“Sun Worship. The Sources of Hallowe’en”

“Sun Worship. The Sources of Hallowe’en” is the first chapter of Ruth Edna Kelley’s The Book of Hallowe’en (1919)

If we could ask one of the old-world pagans whom he revered as his greatest gods, he would be sure to name among them the sun-god; calling him Apollo if he were a Greek; if an Egyptian, Horus or Osiris; if of Norway, Sol; if of Peru, Bochica. As the sun is the center of the physical universe, so all primitive peoples made it the hub about which their religion revolved, nearly always believing it a living person to whom they could say prayers and offer sacrifices, who directed their lives and destinies, and could even snatch men from earthly existence to dwell for a time with him, as it draws the water from lakes and seas.

In believing this they followed an instinct of all early peoples, a desire to make persons of the great powers of nature, such as the world of growing things, mountains and water, the sun, moon, and stars; and a wish for these gods they had made to take an interest in and be part of their daily life. The next step was making stories about them to account for what was seen; so arose myths and legends.

The sun has always marked out work-time and rest, divided the year into winter idleness, seed-time, growth, and harvest; it has always been responsible for all the beauty and goodness of the earth; it is itself splendid to look upon. It goes away and stays longer and longer, leaving the land in cold and gloom; it returns bringing the long fair days and resurrection of spring. A Japanese legend tells how the hidden sun was lured out by an image made of a copper plate with saplings radiating from it like sunbeams, and a fire kindled, dancing, and prayers; and round the earth in North America the Cherokees believed they brought the sun back upon its northward path by the same means of rousing its curiosity, so that it would come out to see its counterpart and find out what was going on.

All the more important church festivals are survivals of old rites to the sun. “How many times the Church has decanted the new wine of Christianity into the old bottles of heathendom.” Yule-tide, the pagan Christmas, celebrated the sun’s turning north, and the old midsummer holiday is still kept in Ireland and on the Continent as St. John’s Day by the lighting of bonfires and a dance about them from east to west as the sun appears to move. The pagan Hallowe’en at the end of summer was a time of grief for the decline of the sun’s glory, as well as a harvest festival of thanksgiving to him for having ripened the grain and fruit, as we formerly had husking-bees when the ears had been garnered, and now keep our own Thanksgiving by eating of our winter store in praise of God who gives us our increase.

Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit, lends us the harvest element of Hallowe’en; the Celtic day of “summer’s end” was a time when spirits, mostly evil, were abroad; the gods whom Christ dethroned joined the ill-omened throng; the Church festivals of All Saints’ and All Souls’ coming at the same time of year—the first of November—contributed the idea of the return of the dead; and the Teutonic May Eve assemblage of witches brought its hags and their attendant beasts to help celebrate the night of October 31st.

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Colombine — Francine van Hove

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Lispector/Jobim

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Clarice Lispector interviewed Antônio Carlos Jobim in 1968. Lovely, even through the strange wonderful estranging filter of Google translate.

Halloween Is Grinch Night (Dr. Seuss)

Doré’s Ghost of Banquo (Ghost Riff 1)

It’s the disconcerting incompleteness of Gustave Doré’s The Spectrum Appearance of Banquo at Macbeth’s Feast that, paradoxically, creates the full, troubling effect of the picture.

“Enter Ghost of Banquo, and sits in Macbeth’s place” (Act 3, Sc. 4)—thus the stage directions from Shakespeare (or the actors who wrote down his words from memory)—and thus Banquo, draped, robed, sullen, taciturn, a marble effigy—but no, lifelike—no?

The Macbeths, shocked—Doré stages Lady M as a shadowy echo/support for Lord M—teeter aslant, Lord M’s left hand braced on the chairback that divides the painting—their faces, the Macbeths’ faces, wholly enshadowed (not wholly; Lady M’s nose peeks out in white silhouette); Lord M’s whole head a gravid mass of dark crowned with an incomplete crown, a broken circle.

Banquo’s eyes: Chilly, stern, accusatory, sad. And over them, thy gory locks. Do they shake at Lord Macbeth?

In The Life and Reminiscences of Gustave Doré, Blanche Roosevelt claims to have “seen no less than six sketches of Macbeth at the banquet, when confronted by Banquo’s ghost.” The biographer continues: “Doré was so original that it was almost impossible for him to repeat himself, even designedly.”

There seems here a condensation of repetitions. Doré’s control is to let loose control: Banquo’s robes are mummy wrappings unraveling: unraveling Lord Macbeth’s consciousness, even, I suppose. Squiggles, pulses, suggesting phantom movement, energy without depth. They unwind from his firm, marble visage—the look, the gory locks that shake, the chin that nods.

Cousin Ross has called out Banquo for his absence, which “lays blame upon his promise,” and of course this is Shakespeare’s big trick, the trick that Doré captures so well here—that Banquo is the most startlingly present absence, the most impossible absence, the absence that proves the radical uncertainty of presence, the present absence that haunts Macbeth, that silently affirms future ghostliness, attesting mutely that “charnel-houses and our graves must send Those that we bury back,” that “our monuments Shall be the maws of kites.”

Postlude (Book Acquired, 10.17.2014)

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I love it when parcels from Athens-based publisher Pilotless Press show up. The new one is Postlude by Haldon Lockly.

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The blurb from Pilotless:

This is a story of the eye, or what the eye sees when it finally opens, though the story pretends to be a story about death (which is actually the case with every story ever written). To add to the confusion, this is also a story about death and about what comes after, although it pretends to be a story about the eye, or what it sees when it finally opens (which is actually the case with most of the stories ever written). If we must be exact, this is the story of a missed paycheck and what comes after, or the story of a man who doesn’t want to die, although he is already dead, or at any rate the story of a man whose eyes are closed and what it takes to open them.

First paragraph:

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“A Ghost” — Guy de Maupassant

“A Ghost”

by Guy de Maupassant

Trans. by M. Charles Sommer.

We were speaking of sequestration, alluding to a recent lawsuit. It was at the close of a friendly evening in a very old mansion in the Rue de Grenelle, and each of the guests had a story to tell, which he assured us was true.

Then the old Marquis de la Tour-Samuel, eighty-two years of age, rose and came forward to lean on the mantelpiece. He told the following story in his slightly quavering voice.

“I, also, have witnessed a strange thing—so strange that it has been the nightmare of my life. It happened fifty-six years ago, and yet there is not a month when I do not see it again in my dreams. From that day I have borne a mark, a stamp of fear,—do you understand?

“Yes, for ten minutes I was a prey to terror, in such a way that ever since a constant dread has remained in my soul. Unexpected sounds chill me to the heart; objects which I can ill distinguish in the evening shadows make me long to flee. I am afraid at night.

“No! I would not have owned such a thing before reaching my present age. But now I may tell everything. One may fear imaginary dangers at eighty-two years old. But before actual danger I have never turned back, mesdames.

“That affair so upset my mind, filled me with such a deep, mysterious unrest that I never could tell it. I kept it in that inmost part, that corner where we conceal our sad, our shameful secrets, all the weaknesses of our life which cannot be confessed.

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A Giant Hand with Eyes — Basil Wolverton

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The Magdalen Reading — Ambrosius Benson

The Nightmare (Detail) — Henry Fuseli

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Charles Burns Narrates a Section of His Comic Big Baby

From the 1988 documentary Comic Book Confidential.

Had a surreal moment the other day while reading the Charles Burns’s collected Big Baby strips: I knew the dialogue, somehow, word for word—could actually hear it—but I couldn’t remember from where. I thought maybe Burns had, I don’t know, adapted it from an old movie or something. Anyway, a Google search later and I figured out that I knew it from Savvy Show Stoppers, an album by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. I owned the album, or, rather a taped version of the album, back in the early nineties—the song “Having an Average Weekend” was the theme for The Kids in the Hall—and the song—actually called “Big Baby”—was the last track—a CD bonus. It was actually written for the film, and that’s Charles Burns doing the vocals.

“A very fanciful person, when dead, to have his burial in a cloud” (And other ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books)

  1. When scattered clouds are resting on the bosoms of hills, it seems as if one might climb into the heavenly region, earth being so intermixed with sky, and gradually transformed into it.
  2. A stranger, dying, is buried; and after many years two strangers come in search of his grave, and open it.
  3. The strange sensation of a person who feels himself an object of deep interest, and close observation, and various construction of all his actions, by another person.
  4. Letters in the shape of figures of men, etc. At a distance, the words composed by the letters are alone distinguishable. Close at hand, the figures alone are seen, and not distinguished as letters. Thus things may have a positive, a relative, and a composite meaning, according to the point of view.
  5. “Passing along the street, all muddy with puddles, and suddenly seeing the sky reflected in these puddles in such a way as quite to conceal the foulness of the street.”
  6. A young man in search of happiness,–to be personified by a figure whom he expects to meet in a crowd, and is to be recognized by certain signs. All these signs are given by a figure in various garbs and actions, but he does not recognize that this is the sought-for person till too late.
  7. If cities were built by the sound of music, then some edifices would appear to be constructed by grave, solemn tones,–others to have danced forth to light, fantastic airs.
  8. Familiar spirits, according to Lilly, used to be worn in rings, watches, sword-hilts. Thumb-rings were set with jewels of extraordinary size.
  9. A very fanciful person, when dead, to have his burial in a cloud.

 

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

Angelo Badalamenti discusses creating the music for Twin Peaks

Young Woman Reading — Karl Müller

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