Monday, December 30, 2013

A brief history of the celebration of Christmas



Introduction
Celebrations in mid winter predate Christian times by millennium and whilst Christmas became a Christian festival many of the original superstitions of pagan times are still observed. The following presentation is but a brief introduction to the topic.

The Egyptians
Celebrations at mid winter predate Christian times by millennium and whilst Christmas became a Christian festival many of the original superstitions of pagan times are still observed. Four thousand years ago, the Egyptians (3110- 30BC) celebrated the rebirth of the sun with a festival that lasted 12 days to reflect the 12 divisions in the sun's calendar. Evergreens were cherished because they symbolized the season to come. Using palms with 12 shoots to represent a complete year they decorated their houses with greenery in a similar way to what we do now.

The Zoroastrian Tradition
The Babylonians (1750- 529 BC) celebrated renewal of the year and the same festivities were later adopted by the Persians (529BC - 637AD). Persian New Year and was one of the seven most important festivals in the Zoroastrian tradition. Special food was prepared for the feasts that followed and singing and gift giving during the winter solstice became an established practice. December 25th was the day to honour the harvest god, Saturn, and Mithras, the god of light as far back as 336 AD.

The Festival of Saturn
In Roman times people decorated their homes with greenery but the usual order of the year was suspended and grudges and quarrels forgotten. Wars were interrupted or temporarily set aside and merriment of all kinds prevailed. The Festival of Saturn (Saturnalia) was the Roman mid-winter ‘festival of misrule.’ Thought to have started in Persia the custom temporarily subverted social order during festivals. Subsequently masters and slaves exchanged places. The same practice continued throughout the Middle Ages during other festivals such as The Festival of Fools.

Saturn and Mithras
The 25th December was used by pagans to honour the harvest god, Saturn and Mithras, the god of light. Pagans prepared special food, decorated their homes with greenery, and joined in singing and gift giving. After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the celebrations and customs became part of the Christian way.

Festival of the Dead (Samahain)
According to Celtic myth Lugh, the Sun God was defeated by his dark side and become the Lord of Misrule. Good folk needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. Samhain was the great gathering of the clans and if you watched The Highlander film or TV series you will of heard of the Great Gathering. Well there was such an event and it took place in the mid winter. Samhain was celebrated on three levels. It was a time of plenty as the live stock were returned from the hills before the severe winter ahead; it was a time of great kinship, as the hill dwellers came to the gathering; and was the time of year when the darkness of night prevailed over the lightness of the day.

The Festival of Light
In pre-Christian times, Samhain was an unreal time, when one year turned into another. A twilight zone where the spirits of the dead and those not yet born, walked freely among the living. Halloween or the beginning of the Festival of the Dead and Hogmanay , the end as beginning of the New Year. Many rituals and superstitions from that time still prevail and are incorporated into modern Christmas customs. Christmas was called the Festival of Light in the Western or Latin Church. Lighting candles and lamps helped return the light and warmth as well as chasing away the spirits of darkness.

The Birth of Christ
History shows that December 25 was popularized as the date for Christmas, not because Christ was born on that day, but because it was already popular in pagan religious celebrations as the birthday of the sun. Fixing of the date as December 25th was a compromise with paganism. Christmas was not observed in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, until about 300 years after Christ's death. In 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals.

A famous proponent of this practice was Pope Gregory the Great, who, in a letter written in 601 C.E. to a Christian missionary in Britain, recommended that local pagan temples not be destroyed but be converted into churches, and that pagan festivals be celebrated as feasts of Christian martyrs.

Christmas Day
Christians celebrated Christmas Day since 336AD and the earliest known Christmas Day celebration in England was in the city of York in AD 521 by King Arthur. By the twelfth century Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe. The obsolete feasts of antiquity were gradually adapted to the main events of the life of Christ. This was probably done to attract more followers. In retrospect it is very difficult to separate occult beliefs and the sacred doctrine since they have become complexly intertwined. Although merriment and religious devotion were not associated in the early church, ultimately they were incorporated due to political pressures.

The Three Wise Men
In the Scriptures, Mathew described the peripheral events of the birth which have been systematically embellished by the faithful. According to Mathew 2:1

‘Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men (Magi) from the east of Jerusalem.’

There is no mention in the Scriptures of the Wise Men being Kings; nor were they named. These details were left to wide interpretation which was possibly done for the best ‘political’ reason as the Gospels were spread. For instance if the Wise Men were Kings then this would obviously unite the populous from various geographical locations i.e. Balthazar was the king of Arabia; Gaspar (or Casper) the king of India; and Melchior was the king of Persia. There is no confirmation of the way the Wise Men travelled to Jerusalem albeit Mathew wrote they had navigated by following a star. Chinese Christians believe at least one of the Magi came from China and cite anecdotal evidence about Liu Shang, the chief astrologer during the Han dynasty. Liu Shang discovered a new star the Chinese called the "king star" - which became associated with the birth of a new king. According to contemporary reports the astrologer was absent from the China’s imperial court for almost two years shortly after he discovered the star. Some Chinese Christians believe it is possible Liu Shang travelled the Silk Road to Bethlehem.

Unlike the modern interpretation of the Christmas Nativity, it appears only shepherds were present immediately after the birth and the Magi did not arrive until the Twelfth Day. Dedicated followers of the Scriptures commemorated this event with the exchange of gifts on the 6th January.

Nativity Scene
Most of the nativity scenes were painted in the 15 & 16th centuries and Christmas cards depicting them becoming popular only in the 19th centuries.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
To promote universal celebration of Christ's birth the main churches eventually agreed to accept Twelve Days of Christmas. In the Western Church this ran from Christmas Day until Epiphany, (January 6th). Some believers consider the first day of the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on the eve of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). Eastern Orthodox Christians use a different religious calendar and celebrate Christmas on January 7th. They observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th. In the Western church, Epiphany (Three Kings Day) is usually celebrated as the day the Wise Men (or Magi) arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). In Spain this is known as la Fiesta de Reyes, el Dia de los Tres Reyes, or el Dia de los Reyes Magos and in Holland, Driekoningendag.

Traditionally at the end of the Twelve Days a feast was held and gifts were given. People ate cake (King Cake) and drank alcohol on Twelfth Night. King cake is still used as part of the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras. Once December 25th became acknowledged as the main festival day, then exchanging gifts became part of the celebration. As the Twelfth Day marked the end of the Christmas celebrations then all Christmas decorations required to be removed from the house otherwise misfortune would follow.

Puritans banned Christmas
In 1644 the English Puritans forbid any merriment or religious services by Act of Parliament. This was on the grounds that it was a heathen practice, and ordered Christmas to be kept as a fasting day. Charles II revived the feast, but the Scots adhered to the Puritan view and did not celebrate Christmas for several centuries.

Modern Christmas
Modern Christmas was introduced in Victorian Times. Queen Victoria spent long holidays with her German relatives and always enjoyed the decorated the mid winter festivals. She particularly loved the Christmas Tree and insisted in having one in Buckingham Palace where she and Prince Albert decorated it for the Royal children. The Royal couple were so popular loyal subjects took to the custom and every home had one. Initially they were decorated with flags of the Empire but when Woolworth's offered coloured lights, these were used instead. In the Royal household of Queen Victoria this custom was observed throughout the twelve days of Christmas. These sentiments are very similar to the cheer promoted in the greeting of today's Christmas cards.

Scottish Christmas
Christmas was banned in Scotland after the Reformation and Presbyterian ministers visited their flock to check they had no festive foods in the house. The Scots rejected the celebration of Christmas because there was no reference to it in the New Testament. Christmas was just another day with faint echoes of bonfire ceremonies, more related to pagan sun worship than celebrating the birth of Christ. Many viewed the English celebration as an attempt by the English to emulate Hogmanay. Others viewed it, as a time for Victorian ‘do good’ers’ to exercise charity to the less privileged. Christmas in Scotland did not become a public holiday until 1958.

Colonial Christmas
At first Christmas was a time for colonists to link with their homes and families. Scottish tea planters in the east ate plum puddings and turkey dinners long before their relatives gave recognition to Christmas Day. The first official Christmas celebrated in Australia was Dec 25, 1788 at Sydney Cove. No Christmas cheer was shown to the prisoners on that day with the exception of Michael Dennison who had been sentenced to 200 lashes. In the spirit of the season the prisoner was given 150.

The Christmas Tree
The origins of the Christmas tree come from Germany when St Boniface was converted to Christianity. After he came upon a group of Pagans worshipping at an oak tree he cut it down and when a fir tree sprung up from the roots this was taken as a sign. By the 16th century fir trees were brought into the home and it is reputed Martin Luther was the first person to decorate the tree with candles. The lights which decorate the Christmas tree is a remnant of paganism.

The Electric Christmas Tree
German settlers are thought to have taken the decorated trees to North America when they emigrated. In the early 1800s when the first lit tree was erected outside a church, many parishioners protested because they felt the action was pagan. The introduction of electricity meant it was much safer to illuminate the tree. Soon ever town community council had civic displays, all trying to compete with each other.

Tree Decorations
Horns and bells were traditionally used to decorate the trees, the purpose of which was to frighten away evil spirits. Later these ornaments took on a Christian message i.e. heralding the birth of Christ. Originally fairy like figures were used on the trees but later these became angels. The origins of tinsel relate to the time when Europeans let their animals into the house. This was done because the birth of Christ took place in a stable. The story goes women did not want spiders in their homes, but when a spider spoke to the baby Jesus, he was allowed to go to the Christmas tree on the night before Christmas. By morning his web had turned to silver with the rising sun. A spider's web on the Christmas tree is thought to be a sign of good luck.

Carols (songs of joy)
Families sang carols (songs of joy) and clapped their hands to keep warm. The custom started in England and most carols were written in the nineteenth century. These scenes were depicted graphically in the works of Charles Dickens’. For the first eight years of the author’s life it snowed in London. This was quite unusual but clearly left a lasting impression with scribe.

Christmas Fayre
The English enjoyed Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day whereas many European countries feast on Christmas Eve . It is thought King Henry VIII may have been the first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas although goose was the predominant roast until the Victorian era. For Catholics fish pie became popular after the Reformation and later ham also enjoyed common. Wartime rationing meant sausages became common Christmas far. Post war rising cost of goose saw chickens and turkey rise in popularity sealed with the introduction of freezers. Christmas pudding dates from medieval England.

The Yule Log
The pagan festivals which predated Christianity included many superstitions which eventually became part of the Christmas tradition. The Yule log was a Norse custom and burning of the Yule was a celebration of the sun during the winter months. Most ancient superstitions surrounding Yuletide were concerned with the darkness and the evil it was thought to harbor. Many superstitious people keep a piece on the log from the previous year, as a lucky talisman. According to tradition it was extremely unlucky for a barefooted woman or a squint eyed man to see the yule log; and a flat footed visitor to the house whilst the log was burning was a very bad omen. The log has subsequently influenced other Christmas traditions including desserts such as log shaped cakes.
The Evil Eye is well documented in occult culture. Keeping Christmas cake or the remains of the Yule Log under the bed was also thought to help get rid of chilblains.

Yule logs were traditionally burnt during the winter festival and the ashes and embers were kept for good luck for the following year. It was a very bad omen if the Yuletide embers were touched by either a flat footed woman or a man with a turn in his eye.

Christmas Crackers
Christmas crackers were an attempt to make a log shaped novelty similar to the Yule log. At first sugar almonds and love messages were placed on the table then when the 'snap' was invented, the now familiar cracker was introduced. Instantly these became popular with families and were used in all manner of celebrations. Later these became exclusive to Christmas.

Christmas Cards
The first Christmas card was printed in England in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole, director of The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, became weary of hand penning Christmas greetings and commissioned illustrator John Callcott Horsley to design a printable card. The card caused an uproar. Henry Cole’s Christmas card cost one shilling, a week’s pay in the 1800s. The postal act of 1840 brought about the penny post, which allowed mail to be sent anywhere in England for a penny. Cards became even more popular in the UK when they could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny - half the price of an ordinary letter.

Religious themed Christmas cards were popular.

Christmas Gifts
An old English saying was "If you do not give a new pair of shoes to a poor person at least once in your lifetime, you will go barefoot in the next world."

This belief may be the reason why Christmas gifts were exchanged by the middle classes so as to avoid poverty. In any event many people gave presents to the poor and miniature shoes became popular gifts for good luck from the 18th century onwards. One reason why miniature shoes were given instead of the real thing might be because superstitious people believe if you give a friend a new pair of shoes then they were sure to walk away from you. Wearing new shoes on Christmas Day was also thought, by many, to bring bad luck. The traditional Greece custom of burning old shoes during the Christmas season to prevent misfortunes in the coming year shares a rationale with the belief the shoe contains the spirit of the wearer and foul smells repel evil.

Mistletoe
In pagan times, mid winter was always associated with spirits and monsters that were on the prowl. During the Feast of the Dead (Hogmanay) Druid priests cut down mistletoe which grew in sacred oaks with golden sickles. These were used medicinally and helped infertility.

Trolls , Kallikantzartoi and Julenisse
Many European cultures have mythical creatures who do mischievous things to the unsuspecting at Christmas time . The origins are probably pre Christian and relate to the Festival of the Dead.

In Sweden it was believed evil trolls roamed the countryside between cockcrow and daybreak on Christmas Day.

In Greece there are wicked elves called Kallikantzaroi. In order to keep them from causing trouble in the house traditionally a large log called a skakantzalos (Yule Log) was burnt. Sometimes old shoes were burnt in the hope the smell would keep the wicked elves away. Greek children born on Christmas Eve or Christmas day were often feared to be Kallikantzaroi and as a precaution all children born within the Christmas festival were bound in braids of garlic or straw and their toenails singed.

In Scandinavia, the Julenisse are little people who live outside but during the winter festivities sneak indoors to cause mayhem. The elves are practical jokers and do mischievous things like hide shoes, or blow out candles. To avoid their attentions it is important to leave out a bowl of rice pudding and if they are kept happy then the children of the house find the occasional treat or lost coin. Julenisse wear woolen clothes with red caps, and long red stockings and wooden clogs.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jews and Shoes

There is no surviving artefacts or descriptions of Jewish shoes from the period of the early Bible (Nahshon 2008 p2). However footwear does hold an important significance to early Israelites. According to the Scriptures, God gave man a ‘coat of skins’ to wear.

"...Unto Adam and also unto his wife did the Lord God make clothes of skin and clothe them..." (Genesis 21:3). Once the Hebrews acquired the art of tanning they used thick hide for sandals. The Biblical sandal was either leather or wooden footboards held to the foot with finer leather thongs Nahshon (2008).

The lyric in the Song of Songs (circa 900 BCE ) confirms sandals were worn by the high born.

"How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince's daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman's hands.” (Song of Songs 7:1).

One of the earliest known depictions appears on the Assyrian Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (circa 841 BCE) and depicts Jehu (son of Omri) bringing a tribute the Assyrian king. Jehu is prostrating himself in homage and is depicted wearing up-turned pointed shoes. These were fashionable with Assyrian royal families and may not be representative of ordinary shoes worn by Jews.

By the 8th century BCE concerns were expressed by elders as to the irreverence of decorated elevated sandals worn by young women. (Isaiah 3 16-20).

Later during the period of captivation in Egypt, Jewish slaves were taught the craft of Egyptian sandal making and took the trade with them. The fleeing slaves were wore sandals (Ex 12:11).

"This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD.”

According to the Holy Scriptures Moses wore shoes when he approached the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:5).

"Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground."

This was repeated again, at the confirmation of Joshua as the new Moses.

'And the captain of the LORD's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot: for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.'
Josh 5:15
Possibly the first shoe miracle to be described was n Deuteronomy 29:15

“During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.”
Hence forth footwear and bare feet took on major symbolic significance in the Jewish religion. These are seen in the Torah , (Laws of Moses) and the Shulchan Aruch, (Code of Jewish law) which was written in the 16th century. Every day event were to be seen as something to worship the glory of God including putting on sandals. The Jewish laws prescribed the order in which you put them on. The right went on first followed by the left. (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:4). The left shoe was to be tied firs and the whole process reversed when taking the shoes off (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:5). It is thought this custom was based on the belief the right side was more important than the left and subsequently the right foot should not remain uncovered while the left was covered. Shoes were tied from the left because knotted teffilin was worn on the left arm. This refers to the children of Israel being out of Egypt as an act of God. When walking outdoors, Jews were required to cover the entire body including their feet (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:6). By the end of the first century CE shoes were considered an item of sensuousness, comfort, luxury and pleasure. Rabbi Akiva (ca.50–ca.135 CE) instructed his son Joshua not to go barefoot.

In the Talmud (200CE – 500 CE) (Shabbat 129a) it declared "A person should sell the roof beams of his house to buy shoes for his feet, " which if taken literally would again underline the importance of footwear in the Holy Land. Scholars and thise well versed in Jewish Law (Talmid Chacham) were never to go out wearing shabby or worn out shoes. Much later the Kabbalists considered the body as "the shoe of the soul," to protect it during its journey in the physical world.

According to Nahshon (2008) the primodial connection of the naked or semi naked foot to the land became an important element of Israel’s Zionist pioneer culture. Walking barefoot symbolically intimated one of three states: the lack of social status, an act of humility, or reference to the Divine. A common punishment or judgment was being forced to go without shoes.

'At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.'
Is 20:2

Captives went barefoot and their footwear was often taken as a trophy.
'And the men which were expressed by name rose up, and took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them, and shod them.'
2 Chron 28:15

The Jewish custom of not wearing shoes was also taken as a show of remorse, penance or mourning (Book of Isaiah 20:2). In Talmudic times both the pall bearers and the mourners went barefoot. When David was in mourning he went barefooted.

'And David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and went as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot'
2 Sam 15:30

Jewish Law determined wearing leather shoes was not permitted during the period of the seven days of mourning (shiva,). For practical reason when shoes were allowed the custom was to place a little earth or pebble in the shoes to remind the wearer that they are in mourning. Jews are buried in a shroud covering the feet and the corpse id never dressed in leather shoes.
In the laws of halitzah when a married man died childless and leaving an unmarried brother, the brother was obligated to marry his widowed sister-in-law. This was called a levirate marriage and was primarily to continue the family linage.Deuteronomy (25:5-9); and Book of Ruth 3:4. If the brother in law refuses to marry the widow a ceremony involving the halitzah shoe was undertaken. The shoe worn on the right foot of the male was made from the skin of a kosher animal. It was like a moccasin made of two pieces and sown together with leather threads with long ties. The widow places her left hand on the brother in laws calf, then undoes the laces with her right hand before removing the shoe from his foot. She then throws it to the ground, and spits on the ground in front of him. The beth din then recites the formula releasing all obligations. Here the shoe is a symbol of transaction and reference is made in Biblical times to shoes and sandals being used to seal bargains.

Footnote
Human beings intrinsically used their bodies (or parts there of) as physical measurement of the known universe and so it would see perfectly logical to extend this to describe all human endeavours. The idea our ancestors described the universe with reference to the human body would give credence to the argument when describing faith there would be a head of a religious order; and feet, or the foundation of followers. This would translate into concrete iconoclasts as found in talisman of faith e.g. Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro. The absence of sophisticated transport in Biblical Times required walking as the primary means to spread the Gospel. By implication this would necessitate healthy feet and encourage protection of them. No surprise, perhaps to find reference to feet and sandals became closely associated with evangelism within in the New Testament.

References
Nahshon E 2008 Jews and shoes Berg Oxford.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The curious custom of ceremonial foot washing

The first thing God said to Moses was ‘take off your shoes’
"Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Exodus 3: 5, 6.
The significance of bare feet to Judo Christian believers is profound and they are not alone for other religions also hold bare feet in high regard. Why remains a mystery. Certainly in Biblical Times shoes and sandals made from animal skins were difficult to clean and in agricultural societies likely to become caked in dirt. The emblems of filth were left outside homes and temples but bare feet also required to be purified and this responsibility fell usually to the lowest house servant. Having the feet bathed signified the status of an honoured guest and foot washing was considered as an honour or service and became a common Jewish custom at formal banquets. Foot washing took place either on arrival or before the feast. In the New Testament there are two accounts of the feet of Jesus being washed by women. In John 12 1-3, "Mary" sister of Lazarus washes the feet of Jesus. This takes place at a feast and Mary takes perfumed oil (nardin), and greases the feet of Christ before wiping them dry with her hair. In the second account, Luke 7:36-48, unnamed women (thought to be a prostitute) washes his feet after he dines in the house of Simon, a Pharisee. She bathes the feet in perfumed oil, and, while she is washing his feet she weeps with her tears rolling onto the feet. She then dries his feet with her hair. Bathing feet in oil was also taken as a prospect of wealth. Most experts recognize this humble action was a deliberate act of humility and mark of respect.

At the Last Supper however Jesus subverts the ceremony by washing the feet of his disciples. Despite their protestation he reminds his devotees of the significance of foot washing. (John 13:1-17)

14. "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also
ought to wash one another’s feet.
15. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done
to you.
16. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his
master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.
17. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."

Theologians believe Christ's action demonstrated service rather than status represented greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven. This action prepared his disciples (and their converts) to walk in the path of righteousness.

Christians adopted the Hebrew foot washing ceremony and in some religious faiths this is still considered as one of the three ordinances (sacrament) i.e. baptism, the Lord's Supper, and foot washing. Foot washing acts as a renewal of baptism and commitment to living God's way of life. Foot washing is still practised in one form or other throughout the world on the Thursday before Good Friday.

Popes, religious leaders, and monarchs have all honoured the commitment to faith and humanity. Ceremonial foot washing usually involved marking the toe with blood or oil to symbolize either consecration or the cleansing of the entire person. This type of ritual was considered important before entering God's house. In the UK the ceremony was often accompanied with the distribution of alms in the form of food and drink, clothes and money. Until 1689 monarchs personally washed the feet of poor people. In the reign of William & Mary (1689-1702), foot washing was replaced by specially minted coins, called Monday Money. To this day the custom is still celebrated on the day before Good Friday. Her Majesty the Queen distributes specially minted money to the poor. A man and woman are chosen to represent each year of the monarch's life and given the special coins in a church. The specially minted coinage is worth much more than its face value.

Proskunew is an ancient Persian custom and involves kneeling and putting the face to the ground. Sometimes kissing the ground is part of the custom. It too was considered an act of submission, respect, gratitude, supplication, neediness, and humility and was used on all sorts of occasions. The custom is thought to have originated as a non-verbal greeting where men of equal rank would kiss each other on the lips. An inferior kissed his superior on the cheeks, and where one was much less noble rank than the other, he fell to the ground in homage. It became ritualized at the oriental courts, and according to rank, visitors would prostrate themselves, kneel in front of, bow for, or blow a kiss to the king. In days gone by there may have been practical reasons for blowing a kiss as halitosis was thought to be common. When Alexander the Great (327) spread his empire to incorporate others lands he naturally took his countrymen (now Iran) to serve at his court. As ruler supreme he commanded all subjects showed respect in his presence and that of his representatives. Conquered people like the Greeks despised the thought of prostration, bowing or kneeling, to anyone other than their Gods. However, proskynesis continued to be practiced at the courts of his successors and remnants remain today. We still bow for kings and queens. By the time of the Old Testament the custom had passed in judicial behaviour and when an accused was brought before the judge, he lay prostate. If found guilty, the judge would place his foot on their neck. If innocent the judge would stoop over and lift their face with his hand. To the Hebrew lifting the face was a declaration of innocence in a judicial, proceeding. When Muslims bow towards Mecca this is another reference to proskynesis and by contrast the posture of early Christian worship was standing.

According to Brasch (1989), kissing the feet was a gesture of homage and deference, far removed from its erotic roots. Millions of pilgrims with loving pressure have worn down the feet of the statue of Saint Paul in Rome with their lips. At the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire it was the custom for the faithful to kiss the right hand of the Papal Father. In the eighth century, a rather passionate woman took liberties and according to legend, the Pope cut off his hand in disgust. The custom of kissing the Pope’s right foot was adapted as more appropriate. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) had kings and churchmen kiss his feet. Today the act of homage involves kissing the Pontiff’s right shoe. Lips are aimed at the cross-depicted on the shoe. This is either taken as a tribute to his authority or the simulation of servitude.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Patron Saints of Feet

Whilst much of the original meaning may be lost to antiquity and what remains, compounded unfathomly by a myriad of interpretation of the faithful, there remains no doubt the importance the foot and shoe metaphor has played in the Holy Scriptures. Whether by chance or coincidence Christians would protect the feet by the patronage of the holy. Two Saints champion the legs and feet, St Peter (The Apostle) -The Feast of Peter and Paul is June 29th; and Servatus (Servaas, Servatius or Servais). His memorial day is 13 May. Servatus is frequently depicted as a bishop with three wooden shoes.

From early antiquity it would appear, metaphoric reference to feet was an important form of communication in both symbols and language. Despite this, to date, there has been an absence of academic scrutiny to explain this phenomenon. Through the centuries, a plethora of meaning has been attached to the simple metaphor, but which gave greater association to them in the New Testament as the means to the spread of the Gospels. This may, in part, reflect the transition from rural culture and custom of the Old Testament to urbanization and citizenship as reflected when the New Testament was written. Certainly Christians' evangelical need to travel on the path of righteousness would require healthy feet and necessitate the need to take care of them. This would entail protecting them both literally as well as metaphysically. Importance of feet and their association with commitment to faith remains in modern religions. Albeit, the origins for most of the faithful remain clouded. True meaning has probably been lost within translations and the plethora of interpretation made by the devout, yet despite this, feet metaphors remain popular within common English vernacular and can describe human behaviour from the cradle to the grave. The origins of which appear to have derived, or are at least have been reflected, within the Holy Scriptures.

In the beginning was - the feet!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Origins of the Red Carpet

Ceremonially, rolling out of the Red Carpet metaphorically represents the following the path of righteousness.


'your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.'
Psalms 119: 105 NIV



In the Old Testament nimble footedness was an image applied to a life of righteousness and obedience to God. Fleet of foot metaphorically guaranteed treading the path of righteousness and giving thanks to God for sure footedness was accepted. This meant there was value given to feet being ambulant.



'Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.'
Ps 17:5



God's providence was said to guard the feet of his saints.


'He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for the strength shall no man prevail.'
1 Sam 2:9



The feet of the faithful, were also the concern of the Lord.

'They shall bear thee up in their hands , lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.'
Psalms 91: 13-15



Reference was made to the path as well was as walking on level ground.


'My foot standeth in an even place: in the congregations will I bless the Lord.'
Ps 26:12


'Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.'
Prov 4:26


'And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way ; but let it rather be healed.'
Heb 12:13



Open blessing were requested in prayers that feet would not stray.


'Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way.'
Ps 44:18


'I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.'
Ps 119:101


'An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief.'
Prov 6:18



Nor rush into sin.


'He that is`ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.'
Job 12:5


'Let not the foot of pride come against me, and let not the hand of the wicked remove me.'
Ps 36:11


'For thou has delivered my soul from death : wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?'
Ps 56: 13


'For thy feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.'
Prov 1:16


'Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity ; wasting and destruction are in their paths.'
Is 59: 7


'They have loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the Lord doth not accept them ;'
Jer 14:10



In the New Testament feet were not, by themselves, endearing. They were but an integral part of the human body of no more or less importance than any other. However it would be accurate to note the feet were used as a metaphor in the Holy Scriptures more frequently than other parts of the body.


'If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body ; is it therefore not of the body?'
1 Cor 12:15


'And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee : nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.'
1 Cor 12:21



Strong emphasis was placed on the strength of feet to spread the gospel.


'The Messiah will guide feet into the way of peace.'
Luke 1:79



When the message was rejected the bearers of the gospel were to shake the dust off their feet as a sign of protest and refuse to have anything to do with the place.


'And whoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of the house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.'
Matthew 10:14


'But they shook off the dust of their feet against them , and came unto Iconium.'
Acts 13: 51