Sunday, December 04, 2005

Pridie Nonas December

Modern Date : December 4th

Pridie Nonas December
Day before the Nones of December

This is one of the dies comitiales when committees of citizens could vote on political or criminal matters.

Nero was granted Tribunician power this day in 54 AD, which was renewed annually thereafter.

The Greeks celebrated this day as the Festival of Pallas Athena (Minerva to the Romans). Athena (Minerva) was the goddess of Wisdom and was also known as the Maid. She was the daughter of Zeus and Metis. She was endowed with the power of prophecy which she could bestow on mortals. She was the patroness of art, science, and learning. Athena also governed the feminine industry of spinning and weaving. It was for Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, that the Greeks built the Parthenon and in which was housed one of Phidias' greatest works of art, a gold covered statue of the goddess. The Christians, under the empreror Theodosius II, removed the statue to Byzantium, where it was stripped of its gold and destroyed without a trace.

Decima, the middle Fate in charge of the present, presides over December, but the month may have received its name as the tenth month of the Roman calendar. Vesta, patroness of fire also laid claim to the month of December.

Mercury Goes Direct
On this day Mercury "goes direct," after three weeks of apparent retrograde motion. The blockage, confusion and delay we have been enduring in the Mercury-ruled areas of commerce, communications and transportation lift now -- but note that Mercury enters his most difficult placement on Dec. 12.

St. Barbara
St. Barbara, identified with Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom and the arts, was honored today. She is also patroness of California. One of the festivals of Pallas Athena in the ancient Greek calendar, and the feast of St. Barbara in the traditional Christian calendar. This is yet another example of the methodical way in which the early Christian church replaced pagan holidays with days honoring new Christian saints. St. Barbara -- whose veneration the Vatican recently discontinued, when she and several other obviously mythical saints were quietly retired -- was said to protect her devotees from lightning, just as Athena mollified the wrath of her father, Zeus Cloudgatherer, Lord of the Lightning Bolt.

The Christian legend says that Barbara was imprisoned in a high tower by her father to discourage her many suitors. But when he found out she had converted to Christianity, he handed her over to his henchmen for torture and eventually beheaded her himself, whereupon he was immediately struck dead by lightning. Therefore she is invoked against lightning, tempests and explosions, and is the patron of artillerymen, miners, architects, builders and stonemasons.

Another legend about Barbara, recounted by Storace(Dinner with Persephone), says that she was running through the mountains to get away from her father who wanted her to marry the son of a wealthy and influential family. As she ran, she called out, "Mountains, take my body's elegance, and forests my thick tresses, and you, oleander trees, take my face's loveliness."

In the Levant, Christmas season begins with her feast. Wheat is the symbol of the day and a special dish of kahmie is served. (Grain is an important ingredient in the legends of other December saints--St Nicholas and St Lucy.) The head of the household tells the story of St Barbara while the wheat cooks. In southern France, especially in Provence, wheat grains are soaked in water, placed in dishes and set to germinate in the warm chimney corner or a sunny window. The grain is carefully tended, since if it grows fast, crops will do well in the coming year. Another folk divination performed on her day is the gathering of cherry branches which are brought into the house and placed in water. They bring good luck in the coming year if they bloom by solstice.

The Greeks invoke her for protection against smallpox. They leave her offerings of honey-cakes, kollyva (boiled wheat sprinkled with cinnamon and almonds) or varvara (boiled wheat broth, pronounced like Barbara in modern Greek) at crossroads (where offerings were left in pagan times for Hecate).

Helen Farias speculates that St Barbara may have been an oak goddess (because of her association with lightning?). Some legends place her inside a mountain, like the Venusberg or the Horselberg, the mountain of the fairy queen.


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