Walpurgis Night

Walpurgis Night at the Heidelberg Thingstätte

Tonight is Walpurgis Night (AKA Saint Walpurgis Night or Eve) which is celebrated on the night of 30 April and the day of 1 May.

It is the eve of the Christian feast day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th-century abbess in Francia, and commemorates her traditional canonization date and the movement of her relics to Eichstätt on 1 May in the year 870.

But the origins of the Christian holiday date back to earlier pagan celebrations of fertility rites and the coming of spring. After the Norse were Christianized, the pagan celebration became combined with the legend of St. Walburga which was a common way to transition pagans to Christianity. It is likely that the shared date allowed people to celebrate both events under church law without fear of reprisal.

Saint Walpurga was believed to have cured the illnesses of many local residents and battled pests, rabies and whooping cough, as well as witchcraft. In Germanic folklore, Hexennacht (Dutch: heksennacht), literally “Witches’ Night”, was believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany.

Christians prayed to Saint Walpurga for her intercession to protect them from witchcraft. Bonfires on the Eve are meant to ward off evil spirits and witches.

Local variants of Walpurgis Night are observed throughout Europe in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Estonia. In Denmark, the tradition of using bonfires to ward off the witches is observed as Saint John’s Eve.

My soundtrack for the Eve is Procol Harum’s “Repent Walpurgis.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21UCojHGt9k

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The April Full Moon this month comes late in the month, as do all the remaining Full Moons for 2018.  The April full moon is typically known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon, Fish Moon, Pink MoonPlanting by the Full Egg MoonNight of the Planter’s MoonSeed MoonBlood Moon (which only occurs for some Full Moons and is not really an April event), Mini Moon When Ducks Return and the Growing Moon. It is obvious that this is a time when our focus is on the true flowering and growing of spring.

Had the Full Moon arrived early in April this year, I could have written about snow and winter hanging on, but by this time in the month spring has finally taken hold and there have been a few days that already felt like summer.

My seeds have all started inside and are waiting for that last frost, which in Paradelle can still occur in May.

I’m not a believer in lunar cycle gardening which is an old mythological approach to gardening. The “science” of it is not very strong, but you can use the lunar cycles as a way to plan your gardening. But there are some scientific studies that suggest the changing gravity pull of the lunar cycle affects the water level in soils and even seed and plant cells.You can go look into that theory a bit here.

I plant based on my own calendars kept over many years of when things have sprouted, bloomed and yielded a harvest.

The ducks and geese never leave here for winter and they are grabbing the sprouting grass at the parks, golf courses, and around the ponds.  If you haven’t gotten the mower out yet and see some dandelions popping up and blooming, you might consider leaving them be for a while. They are one of the early flowers for the bees to feed on.

In the Neo-Pagan tradition, this is called the Awakening Moon.

Don’t forget that for anyone in the Southern Hemisphere this could be called the Harvest Moon or Hunter’s Moon.

fox and hedgehog

Are you a hedgehog or a fox?

“The Hedgehog and the Fox” is an essay by philosopher Isaiah Berlin which was published as a book in 1953. Berlin said that he never “meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously. Every classification throws light on something.”

But he didn’t invent this way of viewing people. The Greek poet Archilochus  (680 –645 BC) wrote “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing.” In 1500, Erasmus wrote his Adagia (adages) and one of them was “Many-sided the skill of the fox: the hedgehog has one great gift.” Erasmus’ interpretation favored the hedgehog.

[S]ome people do more with one piece of astuteness than others with their various schemes. The fox protects itself against the hunters by many and various wiles, and yet is often caught. The echinus [hedgehog] … by its one skill alone is safe from the bites of dogs; it rolls itself up with its spines into a ball, and cannot be snapped up with a bite from any side.”

Later interpretations have gone both ways. Hedgehogs view the world through the lens of a single defining idea. Examples often given include Plato, Dante Alighieri, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Marcel Proust.

Foxes draw on a wide variety of experiences. For a fox,  a world view can’t be contained in one idea. Fox examples might include Aristotle, Erasmus, William Shakespeare, Goethe, and James Joyce.

I had heard of this concept somewhere in my undergraduate days but had totally forgotten about it until recently when I came upon the book, On Grand Strategy. It is by John Lewis Gaddis who based it largely on a class he has co-taught at Yale for about twenty years.

Why have Yale students competed to get into this “Studies in Grand Strategy” seminar? (It is actually taught by Gaddis, Paul Kennedy, and Charles Hill.) The premise of the seminar is that this is a way to prepare future leaders by looking at lessons from history and the classics.

In his book, Gaddis looks at how leaders and decision makers fare as foxes and hedgehogs.

Political psychologist Philip Tetlock had earlier studied people who made predictions for a living. These people are at universities, think tanks, in governments and nowadays in the media. He found that the foxes were more accurate because they were more intuitive thinkers and could piece together information from different sources. Hedgehogs tended to be ideologues with big ideas to explain the world. But for television and headlines, hedgehogs are better guests and interviews. Easy sound bites rather than those discursive foxes.

One situation Gaddis looks at leaders during wartime. Who would you follow into battle – a fox or a hedgehog?

Though not everyone agrees on which is the best approach, but the fox and the hedgehog concept has influenced many people.

In The Signal and the Noise, forecaster Nate Silver (who received much attention during the past election cycles) sides with being “more foxy” and a fox is his website’s logo.


A short clip of Gaddis explaining how a “grand strategy” works in the real world.

On the podcast Hidden Brain, I heard a modern day story about a hedgehog surgeon.
In “The Fox And The Hedgehog: The Triumphs And Perils Of Going Big,”
you’ll hear about how he hesitantly became a pioneer in gender reassignment surgery.   LISTEN www.npr.org

An adage is a short, memorable, usually philosophical saying. These kinds of saying go by any number of other names, and though there are probably distinctions, they seem pretty similar to me. For example, aphorisms, proverbs and bywords are close synonyms.

I did find that an adage that describes a general moral rule is usually called a “maxim”. An aphorism seems to be more of an expression that seems “deep” and may not be widely used. But, one that is witty or ironic seems to get the tag “epigram”.

Many adages are ancient and if they have been overused, they may be referred to nowadays as a “cliché”, “truism”, or “old saw.”

Some more modern adages get labeled as “laws” or “principles,” such as Murphy’s Law.

The word “aphorisms” comes from a book by that name by Hippocrates that is a series of propositions concerning the symptoms and diagnosis of disease and the art of healing and medicine. The first line is “Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience deceptive, judgment difficult.”

I found many lists of adages online that are very common, such as “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” and “Don’t burn your bridges.”

Erasmus

Erasmus, the compiler – by Hans Holbein

I was surprised to find how many adages come from the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, commonly known as simply Erasmus. He published several ever larger volumes ultimately with the final edition of Adagia (1536)  having more than 4,000. Most of them are  annotated Greek and Latin proverbs that he compiled.

Here’s a sampler of ones (translated to English) that you are likely to recognize:

More haste, less speed
The blind leading the blind
A rolling stone gathers no moss
One man’s meat is another man’s poison
Necessity is the mother of invention
One step at a time
To be in the same boat
To lead one by the nose
A rare bird
Even a child can see it
To have one foot in Charon’s boat (To have one foot in the grave)
To walk on tiptoe
One to one
Out of tune
A point in time
I gave as bad as I got (I gave as good as I got)
To call a spade a spade
Hatched from the same egg
Up to both ears (Up to his eyeballs)
As though in a mirror
Think before you start
What’s done cannot be undone
Many parasangs ahead (Miles ahead)
We cannot all do everything
Many hands make light work
A living corpse
Where there’s life, there’s hope
To cut to the quick
Time reveals all things
Golden handcuffs
Crocodile tears
To lift a finger
You have touched the issue with a needle-point (To have nailed it)
To walk the tightrope
Time tempers grief (Time heals all wounds)
With a fair wind
To dangle the bait
Kill two birds with one stone
To swallow the hook
The bowels of the earth
Happy in one’s own skin
Hanging by a thread
The dog is worthy of his dinner
To weigh anchor
To grind one’s teeth
Nowhere near the mark
To throw cold water on
Complete the circle
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king
No sooner said than done
Neither with bad things nor without them (Women: can’t live with ’em, can’t live
without ’em)
Between a stone and a shrine (Between a rock and a hard place)
Like teaching an old man a new language (Can’t teach an old dog new tricks)
A necessary evil
There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip
To squeeze water out of a stone
To leave no stone unturned
Let the cobbler stick to his last (Stick to your knitting)
God helps those who help themselves
The grass is greener over the fence
The cart before the horse
Dog in the manger
One swallow doesn’t make a summer
His heart was in his boots
To sleep on it
To break the ice
Ship-shape
To die of laughing
To have an iron in the fire
To look a gift horse in the mouth
Neither fish nor flesh
Like father, like son

A rather strange and fascinating collection of pre-1900 books on alchemy, astrology, magic, and other occult subjects has been digitized. The digitization of these rare texts is being done under an  education project called “Hermetically Open.”

The project also received a generous donation from author Dan Brown, who certainly has an interest in these things and has used texts like these in his novels. Who knows – maybe his next novel will come from these texts.

Amsterdam’s Ritman Library has made the first 1,617 books from the project available in their online reading room at embassyofthefreemind.com. It is still a work in progress, but you will have full access to hundreds of rare occult texts.

Be aware that these books are written in several different European languages. My Latin is quite elementary and that was the scholarly language of Europe throughout the Medieval and Early Modern periods so there are plenty of Latin texts. I have to say that my first browsings have been more to look at the illustrations, front pieces and the visual aspects.

Some books are in German, Dutch, and French, so us language poor monolingual English speakers are at a reading disadvantage.

I do love the idea of digitizing texts that would otherwise be lost or not available to the masses. Now we need some kind of tech babel fish who can read and speak all these books to us.

This weekend brings the Lyrid meteor shower into view. From late evening on Friday (April 20) until dawn Saturday, and even better viewing April 21 until the probable peak at dawn Sunday. You can try Sunday night (April 22) until dawn Monday too if the previous nights were cloudy, but the chances are less of seeing many.

The radiant point where the meteors appear to be coming from is near the star Vega which is in constellation Lyra. That will be at its highest in the sky in those early morning hours and you’re more likely to see multiple meteors. We say it appears to come from Vega, but Vega is actually trillions of times farther away from those meteors. Vega is 25 light-years away. Those numbers always make me feel smaller – and more amazed at the universe.   Here is some help on finding Vega

The Lyrid meteors are the debris of a comet orbiting the sun that is burning up in the atmosphere about 60 miles (100 km) up.

Unfortunately, I will be in a big city this weekend, so viewing will be not very good due to the artifical light. But for most people, the waxing moon will have set by late night, leaving the predawn hours dark. And before dawn, you can see the three planets, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.

 

Note for Southern Hemisphere observers via earthsky.org: Because this shower’s radiant point is so far north on the sky’s dome, the star Vega rises only in the hours before dawn. It’ll be lower in the sky for you than for us farther north on Earth’s globe, when dawn breaks. That’s why you’ll see fewer Lyrid meteors. Still, you might see some! Try watching before morning dawn on April 21, 22 and 23.

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