blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Civil War Spy

Mary Bowser

During a sesquicentennial year, battles and generals of the Civil War continue to get most of the attention. In the past I felt some of the heroic women deserved their own story, and I have blogged about a female soldier and Dr. Mary Walker. This time I'll continue with an almost totally unknown spy by the name of Mary Bowser. Her birth date is unknown, but it's believed that she was born in 1839. She was born a slave to John Van Lew in Richmond, Virginia. Upon his death in 1843, Van Lew's wife freed the slaves, but it was in name only due to the terms of his will.

Van Lew's daughter, Elizabeth, became the head of the household in the 1850s. She was aware of Mary's intelligence and sent her North to be formally educated. Mary became a missionary to Africa, and returned to Virginia to marry Wilson Bowser, a free black man. Shortly afterward, the Civil War broke out.

Elizabeth Van Lew was part of a major spy network in Richmond, and she frequently resorted to a routine that gave her the appearance that she was crazy, earning her the nickname "Crazy Bet." She briefly appears in my novel Honor & Glory. Her greatest achievement though was using Mary Bowser as a spy.

Not only was Mary highly educated, but she had a photographic memory. She assumed the role of a slow-thinking, dull-witted servant. Van Lew managed to get her to serve at social functions held by Varina Davis, the wife of the Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Eventually, she was hired full time and worked in the Davis household, serving meals. Because of Mary's education and memory, she was able to work invisibly, reading any papers.

She relayed the information to a baker by the name of Thomas McNiven who made deliveries. In his recollections that he relayed to his daughter, he only used Mary's first name. He mentioned her photographic memory and that she could repeat everything she saw on the President's desk "word for word." Mary's full name wasn't revealed until 1911 in Harper's Monthly Magazine by Elizabeth Van Lew's niece.

Her [Elizabeth Van Lew] method of reaching President Davis in his least-guarded moments is evidence of her genius as a spy and a leader of spies. The Van Lews had owned a negro girl of unusual intelligence; several years before the war she had been given her freedom... this young woman was Mary Elizabeth Bowser, was now sent for; she came, and for a time was coached and trained for her mission; then... she was installed as a waitress in the White House of the Confederacy.

There are no records as to what happened to Mary after the war, but in 1995, the United States Army finally recognized her contribution and inducted her into U.S. Army Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame. I won't post the photo commonly believed to have been Mary Bowser because it's a hoax. While the woman's name was Mary Bowser, she wasn't the same Mary Bowser, who had served as a spy during the Civil War.

Kim Murphy

www.KimMurphy.net

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Memory of Scent


I sometimes study and take mental notes of the way a writer describes what a character smells. But more often than not, I have to admit that I skim over these words to move onto the action. At the same time, I understand the power of scent to evoke memory. In my experience, when I am assailed with a scent that takes me back to a particular time and place in my life, it's a physical feeling as much as a cognitive recognition of a moment in my history. Here are a few that stand out for me.

1. Boxwood 
 This may well be my first scent memory.  I am a little girl and I'm standing in someone's yard.  I have the impression of  tall trees, possibly cedars or pine, a high wooden brown privacy fence, patches of sun and shade, and this strong odor. For years I didn't know what this smell was, but if I'd catch a whiff of it, I was standing in that garden, again. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with boxwood's vaguely sweet but mostly skunk-like bitter qualities. 






 2.  Lavender 
My mother introduced my sister and I to "smelly goods" early on.  Perfume and cologne were an integral part of getting dressed up. Talcum powder (whether it was baby, Bismoline or the scented kind in a circular container with a big colorful puff) was liberally applied after a bath (especially in the summertime).  One of Mom's signature scents was Yardley's English lavender. The soap was so strong you could smell the lavender through the cardboard box. Heavenly. Recently I read that lavender is supposedly an aphrodisiac for men. Which made me laugh to myself because it only evokes home and childhood for me. Then, again, also on the list were pumpkin pie and cinnamon. . .  Okaaay.  I think we're getting a little Oedipal here, and that's a topic that's not part of my essay.





3. Coconut
Yes, I realize most people think beach and suntan oil. For me, this scent is all about Christmas. This scent transports me back to being in elementary school and helping to make coconut snap cookies. Brown sugar, Brer Rabbit molasses, butter and canned coconut. The "batter" mixture was so thick, it could stop the beaters on the electric mixer. So this often required prolonged, manual hand mixing. I felt so privileged and grown up to be helping to make one of my favorite cookies. It never occurred to me that it was the amount of labor involved that prompted my mother to put me and Dad to work.  When I changed my diet about six years ago, I started to cook with coconut oil. I throw some in with vegetables or use it on the rare occasions when I fry or saute something. There's always some left on the spoon, so I stick in my mouth. Tasting and smelling coconut oil is a simulateous sensation. And I'm back in the kitchen at Christmastime.




4. Spearmint 
The smell of mint tea reminds me of summer days at my Grandmother's house. It was an old brick row house with a nice sized back yard (for the city).  Grandma had a green thumb, and so apparently, did my Grandfather.  They grew tomatoes, flowers and rhododendrons. We used to forage for johnny jump ups and the spearmint leaves that grew wild in the grass or the flower beds. We'd bring handfuls of mint to my grandmother. She'd put them in a glass pitcher, pour boiling water over them and add sugar.  I can still picture sitting at the kitchen table with its grey and white swirly formica top, impatiently waiting for the steeping tea leaves to turn the water a pale yellow.




5. "Ocean"
 I call this one "ocean" with quotes because it's that salty smell that we always started to  smell in the car on the way to the beach. (We were later informed wasn't really the ocean per say, it was actually the sewage in the water). What a way to demote a favorite childhood scent that evoked the whole vacation experience. 

6. Paint
This one is about being 14 and on my first trip to England.  I stayed with a penpal in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and her family's home was a city rowhouse and their oldest daughter's bedroom had recently been painted (or redecorated, as they described it). The odor of the paint stayed with me for years after. It still takes me back to England and the Ince house.



7. Peppermint
Again, a smell that I readily identify with a time and a place and didn't know the source of the scent until years later.  This one is from  my dorm room, sophomore year at Muhlenberg college in Allentown.  My roommate, Rachel was addicted to her peppermint chewing gum.  The smell sends me right back to that room, and I can picture all the details – the floral pattern on my comforter, my posters on the walls - (and hear Rachel snapping her gum while she sits at her desk, studying).



What smells whisk you back to your past?


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Mom's Easter Egg Hunts



One of my mother’s glorious traditions was the Easter Egg Hunt. I say glorious because my mother was glorious with the creativity and artistic flair for color and form she brought to any celebration – big or small. And the Egg Hunt became quite big, over the years.
                We have pictures of the eggs and girls adorning my Grandmother’s Mary Street yard. I, my sister, and our cousin are in our Easter bonnets and matching coats. We are holding our baskets and usually smiling, in various stages of glee and remorse. My best memory is actually the sounds accompanying at least one of these events. I am saying, “I found one!” and as I run through the cool spring-green grass I hear my sister say, “It’s my turn!” What follows is a jumble of let-her-have-it-you-have-enough’s and cries and groans and awwww’s. The pictures cannot catch visual representations of this sordid behavior. But this event was not my Mother’s creation. My clearest memory of her initiative comes years later.
 Mom had decided that we were too old for wicker basket sports, so she announced that this would be our last hurrah. I woke that morning and immediately spotted a green plastic egg – in my bedroom! Twisting the halves apart, I wondered how she had managed to put it in my room during the night. I was a notoriously light sleeper. Then all thoughts except “Surprise!” flew into the softly lit morning. A folded piece of paper and 2 or 3 M&M’s fell into my open hand. The paper held a clue! I may have put on slippers and a robe, I can’t remember. I know I started for the stairs as there was a hint about the kitchen, I think, and Mom stood at the bottom. “You have to wait for Bobbi to wake up. Come down and watch TV but don’t look around!” Once again she vastly over-rated my ability to follow directions or curb my curiosity.   
After groaning and rolling my eyes, I sat in front of the television and examined the room through slit lids and barely noticeable twists of my head. I thought. There was one egg with mismatched colors (half was blue and the other half yellow – another miracle of the plastic invasion) sitting on the mantle, behind a ceramic basket. When my sleepy sibling finally shuffled down the hall from her downstairs bedroom, I was off the chair like a shot. I was just about to open the lovely blue and yellow ovoid when Mom proclaimed, “your eggs are the solid colors. Put that back!”
“Well, thanks for the warning,” I whispered, just loud enough for her to hear. Bobbi managed to look incredibly sleepy and pouty at the same time. We had skills.
The rest of that morning was one of the best holidays I can remember. The clues were wonderful – and numbered, for us or Mom I do not know. Each egg was a riddle, challenging our ability to interpret metaphor and recall the blueprints of our home. Achieving the end of the search is still a sensory event. I was in our bathroom (upstairs and next to my room, again). The warmth and soft pink of the light was so comforting. Our linen closet was just the upper half of the wall and its double doors opened with white-painted brass knobs. That clean, freshly washed smell met my face as I leaned into the soft piles of folded terry-cloth and spotted the basket in the back corner. There was very little candy in its plastic grass filler, but a gift-wrapped present leaned against the wicker rim. It held a beautiful ceramic statue of St. Francis of Asissi. Tall and slender, the saint’s wreathed head was bent to touch a fawn that melted into his robe. A bird perched on his shoulder. The figures were colored with a brown and green glaze that melted over the forms. It seemed to have been made just for me, and my Mother’s recognition of that overwhelmed me with her love. I told her how much I loved the statue and the treasure hunt, actually in awe of her skill for pleasing even me - the most cynical and irritable member of our family. I don’t know when I gave up St. Francis’s long-treasured, chipped likeness but would love to have it back again.
There was never a second to Mom’s ultimate Easter Morning. It couldn’t be matched if she’d tried. Bobbi and I started to help with the Egg Rolls at church after that. There was always Easter Candy around the house for dinner, sometimes even a bunny or two. The white chocolate was my favorite. Then for many years there were ham dinners and red-beet eggs to eat, and the confections disappeared until…
Grandchildren. Mom and Dad united forces as soon as Bobbi’s daughter Katie could crawl. We started indoors for the first year or two. Then we were outside in the yard – forsythia in full bloom and tufts of garlic grass waving in the breeze. When my son Woody joined the fray we heard the I-saw-it-first’s, and whines, and also the laughter of short people chasing colors and chocolate. The fun even branched out to include the neighbors’ kids. Plastic eggs reappeared while cleaning up the yard in the fall.
Finally, on those brisk spring mornings, Mom had to sit, wrapped in blankets, and referee. She gave audible clues to the underdogs, and ordered the taller hunters to surrender some plunder to the shortest basket bearers. It was a charmed day, really. We often stared in wonder at the children who stopped picking up eggs and took a bumbler’s hand, saying “look – there’s one!” The chocolate was a sidelight after all.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

GRANDPARENTS THROUGH TIME


Grandparents used to look like this:




Does this make you think of Turner Classic Movies? Look at this substantial couple dressed in equally substantial woolen coats and hats, perhaps on their way to Sunday service. Hats are a fashion statement that is mostly the province of rock singers these days, but back in the mid-forties, when this picture was taken, hats were something no respectable person went out in public without.

Here's the generation before theirs. This picture was also taken in the 1940's, in a summery backyard. The subjects are still looking hale and hearty, despite being in their late eighties. Do you detect a slightly different air here, a difference in style? I think so.



 
As in period movies, the woman's hair style, in this case all those sculptured curls carefully contained in a net, tell us something about the days of her youth. In this case, it harks back to the 'twenties. Again, admire their clothes, especially the gentleman's three-piece suit and watch fob and the lady's lovely bouquet and necklace! I believe that the couple pictured here lived into their late nineties, something which was far less common than it is today.

BTW, the subjects here are all New Englanders, but all four of them know how to smile. They appear to be studying the picture taker with genuine fondness. Many years of life experience shines from their eyes.



We're far less formal today, and take pictures constantly, so we don't tend to dress up for them. These grandparents are with their "baby" boy at his workplace. They too are smiling at the person taking the picture, who, I happen to know, is their granddaughter. Frankly, I don't see a lot of difference in bodies or faces or hair color here. We're just grandparents--and not the celebrity kind. We're wearing a lot of bulky clothes on this occasion because it's darn cold. We live farther apart and must conduct our family visits mostly via the internet and cell phone. Otherwise, the bodies are old and the faces are old and the hair is either or white or non-existent. Nothing much has changed.



~~Juliet Waldron
All my novels at
http://www.julietwaldron.com



Friday, March 21, 2014

Crone Henge: B0B v. POLAR VORTEX

Crone Henge: B0B v. POLAR VORTEX:   We’re all complaining about the Polar Vortex, and how, like a rock star’s floppy forelock or a too large hat, it’s been slipping d...

B0B v. POLAR VORTEX



 

We’re all complaining about the Polar Vortex, and how, like a rock star’s floppy forelock or a too large hat, it’s been slipping downward over the northeast US and Ontario, instead of wrapping those icy arms around the usual “Honeys” (as in “Honey, I’m home!”) --places like Baffin Island, Churchill and Barrow.  Certain infamous Bloviators have been saying that the PV doesn’t exist, that “elitists” made it up, but I have it on good authority from my favorite Penn State Meteorology Prof., Fred Gadomski, that this “vortex” has been around since our planet first had weather systems. 

Bob, like the rest of us, isn’t getting any younger. As a kitty boy from the ‘hood who arrived one day and asked if he could come live at our house, he started as a tough customer. The squirrel tails I found scattered around the property were all that remained of the cheeky tree rats who tried to tease him. I’ve pictures of him as 'Zombie Bob', beginning at the squirrel’s head and munching his way straight down to the tail. What a tough guy!

However, this year’s long snowy cold winter has really been working his one good nerve. He’s unbelievably sick of it now, as we creep into March. He’s been known to stand on the threshold, stare up at whoever the current on-duty-doorman is, and deliver a loud-as-a-shout kitty stink eye.

“WTF?! More snow?”

The other night around 9 PM the temperature had dropped to 21 degrees with clear skies, which let me know that worse was yet to come. I called for Bob, but he didn’t show. As I’m up and around every 2-3 hours every night, I didn’t worry, just headed off to bed. No sooner than I’d switched off the light, though, than I heard him yelling below my bedroom window.

“MOM! LEMME IN!”

Obediently, I went downstairs and opened the door. A few seconds later, Bob shot through it. He didn’t look up or wait for a pat and he was carrying his head low. Right away—because I’ve had this game played on me before—I came after him. Sure enough, he had a mouse. As soon as I reached down, he dropped it on the floor where it landed on it’s feet and sat there, scrunched tight, beady eyes blank with fear.

Now it was my turn to speak.
“Oh, dammit, Bobby!” 

Bob sat, looked at up me, and then back at the mouse in a leisurely, disinterested fashion. The mouse, hitherto a still life, suddenly scuttled beneath the bulk of the assemblage we shall call for ease of description an “entertainment center”.   Beneath this mass of cables, stacks of old  LP records, and precariously balanced electronics, it was--at least temporarily--safe.  Bob yawned and headed off to the kitchen to check out the food bowl. 

As I stood there, bubbling over with cat-related annoyance, I realized that Bob had just solved his Polar Vortex problem. If it’s too cold, snowy, and generally uncomfortable to hunt out-of-doors, why not bring the mouse inside and then hunt it later in the comfort of your own warm living room? 

I’m beginning to think that this cat is a lot smarter than the infamous Bloviator. As it’s impossible/irrational to imagine you can jawbone away an inconvenient truth, you'd do better to figure out a way to deal with it.


 
 




 ~~Juliet Waldron
Historical Novels with Passion and Grit
 

 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Crone Pathway




In the last twenty years or so the symbolism and healing experience of walking the labyrinth have returned to public attention. Used for stress reduction these pathways for walking meditation are being used in locations as diverse as churches, hospitals, prisons, retreat centers and community parks.
Traces of these convoluted paths have been found around the world in many divergent cultures from as early as 2500 to 2000 B.C.E... Historically they appear to have been used as an alternative to a spiritual pilgrimage, places to pace out prayers for healing and mercy, walking to reach a state of calm, clarity and inner balance.
Walking meditation is especially appealing to those who struggle with sitting still. Once you set your feet upon the path you let the steps lead your body along the way while your mind and spirit are free to contemplate deeper questions. .. or.. perhaps ..practice mindfulness in motion by focusing only on the present moment and savoring the rich sounds, smells, sight of grass, rock and sky…
I didn't really understand the labyrinth until I had walked the turning twisting pathway; circling round the goal of the center, confronting the challenge where the path swings back in the opposite direction. Theoretically I knew that the labyrinth way is different from a maze in that there are no dead ends, no chances of getting lost. There is one entrance, one path, one center… but many twists and turns.
So my first experience was not quite as enchanting as I had expected. When the path turned me back around from clear forward progress my logical mind protested. I wanted the straight route to where I was heading. Going another direction was not an appealing option. I persevered…..


I walk. I turn. I turn again. The desired end within sight of eyes, sighs of heart. The path circles back around, taking stubborn feet in the opposite direction. I question my progress/ feel ineffective. I keep walking/ pulling my attention back to the step just ahead. Finally with a prayer of relief I enter the center… calm.
 Will I ever learn to trust the process?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Researching Crows

I'm sure some of you are asking, "Why would anyone go to the bother of researching crows?" Two years ago, I blogged about researching dogs. Despite being a dog lover, I won't force them into a story if they don't fit. It just so happens that I had a couple of plots where dogs did fit into my stories. Not only that, but I was able to use my own breed, the Belgian sheepdog, in my Civil War ghost story Whispers from the Grave and the sequel Whispers Through Time. In my more recent work, The Dreaming: Walks Through Mist, a greyhound was my cunning woman's familiar spirit. That's also why I began researching crows. In the upcoming sequel to the dreaming series, Wind Talker, a crow is a recurring spirit animal.

Originally, I had chosen a crow because in many Native American cultures, the bird is a shape shifter. A shape shifter is a master of illusion, transforms themselves, and can travel many realms, including passing between the physical and spiritual worlds. The theme fit nicely with my original plot. In Wind Talker, the crow spirit took on much greater depth, so I began researching what the birds are really like.

Crows are highly intelligent and tend to live in family groups. They mate for life. What's more, they have a language. The most familiar sound is a "caw," but they can imitate other species, including humans. They make a variety of vocalizations, of which very few have been deciphered. Some observers also say that crows have a culture because the birds seem to be able learn new information through observation or instruction, then share the information with other members of their species.

They have been known to protect humans who feed them by dive-bombing the threat in the same manner as people often see crows harassing hawks, which are a danger to them. Crows have also been observed holding funerals. They'll surround the dead bird, sometimes in great numbers, and give piercing cries over it. Usually a silence grips the group before they start cawing again. They often spend hours with the dead one before flying off. I've never witnessed a funeral myself, but a close friend of mine has. She didn't know what was happening at the time and was truly amazed.

Because of my interest in crows, I started feeding my local flock. Being omnivores, they eat just about anything. The only things I've really seen them turn their beaks up at are leafy greens, tomatoes, and carrots. When I feed, they'll often come swooping in, sometimes within a couple of feet, and if I leave for a week on vacation, they'll shriek to me a welcome home. Then again, maybe they're saying, "It's about time you got back. Now feed me!" At other times, they'll make clicking or rattling sounds at me. I know they're talking. I only wish I knew what they are saying.

Kim Murphy

www.KimMurphy.net

Sunday, March 2, 2014

March Birthday Crones ~ March 14 ~ Marguerite de Angeli (1889-1987), children's writer and illustrator

After talking myself in and out of what I was or wasn't going to post this week, I was going to take the easy way out and post a link back to the Birthday Crones list for March. Then I realized that Marguerite de Angeli is on the list for March 14. She's right up there with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Frances Hodgson Burnett as the key writers who shaped my childhood and my love of reading and writing. The Door in the Wall and The Secret Garden were the two big chapter books I first read on my own. 

I was just going to post illustrations from her books (not only are they beautiful but look so springlike while I'm watching the rain or is it sleet starting the latest major storm today) but then thought I should share something about her life and just how important she is in children's literature. 

I'm quoting from Wikipedia now:

Marguerite de Angeli (March 14, 1889 – June 16, 1987) was an American writer and illustrator of children's books including the 1950 Newbery Award winning book The Door in the Wall. She wrote and illustrated twenty-eight of her own books, and illustrated more than three dozen books and numerous magazine stories and articles for other authors.

She was born Marguerite Lofft in Lapeer, Michigan, one of six children. Her father, George Shadrach Lofft, was a photographer and illustrator; her mother was Ruby Adele Tuttle Lofft. In 1902 her family moved to West Philadelphia, where she spent her most formative years. Marguerite entered high school in 1904, but a year later at age fifteen began to sing professionally as contralto in a Presbyterian choir for $1 a week. She soon withdrew from high school for more musical training.

In 1908 she met John Dailey de Angeli, a violinist, known as Dai. They were married in Toronto on 1910 April 12. The first of their six children, John Shadrach de Angeli, was born one year later. After living in many locations in the American and Canadian West, they settled in the Philadelphia suburb of Collingswood, New Jersey.[1] There in 1921 Marguerite started to study drawing under her mentor Maurice Bower. In 1922 Marguerite began illustrating a Sunday School paper and was soon doing illustrations for magazines such as The Country Gentleman, Ladies' Home Journal, and The American Girl, besides illustrating books for authors including Helen Ferris, Elsie Singmaster, Cornelia Meigs, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Her last child, Maurice Bower de Angeli, was born in 1928, seven years before the 1935 publication of her first book, Ted and Nina Go to the Grocery Store. The de Angeli family moved frequently, returning to Pennsylvania and living north of Philadelphia in Jenkintown, west of Philadelphia in the Manoa neighborhood of Havertown, on Carpenter Lane in Germantown, Philadelphia, on Panama Street [2] in Center City, Philadelphia, in an apartment near the Philadelphia Art Museum, and in a cottage in Green Lane, Pennsylvania. They also maintained a summer cabin in Tom's River, New Jersey. Marguerite's husband died in 1969 only eight months before their 60th wedding anniversary.

In 1971, two years after her husband died, she published her autobiography, Butter at the Old Price. Her last work, Friendship and Other Poems, was published in 1981 when she was 92 years old. She died at the age of 98 on June 16, 1987 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was survived by her 3 of her 4 sons, Arthur, Harry and Maurice; daughter, Nina Kuhn; 13 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren.

Her 1946 story Bright April was the first children’s book to address the divisive issue of racial prejudice. She was twice named a Caldecott Honor Book illustrator, first in 1945 for Yonie Wondernose and again in 1955 for Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes. She received a 1950 Newbery Medal, for The Door in the Wall, which also won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1961, a 1957 Newbery Honor mention for Black Fox of Lorne, a 1961 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and the 1968 Regina Medal.

Marguerite de Angeli's work explored and depicted the traditions and rich cultural diversity of common people more frequently overlooked – a semi-autobiographical Great Depression family, African American children experiencing the sting of racial prejudice, Polish mine workers aspiring to life beyond the Pennsylvania coal mines, the physically handicapped, colonial Mennonites, the Amish, nineteenth-century Quakers supporting the underground railroad, immigrants, and other traditional or ethnic peoples. De Angeli's books carry an underlying message that we are really all the same, and that all of us deserve tolerance, care, consideration, and respect.
















Saturday, February 22, 2014

LION'S DAUGHTER-Novel Excerpt, by Juliet Waldron


 
 
 
 
Kuhre fingered the binding of the knot. It was her collar, constant reminder that she belonged to Sekmeht.

              There were ways the knots, complex though they were, could be untied, but there was little chance of such a thing, little profit in untying. She never imagined it, never even dreamed of it.

              The collar, the knots, were crafted in finely braided red flax. This collar contained a high magic. Kuhre knew that only a priestess could remove it. If she herself discarded it, the goddess would find her--in the day, in the night--in the Red Land, or the Black--and eat her, liver first, as lions customarily did.

              Jaws dripping silver in the moonlight, a crocodile yawned. Kuhre could smell creature, the dangerous muddy reek on the faint breeze which floated across the water. She imagined her churning the brown Nile with her great tail, a cloud of blood welling in the shallows. She had seen this once, another child--her older brother--playing too close to the shore, taken, right before her eyes. The great creature had popped from the element of water onto the shore, and then was gone. The instant of flying mud and failing limbs had left behind only a shriek, his last cry hanging like a stricken bird in the buzzing, superheated air. How here parents had grieved, shaving their eyebrows! Kuhre had wept, too, although she'd felt more shock than grief for the brother, the child her parents most favored. Soon after, in the famine time, her parents had delivered Kuhre up to the temple and left her there, not seeming to care if she would serve there, or be sold as a slave in Canopus.

              That long ago afternoon had left Kuhre with a terrified fascination for the armored one, these children of Sobek, Lord of the Dark Water.   She had learned the safest time to watch them in the papyrus swamp below the temple was at night, when they were sleepy and cold, but the death she’d witnessed had taught a her a lesson, about how Death walked always at your side. Death could come and seize you in her black jaws in an eye blink. Laughter could, in an instant, become a scream, and you would be no more. Devoured, body gone, your Ka would be lost, doomed to wander forever in the realms of utter night.

              Kuhre knew she was in little danger here, atop the flat sanctuary wall, lying on her belly, a white linen shawl wrapped around her against the chill, gazing down at the lush scene --the lazy curve of the backwater--the papyrus, the low spreading pads of the lotus, their flowers closed tight like sleeping eyes, the tall palms outlined against the sable arch of Nut, her star children sparkling upon her curved belly.  It was night, the great blinding heat of Ra behind--and ahead.  Kuhre knew that as servant here, she had no father, no mother, no past, no future, only the Goddess whom she had been brought to serve seven inundations past.

              Ah, the Goddess! If any of her lamps went out, old Kennet would have her hide! Thinking of that, Kuhre finally arose. After first stretching her slim brown body against the velvet sky, she dropped down onto the other side of the still warm brick wall, into the holy precinct's well-watered garden.              

              She loved her ferocious Goddess. She enjoyed most of her simple tasks, keeping the holy rooms swept clean, and the altars dressed with flowers, although she did not particularly love washing the piss of the sacred cats from the feet of statues and the tall papyrus inspired columns. She loved dancing and singing for Sekmeht, shaking the sistrum, performing with the other girls beneath those cat eyes of palest gold, while the priests and priestesses chanted or sang the hymns that praised her. In the night, led within the darkest holiest place, the small temple within a temple, she had once been allowed to look upon the smallest and most perfect golden statue of Sekmeht, the light forever shining upon her, the ureaus crown gracing her lion’s head.  

              Carefully padding through the garden, reed sandals squeaking softly as she went, she tugged her shawl close with a shiver. She had stayed longer atop the wall than she had intended, watching death lolling, Sobek’s children spilling silver water from from her scales. 

              In the garden perfumes lingered. The smell of green, of flowers and trees was pronounced in the dry night air, now flowing into the valley from the desert. There were other smells, too. The strong smells of the sacred lions and leopards who regularly marked certain parts of the garden. They were loose in this place, but Kuhre was not afraid of them. They belonged to Sekmeht, and she belonged to Sekmeht, so there was nothing to fear. They had their moments, when they were cubbing or breeding, when it was not so safe to walk among them, but she was never afraid, never had been, even when she’d first arrived here as a child.

              Perhaps she should have been as afraid of the sacred lioness as she was of the crocs. She had, after all, seen two lions eat a man once, and in the same way that cats eat mice. A pounce, a bite, then the screams, the limping attempt at flight, the blood. Another ambush, more screams, then an encouraging slap of a great paw, suggesting escape, followed by another pounce, another broken limb, and so on, until the man’s spine broke, and the game ceased to be interesting. This was how Kuhre knew that lions liked to eat prey belly first, tearing out the soft parts, ignoring the dying gurgles, the useless, flapping hands.  She’d sat on the wall and watched, with a mixture of disgust and fascination, along with other temple servants.

              Still, she knew the big cats who lived here were not, as a rule, dangerous. Like her brother, the victim had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. That man had been more than heedless; he had been a criminal. The young man was a gentleman from another city, but he was of Egypt, and should have known better. He and his companions had entered the sacred precincts without devotion. Perhaps drunk, they had teased the lions in the garden, and then run.  It was just at sundown when this blasphemy occurred; the cats were hungry.    

              No one interferred, except that the priests came out and drove his impious friends back with whips and staves, prevented them from offering aid.  It was clear they had treated the lionesses, (and therefore, the Goddess) with great disrespect. Such flouting of the proper order of things must never be tolerated.  The rest of this group, the ones caught by the priests, had gone to the Natrum mines in the desert.  Perhaps the leader, the one eaten by the lions, had been given the softer punishment.

              So Kuhre walked on, taking the quickest way back to the temple. The moon was old, but still sufficiently gibbous to give good light for her human eyes. She saw the lionesses’ eyes glowing, as they watched her cross the garden, but she did not fear, for she knew they had been well-fed at dusk.  On every side, fountains tinkled and night-fallen dew dappled across the leaves. Above, a vast host of trembling stars spangled the night with white, blue and red... 

               

 
 
 
Juliet Waldron
 
Historical Novels told with Passion and Grit
 
To learn more about the Goddess today~~
 
 
 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Why a Happy Valentine's Day?

February 14th was a festival of randy, heathen practices called the Lupercalia in early Rome. Young men and women were matched by lottery on this day. They had as long as the following year to engage in “practice sex” and then decide whether they actually wanted to marry. How many years might that go on? “It was fun, but I want to try him out next,” said the 28-year-old . The original festivities also included the ceremonial offering of a goat which was then skinned, the skin split into strips, the strips soaked in blood, and finally the bloody skins were used to slap women. Any women. It was supposed to make them more fertile. It was all in good fun. I can’t imagine that being a whole lot of fun. In fact it sounds more like some really messy sado-masochism to me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I hear.

Then there is the Cupid’s arrow connection. Remember the story about Cupid (Venus’s son) and Psyche? Venus was jealous of Psyche, which is typical of beautiful women in the mythology of misogyny. So Venus told Cupid to use a love-poisoned arrow to make Psyche fall in love with some other guy. Instead Cupid scratched himself with the arrow and fell in love with Psyche and kept her in a beautiful palace with invisible servants. He made love to her at night so she couldn’t see him and know his identity. They ended up happily-ever-after, eventually. Psyche had to win him from his mother. Typical mother-in-law. It is instructive, however, to understand that he was not a chubby baby with wings – like you see hanging around today. He was a charming, if clumsy, young man with magic arrows and a very possessive mother.

Here is the problem with myths. It might have been any of three different men named Valentinus who became the Saint whose festival day is February 14th. That was the day one of him was beaten and beheaded. He was performing a wedding ceremony for Christians in Rome, which had been banned, or helping Christians to escape imprisonment. Maybe both. I find it interesting that “valentinus” means honorable and strong in Latin. It was also a fairly popular name. Maybe any man who martyred himself helping Christians was referred to as Valentinious, and one of them was beaten and beheaded on February 14th. I’m just saying, this might be the reason we have a Saint named Valentine and a Valentine’s Day.

There are female saints as well. I know, you better sit down. There is a Saint Valentina in the Greek Orthodox Church. She sacrificed herself for her friend in 308 AD. Valentina and Thea (her spiritual sister – according to the Nuns of the Monastery of Saint Syncletike) were at a gathering of fellow Christians when the local officials scattered the crowd. Thea was captured and tortured; Valentina came to her rescue. When Thea’s attackers tried to make Valentina kneel at a heathen altar, she kicked it to pieces. I hope she kicked some asses as well, because they started torturing her instead. Finally, the women were burned, together. And that is the horrific end of their story. No Hallmark cards for that one.

What is this holiday really about? It sells cards, chocolates, jewelry and flowers. It inspires sexy lingerie. But we could just spend some money and have a nice night any old day. We take one day of the year to celebrate love, and pinning down the origin of the day is almost as confusing as the subject. Today’s paper hearts and shiny red balloons seem silly at times; the flowers and candies worn out clich├ęs or obligations. At least they don’t involve slapping each other with bloody goat skins. The romantic love we idealize in stories like Cupid and Psyche’s seems long on sex and melodrama to me. Still, love strips us down to our most human motivations – lust, jealousy, passion, possessiveness.  For some of our relationships, love is unconditional to the point of being sacrificial. The nobility and strength needed to confront evil and protect other people from harm is certainly the result of love.

Whatever it means to you, whoever you love, however you celebrate, I hope you are happy on Valentine’s Day. May the cards and flowers, cupids and candies remind you that love is bigger than all of us and part of every one of us. Especially today.