Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fastelavn /Shrove-Tide - Masks

February 3rd

Viking-mask (The Århus-mask)

Fastelavn/Shrove Tide was originally a pagan spring-and fertility feast. Later it was added to the church tradition, but during the Reformation in 1536 the clergy made an attempt to abolish it - in vain. They considered it to be too violent and too heathen. The Fastelavn-custom arrived in Denmark in the end of the 1300s with German merchants and workmen. The name Fastelavn comes from the German Faste-Abend, meaning a night for fasting - the night before the beginning of the Lent which is seven weeks before Easter.

After the Middle Ages the Fastelavn-celebrations were less heathen. In the country the guys on the farms gathered in a group on horseback. They were dressed in their finest clothes and the girls had decorated their favorite guy with silk ribbons on their shirts and hats. Everyone was dressed as either a beggar, a bitch or a clown. The clown wore a white shirt with tassels and a half-mask and a special hat. The beggar was dressed as an old man, and the bitch was a man dressed in a woman's clothes. The guys rode from farm to farm with musicians in front, and when they came to a farm they danced with the girls to the music. They were treated with beer and snaps, and the farm-wife gave them a basket with eggs for their special egg-drinks in the evening.

Viking-mask from Sweden

During the 1900s Fastelavn was mostly for children who went from house to house with a collecting-box, singing a song and begging for buns and money.The children were dressed in imaginative clothes, and their faces were painted or they wore face-masks. This was a tradition on Fastelavns- Monday, and it's still popular to dress up in fantastic dresses. The tradition with the collection-box has almost disappeared.

A Danish Fastelavns-Song: (the children sing if the don't get any buns then they'll make some trouble. )

Fastelavn er mit navn
boller vil jeg have,
hvis jeg ingen boller får
så laver jeg ballade

Boller op, boller ned,
boller i min mave,
hvis jeg ingen boller får
så laver jeg ballade.

Viking-mask from Skern, West Jutland

Another tradition with origin in ancient traditions was to 'beat the cat out of the barrel'. In the Middle Ages a black cat was considered an evil creature. A living cat was put into a barrel, and then the barrel was beaten into pieces, which meant that they were chasing the winter away. Today the custom is still in use, but the barrel is filled with fruit and candy and sometimes a paper figure of a black cat. Children in gaily coloured Fastelavns-costumes line up in a row and beat the barrel. When the barrel finally falls down the last one who gave it a beat is the cat-king or the cat-queen and gets a golden paper crown on his/her head.

Another custom came to Denmark in the 1700s where a birch-twig was used to 'whip' the women. It was some kind of fertility-rite. The women then thanked the men by giving them buns and cakes. In the 1900s the Fastelavns-twig was decorated twith multicoloured tissue paper strings and used by children to 'beat up' their parents, who then gave a breakfast with delicious Fastelavns-buns. Today the Fastelavns-twig is only used as a gift or as an extra decoration at home , decorated with candy and funny toy things.

The custom about the Fastelavns-buns will probably never disappear. Those buns are extremely popular, and the bakers already start selling them after Christmas. Buns with creme, jam, marzipan or whipped cream - and with pink, white or chocolate icing - or icing sugar on top. Very delicious.

Pictures of viking masks from the archaeological magazine 'Skalk', Højbjerg, Århus

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Sign of Spring - 2008

Winter aconite


Japan cherry

I met some of the first signs of spring on a very grey January day. Winter hasn't arrived - yet February might have a cold period - but the days are longer now and spring isn't that far away. In between this 'all too much rain' the sun is showing its pretty face for a few hours. In spite of the mild air the birds were silent today ...........but then you meet those lovely little flowers on such a dark grey day - and they bring back the optimism and the expectation of the next lovely spring and summer.

photo 280108: grethe bachmann

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The White-Tailed Eagle/ Havørnen

This white-tailed eagle was seen by Årslev Engsø, Århus, 20 January 2008. A few days later 15 white-tailed eagles were seen on the same day at the same location on one of our south sea islands. During the last years the white-tailed eagle and the golden eagle have nested in several places of the country. It is a very joyful feeling that these magnificent birds of prey now have got better conditions of life in Denmark. I hope they will continue to stay here like the other wellknown birds of prey in the Danish nature - they are some of the most fascinating creatures to watch.
Grethe Bachmann.
photo 200108: stig bachmann nielsen
Naturplan foto


Come oh traveller to our home
The home of other ways
Travel to Avalon's misty shore
And look at her smiling face.

photo 270108: gb

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Hawthorn/ Hvidtjørn


The lovely fragrant hawthorn flowers come in both white, pink and crimson red.

'Buzzing with the fragrance of hawthorn' were some of the words Marcel Proust said in his declaration of love to the most beautiful tree of all. He praised this wonderful tree, the tree of hearts on several pages in his novel ' A la recherche du temps perdu' (In Search of Lost Time).

When hawthorn is blooming it's summertime in Denmark.

The hawthorn always knows how to be decorative and beautiful, here above a bench by Sønderborg harbour in the southern part of Jutland.
The name hawthorn comes from Anglo-Saxon Hagathorn, haga meaning hedge, and it was commonly used as a hedge plant since ancient times. Young hawthorn grow fast with many thorny branches and side-shoots making a fine hedge. Many species are hold as ornament and street trees, and furthermore the hawthorn tree is one of the most recommended for water-conservation in landscapes.

Hawthorn has many synonyms, like May, Mayblossom, Ladies' Meat, Whitethorn etc. The name Whitethorn is used in the Danish version Hvidtjørn. The white colour refers to the whiteness of the bark. The Latin name Crataegus Oxcyacantha is from Greek kratos, meaning strong, and oxcus (sharp) and akantha ( a thorn). The wood of some species live up to its name being very hard and resistant to rot.

Hawthorn berries in August, Skyum Bjerge
Hawthorn gives food and shelter for many birds, and the flowers are important for many nectar-feeding insects. Both leaves, flowers and berries have been useful to humans since ancient times. In herbal medicine it was regarded as good for the heart, which modern research has shown to be true.

The leaves have been used as adulterant for tea, and both flowers and leaves are astringent and useful in decoction to cure sore throats.In some districts the red berries are called Pixi Pears, Cuckoo's Beads and Chucky Cheese. Hawthorn berries are used in a fine liqueur with Brandy, called Grieve.

Hawthorn trees in Mindeparken, Århus

Legend and Folklore
At the wedding feasts in Athens each guest carried a sprig of hawthorn, a token of happiness and prosperity for the future of the newly married couple.The tree was formerly regarded as a sacred tree, probably according to a tradition that it furnished the Crown of Thorns. The legend said that the hawthorn growing on Glastonbury Thor was originally the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, and branches from this hawthorn were highly valued in England.

After the Battle of Bosworth a small crown from the helmet of Richard III was discovered hanging on a hawthorn bush, and therefore Henry VII chose the device of a hawthorn. Hence the saying 'Cleve to thy crown though it hangs on a bush'.Once upon a time old ballads were sung about those who had entered the Otherworld by the door of a sacred hawthorn tree, the famous Eildon tree, from where they were taken away by the Queen of Elfland.

Hawthorn by Kalø Castle ruin, Djursland. The area surrounding the castle ruin is a dream sight of flowering hawthorn trees and bushes in May.

A knight setting out for a crusade to the Holy Land offered his lady a sprig of hawthorn, tied with a pink ribbon as a token that he would live in hope. In Celtic lore the hawthorn plant was used for rune inscriptions along with Yew and Apple. It was said to heal a broken heart. In Serbian folklore the corpses of suspected vampires were impaled by a stake of hawthorn.The beautiful hawthorn was praised in poetry since ancient times and later like Marcel Proust in his great novel. A modern writer Kathleen Raine wrote this poem:

A hundred years I slept beneath a thorn
Until the tree was root and branches of my thought
Until white petals blossomed in my crown.
photo: grethe bachmann

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Universe - Michael Weiss

The Universe

Maybe we're just lucky to live in a universe composed by a divine Bach. Perhaps next doors, the inhabitants of a John Cage universe muddle along in chaos.
Michael Weiss

photo: gb, night lights on a bridge

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Eastern Wind - Thor Heyerdahl

The eastern wind from Sibiria has sent us a New Year's greeting for some days, and it's really an icy cold New Year's gift.

One learns more from listening than speaking. And both the wind and the people who continue to live close to nature still have much to tell us which we cannot hear within university walls.
Thor Heyerdahl
photo Moesgaard Strand, Århus: gb