Miss Pym and a Friend

Miss Pym and a Friend

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween and The Church

I'm back, after two weeks of not being able to type due to a hand injury that a physician's assistant made much worse. It is my favorite week and time of year, and it is cool, a little gloomy, and drenched in fall colors outside. There are a canopies of red and gold everywhere, and my tittle terrariums are ready for fall. We went to the pumpkin patch, and I'm even painting a few, where hand allows me. Most of all, I love Halloween for the family memories, my dad taking us out to trick or treat, my mom making fantastic costumes, for me and my dolls. My grandma sending boxes of goodies, and my babysitter taking lots of pictures andhaving mini parties ready for me after school.

Of course I knew the spooks weren't real, but who wouldn't want to be on The Jack the Ripper Tour, at Countess Bathory's castle, or at Disney's Haunted Mansion on Halloween night [all on my bucket list]? There is a rich cultural tradition for this holiday gone back to the Celts, even earlier, and there were spiritual people, rich in tradition and family virtue, courage, many good things. My here Boudicca was one of them, and really, so was St. Patrick, Arthur and his nights, Braveheart!

Below is a freely shared essay that I happen to like. Enjoy; forgive typos, more later when I'm completetly healed:

I have a confession to make. And it’s a bad one ….

When I was a kid … I used to get dressed up for Halloween! And it was not always something innocent either, like an astronaut or a cowboy. Once I was even a ghost! Worse yet, I would go door-to-door with my brothers and say “Trick or treat!” Idolatrous! Occultic! Satanic! Over time, of course this demon-glorifying activity caught up with me. Look at me now. I dress in black almost every day …

Of course you see the problem here. If not, you will very soon start reading about it in the paper again. Many people of churchy persuasions object strenuously to the observance of Halloween. Every year we read letters to the editor that run as follows:

“Halloween is the worship of the devil! Halloween comes from heathen roots! Trick or Treat comes from an ancient pagan custom: the Druids would go from house to house seeking a virgin to sacrifice! If you complied and handed over your family’s virgin, outside your door they left a jack-o-lantern with a candle inside … fueled by human fat! If you did not comply, a terrible trick would be played on you! The Catholic Church perpetuated the pagan legends with its Feast of All Saints! If you let your kids celebrate Halloween, you expose them to the possibility of demonic possession!”

Well, good Orthodox Christian, what should our Church make of this controversy? Is Halloween something we Christians should shun like the Black Mass? Don’t the facts about Halloween’s origins prove that it is an abomination?

No. First of all, none of these “facts” are true. It’s all fiction. We know almost nothing about the culture and practices of the ancient Druids, except what little the Romans had to say. (Mind you, these are the same Romans who also used to say that Christians hold secret orgies where they sacrifice babies and eat them—so let’s be careful about how much credence we give them.) The Romans invaded Britain in 43 B.C. There they found a number of Celtic tribes, which the Roman legions subjugated with relative ease.

Now, you need to know that the Romans were not what you would call “culturally curious.” They had little interest in the ways of the conquered Britons. Generally, when there is interaction between conqueror and subject, the conqueror picks up and uses the local names for rivers, hills, and the like. For instance, my home state is full of names from the native languages of the Indians: Michigan, Mackinac, Saginaw, Escanaba, Kalamazoo, Washtenaw. However, we find almost no use of the Celtic place names by the Romans. The Romans did not come to Britain for kaffee-klatsches, but for plundering and pillaging. Under the Roman sword the Celtic place-names perished with the Celts, as did any certain knowledge of Celtic or Druidic customs (like what kind of fat they used in their candles).

But what if it the stories about pagan Halloween were true? Does that prevent us from making a fun day out of the Thirty-First of October? Or do pagan origins damn a thing forever?

I would hope that as Orthodox Christians we would know better than to say that. We borrowed an awful lot of useful things from ancient pagan cultures. Our musical system of eight tones? From the pagan Greeks. (Next time you hear a dismissal hymn in the Third Tone, picture a phalanx of Lacedaemonian warriors marching into an attack: they liked Third Tone for their battle hymns.)

And our iconography is an obvious adaptation of Egyptian funerary art: the portraits painted on Egyptian coffins look very much like the faces in our icons. Christmas, we all know, is a retooling of the Roman celebration of the winter solstice, the Feast of Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun-god). And many, many Christian churches were built atop pagan shrines and holy places, the most famous example being the conversion of the Parthenon (a temple built in honor of Athena the Virgin Warrior) to a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Even Protestants with their Puritan impulses and their “just the Bible” mentality have to contend with borrowings from pagan sources in the Scriptures. For example, chapters 22-24 of the Book of Proverbs are almost certainly a translation of the older Egyptian advice guide The Instruction of Amen-em-Opet. And elsewhere in the Bible different titles given to God such as El Elyon “God Most High” and “the one who rides on the clouds like a chariot” (Psalm 104:3) are originally epithets for the pagan storm-god Baal.

What’s my point? You can’t judge a custom by its origins. What counts is one’s intention in the here and now. And let’s be honest: modern Halloween for you and me—and even the Wiccans down the street—has nothing to do with virgin sacrifice or black magic. It’s about having fun in a costume and eating things your dentist wouldn’t approve of.

“Well!” the anti-Halloween crowd would reply, “Halloween teaches kids that they can get something for nothing!!” But is that so bad? To my ears that sounds awfully close to the Christian idea of grace!

“Yes, yes, but we shouldn’t teach our kids that it’s OK to threaten someone with vandalism if they don’t fork over something you want!” Well, let’s look at this from another perspective. Maybe Halloween holds a nice little life lesson: you give a little to get a little. The Book of Proverbs speaks often of the power of gifts. If we all practiced the spirit of Halloween—being prepared always to give small kindnesses to those around us—what a wonderful world we would have.

Again, let’s be honest: no one was ever possessed by the devil because he or she dressed up for Halloween or passed out licorice or read a Harry Potter book. Our modern lives have way too many other avenues for temptation to enter, and these things are the real cause of our spiritual problems: pride, gluttony, hatred, materialism, and ignorance.

This may be the only pro-Halloween article by a clergyman you read this year. Actually, this piece isn’t so much pro-Halloween as it is anti-superstition, anti-paranoia, and anti-gullibility. American Christianity is too much titillated by thoughts of demons, based on a mythology of evil that has more to do with pagan folklore than the sober statements of Scripture. Such superstition gives all Christians a bad name.

That’s why I’m not afraid of Halloween, and I see no problem with Orthodox Christians having fun at costume parties. After all, why would anyone want to learn more about Jesus Christ and his message, if being a Christian means forever being a spoilsport and a killjoy? If you believe in one God, if you trust Him, then accept his protection (1 John 4:4) and don’t live in fear of demonic bogeymen. The real battle with the devil is fought in the heart, not in front of the Harry Potter bookstore.

Some people drink too much on New Year’s Eve. Should that stop you and me from enjoying a glass of champagne? Some people eat too much at Thanksgiving. Should that stop us from having our turkey with all the trimmings? Some people spend too much at Christmas. Should that stop us from exchanging gifts?

Some people go overboard on the spooky side of Halloween. It’s not too hard to avoid that for your family. Skip the horror movies. Don’t revel in gore. Don’t profane death. Don’t indulge in occult practices … But don’t be gullible, paranoid, or superstitious either!

And have a Happy Halloween!

By Fr. Mark Sietsema

Revised 8/17/11

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Pym and We Love Comments!

From the BP society;

I have some news to share, and a couple of reminders as well.

First, I'm very sorry to announce that Jeannette Molzer, an active member of the Society for many years, died last Wednesday at the age of 81. A memorial service will be held at St. George's-by-the-River Episcopal Church in Rumson, NJ, on Saturday 12 November at 11:00 a.m. You can read the complete obituary online.
The annual fall tea in Boston is now less than three weeks away, and the RSVP deadline is 30 October; details are in the attached flier. We would be delighted to have you (and a guest or guests) join us. If you plan to attend and have not already done so, please reply to Sarah Shaffer before 30 October.
The autumn issue of Green Leaves, including reports and papers from the Annual General Meeting in Oxford, is now being typeset and should be mailed in early November.
The North American Conference is only five months away, on 16-18 March 2012. The deadline for proposals for talks to be presented at the conference is 20 November 2011. Preference will be given to papers dealing with some aspect of Jane and Prudence, but any other Pym-related topic is also most welcome. While we do not reimburse speakers for their travel expenses, all registration and dinner fees are waived and we provide an honorarium, which has been increased to $300 this year. If you or someone you know is interested in speaking, please send a 100-150 word proposal to barbarapymsociety@gmail.com by 20 November. I encourage you to pass this Call for Papers along to any English Literature faculty or students you know who have a passion for Pym
Finally, the Pym centenary in April 2013 is rapidly approaching. BPS member Lloyd Miller, a professional illustrator and graphic designer, has developed some wonderful new Pym graphics, and the Society has just purchased the rights to use several photos of Barbara taken in the 1970s. The North American Board would like to know what sorts of Pym products you would be interested in purchasing -- mugs? tote bags? aprons? note cards? tea cozies? Modern digital printing makes it possible to put any image on almost any product, but we only want to invest in high-quality, highly "suitable" items that you will want to buy. You can reply to this email to let us know your thoughts.
Best wishes,
Tom Sopko, North American Organizer

The Barbara Pym Society
requests the pleasure of your company for
Afternoon Tea
and a Pym Trivia Quiz
Saturday 5 November 2011
3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
The Church of the Advent
Mt. Vernon and Brimmer Streets
Beacon Hill – Boston, MA
Parking available nearby at the Boston Common Garage
MBTA Red Line to Charles/MGH or Green Line to Arlington
$5 per person if you bring a suitable tea cake, sandwich, or pastry to share, $15 per person otherwise
If you plan to attend, please reply by 30 October 2011 by e-mail to SSShaffer@verizon.net or by phone to Sarah Saville Shaffer at 617-325-9342
‘A cup of tea always helps,’ said Mrs. Mayhew in a rather high, fluty voice. ‘It can never come amiss.’ – Barbara Pym, Jane and

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cycladic Idols, Archaeology and A Few Brown Leaves

From Finders Keepers:

"Cycladic idols come from the Early Bronze Age and became popular after World War II. It is estimated that around twelve thousand graves in the Cycladic Islands of the southern Aegean have been opened to find these idols. The slender carvings are notoriously hard to date,as is the exact manner of their use, because they almost all come from private sources rather than from archaeologists. They have almost no documented context" (Childs 112).

I also note that Barbara Pym writes of these; she has a character who has seen them on holiday in the Aegean. She tries to fashion them out of bread dough to relive the experience.