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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Happy Spring, Time of Rebirth and Renewal

by Barbara Bettis

It’s Spring!
The Vernal (March) Equinox has come (Monday, March 20, this year).
Most of us usually want to dance and celebrate the end of winter and the promise of sun, warmth, birth and renewal. It feels like a new year. In fact, March 25 was once considered the beginning of the year. But it wasn’t just the earth’s renewal.
In Christian tradition March 25 is Annunciation Day, when the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary that she was to bear a son,(to which she gave birth nine months later, to the day.) March 25 came to be known as Lady Day.
Christians were not the first to observe this beginning of new life. The celebration stretches back so far, it’s mythical. Before Christ’s birth, the renewal of the earth after a long, hard winter was a joyous time. Plants now would grow, animals give birth, and the period of hunger and discomfort would come to an end for another seven or eight months.
The coming of spring, then, was vigorously celebrated. People rejoiced, worshipping the gods and/or goddesses associated with fertility and life. One such was Eostre (Ostara). Eostre was a Saxon/Germanic goddess of fertility. Her symbols were said to have been the egg and the rabbit.
If that goddess sounds vaguely familiar, she should. Easter comes from her name (or as one source says, the Old Norse word “Eostur, meaning the time when the sun began to grow warmer”). (http://rosaliegibert.com/holidays.html) 
Now about that date, March 25. Under the old Julian calendar, the beginning of spring, AKA the Vernal Equinox, fell on March 25. In medieval Britain, that day also marked the beginning of the calendar year (although sources say the Romans brought with them their tradition of celebrating the new year in January that continued in the Middle Ages.) Not only did the calendar year start on March 25, Lady Day is one of the four quarter days of the medieval year when taxes were collected. (Yep, the medieval April 15 J )

But Pope Gregory XIII, in 1582, revised the calendar, dropping ten days. The Gregorian Calendar became common in most European Catholic countries, but Protestant England didn’t adopt it until 1752. Oh, and that English Calendar Act in 1752 also moved the beginning of the year from March 25 to Jan. 1. That’s why some dates seem ‘flexible’ when reported in historical documents. 
The Gregorian calendar was an attempt to make sure church holiday fell at the right times of the year. The determination of Easter continued to fluctuate, however,  because “Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. If the first full moon occurs on the equinox, Easter is the following Sunday.”  That was established in 325 by the Council of Nicaea. (https://www.catholic.com/index.php/qa/how-is-the-date-for-easter-determined)
The exact date of the equinox can be a bit nebulous. In fact, it can occur March 19, 20, or 21.
What are equinoxes? They occur twice a year (spring and autumn) when days and nights are exactly the same number of hours all over the world. “[A]t the precise moment…(that it occurs) exactly one-half of the earth is illuminated by the sun’s rays while the other half is in darkness, producing a day and night that are both twelve hours long.” (www.encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com)
In the old belief, according to www.heartoscotland.com, they “were considered a time of balance, not only between dark and light, but between worlds as well and, therefore, a time of high magical potential. More mundanely, the festival signified the time for spring planting and fertility rituals.” 
Balance, yes. But magic? Contradictory? Not for Spring, with its rebirth and regeneration and its promise for a new, bright season. I don’t know about you, but when I see trees budding and daffodils and tulips winking brightly around the lawn, I feel a bit of magic in the air.

Happy Vernal Equinox. Happy Lady Day. Happy Spring.
Sources:






http://blog.metmuseum.org/cloistersgardens/2011/03/25/lady-day/




Barbara Bettis is the author of medieval romance and Heroes to Live For. Her latest, The Lady of the Forest, is currently on sale for 99 cents.
Here: AMAZON;   TWRP;  B&N

Here’s a peek at the blurb:
He must pursue his enemy; she must protect her people. Can their love survive the duties that drive them apart?

When her elderly husband dies, Lady Katherine fakes her own death and disappears into the forest with others escaping the brutish new lord. Determined to protect her people, she knocks the wrong man senseless. But Lord Henry isn’t an enemy, he’s the brother of her childhood friend. Although his tender confidence tempts her, she’s bound by duty.
Henry of Chauvere has found the one lady he wants for his own, never mind she’s tied him hand and foot. When he learns the king has ordered her to wed Stonehill’s ruthless new master, he insists Kate seek haven with his sister. But she won’t desert her friends. Henry vows to solve her problem, provided he catches a traitor before the threat from Kate's past catches her.https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif

When a daring rescue compels Henry and Kate to join forces, their attraction grows into love. If only duty didn’t drive them apart.










Saturday, March 18, 2017

Irish Dance--the mechanics!

by Beppie Harrison
Irish Dance—the mechanics!





So today is St. Patrick’s Day, which is and isn’t a most appropriate day to talk about what it takes to put Irish dancing together.

As we discussed in last month’s blog, no one can say for sure how long there has been Irish dancing, but although we assume the ancient ancestors of the Irish danced. From earliest history all around the world, people have danced, and since there is very early Irish music, and worldwide dancing came before music, it is likely that the Irish were dancers from the beginning.

Of course, whether or not they danced as they do now is unlikely. For one thing, Irish dancing has been shaped by the experience of the people in Ireland, just as other countries shaped different kinds of dance shaped on their experience. What is unique about Irish dancing—and what captured the attention of the world audience first with the Eurovision Song Contest demonstration which gave birth to Riverdance and its followers—is that Irish step dancing is unique in that the dancers have a controlled and rigid upper body, straight arms and back, and quick intricate steps with the legs and feet. How this happened has given birth to many a tall tale, but it seems most likely it came from the reality that neither the Catholic church nor the ruling British approved of dancing. The church ruled against it on grounds of immodesty and immorality. The British wanted to stamp out anything that was distinctive of Ireland, starting with their religion, with the goal of turning the people into Englishmen and –women, to the extent that was possible.

The reality was that Irish dancing was shaped by traveling dancing masters, who went from town to town and village to village of Ireland beginning in the 1750’s and continuing until as late as the 19th century, earning their pay from people wanting to learn to dance, or to dance better with more remarkable steps. The space available to the dance master was seldom very large, and sometimes as small as a tabletop or top of a barrel, which ruled out sweeping motions or dancing across wide areas. The dancing styles became very contained, with the feet and legs performing intricate maneuvers while the arms were held firmly at the sides.

Now, as Irish dance has swept worldwide, although much of the fascination remains in that very containment, dancers do move more freely than they were able to do then. In general, there are two types of Irish dance: the céilí dance, done by as few as 2 dancers, or as many as 16, when the dancers are dancing in a square, the style probably adopted from the French quadrille. Or a céilí dance can be danced by an unlimited number of couples in a row, or a circle. These dances are often fast, and can be very complex, when danced by experienced dancers.

It’s important to note that a céilí, which is a social gathering that includes dancing, is not the same as céilí dancing, which is a specific type of Irish dance.

Irish stepdancing is a performance style, also derived from tradition. Stepdancing has two main types of dance which vary in the type of shoe worn. There is soft shoe, in which a shoe made of soft leather like a ballet shoe is worn, with ties across the foot and up the leg or down the sole. These dances are done either with black tights or with what are called poodle socks: white socks that go to the knee and have ribs that keep the ties in place. Different dance schools have different costumes often using Gaelic designs, like those taken from the Book of Kells, and these days the dancers often wear curly wigs the color of their own hair, to give a more old-time appearance. Soft shoes are als called ghillies. Men wear black leather shoes with a hard heel with the fiberglass pad, called reel shoes. Even when wearing soft shoes, men’s dancing features hard heel clicks.



Hard shoes are those worn when the rhythm of the steps is the important part of the dance. These shoes are worn by both men and women, with a heel. Originally hard shoes had taps made of metal or leather with metal nails, but now dancers have fiberglass taps on the toes and heels, both to be lighter and to make the most of the sound.




Now most Irish dancers take part in the competitions, which have strict rules. An organized dance competition is called a feis (pronounced fesh), which means “festival” in Irish, but has come to apply mainly to these competitions. See if you can find one locally: they are great fun to watch as they move up through the levels, from very young beginners up to experts who have been dancing for years.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Cure for What Ails You ~ Cornish Remedies via Katherine Bone!

Mortal are we and subject to diseases,
We must all die, even and when God pleases,
Into the world but one way do we come,
A thousand ways from thence we are sent home.

Modern medicine has played a significant part in the longevity of people living in the 21st Century. Given the resources at our disposal; family doctors, hospitals and emergency rooms, local pharmacies, and extended life expectancy, it’s difficult to understand how people dealt with common ailments like influenza, disease, and catastrophic injuries long ago. Especially when people died for reasons that were oftentimes classified as 'just rewards'.

In Cornish Sayings, Superstitions and Remedies, I’ve discovered how the Cornish people dealt with what ailed them. What I found is astounding! Given that Cornwall is a country unto itself, its people the descendants of Druids, Celts, Welsh, hearty fishermen and miners with ties to the earth, it makes perfect sense their way of life relied on legend, lore and superstition.

But before we look deeper into how Cornish people remedied maladies, let’s take a look at how long it took for penicillin to reach the general population.

Quick history of the discovery of Penicillin:

·         In Egypt, Greece and India, moulds were used to treat infections.
·         In Russia, warm soil healed infectious wounds.
·         In 150 BC Sri Lanka, soldiers prepared for war by cooking oil cakes for days and preparing poultices made from the cakes for battle injuries.
·         In 1600s Poland, wet bread mixed with cob webs was applied to wounds.
·         In 1640, the King’s Herbarian, John Parkinson, records the benefits of using mould in medicine.
·         In 1870 United Kingdom, the founder of St. Mary’s Hospital, Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson, discovers mould produces no bacteria.
·         In 1871, Joseph Lister, an English surgeon tests contaminated mould urine samples, describing the action on human tissue as Penicillium glaucum, for the first time.
·         In 1874, William Roberts studies moulds for bacterial contamination and notes bacteria is absent in Penicillium glaucum cultures.
·         In 1875, John Tyndall demonstrates Burdon-Sanderson’s Penicillium fungus’s antibacterial action to the Royal Society.
·         In 1923, Scottish biologist Sir Alexander Fleming cultivates mould and names the resulting culture, penicillin.


“Gurty milk an’ bearly-bread no lack,
Pudden-skins an’ a good shaip’s chack,
A bussa o’ salt pelchers, ’nother o’ pork,
A good strong stummick and a plenty of work.”
~ Old Cornish Rhyme



Cornish people are strong, stout-hearted survivors who believe in ghosts, ghouls and goblins. They’ve long believed giants will return to reclaim the moors, piskeys own the fields and mermaids rule the oceans. And they’ve used a mixture of herbs and lore to treat infections, disease, and maladies with superstition and remedies passed down through generations.




If penicillin isn’t handy, here are some Cornish remedies to soothe what ails you:

·         Snake bite? No problem. Adder bite is easily treated with plantain and salad oil. Or simply lay the bruised dead body of the adder on top of the bite as an infallible cure.
·         Catch a cold? Poor dearie. What you need is a drought of boiling water over a handful of herbs and swallowed while hot. If that doesn’t work, you could also bath your feet in mustard water and drink boiled cider or whisky with hot water and sugar. Elder tea made from dried elder flowers or leaves might do you good. Or drink juice from turnip slices with sugar in between.
·         Feverish? You need elderflower.
·         Got a cough? Find some Horehound.
·         Queasy, sick to your stomach? Chamomile and elder tea will purge what ails you.
·         Whooping Cough cramping your style? Slice an onion and layer it in a basin, alternately with brown sugar. Allow mixture to stand overnight. Just 2 tsps. of this syrup 3-4 times a day will chase your cough away. Children, sick with whooping cough, should run with sheep or tie a muslin bag full of spiders around their necks to ward off coughing spells.
·         Not getting enough Vitamin C? Treat your scurvy with extra burdock burs.
·         Aches and pains got you down? Use an ointment of mallow for your inflammations.
·         A south-westerly wind too breezy? Earaches are best remedied by applying a piece of cooked onion in a stocking to the affected ear.
·         Never underestimate the supernatural power of poultices.
·         Having trouble breathing? Treat your pneumonia with hot fomentations.
·         Don’t underestimate the power of a dead man’s tooth. Carry this infallible charm in your pocket.
·         Colic a problem? Stand on your head for fifteen minutes.
·         Can’t believe you ate the whole thing? If heartburn has gotten you down, use this cure of drying and powdering black spiders.
·         It ain’t over until the sick woman sings. Cut a live pigeon in half and lay the bleeding parts at her feet.
·         Bubble, bubble, boils are trouble. To cure a boil, creep on your hands and knees beneath a bramble grown into the ground at both ends. If that doesn’t work, you can always bore a hole in a nutmeg and tie it round your neck then nibble, nine mornings fasting.
·         Find an unusual lump? Place the hand of a man who committed suicide on your tumor and it will go away.
·         Bleeding much? Apply a church key to the wound to stop bleeding or use cobwebs.
·         Can’t breathe? Here’s a cure sure to ease your asthmatic symptoms. Roll spider webs into a ball and swallow them.
·         Got tuberculosis? This is very important. Take a spoonful of earth from the grave of a newly interred virgin, dissolve in water, and drink, fasting to cure decline.
·         Shingles a problem? Take blood drawn from a cat’s tail and smear it over the affected area.
·         Can’t stop bleeding? Draw a sign of the cross on wood, stone, or metal and bind over the wound, whether you be man or beast. And if your nose is bleeding, drop a key down your back.
·         Stye in the eye? Stroke the eye nine times with a wedding ring or a Tom cat’s tail.
·         Can’t get rid of your hiccups? Spit on the forefinger of your right hand and cross the front of the left shoe three times saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards. Scaring the affected person also helps.




When all else fails, visit a white witch, a peller, for traditional remedies that come in the shape of a wind charm. Though the Cornish language is nearly all but gone like wolves that used to cry and weep over the grassland, their love of life and the miracle of each sunrise and sunset lives on.




Resources:


What are some of your family remedies?




Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Jewels in the Regency




Sparkle has always caught the human eye—and for as long as history has existed, people have decorated themselves, not just with clothes, but with gems. There is something in the allure of a pretty stone—I’ve used it myself in my Regency novel The Cardros Ruby where a legendary stone that dates back to Elizabethan times haunts the family history into the 1800’s.

We certainly all know about diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies as the jewels that catch the eye today—and inspire greed. But those gemstones have not always been the only ones to be considered as worthy ornaments of the rich and powerful.

In modern times, we consider diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds to be precious gemstones (not semi-precious, which is where most other gems are classified). Precious stones get the big bucks. However, the ancient Egyptians prized glass, both from meteor impacts and the glassblowers of ancient Hebron. Jewelry from ancient times was a sign of status and anything rare could be made into ornamentation. Prized jewelry in ancient times includes stones that are easy to work: amber, turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli, malachite, obsidian and rock crystal.

The Egyptians weren’t the only ones to use glass, or what we would call paste, gemstones. Paste jewelry became popular with in the 1700’s when sumptuary laws relaxed—or were ignored.

In England and most of Europe, sumptuary laws regulated what people could buy and wear based on class. No one was supposed to dress above their rank—and that meant jewels were not allowed to the lower classes. However, as the middle class increased in size and power, they wanted to flaunt their wealth. The paste or glass jewels of the 1700’s turned out to be just the thing for them—something new, a little bit rare, and glittering.

Jeweler Georges Frederic Strass moved to Paris in 1724 and became jeweler to the king—he also invented the rhinestone, something we think of as ‘cheep’ today but it was a hit with those who had money in the 1700’s.

Value has also always been given to the rare, the brilliant and the large, and value has been given in terms of luck or other properties a stone might bestow on its wearer—either heath, protection or even clear vision. We’ve attached gemstones to be the birthstone of someone’s birth month, and various cultures have assigned properties to various stones.

Opals are thought to be unlucky to any except those born in October. For good luck, there are moonstones—those gems with a smooth, oval surface and an opaque coloring that looks almost like moonlight. Jade is also considered lucky by many, Ancient Egyptians thought it brought balance. Jade was the stone of emperors in China, and prized by civilizations in Central America, but appears only rarely jewelry of the Georgian era and Regency. It could be worked into rings or bracelets or used in broaches. Bloodstone, jade, carnelian, ivory and other softer stones could also be carved, and that made them useful as well for signet rings.

The most popular stones for a gentleman’s signet ring to judge by the jewelry that has come down to us seems to have been ruby, amethyst, carnelian and lapis lazuli. Gold was also favored for signet rings and fobs since it could be molded and shaped.

Diamonds, of course, are still prized for rarity, clarity, color and hardness. Just as gold does not tarnish, a diamond can outlast almost anything. It can be cut but not carved. Colored diamonds—blue and yellow—are among the rarest of gemstones.

A scandal over a lavish diamond necklace was said to be part of what brought about the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette’s death. It was thought she had commissioned the necklace at a time when the country was suffering from poor harvests. In truth, her name had been used in an elaborate scheme involving a bishop and the queen’s staff to have the necklace made and then stolen away so the stones could be broken up, recut and sold.

Other diamonds such as the Regent Diamond (that’s French Regency) which Marie Antoinette once wore, the Hope Diamond (a blue diamond said to have come to Europe in the 1300’s and now in the Smithsonian), or the Koh-i-Nor (a legendary stone said to have once been 800 carets and the eye of an Hindu god, but cut down to 186 carets and which came into the British Crown Jewels when given to Queen Victoria), are said to be cursed, not blessed. Such stones always seem to have a past to them—and a bloody history.

But that doesn’t stop anyone from wanting to own and wear jewels.

Fashions prior to the Regency display extravagant jewelry in portraits. The Tudors loved to be painted with jewels, but the jewels are often shown with heavy settings. Cuts were also often not what the cuts we value today.

Malachite and Pearl Parure
As gold-working skills improved, parures came into fashion in the 1600’s offering a suite of matched jewelry. This might include: a diadem, tiara, comb, bandeau, choker, necklace, earrings, brooch, stomacher, bracelets and rings. Parures might have one gem dominant in the set or might be complimenting gems, such as ruby and diamond or amethyst and diamond or emerald and diamond.

Gentlemen, too, of the 1700’s flaunted wealth and status with sparkles. The Macaronis are shown with diamond buttons, diamonds on the heels of their shoes and jeweled buckles. Sword hilts were often decorated with gold, jewels, or even inlay. However, the French Revolution swept away the fashion for showing off jewels when it became dangerous to look like an aristo.

The early 1800’s fashions were also greatly influenced by the antiquities being discovered and returned both to Europe and England in drawings and stories. The craze for Egyptian came and went, bringing with it an influence on jewelry as well as fashion and furniture. And then the style became neo-classical, copying Greek and Roman images and statutes. Now young ladies wore wreaths or flowers or simple strands of pearl. Diadems and armlets came into fashion as did copies of Greek and Egyptian jewelry.

Earlier valued stones again became fashionable—amber, coral, turquoise, lapis and malachite are seen in many examples of jewelry for this era. Gold work became popular with simple gold necklaces, bracelets or chains that could be woven into the hair. Garnets, topaz, agates, carnelian and aquamarines became popular. Wedgewood brought into fashion jasperware, beads and cameos.

Brummell influenced restraint for the gentleman, who might sport a jeweled snuff box (and Brummell had a huge collection of snuff boxes), or a signet ring or a single jeweled fob—but to do more was deemed slightly vulgar. But a gentleman might also carry a jeweled toothpick case, if he’s a bit of a fop, as Jane Austen has her character Robert Ferrars design and buy in London.

However, not all ladies followed the fashion for minimal.

Older women who had lost the bloom of youth—or who just intended to display their wealth and status—might well decide to go for the gleam of diamonds and wear the family parure anyway. Sir Walter Besant says of Almack’s, “Riff-raff might go to Court; but they could not get to Almack’s, for at its gates there stood, not one angel with a firey sword, but six in the shape of English ladies, terrible in turbans, splendid in diamonds, magnificent in satin, and awful in rank.”

Willmott Willmott-Dixon notes in Queens of Beauty and Their Romances, speaking of Lady Jersey, one of those patronesses of Almack’s, “She had a way of showing too obtrusively that her diamonds were larger and her beauty more splendid than all her rivals.”

Certainly after December, 1804, when Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France and brought the bling and a court back to France, the style for more jewels to establish status followed.

The Empress Josephine led fashion in France and her elegant style carried over to England. She was noted for her taste and restraint, but Bonaparte had no such inclination. He was as fond of jewels in the hilts of his swords as he was of crowns and diamonds scattered about on watches, clocks and his ladies.

After divorcing Josephine, in 1810, Bonaparte had the Parisian jeweler Etiene Nitot et Fils craft an emerald and diamond parure for his new empress, Marie-Louise with 138 emeralds, 382 rose-cut diamonds and 2,162 brilliant-cut diamonds. The parure included a diadem, necklace, earrings, comb and belt clasp. The rose-cut is no longer in fashion, but the parts of the parure that survived intact—the necklace and earrings—are lovely and now live in the Louve. (Bonaparte also gave Marie-Louise two more parures, one of diamonds and one of pearls and diamonds that were mean to be part of the French Crown Jewels.)

Made by T. Gray
The Prince Regent, too, loved his glitter and added to the British Crown Jewels. Venetia Murry in An Elegant Madness, notes, “The Prince was clearly unable to pass a jewellery shop without buying what he referred to as a 'trinket', meaning anything from a diamond tiara to a butterfly brooch with emerald eyes. Among the fashionable jewellers he patronized were Hamlet's—whose customers included the Duke of York, the Duchess of Cloucester and various foreign royals—Thomas Gray in Sackville Street and Phillips in Bond Street. But his favoroute by far was Rundell and Bridges on Ludgate Hill, the principal goldsmiths and jewellers at the time. After 1805, that shop became Rundell, Bridge & Rundell.
 
Rundell and Bridges on Ludgate Hill

Thomas Gray on Sackville Street was patronized by young Prince George and is listed as active until 1805. Stedman and Vardon are also listed in as jewelers to Queen Charlotte in 1796 (and in 1795 as John Stedman, Samuel Vardon and Thomas Vardon), Goldsmiths and Jewelers at 36 New Bond Street.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna mixed English aristocrats with European once more and held lavish balls, masquerades, and the jewels once associated with royalty returned. While daytime jewelry remained restrained—a watch, broach, or a ring—evening wear became more fussy (frills, ribbons, ruffles) and for important occasions, ladies again began to done their finest jewelry of diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies to show off their wealth and status.

If you are looking for reproductions from the era, I can recommend:
https://www.etsy.com/shop/damesalamode

And for additional information:
https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/a-history-of-jewellery
http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2010/08/regency-bling.html
http://www.langantiques.com/university/Georgian_Jewelry:_1714-1837