Monthly Archives: May 2010


Sacrificing the Goat

No comments yet

Categories: Research, Tags: , , , , , ,

Ann Aguirre, at Writer’s Unboxed, wrote last week:  “People will tell you to do this or that to make it in this business. Sacrifice a goat. Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me. Never write at 3 a.m. Stop killing your main characters. (Okay, maybe that one’s good advice.) The truth of the matter is: there is no one truth path to publication. There are no magic beans. Nobody has a secret formula for success, and nobody’s writing process is cast in gold. For most people it takes trial and error to determine what will work best.”

I’m still stuck on the goat part, so was looking up to whom I could sacrifice a goat, were I to go that route.  First off, is the Hindu goddess Saraswati.  She is the consort of Lord Brahma and possesses the powers of speech, wisdom and learning.  “She has four hands representing four aspects of human personality in learning; mind, intellect, alertness and ego.”  That sounds about right (write:)

Next up is the Greek god Momus:  “the god of satire, mockery, censure, writers, poets; a spirit of evil-spirited blame and unfair criticism.”  Ha.

There was a Celtic god of writers–Ogma–who was the god of eloquence. “Ogma is a god who weaves language, a patron of the filidh (Gaelic poets-seers).”

The one that sounds best, however, is the St. Francis de Sales, the patron Saint of Writers, not only because he himself wrote, but because of the manner in which he did it.  The following web page is worth quoting in its entirety:

“The custom of having a patron saint for a particular occupation is nowadays viewed primarily as a Catholic tradition, but the idea actually predates Christianity.  Before there were saints there were gods and goddesses, and no occupation lacked an appropriate deity to whom one might address one’s prayers.  As an illustration of how far this went, it is documented in ancient sources that Aradia, the daughter of Diana, was the patron goddess of thieves and prostitutes.

Moving from robbers and hookers to writers and saints – a huge leap, one hopes – we come to St. Francis de Sales, the official patron saint of authors and journalists.  Why him?  According to Catholic Online, “He is patron saint of journalists because of the tracts and books he wrote.”  De Sales was quite the writer, but we think there are other reasons as well that particularly qualify him for the job.

Take, for example, his view toward his writing schedule: “”I have more than fifty letters to answer. If I tried to hurry over it all, I would be lost. So I intend neither to hurry nor to worry. This evening, I shall answer as many as I can.  Tomorrow I shall do the same and so I shall go on until I have finished.”  Sound familiar?

But there’s more.  De Sales knew how to deal with rejection; really knew.  Francis spent three years trudging through the countryside with his cousin, determined to convert Calvinists back to Catholicism.  He slept in haylofts when available, elsewhere when not, and on one memorable occasion tied himself to a branch in a tree so that he would not: a) be killed by wolves, and; b) fall out of the tree.  He was so frozen the next morning that he had to be cut down from the tree.  At the end of three years, he’d made zero converts and his cousin deserted him.  So he kept on.  One hardly thinks him a man who would be deterred by the occasional rejection slip.

And then, of course, there’s the self-publishing and promotional aspect.  Since no one would listen to Francis, he wrote sermons, copied them by hand, and then slipped them under people’s doors.  By the time Francis headed back home, he’d made 40,000 converts by this method.  A writer’s writer, if you will.  And certainly, for writers, a sympathetic saint.”

Finally, there’s St. Jude, the patron saint of fools and hopeless causes.  Oh dear, maybe it really should be to him :)


Offa’s Dyke

Categories: Research, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

In 780 AD, King Offa of Mercia was at the height of his authority.  Prior to his rule, in 750 AD, King Eliseg (immortalized by Eliseg’s Pillar near Llangollen) had swept the Saxons out of the plains of Powys.  Offa, in turn, attacked Powys in 778 and 784, and tradition states that he built the dyke, sometime (or throughout) his reign.  Prior to this, Aelthelbald, King of Mercia, had built ‘Wat’s Dyke’, which extends from the Severn Valley northwards towards the estuary of the Dee (A History of Wales, John Davies p. 62).

There is a quote from George Borrow, from Wild Wales, that “it was customary for the English to cut off the ears of every Welshman who was found to the east of the dyke, and for the Welsh to hang every Englishman whom they found to the west of it”.  This is potentially apocryphal, but indicates the significance of this man-made border between the two countries.

One of the biggest mysteries about Offa’s Dyke, in addition to when it was built, is why?  It was a huge undertaking to construct the earthwork, 150 miles in length, up to 65 feet wide and 8 feet high in places, along the entire length of the border between what is now England and Wales.  It clearly wasn’t made to keep the Welsh out of England, or to protect the Saxons in Mercia–since it was never defended.  Both English and Welsh kingdoms appeared to have a hand in determining where to build it, since it runs to the east of Wat’s Dyke when they are parallel, and in Gwent in particular, leaves lowlands to Wales to the east of natural features it might normally have followed.  It was dug, however, “with the displaced soil piled into a bank on the Mercian (eastern) side. Where the earthwork encounters hills, it goes to the west of them, constantly providing an open view from Mercia into Wales.”’s_Dyke  The prevailing opinion to date was that Offa built it as a sign of authority and power–as a means of saying, to a certain extent, ‘after this wall, here be dragons.’

I, personally, like the theory that Offa’s Dyke is a Roman construction:

The Roman historian Eutropius in his book, Historiae Romanae Breviarium, written around 369, mentions the Wall of Severus, a structure built by Septimius Severus who was Roman Emperor between 193 and 211:

Novissimum bellum in Britannia habuit, utque receptas provincias omni securitate muniret, vallum per CXXXIII passuum milia a mari ad mare deduxit. Decessit Eboraci admodum senex, imperii anno sexto decimo, mense tertio. Historiae Romanae Breviarium, viii 19.1

He had his most recent war in Britain, and to fortify the conquered provinces with all security, he built a wall for 133 miles from sea to sea. He died at York, a reasonably old man, in the sixteenth year and third month of his reign.

However, this site, explains why this is unlikely. “The evident dislocation of Offa’s Dyke from the currently recognised pattern of early 3rd century military sites in the Welsh borders. This includes the legionary fortresses at Chester in the north and Caerleon in the south, other forts such as those at Leintwardine, Caersws and Forden Gaer, and a road system of which some elements are still in use today as parts of the modern, A5, A39 and A41 routes. The alignment of Offa’s Dyke shows no tangible geographical association or functional integration with this network. Indeed, it is in any case very hard to see what possible purpose such an undertaking could have served in Roman occupied western Britain, especially when the surviving Dyke is actually not a 130 mile complete frontier but is only spread discontinuously over that approximate length with extensive unexplained gaps (80 miles of earthwork are known).”

Furthermore, Ian Bapty, Offa’s Dyke Archaeological Management Officer with CPAT states:  “the attribution of the Dyke to Offa by Asser in his late 9th century ‘Life of Alfred’, echoed by the tradition of the ‘Offa’s Dyke’ name itself which can be documented back as far as the 13th century, has been accepted as correct by Anglo-Saxon scholars. ‘Offa’s Dyke is an extraordinary survival from our Anglo-Saxon past’ says Ian Bapty ‘and extraordinary exactly because it is Anglo-Saxon and as such sheds crucial light on a key period of our history when the modern political geography of Britain was beginning to appear. While we can perhaps associate descriptions of the ‘missing’ wall of Severus with somewhat confused and secondarily derived later accounts of Hadrian’s Wall – which was much rebuilt in the time of Severus – we surely cannot backdate Offa’s Dyke to Roman times, and to do so would be to miss the real significance and historical impact of this amazing earthwork’.

‘Ultimately I’d be ready to wager my granny on the fact that Offa’s Dyke is Anglo-Saxon and not Roman!’ says Ian ‘although I’d also have to be say that I’d be keeping granny firmly out of the stakes when it comes to betting on most other aspects of our understanding of the Dyke, including key issues such as exactly why it was built, how it was built, and what it’s original appearance and total extent was. I think it is the process of trying to answer these questions which may throw up some real and lasting revelations concerning not just Offa’s Dyke itself, but the very origins of Welsh and English culture and society’.”


Happy Mother’s Day!

No comments yet

Categories: Research, Tags: , , , , , , ,

Growing up, my family scoffed at ‘Mother’s Day’ as a Hallmark Holiday, but I’m here to tell you that its roots go all the way back to ancient times. Mother’s Day was not designed to honor mothers, per se, but part of the worship of goddesses within the pagan world. In Ancient Greece, Cybele, or the ‘great mother’ was honored as the mother of “most of the major deities including Zeus . . . [she was] the mother goddess, and the festival took place around the time of the Vernal Equinox.”

Later, the Christian Church adopted the holiday (Romans worshipped the goddess, Hilaria, and the Egyptians, Isis) as the day to celebrate the “Mother Church”. In the Celtic church, people honored first the pagan goddess, Brigid and then ‘St Brigid’, with the first milk of the ewes.

Furthermore, “in the 1600’s a clerical decree in England broadened the celebration to include real Mothers, earning the name Mothering Day. Mothering Day became an especially compassionate holiday toward the working classes of England. During this Lenten Sunday, servants and trade workers were allowed to travel back to their towns of origin to visit their families. Mothering Day also provided a one-day reprieve from the fasting and penance of Lent so that families across England could enjoy a sumptuous family feast—Mother was the guest of honor. Mothers were presented with cakes and flowers, as well as a visit from their beloved and distant children.”

“Mother’s Day” as a holiday was abandoned by settlers to America, and not revived until 1858, when Ann Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s work clubs in West Virginia to improve sanitary conditions and the infant/mother mortality rate.  Of Jarvis’ 13 children, only 4 lived to adulthood.

In 1870, Julia Howe, after living through the devastation of the Civil War penned a fitting sequel to the Battle Hymn of the Republic–this poem was as a protest against war:


Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interest of peace.



After a varied campaigning effort, much on the part of Ann Jarvis’ daughter, named Anna Jarvis, Mother’s Day was inaugurated on May 8, 1914.  The U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day and requesting a proclamation. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation, declaring the first national Mother’s Day, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.’s_Day_(U.S.)