Saturday, November 05, 2005

Nonas November

Modern Date : November 5th Market Day

Nonas November
The Nones of November

This is one of the dies fasti on which legal actions are permitted. The rex sacrorum would appear on the steps of the Capitol on this day and announce to the people what days of the months would be holidays.

The Roman poet Gaius Sollius Modestus Appolinarius Sidonius was born this day at Lyons (Lugdunum) about 430 AD.

November is the ninth month (after March) and is a lucky month which is almost free of religious obligation.

Venus enters Capricorn
On this day Venus enters Capricorn, where she will remain until she crosses into Aquarius on Dec. 15. This placement is generally considered neutral, though the heavy, serious demeanor of this sign can be leavened when Venus is ingenious, as Capricorn's ruling planet, Saturn, is curiously enough the patron of comedy.

Guy Fawkes Day

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
We know no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

This day is best known in English-speaking countries as Guy Fawkes Day, which commemorates the arrest and execution of the man who in 1605 led the famous Gunpowder Plot to blow up the British Parliament. This event, marked with fireworks and the burning of "the old Guy" in effigy, superseded an earlier Celtic Samhain rite in which images of the sufferings and evil spirits of the old year were burned to purify the new year. While officially seen as a mentally unfastened incendiary, Fawkes has always been beloved by those who favor increased freedom at almost any cost.

The bonfires of Celtic Samhain found a new secular and political meaning in the 17th century when Parliament proclaimed a celebration to honor the foiling of a Popish plot to blow up Parliament contrived by the Catholic Guy Fawkes who was hanged in 1606. Like the American 4th of July (a secular summer solstice), this celebration with its bonfires, fireworks and burning of an effigy reflects the symbols of Samhain.

In earlier times, Orion first appeared in the northern sky at about this time (now he shows up later, in December). Can it be that he represents the male god associated with hunting and death?

In England, youngsters dress up and go around begging for wood for the bonfire and pennies for "the Guy," a custom, similar to that of a-souling, both precursors of the American custom of trick-or-treating. They chant verses like:

Guy, guy, guy
Poke him in the eye,
Put him on the bonfire,
And there let him die.

Spicer lists bonfires, parkin (a cake made from oatmeal, molasses and ginger) and treacle (toffee) as the three essential elements of Guy Fawkes day for British youngsters. So essential is the parkin that in some places, November 5 is called Parkin Day.

Elizabeth Goudge evokes the danger and drama of Guy Fawkes as it was celebrated on the island of Guernsey around the turn of the century, during the Foresters Ride when men roamed in gangs after dark, riding from house to house on horseback, carrying flaming torches and begging for (or demanding) contributions:

"The splendour and terror of their passing was a grand, almost elemental thing, sweeping all before it, like one of the great autumn storms from the sea…. The steady approach of galloping horses in the dark, gunshots and men shouting, clattering hooves on the cobbles and hard fists battering on the door. Then a man's voice shouting: "Open M'sieur! Open, M'dame! Des sous! Des sous!" The opening of the door and the sight of plunging horses, blazing torches and white teeth grinning in blackened faces. Then shouts and laughter and the chink of coins passing from hand to hand, and the light flashing and winking upon gay ribbons and the bright tankards of ale handed up to refresh the thirsty. Then a few shouted farewells, a few more gunshots, and galloping hoots dying away in the darkness."

Elizabeth Goudge, "Make-Believe"

Turning the Devil's Stone
While everywhere else in the country on 5 November people are commemorating the memory of Guy Fawkes and his perfidious gun-powder plot, the villagers of Shebbear in Devon are preparing to turn the Devil's Stone. The bell-ringers go to the church at about 8 o'clock in the evening, where they ring out a violently discordant peal of bells. That done, they make their way out of the church and, with the aid of crossbars, apply themselves to the task of turning the Shebbear, or Devil's Stone nearby. After this considerable exertion, they can rest from their labours, secure in the knowledge that Shebbear is safe from harm in the coming year.

While it is not known for how long the practice of turning the stone has been going on, there is a wealth of legend surrounding it and as to how it arrived. The stone itself is about six feet long and is said to weigh a ton. It is not from a local rock formation and is, in fact, an erratic - that is, a stone from elsewhere, such as those deposited in the Ice Age. One theory is that it may have been an altar stone brought by a pagan cult, in the way that the Druids brought stones from Wales to Stonehenge in Wiltshire, though there is no evidence for this. Another is that it was dropped by the Devil himself when he was cast out of heaven by St Michael, hence the clamour of discordant bells to frighten him away. Finally, there is the theory that it was quarried as the foundation stone for Hanscott Church nearby and was moved to Shebbear by the Devil or some supernatural force, and that every time it was retrieved, it mysteriously turned up at Shebbear again, so was finally left there.

It is said that the turning was neglected once in the First World War, when misfortune immediately descended on the village Again, in 1940, when most of the able-bodied men were away they failed to turn the stone and the war news suddenly became so threatening that is unlikely that it won't be turned again in the future.