Thursday, 21 March 2013


“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” - Albert Camus

March 21 marks the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the Autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. The Ostara festival is celebrated by the modern branch of witchcraft known as Wicca.  This festival celebrates the return of the sun on the Spring Equinox and the Teutonic goddess of Spring, Eostre is feasted on this day.  Rituals are carried out that symbolise awakening, renewal and rebirth.  The egg is a primary symbol of Eostre and eggs may be dyed, forming as much of the Wiccan ritual as they do of Christian Easter. Easter is obviously etymologically derived from Eostre.

It is the feast day of St Benedict (ca 480-550 AD) who is the patron saint of speleologists (cavers and potholers) and schoolchildren. St Benedict was the son of a rich Italian family. As a boy he was sent to Rome to study and growing up there he became with the vice that he saw around him. He left the city and became a hermit in a cave in the mountain of Subiaco, where he spent three years in prayer. He was often led into temptation by the Devil and one day when he almost succumbed to a vision of a lovely lady, he threw himself into a bush with long sharp thorns that gouged his body and he overcame the temptation. He founded twelve monasteries in Subiaco and then in Cassino he built the most famous monastery of all, establishing the Benedictine Order of monks. St Benedict and his monks helped the people around the monastery by teaching them to read, write, farm and work at different trades.

Traditionally, Iran’s New Year begins on this day, with celebrations lasting for 13 days.  Rites involving fire are common in Zoroastrianism and to welcome the new year in, bonfires are lit. Everyone jumps over the flames symbolically leaping into the new year, while purifying themselves of the previous year’s indiscretions.  Eggs play a part in this springtime festival and in the celebrations the egg symbolises an egg, which reawakens in Spring.  When the year changes the earth is thought to tremble and an egg is placed on mirror as the year changes, shivering slightly in sympathy with the earth’s great shudder.

Today is also the birthday of one of the greatest composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach. He was part of a great musical family and many of his own sons were great composers in their own right.  His oeuvre encompasses all great forms of the baroque with the exception of opera.  His music was all but forgotten until Felix Mendelssohn began the revival that re-established him as the master amongst the composers of the baroque.  His magnificent music is replete with command of form, originality, technical competency of the instrument and vocal parts he was writing for, as well as luscious melody and wonderful harmonies.  Some of his works that I love are: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903 - a heart rending work; Cantata No 4: Christus lag in Todesbanden a choral work for Easter; Keyboard Concerto in D minor BWV 1052; Fugue in G minor BWV 578, a little gem for the organ.  His six Brandenburg Concertos BWV 1046-1051 are a set of masterworks that show off Bach’s genius most explicitly!

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