Living in Season
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My Season: Computer Vacation
I cannot tell you how many times I said, "Let's look that up . . ." and then realized that I didn't have access to Google. But it did throw me back on my own wonderful reference collection and I was able to complete a New York Times acrostic without recourse to Google, a feat I've been attempting for some time!
I was also at a loss as to how to schedule meetings with my friends and had to resort to that old-fashioned device, the telephone (mind you, I don't have a cell phone yet? don't know why just stubborn I guess). And when I got home from my day job (where I did sneak in a quick peek at the 300 messages piling up in my inbox and my list of library books due), I couldn't work since all the work I do at home I do on the computer.
Instead I lounged around looking through old file folders, working on the back story of my novel and reading. I couldn't watch TV since I gave that up for Lent but I did watch a few good movies. I found that time really slowed down and my life took on a leisurely pace. By the end of the week, I was noticing things I usually miss: the shadow the branch of the cherry tree cast on the sidewalk, the litter of pink cast-off camellia petals on a driveway. It truly made me wonder how much living at the rapid pace made possible by technology prevents me from being here now.
Not that I want to give up my computer. In fact, I'm determined to expand my command of this marvelous tool. I'm thinking about a blog, something I've been resisting because it seems so trendy (but then I was wrong about jeans). And I'm really excited about launching a zine as a way to feature articles, art and photos from readers. The piece in this issue from Diane Saarinen and her accompanying photos move in that direction.
But I am also aware of my desire to take a break from this technology as well. I'm not sure how often perhaps every weekend, perhaps one week a year. But I need a summer vacation from technology, a time to just engage with the world at its own pace.
Living in Season: Scandinavian Easter Witches
A Guest Article written by Diane Saarinen
I began to immerse myself into Finnish culture after the deaths of my parents who both came from this tiny Nordic country as a way of keeping the language and heritage alive for me. About four years ago, I was reading a new issue of one of the Finnish newspapers when I turned the page and found a picture of children dressed as witches. The girls had donned long skirts, shawls and aprons. They wore kerchiefs, and their cheeks were brightly rouged and covered with a liberal sprinkle of freckles, perhaps applied from their mothers eyebrow pencils. The boys were dressed as little tramps with black soot on their faces.
But it was not Halloween. In fact, it was Easter that was fast approaching. The article that accompanied the picture described the Scandinavian concept of Easter witches. This tradition is enacted mostly in Sweden and Finland. Much like the American Halloween, costumed kids go door to door, begging for treats, which are placed in the copper kettles they carry. This usually takes place on the Saturday before Easter, Easter Eve, but in some regions of Sweden it takes place on Maundy Thursday or Pink Thursday (skärtordagen).
I just fell in love with this tradition. Having been in Finland last when I was nine, I turned to cyberspace to research this phenomenon. A quick search of eBay turned up a series of delightful postcards of Easter witches, some quite old. They showed glamorous young witches throwing daffodils (a traditional Easter flower) off broomsticks, and crusty old hags flying off to who-knows-where (in my research, I would soon find out). I was a sucker for these fabulous vintage postcards. Let the bidding begin!
I began to do other research as well. I located sources on the internet, pored through the books I already had regarding Nordic countries, and seeing that the library didn't have much on Finnish culture, bought books that I felt had more information on this custom. I found out the following:
The tradition of children dressing as Easter hags dates back to the early 1800s in both Sweden and Finland. But the association between Easter and witches began much earlier. In a Swedish church in Uppland, there is a painting from 1480 portraying three Easter witches holding out their drinking horns to be filled by the Devil with a magic potion. It was believed that on Maundy Thursday, witches (häxor) flew off for a rendezvous with the Devil himself. They feasted and danced to the singing of magpies, flying back just in time for church services on Sunday morning, where they might accidentally reveal their identities by saying their prayers backwards.
It was also believed that on the way back from the Brocken, the mountain that served as their destination, the Easter witches sometimes got caught in chimneys. In order to deter them, people fumigated their chimneys by burning nine types of deciduous trees. These fires were kept burning Maundy Thursday to Easter morning. People also painted crosses on the doors, and even on the noses of their livestock. They did not leave brooms or rakes standing outside, lest a witch use them to fly.
In Finland, it was felt that the sinister witches, called Rullit, flew on Good Friday night. They flew not only on brooms, but on cows and pigs as well. For this reason, animals were securely locked up during this time. Maundy Thursday was called Kiiras to the Finns. On that date, it was also possible to foretell the future by taking a sauna in silence and listening for the Kiiri witches. If music was heard, this predicted a wedding but cowbells ringing meant danger for the cattle.
Bonfires were also lit on Easter Eve in both Sweden and Finland, in an effort to scare away the evil that was assumed to be afoot. However, much as in American history, the superstitions regarding witchcraft gave way to a more benign image of witches. In Sweden now, a young girl who dresses up as a hag is called päskkarring or Easter little lady. In Finland, since about the 1980s, daycare centers and schools have revived this tradition of the children dressing in Easter witch costumes for this holiday.
My favorite part of the research I undertook to better understand this custom was stumbling upon this magical fact: In the days before Easter, children make Easter switches from pussy willows, a favorite holiday decoration. On Palm Sunday, a chosen person would be greeted with the virpomavihta the pussy window branch and lightly touched with it. As this was being done, the child would say:
The following week, the young Easter hag would collect a treat in the copper coffee pot. Then off to the next home!
What I'm Reading: Why Birds Sing
An exuberant and charming book in which a philosophy professor and jazz clarinetist, investigates possible answers to the question why birds sing. The book begins with Rothenberg playing clarinet with a laughing thrush at the National Aviary in Pittsburg and ends with him playing clarinet with George, a thirty-year old wild lyrebird living in the Australian forest. In between, it?s a wild and glorious ride as Rothenberg talks with scientists who listen to birds, capture their songs, and dissect their brains to learn how they learn; he also quotes poetry, reels in mythology and describes musical compositions based on bird song. In the end he suggests that birds sing for the same reasons we sing because they enjoy the way it sounds, because they, like us, appreciate beauty.
This is one of those rare books that will completely change the way you experience the world. Now whenever I walk outside I have a heightened awareness of the songs all around me.
Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time
Every week for 52 weeks you will receive a brief email with a reflection on the qualities of the present time period and one suggestion, task or question that you can savor throughout the week.
Start whenever you like. When you order the Calendar Companion, you will receive the next week's calendar companion, along with an introductory email.
Round Two: If you've already been receiving the Calendar Companion, please note that I will be writing new material as well as repeating some of your favorites from last year.
$20 for a year's worth of gentle reminders to help you stay aligned with natural rhythms. To order or to see a sample reflection, click here.
Holiday Packet: May Day
The print version is $14; please allow 10 days for delivery. An email version is also available for $9. It will be sent to you as an attached Word file within 24 hours. Order in our Store.
Holiday Packet: Easter/Eostre
I've reproduced the pages on the sacred meaning of dyed eggs, and on my Ukrainian egg decorating ritual from the Eostre packet as free samples on the website. You can download them here.
Signs of Spring
Meanwhile in Ann Arbor, Christine first noticed that spring had arrived on 3/16 when the heel of her shoe sunk into the earth. That was when she realized the earth was no longer frozen. She also writes:
Mary writing on 4/4 from Northern California creates a vivid picture of the calla lilies blooming everywhere in her neighborhood:
Send me your news of spring and I will post it on my web site under Signs of the Season.