Saturday, January 1, 2011

Got Milkmaids? "12 Days" continues...

Finally, the song breaks from poultry-related gifts and moves on to servants. We can't necessarily assume that the recipient already had cows to milk, so I'm going to include cows in the gift totals beginning today.

A milk maid (or milkmaid - apparently both are acceptable), of course, was a servant (or tradesperson) that was responsible for the milking of cows, maintaining and processing the milk, and making all sorts of cheese long before one could simply walk into a grocery store and visit the Dairy aisle. They, too, have inspired artists and authors throughout history.  Here are a few examples...

The Milk Maid and her Pail
a Fable by Aesop

Patty the Milkmaid was going to market carrying her milk in a pail on her head.  As she went along, she began calculating what she would do with the money she would get for the milk.

"I'll buy some fowls from Farmer Brown," said she, "and they will lay eggs each morning, which I will sell to the parson's wife.  With the money that I get from the sale of these eggs, I'll buy myself a new dimity frock and a chip hat; and when I go to market, won't all the young men come up and speak to me! Polly Shaw will be that jealous, but I don't care.  I shall just look at her and toss my head like this."

As she spoke, she tossed her head back, the pail fell off it, and all the milk was spilt.  So she had to go home and tell her mother what had occurred.

"Ah, my child," said the mother:

Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.

The Milkmaid

Johannes Vermeer

I had no idea that the "chickens...hatch" moral had anything to do with a milkmaid.  You really do learn something new every day, if you're open to knowledge.

This doll, while finely crafted, frightens me a bit - 

She looks a bit like a Stepford Milkmaid.

And I have to tie this in somewhat with some of my own personal spirituality, so I'm happy that I can post a tidbit from the mythology of Heracles (Hercules) involving one of my Patrons, Hera.  I haven't heard of many who are called by Hera, and She is not known in myth for being overtly warm and fuzzy, but I'm completely enamored and definitely one of Her devotees.

After the birth of (another of) his illegitimate son, Heracles, the great god Zeus wanted to ensure that the baby boy nursed at the breast of the Queen of Heaven, Hera, since Her milk bestowed immortality.  Some writers say that Zeus tricked Hera into breast feeding Heracles, others write that Zeus placed the infant at Hera's breast while she was sleeping.  Either way, plucky young Heracles bit too hard on Hera's nipple, or pulled at it too strongly, so when She quickly removed the child from Her breast, the spurt of milk that issued forth created the Milky Way.


So, rounding out day eight, here's where the bounty of gifts stands:

Gift Tally - Day 8
Partridges - 8
Pear Trees - 8
Turtle Doves - 14
French Hens - 18
Colly (Black) Birds - 20
Ring-necked Pheasant - 20
Geese (Laying) - 18
Swans (Swimming) - 14
Maids (Milking) - 8
Cows - 8

I certainly hope this lucky lady (or gentleman) has a barn.

Hope your 1-1-11 is a one-derful day.  (Sorry, couldn't resist that one...oh...did it again.)

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Swan

Tundra Swan

I've been waiting eagerly for this one...Seven Swans A-Swimming.

Gift Tally - Day 7
Partridges - 7
Pear Trees - 7
Turtle Doves - 12
French Hens - 15
Colly (Black) Birds - 16
Ring-necked Pheasant - 15
Geese (Laying) - 12
Swans (Swimming) - 7

Sacred to the Greek God Apollo (and Aphrodite, as well as a few other deities from other pantheons, I'm sure), the swan has been the inspiration for artists in many genres, across thousands of years, and remains so today.  It is no wonder that the creature sacred to the God of Music and Patron of the Muses would be such a...well...muse to painters, composers, choreographers, poets, etc. 


     When Apollo entered the world, sacred swans circled the island seven times for it was the seventh day of the month. At once Zeus lavished many gifts upon his son including a golden miter, a chariot drawn by swans, and a lyre since legend has it at birth Apollo said, "Dear to me shall be the lyre and bow, and in oracles I shall reveal to men the inexorable will of Zeus." The god commanded his son to find sanctuary at Delphi. But before taking Apollo to Delphi, the swans flew him north to their own country on the edge of the ocean, which was home to the Hyperborean people, who was a supremely happy race for whom life was sweet.

I wonder if the original writers of the song knew the legend about the swans circling the island seven times, on the seventh day of the month, or if that's just a coincidence (or maybe Apollo's influence on the writer, so long ago). At any rate, it's a nice synchronicity.

Apollo and the Nine Muses, Gustave Moreau, 1856

This is one of my favorite paintings of Apollo and the Muses.  I could go on and on about Apollo, as He is one of my Patrons, but let's get back to the swan.

Without question, when someone says the word "ballet," chances are that most people (whether they know it or not) conjure an image from Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky.  Swan Lake is full of magic - an evil sorcerer's curse, a magical lake composed of a mother's tears, shapeshifting - in addition to the enchanting score and (hopefully) brilliant dancing.  With the advent of the recently released film Black Swan, this classic is once again in the forefront of pop culture; however, this ballet is usually included in the repertoires of most well-known ballet companies and is an audience favorite.

This variation is from Act III of Swan Lake, and introduces the Black Swan, Odile, to the story.  The only thing you need to know is that the Prince has fallen in love earlier in the ballet with Odette, not Odile. It gets confusing. Wikipedia explains it better than I could:

The Prince returns to the castle to attend the ball. Von Rothbart arrives in disguise with his own daughter Odile. He has made Odile identical to Odette in all respects except that she wears black rather than white. The prince mistakes her for Odette, dances with her, and proclaims to the court that he intends to make her his wife. Only a moment too late, Siegfried sees the real Odette and realizes his mistake. (The method in which Odette appears varies. In some versions she arrives at the castle, while in other versions von Rothbart shows Siegfried a magical vision of her.)

One of my favorite productions of Swan Lake was the Matthew Bourne production, which was around in the early Nineties.  It featured all-male swans, portraying the more aggressive side of swans (they can sometimes be pretty frightening and brutal to each other) as well as the powerful grace.  It was absolutely mesmerizing to see the ballet interpreted in this manner.  This occurs in Act I, when the Prince first meets the White Swan.

And with those bits of beauty, I will conclude; but not before wishing all of you a blessed, peaceful, and prosperous New Year...may it be better than the last.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What's good for the goose...

After a brief lull in my resolve, we continue with today's installment of free-associating the Twelve Days of Christmas song.  Yesterday was "five golden rings," which probably meant ringed pheasant, and that's about all I'm going to say about that.

Today we have Six Geese A Laying.  Obviously those with a dirtier mind (like me) would think that means six geese in the moment of passion, but it's pretty clear that it means six geese in the process of laying eggs.

Goose eggs, incidentally, have extremely high levels of cholesterol, as compared to chicken eggs - more that 1000 milligrams.  I would advise not including them in a 4-egg omlet anytime soon.

So, in an effort to tie this posting more in line with a magical perspective, what could we glean magically from 6 geese producing eggs?

For many of us, I'm sure the first experience we had with magic was in the form of nursery rhymes and/or fairy tales, and who better to introduce us than Mother Goose.

Old Mother Goose,
When she wanted to wander,
Would ride through the air
On a very fine gander.
Jack's mother came in,
And caught the goose soon,
And mounting its back,
Flew up to the moon.

Mother Goose bears a striking resemblance to a witch, to me.  Pointy hat, buckled shoes, red cape...makes one wonder.  Not to mention being in possession of a goose large enough to ride upon while carrying enamored infants.

In all seriousness, the characters included in the Mother Goose rhymes - Jack (in all his incarnations), Wee Willie Winkie, Humpty Dumpty, etc. - have a place in the magic(k)al Universe, don't they?  People living in shoes, eggs that talk, anthropomorphic playing cards - those are all denizens of a magic(k)al realm for sure.

The origins of the Mother Goose rhymes is another one that is surrounded with much speculation and different theories, not unlike the origin of the "12 days" song.  The Wikipedia article is here, if you are interested.

What was your childhood favorite Mother Goose rhyme?  I have to say that I had forgotten many of them, but reading through the list and many of the rhymes certainly took me back to being a little boy with my nose in a book.

Not much has changed!

Gift Tally - Day 6
Partridges - 6
Pear Trees - 6
Turtle Doves - 10
French Hens - 12
Colly (Black) Birds - 12
Ring-necked Pheasant - 10
Geese (Laying) - 6

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Is it so wrong...

...that I've lost interest in the Twelve Days of Christmas?  Today would be "Five Golden Rings" which are actually ringed pheasants, but I don't really have the inclination...

Gift Tally - Day 5

Partridges - 5
Pear Trees - 5
Turtle Doves - 8
French Hens - 9
Colly (Black) Birds - 8
Ring-necked Pheasant - 5

It's becoming rather evident that the culture in which this song originated was rather foul-centric, with regard to food.  And we have yet to get to the geese and swans!

I'm starting to rethink the fun this was going to be, and wondering if the idea that started this was a piece of bad shrimp that I had on Christmas Day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

4th Day - 4 Colly Birds...and yes, that's correct (or was.)

Now, with regard to my previous mentions of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" being an encoded-with-Christian-meaning song, I found a wonderful article on that basically debunks that theory and sets the record straight.  I suppose it's another example of a little bit of advantageous-Christian-incorporation for the masses.

If we were still subscribing to this false theory, the four "calling" birds would represent the four gospels/evangelists of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Mind you, I realize that the actual Christmastide period has real religious significance with regard to the Feasts of the different Saints, etc. especially in Eastern Christianity (link); and it is not my intent to cast any aspersions on the Christian faith (I'm a tolerant Pagan, after all).  However, it is interesting to get to the real (as far as we know it) origin of this little Christmas ditty.

And (as mentioned in the Snopes article), in the "lost in translation" category, it would seem that the four calling birds were originally "4 Colly Birds" - blackbirds.

"Colly" literally means "coal dust, soot, or grime."

Apparently, anything with feathers was fair game to be served up for dinner.  Knowing that, Sing a Song of Sixpence - the childhood rhyme containing "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie" - makes quite a bit more sense, since blackbird was evidently a delicious entree in Elizabethan England, and obviously in France as well.

I'll bet it tastes like chicken.  But I would never eat a blackbird, ever.  They are far too mysterious and magic(k)al to me.  And Odin, while not one of my patrons, would nonetheless certainly be displeased.

Incidentally, one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels, A Pocket Full of Rye, features Sing a Song of Sixpence heavily in the plot, complete with dead blackbirds.  The murder "weapon" in one instance is poison from the berries of the Yew, a tree with a great deal of magickal significance and lore attached to it.  It's one of her mysteries featuring Miss Marple, and I highly recommend it; it's a good, fast read.

Gift Tally - Day 4
Partridges - 4
Pear Trees - 4
Turtle Doves - 6
French Hens - 6
Colly (Black) Birds - 4

Monday, December 27, 2010

3rd Day - Trois Poules Fran├žais

I don't know about you, but this certainly inspires me on a Monday morning.

So yesterday I posted that the song "Twelve Days" was originally believed to be a "game song" like "Grandmother's Trunk," that probably originated in France.  There is also a theory (although much more modern, and probably not historically accurate - although there is debate on this point) that the song's meaning is Christian in nature and was used to teach young Catholics the virtues of the religion.  If so, then today's 3 French hens would represent faith, hope, and love.

Well, if this guy were my love, I would hope he would be faithful.

"Hen" can actually refer to the following (and some of these are a bit surprising):

1.  A female game bird (domesticated foul) including chicken, ducks, and turkeys
2.  A female octopus (!)
3.  A female lobster (!)

...and a slang term for "woman."  I don't know that I necessarily like that one, but the allusion made for a wonderful inspiration in the musical "The Music Man."  The gossiping ladies are even costumed and directed to move in a way that suggests a gathering of hens.

Makes me smile every time.

You might be asking yourself, "what does this have to do with spirituality, magic(k), or anything metaphysical?"  Well, I personally think that everything is connected in the Universe, and I find a little bit of joy in the fact that a single topic as absurd as "three french hens" - with a little exploration - can lead me to a very hot artistic interpretation, a religious meaning, interesting scientific terminology for the female of a species, and a wonderful number from the American musical theatre.

So there.

Gift Tally - Day Three
Partridges - 3
Pear Trees - 3
Turtle Doves - 4
French Hens - 3

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The 2nd Day of Christmas - Two Turtle Doves

Two Turtle Doves - aren't they lovely?

In an attempt to constantly strive for further knowledge and to educate myself on things about which I have always heard but don't really know much, I'm beginning a series on The Twelve Days of Christmas. Celebrations and holiday customs of all faiths and cultures have always fascinated me, and this is one that has been in my pop-culture brain since birth, and yet I haven't ever explored the actual traditions of the twelve days of Christmas proper, otherwise known as Christmastide.

Christmastide is specifically a Christian-oriented celebration, of course, but its practice differs among the many different sects of Christianity, and is rarely celebrated today.  The practice was obviously more important in earlier times, when end-of-year feasting was tantamount to getting through the long winter months.  Here's a link to the Wikipedia article, for those interested

The origins of the song vary as well, but most seem to think that it was a "game-song," much like our childhood song, "Grandmother's Trunk."  Each verse adds another "thing" to remember and continue the song, "In grandmother's trunk I found a blue bonnet.  (2nd person) In grandmother's trunk I found a blue bonnet and two petticoats," etc., etc.  

It is important to note that the particular gifts that are given in the song have nothing really to do with the actual custom of the twelve days, but it's interesting to blog.  I hope.  Let me know if it's not. :)

So the first day is Christmas Day - which was yesterday, of course - and begins with the ubiquitous partridge in a pear tree.  Here's a partridge...

...that is rather plump.  Partridges are members of the pheasant family, and could well be delicious.  This one looks like he would be rather tasty, if you're into that sort of thing.  I digress.  Here's a pear tree...

...well, it's a pear on a tree, at least.  I think my gentle readers get the idea.  I do love pears, and a favorite Sunday dessert for our family was "pear salad."  I'm wondering if any of you have had this, or if it's strictly a regional recipe from the South:

Southern Pear Salad (1 serving)

1 pear, peeled and cored, sliced in half (or two halves, canned pears)
1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
2-3 tablespoons of grated cheddar cheese (or your favorite cheese)

Place pear halves on salad plate.   The dollop of mayonnaise goes in the center "hole" where the core once was.  Sprinkle grated cheese over the mayonnaise and pear.  Enjoy!


It's really quite delicious, and I encourage you to give it a try.  Personally, I prefer the canned pears to the fresh for this recipe (only).  I suppose it's because that's what I was served as a child.

Turtle doves are, of course, a variety of dove, the bird symbolically associated with love, various Goddesses (Aphrodite/Venus, for example), and all things romantic.  There's not much more to say, really, about that.  However, I did come across a lovely painting featuring a turtle dove for your enjoyment...

The Turtle Dove

Sophie Gengembre Anderson (1823-1903), French born British painter.

Incidentally, according to the song, the lucky recipient of the gifts  - as of the second day - would have the following:

Gift Tally - Day 2
Partridges - 2
Pear Trees - 2
Turtle Doves - 2

It will be interesting to see how this all pans out after the twelve days have concluded.  It would seem to me that she or he would have had to have a rather large manor house to hold all the booty, so to speak.

I would like to attempt a "giveaway" somehow associated to this string of postings, concluding with a gift sent to the lucky winner at the end of the Twelve Days.  However, I'm new at this, don't have many followers, and need advice!  Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Tomorrow...three French Hens!  I'm so excited...