Happy birthday to Wolfgang and Charles!

I got these Christmas tree decorations–the Red Queen, the Cheshire cat, and the White Rabbit–at the Alice in Wonderland shop in Oxford.

Happy birthday! Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg on January 27,1756 and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (later known as “Lewis Carroll”) was born in Cheshire, England on January 27, 1832. Both created famous female characters steeped in mystery and magic.

Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute features the Queen of the Night. She is first introduced as the desperate mother whose beloved daughter was kidnapped. But it ultimately appears that she is the villain of the story, who wants to steal the powerful Circle of the Sun. In many ways the Queen of the Night can be regarded as an early symbol of a free woman, given that she claims something which she regards as her legitimate heirloom, but whose property she was denied because she is a woman. She strongly resents this, and is willing to defy the patriarchal order who denies her all authority by any mean she can. She can also be regarded as a symbol of ignorance, either one who covets the Enlightenment she was denied or one who wants to destroy said Enlightenment out of intolerance.

When Dodgson was a professor at Oxford, he created the Alice in Wonderland character. She is also a free woman who sets out on her own to explore the strange alternate universe known as “Wonderland.” Both Alice and the Queen of the Night seem to depend on magic–Alice needed the bottle marked “Drink me” as well as the cookie marked “Eat me” and the Queen’s power and position is threatened by the sorcerer Sarastro–but neither seem to be completely in control of the magic they depend on.

When I’ve been to Oxford, I have seen many of the places that also appear in the Alice stories, such as the tree that the Cheshire cat sat in and the small door known as the “rabbit hole” in the dining hall. There is a small store there that features nothing but Alice-related items.

You can see great spoofs of the famous Queen of the Night aria here and here. Enjoy!

“There’s gold in them thar fleece!”

Jason returns with the Golden Fleece, shown on an Apulian red-figure calyx krater, ca. 340–330 BC

The California gold rush began on January 24, 1848 with the accidental discovery of gold in the water during the construction of Sutter’s sawmill. When President Polk announced the discovery later that year, it caused a national and international sensation and the “Forty-Niners” swooped down to begin sifting and panning for gold in the streams and rivers of California.

Gold has been associated with wealth and opulence throughout history. It is especially associated with gods and divinity and royalty. Gold coins protect people from hunger and poverty. Gold coins in the Tarot (Pentacles) deal with earthly, daily experiences related to work and endeavors that support our emotional and physical well-being.

Gold is mentioned in Greek mythology for examples as varied as King Midas, the Golden Fleece stolen by Jason which possessed the power of resurrection, and the Golden Apples of Hesperides. The Golden Apples bestowed immortality on whoever ate them. Gold has always been associated with the eternal, the unending, incorruptible and embracing powers of the divine. The color and shining quality of gold continues to be associated with the sun and the sacred masculine.

There is a fascinating connection between the Golden Fleece and the California gold rush. A widespread interpretation relates the myth of the Golden Fleece to a method of washing gold from streams, which was well attested from c. 5th century BC in the region of Georgia to the east of the Black Sea. (The myths of the Golden Fleece say that the Fleece was kept in Colchis, i.e. the modern Georgia in Eastern Europe.) Sheep fleeces, sometimes stretched over a wood frame, would be submerged in the stream and gold flecks borne down from upstream would collect in them. The fleeces would be hung in trees to dry before the gold was shaken or combed out. Collecting gold flecks from the rivers was what the Forty-Niners would do in California, often using pie pans to swirl the water in and then pour through filters–the same idea as the sheep fleeces.

Gold represents the best in us but also brings out the worst in people. Legends of Aztec and Inca gold drove the Conquistadores to seize the Native American empires. Jealousy and Greed, simmering beneath the surface of our emotions, are brought out into the open when we see someone else has something–such as gold–that we want for ourselves.

Click here to read more about folklore associated with gold.

The Fool, one of the Major Arcana of the Tarot, shows a golden sky that the pilgrim is stepping off into. He trusts that the universe will protect and shield him from exterior evil as well as from his own worst instincts.

St. Antony

Coptic icon of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the 3 angels at Mamre; dated AD 1497. An inscription along the bottom asks the Lord to remember an archpriest’s son named Antony.

My partner Elliot was recently in Egypt and brought me home a beautiful book of Coptic icons as a gift. (I took these photos from the icons in the book. So gorgeous! Thank you, Elliot!)

Although many saints from Egypt have played fundamental roles in establishing basic Christian understandings of God and Christ (such as SS. Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria in the 4th and 5th centuries), another saint from Egypt has been nearly just as important: St. Antony, the first monk to found a monastic community. His life story, written down by St. Athanasius, has been said to have been nearly as popular as the New Testament and to have had nearly as big an impact on Western civilization.

Antony was not the first monk that we know of–that was St. Paul the hermit, who also lived in the Egyptian desert. But St. Antony was the first to establish a community of monks living in the desert. (There were also communities of nuns living in cities already when he went out into the desert for the first time.) There were soon thereafter huge “cities” of monks living in the deserts of Egypt and then across the Middle East and then across Western and Eastern Europe. The monastic centers that sprang up helped preserve ancient books and civilization and philosophy as well as spread Christian theology, literature, and liturgical practice.

St. Antony is the patron saint of butchers and pig farmers. His feast day, January 17, is an important date in Come Hell or High Water, Part 1: Wellspring.

In this chapter, a young man attempts to steal donations from a church in medieval Prague but it is the parish church of the butchers’ guild. The butchers find the young man and cut off his arm and hung it near the front door of the church as a warning to anyone who would attempt to steal from the church in the future. The arm is still hanging there in St. Jakub’s church, near the Old Town Square.

Coptic icon of Apostle Peter in the Coptic Museum (Egypt).