31 August 2012

31 August - Blue Moon

Astronomy: Today we are treated to a Blue Moon, which the Old Farmer’s Almanac calls the “Full Red Moon”, and others call the Fruit Moon or the Corn Moon or that bright thing which makes sky watching so difficult.

However, it is argued that the term as used for today’s full moon is not quite correct because a real ‘blue moon’ is the third moon in a season with four moons, and even though August has two full moons, the full moon today is the third moon of the season and there won’t be a fourth, the September full moon coming after the autumnal equinox… and there you are.

Well, the Widow is always on the side of the correct (she still has arguments with people over when our current millennium started), but she is also on the side of tradition, even a tradition that is only 66 years old.  So call it a Blue Moon if you like.

How better to welcome it but by sipping on a BLUE MOON cocktail?

This is the classic cocktail (at least classic to my 1960 cocktail book):
     “1½ ounces dry gin
       ¾ ounce Crème de Yvette
      Stir well with cracked ice and strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass.  Add the twist of a lemon peel and drop into the glass.”

(If Crème de Yvette or other Crème de Violette liqueurs are not available, you can always fall back on the beautiful blue of Curaçao drinks.)

There are two schools of thought about the ingredients of the original cocktail, both citing Hugo Ensslin’s 1917 book “Recipes for Mixed Drinks” as their source.   One of them published a recipe not much different from the above, while the other, the proprietor of a delightful blog called “Cold Glass, says that it was gin topped with Bordeaux and has a glorious red color.

Since this month’s second full moon can be called the Full Red Moon, I think that’s perfect.

Vintage Printable

29 August 2012

29 August - Decollation of John the Baptist

Today is the second feast of St. John the Baptist, that of his beheading.  My own take on the story is here.

"Watch where you're putting that thing!"
Over the years there have been learned disputes and disquisitions that this festival day originally commemorated the finding or gathering of his relics, particularly his head or the finger which had pointed to Christ when he said “Behold the Lamb of God”, and that it was called Festum Collectionis Sancti Johannis Baptistae.  At some point, they aver,  Collectionis’ was corrupted to ‘Decollationis’, and thus became the commemoration of his beheading.

Of course it might have been the other way around and Decollationis might – through clerical error – have become de collectionis.  Bad spelling is nothing new.

The Golden Legend (13th century) makes everybody happy by saying that the day was established for four causes: “First, for his decollation; secondly, for the burning and gathering together of his bones; thirdly, for the invention and finding of his head; and fourthly, for the translation of his finger and dedication of the Church.  And after some people this feast is named diversely, that is to say, decollation, collection, invention, and dedication.”  It then goes on to discuss each cause at length.

Be that as it may, at least from the 10th century and probably a few centuries before, today has been dedicated to the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.


Sometimes artists depicted the beheading by having John stick his head out of his prison door or window (or like the image above, up through the floor from his cell)

Headsman: “Yo, Johnnie-boy, der’s a lady here wants to talk wi’ youse.

John B obliges, looking out of the window or door, and THWACK!  And the rest you know.


And what became of the other principal actors of this drama?  The story is that some years later, around AD 39, Herodias convinced Herod Antipas (against his better judgment) to go to Rome and seek the title of king.  Unbeknownst to either of them, her brother Agrippa (since it was likely his crown they were seeking) sent letters to Caligula claiming that H. A. had made treaties of friendship with the rulers of Persia and had stockpiled arms in various cities preparatory to leading a rebellion against Rome.  Herod’s answers to a few casual questions about the battle-readiness of the area under his control convinced the emperor that Agrippa was right, and H. A. was sent into permanent exile, either to Lyons (France) or to Spain.*  Herodias was given the option of staying in Rome or Judea with the rest of the family, but she chose to stay with her lover in Lyons or Spain, “and there ended their lives miserably.”

*According to Sir William Smith: “She accompanied Antipas into exile to Lugdunum, probably… Lugdunum Convenarum, a town of Gaul, on the right bank of the Garonne, at the foot of the Pyrenees, now St. Bertrand de Comminges, on the frontier of Spain.”  Dictionary of the Bible, 1868.

A more satisfying legend, one that could grace a horror movie, is that Herodias died “when she held the head between her hands… but by the will of God the head blew in her visage, and she died forthwith.”

Dancing Salome, the daughter of Herodias and Herod II (aka Herod Philip) married her father’s half-brother, another Herod Philip, better known as Philip the Tetrarch.  Talk about inbreeding!  Herod II, Philip the Tetrarch, and Herod Antipas (Salome’s step-father) were sons of Herod the Great (he of the Holy Innocents Massacre) by different mothers.  Herodias (Salome’s mother), Herod of Chalcis, and Herod Agrippa I (who put to death the Apostle James) were children of Aristobulus, another son of Herod the Great.  Herodias married her uncle Herod II, had Salome, and left him for an adulterous liaison with another uncle, Antipas.  Keeping it in the family, Salome married her paternal uncle/maternal grand-uncle. 

(I wonder if any of them played dueling psalteries?)

Philip the Tetrarch, after some ambitious building and rebuilding projects, died in his new city of Cesarea (Philippi) in AD 34.  Salome then married her cousin Aristobulus, king of Chalcis and Armenia Minor, and had three sons: Herod, Agrippa, and Aristobulus.

Legend desired that she die a horrible death for her crime and so claimed that she drowned or was swallowed alive by the earth or fell through an icy pond and was appropriately decapitated by the ice.  She probably died of full living, being somewhere in her late 40s or 50s.

Both Herodias and Salome have asteroids named after them.

Rogier van der Weyden,  Saint John Altarpiece (right panel), 1455-1460.
Dutch woodcut, Golden Legend, 1489
Unknown artist and title.  I call it "Oh 'eck!"

28 August 2012

28 August - Charlie McCarthy; Charles Cocktail

Today in 1938 on the Charlie McCarthy Show (radio), Ralph Dennis, the Dean of the School of Speech at Northwestern University awarded an honorary degree of Master of Innuendo and Snappy Comeback to Charlie McCarthy, seen here in a candid moment.  Among other things, the award stated that he was “…churlish in behavior, acid in conversation, wooden-faced in all relationships, and thus in many respects a typical product of higher education in America.” [so true]

(If you are too young to remember Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, read about them here in a 1995 Old Time Radio article by Read G. Burgan, and on Wikipedia.)

This was not the first time a degree was awarded to a dummy. 

It certainly wasn’t the last.

No one ever claimed there was anything honorable in honorary degrees.


To celebrate Charlie’s M.A. (or M.I.S.C.?), enjoy a CHARLES COCKTAIL:

1 ¼ ounces Sweet Vermouth
1 ¼ ounces Brandy
1 dash of Bitters
Stir well with cracked ice and strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass.

A few of those and you too will have sawdust for brains.

26 August 2012

26 August - For my sister

Lordy, lordy, looks who's....

Nope, she's long past that.  She's goin' for the gold!

(the other candles are hiding in the back)

Happy birthday, sis.  Welcome to the golds.


Weather - Tradition says that it always rains today. [tradition is in the Caribbean today]

The last Sunday of the month indicates the weather for the next month [we started with a little fog this morning, but it is now bright sunshine, clear blue skies, and enough of a breeze to make sitting on the porch the object of the day]

Speaking of which...

There will be as many snows in the following winter as there are fogs in August [one so far]

So many August fogs, so many winter mists [one so far]

On the other hand...

A fog in August indicates a severe winter and plenty of snow [so it looks like that one snow is going to be a doozy]

Observe on what day in August the first heavy fog occurs, and expect a hard freeze on that same date in October [preparatory to the severe winter]

25 August 2012

25 August - Saint Genesius

“…at Rome, St. Genesius, martyr, who embraced the profession of actor while he was yet a Pagan.  One day he was deriding the Christian mysteries in the theatre in the presence of the emperor Diocletian; but by the inspiration of God he was suddenly converted to the faith and baptized.  By the command of the emperor, he was forthwith most cruelly beaten with rods, then racked, and a long time lacerated with iron hooks, and burned with fire-brands.  As he remained firm in the faith of Christ, and said: “There is no king besides Christ.  Should you kill me a thousand times, you shall not be able to take Him from my lips or my heart,” he was beheaded, and thus merited the palm of Martyrdom.”

Actors have never been considered virtuous people, perhaps because their vocation relies on lying and fraud, i.e. they represent themselves to be what they are not. Even in Rome, they were a despised class of foreigners and former slaves, and since their performances could include [as it does today] sexual acts onstage or off, it is no wonder that they were barred from decent (and hypocritical) society.  That they tended to be of the roving sort – bands of players moving about the countryside – classed them with other vagabonds and tramps. Father Alban Butler describes their milieu as “… the stage, the most infamous school of vice and the passions, and the just abhorrence of the holy fathers of the church, of all zealous pastors, and all sincere lovers of virtue.”  [That was in 1866, and Hollywood and all its Babylonish women hadn’t even been thought of.]

Father Butler continues: “Among other entertainments prepared for him [Emperor Diocletian], those of the stage were not neglected…one of the players took it into his head to represent, in a ludicrous manner, the ceremonies of the Christian baptism, which could not fail to divert the assembly, who held this religion, and its mysteries, in the utmost contempt and derision.” [Sound familiar?]  According to the story, Genesius, who had informed himself of the Christian rites in order to more effectively deride them on stage, acted the part of a mortally ill man wanting baptism; he and the other actors went through the entire ceremony, up to and including arresting the new “Christian” and hauling him before the emperor sitting in the audience, who was prepared to play his part in the comedy and condemn the new Christian to untold torments [audience participation is nothing new.]

But something happened to Genesius when he jestingly spoke his lines, “I am resolved to die a Christian, that God may receive me on this day of my death, as one who seeks his salvation from flying from idolatry and superstition.”  God took him at his word, and Genesius went through the ‘baptism’ with all the sincerity of a new convert before a true priest.  When he stood before Diocletian, the words were not from the script but from his heart, “…Wherefore, I advise you, O great and mighty emperor, and all ye people here present, who have ridiculed these mysteries, to believe, with me, that Jesus Christ is true Lord; that He is the light and the truth; and that it is through Him you may obtain the forgiveness of your sins.”

People don’t like it when you deviate from the script.  Nor, when they are out for an evening’s entertainment, do they want to be preached at.  The emperor returned to the script and condemned the new Christian to untold torments.   The audience was amused.

A 9th century English martyrology says of him: “… he was first a certain emperor’s mima, that is jester, and sang loose songs before him and danced obscene dances.  At last he began to read the divine scriptures and received baptism.  When the emperor tried by threats to convert him again to paganism, he said, ‘As I received baptism, I saw that God’s angel stood there and had in writing all the sins I ever committed before; he blotted them all out and extinguished them in the bath of baptism.’  For this, the emperor ordered him to be beheaded.”  And so he was, circa 303 AD.

He is the patron, of course, of actors, clowns, comedians, dancers, entertainers, and of all who make their livings by stage-craft.  There is a Confraternity of St. Genesius devoted to praying for all those in the theatrical arts (and if the scandal sheets are correct, there is a lot of prayer needed!)  By association, he is a patron of prostitutes, since actresses and prostitution were pretty much synonymous.

He is also the patron of lawyers and barristers, perhaps because of their courtroom theatrics, or perhaps conflating him with Saint Genesius of Arles, a notary of that city, who “refusing to record the impious edicts by which Christians were commanded to be punished, threw away his tablets publicly, and declared himself a Christian.  He was seized and beheaded, and thus attained to the glory of martyrdom through baptism in his blood.”  His feast is also today.

Comic Mask, Roman mosaic, Indianapolis Museum of Art

Giovanni Battista Poza, c1591. Baptism of St. Genesius (detail). Church of Santa Susanna, Rome.

24 August 2012

24 August - St. Owen; Periwinkles Forestiere

Weather –As Bartholomew’s Day, so the whole autumn.

If Bartelmy’s day be fair and clear, Hope for a prosperous autumn that year.

St. Bartholomew brings the cold dew.

If it rains this day, it will rain the forty days after.

Thunderstorms after Bartholomew’s Day are more violent [compared to what?]

If the morning begins with a hoar frost, the cold weather can be soon expected and a hard winter.

St. Bartholomew’s mantle wipes dry all the tears that St. Swithin can cry.
Yesterday was the last of St. Swithin’s Forty Days and the weather should be more settled now.  Should be. On the other hand:
June, too soon;
July, stand by;
August, it must;
September, remember;
October, all over…
                                                         (rhyme for hurricane months)

Today we celebrate…
The apostle St. Bartholomew, who preached the Gospel of Christ in India.  He passed thence into the Greater Armenia, where, after converting many to the faith, he was flayed alive by the barbarians, and beheaded by order of king Astyages, and thus he terminated his martyrdom.  His sacred body was first carried to the island of Lipara, then to Benevento, and finally to Rome in the island of the Tiber, were it is venerated by the pious faithful.


At Rouen, St. Owen, bishop and confessor.  Saint Ouen (died 683) was the bishop of Rouen, France, for forty-four years. Prior to that, he had served as chancellor to the Merovingian king Dagobert I, in company with Eligius (Eloi), another devout servant of the king. The two became good friends.  

Ouen is believed to have compiled the Salic Law [which among other things kept women and their descendents from inheriting the French crown, and contributed to such conflicts as the Hundred Years War].  After the death of the king, both Ouen and Eloi considered themselves free to pursue other vocations, and when Ouen was consecrated bishop of Rouen in 640, Eloi was consecrated bishop of Moyon.

Ouen worked hard to eradicate the pockets of paganism in his diocese, in between which he gave the ruling monarchs his expertise in diplomacy.  He wrote the life of his friend Eligius, before succumbing to an illness contracted on his last diplomatic journey.

The Saint-Ouine fair that was held in the spring in Brittany was familiarly known as the Periwinkle Fair (from the large amounts of periwinkles for sale) and as the Whistle Fair (from the large numbers of whistles and other noisemakers available to those who just love to make noise).  The fair was held in St. Malo until a fire destroyed much of the town in the 16th century, whereupon it was moved to the island of Grand Bé, where a chapel devoted to St. Ouen was frequented by wives praying for the safe return of their seafaring husbands and turning the chapel cross to the quarter whence the wind should come.

So in honor of Saint Owen of Rowen, let us enjoy periwinkles.

Periwinkles are like snails.  It takes a tidy few to make a mouthful.  At St. Ouine’s fair, they were sold in large bowlfuls, and that is what it would take to make a decent meal.  Unfortunately, the work needed to produce a decent meal or even a decent mouthful is enough to discourage those who are not dedicated escargot-philes.   This is very, very SLOW FOOD.

Caveat: If you find your periwinkles along our northeastern shores, pay attention to warnings about safe days to harvest shellfish.  In the Smallest State, we have to put up with our neighbor to the east pouring their sewage into the local waters, and occasionally the shellfishing is banned. 

To prepare, bring periwinkles to a boil in salted water and boil briskly for about 20 minutes.  Drain.  Pick them out of their shells.  Now you can

  • dip them in garlic butter (accompanied with a good bread and a good wine)
  • use them as you would clams in a sauce for pasta

Saute 24 mushroom caps (or broil them) until soft.  Fill each cap with a couple or a few unhoused periwinkles (how many is left up to you). 

Whip ½ cup of sweet butter until soft, then add 1 crushed garlic clove, ¼ cup of finely chopped parsley, and a dash of salt and pepper (to taste).  Place a pat of the butter mixture on the periwinkles, and then broil until the butter is melted and the mushrooms are hot.

The recipe says that it serves 4, which means six mushroom caps per diner.  Add salad, bread, wine, beer, and good company.  Makes a fine dinner, I reckon.

16 August 2012

16 August - Saint Roch

In France, near Montpelier, the demise of blessed Roch, confessor, who by the sign of the cross, delivered many cities of Italy from an epidemic.  His body was afterwards transferred to Venice, and deposited with the greatest honors in the church dedicated under his invocation.

Today is the feast of a very popular early-renaissance saint, Roch, patron of those who languish in prisons (which a lot of people did) and of the hospitalized sick (which a lot of people were), and invoked against pestilence and plague and skin problems (from which a lot of people suffered).  He was born into a well-to-do family of Montpellier, France, and seemed marked from birth (with a red cross on his chest) for a life of sanctity. As a young man, he was left a vast patrimony which he distributed among the poor, and leaving the administration of his lands to the care of his uncle, put on the garb of a pilgrim and set off for Rome. 

On the way, he found a plague raging in Aquapendente, and stayed to help nurse the victims (possibly he had some knowledge of medicinal remedies, or perhaps he had done volunteer work as an orderly or candy-striper).  The sick were said to be healed merely by his prayers, or by the sign of the cross, or by his shadow as he stood over them; when the plague ceased, the grateful townspeople attributed it to his intercession.

For years he traveled from one plague-ridden town to another, serving in the hospitals and bringing comfort and healing to the victims. While in Piacenza, he contracted a new and unknown infection, which caused a horrible ulcer to break out on his thigh. Unwilling to disturb the inmates of the hospital with his moans of pain, he removed himself to a place outside the city.  A small dog, either belonging to himself or to a kind-hearted man called Gothard, stayed with him, going each day into the city and returning with a loaf of bread.  Gothard (or an angel) found Roch in the woods and cared for him until he was well enough to return to his home in Montpellier.

By that time, he was so changed that even his own uncle did not recognize him.  The time being one of insurrections and wars, in which every stranger was viewed with suspicion, he was thrown into prison as a spy, where he stayed for five years until his death.  A paper was found next to his body with the writing: “All those who are stricken by the plague, and who pray for aid through the merits and intercession of Roch, the servant of God, shall be healed.”  Now, finally, everyone knew who he was and buried him with due solemnity.

Word of this spread, enhanced by the cessation of plague when Roch was invoked. 

Enter the devout body-snatchers.

Venice, that great commercial city on the Adriatic, unloaded infections at their wharves along with the treasures of the world, and felt that the relics of such a saint would be mighty useful. Since they were already adept at ‘transferring’ relics from their original resting places (having previously rescued the body of St. Mark from Alexandria), this was child’s play. The holy pirates, under the guise of pilgrims, stole the remains of Saint Roch from his tomb, and installed them in the new church of San Rocco.  No word on how the Montpellierites felt about that.

He is also the patron of dogs (for obvious reasons) and of tile-makers – at least Parisian tile-makers who settled in the area of a church dedicated to Roch on the Rue St. Honore and took him for their patron.

He is usually depicted in his pilgrim’s weeds, showing the ulcer on his thigh, and accompanied by his dog.

15 August 2012

15 August - Assumption

Weather: On Saint Mary's Day, sunshine brings much good wine. 
[Which is especially enjoyed in my backyard on a lazy August afternoon.]

If the sun shines on Mary's day, that is a good token, and especially for wind.

Rain on St. Lawrence is late but good            (August 10)
Rain on Assumption is also late but good     (August 15)
But if St. Bartholomew rains, slap him!         (August 29)
[once the harvest begins, we need dry weather.  A late rain can mildew the plants in both field and barn]

Farming and Gardening:
When Mary left us here before,
The Virgin's Bower begins to blow;

The Holy Queen of Heaven gives us the first nuts.


Today is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven – another joyous festival of the Church.

Hail, O Queen of Heaven!
Hail, O Lady of Angels!
Root and Gate from whom the world’s Light was born;
Rejoice, O Glorious Virgin,
Fairest of all who are fair.
Farewell, most beautiful maiden,
And pray for us to Christ.

V. Allow that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin.
R. Against thy enemies give me strength.

Let us pray: Grant us, O merciful God, strength against all our weakness; that we who celebrate the memory of the holy Mother of God, may by the help of her intercession rise again from our iniquities.  Through the same Christ, our Lord.  Amen.


This is also known as Festum Herbarum or the Feast of Herbs.  Traditionally, herbs, grains, and other useful plants are blessed today.

Naogeorgus, in what the author of the Perennial Calendar calls his “churlish and ill-timed raillery” had much to say about the feast of the Assumption:

“The blessed virgin Mary’s feast has here its place and time,
Wherein departing from the earth, she did the heavens climb;
Great bundles then of herbs to Church, the people fast do bear,
The which against all hurtful things, the Priest does hallow there.
Thus kindle they and nourish still, the people’s wickedness,
And vainly make them to believe, whatsoever they express;
For sundry witchcrafts, by these herbs are wrought, and diverse charms
And cast into the fire, are thought to drive away all harms,
And every painful grief from man or beast, for to expel,
Far otherwise than nature, or the word of God does tell.”

The ‘witchcrafts’ to which he refers are the subsequent uses of the plants in the daily lives of the faithful.  John S. Stokes, Jr., in his article, “The Blessing of Mary Gardens as Holy Places” says, “Among the most important of Plant blessings were those at the time of harvest, beginning with those on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, on August 15th.  On this feast the first fruits of healing and life-sustaining herbs, grains and other plants were brought to Mass by the faithful tied in Assumption Bundles, and placed on the altar in special processions. Then, after blessinq during the Mass ceremony, they were taken home for reservation as blest holy objects for use - much as palm fronds blessed and distributed on Palm Sunday are used today.”

Some of the uses in Naogeorgus’s time (16th century) would, no doubt, resemble superstition, such as placing blest St. John’s Wort around an infant’s cradle to protect it from being stolen by fairies or burning petals of blest flowers during a thunderstorm.

[Don’t feel smug.  There are still people today who believe that the positions of the planets and the stars – as seen from earth – have the ability to regulate daily human activity, and won’t make a move without checking ‘their’ horoscope.]

But the reason for blessing them goes deeper than mere superstition. “Through the blessings bestowed upon them, their misuse is atoned for, their healing power enhanced, and their growth commended to God's protection."  According to Stokes, these should be, “placed in prominent positions in home or workplace - as a focus for prayers for protection from evil spirits and as reminders to prayers for physical and spiritual healing and well-being.”

Not even Naogeorgus could object to reminders for prayers.


A study made in the southeastern tip of Poland lists the plants which go into Assumption Bouquets and the beliefs surrounding their uses.  The author photographed several such bundles, which might give you an idea for your own bouquet.

Lithuanian tradition says that if you don’t hold herbs in church today, the devil will give you his tail to hold instead.  For more Lithuanian customs, see "Herbal Holyday – August 15."

In “Travels through Sicily, Malta, and Lipari’, a certain Mr. Howel facetiously described how the festival was celebrated in 18th century Messina:
“An immense machine of about 50 feet high is constructed, designing to represent Heaven; and in the midst is placed a young female personating the Virgin, with an image of Jesus on her right hand; round the Virgin 12 little children turn vertically, representing so many Seraphim, and below them 12 more children turn horizontally, as Cherubims; lower down in the machine a sun turns vertically, with a child at the extremity of each of the four principal radii of his circle, who ascend and descend with his rotation, yet always in an erect posture; and still lower, reaching within about 7 feet of the ground, are placed 12 boys, who turn horizontally without intermission around the principal figure, designing thereby to exhibit the 12 Apostles, who were collected from all corners of the earth, to be present at the decease of the Virgin, and witness her miraculous assumption. This huge machine is drawn about the principal streets by sturdy monks; and it is regarded as a particular favour to any family to admit their children in this divine exhibition, although the poor infants themselves do not seem long to enjoy the honours they receive as Seraphim, Cherubim, and Apostles; the constant twirling they receive in the air making some of them fall asleep, many of them vomit, and several do still worse!"

[Southern Italians are so exuberant in their celebrating]

Go thou and do likewise.


Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1670.  The Assumption of the Virgin.  Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Woodcut of the Assumption from The Golden Legend, 1489.

13 August 2012

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

For some reason, certain of our ancestors considered Mondays almost as unlucky as Fridays (Friday still being the unluckiest day in the week to start any venture).  Three such were

  • The First Monday in April, the day on which Cain (the first murderer) was born and Abel (the first victim) was slain.
  • The Second Monday in August, on which day the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by Holy Wrath. 


  • The last Monday in December, when Judas Iscariot (the betrayer) was born (unless that day be Christmas Day, in which case the unluckiness moves to 31 December).

“These be dangerous days to begin any business, fall sick, or undertake a journey.”

Some attribute the above superstitions to advice from Lord Burghley (Elizabeth I’s chief minister) to his son; others to a book published in the reign of Charles I, or an Irish manuscript, or ‘Ye Olde Manuscript’, or “No reference is made to any authority for these dates…”

But you will still find sailors who will not set out on the above dates.


“And the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.  And he destroyed these cities, and all the country about, all the inhabitants of the cities, and all things that spring from the earth.  And his wife looking behind her, was turned into a statue of salt."  Genesis 19:24-26

You already know the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom-and-Gomorrah, and if not, you can read it in the 19th chapter of Genesis.  As to the question of why the Lord destroyed S-&-G…, well, I thought I knew from my early Bible School days.  It seems, however, that we were wrong.  According to the Finest Intellects of Our Time, God destroyed the cities of the plain because they were inhospitable.

[Well, that makes sense.  Sexually assaulting visitors to your city is definitely inhospitable, don’t you think?]

Images of the cataclysm usually include Mrs. Lot being transformed into a pillar of salt, with Lot and his daughters fleeing or taking refuge in a cave (look closely at the above image where a bolt of lightning is about to hit Mrs. L).  Most often, she is portrayed standing still and looking back (and already a pillar of NaCl) as in this 1866 engraving by Gustave Doré.

The Nuremberg Chronicle depicts the escapees as a prosperous German burgher family.  Lot and his fashionably dressed and coiffed daughters resolutely turn their backs on the flame-engulfed buildings and follow the angel to safety, while behind them, Lot’s Wife, a salt cone with a typically German headdress, takes a last fond look at her home.

In this stained glass window, a white but still recognizable Mrs. L takes center stage between two masses of color – her family with the angel on the left, whom she has seems to be following, and a pile of burning buildings on the right to which she has turned her head.

And what would be perfect to put on the table today?  These, from Kosher Cook.  Yep, Lot and Lot’s Wife salt-and-pepper set (you can figure out which is which).


John Martin, 1852.  The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne. (Swiped from Wikipedia).

Gustave Dore, 1866. Lot Flees the Destruction of Sodom. Engraving.

Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493. Lot Flees from Sodom.  Woodcut. 

Canterbury Cathedral, late 12th century. Lot's Wife Turned into a Pillar of Salt. Gothic stained glass.

11 August 2012

11 August - Noah releases the dove

Weather – Dog Days end (not noticeably).

[Of course, if it seems like the Dog Star hasn’t given up, there are other dates on which the Dog Days are said to end.  Pick one.]


In an 1832 book titled (take a deep breath):



I found the following entry under 11 August: “Noah sends the dove forth again, Saturday, who returns no more. “
(Previous entries were the 5th of April: “The ark rests upon Mount Ararat, in Armenia, midway between the southern extremities of the Euxine and Caspian seas…”;  
the 18th of June: “The tops of the mountains are first seen by the inhabitants of the ark, seventy-four days from the resting of the vessel”;
the 28th of July: “Noah… opens the window of the ark, and sends forth a dove and a raven, forty days after the appearance of the mountains”;
and the 4th of August: “Noah releases the dove a second time, who returns in the evening with an olive-leaf in her mouth – a sign that the waters had abated.”

(I looked for an entry that said, “Noah invents wine,” but I guess that wasn’t an important anniversary to the author.)

You can find the story of Noah in Genesis, starting in chapter 6 (he invents wine in Chapter 9).  The Golden Legend expanded on it a little: “The seventh month, the twenty-seventh day of the month, the ark rested on the hills of Armenia.  The tenth month, of the first day of the month, the tops of the hills appeared first.  After these forty days after the lessing of the waters, Noah opened the window and desired sore to have tidings of ceasing of the flood.  And sent out a raven for to have tidings, and when she was gone she returned no more, for peradventure she found some dead carrion of a beast swimming on the water, and lighted thereon to feed her and was left there.  After this he sent out a dove which flew out, and when she could find no place to rest ne set her foot on, she returned unto Noah and he took her in.  Yet then were not the tops of the hills bare.  And seven days after he sent her out again, which at even returned, bearing a branch of an olive tree, burgeoning, in her mouth.  And after other seven days he sent her again, which came no more again.”
After which God made a covenant with Noah and with those who would come after him, setting his rainbow in the heavens as a token.

“All the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, night and day, shall not cease.” Genesis 8:22.

[As I write, the Smallest State is experiencing le Deluge, which I would gladly share with my friends in the Midwest.]

And those of you of a certain age might remember the conversation between God and Noah (courtesy of Bill Cosby):

"How long can you tread water?


Artwork: Mosaic in Basilica di San Marco, Venice.  Swiped from Wikipedia.

01 August 2012


The eighth was August, being rich array’d
In garment all of gold down to the ground;
Yet rode he not, but led a lovely maid
Forth by the lily hand, the which was crown’d
With ears of corn, and full her hand was found.
That was the righteous Virgin, which of old
Liv’d here on earth, and plenty made abound;
But after wrong was lov’d, and justice sold,
She left th’ unrighteous world, and was to heav’n extoll’d.

“In the old Roman calendar, August bore the name of Sextilis, as the sixth month of the series, and consisted but of twenty-nine days.  Julius Caesar, in reforming the calendar of his nation, extended it to thirty days.  When, not long after, Augustus conferred on it his own name, he took a day from February, and added it to August, which has consequently ever since consisted of thirty-one days.  This great ruler was born in September, and it might have been expected that he would take that month under his patronage; but a number of lucky things had happened to him in August, which, moreover, stood next to the month of his illustrious predecessor, Julius; so he preferred Sextilis as the month which should be honoured by bearing his name, and August it has ever since been among all nations deriving their civilization from the Romans.”

Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, (1832), Volume II, p. 253.

A glorious month!  It is also the Widow's birth month.

Skillful people are born in August, says the old adage.


August - the noblest, the most happy and generous division of the year...

Astronomy for August
The full moon this month - on the 1st - is known as the Sturgeon Moon or the Corn Moon.  We will also be treated to a Blue Moon on the 31st, which the Old Farmer’s Almanac calls the “Full Red Moon”, and others call the Fruit Moon or the Corn Moon or that bright thing which makes sky watching so difficult.

Meteor ShowerThe Perseid meteor shower (St. Lawrence’s Tears) is slated to peak in the predawn hours of the 11th and 12th.  This should be a better year for viewing the spectacular shower than last year, as the moon will be waning.   


Weather for August
Based on the 12 Days of Christmas: Mostly sunny and warm.
Based on the first 12 days of January: Sunny and warm, gorgeous.
Based on the Ember Days: Sunny, cool, glorious weather!

Weather Lore for August
Dry August and warm
Doth harvest no harm.

August rain gives honey, wine, and saffron. [Sounds good!  Saffron-honeycakes and a glass of wine.]

August sunshine and bright nights ripen the grapes. [Even better!]

Rain early in August refreshes the trees.
A wet August never brings dearth.
There will be as many snows in the following winter as there are rains in August. 

The same goes for the number of foggy mornings.

Rain on St. Lawrence is late but good            (August 10)
Rain on Assumption is also late but good     (August 15)
But if St. Bartholomew rains, slap him!         (August 24)
[once the harvest begins, we need dry weather.  A late rain can mildew the plants in both field and barn]

A north-wind in August brings settled weather. 

So many August fogs, so many winter mists.

Observe on what day in August the first heavy fog occurs, and expect a hard frost on the same day in October.

A fog in August indicates a severe winter and plenty of snow.

As August, so the next February.  [I don't want to think about next February.  It comes soon enough.]

If the first week in August is unusually warm, the winter will be white and long.  Describe 'unusually'.  For that matter, describe 'white and long'.  Up here, all winters are white and long.  Sometimes there is more 'white' one year than the next; nevertheless, winter starts somewhere in October and lasts through May, no matter how much white has fallen.

August thunder indications do not come alone: one thunderstorm will follow another.

If the wind has been south for two or three days, and it grows very hot, and you see clouds rise with great white tops, like towers, as if one were upon the top of another, and joined together with black on the nether side, there will be thunder and rain suddenly.
If two such clouds arise, one on either hand, it is time to make haste to shelter.

An old Albanian tradition said that the first twelve days of August foretell the weather of the succeeding twelve months.

8/1 - If geese and ducks run around with straw in their beaks today, there will be destructive storms in late summer, and autumn will be very boisterous.

8/6 - As the weather is on Transfiguration, so it will be the rest of the year. [Which I take to mean either settled or unsettled weather, as in, if the day is fine, then winter will not be hard, and autumn, spring, and summer will be equable, but if the day is stormy, then we can expect hard weather conditions throughout the year.]
8/10 - If on Saint Lawrence's Day the weather be fine, fair autumn and good wine may be hoped for.

              If it is fine on St. Laurence’s day and the day of the Assumption, there will be a good vintage.

8/11 - As the Dog Days commence, so they end.

8/15 - On Saint Mary's Day, sunshine brings much good wine. Which is especially enjoyed in my backyard on a lazy August afternoon.

            If the sun shines on Mary's day, that is a good token, and especially for wind.

8/19 - If it rains on Saint Louis' day, it will rain for eight days.

8/24 - As Bartholomew's Day, so the whole autumn.

          If Bartelmy's day be fair and clear, 
          Hope for a prosperous autumn that year.

          Saint Bartholomew's mantle wipes dry
          All the tears that Saint Swithin can cry.

          Saint Bartholomew brings the cold dew.

          If it rains on Bartholomew's Day, it will rain the forty days after.

          Thunderstorms after Bartholomew's Day are more violent.

           If the morning begins with a hoar frost, the cold weather can be soon expected, and a hard winter.

8/26 - Tradition says that it always rains today.

           The last Sunday of the month indicates the weather for the next month.


Farming and Gardening:  "August brings the sheaves of corn; then the harvest home is borne."

August fills the kitchen, and September the cellar.

“Till Lammas Day, called August's Wheel,        (Aug 1)
When the long Corn stinks of Chamomile.
When Mary left us here before,                            (Aug 15)
The Virgin's Bower begins to blow;
And yet anon the full Sunflower blew,
And became a Star for Bartholomew.”              (Aug 29)

8/1 - traditionally, cabbage seed was sowed on the first Wednesday after the 29th of July.

8/10 - Saint Lawrence's day puts the sickle to the wheat.

Plant spring flowering bulbs, like daffodils, or dig up, separate, and replant the bulbs in your garden after the second week in August.

8/15 – The Holy Queen of Heaven gives us the first nuts.

8/19 - Sow turnip seeds on Saint Sebald's day.

Cassell’s Illustrated almanac 1871 for August:
Flowers.—Tie up dahlias, watch for caterpillars, and entrap earwigs by placing on the dahlia-stick a small flower-pot with a little hay in the bottom; or it answers the same purpose to place short lengths of hollow straw or bean-stalks about the plants, and gather them up every morning. In the beginning of the month carnations and picotees may still be layered, and the better kinds should be shifted into pots as soon as they have rooted, that they may be the more readily protected from frosts. Plant out biennial stocks where they are intended to flower.

Vegetables.— Continue the earthing up of celery; bend down the necks of onions; and sow lettuce and spinach for the winter. Also prepare your bed for sowing cabbage for spring and summer supply. Hoe frequently between young plants of Brussels sprouts, Savoys, etc.

Fruit.Continue to remove weak and straggling offsets of vines, and thin out the smaller berries from your bunches of grapes, which will increase the size of the remaining fruit. Protect your ripening plums from insects by hanging decoy bottles of sugar or treacle from the walls.

August, in my 1817 almanac, is a tremendously busy time in the garden:
“Sow Cauliflowers, Spinach, Onions, Cabbages, Coleworts, Lettuce, Cresses, Chervil, and Corn Sallad, for Winter Use.  Transplant Broccoli into the Ground, where it is to remain for flowering.  Plant Slips of Savory, Thyme, Sage, Hyssop, Rosemary, Lavender, Mastick, and other aromatic Plants.  Continue to sow Rape, Radish, Mustard, Cresses, and Turnipseed every Week; they will now soon grow large enough to use.”

Health Advice for July:  “This Month use moderate Diet, forbear to sleep soon after Meat, for that brings Oppilations, Head-achs, Agues, and Catarrhs, and other Distempers of the same Kind.  Take great Care of sudden Cold after Heat.”


August. Engraving by Samuel Williams. William Hone, The Everyday Book and Table Book, (1838), p. 1058

August – Harvesting. Engraving based on an 11th century manuscript. William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898), p. 77