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Monday, 29 September 2014

The Devil Spits - The Traditions and Customs of Michaelmas Day

The 29th September is better known as ‘Michaelmas Day’, or ‘The Feast of St Michael and All Angels’. ‘St Michael’ is the archangel who personally threw ‘Lucifer’ out of Heaven. According to the legend, when Lucifer fell from grace, he landed on Earth right in the middle of a bramble bush. Since then, he returns on every anniversary to get his revenge by fouling and spitting upon all unpicked blackberries. Therefore it is believed whoever gathers them afterwards will have bad luck! It is true that, by this day, maggots and early frosts will probably have spoilt the crop!


At this time of year, the Aster (Aster nova-belgii) blooms, and it has become known as the Michaelmas Daisy. The Michaelmas Daisy comes in many colours, from white to pink to purple. An old verse goes:

The Michaelmas Daisies,
among dede weeds,

Bloom for St Michael's valorous deeds.

And seems the last of flowers that stood,

Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.

(The Feast of St. Simon and St.Jude is 28 October) An old custom surrounds Michaelmas Daisies; one plucks off the petals one by one thus: pull a petal while saying

Michaelmas Daisies
""S/he loves me," then pull of the next while saying "S/he loves me not," and repeat until all petals are gone. The words one intones while pulling off the last petal lets one know if one's love is requited.

As to foods, geese were, at least at one time, plentiful during this time of year, so roast goose dinners are traditional (eating them on this day is said to protect against financial hardship, according to Irish and English folk belief). It was also the time (at least in Ireland) when the fishing season ended, the hunting season began, and apples were harvested, so eating apples today with that goose would be a nice touch.


Michaelmas was considered another key date for weather predictions. A clear sunny Michaelmas Day meant that a dry but freezing winter lay ahead.

If ducks do slide at Michaelmas,
At Christmas they will swim;

If ducks do swim at Michaelmas

At Christmas they will slide.

Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days September 29th 1864, details the traditions of Michaelmas.

Michaelmas Day, the 29th of September, properly named the day of St. Michael and All Angels, is a great festival of the Church of Rome, and also observed as a feast by the Church of England. In England, it is one of the four quarterly terms, or quarter-days, on which rents are paid, and in that and other divisions of the United Kingdom, as well as perhaps in other countries, it is the day on which burgal magistracies and councils are re-elected. The only other remarkable thing connected with the day is a widely prevalent custom of marking it with a goose at dinner.
St Michael defeats the Devil
Michael is regarded in the Christian world as the chief of angels, or archangel. His history is obscure. In Scripture, he is mentioned five times, and always in a warlike character; namely, thrice by Daniel as fighting for the Jewish church against Persia; once by St. Jude as fighting With the devil about the body of Moses; and once by St. John as fighting at the head of his angelic troops against the dragon and his host. Probably, on the hint thus given by St. John the Romish church taught at an early period that Michael was employed, in command of the loyal angels of God, to overthrow and consign to the pit of perdition Lucifer and his rebellious associates—a legend which was at length embalmed in the sublimest poetry by Milton.

Sometimes Michael is represented as the sole arch-angel, sometimes as only the head of a fraternity of archangels, which includes likewise Gabriel, Raphael, and some others. He is usually represented in coat-armour, with a glory round his head, and a dart in his hand, trampling on the fallen Lucifer. He has even been furnished, like the human warriors of the middle ages, with a heraldic ensign—namely, a banner hanging from a cross. We obtain a curious idea of the religious notions of those ages, when we learn that the red velvet-covered buckler worn by Michael in his war with Lucifer used to be shewn in a church in Normandy down to 1607, when the bishop of Avranches at length forbade its being any longer exhibited.

Angels are held by the Church of Rome as capable of interceding for men; wherefore it is that prayers are addressed to them and a festival appointed in their honour. Wheatley, an expositor of the Book of Common Prayer, probably expresses the limited view of the subject which is entertained in the Church of England, when he says, that 'I the feast of St. Michael and All Angels is observed that the people may know what blessings are derived from the ministry of angels.'

Amongst Catholics, Michael, or, as he has been named, St. Michael, is invoked as 'a most glorious and warlike prince,' chief officer of paradise,' I captain of God's hosts,' receiver of souls,' 'the vanquisher of evil spirits,' and 'the admirable general.' It may also be remarked, that in the Sarum missal, there is a mass to St. Raphael, as the protector of pilgrims and travellers, and a skilful worker with medicine; likewise an office for the continual intercession of St. Gabriel and all the heavenly militia. Protestant writers trace a connection between the ancient notion of tutelar genii and the Catholic doctrine respecting angels, the one being, they say, ingrafted on the other.

As to the soundness of this view we do not give any opinion, but it seems certain that in early ages there was a prevalent notion that the affairs of men were much under the direction of angels, good and bad, and men prayed to angels both to obtain good and to avoid evil. Every human being was supposed to have one of these spiritual existences watching over him, aiming at his good, and ready to hear his call when he was in affliction. And, however we may judge this to be a delusion, we must certainly own that, as establishing a connection between the children of earth and something above and beyond the earth, as leading men's minds away from the grossness of worldly pursuits and feelings into the regions of the beautiful and the infinite, it is one of by no means the worst tendency. We must be prepared, however, to find simplicity amidst all the more aspiring ideas of our forefathers.

In time, the sainted spirits of pious persons came to stand in the place of the generally name-less angels, and each place and person had one of these as a special guardian and protector. Not only had each country its particular patron or tutelar saint, but there was one for almost every town and church. Even trades and corporations had their special saints. And there was one more specially to be invoked for each particular ail that could afflict humanity. It will be curious here to descend a little into particulars.

First, as to countries, England had St. George; Scotland, St. Andrew; Ireland, St. Patrick; Wales, St. David; France, St. Dennis and (in a less degree) St. Michael; Spain, St. James (Jago); Portugal, St. Sebastian; Italy, St. Anthony; Sardinia, St. Mary; Switzerland, St. Gall and the Virgin Mary; Germany, St. Martin, St. Boniface, and St. George Cataphractus; Hungary, St. Mary of Aquisgrana and St. Lewis; Bohemia, St. Winceslaus; Austria, St. Colman and St. Leopold; Flanders, St. Peter; Holland, St. Mary; Denmark, St. Anscharius and St. Canute; Sweden, St. Anscharius, St. Eric, and St. John; Norway, St. Olaus and St. Anscharius; Poland, St. Stanislaus and St. Hederiga; Prussia, St. Andrew and St. Albert; Russia, St. Nicholas, St. Mary, and St. Andrew.

Then as to cities, Edinburgh had St. Giles, Aberdeen St. Nicholas, and Glasgow St. Mungo; Oxford had St. Frideswide; Paris, St. Genevieve; Rome, Feast Day: St. Peter and St. Paul; Venice, St. Mark; Naples, St. Januarius and St. Thomas Aquinas; Lisbon, St. Vincent; Brussels, St. Mary and St. Gudula; Vienna, St. Stephen; Cologne, the three kings, with St. Ursula and the eleven thousand virgins.

St. Agatha presides over nurses. St. Catherine and St. Gregory are the patrons of literati and studious persons; St. Catherine also presides over the arts. St. Christopher and St. Nicholas preside over mariners. St. Cecilia is the patroness of musicians. St. Cosmas and St. Damian are the patrons of physicians and surgeons, also of philosophers. St. Dismas and St. Nicholas preside over thieves; St. Eustace and St. Hubert over hunters; St. Felicitas over young children. St. Julian is the patron of pilgrims. St. Leonard and St. Barbara protect captives. St. Luke is the patron of painters. St. Martin and St. Urban preside over tipsy people, to save them from falling into the kennel. Fools have a tutelar saint in St. Mathurin, archers in St. Sebastian, divines in St. Thomas, and lovers in St. Valentine. St. Thomas Becket presided over blind men, eunuchs, and sinners, St. Winifred over virgins, and St. Yves over lawyers and civilians. St. Æthelbert and St. Elian were invoked against thieves.

Generally, the connection of these saints with the classes of persons enumerated took its rise in some incident of their lives, and in the manner of their deaths; for instance, St. Nicholas was once in danger at sea, and St. Sebastian was killed by arrows. Probably, for like reasons, St. Agatha presided over valleys, St. Anne over riches, St. Barbara over hills, and St. Florian over fire; while St. Silvester protected wood, St. Urban wine and vineyards, and St. Osyth was invoked by women to guard their keys, and St. Anne as the restorer of lost things. Generally, the patron-saints of trades were, on similar grounds, persons who had themselves exercised them, or were supposed to have done so. Thus, St. Joseph naturally presided over carpenters, St. Peter over fishmongers, and St. Crispin over shoemakers. St. Arnold was the patron of millers, St. Clement of tanners, St. Eloy of smiths, St. Goodman of tailors, St. Florian of mercers, St. John Port-Latin of booksellers, St. Louis of periwig-makers, St. Severus of fullers, St. Wilfred of bakers, St. William of hatters, and St. Windeline of shepherds. The name of St. Cloud obviously made him the patron-saint of nailsmiths; St. Sebastian became that of pinmakers, from his having been stuck over with arrows; and St. Anthony necessarily was adopted by swine-herds, in consequence of the legend about his pigs. It is not easy, however, to see how St. Nicholas came to be the presiding genius of parish-clerks, or how the innocent and useful fraternity of potters obtained so alarming a saint as 'St. Gore with a pot in his hand, and the devil on his shoulder.'

The medicating saints are enumerated in the following passage from a whimsical satire of the sixteenth century:

To every saint they also do his office here assign,
And fourteen do they count, of whom thou may'st have aid divine;
Among the which Our Lady still cloth hold the chiefest place,
And of her gentle nature helps in every kind of case.
St. Barbara looks that none without the body of Christ oth die;
St. Cath'rine favours learned men and gives them wisdom high,
And teacheth to resolve the doubts, and always giveth aid
Unto the scolding sophister, to make his reason staid.
St. Apolin the rotten teeth doth help when sore they ache;
Otilia from the bleared eyes the cause and grief cloth take;
Rooke healeth scabs and mangins, with pocks, and scurf, and scall,
And cooleth raging carbuncles, and boils, and botches all.
There is a saint, whose name in verse cannot declared be,
He serves against the plague and each infective malady.
St. Valentine, beside, to such as do his power despise
The falling-sickness sends, and helps the man that to him cries.
The raging mind of furious folk oth Vitus pacify,
And oth restore them to their wit, being called on speedily.
Erasmus heals the colic and the griping of the guts,
And Laurence from the back and from the shoulder sickness puts.
Blaise drives away the quinsy quite with water sanctified,
From every Christian creature here, and every beast beside.
But Leonard of the prisoners oth the bands asunder pull,
And breaks the prison-doors and chains, wherewith his church is full.
The quartan ague, and the rest cloth Pernel take away,
And John preserves the worshippers from prison every day;
Which force to Bennet eke they give, that help enough may be,
By saints in every place. What dost thou omitted see?
From dreadful unprovided death oth Mark deliver his,
Who of more force than death himself, and more of value is.
St. Anne gives wealth and living great to such as love her most,
And is a perfect finder out of things that have been lost;
Which virtue likewise they ascribe unto another man,
St. Vincent; what he is I cannot tell, nor whence he came.
Against reproach and infamy on Susan do they call;
Romanus driveth sprites away and wicked devils all.
The bishop Wolfgang heals the gout, St. Wendlin keeps the sheep,
With shepherds and the oxen fat, as he was wont to keep.
The bristled hogs cloth Anthony preserve and cherish well,
Who in his lifetime always did in woods and forests dwell.
St. Gertrude rids the house of mice, and killeth all the rats;
And like doth Bishop Huldrick with his two earth-passing cats.
St. Gregory looks to little boys, to teach their a, b, c,
And makes them for to love their books, and scholars good to be.
St. Nicholas keeps the mariners from dangers and disease,
That beaten are with boisterous waves, and toss'd in dreadful seas.
Great Christopher that painted is with body big and tall,
Doth even the same, who doth preserve and keep his servants all
From fearful terrors of the night, and makes them well to most,
By whom they also all their life with diverse joys are blest.
St. Agatha defends the house from fire and fearful flame,
But when it burns, in armour all doth Florian quench the same.'

It will be learned, with some surprise, that these notions of presiding angels and saints are what have led to the custom of choosing magistracies on the 29th of September. The history of the middle ages is full of curious illogical relations, and this is one of them. Local rulers were esteemed as in some respects analogous to tutelar angels, in as far as they presided over and protected the people. It was therefore thought proper to choose them on the day of St. Michael and All Angels. The idea must have been extensively prevalent, for the custom of electing magistrates on this day is very extensive,

'September, when by custom (right divine)
Geese are ordained to bleed at Michael's shrine'

says Churchill. This is also an ancient practice, and still generally kept up, as the appearance of the stage-coaches on their way to large towns at this season of the year amply testifies. In Blount's Tenures, it is noted in the tenth year of Edward IV, that John de la Hay was bound to pay to William Barnaby, Lord of Lastres, in the county of Hereford, for a parcel of the demesne lands, one goose fit for the lord's dinner, on the feast of St. Michael the archangel. Queen Elizabeth is said to have been eating her Michaelmas goose when she received the joyful tidings of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The custom appears to have originated in a practice among the rural tenantry of bringing a good stubble goose at Michaelmas to the landlord, when paying their rent, with a view to making him lenient. In the poems of George Gascoigne, 1575, is the following passage:

And when the tenants come to pay their quarter's rent,
They bring some fowl at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmas a capon, at Michaelmas a goose,
And somewhat else at New-year's tide, for fear their lease fly loose.'

We may suppose that the selection of a goose for a present to the landlord at Michaelmas would be ruled by the bird being then at its perfection, in consequence of the benefit derived from stubble-feeding. It is easy to see how a general custom of having a goose for dinner on Michaelmas Day might arise from the multitude of these presents, as land-lords would of course, in most cases, have a few to spare for their friends. It seems at length to have become a superstition, that eating of goose at Michaelmas insured easy circumstances for the ensuing year. In the British Apollo, 1709, the following piece of dialogue occurs:

'Q: Yet my wife would persuade me (as I am a sinner)
To have a fat goose on St. Michael for dinner:
And then all the year round, I pray you would mind it,
I shall not want money—oh, grant I may find it!
Now several there are that believe this is true,
Yet the reason of this is desired from you.

A: We think you're so far from the having of more,
That the price of the goose you have less than before:
The custom came up from the tenants presenting
Their landlords with geese, to incline their relenting
On following payments, &c.'

Michaelmas Day, 1613, is remarkable in the annals of London, as the day when the citizens assembled to witness, and celebrate by a public pageant, the entrance of the New River waters to the metropolis.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Happy Birthday H.G.Wells - British Science Fiction Author

Herbert George Wells was born on 21st September 1866 at Atlas House in Bromley, Kent. He began his literary career in earnest in 1895 with the publication of his first novel, "The Time Machine." Until this first success his life had been a patchwork of unsatisfactory drapery and chemist apprenticeships that were interrupted by stints as a teacher's assistant, and eventually acceptance into London's Normal School of Science where he studied biology under Darwin's "bull dog," the great T.H. Huxley.

The 1890's saw the publication of the "scientific romances" that were to make him the most successful author of his time. Following "The Time Machine" was "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1896), "The Invisible Man" (1897), "The War of the Worlds" (1898), "When the Sleeper Wakes" (1899), and "The First Men in the Moon" (1901). After this point he turned his prolific pen to social topics, history, and even a bit of hopeful prophecy with books like "Anticipations" (1901), "The Discovery of the Future" (1902), "Mankind in the Making" (1903), "The War in the Air" ,"War and the Future" (1917), "The Open Conspiracy" (1928), "The Shape of Things to Come" (1933), and "The New World Order" (1939).

Martian Invasion!: The War of the Worlds
A revolutionary in thought and deed, Wells was often the subject of public controversy owing to his attitude on so-called "free love" and women's rights. He was also a life-long believer in Socialism as the means to mankind's ultimate social salvation. His particular brand had nothing to do with the retrogressive Marxist strain and also helped bring him in conflict with other leading Socialist thinkers of his day during his brief stint with The Fabian Society. The outbreak of the First World War found a heretofore pacifist Wells changing his mind to support this Great War against the Hohenzollern "Blood and Iron" Imperial aggression. He reacted by writing a pamphlet in 1914 addressing the anti-war and pacifist elements in Britain entitled "The War That Will End War." Its title became proverbial almost instantly and is used to refer to the First World War even today. After spending time with the British government's War Office in the Propaganda Department and helping to define a clear set of war aims, he resigned and returned to writing propaganda his way. Even before the Great War began he published "The World Set Free" early in 1914. It was a prophetic novel about a world war against Imperial Germany and her "Central European Allies" which included a remarkably accurate forecast of atomic warfare and even coined the term "atomic bomb." He was amongst the first to call for a post war League of Nations but was bitterly disappointed with and critical of the actual League that developed. He spent the early part of the 1920's writing "The Outline of History," which like so many of his previous works was also enormously successful on both sides of the Atlantic. The 1930's found H.G. Wells profoundly disturbed by the rising din of Nietzschean nationalism from Nazi Germany and Fascism in Italy. His critical writings on the aggressive "Krupp cum Kaiser" Imperial Germany coupled with his outright vicious attacks on Adolf Hitler and his accomplices earned H.G. Wells the distinction of having his "anti-German" books burned by Goebbels during the infamous book bonfires at German universities. The name "H.G. Wells" also appeared very near the top of a list compiled by the SS/SD command staff of those intellectuals and politicians slated for immediate liquidation upon the invasion of Britain by the Nazis. Winston Churchill was also named. He remained at his flat at number 13 Hanover Terrace, Regent's Park, London throughout the war and walked his own fire watch, even as his equally wealthy neighbors fled the Luftwaffe's Blitz to their comfortable country estates.

On the 13th August 1946, H.G.Wells died at his London home in Regent's Park. In his preface to the 1941 edition of "The War in the Air", Wells had stated that his epitaph should be: "I told you so. You damned fools!" but his wish was not granted as he was cremated on 16th August 1946.

His ashes were later scattered at sea, off Old Harry Rocks, Studland. In his book "H.G.Wells: Aspects of a Life" the son of Wells, Anthony West gives a moving account.
"My father died on the afternoon of the thirteenth of August 1946, a few weeks before reaching his eightieth birthday. His body was cremated three days later, and rather more than a year after that I chartered a boat named the Deirdre, owned by Captain Miller of Poole in Dorset. My half-brother George Philip Wells came down from London bringing the ashes with him, and we went out to scatter them on the sea at a point we had picked out on a line between Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight and St. Alban's Head on the Dorset shore. That was our intention. But when the Deirdre cleared the narrow mouth of Poole Harbour we found that the wind coming up the Solent from the South West beyond St. Alban's Head was freshening. The tide was just turning and beginning to run out into the face of the wind. A wind blowing over a contrary tide is a recipe for short steep seas, and the Deirdre was soon pitching nastily.

The idea of burying my father at sea had come to my half-brother during the memorial service at the crematorium. A passage from the last chapter of his novel Tono-Bungay, "Night and the Open Sea," had then been read with telling effect, and while listening to its description of the book's narrator taking his newly launched torpedo-boat destroyer down the Thames and out into the North Sea to run its speed trials, my half-brother had thought, yes, that will be it, that will be the right thing to do. "We make and pass," the passage concludes by saying. "We are all things that make and pass, striving upon a hidden mission, out to the open sea."
Old Harry Rocks
The idea had seemed romantic and suitable when it was put to me,and I had been for it. But its defects soon became clear in that condition of wind and tide. My half-brother and I both became quiet and thoughtful. Captain Miller became entirely expressionless as he kept his boat bunting into the waves. We could all see that as soon as we were out of the shelter of Purbeck Island and in the open Solent things were going to be a lot wetter and much more uncomfortable. While we were still abeam of the two chalk stacks called Old Harry and Old Harry's Wife that stand below the white cliffs between Swanage and Studland, my father's ashes went into the sea. The wind took them off as a long veil that struck the very pale green water with a hiss. The Deirdre wallowed as Captain Miller put her about, and I had a moment of agony. He was really gone now, and I was never, ever going to get that stupid business about blackmail and the pro-Nazi conspirators in the BBC straightened out with him. I was surprised by the intense bitterness this thought aroused in me, and by the discovery that I could feel so strongly about the matter when he was no longer in a position to care about anything at all."

The H.G.Wells Society

Online Literature: HG Wells. Biography of HG Wells and a searchable collection of works.
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