How to Bag a Man on St. Andrew’s Day


Time’s up gentlemen. For the bandit, the scarecrow, the tramp and the hedgehog it is judgement day. It’s the end of Movember and you have show off your attempts at growing a moustache in aid of men’s health awareness.  So get those cameras out.

Overall the attempts have been excellent. Attempts – not results. One friend of mine found that his top lip can produce nothing more than the three-day stubble effect, although his beard is as full as that of Grizzly Adams. Pity beards aren’t allowed. Some cannot wait to shave them off come the 1st December, while a couple have decided that being hirsute is giving them a distinguished and manly appeal.

The last day of November is also Saint Andrew’s Day. He is the patron saint of Scotland and the first disciple Jesus chose. Coincidently, the name Andrew means ‘manly’. Bet he had no problems during Movember. He is celebrated all over the Christian world and Andressey Island, a name that has evolved from ‘Andrew’s Island’, is featured in The Prophets of Mercia. The island was named in Andrew’s honour by Saint Modwen in the 650s.

Now, I never met Saint Andrew but my guess is that he was a manly man. Not only for the value Jesus placed in him but because of the mythology and magic that his legacy has endured. In Germany,  for example, the tradition was for single women to sleep naked on the eve of Saint Andrew’s day. During the night they would dream about the man they would eventually marry. In Poland it is believed that the spirits of the forefathers visit with the purpose of opening up the minds of the single ladies and gentlemen so that they can see their future partners – if they exist.

The ritual involves pouring melted wax over a key head and then holding it up in order to cast a shadow on the wall. If the shadow resembles an angel then happiness is assured. If it is a heart then true love is on its way. Perhaps that man in your dreams the night before. If the dream was more of a nightmare, the ritual from Romania may be more appropriate: spread cloves of garlic around the house and eat a feast of garlic infused food. That way the evil spirits would be sent away. Including the man in the ‘mare who probably sported a bandit-style mo.

So my advice to the single ladies is to sleep naked tonight. Then again, it is below freezing here today and if it is where you live, give it a miss this year. After all, only a few men are at their best right now.

 Except, strangely, for the couple of men I know named Andrew.

(c) 2013 A.J. Sefton

Why St. Patrick’s Day Invokes My Fear of Red Shoes

I used to be afraid of red shoes.

​I was quite young, about six or seven, but something about the brightness of the colour red sent an almost religious fear through my budding soul. It should not be on the feet. The part of the body responsible for moving us about should not be sullied by red.

It’s not that I dislike the colour – on the contrary. I chose it as the main colour on this site after the dark background to represent the Dark Ages and the mystery of the forests. No, red is a colour of life, passion and energy. So why do I have this irrational fear?

The truth is that I don’t know. I saw someone yesterday wearing red shoes  and the immature fears emerged again. The panic fluttered in my heart. But the lady looked very nice in her co-ordinated outfit with no sign of the devil driving her forward. The good news is that I managed to conquer my fear and avoid an impromptu exorcism. Now I just experience a small panic attack.

As Saint Patrick’s Day looms, on 17 March, it set me to thinking about leprechauns. These were small magical folk from the old Celtic beliefs who, like the Anglo-Saxons, thought that elves existed and could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. The original Irish name for these figures of folklore is “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” They were known for their trickery, which they often used to protect their much-fabled treasure.

However, the link here with my red shoe thing is that their job was that of shoemaker. They mended all the shoes of the elves or fairy folk but were often grumpy. Well, who wouldn’t be doing that job. In mythology, the little people would often swindle their customers while they were trying on their shoes. So perhaps it was a leprechaun who cursed the very first pair of red shoes I tried on when I was a child. I can remember it clearly. My mother was very enthusiastic about these shiny red shoes, but I had a sudden shudder of fear. ‘No!’ I cried, ‘I need the black ones!’

And the black shoes took all my fear away.

By the way, leprechauns have no connection to Saint Patrick other than their shared link to Ireland. Like the shamrock, which was a sacred native plant symbolising rebirth, leprechauns have been adopted to celebrate all that is Irish. I have my own ways to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. I polish my shoes.

How it’s all just a Variation on the Fountain of Youth

Serums, detox, essential oils. Ah, the quest for eternal youth. I read today in the newspapers that people are reducing their use of Botox, the injected poison that removes lines by freezing muscles to leave a smooth complexion. These people have realised that after a few times of using this substance they cease to look young, merely smooth and slightly odd.

I can’t blame anyone for wanting to hold onto their youth. Not only wrinkles but creaking bones, aches and pains as well as a host of other ailments are not things anyone would desire. I think this doesn’t apply to me – until I cannot remember where I have placed my glasses, which reminds me of my failing eyesight and memory. We all wish to sup from the Fountain of Youth from time to time.

The ‘Fountain of Youth’ is a mythological spring that promises to restore youth to those who bathe or drink it. These stories have been known in all cultures and have gone back a long time. Records show that there have been tales about such springs that have existed for thousands of years in Europe, Asia and the Americas. And it was not just mankind who concerned with the search. Norse gods, who were not immortal, needed special apples to maintain youth and immortality. The Goddess Idunn supplied these until she was kidnapped by the mischievous Loki. Read about this is my book The Dark Garden – I’m just about to come up to that part.

This search for youth has been a fantastic theme and topic for storytellers, as the records show. Such tales as those about Alexander the Great and more modern ones like The Well at the World’s End by William Morris, Doctor Heidegger’s Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Magic Spring by Nami Rhee, a retelling of an old Korean folk story.

On similar theme is my favourite story and only published novel by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is a twisted version of the theme, but I like it. The story is about a young man who has his beauty and youth captured in a painting. Someone suggests to Dorian Gray that the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and hedonism. Gray sells his soul so that he may keep his beauty, but the painting changes into the face of his soul. Gray leads an immoral lifestyle and each sinful act is reflected in the painting by disfiguring his face with the aging process. A great Gothic novel. In the story, the painting becomes so grotesque that Gray hides it in the attic. I have many portraits in the attic. Fortunately they look better than I do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually make me feel any better.

Of course these myths do have fragments of truth in them. For a youthful complexion and body you need to drink and bathe in pure water, nothing that will give you a disease. Mineral water is known to be therapeutic and help with joint problems. Apples, as I discussed last month, keep the doctor away. But most of all, a good soul means that your portraits will be forever young.

Why the God of Mischief Remains Popular

The shortest month has the most birthdays, and that’s why I like to call it Cake Month as I eat so much. Actually, that was the Anglo-Saxon translation for Februray (see my previous post Why it’s Good to Eat Cake and Anglo-Saxon Calendar). In the acting world, British actor Tom Hiddleston has his birthday on the 9th. Why is he special enough to appear on my History Blog page? Simple: he has portrayed one of the most significant gods of the Dark Ages: Loki.

In the films Thor and The Avengers, Hiddleston carries the role of the god of mischief with all the charm and cunning the god himself mus have had. He is playful and often dangerous. A joker and a murderer. Shape-shifter and manipulator. Complex indeed.

Many of Loki’s talents are demonstrated on the silver screen, but the films are simply not long enough to show every aspect of the mythology. I do believe that there are many more films in the pipeline and I am interested to see how he is developed.

There was a batch of cats and dogs given the name Loki. I get that – a short, snappy name that is easy for a companion animal to respond to. I expect that a few human babies are named Loki too, but thankfully none in my social circle.

Loki was a key god in Norse mythology. There are many tales where Loki is a pivotal figure, although these vary according to the source.  However, they all agree about Loki’s part in the death of the good guy, Baldur. His mother, Frigg, arranged it so that her beautiful boy would not be harmed by anything in nature. Somehow though, this did not include mistletoe as the gods thought that it was too insignificant to harm anyone. Loki, being the naughty god, made a spear from mistletoe and placed it with other arrows for the blind god, Hod. Loki instructed Hod to to throw the spear at Baldur and Hod did so, unwittingly killing the golden boy, Baldur.

There are many similarities with Odin (Norse) or Woden (Teutonic) with some sources saying that they are half-brothers or father and son. Stories about the Norse gods have existed for more than a thousand years and continue in the guise of comic book heroes (Marvel). In these books, and more recently, films too, Loki is the adopted son of Odin and adoptive brother to Thor. Their adventures keep the wonderful mythology alive. (See my Old Gods page.)

But the enduring appeal of Loki is that he is unpredictable. A fantasy figure who has roots in the belief systems of our ancestors. To some he is as unreal a character as Superman. To others he is a glimpse of the other divine realms we may never see. A door to a new expanse of learning. Or a name for the new puppy.

Happy birthday Tom.