Saturday, December 31, 2005

How divine

I've been given a copy of Divination For Beginners (For Beginners)

I always enjoy Scott Cunningham's work so I'm looking forward to getting stuck into this one. I'll let you know (I've already divined that)

Friday, December 30, 2005

No Jobs for Dogs

Chinese tradition holds 2006 will be a year of bad luck for people born under the sign of the dog, but misfortune has come early for some looking for jobs. Companies looking for new recruits had deliberately passed over candidates born as dogs in China's ancient 12-animal astrological cycle to ward off the bad luck expected for people in years of their same sign.

(The rooster will make way for the dog at Chinese Lunar New Year on 29 January)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Singing Reindeer

A White Christmas

More on Poinsettias

The Aztecs called poinsettias "Cuetlaxochitle." During the 14th - 16th century the sap was used to control fevers and the bracts (modified leaves) were used to make a reddish dye.

Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, would have poinsettias brought into what now is Mexico City by caravans because poinsettias could not be grown in the high altitude.

William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, was asked to give Euphorbia pulcherrima a new name as it became more popular. At that time Mr. Prescott had just published a book called the Conquest of Mexico in which he detailed Joel Poinsett’s discovery of the plant. So, Prescott named the plant the poinsettia in honor of Joel Poinsett’s discovery.

Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico and during his appontment he wandered the countryside looking for new plant species. In 1828 he found a beautiful shrub with large red flowers.

The botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was assigned to the poinsettia by the German botanist, Wilenow. The plant grew through a crack in his greenhouse. Dazzled by its color, he gave it the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima meaning "very beautiful."
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Friday, December 16, 2005

Help The poinsettia poisoned me

OK. Some joker sent me this

Don't ever let your kids eat the poinsettias! They are deadly poisonous, and every year several poor unsuspecting little ones are killed at Christmastime by taking just the slightest nibble from a poinsettia plant.

Crikey! Luckily it's not true. It's a wonderfully persistent myth though, and it seems to have arisen from a long-ago death of a child's being attributed to the wrong cause. From a fact sheet prepared by Ecke Poinsettia Growers:

The poinsettia poison myth had its origin in 1919 when a two-year-old child of an Army officer stationed in Hawaii died of poisoning, and the cause was incorrectly assumed to be a poinsettia leaf.

Since that non-poinsettia death in 1919, there haven't been any real ones either. And no wonder: a 50 lb. child would have to eat more than 1.25 lbs. of poinsettia bracts (about 500 to 600 leaves) to exceed the experimental doses, according to the POISINDEX Information Service.

Send your name to the Asteroid Belt

Dawn Community
Send your name to the asteroid belt on the Dawn spacecraft. Your name will be recorded onto a microchip that will be placed aboard the spacecraft accompanying it on its mission to the asteroid belt. After entering your name below, you will have the opportunity to print a document that verifies your journey aboard the spacecraft

Friday, December 09, 2005

Favourite Book 2005 #1

Drone On!: The High History of Celtic Music
My #1 pick as Favourite Book 2005

This is a weird, wild, wonderful read. Despite her name, Winnie Czulinski is an avowed Celtophile and has written extensively in the field.

Reading Drone On, subtitled "The High History of Celtic Music," is like an evening in an Irish pub. The teller of tales mixes fact, fiction, speculation and downright lies to make the night a joy to recall and Winnie takes us on a breakneck tour of the various Celtic lands and legends. The book also looks at the Celtic contribution to country and American folk styles of music, as well as the transition of songs like "The Patriot Game" into "God on Our Side," with the tune coming from the Appalachians as "The Merry Month of May" and popularised as "Bold Grenadier".

This is a wonderful book in the old sense of the word, being full of wonder.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Some Railway Lore

Ghost Train

I was a railway fireman back in those days, working on the CPR line in Alberta. I did a hard day's work and earned me a fair wage. I was young then, and my pretty little bride was just setting up housekeeping in the little cottage that was all we could afford. Life was good, and I thought everything would continue rolling along that way.

Then came that fateful day in May of 1908. I was working nights that month, and my buddy Twohey was the engineer. We were about three kilometers out of Medicine Hat when a blazing light appeared in front of the engine. It was another train on a collision course with us. Twohey yelled at me to jump, but there was no time. The light was right on top of us. I thought we were dead. Then the oncoming train veered off to the right and ran passed us, its whistle blowing and the passengers staring at us through the windows. But there was only a single track in that stretch of hills, and it was the one we were on. I looked over at the shrieking, rumbling Ghost Train and saw that the wheels were not touching the ground!

Well, we were mighty spooked by the incident. Twohey decided to take some time off from engineering and began working in the yard; but I kept working the night shift as a fireman, not wanting some Ghost Train to drive me away a job I enjoyed.

A few weeks later, I was stoking the fire for an engineer named Nicholson when we heard the shrill whistle blast through the calm night air. We were on the same single track just outside of Medicine Hat, and the brilliant light of the Ghost Train burst out of nowhere, blinding us. Nicholson gave a shout of terror and I thought my heart would stop. As before, the Ghost Train veered off to the right at the last possible second. I saw it race passed us on tracks that did not exist, its passengers staring curiously at Nicholson and I from out of the windows.

That did it. I wasn't about to go back on the tracks after that. I did yard work for the rest of the month of May and a few weeks in June. Finally, I decided that enough was enough, and I gritted my teeth and resumed my role as fireman.

I was firing up an engine in the yard one evening in early July when the report of an accident came in. The Spokane Flyer and a Lethbridge passenger train had a head-on collision on the single track three kilometers outside of Medicine Hat, on the exact spot where the Ghost Train had appeared. The Lethbridge locomotive had derailed and its baggage car was destroyed. Seven people were killed in the accident, including the two engineers. One was my buddy Twohey, and the other was Nicholson.
retold by S.E.Schlosser

Australian Railway Folk Songs

In eighteen hundred and fifty-one,
I did what many men had done,
Oh, me dungaree breeches I put on,

Chorus: To work upon the railway, the railway.
I'm weary of the railway.
Oh, poor Paddy works on the railway.

In eighteen hundred and fifty-two,
I had some work that I must do,
So I shipped away wid' an Irish crew,

In eighteen hundred and fifty-three,
I packed my gear and went to sea,
I shipped away to Syd-en-ee

In eighteen hundred and fifty-four,
I landed on Australia's shore,
I had a pick-axe an' nothing more,

In eighteen hundred and fifty-six,
Me drinks I could no longer mix,
So I changed me trade to carrying bricks,

In eighteen hundred and fifty-seven,
Me children numbered jist eleven,
Of girls I'd four an' boys I'd seven,

In eighteen hundred and fifty-eight
I made a fortune, not too late,
An' shipped away on the Frances Drake.

The Afghans with their camels played a leading role in the building of the Australian Railways and they've been commemorated with the naming of the trans-continent train, The Ghan. It is said there are more wild camels in the Australian outback than the entire Middle East.


We're just three lonely fettlers located right out West,
Midst heat and sand and desert we try to do our best;
Each morn at six you see us with shovels, bar and jack,
All day long through heat and dust, we toil along the track.

Our camp is on a sandhill, there's nare a soul to meet,
'Cept for a weary swagman who wandered off his beat;
Just twice a week arrives a train with our supplies,
Just old corn beef and taters, some bread, and jam and flies.

You've got the lot the guard says, then gives the rightaway,
That train's our only visitor till our next ration day;
So listen all you fettlers who've never been outside the old suburban,

Any day – come pop along our outback way,

You'll get a family greeting, be sure you will not rust,
For water is so very scarce, you'll eat your pound of dust;
Just keep your courage growing and keep your chin well up,
Then life will be worth living, for full will be your cup.

(By Railwayman Jim Gordon. The Retired Rail and Tramwayman magazine April 1940)

The Railway Hotel plays an important place in Australian architectural heritage and folklore. Usually these buildings, with their distinctive awnings and signs, dominated the main street that inevitably grew up around the train station. It was at these hotels that travellers over-nighted, railway workers were sometimes lodged, commercial travellers used as a base, and the town gathered socially.

The German like his beer
The Englishman his half and half
The Irishman likes his tot and
The Scotsman likes his hot
The Aussie has no national drink
So he drinks the bloody lot!

A man and his wife check into the Railway Hotel. The husband wants to have a drink at the bar but his wife is extremely tired so she decides to go on up to their room to rest. She lies down on the bed... just then, an elevated train passes by very close to the window and shakes the room so hard she's thrown out of the bed.

Thinking, this must be a freak occurrence, she lies down once more. Again a train shakes the room so violently she's thrown to the floor. Exasperated, she calls the front desk and asks for the manager. The manager says , "I'll be right up."

The manager is sceptical but the wife insists the story is true. "Look... lie here on the bed -- you'll be thrown right to the floor!" So he lies down next to the wife. Just then the husband walks in. "What do you think you're doing!", he says. The manager calmly replies, "Would you believe I'm waiting for a train?"

Warren Fahey

The Railway Children
A Ghost Story

One of the more famous urban legends in Texas is that of the haunted railroad crossing in San Antonio just South of the San Juan Mission. It is here that the ghosts of children, killed when a North bound train collided with their stalled school bus, push cars across the same tracks to a safety they could not reach themselves. According to the legend, a bumper dusted with talcum powder will reveal tiny hand prints of the ghost children, left when they pushed the car across the tracks.

At the website folklore the hardy chaps are trying to document the phenomena should it really exist. (That's what they do, document ghosts)

The Once and Future King

The Legend of Arthur and his court at Camelot lives on - it's a human story and a classic tear-jerker after all. It would beat any television soap opera hands down. A man who dreamed of peace and order, his life marked with tragedy and wild misunderstanding, with a wife who didn't love him, a best friend who betrayed him, a son who killed him, yet who still managed to be an ideal king.

The personality of Arthur is unknown and unknowable. But he was as real as Alfred the Great or William the Conqueror; his impact upon future ages mattered as much, or more so. Enough evidence survives from the hundred years after his death to show that reality was remembered for three generations, before legend engulfed his memory.

Caerlon was the site of one of Britain's three Roman Legionary Fortresses and many believe it to be the location of Camelot.

Interview with King Arthur Pendragon

It's not every day that you get to sit in a pub garden with the King of England, supping pints of cider and smoking endless cigarettes. UK Online Senior Editor Chris Russell did just that and found King Arthur Uther Pendragon a thoroughly decent monarch.

'I'm not a king of the country, I'm a king of the people,' with a shrug of the shoulders the third reincarnation of Arthur Pendragon leans casually back in his seat and flicks the ash from his cigarette to the floor.

'Legend says King Arthur will return to Britain when he's needed. Obviously that time is now.'

The former Hells Angel, soldier and gardener is quite relaxed about his role as leader of the people. Unlike traditional monarchs he's very laid back and doesn't stand on ceremony, a far cry from the pomp and circumstance demanded by Queen Elizabeth II. But then, Arthur says he's very different.

'The current Queen is forced down people's throats. She's the queen because the population of the country are told she's the Queen. Me, I'm Arthur Pendragon and if people want to believe I'm some nutter who thinks he's the reincarnation of King Arthur that's their choice.

'My belief is unshakeable. It could be questioned but but it doesn't matter. I'm not out to convince anybody I am the contemporary King Arthur.

'I've known since childhood that I was different but I didn't know what I really was. I had dreams of the Dark Ages and it was all very confusing. It only dawned on me in 1986 what it was all about and it hit me like a bolt of lightning.'

Not for this King shining platemail armour and festooned horses, however. Instead this King insists he's Arthur the warrior. A warband leader, who travelled the country with his loyal Shield Knights sorting out problems caused to the populace by Saxon invaders who tried to create a nation of slaves.

But when it comes to battle, Arthur, who gives his real age as 1,542 but admits to being a spritely 42 in this incarnation, says passive actions speak far louder than violent ones.

Strapped to his side is Excalibur, the famed sword of old that was passed to the previous Liege by the Lady of the Lake. That weapon, it seems, is gone for ever. Instead Arthur uses the sword made for the Hollywood movie Excalibur. A four-and-a-half feet long Celtic broadsword it has been specially blessed and granted magical powers by several druidic orders - orders to which the King belongs.

'I have said that I will never draw my sword in anger,' he explained. 'I have it by my side always and it is a magical weapon but that doesn't mean it has to be used.

'There's no point in violent protest, it doesn't really solve anything and it just creates bad publicity. It's much better to protest peacefully. That way you make your point and win people round to your way of thinking.'

Arthur has certainly been involved in some protests in his time. Most notably in 1990, he spent the winter sleeping under a tree whilst maintaining a picket of Stonehenge. Many would have given up when it got cold and damp, but then, not everyone is the King of England.

'It was bloody cold and it was bloody damp but it had to be done. I survived a lot of the time on handouts from the Americans who seemed totally phased that they could walk along and almost fall over a bloke in robes who said he was King Arthur.

'By the time the winter was over I was in a bit of a state and I lost a lot of weight, but on the plus side I made my point and met a lot of interesting people.'

These days the cold isn't so much a problem as Arthur spends most of his time on the road, travelling from protest to protest and providing a focal point for demonstrators.

'If people need me, I give them my help. When I'm around it's not uncommon for someone to call me and say :'Oy mush, get your bum over here and give us a hand.' That's all I need and I'm off.'

King Arthur Pendragon
Being the one and only authorised Web site of King Arthur Uther Pendragon, The Once And Future King.

The Accolade, 1901

The Accolade, 1901

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Tristan & Isolde

Tristan & Isolde

Blair-Leighton, Edmund

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"What would ye that I did?" said Sir Lancelot.
"I would have you to my husband," said Elaine.
"Fair damosel, I thank you," said Sir Lancelot,
"but truly," said he, "I cast me never to be wedded man."
"Then, fair knight," said she, "will ye be my paramour?"
"Jesu defend me," said Sir Lancelot, "for then I
rewarded your father and your brother full evil
for their great goodness."
"Alas," said she, "then must I die for your love."

Le Morte D'Arthur.
Book XVIII Chap. XIX.

The Camelot Project is designed to make available in electronic format a database of Arthurian texts, images, bibliographies, and basic information.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Beowulf, Ghosts and Ogopogo

Beowulf on the web

The earliest surviving epic poem written in English, Beowulf was most likely "composed in the seventh or eighth century, but being more precise depends on where one believes the poem was composed. ...[A] contender, which has come seriously into the reckoning as a result of the Sutton Hoo discovery, is seventh century East Anglia. Not only was the ship burial (which dates to 625AD) uncannily like the burials of Scyld and Beowulf, but the grave goods revealed the East Anglian court of the Wuffingas to be unexpectedly sophisticated and closely linked to the Swedish royal house at Uppsala. It is now thought possible that both these royal lines shared a common ancestry. As the scholar Howell Chickering asked: 'Was it through the early East Anglian court that detailed knowledge of Scandinavian tribal history in Beowulf became available in England?' And one might add, was the poem composed as a way of telling East Anglians something of their semi-historical, semi-legendary Scandinavian ancestors? There is, perhaps, a good case for believing that Beowulf was composed in Suffolk, at the palace of Rendlesham, within living memory of the great ship-burial in 625AD."

(from Angelcynn's Historical Background to Beowulf which has unfortunately vanished from the web)

If only these resources were available when I was at school, it would have been easier if we had computers back then too

Syd Allan's excellent starter site

David Breedon's wonderful modern translation

Beowulf in Hypertext: text in Old English and modern translation

Ghosts of Tombstone
Like so many other places in the Old West with violent histories, Tombstone is said to be one of the most haunted in Arizona. At its most famous place - the OK Corral, several witnesses have reported ghosts of the Earps as well as the Clanton brothers. At the nearby Boothill Graveyard, reports of apparitions and strange lights have frequently been given in this place that harbors several old outlaws beneath its wooden tombstones.

At the historic Buford House, an 1880’s adobe home, which now serves as a Bed & Breakfast, the ghost of a man named George Buford apparently refuses to leave. In the late nineteenth century, George, a gold prospector, lived in the house with his father when he fell in love with the girl across the street, Cleopatra, more familiarly called Petra. After returning from a long prospecting trip, George accompanied Petra and some other friends on an outing. For some reason, the girl decided to accompany another man on the walk home. George, sure that he had lost his promised girl, became angry, despondent and reclusive. Soon, when Petra visited him, he shot her twice, then turned the gun on himself. Despite her wounds, Petra recovered, but George died of his self-inflicted gunshot.

Like others who died tragic deaths, George continues to walk the earth, apparently lost in space and time. Both the owners and guests have seen him walking inside the home, as well as along the street in front of the old adobe structure. Often, the doorbell rings in the middle of the night, seemingly, of its own accord. Others have reported hearing knocking on walls, faucets turning themselves on and off, and strange lights appearing. Once in a while, women report that that they have felt someone touch their hair or stroke the back of their necks when no one is around.

Legends of America

Ogopogo on the list of endangered species

British Columbia's Lake Okanagan. The lake is a remnant of the last Ice Age, more than 10,000 years ago, and lies on the Pacific slopes of the Rocky Mountains. It is seventy-nine miles long, two-and-a-half miles wide, and in places, more than 800 feet deep, providing more than ample room for any large water beast, which the eyewitnesses claim resembles a huge snake.

As early as the 1700s, the Okanagan Indians knew of a water beast living in the lake. They called the creature N'ha-a-itk, meaning "snake of the water," and their Native superstitions demanded certain traditions before entering N'ha-a-ith's domain. One of the traditions was the ritual sacrifice of a small animal as a peace offering before crossing the lake. Tying their horses behind their canoes, they would paddle out to where they believed the serpent lived in a cave beneath the water---known as Squally Point---and make their offering, thus insuring that their horses would not be dragged under and drowned by the monster.

In 1890, Captain Thomas Shorts was steaming on the lake when he saw a finned creature about sixteen feet long with a head like that of a ram. The creature promptly disappeared when he turned his ship in its direction, and virtually no one believed him when he reported it. But other reports soon followed at two or three a year, and people began to examine the lake in more careful detail. Today, the local population fervently believes in the creature's existence. They call it Ogopogo, and have named the island where its traditional home is Squally Point, Ogopogo Island.

Lake Okanagan's relative position with respect to that of Loch Ness has some scientists believing that the presence of an unidentified sea creature living in the depths of the lake is not as outlandish as it seems. Nessie, the famous Loch Ness monster, also thrives in a deep glacial lake, and some zoologists actually theorize that Loch Ness may be connected by underwater channels to the sea---that the Loch Ness monster is, in fact, a sea serpent of some kind traveling back and forth between the lake and the ocean. They also claim that hundreds of other lakes located in the same approximate latitude bands as Loch Ness could have similar connections to the sea and could be the home of mysterious sea creatures.

There have been reported sightings of creatures like the Loch Ness monster in approximately sixty other lakes around the world...places like Lake Storsjon in Sweden, Lake Rybinskoye in the Soviet Union and Lake Tsuchiura in Japan. All these lakes fall into the same latitude band as Loch Ness in Scotland, as does Lake Okanagan. But finding the creature, or the carcass, has proved elusive. Most monster lakes are far too large to be systematically searched, and many, like those in Scandanavia, are far too remote and rarely visited.

It is clear that a lot of people have seen something in Lake Okanagan that they suspect is a water monster, but what is it exactly that they are really seeing? Scientists know there are several species of fish which, when left undisturbed, grow to enormous size. The best example is the sturgeon, which averages ten feet in length, but has been known to grow much larger. In 1956, two Indians fishing in a canoe in Lake Seton, British Columbia, saw a sturgeon twenty-two feet long. Ten years later, another couple on the lake in a twenty-five foot boat sailed alongside a sturgeon that was ten feet longer than the boat. In Russia, a sturgeon was caught in the Volga River that was twenty-four feet long and weighted 3,241 pounds. And scientists also point out that there are eels of enormous size, too.

But the Canadian government is taking no chances. It has declared Ogopogo an endangered species, and hunting it is against the law. Most of the people who live on the shores of Lake Okanagan need no further proof. They've constructed a life-sized model of the creature, although it looks more like a dragon than a sea serpent, and have made it the star of an annual festival called, appropriately enough, "Ogopogo Days." For them, Ogopogo is very real indeed.