Friday, December 09, 2005

Ante Diem V Idus December

Modern Date : December 9th

Ante Diem V Idus December
Fifth Day to the Ides of December

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

On this day in 536 AD, the brilliant general Belisarius recaptured Rome from the Ostrogoths. In an attempt to restore the Roman empire under the emperor Justinian, Belisarius was initially successful in recapturing both North Africa and Italy. An exarch was installed in Italy who managed to lose Rome again. Belisarius would capture Rome two more times in subsequent campaigns, after which there would be little left of the ruins, and no people.

In 627 AD, the emperor Heraclius defeated the Persians at Nineveh.

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.

Conception of St Anne
In the Orthodox Church, this is considered the day when St Anne conceived the Virgin Mary (see also December 8, the Immaculate Conception). Mary's birthday is September 8th. On a 17th century Scandinavian calendar, this day is marked with a pitcher for "it is time to pour water on the barley in order to brew the beer for Christmas cheer."

Tonantzin, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of Mexico
On December 9, 1531, a 57-year-old Mexican Indian farmer by the name of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Aztec who had converted to Christianity, was minding his own business as he walked to early morning Mass, passing by the hill known as Tepeyac, between his village and Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.

Juan Diego was born in 1474 in the calpulli or ward of Tlayacac in Cuauhtitlan, which was established in 1168 by Nahua tribesmen and conquered by the Aztec lord Axayacatl in 1467, and was located 20 kilometres (14 miles) north of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). Tlatelolco, Juan Diego's village, was once an Aztec centre and the place where the final battle of the Spanish conquest had taken place just a decade earlier. Tepeyac had for centuries been of significance to the people of what is now called Mexico – the Aztecs and their descendants – because it was the site of a shrine to the goddess Tonantzin.

Tonantzin is associated with the snake goddess Coatlique (perhaps cognate with the Judaeo-Christian Eve), was worshipped in the Winter Solstice celebrations at around this time of year. Tonantzin wore a white robe covered in feathers and seashells, which adorned her as the goddess promenaded among the worshippers and was ceremonially killed in a scene reminiscent of the apparent death of the sun of winter. The goddess was also known by the name of Ilamatecuhtli (‘a noble old woman’) and Cozcamiauh (‘a necklace of maize flowers’).

It has been suggested that the name 'Guadalupe' is actually a corruption of a Nahuatl name, 'Coatlaxopeuh', which has been translated as 'Who Crushes the Serpent'. In this interpretation, the serpent is Quetzalcoatl, one of the chief Aztec gods, whom 'the Virgin Mary' crushed by inspiring the conversion of the natives to Catholicism. Quetzalcoatl is also associated with Jesus but that's another story. See:

As Juan Diego walked to Mass (some sources say he was walking to the shrine of the goddess), he heard celestial music and the sound of beating wings. Presently, a maiden appeared to him, dressed in the attire of an Aztec princess, a lovely apparition who, speaking to him in his native Nahuatl language, introduced herself to the startled peasant as Maria, the Mother of God.

Maria instructed the dazzled Juan to tell the Bishop of Mexico City, Juan de Zumárraga, to build her a chapel on the site. Juan did as he was bade, and quite naturally his message impressed the Bishop not at all. His Grace just as naturally demanded evidence of Juan’s fantastic story, and sent the Aztec on his way.

On the next day, the farmer returned to the sight of the visitation of the Virgin, who reappeared and told Juan to climb the hill and gather an armful of Castilian roses (although December is not the season of their blooming) and to take them in his tilma, or cape, to the doubting de Zumarraga.

When Juan opened his cloak before the Bishop and out tumbled the ‘miraculous’ roses, His Grace fell astonished to his knees. Not only did the out-of-season flowers amaze the Bishop, but there on Juan’s cloak was an image of the Blessed Virgin just as the farmer had said she had appeared to him, with cinnamon-coloured skin, dressed in traditional Mexican clothes, and surrounded by an oval frame of stars.

A church was built in 1533, on the location of the shrine of Tonantzin, and dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been used by advocates of indigenous rights throughout Mexico's history, most recently by the Zapatista movement.

Sceptics, however, including some Catholics, have doubted the very existence of Juan Diego. The earliest written reference to him dates from 1648, in a publication by a Mexico City priest about Our Lady of Guadalupe. A 1649 publication in Nahuatl followed, referring to earlier Nahuatl sources that have not been found. Regardless of this, he is now Saint Juan Diego as he was canonised in the Catholic Church on July 31, 2002.

When the Vatican came to canonize Juan Diego, their investigation reportedly revealed that the lowly farmer had been an Aztec prince, the son of a king of Texcoco, who helped Cortés defeat the Aztecs.

It’s been suggested Juan Diego was known as Tlacateccatl (he who commands the warriors), an honorific given to generals commanding a division of 8,000 soldiers. If he were a royal this fact might account for the fact that the Spanish Catholics in Mexico baptised large numbers of Indians after this 1531 apparition.

It is said that Juan Diego died on May 30, 1548 of natural causes.

Day of Remembrance for Egil Skallagrimsson
On this day in the Asatru Calendar is a remembrance for Egil Skallagrimsson. Odin was his God, and the blood of berserks and shape-shifters ran in his family. His lust for gold and for fames was insatiable. Yet the same man was passionately moved by the love of his friends and generously opened handed to those who found his favor. The same brain that seethed with war-fury also composed skaldic poetry capable of calming angry kings. Can it be by accident that Egil worshipped Odin, the great solver of paradoxes and riddles? Indeed all Asafolk - but especially those who follow the one-eyed God of battle and magic - can learn much from the life of this amazing man.

John Milton
John Milton was born in London on December 9th, 1608 at the height of the Protestant Reformation in England. His father was a law writer who had achieved some success by the time Milton was born. This prosperity afforded Milton an excellent education, first with private tutoring, then a private school, and finally Cambridge. Milton, a studious boy, excelled in languages and classical studies.

His father had left Roman Catholicism and Milton was raised Protestant, with a heavy tendency toward Puritanism. As a student, he wanted to go into the ministry, but was disillusioned with the scholastic elements of the clergy at Cambridge. Cambridge, however, afforded him time to write poetry. After Cambridge, he continued his studies for seven years in a leisurely life at his father's house. It was here that he wrote some of his first published poems, including "Comus" (1634) and "Lycidas" (1638), both of which he published in 1645.

Milton toured the European continent in 1638-1639 and met many of the great Renaissance minds, including Galileo and Grotius. The beginning of the Puritan Revolution found Milton back in England, fighting for a more humanist and reformed church. For more than twenty years, Milton set aside poetry to write political and religious pamphlets for the cause of Puritanism. For a time, he served as Secretary for Foreign Tongues under Cromwell.

Milton was a mixed product of his time. On the one hand, as a humanist, he fought for religious tolerance and believed that there was something inherently valuable in man. As a Puritan, however, he believed that the Bible was the answer and the guide to all, even if it went against democracy itself. Where the Bible didn't afford an answer, Milton would turn to reason.

Milton himself was married three times, all of which were rather unhappy affairs. He defended divorce in "The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce" in 1643. With this and other treatises, Milton often came in conflict with the Puritanism he advocated.

At the end of the war, Milton was imprisoned for a short time for his views. In 1660, he emerged blind and disillusioned with the England he saw around him. Nevertheless, he was yet to write his greatest work. Paradise Lost was published in 1667, followed by Paradise Regained in 1671. Milton's ability to combine his poetry with his polemics in these and other works,was the key to his genius.

The classical influences in his work can be clearly delineated: Homer, Ovid, but especially Virgil. Shakespeare was the leading playwright of his day, and there are some references to his works in Milton's own poetry. The style and structure of the Spencer's "The Faerie Queen," was another influence on Paradise Lost. It was one of only a few books that were owned by the Miltons during John's upbringing.

Milton died from "gout" in 1674 and was buried in the Church of St. Giles in London.