Thursday, February 24, 2011

More Baba Yaga From "Jack and Jill"

More Ursula Koering illustrations from the Jack and Jill Baba Yaga stories, this time from "Baba Yaga and the Alexandrite Ring;" this is not a Katherine O. Kurtz story.

In this tale Baba Yaga has a magical Alexandrite ring (an Alexandrite is a real gemstone, a dark green chrysoberyl that looks red when placed under artificial light) that can freeze things when green or warm things when red. But it has lost its powers and can only be restored when polished by a bit of web from the Spider Queen. Of course it is up to the witch's faithful cat to obtain some.

This is the story that I read and remembered from the early 1970's, and once more I am impressed by the persistence of imagery from that time in the make-up of my imagination. I have drawn that cat's muffler in many of my pictures, and it has turned up in my book, worn by one of my main characters.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Angels and Afterlifes: Fine Distinctions

"I have instanced the belief in angelic music calling away the soul as one heathen item in popular Protestant mythology--

"Hark! They whisper! Angels say

'Sister spirit, come away!' "

Another is embodied in the tenet that the souls of the departed become angels. In Judaic and Christian doctrine, the angel creation is distinct from that of human beings, and a Jew or a Catholic would as little dream of confusing the distinct conception of angel and soul, as in believing in metempsychosis [reincarnation]. But not so dissenting [Protestant] religion. According to Druidic dogma, the souls of the dead were guardians of the living; a belief shared with the ancient Indians, who venerated the spirits of their ancestry, the Pitris, as watching over and protecting them. Thus, the hymn 'I Want To Be An Angel,' so popular in dissenting schools, is founded in the venerable Aryan myth, and therefore of exceeding interest; but Christian it is not.

"Another tenet which militates against Christian doctrine, and has supplanted it in popular belief, is that of the transmigration of the soul to bliss immediately on its departure from the body.

"The article stantis vel cadentis Fidei, of the Apostles, was the resurrection of the body. If we read the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles with care, it is striking what great weight, we find, is laid on this doctrine. They went everywhere preaching--1. the rising of Christ; 2. the consequent resurrection of the bodies of Christians. 'If the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised; and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.' This was the key-note to the teachings of the Apostles; it runs through the New Testament, and is reflected in the writings of the Fathers. It occupies its legitimate position in the Creeds, and the Church has never failed to insist upon it with no faltering voice.

"But the doctrine of the soul being transported to heaven, and of its happiness being completed at death, finds no place in the Bible or the Liturgies of any branch--either Greek, Roman, or Anglican--of the Church Catholic [Universal]. Yet this was the tenet of our Keltic forefathers, and it has maintained itself in English Protestantism, so as to divest the doctrine of the resurrection of its grasp on the popular mind. Among the Kelts, again, reception into the sacred inner circle of the illuminated was precisely analogous to the received dissenting doctrine of conversion. To it are applied, by the bards, terms such as 'the second birth,' 'the renewal,' which are to this day employed by Methodists to designate the mysterious process of conversion."

--Sabine Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, 1894.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Frank Papers From Frank C. Pape

Some of the line drawings from James Branch Cabell's Jurgen (1921) by English artist Frank Cheyne Pape (there should be an accent over that final 'e': and it's pronounced paw-PAY). Pape had previously done more romantic pictures for collections of fairy tales and the like, but after the witty and accomplished work he did for Cabell's books he was tapped to do similar drawings for authors like Suetonius and Anatole France and Rabelais, writers who were deemed at the time to be ribald or dangerous, but whose books nowadays would hardly quicken a pulse. Pape, who was born in 1878, did little work after the Forties, and died in 1972.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day...Or Something

Well, today is Groundhog Day, and according to the "official" animal, the omens are good that winter is done for, no matter how atrocious the weather may seem. Groundhog Day is a peculiar holiday; it seems so folksy and American, but its roots and antecedents go back a long way in European tradition and Church ritual.

February 2 was latterly called Candlemass Day, a day commemorating the ritual cleansing (according to Hebrew law) of Mary a week and forty days after giving birth to Jesus. This februation ("purification") took place in the Roman month of February, so named after the occurrence of the purification and fertility rite of Lupercalia, held on the 15th (close to our Valentine's Day). On Candlemass Day the gold and scarlet vestments the clergy wore during the Christmas season were changed back to normal robes, all greenery used to decorated church and house were removed and burned*, and special candles were blessed, lit, and distributed to commemorate and welcome the Light of the World. The ends of these candles were kept by the superstitious to light during times of fear, such as thunderstorms and malevolent spiritual manifestations.

So what does this all have to day with Groundhog Day? Well, from ancient times there have been weather traditions attached to this day, with or without animals. In Germany it is said that the shepherd would rather have a wolf enter his stable than the sun on Candlemass Day, for the sunny day betokens more winter, and that "the badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemass Day, and when he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees sun shining, he draws back into his hole." It is easy to imagine immigrants adapting this belief in America using the native groundhog as a substitute.

But little furry animals or no, the weather traditions are constant. It is expressed in this Latin distich quoted by Sir Thomas Brown in his book Vulgar Errors:

"Si sol splendescat Maria purificante,

Major erit glacies post festum quam fait ante."

And in this Scottish rhyme:

"If Candlemass Day be dry and fair,

The half o' winter's to come and mair;

If Candlemass Day be wet and foul,

The half o' winter's gave at Yule."

And in this English nursery rhyme:

"If Candlemass Day be fair and bright,

Winter will have another flight;

But if it be dark with clouds and rain,

Winter is gone, and will not come again."

So if you're shivering and suffering through one of the worst winter intervals we've had in a while, perhaps you can take comfort in this little bit of folk wisdom assuring us that the worst is (possibly) over, and that no season can last forever.

*As a bit of a side-note, February 2 is the last date you can tastefully and safely have Christmas decorations (especially greenery) up. For, as English poet Robert Herrick notes:

"That so the superstitious find

No one least branch left there behind;

For look, how many leaves there be

Neglected there, maids, trust to me,

So many goblins you shall see."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pictures From "The Little Grey Men"

I picked this book up years ago from a place called Yesterday's Warehouse (since closed), something of an old curiosity shop, dedicated mainly to books. I'd never seen or heard of The Little Grey Men before, but rather liked the style of the illustrations and the general set-up (gnomes having adventures in the countryside and their rare interactions with human civilisation), so I bought it, enjoyed it well enough, and put it on my shelf. Only a couple of days ago I decided to put a few choice pictures from it on the blog, and thought I'd do a little research on the book and its author.

I discovered that I was looking at the tip of an iceberg. The author, Denys Watkins-Pitchford, had written and illustrated some sixty books between 1937 and 1987. The Little Grey Men was published in 1942 and won the Carnegie Medal that year. Watkins-Pitchford, who only used his full name for credit as illustrator and preferred the short pseudonym of "BB" as an author, was author, illustrator, and 'countryman'; a sort of combination of naturalist, conservationist, and sportsman, and his books are renowned for their authentic detail. "BB" claimed that the inspiration for this book came from his actual sighting of a gnome when he was a small child. Whether he was serious or indulging in that sort of epic leg-pulling that is a certain element in English humor is unknown.

Watkins-Pitchford passed away in 1990, but not before publishing a sequel (Down The Bright Stream), becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire, and seeing a ten -part series adapted from The Little Grey Men on British television, called Baldmoney, Sneezewort, Dodder and Cloudberry, named after the gnomes in his book. His numerous books are still popular in the UK, and there is a society dedicated to his works.

The Little Grey Men was the favorite book of Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, and an excerpt was read from it at his funeral. Perhaps it was this inscription from all of "BB's" books, found by his father on a north country tombstone and now incised on his own memorial:

The wonder of the world

The beauty and the power,

The shapes of things,

Their colours, lights and shades,

These I saw.

Look ye also while life lasts.