Wednesday, February 29, 2012

First Sunday in Lent, Burgbrennen, Luxembourg; Leap Year Day

First Sunday in Lent, Burgbrennen, Luxembourg
A note about the dating of items in Wilson's Almanac

On the first Sunday in Lent (Invocabit), fires are lit on the hills. The word is derived from the Latin verb comburere, ('to burn'), the first syllable being dropped and the second one corrupted to 'burg'. Originally Burgbrennen was a pagan rite symbolising the victory of the sun over winter.

Young boys used to go from house to house, begging for straw, wood and faggots. They would make a bonfire which, in Christian times, featured a wooden cross. The 'burg' is still set alight by the most recently married man (probably a reminiscence of an old pagan fertility ceremony). Sometimes a wheel is put on top of the pole and covered with rags soaked in oil, reminiscent of the Catherine Wheel (see November 25).
The people of Luxembourg traditionally also burn such a bonfire at Easter, representing the rebirth of nature; the St John's Eve burg (June 23) evoking the summer solstice; and finally the Martinmas fire standing for the fading away of Autumn.
Luxembourg Traditions in USA
"The custom of kindling bonfires on the first Sunday in Lent has prevailed in Belgium, the north of France, and many parts of Germany … It seems hardly possible to separate from these bonfires, kindled on the first Sunday in Lent, the fires in which, about the same season, the effigy called Death is burned as part of the ceremony of 'carrying out Death'."
Intercalation is the insertion of an extra day or month into some calendar years to make the calendar follow the seasons.
The solar year does not have whole number of days, but a calendar year must have a whole number of days. The only way to reconcile the two is to vary the number of days in the calendar year. 
In many calendars, this is done by adding to a common year of 365 days, an extra day (leap day or intercalary day): this makes a leap year of 366 days.
The solar year does not have a whole number of lunar months either, so a lunisolar calendar must have a variable number of months in a year. This is usually 12 months, but sometimes a 13th month (an intercalary or embolismic month) is added to the year.
See also


Leap Year Day
January and February were introduced into the Roman calendar by Numa Pompilius (d. 673 BCE) the second king of Rome. Februare meaning 'purification', this was the month of expiation and purification for Romans. Numa arranged for it to have 29 days except in leap years when it had, by the intercalation of a day between the 23rd and 24th, thirty.

When Caesar Augustus added a 31st day to the month named after him, so that it would not lack the dignity of having the full complement of days, he took a day from February, which could least spare it.

Now we drop a day from each century except those of which the ordinal number can be divided by four – again we take it from February. So February lost its 29th day in 1800 and 1900 and will again in 2100, 2200, and so on.
"We add a day to February in leap year, but the Romans counted 24 February twice, and called it dies bissextus (sexto calendas Martius), the sextile or sixth day before 1 March. This day was reckoned twice (bis) in leap year, which was called annus bissextus."
Ivor H Evans, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Cassell, London, 1988
"In 46 BC, Julius Caesar … created a calendar system that added one leap day every four years. Acting on advice by Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar did this to make up for the fact that the Earth's year is slightly more than 365 days. In modern terms, the time it takes for the Earth to circle the Sun is slightly more than the time it takes for the Earth to rotate 365 times (with respect to the Sun – actually we now know this takes about 365.24219 rotations). So, if calendar years contained 365 days they would drift from the actual year by about 1 day every 4 years. Eventually July (named posthumously for Julius Caesar himself) would occur during the northern hemisphere winter! By adopting a leap year with an extra day every four years, the calendar year would drift much less. This Julian Calendar system was used until the year 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII added that leap days should not occur in years ending in '00' except if divisible by 400, providing further fine-tuning. This Gregorian Calendar system is the one in common use today. Therefore, even though this year 2000 ends in '00', it remains a leap year, and today is the added leap day. That makes today the first leap day for a centurial year since year 1600 and the second such leap day of the Gregorian Calendar."   Source
Saide Hawkins Day RaceWomen, grab your partner
There is a tradition that women may make a proposal of marriage to men only on February 29; this is a tightening of an older tradition that such proposals may only occur in leap years. 

In 1288 the Scottish Parliament legislated that any woman could propose in Leap Year. The man may, of course, refuse but, by tradition, he should soften the blow by providing a kiss, one pound currency and a pair of gloves (some sources say a silk gown). This law was adopted in France, Switzerland and Italy and the tradition was carried to America.

In Al Capp's comic strip Li'l Abner, a similar custom called 'Sadie Hawkins Day' was commemorated on or around November 9 (qv) each year. On Sadie Hawkins Day, in the hillbilly town of Dogpatch, a race was held for spinsters, in pursuit of all the local bachelors who must marry if caught. Sadie Hawkin's Day functions are still held in some places, and by association with the older tradition, sometimes now occur on or around February 29.
I have no idea what the custom is if either the spinster or bachelor should happen to be bissextile.

Intercalation is the insertion of an extra day or month into some calendar years to make the calendar follow the seasons.

The solar year does not have whole number of days, but a calendar year must have a whole number of days. The only way to reconcile the two is to vary the number of days in the calendar year. 
In many calendars, this is done by adding to a common year of 365 days, an extra day (leap day or intercalary day): this makes a leap year of 366 days.

The solar year does not have a whole number of lunar months either, so a lunisolar calendar must have a variable number of months in a year. This is usually 12 months, but sometimes a 13th month (an intercalary or embolismic month) is added to the year.
See also

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Waco, February 28, 1993

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms staged an armed raid against the Branch Davidian community outside Waco, Texas, with a warrant to arrest cult leader David Koresh (b. Vernon Howell) on federal firearms violations. Four agents and six Davidians died in the raid and a 51-day standoff began. (April 19 was the horrific climax.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

February 27, happy birthday, Barry Humphries

1934 Barry Humphries, AO, Australian comedian, artist, author and poet, best known for his characters, Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson.

Dame Edna Everage and her creator,
Barry Humphries
Humphries is a supreme parodist, satirist and ironist. His various comedic characters such as Dame Edna and Sir Les are often loathsome, and obviously deliberately so. Unfortunately not everyone is blessed with the irony gene:
In February 2003, Vanity Fair published a satirical column written by Dame Edna:
"Forget Spanish," Dame Edna advised. "There's nothing worth reading except Don Quixote.
"As for everyone speaking it, what twaddle. Who speaks it that you are really desperate to talk to? The home help?
"Study French or German, where there are at least a few books worth reading, or, if you're American, try English."
Humphries's humour drew much criticism.
Barry Humphries at ABC (some audio and transcripts)
Barry Humphries

Serious name-drop and sincere fawning greetings
[I'm going to do a serious name-drop here. I spent half an hour with Barry Humphries in Sydney once. We discussed poetry and Oscar Wilde (Humphries, a fine poet, is a Wilde freak) and BH excitedly retrieved from his room a photocopy of an original letter that he had just bought at auction in London. It was a typically vitriolic correspondence by The Beast, Aleister Crowley, who didn't like Wilde one bit and said so in the letter. I remember that Crowley's letter referred to Wilde as a "sodomite" – by coincidence, just last night I finished Lawrence Sutin's wonderful biography of The Beast, Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley, and if there was ever a man who shouldn't dare to call another a bugger, it was the detestable fraud, Crowley.
I must add that the brief chat I had with Mr Humphries I count as one of the greatest privileges of my life. I hold no artist from history in higher esteem, given his genius and prolific oeuvre. I had met him once or twice (he will not remember those meetings) and expected him to be fearsome. People often expect him to be so, probably because Dame Edna can be so harsh on latecomers to her shows. He is not harsh at all. A warmer and more friendly man I have never met. As Edna would say, it was spooky!

Many Ozzies agree that Barry Humphries is Australia's greatest living treasure and I wish him a very, very happy birthday (and many more) and hope that I meet him and his delightful wife Lizzie again. I trust my simpering obeisance will be noted by the Great Man.]
My own fascinating encounters with Humphries took place in the 1990s when I was caretaker of a mansion at Palm Beach, Sydney, in about 1987. More at my Memoirs.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February 21 was the Day of Ishtar, and Day of Nut, to some ancients

Goddess of Love and Battle from the region of Mesopotamia (Greek for 'between the rivers', ie, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), the area now known as Iraq, and from Assyria. Ishtar is the counterpart of the Phoenician Astarte.
Her name is said the be associated with the word 'Easter', because of her associations, like Easter, with springtime and fertility. The meaning of the name is not known, though it is possible that the underlying stem is the same as that of Assur, which would thus make her the 'leading one' or 'chief'. She was known as Inanna in Sumerian mythology. She is a life-death-rebirth deity, daughter of Anu, the god of the air, mother and consort of the farm god Tammuz, who is similar to the Greek Adonis. She was usually described as an evil, heartless, women who destroyed her mates and lovers. 
"In the astral-theological system, Ishtar becomes the planet Venus, and the double aspect of the goddess is made to correspond to the strikingly different phases of Venus in the summer and winter seasons. On monuments and seal-cylinders she appears frequently with bow and arrow, though also simply clad in long robes with a crown on her head and an eight-rayed star as her symbol. Statuettes have been found in large numbers representing her as naked with her arms folded across her breast or holding a child. The art thus reflects the popular conceptions formed of the goddess. Together with Sin, the moon-god, and Shamash, the sun-god, she is the third figure in a triad personifying the three great forces of nature - moon, sun and earth, as the life-force. The doctrine involved illustrates the tendency of the Babylonian priests to centralize the manifestations of divine power in the universe, just as the triad Anu, Bel and Ea - the heavens, the earth and the watery deep - form another illustration of this same tendency."   Source
"... in the great epic of Gilgamesh, she tried to make Gilgamesh her husband, but he refused her and reminded her of her former lovers, whom she mercilessly killed or left injured. She reported this to her father, Anu, and he gave her the mystical bull of heaven to avenge herself. Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu stopped and killed the mighty creature and threw its headless body at her feet. They also insulted her, and she responded by sending disease to kill Gilgamesh's best friend Enkidu. She is one of Aphrodite's counterparts."   Source: Encyclopedia Mythica
Deities of many cultures in the Book of Days

Nut and Geb, courtesy Ancient Egypt - a Resource Centre for Ancient Egypt

Day of the goddess Nut, ancient Egypt
In Egyptian mythology, Nut (Nuit), daughter of Shu and Tefnut, was the goddess of the heavens and sky. It was believed that the world was created by a divine act of sex between the earth god Geb and the sky goddess, Nut; the goddess Nut was on top, while Geb reclined.
The sun god Re entered her mouth after the sun set in the evening and was reborn from her vulva the next morning. She also swallowed and rebirthed the stars.
She was a goddess of death, and her image is on the inside of most sarcophagi. The pharaoh entered her body after death and was later resurrected.
In art, Nuit is depicted as a woman wearing no clothes, covered with stars and supported by Shu; opposite her (the upper area, the sky), is her husband, Seb, the Earth. With Seb, she was the mother of Osiris, Horus, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys ...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

February 19, 1847: The Donner Party

1847 The first rescue party reached the Donner Party.

On April 15 [qv], 1846, the families of James F Reed and George and Jacob Donner, 31 people in nine wagons, left Springfield, Illinois, USA. It was the commencement of the Donner Party, the most famous group of American emigrants ever to attempt the cross-country wagon journey to California. Almost ninety wagon train emigrants were unable to cross the Sierra Nevada before winter, and almost one-half starved to death.

However, it was noted that some of the survivors seemed to be remarkably well fed, considering their ordeal. In 2003, near the modern city of Truckee, California by Lake Tahoe, near Alder Creek, archaeologists found a campfire pit and solid evidence that cannibalism took place.
PBS on the Donner Party    New Light on the Donner Party  
Museum of San Francisco on the Donner Party    More

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Louisa Lawson

Dear subscriber,

This edition is a bit late for some readers, including myself ... because I've been very busy. 

But the following is from the Wilson's Almanac Book of Days for February 17. See you tomorrow.


Louisa Lawson1848 Louisa Lawson (d. August 12, 1920), Australian feminist, inventor, poet, founder/editor of the Republican and (for 17 years) founder/publisher/editor of Dawn: A Journal for Australian Women (see Louisa Lawson on the Boycott of The Dawn); mother of Australian poet, Henry Lawson (1867 - 1922).
When female Australian British subjects won the vote with the Uniform Franchise Act (June 16, 1902), Louisa Lawson, who had had only two years of schooling, was hailed by her political sisters as "The Mother of Womanhood Suffrage". (Women in South Australia were the first in the world to win the right to vote and stand for election.)
Lawson was a poor, Mudgee-born bush battler, forced by marital breakdown, economic depression and drought to move with her four surviving children to the city. She was an idiosyncratic but indomitable woman, a prodigious worker, powerful writer and fine poet, a spiritualist, farmer, inventor, postmistress and shopkeeper.

In 1902, Australia became the first place in the world to give women the right to vote and stand for election. 's Commonwealth Franchise Act came into force, second in the world after New Zealand (more) -- which gave women the right to vote not not be elected. This gave all women the right to vote in federal elections but excluding 'aboriginal natives of Australia, Asia, Africa or the Islands of the Pacific except New Zealand' unless they already had the vote at State level (as stipulated in S 41 of the Constitution). South Australia had already won, on December 18, 1894, the first rights in the world for women to vote and stand for election – 24 years before Britain, 26 years before the USA, and 75 years before Switzerland. (South Australian women first voted on April 25, 1896.)
The women's vote was gained in Australia by the untiring efforts of some men and many women, including Maybanke Anderson, Rose Scott, Emma Miller, Vida Goldstein and Louisa Lawson (mother of Australia's national poet, Henry Lawson, and called by Rose Scott 'the Mother of Women's Suffrage').
A world chronology of women's electoral rights    The Dawn Club/Womanhood Suffrage League
Lawson & Co: associations with Henry and Louisa Lawson

"She struggled to get women the vote. Her son was Australia's most famous writer. They drove each other crazy." Novel about Henry and Louisa Lawson.
Henry Lawson at the Australian Government's About Australia category.
If any Almy reader could recommend to the editors of the
Culture Portal that Faces in the Street
and the Lawson Chronology, or any of my links about the Lawsons, stop rejecting them after all these years
I'd be amazed if they do, and grateful to you.
As you can see at Search, there are about 250 links,
and often there's a new Lawson-oriented page in
Recently updated pages
as I'm an avid Lawsonian.

Lawson spent thirty-five years of her hard life fighting for women's rights. She founded the Association of Women, and with Henry, in 1887 - '88 she published the journal, The Republican. Louisa Lawson then became founder, owner, publisher and editor of The Dawn, the new nation's foremost women's political magazine, announcing that it would battle for women's rights, and the vote. "Why should one half of the world govern the other half?" was Lawson's rallying cry.

While she supported her children in a little house at 138 Phillip Street near Sydney's docks, she had to teach herself the difficult trade of setting lead type, because of a black-ban by the New South Wales Typographical Association. The Postmaster-General's Department refused to register The Dawn for sending through the post. In 1891, Lawson helped launch (with Maybanke Anderson, Rose Scott, and Dora Montefiore) the Womanhood Suffrage League of NSW. She also founded the Dawn Club, which met in various locations in Sydney, including the tea rooms of the remarkable Quong Tart ...
Read on at the Henry and Louisa Lawson page in the Scriptorium

Australian politicians and educators, particularly conservative ones, tend to promote the myth of Henry Lawson as a homespun rural author, and consequently, although there is some truth in it, a bucolic view of Lawson is very widespread – he has been washed in antiseptic and billy tea. For example, one website says "Henry Lawson lived in the country on a selection in Sapling Gully approximately 6 kms. from Mudgee in New South Wales." In fact, from the age of 17 to his death at 55, Lawson spent almost his entire life in Sydney, a bustling world city twice as populous as San Francisco in his heyday 1890s, where he mixed with the bohemian and (often extremely) radical intellectuals and activists of the era, as did his mother for the last 37 years of her life. A large part of Henry's writing, especially his poetry, was political, swinging between what we would call today "left" and "right". Progressives and reactionaries, unsure of what to do with him, have preferred to ignore him or make him a kind of literary jackaroo. Louisa Lawson's life, too, probably because she was both poor and in many ways excessively progressive for her times, has been virtually swept from public consciousness despite her incredible achievements. I hope the Almanac's Lawsons Chronology might in some small way help to correct the historical revision of the whole 'Lawson myth', by showing these two Aussies in context.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gaskin, was born on February 16, in the year ...

1935 Stephen Gaskin, hippie commune leader (of The Farm, Tennessee, USA); he received the first Right Livelihood Award from the Right Livelihood Foundation, 1980, "... for caring, sharing and acting with and on behalf of those in need at home and abroad".
Stephen Gaskin"Stephen gave a kind of impromptu service after the Sunday meal while we were there. Marijuana was part of the service, but instead of enhancing his image as a mystical leader, Gaskin's ramblings and self-aggrandizement made me think more of Charles Manson than an entheogen-promoting Holy Man. These people were being subjected to classical cult-brainwashing techniques, and he was living high-on-the-hog off of their hard work."
Down on The Farm – a dissident voice

Monday, February 06, 2012

Feb 6: Aphrodisia; Day in Solidarity with Leonard Peltier; Bob Marley;

Aphrodite and doveAphrodisia, festival of Aphrodite, ancient Greece

Aphrodite ('risen from sea-foam'), the Greek goddess of love, sex and beauty, bears some likeness to other deities in the ancient world. These include Astarte, Branwen, Aida Wedo, Xochiquetzal, Venus, Freya and Oshun. Her Roman analogue is Venus. Her Mesopotamian counterpart was Ishtar and her Syro-Palestinian counterpart was Astarte; her Etruscan equivalent was Turan. Her festival is the Aphrodisia which was celebrated in various centres of Greece, especially in Athens and Corinth.

Aphrodite was associated with, and often depicted with dolphins, doves, swans, pomegranates and lime trees. She was also called Kypris or Cytherea after her alleged birth-places in Cyprus and Cythera, respectively. Originally she was considered a daughter of Zeus and Dione, one of the ocean nymphs. By classical times, however, an alternate story of her birth had gained precedence, that she was born of the sea foam near Paphos, Cyprus after Cronus cut off Uranus' genitals and the god's blood dropped on the sea. The Iliad refers to both versions.
When she was born on the foam of the sea, the seas boiled and turned a rosy hue. Aphrodite arose, already full grown, wonderfully beautiful and standing on a seashell. She floated to Cyprus, arriving in April; the moment her feet touched the shore, grass and flowers sprang up at her feet and she was received by the Three Graces, Aglaea, Euphrosyne and Thalia.
Deities of many cultures in the Book of Days    Festivals in ancient Greece


1976 Canada: Native American activist Leonard Peltier was captured and, on the basis of allegedly fictitious affidavits generated by the FBI, was later extradited to the USA. Federal prosecutors later admitted they didn't have a clue who committed the crime for which they convicted Peltier.
International Day in Solidarity with Leonard Peltier (February 6)    More    More    Peltier chronology
International Day in Solidarity with Leonard Peltier
February 6 of each year has become the International Day in Solidarity with Leonard Peltier. Protest gatherings to publicize Peltier's plight and help gain his release are held around the world, from a few individuals in small towns, to thousands on the Internet registering their protest with elected officials and the White House.

1945 Bob Marley (d. May 11, 1981), Jamaican roots rock reggae singer and musician. My then partner, Mikla Lewis, founder of WIRES, danced with him once, at a party in Adelaide.

Redemption man
The poor boy from Trenchtown, Jamaica, was born to a white father and black mother. At only 15, he formed The Wailers with school mates Peter Tosh, Rita Anderson (later his wife, Rita Marley) and Bunny Livingston (Bunny Wailer). After his premature death (aged 36) from lung cancer, the huge National Arena of Jamaica was too small to hold the mourners; his grave is now a national shrine. Today is a public holiday in Jamaica.
From 'Redemption Song'
Bob Marley

Old pirates yes they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I from the bottomless pit
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty
We forward in this generation, triumphantly

Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom
Cause all I ever had redemption songs,
Redemption songs

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
Cause none of them can stop the time
How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look
Yes, some say it's just a part of it
We've got to fulfil the book ...

What is Rastafari?
The religion adhered to by reggae artist Bob Marley and thousands or millions of others, is called Rastafari. Its name is derived from Ras Tafari, a name for the one-time Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, whom Rastafarians believe to be divine.

eXTReMe Tracker