During the Second World War, it was feared that Germany would invade England. Many of the Canadian soldiers stationed in England were spread in a wide circle around London. An outright invasion would be a do-or-die situation, and Canadian soldiers had it been known to them – without direct orders – that no prisoners were to be taken.
One of the areas put under guard was Stonehenge. Though less so now, at that time Stonehenge was surrounded by vast planes. It was feared the Germans might use these open areas for paratroopers, and also gliders full of troops. Thus the area was defended.
My father was part of this protection, and it so happened that he stood guard duty near Stonehenge itself on Midsummer Day, and watched the sun rise over the monument.
He was aware of the significance of both time and place, as many of his comrades might not be.
Indeed, when he informed them that the Celts, at one time, sacrificed virgins on altars at Stonehenge, they expressed – in more earthy soldier language than I am going to use – “What a waste.”
The Commander-In-Chief decided it would be a grand day to become Admiral of the Fleet – Lord High Admiral if he chose the hat with cockade and plume. Nodding jauntily in the air, the plume put on an impressive display, as he either agreed, or disapproved, with a toss, or a shake, of his head. The dancing ostrich feathers would add a dashing air as he boarded his flagship and, with just the right mixture of stringent authority and well- tempered geniality, moved in imperious sweeps among the ranks of ratings on the aft deck. He would, of course, be extra careful about the pitfalls awaiting a man with ornate dress sword and scabbard, among the steep steps and narrow companionways.
Wednesday would be khaki day for the Commander-In-Chief. It was the day set aside to remind him of the loyalty he must always retain from his men, for what was a leader without his troops? As a treat – for really, the dull brown did not make for a very striking appearance – he would chose the tank commander’s uniform. With its wide web belt and shiny black holster on the hip, flap unsnapped to reveal the butt of a wicked forty-five. And, of course, the black leather gloves, as befits a man at the controls of so much power, and the steel helmet polished to a mirror-shine. The riding crop? Ah, the riding crop was debatable.
There would be a parade today, massed men at attention with stiffly held rifles and fixed bayonets. The Commander-In-Chief would have to chose carefully to represent his awesome power and responsibility. Cavalry boots would be a must, raising half-way up the calf and resounding with silver spurs, steel-tipped toes and heels. Then would come crisp black trousers, billowing majestically around the thighs, and kept up with a wide leather belt. He took care that each red stripe reaching the length of each leg was as straight as an arrow. His blue tunic, he decided, would have only muted decorations and the minimum of gold braid entwined about his shoulders. He was – after all – a Commander-In-Chief of the people.
~ Maybe not – but your stiff starchiness is evident, Frau Reich Chancellor.
~ One must keep you and the Tzar of all the Russias in their place.
~ Nothing is going to keep Vlad in his corner of his empire.
~ Unless . . .
~ Speak it up, Herr Donald.
~ I dunno – you never know who is listening these days.
~ I think we’re safe – the Tzar is on his way home.
~ But “home” is the operative word, Angie.
~ Then you had best whisper into my shell-like ear.
~ All we’d need is a Twitter GIF of that!
~ Not to worry – I’ll just roll my eyes.
~ Well – Frau Angie – why don’t we form an Anchluss?
~ I think you mean an alliance, Herr Donald.
~ I’ll leave the technicalities to you.
~ And we’d already have an alliance, Der Donald, if you behaved yourself.
~ Did you just say “dear”?
~ Not in this lifetime.
~ Just checking, Angie.
~ Nor the one after.
~ The ladies like a bit of power – if you get my drift.
~ Hell would first freeze over.
~ I’m thinking you might accomplish that, Frau Reich Chancellor.
First of all, we know that Canada Day is really Dominion Day. But – that said – there is still no better symbol for Canada than the industrious beaver. But even hard-working beavers (perhaps, especially hard-working beavers) need their time at play. This is what I saw.
I was walking along the river and heard the strangest noise.
It was one of those noises which, when I found out what It was, sounded exactly as it should. A beaver was chewing at a branch on the bank of the river. First there were small rolling noises, as the branch went through its hands. Then the ‘gnaw gnaw gnaw’. And then the turning noise and the cycles were repeated.
This went on fifteen minutes or so, until the beaver and I both heard noises in the water.
We both saw another beaver approaching. The beaver-at-gnaw quickly went in her direction (though I can only guess which sex was which). They swam toward each other then rubbed faces. The approaching beaver made small bawling noises like a young calf. They rubbed bodies and seemed to sniff each other. They then swam in different directions.
This performance – the swimming away, the languid circling, the approaches – went on for twenty minutes. A couple of times the ‘gnawing’ beaver clambered over the over beaver’s back, but this lasted just a few seconds. The beaver that had first approached rubbed noses once again, then made the bawling sounds one more time.
I never appreciated how large beavers are until one of them came up on the bank. The water was clear enough to see their feet and tail move underwater (I wonder if the portion out of the water might have the 1/10 proportion of an iceberg). The sun was setting and they became difficult to see. However they decided to part anyway. One began to go down river toward the harbour and one headed to the other shore. For me an experience of a lifetime.
Brigadier O’Donald decided that it would be a grand day to become Admiral of the Fleet – Lord High Admiral if he chose the hat with cockade and plume.
Nodding jauntily in the air, the plume put on an impressive display, as he either agreed, or disapproved, with a toss, or a shake, of his head. The dancing ostrich feathers would add a dashing air as he boarded his flagship and, with just the right mixture of stringent authority and well- tempered geniality, moved in imperious sweeps among the ranks of ratings on the aft deck.
He would, of course, be extra careful about the pitfalls awaiting a man with ornate dress sword and scabbard, among the steep steps and narrow companionways.
Wednesday was khaki day for Brigadier O’Donald.
It was the day set aside to remind him of the loyalty he must always retain from his men, for what was a leader without his troops? And as a treat – for really, the dull brown did not make for a very striking appearance – the would chose the tank commander’s uniform.
With its wide web belt and shiny black holster on the hip, flap unsnapped to reveal the butt of a wicked forty-five. And of course the black leather gloves, as befits a man at the controls of so much power, and the steel helmet polished to a mirror-shine.
The riding crop? Ah, the riding crop was debatable.
Today would have a parade. Massed men at attention with stiffly held rifles and fixed bayonets.
Brigadier O’Donald would have to chose carefully to represent his awesome power and responsibility. Cavalry boots are a must, raising half-way up the calf and resounding with silver spurs, steel-tipped toes and heels.
Then would come crisp black trousers, billowing majestically around the thighs, and kept up with a wide leather belt. He took care that each red stripe reaching the length of each leg was as straight as an arrow.
His blue tunic, he decided, would have only muted decorations and the minimum of gold braid entwined about his shoulders. He was – after all – a fighting general.
A civic reception is the time when Brigadier O’Donald will be on close display.
He believes he is at his most effective when draped completely in white, save – of course – for his highly polished black dress shoes (and, in truth, he favoured white even here, but feared such footwear was a trifle effeminate). White is striking by itself, but well he knew it made the perfect background for his medals and decorations.
He has trouble deciding upon which colour sash to wear across his chest, but finally chooses the emerald green – the reception is in the public gardens. He dons his silver-visored cap, and graces his bosom with the blue Clustered Palm of Valour; the diamond centered Star of Courage; the gold Pyramid of the Oaken Grove; and seven rows of bars and campaign medals.
There are no visiting Heads of State, so he need not be too brilliant.
Christmas is a fake that has taken root like the holly and survives tenaciously. It has become a goodies grab fest, and helps keep our commercial society stable. Perhaps reason enough to exist.
The wily Christians conquered the outnumbered Celts and supplanted their winter festival with the birth of their God. The wily pagans live on in the numerous traditions the Christians stole, so perhaps it is a fair trade. And no doubt those wily pagans chuckle over their mead, noting this celebration of reverence has become a surfeit of greed.
I have been no fan of Christmas for decades, but its mixed legacy encourages me not to abandon it. My Christian background encourages my enjoyment of the music and traditions. Most commercial intrusions can be muted or turned off. I have some personal traditions I almost follow religiously.
I do not even rail against Santa Claus. I heard his sleigh bells one Christmas Eve when I was five. I saw his sleigh runner tracks in the snow a couple of years later.
I have even been mistaken for Santa a couple of times.
Once, in the line-up in a bank near Christmas, a two year old pointed at me. Unfortunately, my presence terrified him and he started to scream and cry. His parents said things like “But Santa is nice and kind.” I was wise enough not to go Ho Ho Ho.
Another time a family approached me as I walked in a park. A boy, who looked to be six or seven, stopped in his tracks then ran back to his parents. “Santa Claus!” He pointed. Happily he did not cry. They walked past me in silence.
Also, for decades, I lived close to a residence where one of the very first recitations of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas happened. The author of that stirring piece, Clement Moore, who wrote it in 1822, sent a copy to his godfather, the Rev Johnathan O’Dell, of Fredericton New Brunswick. However, the poem was not published until 1837.
This year, I have been brushed by Christmas but twice.
I entered a restaurant to meet a friend for lunch. Before any query was out of my mouth, I was ushered to the correct table. I found out the maître d‘ ‘ had been told to be on the outlook for Santa Claus.
And, just this morning, I was told by a revered friend and writer that she was going to write a Christmas Eve column about how silly Christmas really is.
Silly is a kind word.
Halloween [All Saint’s Eve] has been imposed upon the Celtic festival of Samhain. That’s what the Christians did as they replaced other religions. Keep all the good bits and call it something else. In my novel, A Lost Gospel, Druids and the Celts go one better. They have to make sure that Yeshua [Jesus] gets crucified.
The following is a portion of the first chapter of A Lost Gospel, edited for clarification.
Segment from A Lost Gospel:
It was a Sorcerer’s moon.
At least that is what the boatmen called it, and they feared travelling under its light. It gave false hope in the fog, disappearing just when it promised to show the way. And when it emerged again, it was only to reveal the distance the foundering sailors would have to swim.
“We can’t go in this, Head Druid.”
“No, Ogma. We can’t.”
“I don’t concern myself with the things you deal with, Head Druid.” Ogma stared into the fog before he continued. “You plot and plan.
You tell me our voyage will affect the world for thousands of years.” He laughed again. “You may be right, or you may get visions from the ale.”
“There isn’t drink strong enough to show me what I’ve seen.”
“None of us doubt you.” Ogma’s voice became lower. “You tell me what to do – and I do it. But I can’t do my job if I begin to worry about what might happen.”
“It isn’t that simple.”
“For me it is.” Ogma took a couple of steps closer to Cowin.
“You’d pull the oars alone, if you had to.” The Head Druid’s voice was less tense. “I don’t know if that’s single-minded, or simple-minded.”
“This might prove no worse than sailing around the island.” Ogma debated whether or not he should be insulted by Cowin’s last comment. “Going around the north tip of The Isle of Man is like going to the end of nowhere. We do it often.”
“That’s right enough.” Cowin turned his back to the water. “We add some days to our usual voyages, and we can reach Europe.” His voice became animated. “And after we arrive in the Alps, we won’t be travelling alone.”
“What do we know of these Mountain people?” Ogma turned abruptly from the sea. “We should stick to our own kind.”
“Do you need things repeated into your ears time after time?” The Head Druid was quickly annoyed.
“Perhaps.” Ogma pulled his cloak against the damp.
“What is it you want to be told again?”
“How are we supposed to kill a God?” Ogma’s voice rose as the words spilled out. “And why do we go to this place called Jerusalem to do it?” He leaned toward the other man. “And in this giant heathen encampment, how will we find one man named Yeshua?”
“We’ll know these answers when we get to Jerusalem.” Cowin’s voice betrayed his impatience. “We’ll get there with the help of these mountain people.” Cowin bent down to speak directly into the little man’s ear. “And they are our own kind. They’re Druids, and they join us with their unicorn.”
“The beasts.” Ogma shook his head. “One is trouble enough.”
“We need their woman, Glarus. She was with this god when he was born.”
“Why didn’t she smother him then?”
“Because it was not the time!” Cowin stared at the smaller man. “You’ve heard the oracles. You’ve seen the signs. You know the way the unicorn behaves. This Yeshua must die only when he is a man – and we must make certain that the man dies.”
“A God which is a man. A God which is able to die.” Ogma’s voice rose. “And you ask why I don’t understand.”
“Our own gods decree this change.”
The Head Druid made a cutting motion with his hand to show the discussion was over, but Ogma ignored him.
“These are not our beliefs.” Ogma moved his own hands in an agitated manner. “You mix us together with strangers, then cast us into the oven of Jerusalem to bake with Romans and Jews.” He shook his head empathically. “I’m more than willing to die, Head Druid – but for something which makes sense.”
“If you will die for our ways and beliefs, consider the glory of a God who accepts to die.”
“Such a God would be dead.”
“Ogma.” Cowin forced himself to be patient. “We go to a wondrous place when we die. And it is most glorious to go through the Door of Death if we die for a valiant cause.” The Head Druid grabbed the small man’s shoulder, his voice no longer controlled. “Try to imagine where a God must go, once he is dead. How magnificent it will be. How powerful that God will become. Greater than any of the Gods we know.”
“A dead God greater than our Gods which live?” Ogma was silent for a long time, surprised by Cowin’s fervour.
“Much greater.” Cowin nodded his head.
“You talk like the Oracles, who speak of thoughts I don’t understand.” Ogma suddenly laughed, and slapped the Head Druid on the back. “But if this Yeshua becomes more powerful than our gods, it is wise to get on his good side.” Ogma grinned broadly. “I’ll be glad to kill him myself.”
“We don’t raise a hand.” The Head Druid walked away from the shore. “We make certain that the Romans nail him on their tree.”
“What?” Ogma hurried to catch Cowin. “We trap this Yeshua, and do the dirty work of the fucking Romans?” He grabbed the sleeve of the other man’s tunic, and forced him to stop. “I won’t help those dogs.”
“You’ll do what’s necessary.” The Head Druid waited until the small man loosened his grip. “We join these other people, and we do this job.”
“A slave’s job.”
“We deliver nobody to the damned Romans.” Cowin resumed his brisk walk. “We help the woman Glarus get to Jerusalem, and she makes Yeshua deliver himself.”
“Yeshua is to surrender to the Romans?”
“What real man gives up?”
“Ogma.” The Head Druid paused to look closely at his companion. “The reason you can never lead the Council, is that you don’t see past the end of your sword.”
They have learned that every celebration has its risks. The Druids have taught them this, and the Druids are correct.
Samhain is a festival of the harvest; the end of summer; the preparation for the winter to come. Samhain is a juncture. As they all know, junctures lead to sundry places. There is both the leaving and the coming. A time of disquiet. A time of danger to those unprepared.
It holds the magic and the power of midnight. Midnight is a powerful time because it is the juncture of two days. Midnight of Samhain thus holds double the power. It can not be avoided. It must be met with all the power that mortal man can muster. It must not be met alone.On the Eve of Samhain, the border between Life and the Otherworld is breached. A door swings invitingly open, but it is not inviting to those who live. It is inviting to those who have died.
The Dead who still miss their lives. The long Dead who still are curious.The distant Dead who get a whiff of fresh air and have their memories stirred.
So the Dead approach.
The Dead approach.
The living must prepare to meet them, just as they prepare for the vicissitudes of winter. The same threatened cold holds sway over both.
The living assemble the treats and threats that will assuage the longings of the Dead. Because the living have a healthy fear of death, they equally wish to avoid the Dead. The Dead can prove to be envious and attempt to relieve the living of their lives.Lanterns from the earth are hollowed out of turnips. Their light will guide the dead to safer places (safer for the living). Candles will shine through carved faces.
Some faces are friendly and welcoming.
Some are ugly and fierce to give any aggressive Dead a pause.
There will also be treats to entice the Dead – apples and pastries and savouries and some roasted game fresh from the bonfires. There will be ale and other spirits to keep the Spirits at bay.The living will wear costumes and masks to disguise themselves from those Dead who might wish their company to be more permanent.
They will remove the masks if the Spirits are friendly.
They will dance and sing and raise a right ruckus to entertain the Dead.
The boneyard is on the outskirts of town. The revellers approach with noise and caution. The bonfire is set. The moon hangs from the trees. The gated fence stands closed and latched.
The living pause.
Is it the wind, or do the hinges scrape the stone?