Thursday, May 3, 2012


    La Diada de Sant Jordi or Saint George's Day is celebrated in Barcelona on the 23rd of April. Sometimes it is also called "el dia de la rosa" (The Day of the Rose) or "el dia del llibre" (The Day of the Book).
    It is Barcelona's Valentine's Day. Saint George is the patron saint of Catalonia. As to the legend, Saint George killed a dragon which was about to eat the princess south of Barcelona. Out of dragon's blood a rose bush grow. Saint George gave roses of that bush to the princess.

    The Traditional Rose Festival, honouring romantic love and chivalry, has been organized in Barcelona since the Middle Ages. In 1932, people united the festival with local International Book Day. They thought it was suitable to do it and mark the anniversary of the death of two giants in the of world literature, Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare. They both died on the 23rd of April, 1616.

    A new tradition was created. Men give beautiful roses to their ladies and they give them books in return. Catalan people say "a rose for love and a book forever". Nowadays, it's common for women besides getting roses, gets a book too. On average, four million roses and 500,000 books are sold in whole Catalonia, this time of the year.
    La Rambla, a famous street in central Barcelona, is full of stalls with books. In Catalan, the name of the street means an intermittent water flow. The word is derived from Arab word, "ramla", which means a sandy riverbed. Numerous stalls with books are in other parts of Catalonia too.

    Many writers stand beside the stalls ready to sign their books. There is also a tradition of 24-hour reading of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cerventes.
    Roses are presented in a special way. Together with the roses, people will put a spike of wheat and a small red and yellow Catalonian flag called "senyera". There are also ribbons with printed words like "Sant Jordi" ("Saint George"), "Diada de la Rosa" ("Day of the Rose") and "t'estimo" ("I love you").

    In the Sarrià-Sant Gervasi city district of Barcelona, flower dealers organize displays of 45 different roses. These roses symoblize different sorts of love.
    The Sardana, is a dance done by the people Catalonia. There are two main Sardanes - the traditional sardana curta (short sardana) and the more modern sardana llarga (long sardana). The modern one is more popular today. The Sardana has been popular since the 16th century. Music for the sardana is played by a band called "la cobla".
Why the Sardana is mentioned here? Well, on La Diada de Sant Jordi, it is danced on the Plaça Sant Jaume (the main plaza or square in Catalonia).


Stories about air born witches have intrigued the world for a long time. Even
though there is little evidence that broomstick flying ever took place, the eery consistency of the stories of broomstick flying is too persistent to ignore it. So what was it with broomsticks?
    In many cases, historic records-mostly of courtcases, leave us a quite precise description of the way witches were perceived to be operating their wicked or evil magic on the rest of society in the Middle Ages.
    In England, witchcraft was outlawed in legal act in 1542 and 1736, but the laws did not forid flying. Probably because the legal profession did not believe it a possibility. But there are still many accounts of witches having been seen leaving one place only to turn up several miles away without passing by on the road.
    A linked belief was that witches knew far too much about other people's business, reporting secrets they could not have known or overhearing conversations from far off, says Shantell Powell, who runs a research site on the issue call shanmonster.com.
Often the accounts of witches' ability to conduct supernatural acts were made by the people in their immediate environment. Historians say that the persons telling the court what they believed they'd witnessed in very many cases shows that they clearly misunderstood some happenings and that in as many cases gross exaggeration was employed to make stories fit.
    Yet the many misgivings revealed by the old historic records do not necessarily mean that the actual accusation themselves were never based on any truth whatsoever.
"The broomstick flying can be accounted for when the form of early mound-dwellings is taken into consideration", says Margaret Alic Murray, author of "The Witch Cult in Western Europe", an extensive work not only of witch trials but also a well documented study of the beliefs of ancient witch organisations.
    Murray believes that savage European tribes tended to maintain elaborate taboos connected with the door that can be linked to witches' preferred means of departure through windows and chimneys. She also says that the broom was connected to fertility rites, an issue that of course creates the necessary hype in that it is intricately mysterious easily explaining any links with older women.
    For their extent to which broomstick flying stories are part of may European, North American, Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries' folklore, the number of direct confessions or testimonial account of broomstick flying is very small, Murray writes in her research. One eye witness account historically recorded is made by a certain Julian Cox, a woman who in 1664 testified that one evening about a mile from her house, she saw riding towards her three persons on as many "broom-staves." The three were flying at a height of one and a half yards from the ground, she said.


    Another documented account is known as the New England witches and dates back to 1692. Two selfprofessed witches including a Mary Osgood, confessed to riding on a pole and being carried through the air to five-mile pond and back again. Wonder where to? Why, pray, a witches meeting of course.
    Other stories reveal even juicier details. There's even one detailing a flight accident. Not only did the two of the witches named in this documented story independently of each other confess to being carried through the air by the Devil, but both confirmed that they experienced a crash because one of their broomsticks broke. One witch apparently hung about her fellow colegue's neck for a while and then dragged both of them down. They were injured and one of them was bed ridden for months afterwards.
    If the possibly quite strange body position that broomstick flying was likely to have required would have been viewed with utmost suspicion at the time, the punishment of witches might have mimicked such bizarre bodily positioning. Many accounts reveal that the preferred punishment for suspicion of witchcraft (which often ended in death) was a water ordeal in which a person was tied with his right thumb to the left big toe and the left thumb to the right big toe and then thrown in the water. If the person sank, they were considered innocent, but if they somehow kept floating, they could end up being killed. The test would be conducted not by the masses (something that happened in many other circumstances, when hoards of people would turn against a person suspected of being a witch, usually after an incident) but by a few high placed people, in England usually the minister of the parish and other highly regarded persons.
    There are some scientific explanations for the act of flying on a broomstick or "tree riding" as the activity is known in historic records too. Witches were said to fly through the window or up a chimney. Murray's study documents that one of the earliest cases on record of stick-riding does not definitely state that the witch flew through the air they way you still read about in fairy tales or Harry Potter stories. She cites the case of Lady Alice Kyteler. Historic texts reveal that a pipe with ointment was found in this lady's closet, apparently for the use of greasing a stick "upon the which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin, when and in what manner she listed". Similar accounts are found elsewhere in the U.K. and the wording is also quite close to the way the stick-riding of Arab witches is described.
    The potion stories are most believable and scientifically correct. Historic records of confessions of witches also include other means of flying, including simple sticks, pitchforks, poles, faggots, shovels, flying goats, heads of strange animals, cats, bats and humans transformed into animals.
    Scientists say that the recipes for potions or unguents that had been given to the witches by no one less than the Devil himself, are sufficient proof to explain the phenomenon. Apparently, there are the natural herbs mixed together to form the secret ingredients for the "flying" ointments that were said to be applied to the broomsticks, which are really rather phallic, include parsley, water of aconite, poplar leaves, and soot, sweet flag, cinquefoil, bat's blood, deadly night shade, and oil and baby's fat.
    Scientist say that its the mixing together of these ingredients and their effect that likely created the flying stories. Because if you mix up these goodies, you are sure to end up with a pretty hefty poison. "These prescriptions show that the society of witches had a very creditable knowledge of the art of poisoning: aconite and deadly nightshade or belladonna are two of the three most poisonous plants growing freely in Europe", say Murray.

    She adds that it is also very likely that hemlock might have been used by oldern day witches, who might have referred to it as persil, which by lots of other practitioners is often erroneously taken to be parsley. But even so, they'd already be pretty scarily close to creating rather poisonous substances. "Aconite was one of the best-known poisons in ancient times; indeed it was so extensively used by professional poisoners in
Rome during the Empire that a law was passed making its cultivation a capital offence. Aconite root contains about .4 percent of alkaloid and one-fifteenth of a grain of the alkaloid is a lethal dose:, say Murray.
    If adiministered, the drug is not immediately similar to recreational drugs, yet it slows you heartbeat or makes it irregular and can kill you. If belladonna is added however, the effects are likely to be more druglike, creating delirious consciousness. Far most poisonous of the ingredients is hemlock, which contains alkaloid, only an imperceptible amount of which causes irrvocable death.
    There are other explanations too for the flying sensations experienced by people who were more often than not identified by others as witches, say Powell. Before 1750, a peasant's diet consisted mainly of dark bread, which when moulded often lead to ergot poisoning. "Bread with just a 2% content of ergot, is pink and can cause ergot poisoning, which leads to hallucinations and muscle cramps, dry gangrene, and even death", say Powell. It is a known fact that you can even create LSD from ergot.
A man in London used several of the herbal ingredients and later wrote this of his experience "The unguent was rubbed on the pulse points of the hands and feet, after 5 minutes, a great feeling of tiredness and coldness overcame me and I lay down, my breathing slowed and I began to feel a bit panicky that I would die, however I convinced myself that if I did go into respiratory collapse or heart failure the instructions I had left with a friend who was attending me would enable him to provide artificial respiration and call an ambulance. My understanding of time became impossible so I could not decide how long my experiences lasted. Eventually I stopped being fearful and my mind seemed to be becoming detached from its normal state, there was still a feeling of coldness then I seemed to be floating upwards. I found myself soaring above the rooftops of London and my body was no longer human it had become amorphous like a giant squid, with its tentacles streaming behind it. With a little concentration I could change my body into virtually any shape I so desired. I seemed to be heading West and eventually came to a hillside, there I met a number of other people who informed me that the meeting place was not on this world but in the stars. I immediately shot into the sky towards a very bright star, I was not alone and as I flew towards the star many others were with me, our bodies seemed to melt into each other and I remember intense sensations of pleasure running up and down my body, which at the same was not my body but everyones, it's difficult to describe. Eventually I came to an enormous hall and walked upon its cold floor towards a flight of steps, either side of the hall were enormous pillars that stretched up so high I could not see a ceiling. As I came to the top of the steps I saw a hooded figure of a woman, she looked at me though her face was hidden by the hood. I suddenly felt an incredible sensation of power emanating from the woman and I became very frightened. The woman began to remove her hood and through fear I averted my gaze, a voice in my head told me to look up, I did and the face of the woman shone so brightly it hurt, not just my eyes but my whole body. I then remember a sensation of falling and cannot remember anything else".
    The use of aconite might have also have had similar effects. Irregular action of the heart in a person falling asleep produces the well-known sensation of suddenly falling through space. If it was then combined with a delirifacient like belladonna the sensation of flying could have been very possible.


        Since it's baseball season,  I think it's time for a little change up (It's my favorite, right next to Halloween). Let us not forget about Thanksgiving, the holiday that gets hardly any praise at all by most people. Here's a list of some Christmas trivia and folklore for all of us to enjoy!
    Let's take a look back at the origins of Christmas and some of the lesser known facts involving one of my favorite holiday's.

  • While the Pilgrims may have been responsible for beginning the tradition of Thanksgiving, they did not celebrate Christmas--it was against their Puritan belief and in fact, it was illegal.

  • It was once believed that whoever (husband or wife) first brings holly into the house will rule the home all year. (wishful thinking on the mans part these days.)

  • Young men of the 1700's believe that if they saw a redheaded girl at Christmastime, he would be pursued by flame-haired vixens throughout the coming year. (MORE wishful thinking on the mans part again!!)

  • A meowing cat on Christmas Day used to portend bad luck. Consequently, their owners would leave a full saucer of milk out that night to pacify the feline. (or throw a size ten shoe at it!)

  • Women stayed indoors on Christmas Day because they believed their neighbors would experience bad luck if the first person they saw was a woman. Or else their first visitor afterward would be a harlot.

  • Abraham Lincoln one received the city of Savannah, Georgia as a Christmas gift from General Sherman.

  • Dolly Madison introduced eggnog at a Christmas party at the White House in 1811.(at least it wasn't fruit cake!!)

  • It was not until 1836 that Alabama was the first state to recognize Christmas. Oklahoma was the last, in 1890.

  • Neiman Marcus started their "Gift of the Year" promotion in 1960 featuring his and hers airplanes. In 1967 the most coveted gift was his and hears camels flown from California to anywhere in the U.S.

  • On Christmas morning, 1876, millionaire publisher James Gordon Bennett gave his waiter at Delmonico's a tip of $6,000.(and a W-2 form to claim it on his taxes.)

  • The first Christmas stocking referenced in print was by Washington Irving in 1809. When A New Year's Verse was published in 1821, it referenced the hanging of stocking the tradition began for children everywhere in earnest.

  • St. Nicholas is also the patron saint of pawnbrokers.

  • Our current vision of Santa Claus came from an illustration by Thomas Nast in 1863 made for Dr. Clement Moore's tale A Visit from St. Nicholas.

  • In medieval times, evergreen trees were hung with red apples on December 24th, celebrated as Adam and Eve Day, and may be the first instance of tree decorating for the holidays.

  • Icicles for the Christmas tree were first made and sold in Nuremberg, Germany in 1878; actually thin strips of silver foil that tarnished quickly were used.

  • New York was the first city to claim an electrically lighted Christmas tree, at the home of Edward Johnson, colleague to Thomas Edison at the Edison Electric Company. The year was 1882.(until he got the first electrical bill and then he never lit them again!)

  • In medieval times it was customary to light a candle on Christmas Day that would be carefully tended and last until the Twelfth Night.

  • Mistletoe as a symbol of peace between enemies and love between friends, dates back to a Norse legend involving Freyja, goddess of love.

  • The poem Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer was put in song form by Johnny Marks in 1946 and first recorded by Gene Autry. It became the greatest hit Gene Autry ever made and Columbia Records' biggest seller ever, although Marks had to form his own recording company to get it on the air.