly Project 2006

Sum 2006 in 24 words.
My cousin Greta married. My aunt Margaret died.
A friend showed his true, ugly colors.
T.R. survived a heart attack.
Blue Gal won!


26 December 2006

Tuesday's Word: Saturnalia

Saturnalia is the feast at which the Romans commemorated the dedication of the temple of the god Saturn, which took place on 17 December. Over the years, it expanded to a whole week, up to 23 December.

1 Origins
2 Saturnalia in Literature
3 Saturnalia's relation to Christmas
4 Bibliography
5 External links


The Saturnalia was a large and important public festival in Rome. It involved the conventional sacrifices, a couch (lectisternium) set out in front of the temple of Saturn and the untying of the ropes that bound the statue of Saturn during the rest of the year. Besides the public rites there were a series of holidays and customs celebrated privately. The celebrations included a school holiday, the making and giving of small presents (saturnalia et sigillaricia) and a special market (sigillaria). Gambling was allowed for all, even slaves; however, although it was officially condoned only during this period, one should not assume that it was rare or much remarked upon during the rest of the year. It was a time to eat, drink, and be merry. The toga was not worn, but rather the synthesis, i.e. colorful, informal "dinner clothes"; and the pileus (freedman's hat) was worn by everyone. Slaves were exempt from punishment, and treated their masters with disrespect. The slaves celebrated a banquet: before, with, or served by the masters. A Saturnalicius princeps was elected master of ceremonies for the proceedings. Saturnalia became one of the most popular Roman festivals which led to more tomfoolery, marked chiefly by having masters and slaves ostensibly switch places. The banquet, for example, would often be prepared by the slaves, and they would prepare their masters' dinner as well. It was license within careful boundaries; it reversed the social order without subverting it.

The customary greeting for the occasion is a "io, Saturnalia!" — io (pronounced "yo") being a Latin interjection related to "ho" (as in "Ho, praise to Saturn").

Saturnalia in Literature

Seneca the Younger wrote about Rome during Saturnalia around AD 50:
It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business....Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga.

Horace in his Satire II.7 (published circa 30 BC) uses a setting of the saturnalia for a frank exchange between a slave and his master in which the slave criticizes his master for being himself enslaved to his passions. Martial Epigrams Book 14 (circa AD 84 or 85) is a series of poems each based on likely saturnalia gifts, some expensive, some very cheap. For example: writing tablets, dice, knuckle bones, moneyboxes, combs, toothpicks, a hat, a hunting knife, an axe, various lamps, balls, perfumes, pipes, a pig, a sausage, a parrot, tables, cups, spoons, items of clothing, statues, masks, books, and pets. Pliny in Epistles 2.17.24 (early second century AD) describes a secluded suite of rooms in his Laurentine villa which he uses as a retreat:
...especially during the saturnalia when the rest of the house is noisy with the licence of the holiday and festive cries. This way I don't hamper the games of my people and they don't hinder my work/studies.

Macrobius in Saturnalia I.24.23-23 wrote:
Meanwhile the head of the slave household, whose responsibility it was to offer sacrifice to the Penates, to manage the provisions and to direct the activities of the domestic servants, came to tell his master that the household had feasted according to the annual ritual custom. For at this festival, in houses that keep to proper religious usage, they first of all honor the slaves with a dinner prepared as if for the master; and only afterwards is the table set again for the head of the household. So, then, the chief slave came in to announce the time of dinner and to summon the masters to the table.

The Saturnalia was originally celebrated in Ancient Rome for only a day, but it was so popular it soon it lasted a week, despite Augustus' efforts to reduce it to three days, and Caligula's, to five. Like (Christian) Christmas, this important holy day (feriae publicae) was for more than fun and games. Saturnalia was a time to honor the god of sowing, Saturn. But again, like (Christian) Christmas, it was also a festival day (dies festus) on which a public banquet was prepared. An effigy of the god was probably one of the guests.

The poet Catullus describes Saturnalia as the best of days. It was a time of celebration, visits to friends, and gift-giving, particularly of wax candles (cerei), and earthenware figurines (sigillaria). The best part of the Saturnalia (for slaves) was the temporary reversal of roles. Masters served meals to their slaves who were permitted the unaccustomed luxuries of leisure and gambling. Clothing was relaxed and included the peaked woollen cap that symbolized the freed slave. A member of the familia (family plus slaves) was appointed Saturnalicius princeps, roughly, Lord of Misrule.

Saturnalia's relation to Christmas

The factual accuracy of part of this article is disputed.

The dispute is about relevancy and accuracy. Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page.

This does not cite its references or sources. Please help improve this article by introducing appropriate citations. (help, get involved!) This article has been tagged since June 2006.
There is a theory that Christians in the fourth century assigned December 25th (the Winter Solstice on the Julian calendar) as Christ's birthday (and thus Christmas) because pagans already observed this day as a holiday.

It is also possible to see it as early Christians replacing the Pagan celebration in an act of triumphalism. However, others claim that early Christians independently came up with the date of December 25th based on a Jewish tradition of the "integral age" of the Jewish prophets (the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception), and a miscalculation of the date of Jesus' death. It is even sometimes claimed that Aurelian moved the feast of Sol Invictus to December 25th to co-opt the Christian celebration.

The Romans also practiced many traditions similar to Christmas; specifically the "Christmas tree", though the Christmas tree itself is a later development in the celebration of Christmas (having its origins in Germany, possibly during the Reformation). The Romans often cut down evergreens and decorated them to pay homage to Saturn, the god of farming. This was to honor the fact that the evergreens remained alive during the harshness of winter in the Mediterranean. It was also traditional for Romans to exchange gifts during this holiday. These gifts were customarily made of silver, although nearly anything could be given as a gift for the occasion. Several epigrams by the poet Martial survive, seemingly crafted as riddling gift-tags for gifts of food. The medieval celebration of the Feast of Fools was another continuation of Saturnalia into the Christian era.


Excluding the section on Christmas, and by Georges Bataille, a good deal of this article (most of the origins section, except for the last two sentences, and the literature section, except for the quote by Seneca) was taken from a March 2005 handout from the course "Roman Leisure" by Professor Woolf of the University of St Andrews, who listed these sources: Balsdon, "Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome" p 124-5. Beard, M. North, J. and Price, S. "Religions of Rome. Vol II A Source Book, numbers 5.3 and 7.3. Dupont 1992 p 205-7. And the Oxford Classical Dictionary sv. Saturnalia.

21 December 2006

Winter Solstice



Let's start with the science.

The Earth is actually nearer the sun in January than it is in June -- by three million miles. Pretty much irrelevant to our planet. What causes the seasons is something completely different. The Earth leans slightly on its axis like a spinning top frozen in one off-kilter position. Astronomers have even pinpointed the precise angle of the tilt. It's 23 degrees and 27 minutes off the perpendicular to the plane of orbit. This planetary pose is what causes all the variety of our climate; all the drama and poetry of our seasons, since it determines how many hours and minutes each hemisphere receives precious sunlight.

Most of us have known something about this since grade school. What fascinates me about it is how we figured it out in the first place, especially before the advent of satellites and space travel. I haven't studied astronomy enough to understand fully how we came to know this. The axis is, after all, an imaginary line. But here's an eloquent perspective on that question from a Candlegrove visitor.

Pretty basic stuff.
Solstice means...
standing-still-sunSuch precision we have about it now! Winter solstice is when......because of the earth's tilt, your hemisphere is leaning farthest away from the sun, and therefore:The daylight is the shortest.The sun has its lowest arc in the sky.

Interested in more about the science and math? Analemma
When it's winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is directly overhead at noon only along the Tropic of Capricorn, on which lie such places as Sao Paulo, Brazil, southern Madagascar, and areas north of Brisbane, Australia.

Celebrated among the ancients as a turning point.

No one's really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point -- the day that marks the return of the sun. One delightful little book written in 1948, 4,000 Years of Christmas, puts its theory right up in the title. The Mesopotamians were first, it claims, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year.

It's a charming theory. But who knows how accurate it is? Cultural anthropology has advanced a lot in the last 50 years!

Many, many cultures the world over perform solstice ceremonies. At their root: an ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with anxious vigil or antic celebration.

Solstice celebrations: universal & perhaps much older than we know.

There's much new scholarship about Neolithic peoples and their amazing culture. For example, it now looks as though writing is much more ancient than we earlier thought -- as much as 10,000 years old.

Neolithic peoples were the first farmers. Their lives were intimately tied to the seasons and the cycle of harvest. I'm certain they were attuned to the turning skies.

Scholars haven't yet found proof that these peoples had the skill to pinpoint a celestial event like solstice. Earliest markers of time that we've found from these ancient peoples are notches carved into bone that appear to count the cycles of the moon. But perhaps they watched the movement of the sun as well as the moon, and perhaps they celebrated it -- with fertility rites, with fire festivals, with offerings and prayers to their gods and goddesses.

And perhaps, our impulse to hold onto certain traditions today -- candles, evergreens, feasting and generosity -- are echoes of a past that extends many thousands of years further than we ever before imagined.

"Shall we liken Christmas to the web in a loom? There are many weavers, who work into the pattern the experience of their lives. When one generation goes, another comes to take up the weft where it has been dropped. The pattern changes as the mind changes, yet never begins quite anew. At first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding." --Earl W. Count, 4,000 Years of Christmas

The ancients:huge efforts to observe the solsticesAn utterly astounding array of ancient cultures built their greatest architectures -- tombs, temples, cairns and sacred observatories -- so that they aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. Many of us know that Stonehenge is a perfect marker of both solstices.

But not so many people are familiar with Newgrange, a beautiful megalithic site in Ireland. This huge circular stone structure is estimated to be 5,000 years old, older by centuries than Stonehenge, older than the Egyptian pyramids! It was built to receive a shaft of sunlight deep into its central chamber at dawn on winter solstice.

The light illuminates a stone basin below intricate carvings -- spirals, eye shapes, solar discs. Although not much is known about how Newgrange was used by its builders, marking the solstice was obviously of tremendous spiritual import to them. Here's more on this incredible ancient site.

Maeshowe, on the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, shares a similar trait, admitting the winter solstice setting sun. It is hailed as "one of the greatest architectural achievements of the prehistoric peoples of Scotland."

Hundreds of other megalithic structures throughout Europe are oriented to the solstices and the equinoxes. The blossoming field of archaeoastronomy studies such sacred sites in the Americas, Asia, Indonesia, and the Middle East. Recent research into the medieval Great Zimbabwe in sub-Saharan Africa (also known as the "African Stonehenge") indicates a similar purpose. In North America, one of the most famous such sites is the Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, built a thousand years ago by the Chacoans, ancestors of the Pueblo people. Even cultures that followed a moon-based calendar seemed also to understand the importance of these sun-facing seasonal turning points.

And now a book, The Sun in the Church reveals that many medieval Catholic churches were also built as solar observatories. The church, once again reinforcing the close ties between religious celebration and seasonal passages, needed astronomy to predict the date of Easter. And so observatories were built into cathedrals and churches throughout Europe. Typically, a small hole in the roof admitted a beam of sunlight, which would trace a path along the floor. The path, called the meridian line, was often marked by inlays and zodiacal motifs. The position at noon throughout the year, including the extremes of the solstices, was also carefully marked.

A linguistic puzzle.

The rebirth of the sun.The birth of the Son. Christmas was transplanted onto winter solstice some 1,600 years ago, centuries before the English language emerged from its Germanic roots. Is that why we came to express these two ideas in words that sound so similar?

A family fertility ritual from Romania.You may have heard of apple wassailing, the medieval winter festival custom of blessing the apple trees with songs, dances, decorations and a drink of cider to ensure their fertility. Here's another, more obscure tradition that most certainly predates Christmas, and was probably once a solstice ritual, because it is so linked to the themes of nature's rebirth and fertility. In Romania, there's a traditional Christmas confection called a turta. It is made of many layers of pastry dough, filled with melted sugar or honey, ground walnuts, or hemp seed. In this tradition, with the making of the cake families enact a lovely little ceremony to assure the fruitfulness of their orchard come spring. When the wife is in the midst of kneading the dough, she follows her husband into the wintry garden. The man goes from barren tree to tree, threatening to cut each one down. Each time, the wife urges that he spare the tree by saying:

"Oh no, I am sure that this tree will be as heavy with fruit next spring as my fingers are with dough this day."

Winter solstice in many cultures.
Winter solstice was overlaid with Christmas, and the observance of Christmas spread throughout the globe. Along the way, we lost some of the deep connection of our celebrations to a fundamental seasonal, hemispheric event. Many people--of many beliefs--are looking to regain that connection now.

I gain inspiration from the universality of the ancient idea--winter solstice celebrations aren't just an invention of the ancient Europeans.

Native Americans had winter solstice rites. The sun images at right are from rock paintings of the Chumash, who occupied coastal California for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. Solstices were tremendously important to them, and the winter solstice celebration lasted several days.

In Iran, there is the observance of Yalda, in which families kept vigil through the night and fires burned brightly to help the sun (and Goodness) battle darkness (thought evil).
Winter solstice celebrations are also part of the cultural heritage of Pakistan and Tibet. And in China, even though the calendar is based on the moon, the day of winter solstice is called Dong Zhi, "The Arrival of Winter." The cold of winter made an excellent excuse for a feast, so that's how the Chinese observed it, with Ju Dong, "doing the winter."

I'm certain there are other examples...I'm just starting to collect them. Candlegrove visitors have told me of celebrations among the Hopi and Iranians, among others. Know of any others you'd like to share?

And what of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights that occurs around this time every year? Is it related to other celebrations of the season?

The placement of Hanukkah is tied to both the lunar and solar calendars. It begins on the 25th of Kislev, three days before the new moon closest to the Winter Solstice. It commemorates an historic event -- the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem. But the form of this celebration, a Festival of Lights (with candles at the heart of the ritual), makes Hanukkah wonderfully compatible with other celebrations at this time of year. As a symbolic celebration of growing light and as a commemoration of spiritual rebirth, it also seems closely related to other observances.

In song

The rising of the sunAnd the running of the deer,The playing of the merry organ,Sweet singing in the choir.Now, where do you suppose the first couple of lines of this carol came from? A Candlegrove visitor shares a clue about earlier versions of this carol.

There is a whole series of medieval English carols on the subject of the rivalry between the holly and the ivy. In many of them, the holly and ivy symbolized male and female, and the songs narrated their often rowdy vying for mastery in the forest or in the house.

And the next time you find yourself in a store, getting annoyed at incessant repetitions of "the Carol of the Bells," consider this: it's a remnant of the pre-Christian winter solstice celebration in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian carol called "Shchedryk" has the same melody as the Carol of the Bells, but different English words. The word "Shchedryk" means the "Generous One". It refers to the god of generosity, the Dazh Boh - the Giver God, which is the sun.

I learned this fascinating fact from a Candlegrove visitor (a beautiful, thoughtful essay, don't miss it!).

A time of magic.In many cultures, customs practiced at Christmas go back to pre-Christian times. Many involve divination--foretelling the future at a magic time: the season turning of solstice.

In Russia, there's a Christmas divination that involves candles. A girl would sit in a darkened room, with two lighted candles and two mirrors, pointed so that one reflects the candlelight into the other. The viewer would seek the seventh reflection, then look until her future would be seen.

The early Germans built a stone altar to Hertha, or Bertha, goddess of domesticity and the home, during winter solstice. With a fire of fir boughs stoked on the altar, Hertha was able to descend through the smoke and guide those who were wise in Saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those at the feast.

In Spain, there's an old custom that is a holdover from Roman days. The urn of fate is a large bowl containing slips of paper on which are written all the names of those at a family get-togehter. The slips of paper are drawn out two at a time. Those whose names are so joined are to be devoted friends for the year. Apparently, there's often a little finagling to help matchmaking along, as well.

In Scandinavia, some families place all their shoes together, as this will cause them to live in harmony throughout the year.

And in many, many cultures, it's considered bad luck for a fire or a candle to go out on Christmas Day. So keep those candles burning!

Winter solstice this year.Winter solstice for 2006 will occur in North America on December 21. The precise time depends on your time zone. In PST, it will be 4:22 pm; in EST, 7:22 pm. Planning for upcoming seasons? Here's a chart through 2020, but it's based on Universal Time, so you'll need to adjust it for your time zone.



17 December 2006

In Loving Memory of Margaret Hoffman

The memorial service for my aunt, Margaret Hoffman, was held today at Brookfield United Methodist Church. In attendance were her sister Jean, her children Shirley, Robin, and James, and grandchildren April, Matthew, Jennifer, Alyssa, and Greta, and the woman who introduced her to my uncle Jimmy. Nearly 100 other relatives and friends came to pay their last respects.

Margaret met her husband, Jimmy, on a blind date while attending college in Ohio. Her roommate, Alice Chiverton, later Alice Hoffman, was dating Carl Hoffman, Jimmy's cousin, and introduced them in 1941. They went out on only 5 or 6 dates when my uncle proposed. He was in the Army, stationed in Texas, and most of their contact was through letters. They eloped and were married at Jimmy's parents' home. Though my grandfather disowned her for the rash action of marrying a soldier who might leave her a widowed mother, his stance softened when Shirley was born. Later, they lived in Columbus while Jimmy attended law school at Ohio State University.

On 05 December my cousin, Jim, and his mother, sang Christmas carols together in the assisted living home where she stayed.

Aside from my parents, Margaret's husband, Jimmy, and daughter, Shirley, were the most influential people in my younger years.

Aunt Margaret, you will be missed by all. I've never felt closer to you than when I stood beside your children to say "Goodbye."


Margaret Ellen Hoffman
Born August 29, 1922
Died December 7, 2006

11 December 2006

The Weblog Awards

Bloggers, please vote for Blue Gal. I don't ask for favors very often, but need one now. She is in the running for Best of the Top 3501-5000 Blogs. And please vote for Alicia, Best of the Top 1750-2500, too! These are the categories as rated by the TTLB Ecosystem.
Thank you,

Blue Gal is the greatest and I love Alicia!

05 December 2006

Tuesday's Word: chemistry

Derived from chemist, from French chimiste, from Greek χυμικός (of or concerning juices).

/ˈkemɪstri/, /"kemIstri/

Wikipedia has an article on:

The branch of science that deals with the composition and constitution of substances and the changes that they undergo as a consequence of alterations in the constitution of their molecules.
(as a modifier) Relating to or using chemistry.
a chemistry lesson
An application of chemical theory and method to a particular substance.
the chemistry of iron; the chemistry of indigo
A treatise on chemistry.
(informal) the mutual attraction between two people; rapport

Historical note
This word and its derivatives were formerly spelled chy- or sometimes chi- (ie, chymistry, chymist, chymical, etc., or chimistry, chimist, chimical, etc. with pronunciation depending on the spelling.

Related terms
applied chemistry
inorganic chemistry
organic chemistry
physiological chemistry
practical chemistry
pure chemistry
chemical equations

Bloggers, this is one of my favored subjects! Isn't it great how science is used to explain the natural world?

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