Tag Archives: winter

Hellboy: Krampusnacht

Tis the season: lights, decorations, Yule logs, nativity scenes, mistletoe, holiday cheer, and of course, Krampus.

One of the things that I love about the Hellboy series is the way that the creative team incorporates myths, legends, and the occult. Myths are such powerful forms of storytelling and they convey profound wisdom and insight into the human condition that they are able to be re-imagined with each new generation. And that is exactly what this issue does—it presents the story of Krampus in a way that resonates with the average American reader.

You’re going to have to bear with me. I’m an American. Over there we’ve got Santa Claus and the elves with toys. Over here… you’ve got Saint Nicholas and his monster sidekick, the Krampus. While Nick’s handing out toys, Krampus–that’s you–hits the bad kids with sticks and rides them around in a basket.

Toward the end of the tale, Hellboy and the professor discuss the possible origins of the Krampus legend.

Professor: Well, I wonder what old Harry Middleton will make of this. I’ll have to call him in the morning… For years he’s maintained that the Krampus was actually the demon goat of the witches’ sabbath, done up in fancy dress for the holidays. And I’ve argued that it was just a slightly nastier variation on the Scandinavian Yule Goat.

Hellboy: “Yule Goat.”

Professor: Yule Goat. Joulupukki. The pre-Christian goat-man version of Father Christmas.

I had never heard of Joulupukki before, but a quick search online provided me with some background on the myth.

Joulupukki is a Finnish Christmas figure. The name “Joulupukki” literally means “Christmas goat” or “Yule Goat” in Finnish; the word pukki comes from the Teutonic root bock, which is a cognate of the English “buck”, and means “billy-goat”. An old Scandinavian custom, the figure eventually became more or less conflated with Santa Claus.

Pagans used to have festivities to honour the return of the sun and some believe Joulupukki is the earliest form of present-day Santa. The Yule Goat was thought by some to be an ugly creature and frightened children while others believe it was an invisible creature that helped prepare for Yule.

Most theorists believe when Christianity began incorporating Pagan ways into their festivals in order to justify the action, they merged the Pagan figure with an already existing Catholic legend known as Saint Nicholas to create Santa Claus.

(Source: Wikipedia)

While the holiday season is a time of celebration throughout cultures and traditions, there is also a touch of the mystical associated with it, and this is often conveyed through ghost stories related to the season.

There must always be ghost stories at Christmas, Elizabeth.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you have a blessed holiday season and a joyous New Year.

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Hellboy: Winter Special 2017

hellboywinterspecial2017

I enjoy the Hellboy Winter Specials because they contain several short vignettes that are usually very good, and this year’s is no exception. It is comprised of three short tales: “The Great Blizzard,” “God Rest Ye Merry,” and “The Last Witch of Fairfield.” While the last two were good and worth reading, it was the first one, “The Great Blizzard,” that interested me the most.

The premise of the story is that there is an unusually heavy and prolonged snow in England during the late 19th century, and Sir Edward Grey and Sarah Jewell are investigating whether the cause is supernatural. While walking through the bleak whiteness, Edward tells Sarah about similar occurrences that were supernatural in origin.

“In the north there are legends of Cailleach Bheur, the Queen of Winter who rules from Samhain to Bealtaine and summons the storms and snows at will. And there was Saint Bega in the middle ages, to whom a great lord offered as much land as was covered by snow the following morning for her priory. It being midsummer the promise would have been an empty one, had Bega not miraculously caused a snowstorm to fall that night.”

One of the things I love about Hellboy is that the writers draw on actual myths and legends as inspiration for the stories. I was unfamiliar with the references, but did a little research and easily discovered the details of the myths.

Legend of Cailleach Bheur

The Cailleach displays several traits befitting the personification of winter: she herds deer, she fights spring, and her staff freezes the ground.

In partnership with the goddess Brìghde, the Cailleach is seen as a seasonal deity or spirit, ruling the winter months between Samhainn (1 November or first day of winter) and Bealltainn (1 May or first day of summer), while Brìghde rules the summer months between Bealltainn and Samhainn. Some interpretations have the Cailleach and Brìghde as two faces of the same goddess,[16] while others describe the Cailleach as turning to stone on Bealltainn and reverting to humanoid form on Samhainn in time to rule over the winter months.

Source: Wikipedia

Legend of Saint Bega

Bega is associated in legend with a number of miracles, the most famous being the “Snow miracle”, which is described in the Life of St Bega thus:

“Ranulf le Meschin (sic) had endowed the monastery with its lands, but a lawsuit later developed about their extent. The monks feared a miscarriage of justice. The day appointed for a perambulation of the boundaries arrived – and, lo and behold, there was a thick snowfall on all the surrounding lands but not a flake upon the lands of the priory.”

Source: Wikipedia

In addition to the quality writing and the references to mythology, the artwork is top notch, making this a graphic novel definitely worth picking up and reading.

Thanks for stopping by, and have an inspired day.

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“A Winter Eden” by Robert Frost

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the year’s high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.

This poem is about the place of winter in the cycle of the seasons, and how winter symbolizes the point in the cycle of life that marks the transition to rebirth.

We generally imagine Eden as a lush green paradise; but here, Frost presents us with a version of Eden that is stark white, lacking in rich verdure. But as one looks closer, the seeds of life become apparent. Images of buds and berries abound, all symbols of rebirth.

I had to look up what conies are, and learned that they are rabbits. This immediately reinforced the rebirth imagery for me, since rabbits are often used as symbols for birth and fertility, and associated with spring.

I suppose it is no coincidence that I read this poem after listening to a guided meditation about rebirth today. As we are now officially in winter and moving toward the end of a challenging year, I look forward to a symbolic rebirth in the spring. In the meantime, I will nurture the seeds of light and enjoy the beauty of winter.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you have a blessed holiday season.

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Poem #7: “The feet of people walking home” by Emily Dickinson

Sunrise

The feet of people walking home
With gayer sandals go—
The Crocus— til she rises
The Vassal of the snow—
The lips at Hallelujah
Long years of practise bore
Til bye and bye these Bargemen
Walked singing on the shore.

Pearls are the Diver’s farthings
Extorted from the Sea—
Pinions— the Seraph’s wagon
Pedestrian once— as we—
Night is the morning’s Canvas
Larceny— legacy—
Death, but our rapt attention
To Immortality.

My figures fail to tell me
How far the Village lies—
Whose peasants are the Angels—
Whose Cantons dot the skies—
My Classics veil their faces—
My faith that Dark adores—
Which from its solemn abbeys
Such resurrection pours.

One of the benefits of being a book nerd with a child in college is that I get to acquire used books from completed courses. This is the case with a collection of Emily Dickinson poems. I was happy when my daughter gave me this book, since reading more Dickinson was something I wanted to do. The book does not include everything that she wrote, but it is a good collection of selected poems, so I figured I’d start with the first one in the book.

I really love the metaphors in this poem, which for me deals with rebirth and resurrection. “The feet of people walking home” conjures an image of souls slowly making the pilgrimage back to the divine source. Dickinson immediately follows that image with a reference to the Crocus. I have crocuses around my house, so I get this symbol. They are the first flowers to bloom after the cold death of winter. I have taken pictures of these vibrant yellow and purple flowers as they burst through the hardened earth. For me, they are the harbingers of spring, the promise of rebirth. Every year, when I see the crocuses bloom in my yard, I know that spring is near.

In the second stanza, there is a reference to a diver collecting pearls from the sea. For me, this is probably the most complex of the metaphors in this poem, because it can mean multiple things. The pearls could symbolize spiritual insights collected during one’s lifetime, which become useful in the transitional period after death. They can also be deeds of kindness. Since the sea is a common metaphor for the subconscious mind, then the pearls could be those gems of ineffable wisdom acquired during states of heightened awareness. Finally, the pearls could be poems, collected from the sea of life’s experiences and suffering.

As I look out my window and see dawn coloring the sky outside, the line “Night is the morning’s Canvas” deeply resonates. As soon as I read this line, I could visualize streaks of pastel color forming on the dark background of the sky. Dawn is such a powerful symbol of rebirth, and one that occurs every day. It is our daily reminder that life begins anew each time we arise. As we get caught up in our lives, it’s easy to forget that each day is essentially a small resurrection, an opportunity to start a new life.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts, and I hope you have a blessed day!

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“Sonnet 13: O! that you were yourself; but, love, you are” by William Shakespeare

Pavel Korin

Pavel Korin

O! that you were yourself; but, love, you are
No longer yours, than you yourself here live:
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give:
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination; then you were
Yourself again, after yourself’s decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold,
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O! none but unthrifts. Dear my love, you know,
You had a father: let your son say so.

This is another of the first 17 sonnets that deal with the theme of procreation and address the fair youth. What strikes me as different in this one are the declarations of love in the first and thirteenth lines. I do not get the sense that this is anything sexual, but more of a paternal love. I suspect that the speaker sees himself as a father figure to the youth he is advising. In fact, in the final line where he tells the youth “You had a father: let your son say so,” I get the impression he is referring to himself as the father. Also, the fact that the speaker refers to the youth’s father in past tense implies that the actual father is deceased, supporting the idea that the speaker envisions himself as a surrogate father.

Shakespeare employs some of the metaphors we have seen in the previous sonnets on procreation: the transfer of beauty to your children, winter as a symbol for old age and death, and the continuation of one’s lineage as represented by the house symbol.

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“Christmas Trees (A Christmas Circular Letter)” by Robert Frost

Our holiday tree - 2014

Our holiday tree – 2014

Although this is a somewhat lengthy poem, I feel it is worth including here.

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

As I read this, I couldn’t help feeling so very grateful that I live in a place where I can purchase a single tree from a local farmer who grew it himself. I had to order and pay for the tree in advance, then pick a date when I would meet the farmer. When the day came to pick up the tree, the farmer told me it had been cut that morning. The smell of the fresh pine filled the inside of my station wagon and brought back memories of Christmases as a child.

This poem made me feel a little sad for the people who live in congested places and are out of touch with nature and her cycles. I thought about the exploitation of rural folk and the consumerism that has come to define our society, a consumerism that culminates at this time of the year. And again, I felt grateful and fortunate that I live in a place where I can buy locally grown food directly from a farmer, where I can purchase handmade items from artisans who are my neighbors. I don’t mind spending a little extra for these things. For me, it’s worth it.

The last image that haunted me from this poem was the farmer’s vision of his hills stripped bare for the sake of a pittance. For me, this time of the year symbolizes the promise of rebirth, of light overcoming the dominant darkness. The evergreen tree is a living symbol of this rebirth, surviving through the dark, cold winter, promising the green growth of spring. I suspect that Frost also considered this when he included the subtitle, “A Christmas Circular Letter.” The Christmas Tree symbolizes the circle of life that is renewed after the winter months. The lights represent the warmth and sunlight that will coax the plants from the soil. The round ornaments symbolize the circle of the year and the seasons, as well as the fruits which will reappear in the warmer months.

May you and yours have a blessed holiday and New Year!

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“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas

ChildsChristmasWales

I was reminded today about why I hate to get rid of books. I was scanning my shelves, looking for something appropriate to read for the holidays, and spotted my old copy of Quite Early One Morning by Dylan Thomas. It had been probably 30 years since I opened this book, but it called to me. As soon as I looked at the table of contents and saw that it contained “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” I knew I had been guided to this book.

Let me start by saying that I loved this piece. It is a prose poem that has the feel and lyrical cadence of some of the most beautiful lyric poetry I have ever read. Reading this stirred memories of holidays when I was a kid, complete with the wonder and imagination and adventure that was such a big part of growing up in the north east.

While I would love to include the entire text in this post, I will limit myself to three passages that I feel capture the essence of this tale. I hope it will inspire you to read the entire piece because it is amazing. In fact, here is a link to an online version if you feel so inclined.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales

The first section I’d like to share is a great example of childhood imagination. It brought back memories of how, as a kid, we stalked the woods with sling-shots hunting small animals, which we never caught, but it was the adventure, fueled by our active imaginations, which made it such a formative experience.

It was on the afternoon of the day of Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero’s garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared. We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows—eternal, ever since Wednesday—that we never heard Mrs. Prothero’s first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbour’s polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder.

The use of alliteration adds to the music of the writing, and Thomas uses this technique throughout the piece. This next passage—which is a long, single sentence—focuses on his romanticized memories of past Christmases and is another great example of the use alliteration and punctuation to instill a poetic feel into the prose.

Years and years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.

The last section that I want to share is a paragraph near the end where Thomas recounts the telling of stories beside the fire. In an age of digital media and endless streaming entertainment, this is rapidly becoming a lost art, like hand-written letters on artistic stationery arriving in the mailbox. He also recalls going out caroling, something I too did as a kid, and the thrill of going up to a dark, mysterious house, of which there was always at least one in each neighborhood.

Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts whooed like owls in the long nights when I dared not look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the stairs where the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing carols once, when there wasn’t the shaving of a moon to light the flying street. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house.

Reading this story kindled warm memories of my childhood. Ever the romantic, I often look back at the past and reminisce about the carefree and adventurous days of my youth. Not that I would ever want to give up the life I have today, but I am grateful that I have those memories.

Have a blessed holiday and New Year!

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