On Witches and Socks

According to a Christian legend, while the Three Wise Men were on their way to Bethlehem to bring gifts to the Infant Jesus, they bumped into a very old woman and asked her if she knew were the Son of God was, as they seemed to be quite disoriented. Unfortunately she didn’t know. Nevertheless, she offered them accommodation for a night, after all, she was the best housekeeper in the village, with the most comfortable home. The following day, the Three Magi tried to convince the old lady to join them to the visit to the baby Jesus, but despite their insistence, she refused, as did not feel like leaving the house, she was too busy with her housework after all.

Yet, very soon she repented for not having gone with them. She quickly prepared a basket of sweets and left the house in search for the Three Wise Men, but in vain. She stopped at every house she found along the way, giving candies to the children she met, in the hope that one of them was the baby Jesus. Since then, she goes around the world, giving presents to all children, so that she might be forgiven.The good ones will have toys, candies or fruit, while the bad ones get only coal, onions or garlic. That’s why it is tradition here in Italy to leave empty socks next to beds of children the night of the Epiphany, so that the old lady, that is actually called Befana, may fill them with presents. Befana’s iconography is a little scary, however, as she wears a dark and wide skirt, an apron with pockets, a shawl, a handkerchief or broad black hat on his head, a pair of worn slippers, all enlivened by numerous colored patches and she travels around the world flying on a broom.

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Wait, wait, wait, but if Jesus was not born on Christmas day, even the date of his revelation to the Magi cannot be that certain. Why was it fixed on the 6th of January? Even in this case a Christian tradition actually overlapped a pagan one. We have go back to Roman Mithraic rites, again. If you remember, we have already stated that originally on the 25 th of December the winter solstice was celebrated along with Mithras, the Sol Invictus. On the twelfth night after the winter solstice, that is the day of the Epiphany, the death and rebirth of nature through Mother Nature was solemnized. But why after 12 days? Because the twelve days represented the twelve months of the years, therefore, the entire natural cycle. It seems that on those days, female figures flew over the cultivated fields, to propitiate the fertility of future crops, hence the myth of the “flying” figure, the so-called Befana.

Now, I cannot but go and look for a capacious sock, and advice you to do the same, you’ll never know.ūüėú

“The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long live the Befana!”

 

 

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The Epiphany of the Magi

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eve5I guess everybody¬†is familiar with¬†the story of the¬†three Wise¬†Men¬†who had ventured to visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.¬†After a long, tiring¬†journey, the Magi seemed to have lost their way, but thanks to the help of the comet star that had lighted¬†up and pointed them the¬†right¬†direction, they eventually¬†succeeded in reaching their destination. At the end of that journey they were recompensed by the sight of the physical manifestation of the son of God on earth: Jesus. This event is called Epiphany (from the¬†ancient Greek ŠľźŌÄőĻŌÜő¨őĹőĶőĻőĪ, epiphaneia: manifestation, striking appearance), that¬†is, a moment of a sudden revelation.

eve4Actually this narration may have another symbolical interpretation, as¬†the journey of the¬†Magi may also represent the crisis of¬†the modern age, where¬†men, as modern Magi, seem to have lost many of their certainties and desperately need a focus, represented by the divine illumination of the comet, to direct them to that¬†truth they¬†need to give meaning to their hollow lives.¬†James Joyce¬†makes his alter ego Stephen Daedalus lecture on the¬†nature of epiphanies during a discussion with his friend Cranly on Aquinas’¬†s interpretation of beauty. An¬†epiphany¬†is¬†” a sudden spiritual manifestation”¬†which may¬†be provoked by¬†“the vulgarity of speech or a gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself” (from Stephen Hero), it is a moment of claritas that¬†leads to the truth, the quidditas, as Aquinas would say.

Joyce experimented the epiphanetic kind of writing especially in his early production and particularly in Dubliners to abandon it gradually. In Dubliners each character experiences one or more epiphanic moments, but Joyce seems to say that this is not enough to awake them from the state of paralysis that dominates their minds, therefore being unable to change their lives and reverse the routines that hamper their wishes, they are all destined to fail.

eve2For example¬†the protagonist of Eveline, one of the short stories included in Dubliners, has the chance to radically change her life, but she hesitates¬† She has been sitting at the windows for hours till the night “invades” her soul, forcing her to take a decision. Time is running out: should she leave that night with her lover and re-create a new life in Buenos Aires or should she just keep on looking after her family as she had promised her mother? Happy and sad memories fill her mind and contrasted feelings as well, till she hears a “melancholy air” that reminds her¬†of the very last moments she was at her mother’s deathbed. Everything becomes clear. She suddenly understands that she has to abandon any hesitation and escape(claritas) if she doesn’t want to end up miserably like her mother (quidditas). She must go away.

eve3But when Eveline arrives at the docks, all her determination fades away.¬† The illuminated ship¬†that would take¬†her to Buenos Aires is only a black mass for her (claritas)¬†¬†and the joyful whistle of the boat¬†becomes a mournful lament (claritas). She feels that if she left, the sea would engulf her(claritas), therefore overwhelmed by a paralyzing fear she refuses to leave (quidditas) and prefers a hopeless present to a hopeful, even if uncertain, future.¬†She just couldn’t do it.

Epiphany

epiphany2

I guess everybody¬†is familiar with¬†the old story of the¬†three Wise¬†Men¬†who had ventured to visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.¬†After a long, tiring¬†journey, the Magi seemed to have lost their way, but they eventually¬†succeeded in reaching their destination thanks to the help of the comet star that had lighted¬†up and pointed them the¬†right¬†direction. At the end of that journey they were recompensed by the sight of the physical manifestation of the son of God on earth: Jesus. This event is called Epiphany (from the¬†ancient Greek ŠľźŌÄőĻŌÜő¨őĹőĶőĻőĪ, epiphaneia: manifestation, striking appearance), that¬†is a moment of a sudden revelation. We can actually¬†give that narration a non-religious interpretation, as¬†the journey of the¬†Magi may also well represent the crisis of¬†the modern age, where¬†men seem to have lost¬†all their certainties and desperately need a focus, represented by the divine illumination of the comet, to direct them to that¬†truth they¬†need to give meaning to their uncertain lives.¬†James Joyce¬†makes his alter ego Stephen Daedalus lecture on the¬†nature of epiphanies during a discussion with his friend Cranly on Aquinas’ interpretation of beauty.¬†An¬†epiphany¬†is¬†” a sudden spiritual manifestation”¬†which may¬†be provoked by¬†“the vulgarity of speech or a gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself“(from Stephen Hero), it is a moment of claritas that¬†leads to the truth, the quidditas, as Aquinas would say.¬†Joyce experimented the epiphanetic kind of writing¬†especially in his¬†early production and particularly in Dubliners¬†to abandon it gradually. In¬†Dubliners each character experiences one or more epiphanic¬†moments, but Joyce seems to say that this is not enough to awake them from the state of paralysis that dominates their minds, they are all destined to fail.¬†Eveline, for example, the very night she has to leave with her lover, hears an air that reminds her¬†of the last day her mother was alive. She suddenly understands that she has to abandon any hesitation and escape(claritas) if she doesn’t want to end up miserably like her mother(quidditas). When Eveline arrives at the docks, ¬†the illuminated ship¬†that would take¬†her to Buenos Aires for her is¬†a black mass (claritas)¬†¬†and the joyful whistle of the boat¬†becomes a mournful lament (claritas),¬†she feels that if she left the sea would engulf her(claritas), therefore overwhelmed by a paralyzing fear she refuses to leave (quidditas) and prefers a hopeless present to a hopeful, even if uncertain, future.¬†She just couldn’t do it.