Where does Father Christmas come from?

He is round. He is jolly. He is dressed in red and has a long, white beard.

Christmas is a time of joy and celebration and one of its most famous icons is the toy-making, present-giver Father Christmas, or Santa Claus. Ho-ho-ing away cheerily, he drives his sleigh through the skies to bring toys to good children, all over the world. He clambers down their chimneys and eats offerings of cookies and milk, before leaving the presents in the prepared socks.

Or so the story goes.

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But where did Santa Claus really come from?

This mythical figure exists in several other countries and is called by many different names. Papa Noel in Spain, Saxta Baba in Azerbaijan, Dyado Koleda in Bulgaria, Babbo Natale in Italy, and Daidí na Nollagin Ireland, to name but a few.

In England, the earliest personification of Father Christmas does not present him as a giver of toys or as a lover of children. An old Carol addresses him as ‘Nowell’ and ‘Sir Christmas’, the personification of the season who encourages people to eat, drink and make merry and who has nothing at all to do with toys and presents.

The specific depiction of Father Christmas as a merry old man emerged in the early 17th century, when the rise of Puritanism led to an increase in the condemnation of all excess – including eating, drinking and feasting. In 1866, Thomas Nast, a cartoon artist, made a montage entitled ‘Santa Clause his Works’, and for the first time, established ‘Santa’ as a maker of toys. At the time, Father Christmas, began to emerge as a kind, jolly old gentleman, giving to the poor and the needy.

Eventually, he was associated with Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. The legend surrounding Saint Nicholas, or in Dutch, Sinter Klaas (who became Santa Claus to the Americans) states that he was a shy man who wanted to give money to the poor without being seen. Once, he tried throwing money from a roof, and the money accidentally landed in a sock which a girl had left to dry by the fireplace. This is where the tradition of leaving a sock for Father Xmas to fill came from and why he is said to come down from the chimney.

However, we need to go further back in time than that. Father Xmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival and he was usually dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. He was, literally, the personification of the season and he was known as ‘Old Man Winter’.

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The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843) is based on Old Man Winter. He is described as a large man with a red beard and a fur-lined green cloak. Images of Santa Claus dressed in red only started to appear on Christmas greeting cards late in Victorian times.

The Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore entry on Father Christmas considers him to be a pre-Reformation and medieval Yule-tide visitor, who is entirely separate from St Nicholas and Sinter Klaas, only being combined with his legend (and thus becoming associated with giving presents to children) in the 1870s.

In truth, the origins of Santa Claus can be traced back to the 600s, when the Saxons who invaded and settled in Britain had the custom of giving human characteristics to the weather elements, welcoming the characters of King or Lord Frost, Lord Snow, etc. to their homes in the hope that the elements would look kindly on them. Actors dressed in cloaks and ivy would represent the season and feast amidst the revellers.

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The Vikings also brought with them legends of their god Odin, who was the father of all the other Norse gods. He is said to have worn a disguise during the feast of Yule (that is, the Winter solstice which takes place on 21st December, the longest night of the year). He mingled with his subjects dressed in a hooded cloak, giving him the chance to listen to his people and see if they were happy or not. He was portrayed as a sage with a long white beard.

Even further back than the occupation of Britain by the Saxons, there was the pagan Celtic worship of the Winter Holly King, who prevailed during the winter months and who provided for and protected his people during the coldest months of the year.

Be he Father Christmas, Sinter Klaast, Saint Nicholas, Odin, or the Holly King, what’s for sure is that the legend of Old Man Winter has prevailed throughout the ages, not only as the personification of Winter, but as a way of bringing families and friends closer together in a time when, although the weather is harsh and life is tough, everyone still goes on feasting and making merry with loved ones.

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N.B This article was written by me and originally published on Eve magazine.

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The Mediterranean Island of Gozo – A Real Haven!!

Gozo (‘Għawdex’), which is the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago, is a perfect holiday destination all year round. Although Gozo is found only a few miles away from its sister island of Malta, it is quite a distinctive island, having its own geographical treasures, its own monuments, its own history, and even its own identity.

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Gozo is more rural and unspoilt than Malta, in fact it is well-known for its rolling green hills, beautiful countryside and resplendent sandy beaches. The pace of life in Gozo is more tranquil and peaceful compared to the more modernized Malta. Most of the land is still virgin, which means that one can appreciate a number of picturesque views, especially during the winter season when the fields are cultivated. Here, one can even find some old traditions which are no longer found on Malta. Gozo in fact has its own spate of religious traditional festas, its own unique crafts and artisan products, as well as being famous for its yearly Carnival celebrations and local cuisine. If you want a taste of this, you must surely try out some Gozitan cheeselets (ġbejniet).

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As of early 2014, the island of Gozo hosted a population of around 37,300 people. Gozo has a rich history and one can find a huge number of historical places, ranging from Neolithic to modern times, on this small island. One can hardly fail to mention the megalithic Ġgantija Temples, which, after the Temples of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, are the oldest man-made temples in the world.

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Another important spiritual structure is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu, otherwise known as the Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary, first built in 1545 and then restored in 1730. This Catholic Sanctuary, located in the village of Għarb, is well-known to hold the prayers, vows, and votive offerings given by those who maintain to have been miraculously helped after praying to the Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. This church is in fact linked with many miraculous healings.

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Apart from its deeply spiritual heritage, Gozo also holds some of the Mediterranean’s most breathtaking natural wonders. There’s a number of pristine sandy beaches like Xlendi Bay, Marsalforn Bay, as well as Ramla Bay, just off Xagħra, which according to mythology, is believed to have been the site of the nymph Calypso’s abode. Gozo in fact, is theorized to be the mystic island of Ogygia, which featured prominently in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ as the island where Ulysses was held captive for seven years. Near the beach, one can also visit the so-called Calypso Cave, high up on the cliffs.

Gozo is also home to a large number of medieval coastal towers built by the Order of the Knights of Saint John, like Isopu Tower in Nadur and Xlendi Tower in Xlendi, as well as innumerable tiny churches and chapels which are gems of medieval and baroque architecture. Traditional architecture can also be admired by going to Victoria (ir-Rabat), Gozo’s capital city, and taking a look at the historical buildings, niches, balconies, aqueducts and churches, not to mention the Medieval Citadel, iċ-Ċittadella, which is a unique small fortified town situated on the promontory of Victoria.

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It is easy to arrive in Gozo, one simply has to take the ferry-boat from Ċirkewwa on the north-west side of Malta. The crossing takes approximately 25 minutes and is quite enjoyable. Truly a destination not to miss!

This article was written by me and published on LivinInMalta.com. To view the original article, please go here.

Susan Waitt’s Night Gallery – Halloween Interview

My first personal meeting with American artist Susan Waitt occurred some years ago at a private spiritually-themed event and reception, taking place in a certain ex-bordello in Valletta. Her colourful, vibrant outlook and curiosity immediately struck a chord. A Scorpio, the Connecticut-born artist worked as an illustrator for a Disney studio in Massachusetts, hosted her own American TV talk show and was an artistic director and writer for Liquorish TV, to name but a few of her achievements.

On the other hand, her gothic, surreal artwork seems to spell quite a different character; more dark, more mysterious, but still very intriguing. Waitt’s perception seems to filter and reproduce vagrant metaphysical ideas of succubi and the supernatural; sinister presences which may as well hide within each and every one of us, or even behind the closed door around the corner.

What prompted you to come to live in Malta?

Originally, I came here to co-organise an international conference on the consciousness of the Megalithic Temple builders, and somehow, I never left. I’ve lived in Malta for nine years.

From Disney artwork to the grotesque: How did one category of art evolve into the other?

The concept of the grotesque in art and literature speaks to something profoundly basic about human nature, and the nature of existence itself. In fact, Disney perfected for a general audience the interplay of paradoxical opposites such as fear and laughter, aggression and playfulness, and the merging of bizarre, carnivalesque atmospheres with rational and logical realities. Think of all the terrifying moments in Bambi, Peter Pan, and Snow White to name just a few animated feature films. My art evolved from this quite naturally, in that I felt like it was part of the whole circle of life, since the spectrum of experience was all there in Disney already.

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Of course, I was always drawn to Bosch, Goya, Fuseli, Moreau, Dali and many other artists who portrayed what was dark, subterranean and wrapped in ineffable mystery. Now, having grown older and somewhat wearier of the world, it often appears to me that there are also precious gifts within the darkness of the human mind – depth, profundity, nuance and complexity. Intense contrasts of light and dark add a sense of drama and therefore a sense of awe. Awe is a key aspect of the experience of the sublime.

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Is there a particular unifying theme within the exhibition?

I deliberately used Victorian Spiritualism and mediumistic séances together as a unifying trope or motif, because I felt it represented the collective desire of humanity to probe the unspeakable enigma at the centre of existence.

What is your method of creation?

For many years I painted in acrylics only, especially for large-scale mural projects. Now with my studio work, I usually first execute an unfinished acrylic under-painting, usually on a toned background and then finish in oils. When I was working as a commercial book illustrator for Disney and Fisher Price, I was constrained to lay out book galleys meticulously. That required sketching and sometimes re-sketching scenes and finishing with inks, water colours and airbrush. In recent years, I started executing artworks with the same absolute freedom and energy that I had usually reserved for my free-time sketching and doodling. I’m producing art directly onto the canvas now.

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This article/interview appeared on EVE Magazine on 22.10.2016 – Please follow the link to read the rest of it: http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/10/22/susan-waitts-night-gallery-the-uncanny-the-sublime/

Order

In the beaming of the Moon
the stars go on arolling
under his patriarchal eye
healthily aglowing

A stream, a glade, a shallow reef
they all spread out on yonder
beneath his benign fragile gaze
in fearful harmony and wonder

Nothing could ever break that look
surrounding them, so strictly
Nothing could ever distort the order
regimenting them so thickly

For his stern paternal gaze
is what keeps them in line
willy-nilly, it’s always there
ever controlling their shine

For what would happen without the Moon
in the dark of the endless sky?
What would the twinkling stars do
all alone up above so high?

How could their light reach over it all
with no shepherd there to guide them?
How could they find the way to go
with no sergeant to deride them?

It would be chaos! It would be wild!
There would be no end to it!
How they would dance, jump and cavort
for sure the globe would be too brightly lit!

No no, such things are not to happen
no play or song, no laughter or brightness, ever
The Moon is there as it has always been
Set the clock, turn around, yes forever

©M.A

 

New House – New Rituals!

The amount of work to be lavished onto a new house is amazing. Apart from all those painting jobs, plastering and moving about of furniture, which still go on and on long after you have restructured the place to your tastes. After all the workers have gone, and you have purchased as many soft furnishings as you can to make the place comfortable and homey. After you have finally gotten rid of all the package boxes, put your clothes in the wardrobe and your millions of stockings in drawers. After having finally put all your many many books on their shelves, and then re-arranged them again and again, in order for them to make some sort of sense – according to author, subject and reachability…

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Yes, after all this – there is still work to be done, especially by someone like me, who sensitive, emphatic, and naturally aware of negative energies, cannot rest until she feels that the house is REALLY free of any previous occupants – be they physical, spiritual, emotional or even just psychic residues.

So, I spent the last three weeks carefully writing quite a long ritual to banish, cleanse, bless and protect my new home from all the negative thoughts and feelings, all the pain and suffering, all the stress and anxiety, and in other words, anything at all, left over by the previous couple – who were selling the house due to their divorce after 16 years of marriage. Ouch! Yes, I’m pretty sure there must have been a lot of bad feelings flying around this house. I could actually feel them sometimes too.

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I took my time with this ritual because not only was it the first one I was doing in the house, but also because, in a way, it was also the most important one, since it would not only have an unconscious impact on me, but also one on my partner and on our relationship. My boyfriend is not a Wiccan or a Pagan, he is an atheist, and yet I’m sure he’s been unconsciously feeling the tension and negativity in the house too. It has been becoming more and more apparent this past month, and I could’nt ignore it any longer.

A further issue was that our neighbours, the ones with the maisonette directly below us, are always fighting in a really bad way. The wife is always crying, and they are always swearing and saying awful things to each other. We get to hear everything because our bedroom window is directly above their internal yard, which they always leave open. They fight almost every day, and their fighting is the first thing we hear each morning when we wake up, and sometimes the last thing we hear before going to sleep at night too. This does not help the general atmosphere, no matter how many times my boyfriend says that seeing the difference between their relationship and ours (which is very loving, happy and balanced) makes him feel kind of aloof in a sniggering kind of way. So, my ritual also incorporated putting on layers of protection on each window facing their place, in order to keep their negativity out of our lives.

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I performed the ritual succesfully last weekend. Finally. And I must say, I really physically felt the actual difference immediately afterwards. The house needed to breathe and so did I. And even though I had known this would have an effect, I never actually knew the amount of bad energies coursing through my poor home, before I actually got rid of them, and could appreciate the change in atmosphere.

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Immediately after that, I bought our first plant! I am so happy and excited about it! I plan to slowly construct a roof garden in future, and though this is a house plant, it is still the start of that venture. I had two other plants before this one, one in my old apartment and one at work. Both died. Let’s hope this one doesn’t. It’s a dieffenbachia, which, I am told, are quite hardy. So, fingers crossed.

Next up is Imbolc! I must still declare and bless my sacred space and altar, not to mention re-purify all my tools, so I must try and incorporate that into the Imbolc ritual as well. Another lengthy one! Ah well, quite worth it considering the effects of the last one!

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What to do for Midsummer?

Midsummer will be with us soon. Litha, the Summer Solstice, when all the world celebrates the passion of living. The fertility of Mother Earth reflected in the purity of the bonfires. Sweaty bodies gyrating in the indomitable spirit of life. The incessant heartbeat of the planet, drumming on in every plant, every particle, every follicle, every being.

And I have no idea how to celebrate it.

21 June will be a Sunday. Right now I’m living with my boyfriend who is not a Pagan/Wiccan and does not celebrate the spokes of the Wheel. In any case, I would feel better celebrating outdoors of course. There are two problems however.

Problem 1 – The people. Malta is a very small island and on Sundays, Saturdays and any day really, people swarm everywhere. There isn’t any nook or cranny where one can meditate or just sit in silence for a while. Especially now, when even beaches are full to bursting everywhere (in winter at least these are semi-deserted in certain hours of the day/night). This issue is always present, however usually I try to do something inside or on the roof, but right now that’s not possible. It will not be a problem once we move to the new house, where I will have a special space/study/library, but for now… hmm..

Problem 2 – All my celebratory altar-related things and tools, candles, incense, etc are packed in boxes in another locality. Except for my BOS ofc. And to be honest at the moment I don’t have money to spare to buy new stuff, so I truly have to use only normal everyday things to celebrate. As such this is not really a problem though… some wine and essential oils will have to be enough.

And still, I do not know exactly how I can celebrate it this year. I wish we were already in the new house – would be a marvellous time for a cleansing by fire of the new area (which is not as pyromaniac as it sounds lol).

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The Cult of Sacred Wells: Introduction

Awesome article. Visited a couple of wells when I was in Ireland and the atmosphere of peace and spiritual purity around them impressed me.

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  “There is no superstition stronger in Ireland than a belief in the curative power of the sacred wells that are scattered over the country; fountains of health and healing which some saint had blessed, or by which some saint had dwelt in the far-off ancient times. But well-worship is even older than Christianity. It is part of the early ritual of humanity, brought from the Eastern lands by the first Aryan tribes who migrated westward, passing along from the Mediterranean to time Atlantic shores,” (Wilde, Holy Wells).

The great regard that the people of Ireland had for wells is so great that, at one time, they were referred to as The People of the Wells. Within Ireland and Wales, many sacred wells dotted the landscape, each coveted for their holy powers of magic, insight, and healing. From ancient times, to the spreading of Christianity into the British Isles, and even…

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Hell Girl – Anime Review

To be honest, I just started watching this anime yesterday so I cannot REALLY write a review as of yet, so this is more of a portrayal of what the anime has conveyed to me as such up to now, when I have only seen the first three episodes.

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First of all, the graphics are lovely. The characters are well drawn and the background scenes are very detailed. The anime is set mostly ‘in real life’, that is, in a city in Japan, however parts of it also take place in a surreal place – somewhere between heaven, hell and purgatory, somewhere in dreams perhaps, where the tormented spirit of the ‘Hell Girl’, Ai Enma, resides, with her three companions and servants. It is quite a dark anime, which may be considered to be gothic and/or horror too.

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Ai Enma, also known as Jigoku Shōjo, is a mysterious figure. Sometimes we are treated with short images of her past, when she was killed. We know someone who loved betrayed her, that she is angry about it and has looked for revenge for 400 years ever since, all the while being a ‘Hell Girl’, that is a powerful spirit who grants those who want revenge, the death of the people they name. Ai Enma offers a covenant – those who want her to rid them of someone, who is shipped to hell, are given a black poppet or doll, with a red string. If they decide to accept the pact, they untie the red string, on the condition that once they die, they too will go straight to hell, as payment for the debt owed to Ai. The ‘fun thing’ is the way they make their request in the first place – Hell has ‘gone modern’ in this case, since all they have to do is send an email request at midnight, and the Hell Girl promptly sends them a text message on their mobile to confirm the receipt.

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Very VERY interesting plot line. Each episode portrays a different story – a different client, and why they choose to sell their soul, in order to get rid of a particular person who is doing them, or a loved one, harm. Some of the scenes are fairly strong and psychological, in fact this is not an anime for children, but is marked 17+

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The anime is not short – having three seasons of around 23 episodes each. I have also discovered that there is a live action series, comprising of 23 episodes of half an hour each, which I definitely mean to get as well.

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All in all, I am really looking forward to continuing this series. Aaaaaaaa Anime <3!!!

Ancient Origins – Why is Malta so underrated by the Maltese?

When I was a teen, I was obsessed with archaeology, especially Egyptology. I used to borrow books from the public library explaining the processes of mummification according to the ‘Book of the Dead’, record culture shows like ‘La Macchina del Tempo‘ and ‘Il Filo di Arianna‘ on T.V, subscribed to magazines relating the latest theories, and researched stuff for hours on the net.

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Needless to say, that passion never fizzled out. Unfortunately, I do not have as much time to dedicate to this subject as I had when I was a jobless student, however I do keep my ears pricked for interesting archaeological developments and finds all the same. Especially living in a country like Malta, which though is a tiny island, is so very rich in pre-historical artifacts and temples – which are well-known as being among the oldest known temples in the world. Our temples are even older than Stonehenge or the pyramids!

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A couple of days ago I discovered a very good website with articles on such cultural and historical artefacts, finds, explorations, and monuments from all over the globe. The website is called ‘Ancient Origins’- http://www.ancient-origins.net/searchall/malta

As one can see form the particular page I pasted, this site has a number of articles focusing on Malta’s international importance and its incredible historical aspect. Something which I feel that we, as Maltese, unfortunately do not give as much value to as we should.

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What is great about the website is that one can create an account, which works through a point-awarding system. What this means is that anyone with an account is awarded a number of points each time s/he comments on an article, gives a contribution, posts a message on a forum or shares an article on Facebook or Twitter, and with these points there are redeemable gifts and items one can get for free, like books, historical representations of statuettes, etc.

I’m really loving this page and have been hooked on it ever since I discovered it at the beginning of the week. There is so much to read and research on so many topics! I even found where series like ‘X-Files’ and ‘Supernatural’ (not to mention a number of epic fantasy novels) got their ideas from! Astounding!

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The Goddess of the Ravens

Exactly a year ago, I finally did my third tattoo. The one I had been wanting and dreaming about for so long.

It is a representation of my favorite aspect of the Goddess – the Lady of the Ravens. She has always been with me – a part of me. The best part.

Morrigan, Badb, Nemain.

Happy 1st year Anniversary 😀

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Feral, she squats on the jagged pinnacles
Wild black hair tangling in the greedy wind
Mad eyes staring at the merciless hurricane
Teeth bared against the fury of the Storm

Heart beating to the rhythm of the Earth
Wings ragged. yet pulsating with the life of centuries
Silently, she waits to spring, she waits to scream
but for now, she simply smiles… enigmatically…

A sarcastic smile, no one can see…