Archive for October, 2005

Contrary to what you’ve heard, All Saint’s Day was not created to co-opt Celtic Samhain festivities for Christianity. (Though it worked that way in some Celtic countries.) The day was invented to commemmorate all the martyrs, especially when said martyrdoms didn’t happen nearby; and then spread to cover all the saints in general, especially those we don’t know. These celebrations date back to very early times, and you can read all about the history in the relevant Catholic Encyclopedia article.

This sermon is by Bede, who’s sometimes counted as one of the late, late Fathers. He’s from England. As you can tell from the 710 AD dating, he was preaching after the feast had been introduced and promoted, a few decades before it was moved from May 13 to Nov. 1, and about a hundred years before it was legislated to be a feast celebrated everywhere the Church was. (Unfortunately, my copy is abridged, and I have no way of knowing by how much. Still, it’s a cool sermon.)

The reason this sermon was in Latin was not that Bede preached it in Latin to his congregation (he probably didn’t), but that there was really no point collecting sermons in a book in English if you wanted an international readership. Writing in a vernacular restricted a work’s usefulness and endurance, though it did demonstrate your love of your mother tongue. But if you learned to read, you probably learned it by learning to read Latin; the Vulgate psalms were the ABC’s of Europe.

“Sermon on All Saints Day”
10 min.

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Three Scottish Hallowe’en ballads for you! First of all, we slip into the Border between Middle Earth and Elfland with Janet and Tam Lin. (Remember, “The night is Hallow’een, my love, The morn is Hallow’s Day.”) Then we attend a party and learn a little about the old Scottish year’s end divination customs in Robert Burns’ “Hallowe’en”. Finally, Andrew Lang of fairy tale fame tells us an adult tale of “The Queen of Spain and the Bauld McLean”, based on the destruction of the Spanish ship Florencia in 1588. Enjoy!

“Tam Lin”
10 min.
“Halloween” by Robert Burns
20 min.
“The Queen of Spain and the Bauld McLean” by Andrew Lang
4 min.

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This ghost story is pretty fun. Lost treasure! A wronged heiress! Communication from beyond the grave!

Obviously, though, it leans quite a bit on the conventions of spiritualism. That’s interesting in itself, of course. We think of spiritualism as a post-Civil War or post-WWI phenomenon, but this story was written in 1855. (But the Fox sisters, of course, were famous back in 1848, and there was plenty of death of relatives both in Europe and out West during the 1840’s and 1850’s.) The Ghostbusters-style blend of practicality, fantasy, and state-of-the-art science fiction reminds me strongly of William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki stories and that charming device, the vacuum tube “electric pentacle”. Though it is fair to warn you that when Carnacki finds himself a ghost, it’s usually a really scary one; and he shies from using scary incantations and grimoires about as much as Egon and Ray, which is to say, not at all. (You can also download free (though lower quality) audiobooks of Carnacki from audiobooksforfree.com. And there was apparently a book of Carnacki pastiches by A.F. Kidd and Rick Kennett called 472 Cheyne Walk — Carnacki: The Untold Stories published in 2002.)

For those who are keeping score, I wouldn’t be a spiritualist or even a ghosthunter if you paid me. The stuff which is very cool in stories would be exactly the stuff which would be likely to do you in if you tried to do it in real life. (I think trying to be both an ardent spiritualist and scientist ruined Conan Doyle’s life; though he kept his honor, he left behind a lot of his good sense. But he would have done better to quit running from his grief and guilt into junk science and self-made religion. Oh, well.) But anyway, a good story’s a good story.

Btw, I’d better explain again that if you follow the link to archive.org at the top of this post, you’ll be able to get different (smaller) formats and streaming. The manual download link takes you only to the 128K mp3s. I do this because some computers can’t use Ogg and experience unknown difficulties with the 64K.

Also, I had a few more Halloweenish readings I wanted to sneak into this Halloween edition of Maria Lectrix, but you’ll have to wait until sometime tonight or tomorrow when they get processed.

“The Pot of Tulips”
49 min.

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Yes, yet another early posting, since I’ll be busy this weekend. The fifth part of the book consists of the translator’s Introduction (in three parts), and the appendix, a letter between close associates of Catherine which describes her saintly death.

I shy away from reading introductions and forewords before the rest of the book. They have a tendency to include spoilers, or try to lead me toward the introducer’s ideas of the book instead of my own. Now, this is actually a rather spoiler-free introduction, though I’m still not sorry I didn’t read it out first. All the foreign words and typos, not to mention the length, would have been terribly discouraging as a beginning. Still, it’s a nice overview of the historical and religious situation and has some good info about Catherine’s early life.

The appendix isn’t short, but I found it interesting. Btw, Sexagesima Sunday is the second Sunday before Lent. It was called Sexagesima, ‘sixty’, because it’s about sixty days till Easter (or actually, sixty days till the Wednesday after Easter). Orthodox areas used to start abstaining from meat that early, apparently.

Introduction, part 1
Introduction, part 2
Introduction, part 3
Book 1: A Treatise on Divine Providence
Book 2: A Treatise on Discretion
Book 3: A Treatise on Prayer
Book 4: A Treatise on Obedience

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This essay is from Alarms and Discursions, a 1910 collection of short pieces written for London’s Daily News. The essay winds around a bit, and talks of many things. In the end, I think it’s a brilliant defense of horror, dark fantasy, and the like. More than that, though, it’s fun and beautiful writing, from a time when the sort of blog columns we enjoy from Lileks were standard operating procedure for journalists. (Or at least they were for Chesterton.)

I apologize for reading the essay with a much straighter face than GKC wore when writing it. However, you are spared any of my odd voices.

“The Nightmare”
9 min.

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The story strides on towards court, as Thorndyke gets another little present from his ingenious friend and Jervis learns some startling information. We also learn about Thorndyke’s rather disturbing hobby. Further, Freeman does his best to harrow every mystery fan’s soul with his blunt description of the Old Bailey at his time of writing. You begin to understand the Victorian obsession with strong soap and elbow grease.

If you can’t stand the wait until next week, you can read The Red Thumb Mark on Gutenberg.

Chapter 13: Murder by Post
Chapter 14: A Startling Discovery
59 min.

Part 1: Chapters 1-4
Part 2: Chapters 5-8
Part 3: Chapters 9-12

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Apologia means ‘explanation’. In this case, a philosopher-turned-Christian tells Roman emperor all about Christianity. Breaking the secrecy that was common, thanks to persecution, he does his best to dispel urban rumors by openness about the true nature of Christian beliefs and rituals. He argues that individual Christians should be judged by what they do, not by what they are said to believe, and that Christian hunts are bad for the Empire’s justice.

Also, with extensive quotes both from the myths and philosophers and the Greek Bible, he argues that Christianity has the full interpretation of the ancient Jewish scriptures, that the philosophers cribbed from the older Jewish material, and that many great Greek myths and new religions were set up by the demons to try to counteract Jewish prophecy. This seems odd to modern listeners. But the Roman government had as dim a view of “new religions” as the Japanese one. Part of why Judaism was tolerated and protected by the Empire was that it was old and had old records. If Christianity could be shown to be not a mere hundred and fifty years old, but the heir of a continuity of belief with Judaism, Christians would look much more respectable. (It was also a rebuke to his fellow Greeks among the Marcionites, who were so busily engaged in trying to purge Christianity of its Jewish roots that they wanted to throw out the Old Testament.)

Not everything that he reveals is good stuff. We peer into a world where Marcionites and followers of Simon Magus annoy the heck out of more mainstream Christians, and where tension is high between prophecy-saved Christians and the now temple-less Jews. And sometimes paranoia is justified. Recent research indicates that Mithras worshippers probably did copy some rituals from that popular new religion of Christianity, and may have even moved their date of celebration to coincide with Christmas (instead of the other way round). Still, the main annoyance seems to be persecution by pagan neighbors and the Empire, and it shadows this letter. “You can kill but not hurt us,” says St. Justin, Doctor of the Church and martyr.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
2 hrs 25 min

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