Darkness As A Blessing

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by M.F. Erler

Well, it’s finally here.  Halloween.  Samhain to the ancient Celts.  It marks the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  A dark time in the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere.   No wonder the Celts of Ireland and Scotland, and the Norse of Scandinavia, marked it as a time when the dead were said to walk the earth for a night.  I’m glad the Medieval Church set it aside as the Eve of All Saints’ Day, a time to remember those who have gone before us, and to reflect on their legacy to us.  So that’s what I’m doing. 

As I look into my family tree, I’m remembering all the things my ancestors have left to me.  And I’m looking for ways to pass this legacy on to my children, the next generation. Reading about all the trials and problems my ancestors went through in their lives reminds me how much we take for granted now. Things like central heating and electric lights. Hot and cold running water. That’s just a few.  

As the days shorten and the darkness seems to close around (especially in this northern latitude) it’s good to know that this old earth is still turning in its appointed course around the sun.  Even though winter follows autumn, spring will come in its time, too. Some of my friends like to be snowbirds, but I enjoy the changing seasons. Maybe I’m strange, but I think I would get bored living in a place where it’s always summer. 

Ancient Feasts

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By M. F. Erler

In recent years I’ve become very interested in the ancient feasts which marked the passage of the seasons, especially those of my Celtic and Scandinavian ancestors.  My geographer son has even helped me build a small and accurate replica of Stonehenge in our backyard. He used a compass and calculations of latitude, longitude, and altitude to mark the position of the sunrises and sunsets on the Equinoxes and Solstices.

But what has really caught my attention are the celebrations, or feasts, which mark the mid-points between the Equinoxes and Solstices.  It’s especially interesting to see that many of them are still observed in some form in our own times, though most people have no idea where they originated.

To the ancients, all these dates were known as times when the boundary between the physical and spiritual worlds was thinnest.  The best example is probably Halloween, Oct. 31, which marks the halfway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  Ever since ancient times, this has been observed as a time when the dead were said to walk the earth for one night.  Now, of course, we have costumes, Jack-o-lanterns, and trick or treat. The Catholic Church in Medieval times made it the eve of All Saints Day, a day to honor the saints who had died.  Our word “Halloween” comes from the words “All Hallows Eve” or “Hallows E’en.”

Next we have Feb. 2, which marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  We call it Groundhog Day.  In Medieval times it was taken by the Church as Candlemas, a service when all the candles made to be used in the coming year were consecrated.  I’m not sure what the rodent has to do with candles, but there is a slim connection—candles were the main source of light and the groundhog needed light to see his shadow.

The midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice is May 1, which some of us still celebrate as May Day.  This was a festival of fertility in ancient times, which appealed to the gods to provide good crops.  In many climates, this was the time of year that most of the crops were being planted and domestic animals were giving birth.  The ideas of flower baskets and Maypoles have probably come down to us from ancient fertility rites.

It’s taken me much longer to find information on Aug. 1 or Lammas, which is midway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox.  I finally got information in a book on Druids that I ran across at a workshop of Celtic Heritage in America.  I learned, as I suspected, that Lammas is a feast of harvest. In northern climates, it would be just the early first-fruits.  The word Lammas in Irish is Lughnasadh, and in Scottish Gaelic it’s Lunasad. Lunasa is Irish for August, too.

The ancient god Lugh, in Irish myth, is god of all arts and crafts.  He is also considered to be the greatest of the gods, and the name implies he has a large head. Lugh is found beyond the British Isles, too, being depicted in early art from Sweden to the Punjab.  Of course, the Irish added their own twist, weaving the story that Lugh has now become “Lugh-chromain” which is the Irish word we pronounce as “leprechaun,” certainly a crafty character if ever there was one.

So whatever time of year it happens to be, there’s something to celebrate.  To me, the passage of the seasons is a reassuring reminder that whatever Fate or Mother Nature brings, life goes on.  And if we don’t like the current season, another one will arrive soon enough.

April Book News

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LESLIE BUDEWITZ: Seriously, Spring, we are sooo happy to see you! On the other hand, a long cold winter meant plenty of time to read and write, right? And I have news!chai another day (cover without quote)

CHAI ANOTHER DAY, my 4th Spice Shop mystery, will be out in June from Seventh St. Books. When Seattle Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece overhears an argument in an antique shop, she finds herself drawn into a murder that could implicate an old enemy, or ensnare a new friend. Don’t you just love the dog on the cover? Read an excerpt and find out where to find it on my website.

And I’m delighted that my first historical short story, “All God’s Sparrows,” is nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story. Awards will be given at the Malice Domestic convention, celebrating the traditional mystery, in early May. You can read it on my website, too.

By May, spring should be truly sprung in these parts. I hope you’re feeling a spring in your step, wherever you are!

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Author Mary F. Ehrler

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When the World Grows Cold, Book 4 in her YA series The Peaks Saga will be released April 25th. Its available for preorder now on Amazon, B&N, First Steps Publishing, and other bookstore outlets.

Twenty-five years have passed on Earth, in both the 21st and 31st Centuries.  Two women, Ginna and Martina, who were once connected across the GAP, now have daughters of their own, but Annemarie and Celestia have taken very different paths.  MOCK-Book-Cover-4-revisionSoon, however, all four will be taken into another GAP with many unanswered questions–including who is Annemarie’s mysterious father, why has the System returned to Earth, and why has the world suddenly gone cold? Now it’s time for the next generation to seek their own answers to the questions that have plagued their elders.