Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year - A Christmas Carol TAG

Surely you all know “A Christmas Carol”, the traditional Charles Dickens tale that tells the story of an old man named Ebenezer Scrooge, obsessed only with money and without any sense of holiday, altruism or kindness, and how the visit of three spirits taught him the true meaning of Christmas. Since it’s one of those “must” traditions, I was watching one of the movie transpositions of the novel, and I got an idea. Why not sharing with you some aspects of my past, present and future life, with maybe getting rid of some of my heavy heart? No one has ever thought about this before, and so I present it to you for the first time ever. This is “A Christmas Carol Tag”.

You will be visited by three ghosts
Jacob Marley Ghost. The first spirit visiting Scrooge is his old business partner Jacob Marley, represented as a corpse who is forever cursed to wander the earth dragging a network of heavy chains, forged during a lifetime of greed and selfishness. The ghost threatens Scrooge he would suffer the same fate if he didn’t redeem himself. His representative question could be "Which one of your sins/bad habits do you repent of ?". For me the answer to this question is very simple: sometimes I am very envious. I can’t help it, it’s like my mind is forcing me to excel in everything, otherwise I should be envious of things other people can do and I can’t. Envy is a waste of emotions, but lately I have learned to bury this demon deep down and be helpful to those around me and start thinking of what I can do. And without a doubt this is such a more rewarding feeling.

"I told you these were shadows of
the things that have been," said the Ghost.
 "That they are what they are, do not blame me!"
Ghost of Christmas Past. This is a spirit surrounded by a ring of light that comes from its head, making it look like a candle and holding a hat-shaped extinguisher and a holly branch. The spirit wakes up Scrooge and brings him back in time to his forgotten childhood and youth. The question that best fits this ghost could be "Which one is the memory you cannot live without and Which one would you want to forget?". Personally, I cannot live without smiles. When I'm feeling down, I always think of my parents and friends’ smiles, as well as the times we've had together. I don’t think I would forget anything of my past. Misfortunes, sadness and sorrows have made me what I am today and without those things I wouldn’t have tempered my character.

“Come in, -- come in! and know me better, man!
I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me!
You have never seen the like of me before!”
Ghost of Christmas Present. Everyone thinks this ones the merrier ghost. It looks like a giant, with a green cloak trimmed with white fur, a holly wreath on his head and a torch-cornucopia in hand, sitting on a throne of Christmas delicacies. This funny character shows Scrooge how other people spend Christmas, showing him also the sad story of Tiny Tim, who you all certainly know (and if you haven’t felt bad at least once about the little boy you don’t have a heart). And the question is "What would you change in your today life and Who do have to thank for who you are today?". With all the problems that have overwhelmed me lately, the only thing I would like would be a slightly less hectic life ... a little more calm but not boring. For what I am today of course I have to thank parents, relatives and friends. But above all I thank all of you who follow me and read my blog, because nothing makes me feel better than writing on my little page on the Internet and without you my work would be useless. So thank you from the bottom of my heart.

“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed,
“I fear you more than any spectre I have seen”.
Ghost of Christmas Future. The most mysterious and ghoulish of all. The spirit closely resembles the Grim Reaper. A colossal figure, wrapped in black cloak and hood from which nothing emerges but a black hand protruding from the sleeve. The ghost is completely silent, but it guide Scrooge only with a finger. While visiting the Christmas yet to come, Scrooge realizes that if he didn’t change, he would die in loneliness without any comfort. Obviously the question is "What do you hope/expect from your future?". Obviously everyone hopes for a luck, successful and loving future and surely I would hope so. But there’s something else I really want from the future: I want it to amaze and surprise me. Remember me that the world is a place where people can still believe in miracles, going beyond daily life.
And that's it for this year. But since this is a tag now it's your turn!!! Anyone who’s reading this post is tagged. Nothing would make me happier. Oh, and you can do whatever you want: write a post, make a video, write it in the comments ... whatever you want. I wish ou all a magical new year and all the best in the world. Happy Holidays ... and never stop Snooping Around.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Santa’s Hallucinating Mushrooms

There’s no way of thinking about Santa Claus without involving magic. A sparkling sleigh towed by flying reindeers in the middle of the night with millions of presents for the good boys and girls of the world. Normal people should be completely drunk or worse to actually see something like that. Well, according to a strange theory, this possibility is not far away from the truth. What if I tell you the unlikely source of the story of Santa and his helpers could be hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Of course you are now probably wondering how could some perception altering mushrooms be connected with the good old symbol of Christmas? John Rush, an anthropologist and instructor at Sierra College in Rocklin (CA) said:

"Santa is a modern counterpart of a shaman, who consumed mind-altering plants and fungi to commune with the spirit world"

Therefore the legend of Santa would derive from shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions who dropped a bag full of hallucinogenic mushrooms into locals' tents as presents in late December. This custom became a tradition during the winter solstice, when shamans used to collect some Amanita Muscaria (considered Holy Mushrooms even if it can be poisonous sometimes), dry them and then give them as gifts, using an opening in the roof of the tent through which people entered and exited, made because in that period snow is usually blocking doors. So this could be also an explanation of the reason why a big man like Santa should always pass through a tiny hole on the roof. Of course, a lot of scientists don’t believe in this strange connection, but there are more other coincidences that should be considered.

Mushrooms, like gifts, are found beneath pine trees. Even if this particular example could be seen as a pure coincidence, late author James Arthur, in his book “Mushrooms and Mankind”, points out that Amanita Muscaria lives throughout the Northern Hemisphere beneath conifers and birch trees. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the tree and the mushrooms, which are deep red with white flecks. This practice of the Christmas tree and the placement of bright red-and-white presents underneath could be partially explained. In his book, James Arthur wrote:

"Why do people bring pine trees into their houses at the Winter Solstice, placing brightly colored packages under their boughs, as gifts to show their love for each other … ? It is because, underneath the pine bough is the exact location where one would find this 'Most Sacred' substance, the Amanita Muscaria, in the wild".

Then, what about “flying” reindeers? Reindeer are common in Siberia and northern Europe, and seek out these hallucinogenic mushrooms, just like the area's human inhabitants have also been known to do. In Siberian legends the reindeer took flight each winter after ingesting the Amanita Muscaria. Shamans would join them on a vision quest, by taking the mushrooms themselves and then, climbing the tree of life, they would take flight like a bird into other realms. Donald Pfister, a Harvard University biologist who studies fungi, suggests that Siberian tribesmen who ingested the Amanita Muscaria may have hallucinated that the grazing reindeer were flying. Also Carl Ruck, a professor of classics at Boston University, said:

"At first glance, one thinks it's ridiculous, but it's not. Whoever heard of reindeer flying? I think it's becoming general knowledge that Santa is taking a 'trip' with his reindeer. […]Amongst the Siberian shamans, you have an animal spirit you can journey with in your vision quest, and reindeer are common and familiar to people in eastern Siberia. They also have a tradition of dressing up like the mushroom … they dress up in red suits with white spots".

Another strange connection that Pfister pointed out is the fact that tree ornaments shaped like Amanita mushrooms and other depictions of the fungi are also prevalent in Christmas decorations throughout the world, particularly in Scandinavia and northern Europe. If sneak a closer peak you’ll find mushrooms everywhere. That said, Pfister made it clear that modern-day Christmas and the ancestral practice of eating mushrooms are no longer strictly connected as they once were.

Talking about modern Christmas, this theory suggest that even the 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore, is connected with the little mushrooms. The origins of Moore's vision are unclear, although Arthur, Rush and Ruck all think the poet probably used northern European motifs that derive from Siberian or Arctic shamanic traditions. Arthur wrote:

"At the very least, Santa's sleigh and reindeer are probably references to various related northern European mythology. For example, the Norse god Thor flew in a chariot drawn by two goats, which have been replaced in the modern retelling by Santa's reindeer”.

Last but not least, let’s talk about where Santa lives. Ruck said:
"Is there any other reason that Santa lives in the North Pole? It is a tradition that can be traced back to Siberia".

What do you think about this theory? Do you think it could be a funny interpretation of Santa’s origins? Maybe Rudolph has his little bright red  nose for a reason…

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Urban Legends - Krampus, The Christmas Shadow

Surely Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Life looks a little bit better with snow, lights and songs all over the decorated streets. And of course there’s Santa Claus (also known as Saint Nicholas) bringing joy and presents to all the good girls and boys. But there’s some parts of Europe, like Germany, Austria, and other parts of the Alps region, where naughty children needs to be very careful during the holidays because of a dark, mischievous and grumpy figure hidden in the shadows. This evil spirit is the Krampus, Saint Nicholas counterpart.

This creature is an anthropomorphic beast with fangs, fur, and horns. Dark and ancient spirit, Krampus announces his presence with loud bells and terrorizes the kids who have misbehaved during the year. In contrast with Santa giving the good ones gifts and joy, Krampus gives the bad ones whip beatings and nightmares. And if you have been particularly naughty, Krampus will drop you in a sack and whisk you away to his lair in the underworld and you’ll never be seen again. A fairy tale gone horribly wrong…

How did this creature come to be a part of the Christmas tradition? Scholars estimate that Krampus started appearing between the 11th century and the 13th century. The legend has probably started High up in the Alp countries, connecting this monster with witches and demons. The word “Krampus” is derived from the Old High German word krampen, meaning “claw”. According to Norse mythology, Krampus is the son of Hel, the goddess ruler of the underworld. There are also a few physical similarities between Krampus and Greek mythical creatures – like the horns and hoofs of satyrs and fauns. So it looks like Krampus has something to do with ancient myths and legends from all over the world.

The creature spread to other European countries such as Switzerland, Czech Republic and Hungary, with slightly variations in looks, names and practiced customs. In Tyrol (a state in western Austria), Krampus tends to look like a giant and sadistic, teddy bear. In western Germany, he actually arrives with Santa, sitting shotgun in his sleigh. In Styria (southeast Austria), the birch sticks used for his whip are painted gold and displayed year around, to remind kids of Krampus’s impending arrival. After entering in the Christmas tradition, Krampus was given chains showing him as an embodiment of the devil being bound by the Church.

Then, after being connected and altered in order to give him a more religious meaning, Krampus was attached to St. Nick, a Christian saint and the owner of his very own feast day on December 6th. St. Nick, himself, wouldn’t be closely associated with Christmas until early 19th century with the name Santa Claus deriving from the Dutch language. In many parts of Germany and Austria, St. Nick is still separate from Christmas and celebrated on December 6th.

The connection has its logic because Krampus was awarded his own night called Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) on December 5th, the day before St. Nick’s feast. During this night, Krampus wanders around making loud noises and scaring bad kids while good kids put a boot outside, hoping St. Nick to drop fruit and nuts into it). This night is still celebrated in the Alps region with run of celebrants dressed as the wicked beast and it is customary to offer Krampus a drink of warm schnapps, a "strong alcoholic drink resembling gin and often flavored with fruit".

Despite these connections to Christianity, Krampus is still a pagan origin and some traditions have survived and are still part of today’s creature. He continues to carry bells, which were customarily used to ward off spirits. As mentioned, the animal-like appearance of most Krampus’ also date to pagan times and hasn’t been changed at all.

As for Santa Claus, Krampus, along with other German pagan legends, started to regain acceptance and a following in the 19th century. This was partially due to the ancient German folk tales that the Brothers Grimm popularized in the early 1800s. In fact, Krampus gets a quick reference in Jacob Grimm’s 1835 book Deutsche Mythologie (translated to “Teutonic Mythology”). Art and postcards were also created that showed off Krampus and people began to exchange Krampus cards (with some saying “Greetings from the Krampus”) in Europe during the late 19th century as a rather peculiar way of wishing happy holidays. 

Krampus hasn’t been an accepted European tradition during the war neither. In 1934, four years before the Third Reich overran Germany and Austria, The New York Times published an article called: “Krampus Disliked in Fascist Austria, declaring the Krampus strictly forbidden. Same old political issues.

More recently, Krampus has become very popular all over the world. And if have never heard of him before...well, now you know. So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Beware the Krampus…
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