Month: April 2022

A Very Happy Easter! #Easter #Eostre #Pagan

One of the things I most enjoy is finding out what lies behind many traditional celebrations. Whenever I’ve done this I’ve learned that what I thought I knew, what I was told at school, and by my parents, is usually wrong.

Since we moved to Wales, I’ve become very interested in Paganism, and the role of nature in many belief systems. We’re lucky enough to live somewhere that is truly magical, and it’s impossible to think that that there isn’t something spiritual about the natural world.

CENARTH FALLS

And it is paganism, and old beliefs that I often find are at the heart of mainstream celebrations today.

Easter is no exception. Easter falls in Spring – a time of renewal and rebirth, a time when we finally get some sunshine and warmth, and the countryside is awash with golden daffodils. It’s a time of hope, and optimism, and is full of promise of long, warm days to come (even here in Wales!).

The date on which we celebrate Easter each year is also governed by those old beliefs. Very old beliefs, in fact. Easter Day is set by the lunisolar calendar, which was created in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. It falls on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox.

And the word ‘Easter’ itseLf has nothing to do with Christianity. Most European countries believe the word derives from the Hebrew word ‘Pesach’ – or Passover, the Jewish holiday. In English-speaking countries and Germany, however, it has been argued that the word is derived from the name of a Pagan springtime goddess – Ēostre.

Ēostre is the Germanic goddess of dawn. She was traditionally celebrated with festivals celebrating fertility, renewal and rebirth. The goddess is often depicted with hares or actually with the head and shoulders of a hare – which leads us to the rather strange Easter bunny!

The hare brings us back to the importance of the moon to the date of Easter. Hares, like the moon, were though to die and be reborn every day, making the hare a symbol of immortality, new life, and rebirth.

Of course, the egg is a symbol of new life, fertility and creation, which probably led to the inclusion of coloured eggs in the celebrations (they weren’t always made of chocolate!). Hares are my favourite animal (after dogs!), and the house is full of them (not real ones, of course, pictures, paintings and ornaments, even a teapot!). They’re beautiful, almost other-worldly, and I love too the story around the beautiful harebell flower – that witches turn into hares and hide amongst these gorgeous blooms.

As a child I was convinced that hot cross buns were a symbol of the crucifixion, which always struck me as a bit morbid, and a bit inappropriate, to be honest. In fact, the cross on the bun originated with the Ancient Egyptians, to create four sections, representing the four phases of the moon or the four seasons, depending on the festival being celebrated. Later, Greeks and Romans offered sweetened rolls to Eos, goddess of the morning and to Ēostre. Here, the cross represented the horns of a sacrificial ox.

So how is it that we now associate all these things with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus?
Following the rise of Christianity, many new feast days and celebrations were attached to the previous Pagan festivals. And as the older religions were ‘discouraged’ the new festivals took over.

I think I’ll feel a bit more comfortable eating my hot cross bun this morning thinking about the moon and the individual beauty that each season brings! And there will, of course, be lots of chocolate eggs!

However you’re celebrating, have a wonderful Easter weekend!

‘Pasta Mike’ by Andrew Cotto  #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

I read ‘Pasta Mike’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Mike O’Shea and Andy Cotto knew each other their entire lives. Born days apart on the same block, baptized in the same water, the two friends were inseparable growing up and into adulthood.

After celebrating their 40th birthdays together, Mike falls ill and dies shortly after. The impact on Andy is enormous, and he spirals into a depression that threatens everything he holds dear.

Through memory and support, Andy is able to reconcile his grief and appreciate the power of male friendship and the beauty of life.

Pasta Mike is a testimony to the bonds men share and the vulnerabilities beneath the stoic surface.

Pasta Mike is loosely based on the author’s long-term friendship with his childhood friend, Mike, and mixes fact with fiction to give a truly authentic story of love, loss, grief and recovery. 

There are some gorgeous moments here, full of genuine feeling. The narrator’s sense of loss and bewilderment, the effect it has on those around him, his life and his addictions, go a long way towards showing the reader how grief can really have an impact, and shows too why we need to take those emotions seriously, be open about our feelings, and not be ashamed to grieve.

I enjoyed the wonderful descriptions of food – I’ve read previous books by this author and knowing that food would be involved here drew me to the book! 

This is, however, a novella, and, as such, I don’t feel that there was really enough room to explore all these interesting and important themes completely. I wish the author had made this into a full-length novel – there is so much here that would benefit from that, particularly memories of childhood, the narrator’s marriage, and the realities of depression

So a really great read, well-written, authentic and emotional – but, in my opinion at least, a novella that was crying out to be a full-length novel.

Inge’s War by Svenja O’Donnell #FridayReads #BookReview

What does it mean to be on the wrong side of history?

Svenja O’Donnell’s beautiful, aloof grandmother Inge never spoke about the past. All her family knew was that she had grown up in a city that no longer exists on any map: Königsberg in East Prussia, a footnote in history, a place that almost no one has heard of today. But when Svenja impulsively visits this windswept Baltic city, something unlocks in Inge and, finally, she begins to tell her story.

It begins in the secret jazz bars of Hitler’s Berlin. It is a story of passionate first love, betrayal, terror, flight, starvation and violence. As Svenja teases out the threads of her grandmother’s life, retracing her steps all over Europe, she realises that there is suffering here on a scale that she had never dreamt of. And finally, she uncovers a desperately tragic secret that her grandmother has been keeping for sixty years.

Inge’s War listens to the voices that are often missing from our historical narrative – those of women caught up on the wrong side of history. It is a book about memory and heritage that interrogates the legacy passed down by those who survive. It also poses the questions: who do we allow to tell their story? What do we mean by family? And what will we do in order to survive?

I recently watched The Final Account – over the course of more than a decade, the documentary film-maker Luke Holland collected interviews with surviving witnesses and participants of Hitler’s Third Reich. These were people who were there. Soldiers in the army, members of the SS, women who worked in the offices of the concentration camps. Those who lived nearby. It is a programme that was hard to watch. One man in particular was still proud of what he’d done. One woman, who worked in an office in a camp, said it was nothing to do with her. She said the treatment of the Jewish people horrified her. Then she laughed as she recalled hiding her boyfriend – a guard at the camp – when the allies came. There were those, of course, who were horribly ashamed, who took their share of the responsibility. 

A few years ago we visited Munich – a wonderful place, wonderful people, friendly, welcoming, beautiful. On our final day there we visited Dachau, and suddenly things weren’t so wonderful. What got to me most was that the camp was there for all to see. Everyone. No one could have not known. 

Of course we all hope that we would stand up to fascists. That we wouldn’t turn a blind eye, or worse, be involved. But documentaries like The Final Account, and the proof of places like Dachau niggle away – would we really be any different? Would we be brave enough to say no? 

Inge’s War, for me, is another story that poses this question. 

The writer’s grandmother, Inge, grew up in East Prussia, an area that was, in a lot of ways, removed from what was happening in the rest of Germany. On the whole, people just carried on with their lives, at least at first. Inge’s parents disapproved of Hitler, but they kept their heads down, not really believing that anything bad would happen. So removed were they, that they allowed Inge to move to Berlin in 1940, at the age of fifteen.

Here, Inge met Wolfgang, a young man who had avoided being called up. When he finally had to go to war, Inge discovered she was pregnant. He promised to stand by her, but his father forbade it, and feeling betrayed, Inge returned home.

The story then follows Inge and her parents, as the war does find them, and they too have to flee. What happens to Inge from them on makes for a dark tale, and the author comes to understand her stern, guarded, taciturn grandmother.

It’s unusual to read about German refugees, the terror they felt, caught between the Nazis and the Russians at the end of the war. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for them, for women like Inge, who were collateral damage in all of this. And when you read about atrocities like the Nemmesdorf massacre, the only thing you can feel is horror and disgust. But when you think about what happened to Jewish people, the Romani people, LGBT people, the disabled, and all the other groups targeted by the Nazis, it’s hard to feel as much sympathy for people fleeing who voted for Hitler, who may have watched their Jewish neighbours being taken away. Who turned a blind eye at the trains full of human beings. And the author recognises this, feels this conflict herself. But she asks the questions too of what would we, the readers, have done? Can we honestly say we would have intervened, spoken up, acted? 

The research here is, of course, impeccable, and the writing so accomplished. Accessible without dumbing down, thoughtful, respectful, and, unsurprisingly given the author’s relationship to Inge, completely genuine and authentic. This is, without doubt, an important book. 

Whole-heartedly recommended (as is The Final Account).