Thursday, 23 September 2010


“If your life at night is good, you think you have everything.” Euripides

In the northern hemisphere it is the autumnal equinox today and there is a full moon out, it is the day of the Autumn Moon Festival, while in the southern hemisphere it is the vernal equinox. It is also the second day of the Jewish Sukkot Festival. Sukkot is a Hebrew word meaning “booths” or “huts” and refers to the Jewish festival of giving thanks for the autumn harvest, as well as the commemoration of the forty years of Jewish wandering in the desert after Sinai. Sukkot is celebrated five days after Yom Kippur on the 15th of Tishrei and is marked by several distinct traditions. One tradition, which takes the commandment to “dwell in booths” (Leviticus 23:42–43) literally, is to build a sukkah (a booth or hut). A sukkah is often erected by Jews during this festival, and it is a common practice for some to eat and even live in these temporary dwellings during Sukkot.

Tradition calls for one family to enter the sukkah, recite the Motzi prayer over the meal to be eaten, and then add a special blessing: “Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu leishev basukah.” - Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us through Your mitzvot and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah. Another custom of Sukkot involves extending hospitality, especially to the needy. Tradition is that there are certain guests of the festival, ushpizin, who are present in spirit in every sukkah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and David. In addition, many Jews will invite guests outside of their families to join them for a holiday meal.

There are two more symbols associated with Sukkot that deserve attention. Lulav is a Hebrew word meaning “palm branch” and refers to a unique ceremonial object associated with the holiday of Sukkot. Lulav is also a generic term, describing a three-sectioned holder with a single palm branch in the center, two willow branches on the left, and three myrtle branches on the right. Etrog is a Hebrew word meaning “citron,” and refers to the special lemon-like fruit used in conjunction with the lulav in the Sukkot ritual.

Euripides, the ancient Greek dramatist was born in 484 BC on this day. He wrote some 90 plays, of which 17 survive complete, while another 17 survive as fragments. He is one of the foremost of the ancient Greek tragedians and his plays are often about women in tragic situations (e.g. Medea) and his plots are very realistic and concentrate on the situations that elicit violent emotional reactions from them. He was criticised fro his often used device of deus ex machina where a god or goddess appears at the play’s end to provide a contrived solution to an intractable problem… Towards the end of his life, he accepted the invitation of King Archelaus I of Macedon and stayed with him in Macedonia, allegedly dying there in 406 B.C. after being accidentally attacked by the king's hunting dogs while walking in the woods.

The plant for the birthdays falling on this day is the common field mushroom, Agaricus campestris. Because some poisonous mushrooms may resemble the edible ones, the mushroom in the language of flowers suggests the meaning “suspicion”.  This confusion is also at the bottom of the warning couplets:
    When the moon is at the full,
    Mushrooms you may freely pull;
    When the moon is on the wane,
    Wait ere you think to pluck again!

The Welsh call poisonous mushrooms bwyd ellyllon = “meat of the goblins”.  Fairy rings, are the term given to the ring of mushrooms that form as the spores are ejected from around the rim of the fruiting body of the parent fungus, in the belief that they arose from the feet of fairies dancing in a circle.  Dreaming of gathering mushrooms is an indication of the lack of attachment on the part of a partner.  Astrologically, the mushroom is under the dominion of Mercury in the sign of Leo.

In Japan the autumnal equinox is termed Higan, meaning the “other shore”, implying heaven. Buddhists will pray in temples and in cemeteries for the souls of the dead in ceremonies reminiscent of All Souls’ Day.

Today is also the national day of Armenia and Saudi Arabia!

Armenia is the smallest of the 15 republics of the former USSR that gained its independence in 1991.  It is about 30,000 square km in area with a population of 4 million people.  It is East of Turkey and North of Georgia. The capital city is Yerevan with other main centres being Karaklis, Kumayri and Kamo.  It is a mountainous, landlocked country with small but fertile regions of arable land.  The main industry is machine-building with chemicals and textiles also contributing to the economy.  Farming and raising of sheep, goats and cattle is also important.

Saudi Arabia is the largest country of the arid Arabian Peninsula. It became independent in 1913 after the occupying Turks were expelled. It has an area of 2.4 million square km and a population of 15 million people. The country is extremely arid with no permanent rivers and very low rainfall, extremely hot in the Summer. In the mountainous West there is sparse vegetation and it is only in the coastal oases that date palms and cereal crops flourish. The economy is dominated by oil, which is Saudi Arabia’s major export and source of wealth. The petrodollars pay for irrigation schemes and land reclamation projects intended to raise food production. The capital city is Riyadh with other major cities being Mecca, Jeddah, Medina, Ta’if, Najran and Abha. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Muslims from all over the world converge on Mecca to complete the “Hajj”, or visit, which every devout Muslim must make at least once in their life.

1 comment: