Thursday, December 17, 2009

Black Peter

Can the Devil be a bringer of good luck? Yes, indeed, according to old European traditions. The ancient devil -- known variously as Old Nick, Old Scratch, Old Split-Foot, and Der Teufel -- did not begin his career as the "Satan" of Christianity. The old Devil is a Teutonic woods-spirit, an ogre-like trickster who is often friendly to wood-cutters and footloose soldiers. In Germanic folk-tales like those collected by the Grimm brothers, he is usually described as living out in the woods, among the nature spirits.

In the area of Central and Eastern Europe comprising Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, the Devil was never fully absorbed into the Christian mythos as Satan but remained as he had always been, a slender, horned, bearded, fur-covered half-man of the woods. Under the regional names Krampus, Schwarze Peter (Black Peter), and Knecht Ruprecht (Ruprecht the Servant), he accompanies Saint Nicholas on his rounds of gift-giving, originally on December 6th, but eventually on Christmas Day, December 25th.

Before elves and eight tiny reindeer, Santa had to contend with this much more menacing assistant, Black Peter (Zwarte Piet in Dutch). According to myths dating to the beginning of the 19th century, Saint Nicholas operated in the companionship of this indentured devil. Having triumphed over evil, it was said that on Saint Nicholas Eve, Black Peter was shackled and made to do St. Nick’s bidding. Traditionally St. Nicholas would hand out presents to good children, while it fell to Black Peter to dole out lumps of coal to children who misbehaved.

Black Peter's job was to remove the hay and carrots from the shoes that had been left by children underneath their chimneys, and to drop candy and gifts in their place. If the children had been bad, Peter wouldn't remove the hay and would leave a lump of coal in place of a gift. In parts of central Europe like Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, the character of Black Peter was a more like a monster, with horns, long hair, and a red tongue. He was known by a variety of names: Klaubauf, Krampus, Grampus, Bartel.

The American version of St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus (AKA: Father Christmas, Old Saint Nick, etc.) originally came from the Dutch version called Sinterklaas. The Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (New York) brought this fun and lively tradition (some even say cult) to America. Actually the old "cult" of Santa Claus incorporates many traditions: Christian and Pagan, Old Catholic, Scandinavian, Dutch, German and English. The relics of Saint Nicholas are in the basilica of St. Nicola, in Bari, Italy (they were stolen from Myra in 1087 AD). For this reason he is sometimes known as Saint Nicholas of Bari.

Nowadays there is still not one universal image of Black Peter, but he has lost his large stick and is usually dressed in a Renaissance page style costume with short pants, stockings, and a cap with a large feather. Today, much of the negative associations have left Black Peter and he has become more of an elf-like figure, an assistant to an overloaded St. Nicholas who helps to hand out gifts every December 5th, St. Nicholas Day in Holland. But lurking beneath the thin veneer of modern tradition is Black Peter… Old Split Foot… an ancient will-o-the woods… dancing nude around the Yule-tide fire… amongst the nature spirits… carrying on the old ways… reveling in the pre-Christian, pagan rituals… chanting… Merry Christmas to all… and to all a good night!!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Heretical Excerpts from the Tek-Gnostics Vault

In several Gnostic Gospels... written by Christians whose alternative views of Jesus were eventually suppressed as heresy... Mary Magdalene rivals Peter for the leadership of the early church because of her superior understanding of Jesus' teaching. The Gospel of Philip, for example, describes her as Jesus' close companion whose counsel he often sought. In an era when women were commonly identified in relation to a husband, father or brother, Mary was identified instead by her town of origin. This title was traditionally bestowed to individuals of significance. Scholars believe she was one of a number of women who provided monetary support for Jesus' ministry. Additionally, when the male disciples fled, Mary steadfastly witnessed Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection, providing the thread of continuity in the central story of Christian history.

Early non-canonical Christian writings show faith communities growing up around Mary's ministry, where she is portrayed as understanding Jesus' message better than did Peter and the male disciples. Scholars surmise that these writings are not about the historical persons Mary and Peter but instead reflect tensions over women's roles in the early church. Prominent leaders such as Mary and Peter were evoked to justify opposing points of view. What is not disputed is the recognition of Mary of Magdala as an important woman leader in earliest Christianity.

In 312, when Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire, the Christian community was caught in a cultural conflict as it moved from worship in house churches where women's leadership was accepted, to worship in public places where women's leadership violated Roman social norms. In the fourth century, male church leaders at the Council of Laodicea suppressed women leaders because of the belief that women should be subordinate to men. During this same time period, we see the memory of Mary of Magdala changing from that of a strong female disciple and proclaimer of the Resurrection to a repentant prostitute and public sinner. Scholars such as Dr. Jane Schaberg believe this was done deliberately to discourage female leadership in the church.

It is clear that Mary of Magdala not only bankrolled Jesus' ministry, but was a trusted, respected and most beloved Apostle. In the days and weeks that followed Jesus' crucifixion, Mary acted as a stabilizing force among the disciples... witnessed the resurrection and laid the groundwork for early Christianity... hence the title "Apostle to the Apostles". It is also clear that Mary's teachings suffered the same fate as many of the Gnostic Gospels that favored individual gnosis over subservience to a dogmatic hierarchal church.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Worldwide Frequency Shift in Blue Whale's Song... Early Indicator of Paradigm Shift?

The function of whale song has long baffled marine scientists. Songs of the blue whale, the planets largest living creature, can be divided into at least 10 types worldwide, each type retaining the same units and similar phrasing over decades, unlike humpback whale song which changes substantially from year to year. That is until recently with a worldwide occurrence of a nearly linear downward shift in the tonal frequencies of blue whale song.

“We don’t have the answer. We just have a lot of recordings,” said Whale Acoustics President Mark McDonald. “It’s a fascinating finding. It’s even more remarkable, given that the songs themselves differ in different oceans. There seem to be these distinct populations, yet they’re all showing this common shift,” Cascadia Research Collective blue-whale expert John Calombokidis adds.

Historical acoustic recordings dating back as far as the 1960s were examined, measuring the tonal frequencies of 1000s of blue whale songs. Within a given year, individuals match the song frequency (related to ‘pitch’ in musical nomenclature) to within less than 3%. The best documented song type, that observed offshore of California, USA, now is sung at a frequency 31% lower than it was in the 1960s. Data available for 7 of the world’s 10 known song types show they are all shifting downward in frequency, though at different rates.

Limited observations of singing blue whales suggest usage patterns different from those of humpback whale song and are even more difficult to explain. All singers for which sex has been determined have been males, although both sexes produce non-song calls. Singers have always been found to be traveling at relatively high speed, whereas non-song calls are commonly produced by milling or feeding blue whales.

Theories as to why this is a occurring include sexual selection, increasing ocean noise, increasing whale body size post whaling, global warming, interference from other animal sounds and post-whaling era increases in abundance. None of the commonly suggested hypotheses were found to provide a full explanation; however, increasing population size post whaling provides an intriguing and testable hypothesis that recovery is altering the sexually selected tradeoff for singing males between song amplitude (the ability to be heard at a greater distance) and song frequency (the ability to produce songs of lower pitch).

Hal Whitehead, a Dalhousie University biologist who specializes in cetacean communication, emphasized that whale song is a cultural affair. Whales are known to learn from each other, and whales have extraordinarily large and complex brains. They appear to share many social and cognitive traits with people.

“The exciting possibility, I think, is that they’re all listening to each other,” said Whitehead. “This is a worldwide cultural phenomenon, and that’s very cool.”