How to Take Eels in Winter, Eel Pies and Islands 28th November

 Photo by Natalia Gusakova on Unsplash
Photo by Natalia Gusakova on Unsplash

Gervase Markham in his ‘The English Husbandman’ of 1635 provides instructions on how:

To take Eels in Winter, Make a long bottle or tube of Hay, wrapped about Willow boughs, and having guts or garbage in the middles. Which being soaked in the deep water by the river side, after two or three days the eels will be in it and you may tread them out with your feet.

And here is a fascinating article on Eel fishing.

Eel traps at Bray, on the River Thames (Henry Taught 1885)

Aristotle, Freud and the Deep Sargasso Sea

Eels have been eaten for thousands of years, but no one knew where they came from or how they reproduced. Aristotle thought they spontaneously emerged from the mud. Sigmund Freud dissected hundreds of Eels, hoping to find male sex organs. It was only last year, on 19th October 2022 that an article in the science journal Nature entitled ‘First direct evidence of adult European eels migrating to their breeding place in the Sargasso Sea’ was published, proving beyond doubt that the theory that Eels go to the sea near Bermuda to spawn was, incredibly, true.

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island . Ordnance Survey In 1871 to 1882 map series (OS, 1st series at 1:10560: Surrey (Wikipedia)

Eel Pie island is on the Thames, near Twickenham, famous for its Eels, was home to an iconic music venue that hosted most of the great English Bands of the 50s. 60s, and 70s. The roll call of bands here is awesome. The Stones, Cream, Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, you name it, they were here:

David Bowie, Jeff Beck, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree, Buddy Guy, Geno Washington, Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Ten Years After, Chicken Shack, and one of my all-time favourite bands. the Savoy Brown Blues Band. The Nice, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Joe Cocker, and the Who. And many more!

Here is a recipe for Baked Eel pie from Richmond, near the famous Eel Pie Island.

Jellied Eels and the East End

By JanesDaddy (Ensglish User) - English Wikipedia - [1], CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1663124
By JanesDaddy (Ensglish User) – English Wikipedia – [1], CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1663124

Jellied Eels have been a staple of East End diets since the 18th Century. They were to be found in many stalls dotted around the East End, from vendors venturing into pubs and in Pie and Mash shops. Tubby Isaacs is perhaps, the most famous and jellied eels are still sold in a diminishing number of places in the East End.

My mum loved them. It took me until I was over 60 before I could bring myself to try them and have not wanted to repeat, what for me, was a revolting experience. On the River Lee Navigation is another piece of Eel history which is the excellent Fish and Eel Pub at Dobbs Weir.

Pie and Mash Shop. Established 1862, closed down 2021. Broadway Market, Hackney (photo, copyright the author)

This was first published as part of another post in 2022, and revised and republished on 28th November 2023

St Catherine’s Day, Torture Victim & Patroness of the Catherine Wheel, November 25th

Icon of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, with scenes from her martyrdom (Wikipedia)

In the pantheon of horror that is the Saints’ martyrs’ calendar, St Catherine of Alexandria is very appropriate for, today, the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Catherine was high-born, beautiful and learned. She disputed with pagan learned men against the worship of idols. She wiped the floor with them, and Emperor Maxentius had 50 of the learned men burnt alive for their failure to answer adequately.

Catherine was imprisoned where many people came to visit her and were converted to Christianity. The most illustrious visitor was the Emperor’s wife, Valeria Maximilla who was, herself, martyred. Then, the Emperor offered to marry Catherine, but she refused to abandon her faith, so he had her tortured. In prison, she was fed by the holy dove and had visions of Christ.

Her gaolers then tried to break her on a wheel, although the wheel broke, killing spectators with the splinters, she stood steadfast. Two hundred soldiers were converted to the faith on the spot. They were then beheaded, followed by Catherine herself. Milk, not blood, flowed from her severed veins.

The persecution in the early 4th Century was real, but it wasn’t driven by Maxentius, who came to power promising religious tolerance. But, following the accession of Constantine the Great, Maxentius’s reputation was blackened. There is no contemporary evidence for the events of Catherine’s life. There is a modern theory that her tale was conflated with the remarkable story of Hypatia of Alexandria (d. 415), a pagan and a real learned woman; The first female Mathematician we know any facts about. She was murdered by a rampaging mob of xenophobic Christians.

Catherine is remembered by the firework: the Catherine Wheel and is, of course, the patron of Philosophers, Theologians, and Royal women; young women, students, spinsters, and anyone who lives by a wheel: carters, potters, wheelwrights, spinners, millers. And, I imagine, Formula 1 drivers.

St Catherine in London

St Catherine Coleman
(Wikipedia: Robert William Billings and John Le Keux: The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839))

There are several Churches in London dedicated to St Catherine or St Katherine, dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria. The one in Coleman Street, rebuilt by Christopher Wren and his team, was demolished in the 1920s. There was a Chapel to St Catherine at Westminster Abbey (c1160), the ruins of which are visible in St Catherine’s Garden. I would guess that St Katherine’s Dock and St Katherine’s Cree Church are also so dedicated, but cannot as yet find a dedication for either.

Ruins of Chapel of St Catherine, Westminster Abbey

First published on 25th November 2022. Revised and republished 25th November 2023

Next Walks

Dickens London. Life, Work and Christmas Virtual Tour Fri 15th Dec 2023 7.30pm To book
Roman London – A Literary & Archaeological Walk Saturday 16 Dec & 21st Jan 2023 11.30 am Monument Underground Station To book
The London Winter Solstice Virtual Tour Fri 22 Dec 2023 19:30 To book
Jane Austen’s Christmas Walk Sat 23 Dec 2.30 pm Green Park Underground To book
Christmas With Jane Austen London Virtual Tour Sat 23 December 2023 7.30pm to book Ring in the New Year Virtual Walk Monday 1st January 2024 7.00pm To book
Myths, Legends, Archaeology and the Origins of London Walk Sun 4th Feb & 23 March 2024 11.30pm Tower Hill Underground To book


For a complete list of my walks for London Walks in 2023 look here:

15th July Festival of Castor and Pollux

The Ashwini kumaras twins, sons of the sun god Surya. Vedic gods representing the brightness of sunrise and sunset Wikipedia

I have been away leading a tour of Quintessential Britain for Road Scholar and have fallen behind. And I had a few almanac days waiting for the right day to come! And now they have passed. But, I need them in the Almanac, so here is the beginning of a July catching up exercise.

The Divine Twins, aka the Dioscuri, were horsemen, patrons of calvary, athletes and sailors, one of many indo-european twin gods.   Pollux is the son of Zeus and Leda (raped by Zeus in the guise of a swan). His twin brother has a different and mortal father, the King of Sparta to the same mother, Leda.  So they are examples of heteropaternal superfecundation as Mary Poppins probably didn’t sing.

One is therefore immortal and the other isn’t.   They had many adventures including sailing with Jason as Argonauts.

According to some version of the story Castor was mortally wounded, and Zeus gave Pollux the option of letting his brother die while he spent his eternity on Mount Olympus. The alternative was to share his immortality with his brother. He did the good thing, and the twins spend half their year as the Constellation of Gemini and the rest, immortal on Mount Olympus.  Thus, they are the epitome of brotherly love.

Their sisters were, no less than Helen of Troy, and Clytemnestra. They were also twins, Helen the divine daughter of Zeus and, Clytemnestra, mortal daughter of the King of Sparta. The Swan was being pursued by an eagle, so Leda protected the Swan and took it to bed on the same night she slept with her husband Tyndareus of Sparta. Two eggs were fertilised, each split in two to give two sets of twins.

Leda and the Swan, 16th-century copy after the lost painting by Michelangelo

Neither mind the Brothers, what Sisters! Helen you know but Clytemnestra was the wife of Agamemnon, the arrogant leader of the Greeks.  On the way to retrieve Helen from Troy, the Greek Fleet is becalmed. So Agamemnon sacrifices his own daughter, Iphigenia, on the island of Aulis to get a fair wind to Troy. (read Iphigenia at Aulis by Aeschylus, a great play which I studied in Classical Studies at University)

painting of Clytemnestra after she has slaughtered her husband Agamemnon _by_John_Collier,_1882 (Wikipedia Guildhall Museum)
Clytemnestra_by_John_Collier,_1882 (Wikipedia Guildhall Museum)

Meanwhile, Queen Clytemnestra, abandoned at home broods on her husband’s heartless fillicide. She takes a lover. After 10 years of war Agamemnon comes back, in triumph from the destruction of Troy, with his prize the Trojan Princess, Cassandra. Strutting with arrogance he demands Clytemnestra prepare him a bath and she gives him the hottest bath possible and, with the help of her lover, hacks Agamemnon to pieces. 

Cassandra prophesizes that she too  will be killed, but she has been cursed with ability of accurate prophecy twinned with the inability to get anyone to believe her. So she is also slaughtered.

I visit John Collier’s painting regularly and am fascinated by her grim expression. (Sadly she has recently come off display at the Guildhall Art Gallery).

In the 18th/19th Century rich people were into ‘attitudes’.  For example, Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton, would be invited to present an attitude in front of a dinner party of mostly male aristocrats.  She would dress up in a flowing revealing unstructured classical gown and stand on a table presenting herself as: Helen or Andromache or some other classical beauty.  She would assume an appropriate facial expression and posture to everyone’s pleasure. 

Detail of Emma Hart modelling as Iphigenia by George Romney in ‘Cimon and Iphigenia’

Clytemnestra is more difficult! I imagine Collier’s model being  prompted to look both sad at the loss of the daughter; outraged at the arrogance of the husband; horror at the gore of the murder but overall to portray a grim satisfaction that the bastard got exactly what he deserved.

Lord Leighton had a famous model who was exceptionally skilled at adopting poses for his paintings. He determined to help her with an acting career. As part of the plan he helped improve her cockney accent and it is said this inspired Bernard Shaw’s story Pygmalion which, in turn, inspired My Fair Lady and Eliza Doolittle. 

The model was called Dorothy Dene.  She became a famous actress, outstripping the fame of Ellen Terry and Lily Langtry. She modelled for the famous painting ‘Flaming June’ which sold 500,000 print copies in 1895.  Lord Leighton went somewhat out of fashion and the original painting was purchased for £50 by the rather marvellously named Museo de Ponce, Puerto Rico where she still resides.

I have one of those half million prints on my bedroom wall.

Print of Flaming June by Lord Leighton

Before we finish do have a look at John Collier’s Wikipedia because he is the most ridiculously well connected painter you can imagine! Related to half the Cabinet and married to TWO daughters of Darwin’s Bulldog T.H.Huxley (grandfather of Aldous Huxley).

European Twin Gods

It is suggested that twin male gods are a feature of indo-european religions, and that the Twins are associated with horses/chariots and are responsible for moving the Sun and the Moon. Their use of a horse above the water means that they can rescue  people lost at sea.   St Elmo’s fire was said to be the way they manifested their divinity to sailors.   Diodorus Siculus records that the Twins were Argonauts with Heracles, Telamon, and Orpheus. Further, he tells us in the fourth book of Bibliotheca historica, that the Celts who dwelt along the ocean worshipped the Dioscuroi “more than the other gods”.

April 15th Time for a Tansy!

Tansy: by Georg Buzin (wikipedia)

Easter is time for a tansy! The plant is awesome, not least in that the flowers display a classical  Fibonacci spiral, which is two counter-rotating  logarithmic spirals. But Mrs Grieve in her Modern Herbal repeats the belief that their name derives from the Greek word for immortality ‘Athanaton’, and this might be because they grow so well that in some areas they are proscribed they are so prolific. But Tansy was supposed to have been given to Ganymede by Zeus to make him immortal, and according to Ambrosius, through their use for preserving dead bodies from corruption. Tansy was placed in coffins and winding sheets and tansy wreaths placed with the dead.

Its toxicity means that it repels many insects, particularly, flies and ants, and so it was used as a medieval and early modern strewing herb. And yet there are other insects that love Tansy – it seems to have a dark side and a light side.

It was collected in August (along with meadowsweet or elder leaves) and strewn on the floors of houses (and the ‘thresh’ was held in by the threshold). But it was also placed between mattresses to keep away bugs. People rubbed meat with Tansy to keep flies off. It is now used as a natural protection for crops from insects to reduce the amount of artificial pesticides.

It was an important medical and culinary herb, said to be a substitute for nutmeg and cinnamon, and the leaves, shredded, as a flavouring for puddings and omelettes. At Easter ball games a Tansy Cake was the reward for the winners. It was symbolic of the bitter herbs eaten by the Israelites at Passover. Tansy was thought to be a very wholesome ingredient to eat after the sparsity of Lent and Winter, and voiding the body of the worms caused by eating too many fish. It was used for expelling worms from the stomachs of children. Interestingly it contains thujone, which is also in Wormwood, the other main herb for expelling intestinal worms. Thujone can cause convulsions, liver and brain damage if too much is taken.

In the 14th Century it was used for treating wounds. It was thought to be useful both to induce abortions but also to help women conceive and to prevent miscarriages. Culpepper and Gerard suggests the root was a cure for gout.

Here is a recipe from the ‘The Closet of Kenelm Digby Opened‘ 1669. It was essentially a form of omelette. I would not try the recipe! In the BBC documentary “The Supersizers go … Restoration“, Sue Perkins suffered from the effects of the toxic tansy.

A TANSY (Do not try this at home!)

Take three pints of Cream, fourteen New-laid-eggs (seven whites put away)
one pint of juyce of Spinage, six or seven spoonfuls of juyce of Tansy, a
Nutmeg (or two) sliced small, half a pound of Sugar, and a little Salt.
Beat all these well together, then fryit in a pan with no more Butter then
is necessary. When it is enough, serve it up with juyce of Orange or slices
of Limon upon it.

Sir Kenelm Digby was a Catholic and a natural philosopher of some reputation. After his death an employee published his cookery book. His father was executed after the Gunpowder Plot, and he supported Charles 1st but found a way to work with Oliver Cromwell. He made a great success of his idea of the ‘powder of sympathy’ – 29 editions of his book on the subject were sold. He found the powder in France and it was made with precise ‘astrological’ techniques. The most famous example of a suggested application for the powder was to win the competition for a method of working out longitude (in the 18th Century). Basically, a working method meant knowing the time, normally noon, in two different places. This allowed a triangle to be created between the two points and the Sun which allowed the distance between the two places to be discovered by triangulation. Clocks were not accurate enough (yet) to help so Digby’s famous powder of sympathy was suggested.

A wounded dog would be taken on board a ship, and a bandage from the wound would be left in London. At noon in London it would be sprinkled with the powder of sympathy. The dog on the ship would, perforce, yelp when the powder was administered on the bandage in London and so the Captain would know when it was noon in London! Digby was long dead when the application for the prize money was made and rejected.

‘Longitude’ by Dava Sobel tells the story of the discovery of a clock-based method of calculating longitude.

April 7th – Good Friday – Hot Cross Buns & Long Rope Day

photo of three hot cross buns on a blue transfer ware plate
Hot Cross Buns

It is a simpler sort of bun than the Chelsea Bun, which was the bun to have at Easter, at least in London in the Georgian Period. To read my updated blog post on Chelsea Buns on Good Friday see below:

There seem to be all sorts of dubious traditions around the origins of the Hot Cross Bun. It has been suggested that the Greeks knew how to put a cross on a bun. Also that the Anglo-Saxons celebrated the Goddess Eostre with the crossed bun where the cross represents the four quarters of the moon, the four seasons and the Wheel of the Year. I doubt this folklore because there is very little evidence for Eostre other than the Venerable Bede’s mentioning her name, so her association with Hot Cross Buns cannot be known.

However, the addition of a cross, and the association with Easter, makes the bun powerful, so there are lots of superstitions on record. A piece of an Easter Hot Cross Bun given to the sick may promote a cure. It was said that a bun cooked and served at Easter will not go off for a year. This might help explain the traditions that hanging them up on a string or ribbon is a good thing – one hung in a kitchen prevents fire, on a ship prevents sinking, in the Widow’s Son pub in East London to remember a sailor son who never returned for his bun on Good Friday.

The technology of putting a cross on a Bun requires nothing more complicated than a flour and water paste so it might well be an ancient tradition. A more impressive cross can be made with shortcrust pastry as was traditional. The bun itself is simply flour, milk, butter, egg, salt, spices and mixed fruit.

They are, in my opinion, the sort of food that has been eaten so often after purchase from a shop that a home-made Hot Cross Bun would be strangely disappointing – better almost certainly but then just not the same. It’s normally eaten toasted and buttered although I really prefer the soft doughy untoasted and unbuttered bun. But then it is possible to get carried away and eat the entire pack of four.

Here is a recipe from the BBC www.bbcgoodfood.com

Long Rope Day

There is a tradition of Skipping on Good Friday. I can’t say I ever saw it – in my school skipping was a perennial activity, mostly enjoyed by the girls, but the boys would sometimes be intrigued enough to join in.

There is a great article about Long Rope Day in the Guardian with a wonderful picture of a collective skip.

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2023/apr/06/english-heritage-tradition-skipping-aeaster

More traditions here:

Digital Heritage – The Past Deciphered by AI

This is one of the most exciting advances I have read about for a long time! A pile of burnt scrolls survive from the Villa dei Papiri, Herculaneum. They are being examined by several teams from American Universities including the University of Michigan, and the University of Kentucky. They are just beginning to read fragments of the texts, using all the scientific techniques they can throw at it including AI. The AI has begun to learn to read fragments of the tightly rolled scroll.

Burnt Scroll
Burnt Scroll

The scroll they are working on appears to be a piece about Alexander the Great and his legacy. It is an unknown text or to put it another way, it is potentially a brand new source of information for this period of time. It has been suggested that it might possibly be a copy of the lost diary of Alexander’s secretary, Eumenos or may have been written by a friend of the general Antigonos.  Either way, potentially eye witness accounts. Or not, as perhaps, they may be asking too much from the first investigation. It may be more prosaic. Time will tell.

The implications, however, are so exciting! Just as the amazing excavations at Stonehenge (and indeed in London) have revolutionised our knowledge of these places, so AI could introduce completely new insights into the past. There are many rolls that were burnt in the collection, but now AI is beginning to read them. what insights we might get even from small fragments? One of the scholars involved is particularly excited to imagine the discoveries that could be forthcoming from the Middle East

‘While others would love to see some of the lost work of the ancients, what I’d like to see is evidence of the turmoil that was happening in the first century around the development of Christianity and the Judeo-Christian tradition as it was evolving.’

Brent Seales, University of Kentucky

Part of scroll unfolded
Part of scroll unfolded

But those ‘lost works of the ancients’. There are so many that would rock history: Tacitus’s ‘Annals’ missing missing the last two years of Nero’s reign. Pytheas ‘On the Ocean’ with its first references to Britain in writing. 6 Plays of Aeschylus, 9 Books of Sappho and the list goes on. Have a look at Charlotte Higgins piece in Prospect Magazine for a little more detail.

Another feature of the study is that the teams have released images to the cloud and are encouraging others to ‘have a go’ at reading them. This shows the strides that Citizen Science has made, and how, scientists acknowledge that, in the days of big data, cooperation pays huge dividends.

My source of information is the marvellous The Society of Antiquaries of London Online Newsletter (Salon) which ‘is a fortnightly digest of heritage news‘ and for more information look at Issue 509.

Another source is Interestingengineering.com.

March 28th As Mad as a March Hare

Hares Boxing in Yorkshire by yorkshireroestalking

The expression ‘Mad as a March Hare’ comes from the displays of hare boxing that takes place as the Hare mating season begins. And no, its not male hares fighting in the spirit of romantic rivalry, its the female hares fighting off unwanted attention from the males. Hares are solitary creatures, and the mating season is, perhaps, particularly difficult for them. The Country File web site has more on the subject. www.countryfile.com

There are also March Kittens and March Chickens. Edward Topsell in his ‘History of Four-footed Beasts‘ 1607 says the best Kittens to keep are those born in March. ‘The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened‘ 1669 says: ‘Keep a black cock hatched in March as a protection against evil spirits: his crowing terrifies them.’

He also give a recipe for Cock Ale: eight gallons of Ale, a boiled March Cock, four pounds of stoned Raisins, half a pound of dates, nutmegs, mace. Beat the ingredients in a mortar add to two quarts of Sherry. Add to the ale. Stop it in a container for 6 or 7 days. Bottle it, drink after a month. Let me know if you try it!

The hare is a sacred animal, it was sacred to Aphrodite:

‘For you know, I imagine, what is said of the hare, that it possesses the gift of Aphrodite to an unusual degree. At any rate it is said of the female that while she suckles the young she has borne, she bears another litter to share the same milk; forthwith she conceives again, nor is there any time at all when she is not carrying young.’

Classical Texts Library. Philostratus the Elder, ‘Imagines’ Book 1.1-15 c 3rd Century AD. Translated by Arthur Fairbanks.

In ‘The Battle for Gaul’ Julius Caesar writes: “The Britons consider it contrary to divine law to eat the hare, the chicken, or the goose.” Research reported by Exeter University suggests that hares were worshipped in pre-Roman Britain. In Neolithic Ireland hares were found buried with human remains at the Neolithic court tomb at Parknabinnia.

illustration of a hare from 1873 fom the London Illustrated Almanac
The Hare

Hares are thought to be the original Easter Bunny although finding good evidence before Germany in the early modern period is difficult. There is a tradition that Witches can be scared away at Easter. Exactly, how this works is not very clear, but it has been said that Witches could take on the form of a hare, and so Hare Pie and hare meat was eaten at Easter to rid the land of the witches. For a fuller discussion of hares and folklore click here:

A jointed hare’s foot was considered very lucky and a remedy against gout, stomach pains and insomnia. (The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore by Charles Kightly which I have used several times in this piece.)

March 25th The Beginning of the Universe as we Know It; Birthday of Adam, Lilith, Eve; Conception of Jesus, Start of the Year

Lilith is shown coming her hair and looking in a mirror
Study for Lady Lilith, by Rossetti. 1866, in red chalk. Now in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Wikipedia
Study for Lady Lilith, by Rossetti. 1866, in red chalk. Now in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Wikipedia)

March 25th is the day that the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary she is pregnant. But it is also the anniversary of the birth of Adam and Eve (and presumably Lilith); the death of Jesus Christ; the anniversary of the Immolation of Isaac; the Parting of the Red Sea; the Fall of Lucifer; and, (until 1752 in the UK) the beginning of the Year.

Of course, it isn’t or to put it another way, no one can, or ever could, prove any of these dates except the last one. So what they speak to is the way the Church saw the world as logical structured by God. Christian thinking about the year, the world, the universe, creation, developed over many years and took influences from many cultures. Its also very complicated to work out the sequence, so I’m going to summarise from what I know (or at least what I think I know).

Christians chose Christmas Day as the Birthdate of Jesus because it was a prominent birthday already shared with several Gods but particularly Mithras and Saturn. It was approximately at Solstice, the beginning of the Solar Year, and close to one of the main festivals of the Roman World, the Saturnalia.

So Jesus was born on/or around the Solstice, so he would be conceived approx. 9 months earlier which would be around the Spring Equinox. I have always thought that the 4 or 5 days difference between the Solstice, the Equinox and the Christian festivals was down to the fact that the Calendars were not well coordinated with the actual movements of the Sun. But I have just realised the importance of something I discovered yesterday when preparing these two posts on the Annunciation. And since writing that sentence have had another revelation. But be patient.

So, God sends his Son to save the human race. God is a logical being so she would send her Son at an appropriate time. If the Child is born at or near the Solstice, which is an appropriate time for the Son of the Creator, then 9 months earlier, March 25th, is near the Equinox, which is the beginning of Spring. For many people Spring is a new beginning, for example, the Anglo-Saxons saw Winter as the death of the year, and Spring as the young Year.

So to the Creation. God, having a free choice, would have created the world at the beginning of Spring. In fact, if you think about it, God creates everything necessary for life at the creation in 6 days and it is going to immediately spring into new life, and the first season must, therefore, be Spring? So March 25th.

This gives a nice symmetry with Jesus’s Life. Conceived on March 25th, born December 25th, and died 30-40 years later, according to the Church, on March 25th. (the only other famous person I know born and died on the same day is William Shakespeare).

Easter, when Jesus is martyred, isn’t March 25th I hear you saying. But remember Easter is a lunar festival so its date varies each year. Birthdays, on the other hand, are fixed to the Solar Calendar and the Church chooses March 25th as the most appropriate day to pin the death of Jesus, on the anniversary of his conception and the anniversary of the creation of the Earth, and I am guessing that this is also the preferred date for the Day of Judgement.

It is also the Birthday of Adam, and his first wife Lilith (or so some say), and Eve. More about Lilith below. I thought this date was just one of the parallels that the Church liked, Jesus and Adam born on the same day but, yesterday I worked out why Adam is born on March 25th, and why these dates are not March 20th but March 25th, which has been bugging me.

Let’s go back to the Beginning of Creation. According to the Anno Munda‘s arrangement of the Year, the world was created 5500 years plus 2023 years ago so 7523 Before the Present. And it was supposed to have ended in 600AD, 6000 years after the Creation. But, ignoring that, the Creation, as described in Genesis, has the following sequence of Seven Days. As the Creation began at the Equinox March 20th. I have added dates to the 6/7 day sequence of Creation:

  • Day 1: Light – March 20th
  • Day 2: Atmosphere / Firmament – March 21st
  • Day 3: Dry ground & plants – March 22nd
  • Day 4: Sun, moon & stars – March 23rd
  • Day 5: Birds & sea creatures – March 24th
  • Day 6: Land animals & humans – March 25th
  • Day 7: The Sabbath of rest – March 26th
  • For more information www.bibleinfo.com

So there you have it! Adam, Lilith and Eve were created on Day 6 with the Land Animals – March 25th. Jesus conceived, also on this date, and so 9 months later is born on December 25th. It all makes sense, and aligns the Christian year fully with the Solar Year.

And that, dear Reader, is the very first time any one has been able to explain to me why Christmas is not at the Solstice, and why the Annunciation was not at the Equinox. Maybe you all know this but its very exciting to work this out for myself. And believe me I have done a lot of reading about Calendars and not spotted an explanation!

So that was yesterday’s revelation. What about the revelation I had about 45 minutes ago? (now about 5 hours). When writing items like this, there are a lot of things that are interconnected, and I begin writing them before realising I am interrupting the story I am trying to tell. This is often to the detriment of the story arc, or to understanding (although often, I think, adds to the joy of this blog – after all ChatGBT couldn’t write this stuff – could it?).

So I began to write about Dionysius Exiguus and his invention of the AD/BC system and about eras, cycles and ages. (He replaced the Anno Mundo year with the AD/BC system in the 6th Century AD).

I was thinking about the beginning of the year. The Celts chose October 31st, Julius Caesar chose January 1st, other cultures have other dates, and the Spring Equinox is another choice sometimes made. The Church and Dionysius Exiguus choose March 25th, although secular society also recognised the claims of January 1st. Britain kept to this system until 1752 when we adopted the Gregorian Calendar. But people like Samuel Pepys celebrated New Year on 31st December. But the year number did not change until March 25th. So King Charles I thought his head was being cut off on January 30th 1648; while history books will tell you it was cut off on January 30th 1649. Same day, different reckonings.

December 31st/January 1st is essentially a Solstice New Year Festival. And I have, previously, used the difficulty of keeping calendars as to why these days has slipped out of alignment with the Solstice. But today I realised that it is as likely that the reason is the Solar/Lunar nature of our time keeping. The year and its festivals is largely arranged around the Solar Cycle. But our weekly and monthly cycles are derived from the Moon. So, I think that January 1st would originally have been the First New Moon after the Winter Solstice! Keeping the Moon months and the Sun years in sync is very, very difficult and so Roman and Christian cultures gave up and fixed the moon months, completely abandoning any attempt to keep the months to the actual lunar cycle. This is our current system, in which only Easter remains a true to the moon festival much to our perennial confusion.

Maybe you all know this, but I’ve learnt a lot in writing these two posts..

The April 2023 Issue of ‘History Today’ has a short piece called ‘The Liberation of Lilith’ which suggests that the story of Lilith, a figure from Jewish Folklore, is first attested in a Medieval satirical text called ‘The Alphabet of Ben Sira’. The story goes that Lilith is created using the same clay as Adam. Adam then demands she lies below him during sex. She refuses, saying that they are both made from the same stuff and, therefore, equal. Adam refuses to accept this and so Lilith leaves the Garden of Eden. So the story goes.

The story of Lilith, Sarah Clegg suggests, is one of a series of similar stories found around Europe and Asia. And Clegg assumes that it is modified to make Lilith a demon who will kill babies unless the names of three angels are spoken out loud. So, the story survives as a charm to keep babies safe, and perhaps to remind people of equality among the sexes. But this causes problems for, OK, lets call them, the Patriarchy. Lilith becomes a monster, not made from the same clay as Adam but from the scum and waste left over from Adam’s creation. I imagine the story then went on to suggest that God creates Eve from Adam’s rib, and so she is created from Adam, and is subservient to him. Lilith is now a very important figure in feminist folklore cycles

I wrote about more about eras and ages in my post which you can see her: Greater Cycles and the Six or Seven Ages

Attached to the watercolour of Lilith at the top of the page by Rossetti, was a label with a verse from Goethe‘s Faust as translated by Shelley. (Wikipedia)

“Beware of her fair hair, for she excells
All women in the magic of her locks,
And when she twines them round a young man’s neck
she will not ever set him free again.”

The model is Fanny Cornforth Rossetti’s mistress. He painted another version a few years later but the model in that is Alexa Wilding. His models are arguably more interesting than the man himself and include: Elizabeth Siddall, Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth. Christina Rossetti, his poet sister, modelled for yesterday’s Rossetti painting, Ecce Ancilla Domini!

I think I might have enough material to begin my own Cult.

Town Exploration Amsterdam 1

The Canals of Amsterdam

I’ve relieved of the necessity to search for the Town Walls of Amsterdam without prior research by the fact that I am here to see my daughter who has recently broken her ankle, so she has an excuse for refusing to go on forced forced marches around the City.

I haven’t yet had a good look at a map, but the pattern of Canals circuling the centre is amazing and it seems possible there was no need for walls, when the centre is protected by so many rings of water.

I don’t know much about Amsterdam, but it reminds me of the surprising fact that Holland was a major power in the 17th/18th Century. I discovered this on a visit to Kerala in India where I realised that Portugal had a vast empire which was largely taken over by the Dutch in the 17th Century and then taken over by the British in the 18th Century.

It was one of the major pivots in world history. These three countries were small peripheral seafaring nations of no great importance in Europe until the Age of Discovery. Portugal set up trading systems (perhaps rather systems of exploitation) first down the coast of Africa and then to India and beyond. The Dutch then took over the trading stations and took control of the spice routes. Then the British took over.

Previously the spice routes from the East came through Egypt, Greece, Rome, Carthage and later the Ottoman and the Venetian Empires. This made the Mediterranean the richest place in Europe, both north and southern coasts.

The new ocean routes led to a major shift in power from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, leading to the current situation where the Mediterranean is no longer the centre of the world. Greece, Southern Italy, North Africa now under performing economies. A Roman would find this hard to believe.

Portugal, then Holland followed by Britain rose to the status of world power which would, itself, have been inconceivable before the 16th Century.

Holland was in the perfect geographic position astride the trade routes that lead to the heart of Europe. The entry point was the major river systems around the Rhine/Danube axis including the Rhine, the Scheldt, the Waal, and the Amstel. Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam developed from regional trading towns to global Cities. They spawned a self confident set of merchants who set the foundations of modern capitalism with foundations in spices and slaves.

Central to this was the Dutch East India Company. The first organisation in Europe where an investor only risked their investment rather than the shirt off their back in the event of bankruptcy. This let the shackles off investment, took money out of gold in the bank vaults and multiplied it around the economy.

But not only did it take away the risks of the consequences of investment the Dutch East India Company, set up in Amsterdam in 1602, was given quasi state power, with the ability to fight wars and impose laws on subject populations. This template was copied by the British East India Company which conquered and ran India, setting the seal for the British Empire and Capitalism.

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