Great Fire of London

The 1666 Great Fire of London’s 350th anniversary was in 2016 (artistic depiction of the Great Fire in the Daily Mirror Online)

September 2, 1666 – The Great Fire of London began in a bakery in Pudding Lane near the Tower of London. Over the next three days, the fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman city wall. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants. Amazingly, only six(!) people are thought to have died in the fire.

The Great Fire started at a bakery (or baker’s house) on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight on Sunday, 2 September and spread rapidly west across the City of London. The major firefighting technique of the time was to create firebreaks by means of demolition; this, however, was critically delayed owing to the indecisiveness of Lord Mayor of London. By the time that large-scale demolitions were ordered on Sunday night, the wind had already fanned the bakery fire into a firestorm that defeated such measures. The fire pushed north on Monday into the heart of the City.

Rather than admit the fire was a tragic accident, many people wanted to blame someone. The homeless population of London, as well as Dutch or French residents, were blamed for either starting the fire or helping to spread it. (Blaming immigrants and the poor is always a popular pastime, I’m afraid!) Mobs looted the shop of a French painter and destroyed it; an English blacksmith walked up to a Frenchman in the street and hit him over the head with an iron bar.

Fire was long considered one of the four basic building blocks of the universe; all matter was thought to arise from various combinations of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Some thought fire was the most basic and fundamental of the elements. Fire was a magical, transformative element as it could melt ice, evaporate water, melt and purify metal or solder metals together, forge useless bits into weapons, or turn almost anything into something else, i.e. dust and ash. In Arabic mythology, the djinn were formed from fire and a soul, just as humans were formed from earth and a soul. Djinn were magical because fire itself was magical.

May Wine

Woodruff is associated with the planet Mars and the element of Fire.

Woodruff is associated with the planet Mars and the element of Fire.

Even if it is a few days past the end of May, there is still time to enjoy a glass or two of May wine!

May wine, a popular spring-time beverage in Germany or German-speaking areas, is made by steeping sweet woodruff in white wine. Sweet woodruff has a strong scent, which increases when the woodruff wilts. The fragrance persists as the woodruff dries, and the dried plant is used in potpourri and as a moth deterrent. Dried woodruff is also used, mainly in Germany, to flavor May wine, sweet juice punch, syrup for beer (Berliner Weisse), brandy, jelly, jam, a soft drink (Tarhun, which is Georgian), ice cream, and herbal tea. Also very popular are Waldmeister flavored jellies, with and without alcohol. In Germany it is also used to flavor sherbet powder, which features prominently in Günter Grass’s novel The Tin Drum.

Woodruff is carried by business-folk to attract wealth and prosperity or by soldiers and athletes to attract victory. Anyone who carries a bit of woodruff in a leather sachet is protected against harm, especially harmful magic or ill wishes. In astrology, Mars is the planet of energy, action, and desire. It is the survival instinct, and can be thought of as the “leftover” animal nature of man. It is this association with the planet Mars that causes woodruff to drive its bearer to success and victory and fights against the harmful magic directed against its bearer (leather being associated with soldiers’ protective “armor” in the ancient or medieval world since metal protective gear — i.e. a knight’s suit of armor — was too expensive for most peasant soldiers).

Maybe a glass or two of May Wine is just what I need to get rich or win the Olympics? Or protect myself against witchcraft and black magic? I should definitely enjoy some May Wine before selecting the numbers the next time I buy a lotto ticket!