Tuesday, April 25, 2017


   The attractions of snakes seems to be a huge pull factor, and seemingly the whole world's major ophidiophillaccs (snake lovers) often accompanied by their snakes, alongside keen photographers, descend on the small medieval town of Cocullo, in the Abruzzo Majella Mountains, ready to take part in this festival which has been re-enacted in its current Christian format each year, apart from 2009.

   There are three supposed origins to the Cocullo Snake Festival....In the 11th century, apparently Saint Dominic cleared the local fields which were being overrun by snakes, and as a sign of thanks, since 1392, the locals parade his statue and snakes around the streets.  The second version dates to 700 B.C., locals experienced the same problems in tending to their field and Apollo ordered the village to entwine the snakes around his statue so that they would become tame and be able to farm once more.  The first origin dates back some 2000 years to the Marsi who were the original inhabitants of the area who worshipped the Goddess Angizia.  The goddess's official symbol was a snake and thus offering of snakes were presented to her to fend off attacks from local wolves, bears and malaria.

   The festival officially begins on March 19th, when local snake catchers/charmers around Cocullo begin to catch 4 types of local harmless snakes: (Elaphe quatuorlineata) and the Aesculapian snake (Elaphe longissma) and grass snakes (Natrix natrix) and its dark green sister snake (Coluber vindfiavus).  Once caught they remove the snakes fangs. (not a good idea when it comes to return them back to the wild).

   Following an early morning Mass in the town's small church, local inhabitants ring a small bell using their own teeth to protect them against toothache for the following year.  Local soil is blessed which afterwards is spread over the local fields to act as a form of natural pesticide.  The wooden statue of Saint Domenico is then taken out of the small church and the snakes are draped around and over the statue and the statue is then paraded around the narrow lanes of ancient Cocullo.

   Leading from the front are the brass bands, that ironically seem to be mostly composed of those most snake charmer-esque of instruments, the oboe and clarinets.  Another mass is broadcast over loudspeakers, which,  women traditionally dressed, recite and sing, followed by priests.  They are followed by girls in traditional laced costumes carrying ciambelli,  which are local cakes that have a texture like doughnuts and are decorated with pastel colored, by the hundreds and thousands.  Saint Domenic is carried up from behind, with the snakes and their charmers following closely behind.  The procession winds back down to the church where it all started, and on their arrival home, a huge fireworks display, which sounds more like cannon shots, begins its 10 minute overture.

   If you like something out of the ordinary , visit Cocullo's snake festival; your next door neighbor may be stroking their snake next to you, but it gives you something to talk about as you gasp and think of a reason to decline their generous offer of holding one of their snakes, while jostling to get that ultimate photo.


   Get there early, the procession begins at 12 noon and the parade lasts for an hour and a half (the problem is parking...you can end up, if you arrive late,  parking your car up to a couple miles away and have to hike uphill from the depths of the Sagitarrio Valley to get back to the small town of Cocullo, severely out of breath,  if you are unfit.
   You may hate the huge numbers of porchetta vans and mini market stalls up to the town itself and wonder why the police don't allow people to par there, but due to the huge number of people that attend the Cocullo Snake Festival, food must be had by attendees.  Local restaurants get booked out with celebrating locals, used the porchetta Panini rout.


   The Takayama Festivals in Takayama, Japan, started in the 16th to 17th century.  The origins of the festivals are unknown; however they are believed to have been started during the rule of the Kanamori family.  Correspondence dated 1692, place the origin to 40 years prior to that date.  One of the festivals is held on the 14th and 15th of April and the other on the 9th ad 10th of October.
   The Spring Takayama Festival is centered on the Hie Shrine.  The shrine is also known as the Sanno Shrine, and the spring festival is also known as the Sanno Festival.  The Sanno Festival is held to pray for a good harvest and the Autumn Festival is for giving thanks.

   The Autumn festival is centered on the Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine and is referred to as the Hachiman Festival.  It is held after the crops are harvested.  The fall festival is one of the three largest festivals in Japan.  The other two are Kyoto's Gion Matsuri and the Chichibu Matsuri.


   The festivals are famous for the large ornate floats, or yatai, which roam around the city at night.  The floats date back to the 17th century, and are decorated with intricate carving of gilded wood, and detailed metal work, rich design, similar in style to art from Kyoto during the Momoyama period, and blended with elements from the early Edo period.  Detailed carving, lacquering and beautiful decorative metal works is found not only on the outside of the floats, but inside as well, under the roof and behind the panels, where the worked is amazingly detailed.  The floats are also gorgeously decorated with embroidered drapery.  The Uatai floats are lined up before dusk, and once the town become veiled in the evening darkness, as many as 100 chochin lanterns are lit on each of the floats.  The unique ornaments of the yatai floats look even better in the darkness of the night.  The floats are moved around the city by people but are wheeled carts and the bearers are not required to endure the load.  The floats are lit by traditional lanterns and escorted on a tour of the city by people in traditional kimono or hakama dress.  Each float reflects the district in Takayama to which it represents. 

   The craftsmanship and the Hotei tai have intricate marionettes, which perform on top.  The puppet show is a registered as a "cultural asset".  The tall festive floats are displayed during the two days of both festivals.  During inclement weather the floats are returned to their storage houses.  The Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan store four of the eleven fall floats; the others are stored in special storehouses throughout the city, when not in use.  During inclement weather, the outer doors to the Yatai Kaikan are open so visitors may view them.  The floats in the Yatai Kaikan are changed several times a year.

   The Yatai Kaikan is located in the northern end of Takayama's old town, a 15-20 minute walk from the station.  The Yatai Kaikan is open from 8:30 am. to 5:00 p.m., from March to November and from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from December to February.  The admission fee is 840 yen (approximately $10.10)


   The puppets or marionettes are made of wood, silk, and brocade or embroidered cloth.  They are operated by strings and push rods from with the yatai.  Karakuri (mechanical) puppet plays performed on a stage are superb.  The puppets, like the Yatai, represent the skilled craftsmen of the area.  The puppets or the three marionettes on Hotei Tai (the god of fortune), require nine puppet masters to manipulate the 36 strings which make the marionettes move in a lifelike manner, with gestures, turns, and other movements.  A problem with the puppets are parts needed to repair the puppets.  The springs in the puppets are made of Right whale baleen and cannot be replaced with steel springs or the baleen of other whales.  Other materials used to make the springs cannot duplicate the movements of the springs made from the whale baleen.


   Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, and is commemorated by both countries on April 25th every year to honor members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I.  It is now more broadly commemorates all those who died and served in military operations for their countries.  Anzac Day is also observed in the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga.



   Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.  The acronym ANZAC, stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, whose soldiers were known as Anzacs.  Anzac Day remains one of the most important national occasions of both Australia and New Zealand.  This is a rare instance of two sovereign countries not only sharing the same remembrance day, but making reference to both countries in its name.

Foundations of Anzac Day  

   ON April 30th, 1915, when the first news of the landing reached New Zealand, a half day holiday was declared and impromptu services were held.  The following year a public holiday was officially declared on April 5th and services to commemorate were organized by the returned servicemen.
   April 25th, was officially named Anzac Day in 1916; in that year it was marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services in Australia and New Zealand, a march through London, and a sports day for the Australian and New Zealand soldiers in Egypt.  The small New Zealand community of Tinui,near Materton in the Wairarapa was apparently the first place in New Zealand to have an Anzac Day service, when the then vicar led an expedition to place a large wooden cross on the Tinui Taipos (high large hill behind the village) in April of 1916 to commemorate the dead.  A service was held on April 25th of that yer.  In 2006 the 90th anniversary of the event was commemorated with a full 21 gun salute fired at the service by soldiers from the Waiouru Army Camp.



   In London, over 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through the streets of the city.  A London newspaper headline dubbed them "The Knights of Gallipoli".  Marches were held all over Australia in 1916; wounded soldiers from Gallipoli attended the Sydney march in convoys of cars, accompanied by nurses.  Over 2,000 people attended the service in Rotorua.  For the remaining years of the war, Anzac Day was used as an occasion for patriotic rallies and recruiting campaigns, and parades of serving members of the AIF were held in most cities.  From 1916 onwards, in both Australia and New Zealand, Anzac memorials were held on or about April 25th, mainly organized by returned servicemen and school children in
cooperation with local authorities.  Anzac Day became a public holiday in New Zealand in 1920, through the Anzac Day Act, after lobbying by the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association's, the RSA.  During the 1920's, it became established as a National Day of Commemoration for the 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders who died during the war.



Anzac Day since World War II

   With the coming of the Second World War, Anzac Day became a day on which to commemorate the lives of Australians and New Zealanders lost in that war as well and in subsequent years.  The meaning of the day has been further broadened to include those killed in all military operations in which the countries have been involved.
   From the 1960's, but especially in the 70's and 80's, Anzac Day became increasingly controversial in both Australia and New Zealand.  The day was used by anti-Vietnam War protesters to agitate against that war and war in general, and ceremonies were later targeted by feminists, anti-nuclear campaigners, Maori activists and others.



   In Australia and New Zealand, Anzac Day commemoration features solemn "Dawn Services", a tradition started in Albany, Western Australia on April 25th, 1923, and now held at war memorials around both countries, accompanied by thought of those lost at war to the ceremonial sounds of The Last Post on the bugle.  The fourth stanza of Laurence Binyon's poem "For the Fallen" (know as the "ode of Remembrance") is often recited.


   Omizutori, or the annual, sacred Water Drawing Festival, is a Japanese Buddhist festival that takes place in the NIgatsu-do of Todai-ji, Nara, Japan.  The festival is the final rite in observance of the two week long Shuni-e ceremony.  This ceremony is to cleanse the people of their sins as well as to usher in spring of the New Year.  Once the Omizutori is completed, the cherry blossoms have started blooming and spring has arrived.


   The rite occurs on the last night of the Shuni-e ceremony, when monks bearing torches come to the Wakasa Well, underneath the Nigatsu-do Hall, which according to legend only springs forth water once a year.  The ceremony has occurred in the Nigatsu-do of the imperial temple at Nara, of the Todai-ji, since it was first founded.  These annual festivals have been dated back to the year of 752.  The earliest known records of the use of an incense seal during the religious rites in Japan were actually used during one Omizutori.


   Eleven priests, whom are called Renhyoshu, are appointed n December of the previous year to participate in the Omizutori festivals.  Much preparation goes into this yearly festival, and the priests are tasked with cleaning the sites for the rituals, making circuit pilgrimages to surrounding shrines and temples, and the preparing of various goods that are to be used in the rituals.  During the time leading up to Omizutori, the priests are forbidden to speak at all or leave their lodgings.  Each priest is very firm in the practice of his duty in specific, strict orders, and preparing himself for the ceremonies to come.


Waiting at the Shrine


   Torches are lit at the start of the Omizutori, during the ittokuka, which is held in the early morning on the first of March.  There is an evening ceremony, called Otaimatsu, where young ascentics brandish large torches that are burning.  While waving the torches in the air, they draw large circles with the fire it emits.  It is believed that is a person viewing the ceremony is showered with the sparks form the fire, that the person will then be protected from evil things.



   Omizutori is the largest ceremony on the night of the twelfth of March.  The next day the rite of drawing of the water is held with an accompaniment of ancient Japanese music.  the monks draw water, which only springs up from the well in front of the temple building on this specific day, and offer it first to the Buddhist deities, Bodhisatta Kannon, and then offer it to the public.  It is believed that the water, being blessed, can cure ailments.  The Omizutori ceremony is the accepting of water from a well.  This well is said to be connected by an underground tunnel to Obama on the Sea of Japan coast.  The water is given a ceremony called "the sending of the water".  The water is actually drawn into two pots, one pot containing water from the previous year, and another that contains the water from all previous ceremonies.  From the pot of water that holds the water of the current year, a very small amount of the water is poured into the pot which holds the mixture of water from all oft he previous ceremonies.  The resulting water mixture is preserved each year, and this process has taken place for over 1,200 years.

The Legend of Omizutori

   Thee are different legends of the origin of Omizutori.  One of these legends suggest that the founder of Shuni-e, Jitchu, invited 13,700 of the gods to the ceremony.  One of the gods, Onyu-myojin was late to the ceremony because he was fishing on the Onyu River.  To make up for the fact that he was late, he then offered scented water from the Onyu River, and the water suddenly sprung up from the spot where the god once stood.



   The story of how Shuni-e came to be continues to portray the original founder of Shui-e, Jitchu, as the central character.  It is told that the priest, Jitchu, made a journey deep into the moutains of Kasagi in 751 where he witnessed celestial beings performing a ceremony that was meant to cleanse and ask for repentance.  Jitchu was so overwhelmed by the ceremony that he decided to bring the rite to the human world.  he was warned that this would be a daunting task, but his desire was so strong that he believed he could overcome the task of transferring the rite between the heavens and the world of man.  He decided that if he could perform the religious ceremony 1,000 times a day at running speed, he could bring the god's ceremony into his world.