Ave Atque Vale: The 564th Anniversary of the Fall of the Roman Empire

Leave a comment
Hieromonk Mark Ciccone, S.J. at Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church, San Francisco

Hieromonk Mark Ciccone, S.J. at Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church, San Francisco, serving Divine Liturgy in continuity with the Roman Empire in 1453. The Legacy continues.

Ave Atque Vale: The 564th Anniversary of the Fall of the Roman Empire

Hail and Farewell!

I cannot let today go by without commemorating one of the most pivotal events in history. On Tuesday May 29, 1453, at about 2:00 in the afternoon, the walls of New Rome (Constantinople) were breached by the Ottoman Turks, and the Roman Empire, whose legacy stretched back through the Republic to the Kingdom to 753 BCE, the founding of Rome. 2100 years of Ῥωμαιοσύνη–Rōmaiosúnē–Romanness, which, of course, by 1453, was Greekness, came to an end at its center.

Romanitas (the Latin equivalent of Ῥωμαιοσύνη) had been withdrawn from Western Europe earlier, with the Fall of the Old Capital of Rome in 476, and then after its recovery, the final loss of Roman power there after the Emperor Justinian’s reconquest, was complete. Western Europe was in darkness.

Today, Ῥωμαιοσύνη is perpetuated not only in the Churches, but in every Nation which has an

Russian Double-Headed Eagle

Russian Double-Headed Eagle

Eagle as its standard (the early single headed eagle, as in the United States, or the later Roman Double-Headed Eagle used by Russia), uses the Fasces as an emblem, and builds its National structures in the Roman fashion. We are children of Alexander, and heirs of Rome. 

I am only mentioning this briefly this morning as I commute on CalTrain to Rosicrucian Park, as I have blogged extensively about this before to commemorate this watershed event. The two events, Tuesday May 29, 1453 and October 12, 1492, when Columbus rediscovered the New World, are the end of the ancient world and the beginning of the modern world.

So much flowed from these two events. From the Fall of Rome, the ancient wisdom and mysteries were communicated to Renaissance Italy. These had been preserved in the East, and in Islam, and fueled the Renaissance fascination with Hermetism and other mysteries. From Columbus’s landing on Hispañola came the massacre of millions of New World Natives (there were as many people in North and South America as there were in Europe at the time), and the beginning of the war of conquest waged by Europe against the rest of the world which has resulted in the world as we know it.

An excellent video and documentary on the lamentable Fall can be found here: http://www.crashonline.eu/darkest-day-in-history-of-hellenism-fall-of-constantinople-29-may-1453-video/. Link to this page, as they have linked to us!

The Fall of the Roman Empire?

Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins

Those educated in our school systems are probably now asking themselves, “Didn’t the Roman Empire fall in 476? That’s what they taught us in History Class?” Well, I can only relate an anecdote about what authorities teach us:

Molly Ivins, the late, and much missed Journalist and Author, tells the story about how her parents taught her to only drink from the “Whites” fountain in public places like the train station, and not to drink from the “Coloreds” Fountain, because “it was dirty.” One day at the depot, she walked past the “Coloreds” Fountain and saw that it was pristine. She then wondered…”What else have they been lying to me about?”

As she put it: “I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point — race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.”

Your History teachers weren’t so much lying, as they and their teachers had been lied to. No one puts it better than Kelley L. Ross, PhD, whose site Rome and Romania is my hands-down, absolute favorite for the subject of the Roman Empire and many other historical items. He and I might disagree about some modern political ideas, but I applaud his forthrightness, and agree on our allegiance to the Constitution. On history, I know no better source. Bookmark it! I quote from his preface at length because he nails it:

Hagia Sophia, The Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople as it was in the 12th Century. For Real: Stop this from being converted into a Mosque!

Hagia Sophia, The Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople as it was in the 12th Century. For Real: Stop this from being converted into a Mosque!

What most people would probably regard as an obscure and possibly unpleasant footnote to Mediaeval history, the Byzantine Empire, was in fact still the Roman Empire, known to Western Europeans, “Latins” or “Franks” at the time, as Romania, already the name of the Empire in Late Antiquity. In the Middle Ages, the Greeks used the Classical word for “Greeks,” Hellênes, Ἕλληνες, to mean the ancient pagan Greeks, as the word is used in the New Testament–sometimes the Latin word for Greeks would be borrowed, as Graikoi, Γραικοί, if this was needed for contemporary reference, as for the language. In 1354 Demetrius Cydones even translated the Summa Contra Gentiles of St. Thomas Aquinas into Greek as the Book against the Hellenes. Mediaeval Greek speakers, and the other citizens of the Empire, whom we would now regard as different nationalities, Armenians, Albanians, Vlachs, etc., were themselves always Romans, Ρωμαῖοι, Rhômaîoi, and the Empire was always ἡ Ρωμαίων Ἀρχή hê Rhômaíôn Arkhê, ἡ Ρωμαίων Βασιλεία, hê Rhômaíôn Basileía, “the Empire of the Romans,” or even Ῥωμανία, Rhômania, as in Latin. (See the “Note on ‘Romania‘”.)

It is then natural that Classicists, to whom the Romans were the last people who proudly weren’t Christians, would prefer the hostile modern neologism “Byzantine” for the continuing Empire, rather than pollute the memory of Augustus and Trajan with that of Justinian, Heraclius, or Basil II. Yet even Justinian wore no beard and was still speaking Latin — and what Classicist will dare, and I dare them, to fault the others for speaking Greek? The very people, as it happens, thanks to whom we possess Classical Greek and its literature. Indeed, even Edward Gibbon, who actually called Mediaeval Romans (and he does frequently call them that) “a degenerate people” [The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Modern Library, p.299], nevertheless, when speaking of the replacement of Latin by Greek in the Law, Court, and Army, referred to “the Greek, whose intrinsic merit deserved indeed the preference” [p.295, boldface added]. So we find that Gibbon was a Hellenophile.

Historians sometimes note the humiliation of the Greeks in being conquered by Rome, and sometimes the irony of the Romans admiring and adopting Greek thought, architecture, literature, etc. — Horace said, Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit, “Captive Greece captured the wild victor.” But I have never seen the stark truth put this way: The Greeks inherited the Roman Empire, without, however, ceasing to identify with it. Why does no one say that? They must be thinking that those Christian Greeks are no longer really Greeks, who by definition were pagans. Of course, Basil II and Alexius Comnenus would agree. They are no longer Hellênes; they are Rhômaîoi. But if, to historians, they are neither Greeks nor Romans, what can they be? Oh, let’s make up a word. They are “Byzantines” — and we all know how nasty that is. But the Romans, who were the last Classical people who were not Christians, were also, as it happens, the first who were. Classicists, as with Gibbon’s “triumph of barbarism and religion” [ibid. p.865], seem to choke on this simple truth.

… I have in fact never seen a book or treatment of the Roman Empire that addresses it as an institution with a continuous history from Augustus to Constantine XI. Classicist “Roman” historians lose interest in the 4th century and throw in the towel in the 5th, while “Byzantinists” generally begin with Constantine. This is a distortion due to modern prejudices, written by historians whom the Romans would have dismissed as “Franks.” The Rhômaîoi themselves possessed a strong sense of their identity and the continuity of their history, which is reflected in the popularity of continuous histories and chronicles written by Mediaeval historians in Constantinople. For instance, John Zonaras, writing in the 12th century, produced an Epitome, or abbreviated history, starting with the Creation, that was so popular that 79 partial or complete manuscripts survive today. Zonaras, drawing on sources that are now often lost, such as much of the history of Cassius Dio, divided his treatment in half, with Book II running from 106 BC down to his own day [cf. Warren Treadgold, “John Zonaras,” The Middle Byzantine Historians, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp.388-399].

Read the whole study here, you won’t be disappointed!

So refuse the lies of Edward Gibbon and those classicists who follow his lead. The truth will set you free to think for yourself!

Remembering Rome

There is always so much to say, but this is enough for today. Remember Rome, as did William Butler Yeats:

Sailing to Byzantium (1926)

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the treesSail
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon‐falls, the mackerel‐crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

Byzantine Mosaic

Byzantine Mosaic

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing‐masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Important Books to Understand Our America Today

Leave a comment

This will be an uncharacteristic Blog Post, since its point is to offer you several amazing resources to understand why our Nation and North America seem to be going crazy right now. I have added some additional resources in this version of the Blog Post.

Please, whether on the Right or the Left, read these books!

The Four Folkways of America

The first is a ground-breaking, seminal volume of American Colonial History, Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer.

41mk6HtCC0L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_

Using meticulous folkways scholarship (history from the ground-up, the history of real people, not just of princes, kings and presidents), Fischer demonstrates that the four great migrations from Britain and Ireland during Colonial times have decisively shaped the character of our Nation, even down to the present day.

Briefly, and in a much compacted description, here are those groups:

The Puritans of New England, who believed in Ordered Liberty. While originally quite severe religiously, their legacy is one of an ordered society, with freedom, but also justice for all, and a hallmark of care for the poor and the downtrodden. It is an obligation that those who are more well off must assist those who are less-well off. Education was prized. Greater New England is the northern tier, all across the United States. I was initiated into the ways of New England during my time studying in New Haven and Cambridge. Their ways are inspired by their deep Biblical Faith. The entrepreneurial spirit was strong in New England. Sam and John Adams were Founders from New England. Athletic Competition was encouraged in a balanced way, and both Baseball and Football have their origins in New England, especially at Yale and Harvard.

Yale in New Haven, CT

Yale in New Haven, CT

The Quakers of the Delaware Valley, who believed in Reciprocal Liberty. Before Quakerism turned in on itself and withdrew from active society, it was a major religious and social movement in the 17th century Colonies. The Quakers set out to create a deliberately diverse society where I respected your Liberty and you respected mine. Service of the community, and especially of the poor and weak, were powerful ideals, and those who did not do so were punished. They were also avid entrepreneurs. Education was welcome, if not as highly prized as in New England. Their legacy is one of a fair, equitable society, highly competitive in business, and with social supports for all. Benjamin Franklin was a transplanted son of this culture.

The Delaware Valley

The Delaware Valley

The Cavaliers of Virginia, who believed in Hierarchical Liberty. These Royalist Anglicans were often brave men and women, and some of our most revered Founders, such as Washington and Jefferson came from this stock. Their take-away from the culture was that of the heroic leader, the self-made man. However, Virginia Cavalier society had many very dark aspects. Hierarchical Liberty meant that the higher up you were in society, the more liberty you had. The King was the most Free person, and African and Indian Slaves, at the bottom, had no liberty at all. At each rung of society, men had more liberty than women. You were actively encouraged, even obligated, to dominate those beneath you, socially, economically, verbally, and physically. Beatings of underlings were common, and perfectly legal.

The majority of the population were poor white workers. The higher-ups dominated society. The preferred sport was killing. The higher you were in society, the more noble the animal you could hunt. Even race slaves killed animals, who were beneath them. Children were trained to kill insects and small animals, only to graduate to larger game later.

Education was prized for the upper classes, but those same upper classes were terrified of education for the lower classes, and did everything they could to prevent it.

Jefferson's Monticello

Jefferson’s Monticello

The Borderers who prized Natural Liberty. The Borderers came from the Borders of Scotland and England, and also from Northern Ireland. These areas had been in virtually perpetual warfare for hundreds of years. Their areas were known to be hotbeds of thieves, brigands and roving gangs. Coming to North America, they were shunned by the other three groups, and pushed to the Border highlands, the mountains such as the Ozarks and the Appalachians.

For Borderer culture, you could do anything you were strong enough to do. Natural Liberty meant virtually no restraint on personal actions. Andrew Jackson, one of our most horrendous and barbaric Presidents came from this stock. The famed feuds of the hills marked this culture. Education was disdained as a waste of time. Fighting and feuding were sports. This culture gradually moved west throughout the Southwest to Southern California. It was an intensely clannish society, and anyone not from your immediate family and friends was automatically though of as a foe and treated that way. Anyone different in race or culture was the enemy.

Interlocutors on Facebook and elsewhere who champion unlimited and completely unrestrained gun rights are clearly sons and daughters of the Borderers. “My Rights” clearly trump “Your Rights” in this view.

Greatvalley-map

As other immigrants came to the Colonies and later to the United States most imbibed one or more of these cultures. New York, and especially New York City, originally a Dutch Colony, was in some ways separate from this schema, and became a place where all could interact, as it is today.

new_amsterdam_foto1

Fischer traces these folkways through our history, and into the late 80s when the book was published. It is easy to extrapolate to our own day.

american-progressives

Today’s American Progressive factions are the cultural descendants of the New England Puritans and the Delaware Valley Quakers. The aristocratic wing of American Conservatism (Bush, et al.) are the cultural heirs of the Virginia Cavaliers, while the Trump mob, the Tea Party, and their ilk are the societal scions of the Borderer culture.

tea party funding

Fischer convincingly demonstrates that to date, there has been only one time in American History when the four factions came together, united and cooperated fully: World War II. The respective strength of each faction was needed to defeat the great evil of the Axis powers. If you’d like to terrify yourself to see what it would have been like if we’d lost, read Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castleand/or watch the Amazon Series based on the novel.

51117B9VzxL._PI_PJStripe-Prime-Only-500px,TopLeft,0,0_AA160_

One would hope that we could pull together once more to battle the evils of fundamentalism and fanaticism.

In 2008, Fischer continued his folkways work with Champlain’s Dream, about the French and their North American influence.

51Tkn9I1TyL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_

The Eleven Nations of North America

Journalist Colin Woodard’s 2011 work American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America builds on, extends, and updates the work of Fischer and others. (There is a good literature review in his introduction.)

515uMZICQ1L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Woodard convincingly argues for 11 separate nations that exist within Canada, the U.S. and  Mexico, all of which are Federal States.

Here is a map from the excellent blog by JayMan. There are many other maps at this very well-done blog which illustrate both Fischer’s and Woodard’s works:

north-american-nations-4-3

Woodard freely admits that his book cannot  cover everything, and notes that he is not dealing with Hawai’i, which is part of the nation of Polynesia, and South Florida, which is part of the nation of the Spanish Caribbean. He also does not work with the distinctive nations of the core of Mexico and Central America, which would include Hispano-Aztec, Greater Mayan, Anglo-Creole, etc. One work can only do so much.

Woodard is nuanced and careful in his analysis and traces the 400 years of our history down to 2011. In the politics of the 21st Century US, we have essentially chosen up sides. For the most part, the alliances run something like this:

Yankeedom, New Amsterdam, and the Left Coast face off against the Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater, and the Far West. El Norte and New France are frequent allies of Yankeedom’s coalition as well. The Midlands go both ways.

I should note that in this book, “nation” means a group of people with a common cultural and–if you will–folkways heritage, while “State” means a governmental entity.

I can vouch for this schema. I myself came from a Border City, Phoenix, on the edge between El Norte and the Far West. My parents are from El Paso, part of El Norte. I was then initiated into the ways of Yankeedom at Yale and in Cambridge MA (Weston, Harvard, Holy Cross), and into the ways of New Netherlands at Fordham. I taught in Phoenix, L.A., both connected to El Norte, and then moved permanently to the Left Coast in San Francisco. It is no wonder that I am firmly part of the Yankeedom alliance.

One of the most important things in both Fischer’s and Woodard’s studies is that our current divisions are not new. The fact is that these North American Nations have ALWAYS been in conflict with one another, and this has shaped the histories of Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

As for the United States and Canada, as we have noted earlier, the alliance that was formed to defeat the Axis in World War II was perhaps the only time that all these nations pulled together for a common effort. Time will tell if we can do it again and take common cause for the good of all.

The Union Won the War, but Lost the Battle

Two books by James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, and Lies Across America, lay bare another seething wound that our Nation has not yet fully recovered from: Racism.

51JbV2jddoL

51elf4Ux8PL

These books are about many other things as well in American History, but the most salient point for this discussion is that White Supremacy (=supremacy of the descendants of Northern European immigrants) has been, and still is, an enduring evil in America. Loewen has many other works on similar themes. (Loewen is white, Harvard trained Sociologist.)

(Roediger’s Working Toward Whiteness elucidates how certain other European and other ethnic groups have been included in the designation of “White.”)

In brief, Loewen convincingly shows that the “others” in America, Native Peoples and those of African descent, have routinely been put down. I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip here, we just need to be honest about our own history if we are going to change it.

The tragedy of the extinction of Native peoples and cultures is well-known. Charles Mann’s 1491 explains the unprecedented loss to humanity that the extinction of the Native peoples and cultures of the Americas caused.

slavery

Concerning Race Slavery, and in particular, African Slavery in the U.S., we know that this issue came to a head in the Civil War. And yes, the Civil War was primarily about Slavery. The Union won the War, and African-Americans gained full citizenship, legally and in the Constitution. During Reconstruction (1865-1877) a great deal of progress was made in equality. However, after Reconstruction things began to fall apart. 1890-1940 was the nadir (low point) in race relations in the U.S.

How did this happen? The primary engine of reversing the gains of Reconstruction was the success of the forces of the Neo-Confederacy. Northern Progressives lost interest in supporting equal rights, and the Neo-Confederate forces, such as the Daughters of the Confederacy and others waged a wildly successful campaign of disinformation which transformed the mental landscape of America.

United Daughters of the Confederacy

United Daughters of the Confederacy

They lied bald-faced about the Civil War and Southern Society. The Bizarro World version that they convinced America of lasts to the present day. Here’s how their lies go:

  1. The South was a beautiful and serene culture where loving Plantation Owners cared for their beloved Black Slaves and kept them happy. The Blacks were only too happy to receive this largesse and enjoyed being Slaves.
  2. The Civil War was not about Slavery at all, it was the War of Northern Aggression based on economics and social norms.
  3. Southern Whites and Blacks united to defend their States’ Rights and their Southern Way of Life. Outgunned, this noble endeavor was The Lost Cause. Monuments across the Country commemorate their nobility and bravery.
  4. During Reconstruction, Northern “Carpetbaggers” came to the South to take advantage of the defeated South, and enriched themselves corruptly.
  5. African-Americans, too newly freed, could not handle equality and failed because of this.
  6. American Society settled into a correct balance, with superior Whites leading, and happy “Good Darkies” playing their expected roles.
  7. After more than 100 years of “Freedom,” the problems in the African-American community demonstrate the truth of the Confederate beliefs.
Uncle Jack, the "Good Darkie"

Uncle Jack, the “Good Darkie”

Each of these points is easily disprovable by black-letter history, and Loewen’s work in these volumes and others provides ample evidence of this. Here’s a summary:

  1. Blacks hated being Slaves, and were badly treated. They were literally treated as property. Southern Plantation Owners were cruel and hateful. Gone With the Wind is a big lie. Most of the population of the South were poor Whites. Only the upper classes prospered.
  2. The Civil war was all about Slavery. The documents of succession prove this conclusively.
  3. The South was actively against States’ Rights. They wanted the Federal Government to suppress the Rights of other States to refuse Slavery, and to not enforce laws on the return of run-away Slaves. They insisted that Slavery and all its laws be imposed on all States and Territories. Only a very, very few Blacks fought willingly for the South. Most revolted as soon as they could. There was nothing patriotic or noble about the Confederacy. The monuments erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy and others lie, and honor traitors and racists.
  4. Northern Republicans came to the South and did the right thing. Reconstruction failed because legal and political equality was emphasized over economic parity.
  5. Freed African-Americans did very well with freedom. They excelled.
  6. After Reconstruction, and especially during the Nadir (1890-1940), all means were used to disenfranchise Blacks, especially in the South, to segregate them and keep them down all over the U.S. Persecutions, lynchings, the KKK, et al.made it very clear that Blacks had better stay down, or they would be killed. Amazingly, some remarkable African-Americans succeeded even under those conditions. The “Good Darkie” is a lie. Blacks were (understandably) terrified of Whites.
  7. Even though African Americas had “legal” freedom, it was virtually worthless in any real sense of being able to succeed equally. It was not until 1940 and the War that things really began to change. Even today, people think that the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia (the “Confederate Flag”) stands for the Noble South. It stands for treason, racism and hatred.

hqdefault

The Confederacy had won the propaganda battle. It is time to end the myth of the noble Confederacy and eliminate the idea that descendants of European Whites are superior once and for all. We need everyone to band together to fight the evils of our days.

Idiot America

Finally, there is a very funny, and also frightening true book that I recommend to everyone:

51v2ZhvJh3L._SX269_BO1,204,203,200_

Journalist Charles P. Pierce traces the history of how “stupidity became a virtue in the Land of the Free,” convincingly. He correctly deduces that American Society is being run on three principles today–at least in the popular discourse:

1) Any theory is valid if it sells (books, or candidates)

2) Anything can be true if proclaimed loudly enough

3) a) Fact is that which enough people believe

b) Truth is determined by how strongly they believe it

I do not care in the slightest whether my friends and interlocutors are “liberal” or “conservative,” whatever those terms mean today. But our discourse, especially our national political discourse must be ruled by reason, and guided by genuine expertise. Without this, we are lost in the nightmare world of the superb comedy Idiocracy.

Along the way, Pierce is at turns mordant and funny. I love that he uses my favorite crank from American History, Ignatius Donnelly, as an example of how important cranks were in our history, and the place they played. Unfortunately, cranckery has been mainstreamed today, and so has lost its social value.

In this election year, this is once again a very important work.

Please read these books and open your mind to the truth of our history, and what a wonderful world we can build if we face things square on and fight for change.

Thanks for Reading!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant.

1st Time Available–Online Tutoring and Consulting!

Leave a comment

10492233_10155810937740103_2119835989172665975_nLanguage For All is delighted to now offer Tutoring and Consulting world-wide via Internet Video Conferencing.

All of the Tutoring and Consulting services elaborated at this site are available online, and as always, the first consultation is completely free and without obligation!

Pricing is the same as in person tutoring and consulting, and sliding scale pricing is available in appropriate circumstances. That can be agreed upon during the initial consultation. Payment is through PayPal, or by check by special arrangement.

To book a time, please go to http://stevenaarmstrongsf.youcanbook.me and sign up for your free consultation! You will then receive the login instructions.

Please see the range of topics and services available from us.

If you are interested in in-person tutoring, editing, or consulting sessions in San Francisco, book a free preliminary online session and I will contact you.

I look forward to working with you!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Christmas Music Matters: A Gift from Ukraine

Leave a comment

Today, let’s listen to something a bit light and fluffy!

A Ukrainian pre-Christian folk carol for New Years (which used to be in the Spring), gave birth to today’s carol. Here is the ancient Ukrainian original:

Ukrainian lyrics to Shchedryk Transliteration (BGN/PCGN) English translation
Щедрик щедрик, щедрiвочка,
прилeтiла ластiвочка,
стала собi щебетати,
господаря викликати:
“Вийди, вийди, господарю,
подивися на кошару,
там овечки покотились,
а ягнички народились.
В тебе товар весь хороший,
будеш мати мiрку грошей,
В тебе товар весь хороший,
будеш мати мiрку грошей,
хоч не грошей, то полова:
в тебе жiнка чорноброва.”
Щедрик щедрик, щедрiвочка,
прилeтiла ластiвочка.
Shchedryk shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
pryletila lastivochka,
stala sobi shchebetaty,
hospodarya vyklykaty:
“Vyydy, vyydy, hospodaryu,
podyvysya na kosharu,
tam ovechky pokotylys’,
a yahnychky narodylys’.
V tebe tovar ves’ khoroshyy,
budesh’ maty mirku hroshey,
V tebe tovar ves’ khoroshyy,
budesh’ maty mirku hroshey,
khoch ne hroshey, to polova:
v tebe zhinka chornobrova.”
Shchedryk shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
pryletila lastivochka.
Shchedryk, shchedryk, a shchedrivka [New Year’s carol];
A little swallow flew [into the household]
and started to twitter,
to summon the master:
“Come out, come out, O master [of the household],
look at the sheep pen,
there the ewes are nestling
and the lambkin have been born
Your goods [livestock] are great,
you will have a lot of money, [by selling them]if not money, then chaff: [from all the grain you will harvest]
you have a dark-eyebrowed [beautiful] wife.”
Shchedryk, shchedryk, a shchedrivka,
A little swallow flew.

In 1904, Ukrainian Composer  Mykola Leontovych arranged the music, and in the 1930s, Peter Wilhousky created the Christmas version of the lyrics, since the melody and arrangement reminded him of shimmering bells. Here is their version in a couple of covers:

Naturally, a tune as catchy as this is going to get parody versions, and here is my favorite, a Lovecraftian take that is hilarious!

Look to the sky, way up on high
There in the night stars are now right.
Eons have passed: now then at last
Prison walls break, Old Ones awake!
They will return: mankind will learn
New kinds of fear when they are here.
They will reclaim all in their name;
Hopes turn to black when they come back.
Ignorant fools, mankind now rules
Where they ruled then: it’s theirs again

Stars brightly burning, boiling and churning
Bode a returning season of doom

Scary scary scary scary solstice
Very very very scary solstice

Up from the sea, from underground
Down from the sky, they’re all around
They will return: mankind will learn
New kinds of fear when they are here

Look to the sky, way up on high
There in the night stars are now right.
Eons have passed: now then at last
Prison walls break, Old Ones awake!
Madness will reign, terror and pain
Woes without end where they extend.
Ignorant fools, mankind now rules
Where they ruled then: it’s theirs again

Stars brightly burning, boiling and churning
Bode a returning season of doom

Scary scary scary scary solstice
Very very very scary solstice

Up from the sea, from underground
Down from the sky, they’re all around.

Fear

(Look to the sky, way up on high
There in the night stars now are right)

They will return.

 

Parody aside, here is a rocking version for your ongoing Christmas joy!

Merry Christmas!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

How to Celebrate Christmas Traditionally

Leave a comment

I get a kick out of it when people claim they are celebrating a Holiday “traditionally,” particularly Christmas.

I won’t go into all the details, but here is what a truly Traditional celebration of Christmas would be like in the Christian Western and the Byzantine Christian Eastern Traditions.

Pre-Christmas:

No pre-Christmas parties during the four weeks (Western) or 40 days (Eastern) before Christmas. Fasting and abstinence in the West, Fasting in the East (no meat, fish, eggs or dairy many days, fish and wine allowed on some days). Generally low or no alcohol consumption.

You can put up a Christmas Tree, of course, during this time.

On Christmas eve, Italians would have the Seven Fishes Supper.

Beginning Christmas Day:

Feasting and Christmas Parties from December 25 – January 4. In the East, fasting on Jan 5, and then a big Feast on January 6, Epiphany/Theophany.

From January 6 – February 2:

Christmas decorations stay up, general time for parties and gatherings.

A little different from what many think is “traditional,” no?

Thanks!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Read This to Understand What is Going On in the USA

1 Comment

This will be an uncharacteristic Blog Post, since its point is to offer you three amazing resources to understand why our Nation seems to be going crazy right now.

The Four Folkways of America

The first is a ground-breaking, seminal volume of American Colonial History, Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer.

41mk6HtCC0L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Using meticulous folkways scholarship (history from the ground-up, the history of real people, not just of princes, kings and presidents), Fischer demonstrates that the four great migrations from Britain and Ireland during Colonial times have decisively shaped the character of our Nation, even down to the present day.

Briefly, and in a much compacted description, here are those groups:

The Puritans of New England, who believed in Ordered Liberty. While originally quite severe religiously, their legacy is one of an ordered society, with freedom, but also justice for all, and a hallmark of care for the poor and the downtrodden. It is an obligation that those who are more well off must assist those who are less-well off. Education was prized. Greater New England is the northern tier, all across the United States. I was initiated into the ways of New England during my time studying in New Haven and Cambridge. Their ways are inspired by their deep Biblical Faith. The entrepreneurial spirit was strong in New England. Sam and John Adams were Founders from New England. Athletic Competition was encouraged in a balanced way, and both Baseball and Football have their origins in New England, especially at Yale and Harvard.

Yale in New Haven, CT

Yale in New Haven, CT

The Quakers of the Delaware Valley, who believed in Reciprocal Liberty. Before Quakerism turned in on itself and withdrew from active society, it was a major religious and social movement in the 17th century Colonies. The Quakers set out to create a deliberately diverse society where I respected your Liberty and you respected mine. Service of the community, and especially of the poor and weak, were powerful ideals, and those who did not do so were punished. They were also avid entrepreneurs. Education was welcome, if not as highly prized as in New England. Their legacy is one of a fair, equitable society, highly competitive in business, and with social supports for all. Benjamin Franklin was a transplanted son of this culture.

The Delaware Valley

The Delaware Valley

The Cavaliers of Virginia, who believed in Hierarchical Liberty. These Royalist Anglicans were often brave men and women, and some of our most revered Founders, such as Washington and Jefferson came from this stock. Their take-away from the culture was that of the heroic leader, the self-made man. However, Virginia Cavalier society had many very dark aspects. Hierarchical Liberty meant that the higher up you were in society, the more liberty you had. The King was the most Free person, and African and Indian Slaves, at the bottom, had no liberty at all. At each rung of society, men had more liberty than women. You were actively encouraged, even obligated, to dominate those beneath you, socially, economically, verbally, and physically. Beatings of underlings were common, and perfectly legal.

The majority of the population were poor white workers. The higher-ups dominated society. The preferred sport was killing. The higher you were in society, the more noble the animal you could hunt. Even race slaves killed animals, who were beneath them. Children were trained to kill insects and small animals, only to graduate to larger game later.

Education was prized for the upper classes, but those same upper classes were terrified of education for the lower classes, and did everything they could to prevent it.

Jefferson's Monticello

Jefferson’s Monticello

The Borderers who prized Natural Liberty. The Borderers came from the Borders of Scotland and England, and also from Northern Ireland. These areas had been in virtually perpetual warfare for hundreds of years. Their areas were known to be hotbeds of thieves, brigands and roving gangs. Coming to North America, they were shunned by the other three groups, and pushed to the Border highlands, the mountains such as the Ozarks and the Appalachians.

For Borderer culture, you could do anything you were strong enough to do. Natural Liberty meant virtually no restraint on personal actions. Andrew Jackson, one of our most horrendous and barbaric Presidents came from this stock. The famed feuds of the hills marked this culture. Education was disdained as a waste of time. Fighting and feuding were sports. This culture gradually moved west throughout the Southwest to Southern California. It was an intensely clannish society, and anyone not from your immediate family and friends was automatically though of as a foe and treated that way. Anyone different in race or culture was the enemy.

Interlocutors on Facebook and elsewhere who champion unlimited and completely unrestrained gun rights are clearly sons and daughters of the Borderers. “My Rights” clearly trump “Your Rights” in this view.

Greatvalley-map

As other immigrants came to the Colonies and later to the United States most imbibed one or more of these cultures. New York, and especially New York City, originally a Dutch Colony, was in some ways separate from this schema, and became a place where all could interact, as it is today.

new_amsterdam_foto1

Fischer traces these folkways through our history, and into the late 80s when the book was published. It is easy to extrapolate to our own day.

american-progressives

Today’s American Progressive factions are the cultural descendants of the New England Puritans and the Delaware Valley Quakers. The aristocratic wing of American Conservatism (Bush, et al.) are the cultural heirs of the Virginia Cavaliers, while the Trump mob, the Tea Party, and their ilk are the societal scions of the Borderer culture.

tea party funding

Fischer convincingly demonstrates that to date, there has been only one time in American History when the four factions came together, united and cooperated fully: World War II. The respective strength of each faction was needed to defeat the great evil of the Axis powers. If you’d like to terrify yourself to see what it would have been like if we’d lost, read Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castleand/or watch the Amazon Series based on the novel.

51117B9VzxL._PI_PJStripe-Prime-Only-500px,TopLeft,0,0_AA160_

One would hope that we could pull together once more to battle the evils of fundamentalism and fanaticism.

The Union Won the War, but Lost the Battle

Two books by James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, and Lies Across America, lay bare another seething wound that our Nation has not yet fully recovered from: Racism.

51JbV2jddoL

 

51elf4Ux8PL

These books are about many other things as well in American History, but the most salient point for this discussion is that White Supremacy (=supremacy of the descendants of Northern European immigrants) has been, and still is, an enduring evil in America. Loewen has many other works on similar themes. (Loewen is white, Harvard trained Sociologist.)

(Roediger’s Working Toward Whiteness elucidates how certain other European and other ethnic groups have been included in the designation of “White.”)

In brief, Loewen convincingly shows that the “others” in America, Native Peoples and those of African descent, have routinely been put down. I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip here, we just need to be honest about our own history if we are going to change it.

The tragedy of the extinction of Native peoples and cultures is well-known. Charles Mann’s 1491 explains the unprecedented loss to humanity that the extinction of the Native peoples and cultures of the Americas caused.

slavery

Concerning Race Slavery, and in particular, African Slavery in the U.S., we know that this issue came to a head in the Civil War. And yes, the Civil War was primarily about Slavery. The Union won the War, and African-Americans gained full citizenship, legally and in the Constitution. During Reconstruction (1865-1877) a great deal of progress was made in equality. However, after Reconstruction things began to fall apart. 1890-1940 was the nadir (low point) in race relations in the U.S.

How did this happen? The primary engine of reversing the gains of Reconstruction was the success of the forces of the Neo-Confederacy. Northern Progressives lost interest in supporting equal rights, and the Neo-Confederate forces, such as the Daughters of the Confederacy and others waged a wildly successful campaign of disinformation which transformed the mental landscape of America.

United Daughters of the Confederacy

United Daughters of the Confederacy

They lied bald-faced about the Civil War and Southern Society. The Bizarro World version that they convinced America of lasts to the present day. Here’s how their lies go:

  1. The South was a beautiful and serene culture where loving Plantation Owners cared for their beloved Black Slaves and kept them happy. The Blacks were only too happy to receive this largesse and enjoyed being Slaves.
  2. The Civil War was not about Slavery at all, it was the War of Northern Aggression based on economics and social norms.
  3. Southern Whites and Blacks united to defend their States’ Rights and their Southern Way of Life. Outgunned, this noble endeavor was The Lost Cause. Monuments across the Country commemorate their nobility and bravery.
  4. During Reconstruction, Northern “Carpetbaggers” came to the South to take advantage of the defeated South, and enriched themselves corruptly.
  5. African-Americans, too newly freed, could not handle equality and failed because of this.
  6. American Society settled into a correct balance, with superior Whites leading, and happy “Good Darkies” playing their expected roles.
  7. After more than 100 years of “Freedom,” the problems in the African-American community demonstrate the truth of the Confederate beliefs.
Uncle Jack, the "Good Darkie"

Uncle Jack, the “Good Darkie”

Each of these points is easily disprovable by black-letter history, and Loewen’s work in these volumes and others provides ample evidence of this. Here’s a summary:

  1. Blacks hated being Slaves, and were badly treated. They were literally treated as property. Southern Plantation Owners were cruel and hateful. Gone With the Wind is a big lie. Most of the population of the South were poor Whites. Only the upper classes prospered.
  2. The Civil war was all about Slavery. The documents of succession prove this conclusively.
  3. The South was actively against States’ Rights. They wanted the Federal Government to suppress the Rights of other States to refuse Slavery, and to not enforce laws on the return of run-away Slaves. They insisted that Slavery and all its laws be imposed on all States and Territories. Only a very, very few Blacks fought willingly for the South. Most revolted as soon as they could. There was nothing patriotic or noble about the Confederacy. The monuments erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy and others lie, and honor traitors and racists.
  4. Northern Republicans came to the South and did the right thing. Reconstruction failed because legal and political equality was emphasized over economic parity.
  5. Freed African-Americans did very well with freedom. They excelled.
  6. After Reconstruction, and especially during the Nadir (1890-1940), all means were used to disenfranchise Blacks, especially in the South, to segregate them and keep them down all over the U.S. Persecutions, lynchings, the KKK, et al.made it very clear that Blacks had better stay down, or they would be killed. Amazingly, some remarkable African-Americans succeeded even under those conditions. The “Good Darkie” is a lie. Blacks were (understandably) terrified of Whites.
  7. Even though African Americas had “legal” freedom, it was virtually worthless in any real sense of being able to succeed equally. It was not until 1940 and the War that things really began to change. Even today, people think that the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia (the “Confederate Flag”) stands for the Noble South. It stands for treason, racism and hatred.

hqdefault

The Confederacy had won the propaganda battle. It is time to end the myth of the noble Confederacy and eliminate the idea that descendants of European Whites are superior once and for all. We need everyone to band together to fight the evils of our days.

Please read these books and open your mind to the truth of our history, and what a wonderful world we can build if we face things square on and fight for change.

Thanks for Reading!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant.

Thoughts on “The First Thanksgiving”

Leave a comment

On this American Thanksgiving Weekend, I wanted to reflect on the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621 in Plymouth Massachusetts with the newly arrived English 50 surviving “Pilgrims” and about 90 members of the Wampanoag people, and in so doing, explore its meaning in historical context, and what it can tell us as a Nation today.

"TraditionalThanksgiving" by Ben Franske - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Commons -

“Traditional Thanksgiving” by Ben Franske – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Commons. Click photo for Copyright page.

Before we begin, we need to look at terminology.

“Indian”?

Throughout this post, I will not use the term “Indian” when I am speaking of the Wampanoag people specifically. From what I understand, Native Americans don’t really mind the name, but it’s like calling the Pilgrims “Europeans.” They are, of course, but we know what nation they came from, so why not be more specific.

“Pilgrims”?

Those whom we call Pilgrims were Calvinist Separatist dissenters. That is, they rejected the Church of England (Anglicans) and, unlike the Puritans wanted to be separate from the C of E, rather than to reform it. From their own writings, it is clear that they had religious, and religious freedom motives for their trans-Atlantic voyage, as well as economic ones.

“Settlers”? “Colonists”? “Invaders”?

How should I refer to the Pilgrims? This isn’t about “political correctness,” it’s about the connotations (subtle meanings) of words.

  • If I use “settlers,” the connotation is that they were settling a wilderness. Most of North America (and indeed much of the Americas in general), were definitely not unworked wilderness. North American Natives, Meso American Peoples, and South American Peoples managed the land to a great extent, practicing land, crop, resource management in a number of sophisticated ways that in some cases go beyond what we are capable of today. The landscape that the Pilgrims came to was heavily managed, and had been settled by human beings with a high level of culture. In essence, the land the Pilgrims came to was a highly sophisticated, tended agricultural garden and game reserve. The Indians and Natives of North America were far from “savages.” The earliest Spanish (and English) letters and journals usually were admiring of the American Native peoples. It was only when it was found convenient to demonize them that they became “savages.”
  • If I use “Colonists,” I am guilty of only seeing this from a Eurocentric viewpoint. When people cross into the United States today without going through customs and set up shop, we don’t call them Colonists. We call them Undocumented Immigrants (Left) or Illegal Aliens (Right).
  • If I call them “Invaders,” which essentially they were, it rings a tone I didn’t want for this post, as I want to stay positive here.
  • So, I’ll stay with “The English,” for the most part, which is accurate.

“Chief”? “King”?

Edward Wilson, one of the English, referred to “their greatest king Massasoit.” In reality, Massasoit Sachem or Ousamequin was the Great Sachem of the Wampanoag people (Wôpanâak). “Massasoit” is a title, not a name. While he was a great male leader, many of the Natives of the North East had a complex governmental structure which involved both men and women in decision making, leadership and reciprocal work for the community. It would have come as a great surprise to the Great Sachem Ousamequin to be thought of like the King of England. Native society was far more participatory, and much more democratic than European societies of the time. We should recall that Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers and Mothers greatly admired the Haudenosaunee Confederation (commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy), and its founding document, Gayanashagowa or the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee. This “Constitution” influenced the U.S. Constitution.

massasoit-d-1661-granger

The reason why the English probably called Ousamequin a “King” may be that, coming from a nation with a very stratified hierarchy with hereditary nobility and royalty, it was very hard for them to envision a society that lacked these. Further, Europeans liked having a “king” or “chief” to negotiate with, to give an air of legitimacy to their land purchases. In return, the “chief” gained standing by being friends with the Europeans, as well as guns and metal implements.

"Tribal Territories Southern New England" by Nikater; adapted to English by Hydrargyrum - Wikimedia Commons - Image:Wohngebiet_Südneuengland.png, as of 5 July 2006. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

“Tribal Territories Southern New England” by Nikater; adapted to English by Hydrargyrum – Wikimedia Commons – Image:Wohngebiet_Südneuengland.png, as of 5 July 2006. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

It would appear that the concept of private ownership of land was foreign to Wampanoag people, as it was to many North American indigenous peoples in the 17th century. Each group had its own territory, but not privately owned land. In this, as in the ways of warfare, the influence of the English was to turn civilized Wampanoag to the barbaric ways of the old world.

Myth vs Reality

The myth of the First Thanksgiving I often saw portrayed in my youth were the Civilized English, dressed in their tradition vesture, welcoming scantily clad Indians and feeding them their sophisticated foods. Here is a typical picture:

The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899).

The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899).

What apparently happened was something like this:

When the English landed at what is now Plymouth in 1620, they were ill-equipped for survival. Tisquantum (Squanto), a member of the Patuxet people, a band under the Wampanoag agreed to assist them. He had a long experience with Europeans, having been across the Atlantic six times. He taught them effective agricultural techniques, and became a kind of ambassador with the Wampanoag. His own village of Patuxet, near modern-day Plymouth, had been virtually destroyed by epidemics in 1614 and 1620, brought by European diseases.

European explorers and traders had been frequenting the Northeast throughout the preceding century. The indigenous peoples were well aware of them, and interacted with them, sometimes cooperatively, sometimes not. It may well be that the inhabitants of the Northeast and the Maritimes had stories of the 11th century Viking expedition to “Vineland.” Old World diseases such as smallpox and typhus, measles, influenza, bubonic plague, cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, mumps, yellow fever and pertussis devastated all of the Americas, which in 1491 may have had up to 100 million inhabitants. The epidemics probably killed 80%-90% of the indigenous population of the Americas.

Having successfully followed Tisquantum’s advice, the English had a good harvest in 1621. On April 1, 1621 the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag signed a mutual assistance treaty which the Wampanoag were happy with, as it guaranteed that the English would defend them against their enemies, and the Wampanoag would defend the English and both would live peacefully side by side.

"2011NativeAmericanRev" by United States Mint - United States Mint Historical Image Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

“2011NativeAmericanRev” by United States Mint – United States Mint Historical Image Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Probably around Michaelmas (September 29), the traditional English end of the Harvest, the Pilgrims held a Thanksgiving Feast as they were often want to do in the East of England where the majority of the English in New England came from (East Anglia: Suffolk, Essex, and parts of Norfolk and Cambridge, Lincolnshire and Kent).

As people with guns often do, the English shot into the air in celebration and set off cannon fire. The Great Sachem Ousamequin and his people heard the guns and were worried that something might be wrong with their treaty partners. Ousamequin set out with a party of 90 warriors to find out.

When they arrived, they found the 50 or so English celebrating. Probably through the translator Tisquantum, both sides learned what was up. Not having been born yesterday, Ousamequin and his men (there were probably no women, as this was a warrior band) camped nearby for several days to keep an eye on their new neighbors. They sent out hunting parties and brought game to contribute to the feasting, and the two groups ate and feasted together, peacefully but warily.

Probably one of the very few things Ronald Reagan ever said that I agreed with was “Trust but Verify.” This was the situation in 1621 Plymouth. Further, both the English and the Wampanoag cultures had the custom of Thanksgiving festivals, as virtually all human cultures do. Therefore the reason for the Harvest Feast was clear to both.

After the time of Feasting, the Wampanoag returned home, and the two groups continued for a while to live more or less harmoniously. Here is a good, modern Wampanoag memory of the events.

Errors in the Myth

So, to get back to the traditional myth, what are some of the things that are wrong?

  • In Wampanoag culture, the work was divided between men and women. Women ran all of the domestic business, including agriculture. The men fought, when necessary, and hunted. Both functions were seen as equally important. Therefore it is doubtful that there were any Wampanoag women at the Feast, since the Wampanoag expedition was martial in nature.
  • Is is highly unlikely that the Wampanoag warriors wore so little clothes in a late fall New England. In fact, the English very much appreciated the warmth and comfort of Wampanoag clothing and began to imitate their dress.
  • This was not a case of the “civilized” English (symbolized by tables and chairs) inviting their cultural inferiors (seated at their feet on the ground) to a feast. Most of the food they had grown was new to the English, and they probably had learned to prepare it from the Wampanoag. There probably were no turkeys, just game.
  • Our feast of Thanksgiving stems from the pronouncements of two Presidents: Washington and Lincoln. On October 3, 1789, Washington issued this proclamation:

“Now therefore do I recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being…That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for… the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge…”

While there were often Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States, this did not become a uniform, annual event throughout the United States at the end of November until October 3, 1863 when Lincoln issued his declaration:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

The connection to the 1621 Thanksgiving is mentioned nowhere in these two declarations. That developed as the holiday sought roots in earlier times.

What Does Thanksgiving Teach Us Today?

Nothing here means that I don’t love Thanksgiving. I believe that it is our most important Holiday in the United States, and that it is quintessentially American. I do despise the stores that open on Thursday evening for their “Black Friday” vigils. Thanksgiving ought to be for family, friends, and charity only.

71DOxyY0FoL

An attitude of gratefulness and thanksgiving is essential to the spiritual well-being of us all. A truly great mystic whom I had the honor of meeting back at Yale, Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB. One of his best known works is Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer. The book began a movement that is flourishing.

“Wäre das Wort Danke das einzige Gebet, das du je sprichst, so würde es genügen. If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough,” teaches Meister Eckhart. Thankfulness is essential for us, since all is gift. In the Greek of the New Testament, Thanksgiving is Eucharist, from Middle English eukariste, from Old French, from Late Latin eucharistia, from Ancient Greek εὐχαριστία ‎(eukharistíagratitude, giving of thanks), from εὖ ‎(good) + χάρις ‎(khárisgrace, favor). Eu is an adverbial use of neuter accusative singular of ἐΰς ‎(eǘsgood), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *h₁su- (good). Kháris is from χαίρω (khaíro–to be happy, of good cheer), from Proto-Hellenic *kʰəřřō, from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰer- (to enclose).

st elia, toronto

Eucharist is the central act of worship in Christianity. The heart of any Faith, Mysticism and Spirituality is Gratitude. We are “wrapped” in gratitude, which is thanks for everything we are and have.

The feast of Thanksgiving is therefore essential for the United States. And its ceremonial foods, mostly from plants and animals from the New World, are practically sacramental.

I very fondly remember having Thanksgiving Dinner at one of my Yale friend’s parents’ home in West Haven. We sat down to a full, wonderful Italian mean. I thought, “Well, it’s not traditional, but it’s good!” I ate my fill. Then the dishes were cleared, and the whole American Thanksgiving Feast was served! Yikes! Why didn’t someone warn me. I did OK though!

Knowing Thanksgiving’s history, and what really happened in 1621 Plymouth can give us hope for our world today.

It was a chance meal with two new allies, neighbors, watching each other’s backs, and watching each other, too. It was a meeting of equals. It was a way of moving forward for mutual security, and giving thanks to God (whether called YHVH or The Great Spirit) for all the gifts of life, including allies in a dangerous world. We celebrate the generosity of the Wampanoag and others who welcomed these strangers onto their land.

Our world is at a very dangerous juncture. We need all peoples of the world to band together to preserve our planet, to refuse to allow terror and war to prevail, and to move forward together, thankfully. In numbers there is strength, as shown by the ancient Roman symbol of the Fasces.

Fasces in the US House of Representatives

Fasces in the US House of Representatives

The acceptance of diversity shown by the Wampanoag, and their willingness to work together with the English are signs for us. The fact that the relationship between Europeans and Natives went horribly, tragically wrong, causing two of the two great karmic stains on our hemisphere (the destruction of indigenous cultures and peoples, and African and Indian Slavery) is a stark reminder of the evils that result from not behaving like neighbors and not seeing one’s self in the other’s face.

Let us finally undo the evils that these failures have caused, and move together, in our Nation, and our World, together in Thankfulness.

Thanks for reading,

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

PS: My source material for much of this post comes from three remarkable books which I highly recommend and will be writing more about:

David Hackett Fischer. Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

James W. Loewen. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Revised Edition. New York: Touchstone Books, 2007.

Charles C. Mann. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.