Thursday, November 1, 2012

Intertwined- The Fable of Tristan and Iseult

Tristan and Isolde (Merle)

Long before the stories of Romeo and Juliet or Guinevere and Lancelot, the “star-crossed lovers” fantasy idea had inspired many a tale. One that calls to mind is the story of Tristan and Iseult (often times her name is referred to as Isolde). The story of Tristan and Iseult began in Medieval poetry back in 12th Century France. (*one note, this story is more than likely what inspired the story of Lancelot, Guinevere and King Arthur’s love triangle).

It is possible that Celtic legend had influence over this tale, being that every notable country in Europe has its own version of the story. That leads me to the belief that once there may have actually been two people whose love story actually became so famous that stories would be written about them, thus securing their immortality in the written word.

There are so many variations of the tale that one could find themselves confused. I however, chose to write about just one version, the version I liked the best. In this story you find a love triangle of sorts, however it is only Tristan and Iseult who are madly in love with one another. 

Herbert Draper
As the story goes, Tristan was a Knight who was summoned to go to Ireland to fetch Iseult for his uncle the King to marry. After arriving in Ireland and escorting Iseult back towards their country they strike up a fondness for one another. During a stop in a village Iseult goes to a potion maker to find a potion to love the King she is about to marry. But after getting to know Tristan she decides to give it to him instead. She and Tristan both drank of the potion and both of them became so madly in love with the other that it was impossible for them to be apart.

After arriving back at the King’s court, Iseult marries the King but cannot rid herself of the undying affection and yearning in her heart for her Knight, Tristan. Although she has love for the King in the sense of honor and respect she cannot deny the passion in her heart for Tristan. The King loves his wife, and also cares deeply for Tristan being that he is like a son to him. Tristan loves Iseult  more than anything, but at the same time he is torn because of his love and respect for his uncle who was like a father to him. Thus, the love triangle began.

Edmund Blair Leighton
Eventually, their emotions got the best of them and they could not resist their urges to see one another.  In the cover of darkness, both Tristan and Iseult would sneak off together just to feel the others touch. As much as she wanted to respect the arrangement of her marriage to the King and for his kindness to take care of her, she could not resist the temptation to see her true love, Tristan.  As lovers usually are fools, so were the pair, and eventually the kings advisers and others in the kingdom started to figure out that there was something going on with the Queen and the Knight. 

One night the King follows Iseult on her nightly stroll, where he catches her meeting Tristan. They are both taken to the dungeon and found guilty of adultery. Tristan makes a deal with the King to spare Iseult’s life as long as he moves away and marries another. The King agrees and sends Tristan off to another area where he  is forced to marry some other woman. He is obviously still in love with Iseult, but keeps his word to leave the King and his beloved Queen alone. 

While in his new land, Tristan finds trouble and ends up getting poisoned by a lance while attempting to save a young woman who was being viciously attacked by six knights. While dying from the poison he commissions his friend to fetch his beloved Iseult, because he must see her one last time before dying.

He tells his friend that when he is sailing home to sail back with white sails if he had found and brought Iseult with him, or black sails if she did not accompany him back.  When the ship is in visual distance arriving back, Tristan’s wife (being jealous), decides to lie to him by saying the sails were black. In a last moment of grief and sorrow for knowing he would never see his love again, he took his last breathe and passed away.

Forever Intertwined
The sad thing was that as soon as Iseult learned her beloved had been hurt, she went on her way to see him as fast as she could. When she arrived and learned that he had just died moments earlier, she fell on her knees and swooned over his body, crying helplessly for her love. Her pain is so real and so intense that she couldn’t live without him. Her heart broke and she died moments later laying on top of his chest.

They were buried next to one another and on top of where their graves stood grew two individual trees, one a hazel tree, the other a honeysuckle. As the trees grew, they intertwined with one another forever connecting the two lovers. The King found out about this and ordered the branches be cut away from each other. But each time they were cut, even more grew back until it was impossible to fight. Eventually, the gardeners gave up and let the two trees be together, just as it was meant to be.

Tristan and Iseult, together, forever…..

(Copyright) 2012- Dreaming Casually by J'aime Rubio

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Origin of Halloween

Halloween- a night that millions, maybe billions of people celebrate each year, but do you know what it is you are celebrating? Many people associate Halloween to a time of fun, play and excitement. It’s a  night when you can be anyone, and sometimes get away with doing almost anything. But where did all the creepy, spooky stuff that makes up this holiday come from?


An ancient pagan festival of the dead that actually originated even further back in time by the Druids who worshiped Ba’al  a false god (or pagan god) that dates back to Ancient Babylonian and Sumerian beliefs just a few hundred years after the flood of Noah’s day. During this time the people who worshipped Ba’al offered their own children into the fire as a sacrifice to their pagan god.

Later this day was celebrated by the Celtic people of Europe, It was a time when their calendars marked the end of the Harvest and the beginning of Winter. Samhain (pronounced Saw-ween) was the most important holiday for the Celts. They believed that during that time that the souls of the dead could “cross over” to the world of the living. To appease these spirits, they offered burnt sacrifices of animals, and other organic means (vegetables, fruits, etc.)

The bonfires were then lit to keep the spirits away from the living, but also to honor them. They believed that not only ghosts but demons and nymphs and fairies were among those crossing over from the other side that night. They believed that you must trick these spirits, as they could take over your body and steal your soul, so many would disguise themselves in costumes of sorts thinking that they would fool the dead (a probable link to origins of today’s Halloween costumes).

In 601 A.D., during the time of Pope Gregory the First, in order to eradicate “paganism” in their own way, the Catholic Church decided to conform their beliefs and add to the Catholic doctrine also some pagan inspired beliefs, thinking that pagans would then convert to Catholicism. What ended up happening was that Pagan worship days then were converted into “Holy Days” that the Church had, basically intermingling two different sets of beliefs and merging into one. One good example of this holiday “merger” is that of Christmas where the Catholic Church decided to say that Jesus was born on December 25th just because it was the same day that pagans worshipped the “SUN”, so in essence they figured that people could just worship the “SON” instead. 

All Saints Day-

Originally, the “Holy Day” that Catholics celebrated as All Saints Day was not in October or November at all. In fact, the original date was on May 13. This was originally established by Pope Boniface IV, in the seventh century. But by the eight century, Pope Gregory III decided to move All Saints Day to November 1st to counter act the Pagan holiday of Samhain that fell on October 31st.  Eventually, the church started adding pagan traditions into the holy day activities and festivals, thus convoluting the very purpose of the holiday to begin with. The day of November 1st was also referred to as “All Hallows Day” leading the night before to be known as “All Hallows Eve”—later shortening it to “Hallows Eve” and even shorter to “Halloween.”

 All Souls Day-

November 2nd was a day to celebrate as All Souls Day, a festival of the dead. The purpose of All Souls Day was that during that day the living would pray on behalf of the souls left in purgatory. During that time, it was the belief that after so many prayers were said for a soul, that they would be released from the confines of purgatory and go straight to heaven. Again, these are not really Christian based beliefs, as the Bible has no mention whatsoever about purgatory or about prayers sending a soul to heaven. 


During Medieval times, people would bake little spice cakes with raisins and offer them to the children or young ones who would call on their doorsteps offering to pray for the souls of their departed loved ones. This was often referred to as “souling.” And yet, just another one of the many facets of what we know today as modern day “trick-or-treating.” However, the term “trick-or-treat” has only been around about 100 years or so, and we will get into that subject a little bit later.

Hiding Behind the Masks-

Another tradition from the past that ties into today’s Halloween was the use of masks.  In 17th century England the use of masks was one used in masquerade balls and even on such days like the infamous “Guy Fawkes Night” where the rowdiest and most destructive occurrences would happen all over the land.  Although the Puritans who later came to America tried their best to rid themselves of pagan and most intemperate habits, still many who came over to the U.S. brought along with them the desire to carry on these traditions.

Obsession With Death-

By 1833, there were historic records that show there were people at the time having parties and celebrations that mimic the Halloween we know today, to an extent.  Another dark turn for the holiday came during the Civil War, when so many young men died such tragic and horrific deaths that people then became obsessed with death. It consumed them, it was all around them at all times. It only seemed a matter of time before that macabre thinking would manifest itself in the minds of the young to start creating the “Urban Legends” or basic “Ghost Story” tales that are so famously known today. Another facet of the Halloween tradition was then added in the mix. 

Another note: The Irish and Scottish immigrants who had come to America earlier, had brought with them the ideas of the Bogey's or "Boogey Man" along with the ghost's in white sheets or shrouds haunting in the night. Over the years the addition to ideas of monsters, vampires, zombies and of course three of the biggest symbols of Halloween- the witch, the black cat and bats continued to penetrate the dark holiday, making it even more creepy.


The origin of the Jack-o’-lantern is one that comes from Gaelic traditions (English, Irish and Scottish). The stories, although there were many, all basically told that Jack tricked the Devil and made him agree into not keeping his soul. After Jack died, since he was bad, he didn’t go to Heaven- but, since the Devil made a deal not to take his soul, Jack was forced to roam endlessly in the darkness of the “in between.” So the Devil, feeling sorry for Jack, scooped up an ember from Hell and placed it in a hollowed out turnip which Jack used to light his way through the dark.  The act of carving out faces in the Pumpkin originated with the reminder of the dead by carving a face of a skull on the outside, thus the real face of a Jack-o’-lantern really does represent death.


When you think of “trick-or-treating” you think of dressing up, going door to door and asking for candy, do you not? However, the American tradition of this door-to-door activity actually started with a bribe. You see, during the Great Depression, kids didn’t have a lot to do and life was not very enjoyable. Halloween night was a night where the rowdy kids could get together and under the cover of darkness they could wreak havoc in their own neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the adults, the authorities and the community did not like the outcome of that. Kids were vandalizing homes, cars, setting fires and just plain playing practical jokes on people all night long. Some of these pranks proved deadly.

It got so out of hand that community members along with schools decided to come up with the idea to have social 'get-togethers' at Town Halls or even certain homes to keep the kids indoors. Later parents came up with ideas for “costume parties” and even later the idea of  “trick-or-treating” came along when certain homeowners would bribe the bad kids in the neighborhood with goodies in exchange for the promise they wouldn’t “prank” their houses. It caught on quick and the custom of going door-to-door for candy was then born.

So you see Halloween started as an ancient dark custom to a merged custom of pagan and Roman Catholic beliefs, then was thrust from a dark and depressing sort of holiday and made into one that many enjoy today. With that being said, one must remember that although the exterior of the Holiday may be enticing, inviting and even enjoyable, you need to remember what it is you are really celebrating. The day of Samhain is still October 31st, the day that the pagans worshipped the dead. Also remember that even before the Celts, the Druids worshipped the their ancient pagan deity Ba’al on this day as well, even going so far as to offering up their children as sacrifices to this false god. So in ending, I hope this gives you a little more insight on the origins of Halloween.

(Copyright 2012- Origins, What Does History Say) by "Dreaming Casually"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dia De Los Muertos - The Hidden History

During this time of year, many people tend to be interested in the darker more scary stories and even histories of many basic legends or folklore. Tonight, I decided to write about a common Mexican-American belief that has carried over from Mexico and into the diverse culture we find here today in America. When I research stories I find interesting, I truly do my best to work diligently for the answers. Even when I don't like what I find, I still try to make sense of it and I post it for others to become more educated about other cultures beliefs.

Dia De Los Muertos- (Day of the Dead)

The Day of the Dead, or as it is known in the Hispanic culture “Dia De Los Muertos” was a ritual practiced by the indigenous people of Mexico and South America for thousands of years prior to the encounter with the Spanish Conquistadors in 1519.  However, if you really look into it further you will see that the celebration that is practiced today, is more Catholic based than you would imagine. For being a ritual from an indigenous origin thousands of years prior to the Spanish Conquest, it sure doesn't look that way today. The origins of this celebration dates back at least three thousand years to the Aztec and Meso-American civilizations, however it seems unlikely that the way they practiced it then is as it appears in today's culture.
When the Spaniards first noticed this longstanding tradition from the native people they believed it to be an abomination and sacrilegious for their practices to honor Miccailhuitontli and Mictlatechutli.  

The Spanish immediately tried to eradicate any trace of the native people’s polytheistic beliefs, including their many traditions and rituals- as the Spanish believe they were barbaric and heathens for their "pagan" practices.

After forcing the natives to convert to the Roman Catholic Church, they destroyed temples of worship the natives have built for their gods. One in particular was a chapel for their goddess Tecuatlanopeuh which they rebuilt and blessed as a chapel to honor the Virgin Mary. The natives then began incorporating Roman Catholic idols such as Mary and combining them with that of their “Mother Goddess” Tecuatlanopeuh. It is known that the name of the “Virgin de Guadalupe” is actually more than likely a misinterpretation of the name Tecuatlanopeuh being the pronunciation of the name and "Guadalupe" is similar. This lady, "La Virgen de Guadalupe" has been long since associated as the second-coming Virgin Mary who was reported to have appeared in 1531  (note: this is the same year the story of La Llorona became known).


Skull Decorating As far as the festival of “Dia De Los Muertos” goes, carved and decorated wooden skulls were symbols of the ancient trophy skulls displayed in the ways of their ancestors.  The indigenous people believed that during the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar (August), that the souls of the dead came back from their place of rest in the afterlife. They  celebrated the lives of their lost loved ones during that time, believing that their souls had come back in a spiritual state to be close to them. Nowadays, the traditions to honor the "ancient trophy skulls" have changed into the practice of decorating "calaveras de azĂșcar," better known as "sugar skulls".

Flowers-The native people believed that their god of the dead held CempazĂșchitl (marigold flowers) sacred, thus the flower of the dead were marigolds. It was believed that the scent of the marigolds helped draw the spirits back to the land of the living. 

Face Painting- The Aztec culture believed that life on this earth was more of an illusion, thus death was just another step forward into a higher level of consciousness.The skulls represented a positive symbol, not only of death but of rebirth.

Because of this belief, the culture of Mexico has continued to merge that original belief system  with that of both societies, the indigenous people and that of the Spanish. However, remember that the Spanish did not have or want anything to do with the indigenous “pagan” practices of the native peoples and yet, today whenever you see any sort of “Dia De Los Muertos” idols, symbolism or even decorations there is always some deep rooted Catholicism mixed in with it.  

Interesting isn't it? The shrines, amulets, crosses and decor, all of which are Catholic inspired themes, would have never been something the indigenous people of Mexico would have  used. Also, remember that the Spanish didn't believe in this celebration and thought of it as sacrilegious- so do you really think they would approve of this celebration today?

So you see, the Day of the Dead's origins truly had no form of Catholic symbolism back then, as it does in today's celebrations and festivals. The indigenous people had their beliefs ripped and torn from them and forced to convert into a newly appointed "religion" and belief system that was so foreign to them, thus corrupting and diluting their original cultural belief systems and turning them into the mixed celebration we see today. 

Personally, keeping the origins in mind, one would see that the two ideas being merged into one is really something neither side would have ever accepted.-  Just something to think about....

(Copyright- 2012) J'aime Rubio

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Origin Of The Graveyard Shift

Have you ever wondered about the term "Graveyard Shift’’?

The term has come a long way from just being another time slot for laborers to come to work their shifts until dawns early light. The term has a quite unnerving and more macabre origin altogether.

In Transylvania the superstitions are so strong that still to this day many believe that the dead may come back to life as a vampire or undead creature if a stake is not driven through their hearts or their heads cut off.

Why would this superstition come to pass? Why would the myths of the undead, zombies and even vampires exist if there wasn't something that started them? Hundreds of years ago, and even thousands of years ago the medical technology was not capable to seeing when some were in a comatose state or not, thus people sometimes would be buried alive. Sadly, this attributes to the stories of people crawling out of their graves, after being buried. Remember in certain civilizations they did not embalm the bodies therefore their bodies were buried fully in tact.

Things to add to the undead and the zombie folklore may have started with the first mention of the undead creature in the fictional Sumerian story “The Epic of Gilgamesh” where it is mentioned that Ishtar cried out in a fury and stated,

"Father give me the Bull of Heaven,
So he can kill Gilgamesh in his dwelling.
If you do not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the door posts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living!"

Ancient Sumerian, Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology all originated from Ancient Babylon and their polytheistic and pagan beliefs. These beliefs included the stories of undead, demonic and even vampire like creatures which are believed to be the precursor’s to inspire the famous vampire stories made famous in the 18th century.

In the Middle Ages, the belief in a zombie like being thought of as the "Revenant" was wide spread. The belief that the souls of the dead would return to earth and haunt the living was very common, especially for those who were murdered. It was believed that they took on the form of a skeleton or a decomposing corpse and roamed the graveyard at night.

As far as the name zombie, it has nothing to do with a dead, reanimated corpse at all. In fact in Voudoo belief and lore the zombie is nothing more than a man or woman who is under the spell or control of another, basically doing the bidding of the one in control.

So how did the term graveyard shift even come to be then?

Graveyard shift comes from the time in the 1800’s when people would have one person, a night watch man sitting in the graveyard all night listening for the bell to ring.

What bell you ask?

Well you see, there were stories that when bodies had been dug up in old cemeteries to make room to bury more people in the graveyards they noticed many coffins had scratch marks from the inside of the coffin, meaning that some had been ultimately buried alive and had suffocated to death after burial.

This started a panic among many during the mid 1800’s. Writer and Poet, Edgar Allan Poe’s works, ‘The Premature Burial’, ‘ The Black Cat’ and ‘ The Cask of Amontillado’ mentioned scenarios such as being buried alive. This also caused more dread and fear during this time which actually influenced “safety coffins” to be created.

Many mention the practice of not being buried as deeply as usually, and in fact the hands of the dead would be sticking out of the ground. Then a string would be tied to the wrist of the dead person and a vast set of lines in a sort of network would tie into each other and be attached to a bell. When a certain bell would ring the night watchman would know where to run with his shovel to and dig up the buried person before they would suffocate. Some say the term "dead ringer" came from this very sort of incident, however that is just a myth. In fact, the term "dead ringer" is just another term for an exact duplicate or something that looks exactly like something else, or someone else.

Safety Coffins

In the case of the “safety coffins,” there were elaborate coffins affixed with all sorts of gadgets that would allow a motion from the body to signal an alert, raise a flag or even shoot fireworks to let the living know that they in fact buried someone who wasn’t dead. Some of these coffins were even designed with escape hatches, which would have been best used during the funeral and not so much six feet under, can you even imagine?

Although patent records show that the “safety coffins” were made and manufactured at one point there is no record of any one claiming to have purchased or used such a device, but then again…how would you know? The customers who bought them, died apparently so they couldn’t really give a review of the product.

So basically, there you have it. A quick history lesson for you today. Now you know where the mythology and superstitions first came from, how little by little anxiety and fear added to the dread of being buried alive, and how many attempted to prevent that from happening. I know a lot of people who do not want to be buried when they die, for fear of waking up buried alive. I believe a lot of this fear has to do with all of these stories and movies that have been inspired by these old macabre tales.

I don't know about you, but being buried or burned in an incinerator sounds about the same to me! Both sound equally frightening if you are alive when it happens. Thankfully with modern day technology we know that the doctors aren't going to send us to the mortuary unless we are really long gone, so don't let this story scare you. If you live in Transylvania though, I suppose it may be another story. I know one thing is for sure, I wouldn't want to be buried alive only to wake up thinking I am being rescued and find my rescuers driving a stake through my heart!

J'aime Rubio (Copyright 2011)