Kamis, 10 Juli 2008

The Trickster of Folklore

Folklore includes a traditional trickster figure, the subject of many stories in a cycle. Trickster tales are in the animal tales genre, with the trickster himself -- he seems always to be male -- identified with a particular animal. These include the fox in Japan, mouse deer in Southeast Asia, the coyote and the spider among the Native Americans, the tortoise and spider in West Africa, and the mantis in Southern Africa.

These tales feature a trickster-hero who may be regarded as both creator god and innocent fool, evil destroyer and childlike prankster.

Tricksters are usually small in size next to the large, strong animals that appear in the same folktales. Tricksters survive by their wits, but they do more than just survive. They constantly play tricks on the animals around them, outwitting and mistreating their powerful neighbours even when these larger animals haven't done anything to deserve it. Occasionally he overreaches himself and finds that he's been too clever for his own good.

It's the Trickster who points out the flaws in our carefully managed societies. He rebels against authority, pokes fun at the overly serious, creates complex schemes and generally plays with the Laws of the Universe. He constantly questions the rules, and causes us to question these same rules. The Trickster appears when a way of thinking becomes outmoded, when old ways need to be changed.

The Trickster is a creator, a joker, a truth teller, a story teller, a transformer. We are most accessible to the gifts of the Trickster when we ourselves are at, or near, boundaries - when we are experiencing transition states. As an archetype, the Trickster, the boundary dweller, finds expression through human imagination and experience.

Trickster tales are great favourites in many cultures. They represent the underdog who uses skill and cunning to outwit a superior. West African trickster animals have a significant presence in the New World, when they travelled as part of the folklore of enslaved Africans. The rabbit is best known as Br'er Rabbit in the folktales documented by Joel Chandler Harris in the USA. We also find him in his modern avatar, Bugs Bunny !

The spider is best known as Anansi, and you find him throughout the former English and French colonies of the West Indies.

The role of the slave trickster tales was an important one giving a sense of pride and hope for the future. They showed that the weak could conquer the strong. The tales were devices that taught helplessness can triumph over virtue and mischievousness is better than malice. For the slaves, trickster folklore was also a weapon by which they were able to take subtle revenge on their masters.

By Susanna Duffy

Heraldry in the Crafts--Why Not Specialize?

I have a small website where I try to sell custom-made lapel buttons. In addition to these made-to-order buttons I also offer several specialty lines of off-the-shelf items and at this time of year I'm usually concerned with one of those lines in particular: Irish heraldic buttons. St. Patrick's Day approaches.

I'm in no sense an expert on heraldry. Still, although there are many button sites like mine I'm not aware of any other with a line of products like that one and I don't know why that should be true. It struck me the other day that heraldry might offer a wide range of opportunities for specialization--and to craftspersons in almost any field from pottery to needlepoint to weaving, rugmaking, and even quilting.

It's true that we no longer live in the age of chivalry and that not all Americans are caught up in the study of their ancestry and ethnic heritage, but surprisingly many of us are. For example, Overture reports that in November of 2004 the exact phrase "Irish heraldry" was searched for on the web 140 times. Note that this doesn't include possible searches for related terms like Gaelic, Celtic, shields, crests, coats of arms, etc. And it says nothing at all about searches for heraldic information from any other part of the world or for heraldry in general. As a matter of fact, during the month of November the word "heraldry" was used in 11,869 searches, so it seems that a market may well exist.

On the other hand, heraldry may be considered a rather nerdy topic in the modern world. I've noticed that many people today fall below the snuff-line when it comes to their basic knowledge of heraldry. There's no reason why they should know anything about it if their objective is merely to copy an occasional coat of arms onto some products that they've made, like, for instance, some dinner plates or a sampler. Yet a few paragraphs of information about coats of arms may be interesting to any who can see the possibilities in the use of heraldic themes as a quasi-specialty in their work.

A discussion of heraldry must begin, first and foremost, with the idea of the shield. The shield, I would guess, is probably the oldest piece of weaponry other than the club. The earliest shields were made of tough skins stretched over wooden frames. Their shape was probably roundish, and the round shield served very well at least through the days of the Roman Legions.

As body armor grew more cumbersome, it became more and more difficult in the heat of hand-to-hand combat to determine who was who. An early step towards solving this problem came when warriors began painting identifying symbols on their shields. By the time of the Middle Ages these symbols were becoming strictly codified and proprietary. The persons charged with keeping track of them were high government officials called heralds and a technical language, something that looks to us today like a strange mixture of English and French, was growing up around them to describe them.

In all probability this language was really not strange at all, but very similar to the ordinary speech of the times, that is, the period after the Norman conquest of England. Yet people who discuss heraldry seriously still use these terms today, and that is no doubt one more reason why the study is no longer cool. It should of course not be obligatory to use "or" for gold or "vert" for green when writing in modern English, but that's how they insist on doing it.

To satisfy a herald, a full "coat of arms" had to include many things besides the basic shield. By the time that the practice of heraldry had spread throughout Europe a coat of arms included at least the shield, the motto, the helm, the wreath, the crest, the mantling, and possibly several other things as well.

Surprisingly, the shape of the shield didn't seem to matter much. Books on heraldry often show ten or fifteen different common shapes. And not every heraldic shield was even intended to resemble an actual shield from the field of battle. The right to a coat of arms, for example, was often granted to females, and the shield in such cases was typically drawn as a lozenge or diamond-shaped object. Many shields such as the so-called "jousting" shields are sometimes drawn as crazy, free-form, asymmetric shapes.

Very often a shield's area was divided, maybe to signify the merging of two powerful families. In such cases, all the charges (pictures, or "bearings") shown on both original shields would usually be retained, each group confined to its own partition of the merged shield. There were, naturally, technical terms for any number of different ways to divide the area of a shield: per pale, per fess, per chevron, per saltire, etc. There were even different stylized lines used to separate the segments. A simple straight line might do the trick, but it could also be "engrailed," "embattled," "indented," "wavy," "dovetailed," etc.

As for the charges, they merit a separate treatment. They include not only lions and eagles in various poses, but a wide variety of birds, mammals, fish, and mythological beings. Parts of the human body. The sun, the stars, and many forms of vegetation. Structures and ships, books and bells. And each of them has its own specialized meaning. For instance, a dragon stood for vigilance, a snake for wisdom, a boar for a fierce fighter, a swallow for someone who had been dispossessed of land. A cross might indicate that the bearer or one of his ancestors had fought in the crusades, and the arms of a sailor would often show a ship.

As is obvious from those few examples, the meaning of some charges still make at least some sense to us, while in other cases their meaning is baffling. Different kinds of crowns can indicate different ranks of nobility; that's logical enough. But a finger ring, for instance, might symbolize a fifth son, and a tower might stand for wealth.

Heraldry is a colorful topic in every sense. One continually runs into larger-than-life characters. Here's one, chosen more or less at random:

Sir Francis Drake was definitely a sailor, and his arms definitely showed a ship. And what a ship! Most ships that I've seen in heraldic designs seem to have one mast but this one has three. There's a dragon or griffin seated in the stern with wings outspread. The ship rests atop a large globe of the world showing us the Atlantic Ocean, and above the ship a hand emerges from a cloud pointing at the ship something that looks very much like a microphone plugged into the bow. (I don't know what it is.)

All of that constitutes merely the crest and, as is to be expected, the crest is resting on a wreath and the wreath is above the helm. Below the helmet we finally reach the shield, an amazingly simple shield, given the complexity of its surroundings: on a black background, a silver wavy fess (horizontal area) represents the sea between two wavy stars representing the pole stars. The whole thing commemorated Drake's circumnavigation of the earth in 1577.

These arms were granted to Francis Drake by Elizabeth I, but he seems to have been a fairly headstrong individual and kept adding bits and pieces to which he had no real right. This tendency got him into a long feud with an unrelated Drake family from whom he swiped elements for his own arms. (In fact, he did that twice. After the other family had successfully defended its claims against him and he had removed the offending bearings from his arms, he later decided to put them back where they didn't belong.)

All of the major online bookstores have, or can locate, many pages full of books on heraldry, from modern works to out-of-print classics and intended for experts or beginners.

By Jim Donnelly

Shadows Boxing

Towards the end of Million Dollar Baby the character Scraps, ex boxing great turned gym porter, says of a character who has been away from the gym for a while, "And then a ghost walked in." This is an inadvertant commentary on almost all the principal characters in the film, and thier relationships to each other.

Scraps (Morgan Freeman) is a ghost for Frankie (Clint Eastwood), as is Maggie (Hillary Swank) - the former because he lost sight in one eye in a match, many years ago, partly due to Frankie, and the latter because as time goes on she becomes a surrogate for his long gone daughter who refuses to reconcile with him (we are not told exactly what went wrong between Frankie and his daughter, though we see that he has a shoebox full of letters he sent her marked RETURN TO SENDER).

Frankie goes to Mass every day; the priest tells him, "Write to your daughter." Scraps and Maggie bond because both have been trained by Frankie. Scraps and Maggie, without knowing it, become mirrors of each other, each having been gravely hurt in boxing matches with Frankie as their manager. Yet, at the same time, they mirror each other in another way - boxing is their whole life (Maggie tells Frankie at one point, "If I don't have this, I have nothing"; Scraps literally lives in the gym, in a small space in a corner with a curtain.

He never leaves the place (Frankie invites him to come to Vegas for a fight and he says, "Do you know what this place would look like if I left it?") Everyone whom Frankie seems to care about in his life has been gravely hurt by him - his daughter, Maggie, and Scraps. The gym is a place of vicousness and street consciousness - a bully beats an annoying punk to a bloody pulp, only to be knocked out cold in turn by Scraps. Frankie and Maggie are both on horrible terms with their immediate families, and Scraps has no family in sight;it is such a nonissue for him that none is ever even mentioned.

In this world, in these lives, the characters share much that is bleak and dismal, yet the end effect of the film on the viewer is one of hope, respect, and dignity nonetheless. Any time one character turns to another, their souls,their cores, relate - and in this way these relationships reveal to us some of the essential truths about humanity.

By Peter Quinones

Progress Versus Perfection

From the creative explosion marking the outset of the universe to our advanced human stage in evolution, some fifteen billion years have elapsed. This advanced stage refers to the natural abilities and the cultural realizations of our species. While these natural abilities have virtually not changed in the last hundred thousand years, these cultural realizations have progressed exponentially over the same period. The former depend on a biological memory - the genetic information that is stored in human cells and can be transmitted through reproduction. The latter depend on a social memory - the didactic information that is stored in human libraries and can be transmitted through education. Together these two memories and modes of transmission supply the necessary tools to perpetuate and ameliorate humanity. The problem is that humans rarely use these tools to the maximum. They reproduce very well; more than five billion people testify to that; but they could do better in every other respect, witness the many instances of weakness and wickedness that tarnish their image.

Having said this, their existence can never be perfect. The worthiness and especially the effectiveness of their efforts will always be limited and perfectible. Such is their human condition. They can achieve great things, thank God! Yet this greatness cannot be absolute, thank God again! This imperfection hides a sublime advantage that can only be fathomed and cherished by a life lover. It ensures the maintenance of a dynamic state in pursuit of fulfillment, which is essential for the act, the dignity, and the joy of living.

Conversely, the attainment of infinite health, strength, pleasure, wisdom, glory, wealth, and every other object of one's desires would amount to an infinite satisfaction that would kill these desires. This attainment is impossible because it is incompatible with life. Perfection and death go together like two inseparable lovers in a single tomb. They send a shiver down my spine. Who can look on death as the ideal of life? Perfection is fit for a stone. It may appeal to a wretchedly tired soul in dire need of a rest. Dead, however, would this soul not adopt the opposite stance after a lengthy bout of mineral tranquility? Would it not dream of having a second chance to live and love life?

Many may think the human condition could be better without being perfect. What is the meaning of this betterment, which bears no relation to the one that ought to be accomplished by human means within the limits of this condition? Do many wish God would increase these means or reduce these limits? For what purpose? To make life easier? Closer to death! Can they not see the beauty of the imperfection as it is? Can they not appreciate that the peak of human fulfillment entails a steep mountain to climb and the constant risk of falling?

Admittedly, it is hard not to lament one's challenging human condition while painfully struggling to rise to the challenge, especially if the difficulties are serious and numerous. Correlatively, it is hard then not to reckon that there is room for improvement in the creation. I for one have long indulged in this sort of lamenting and reckoning. With hindsight, I am now in a good position to size up my error. God was not to blame for my unhappiness at the time; my attitude was at fault. I had failed to realize that the extreme difficulties I was faced with were exceptional opportunities for spiritual development and enlightenment, just as an obstacle can keep ivy in the dark and become the instrument of its ascension to a superior place in the sun.

By Laurent Grenier

Amber Mysteries Revealed

Amber, the gem of a stone that's not really a gemstone at all, is actually fossilized pine sap. People have collected, traded, carved, and coveted amber for more than 10,000 years. Yet despite our fascination with it, much about the smoky yellow stone -- the history of amber -- remains a mystery.

The price for amber stones varies widely, in the right price range for Average Joe's (and Joannas) who can spend as little as $20 for amber and silver jewelry, and also for high-rollers ready to spend $40,000 or more for a "slice of sunshine" in amber jewelry crafted in gold, platinum, and featuring other gemstones. And although it not an official "birthstone -- a designation reserved for actual gemstones -- amber is often presented to those born under the sign of Taurus (April 19-May 19).

History of Amber

Amber is found in Myanmar home to the largest piece of transparent amber in the world (33.5 pounds and 40-50 million years old), as well as Lebanon, Sicily, Mexico, Romania, Germany, and Canad. The two main sources of amber on the market today, however, are the Dominican Republic and the Baltic states.

Once highly regulated, Baltic amber has become more widely available due to more liberal economic policies in Eastern Europe. Today, the whole world enjoys amber minded from the Baltic region, where the largest mine is in Russia, west of Kaliningrad.

Baltic amber may also be found in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Russia. Baltic amber has even washed up on the shores of the Baltic Sea in Denmark, Norway, and England. Baltic amber is the oldest geological specimen to be used in jewelry. Archeologists digging near the Baltic Sea have found evidence of Baltic amber jewelry that is approximately 40,000 years old.

Green Amber is a completely natural variation of Baltic Amber. The green color is a result of plant interaction with the resin. While green is a more valuable color of amber than brown, the best quality of amber remains clear, transparent, and flawless.

Slightly softer than Baltic amber, Dominican amber is prized for its coloration, including yellow and deep red, as well as the distinctive (and rare) blue and smoky green hues that come exclusively from that area.

Shocking Information about Amber

The ancient name for amber was "electron," the root word of electricity. Around 600 B.C., it was discovered that if an amber stone was rugged vigorously, it became electrically charged. Believed to carry a negative electrical energy charge, amber was used to draw power and energy into its bearer.

In addition to its ability to attract energy and power, amber was believed to aid the intellect. It was prescribed for memory loss; eccentric behavior; anxiety, and indecisiveness.

The Joy of Amber

Can You Hear My Secret Calling

A true love story

"So, was it an eyes-meet-across-the-room-thing and you knew you were destined for each other instantly?" I asked my Mom. "No," she laughed, "it was a swinging-door-thing and once we met, then we knew it was destiny."

It was 1946 when my parents met in postwar Oldenburg, Germany while working for British Intelligence. Dad (a.k.a. Peter Russell) had survived WW II after being in many challenging battles. He was a "frightfully English chap" who grew up in the south of England. Mom (Blanche Moore - a.k.a. Pat Russell) had experienced the war in a different way. One of the many bombing raids on Belfast, Northern Ireland had demolished her family home.

It only took Dad one week after he saw Mom going through the now infamous swinging door into the Intelligence Offices, to make sure he was introduced to her. Once they met, they were inseparable and spent many hours dancing at the Officers Club in Oldenburg. Mom and Dad were known for being fabulous ballroom dancers and other dance participants would frequently stand aside and watch them together as they swirled around the dance floor, eyes locked on one another.. Dad was a lean, good-looking man of 6' and he was handsome in his British Intelligence Uniform. Mom was and still is a petite 5' 2" pretty Irish woman with twinkly eyes and a penchant for laughing a lot.

As they danced together, Dad would sing (in German):

"Do you remember the precious time when we came together for life, My heart sang a little melody for you day and night. Do you remember that beautiful time?

Even though youth will fade, songs of love will always stay. Should fate ever darken your happiness, My song will always light it up for you."

They were the first British couple to be married in Oldenburg after the war. They were transferred to the village of Brake on the Weser River in Germany as a husband/wife team with British Intelligence specializing in political and counter intelligence. Dad had a network of agents under his supervision. He and his agents contributed to the break up of the Communist party in that area of Germany. "Peter and Pat's" cover for being in post war Germany was the interrogation of returning prisoners of war from Russia.

But at night their real work would begin. Dad would direct and rendezvous with various agents in the field. Another agent, would cautiously make his way back to Mom with stolen documents. This home rendezvous would usually happen after midnight with Mom waiting nervously for the agent to arrive. She would then translate and type the information immediately, so that it could be sent to the head office of British Intelligence in London, England. It was a tense and nerve wracking time.

"Do you hear my secret calling Open up your sweet loving heart, When you have longingly thought of me tonight. Then I will be with you in your dream Let me look at you once again Show me your much loved face Then turn off the light My heart will not forget you Please go to sleep"

Dad died in 1989 in Salmon Arm, seven years after retiring as a Special Agent for the Canadian National Railroad Police in Prince George. As well as being named Citizen of the Year in 1972, he was also the recipient of the Governor General's award for his contribution to the youth of that city.

In the years since his death, Mom had searched for their special song. She wrote to CBC radio, and she had asked people she met who were of German descent if they had heard of the song. She was nearly ready to give up until eight months ago. She was in "Styles on Mane" in Vernon having her hair done, when a gentleman came in to have his hair cut. As he had a German accent, Mom asked him if he had heard of the song. He said he hadn't, but promised to look into it for her. (His name is Julius and he is the neighbour and good friend of the owner of the shop, Cynthia Robertson)

One month later, Mom went to her weekly hair appointment. As she sat down, Cynthia turned to her friend Julius who was in the shop and said, "Julius, I forgot to turn on the radio today. Would you turn it on for me please?"

Soon the beautiful words of the song "Do You Hear My Secret Calling" were being played throughout the salon. Julius Topf had contacted friends in Germany and with the help of a popular newspaper columnist the song had been found on a CD of hit songs from 1934 to 1943. Mom was completely overwhelmed with happiness when she heard the song again after 50 years.

My parents shared the special kind of intense and enduring love alluded to in this lovely song. It was their heart song. Now she can close her eyes as she listens to the music and from her memory bank, imagine that she is back on the dance floor, being tenderly held in the arms of her beloved as he sang to her.

"Just as autumn and spring will always be, So will sorrow and joy forever change the earth. Every hour of sadness is followed by a day of sunshine, Every parting is followed by a new embrace. Storms in life will pass as long as we will understand each other. When your heart fills with sorrow, quietly sing my song again."

By Carole Fawcett

The Year of the Rooster

The Rooster is traditionally considered to be a favourable sign. His crow signals the break of dawn and the beginning of a fresh start, driving away the ghosts and evil spirits of the night. He is the only creature of the Chinese zodiac with wings and, as such, is regarded as the messenger that connects the two worlds of heaven and earth.

He has five virtues: knowledge, military expertise, courage, benevolence and credibility. His crest, `kwan'', means coronet, and represents the pen, the symbol of knowledge, while his claw symbolises the sword of military skills. When confronted by an enemy, the courageous Rooster fights till the end without retreat. When he finds food he shares it to show his benevolence and he demonstrates his credibility by never failing to crow on time.

2005 is the year of the Green Wooden Rooster. Green is the colour of hope, of Spring, and of Youth, so this year will be exceptionally good for the application of scientific achievements to production and new creative work. Wood symbolises family values and astrologers say the family will constitute an integral part of everyone"s life this year. Practicality, business attitude and diligence will be valued highly and those who pay attention to even the slightest details will achieve remarkable heights

The Rooster is a very fertile bird, so tradition tells us that this will be the best time to find your true love and form a family of your own. Roosters are also communal creatures so 2005 promises to be a lucky one for joint ventures. Astrology suggests we should sign as many business contracts as possible and form new partnerships in the upcoming year. However, no matter the business, family interests should always come first!

The Rooster Person. Those born in rooster years are described as having a strong desire to be constantly at the centre of attention. Cheery, sharp and humorous, the magnificent Rooster will never pass up an opportunity to recount his adventures and specify his accomplishments. He is a flamboyant personality, feisty and obstinate, the proud extrovert who loves to strut his stuff. Outwardly confident, the Rooster is also a trustworthy, hardworking individual who speaks frankly with no qualms or reservations.

Roosters are very loyal. They detest dishonesty or mockery of any sort for they are direct and honest people who expect those around them to be the same. Roosters are happiest when they are surrounded by others, at a small party or a large social gathering, in some way enjoying the spotlight. A Rooster will either like you, or he won't - there's no middle road. Although they are vocal with opinions and ideas, Roosters are pretty tight-lipped about their personal emotions and feelings and rarely wear their hearts on their sleeves. They are intensely private people.

East meets West

The upfront Aries Rooster is blunt, yet witty, unafraid of criticism and fond of sharing his points of view. Honest and trustworthy, this Rooster expects the same of others.

The hard-working Taurus Rooster is motivated, industrious and reliable and finishes what he starts, but must learn to relax more.

The sharp-minded Gemini Rooster is an efficient organiser who loves a good, solid debate, often on political or environmental issues.

The loving Cancer Rooster is a kindly and sweet individual who enjoys the company of friends, family and animal companions. But beware if he shows his claws!

The flamboyant Leo Rooster is full of energy and charisma but also deeply sincere and compassionate.

The logical Virgo Rooster, although extremely efficient at completing tasks too difficult for others, may sometimes be too detail-oriented.

The organised Libra Rooster is sophisticated and urbane, admired for his good taste and attractive appearance.

The determined Scorpio Rooster is a motivated goal-setter who hides his deep emotions.

The open-hearted Sagittiraius Rooster is a likeable free spirit, honest and down to earth with a tendency to sometimes put his foot in his mouth.

The practical Capricorn Rooster wants to succeed, and his intellect and drive make him want to be in charge.

The non-conformist Aquarius Rooster is creative and clever but needs motivation.

The sensitive Pisces Rooster is just as stubborn, yet not as blunt as other Roosters. He considers the feelings of others and avoids confrontation or discord.

Whatever Rooster you may be, whatever animal of the Chinese zodiac you are, this year of 2005 will bring creativity, diligence and family strengths to the fore. The official day of the New Year is 9 February, the Tiger month, make sure you wear something green and don't, whatever you do, eat fowl on that day.

Sun nien fai lok ! Gung hay fat choy !

By Susanna Duffy