Monthly Archives: October 2004

More about the Island of Buyan

As my long-time readers know, I first discovered the mysterious Russian island of Buyan through the Tanya Grotter books. Her school, the Tibidox School for Troubled Wizards, is on that island; its obvious English equivalent would be Avalon.

But as the ever valuable Sunbirds site tells us, the Isle of Buyan is traditionally the home of all sorts of things. From the constant references to the place in song, story, and spell, the gods lived there and so did the North, East, and West Winds and the bogatyr (hero) brothers Usinya, Gorinya, and Dubinya. (Who also appear in Tanya Grotter.) Toska (Longing or Melancholy) lived there. Sometimes it was portrayed as the home of angels and saints, or even God Himself. There were also many strange and mighty things: the stone Alatyr, which was warm, bright-colored, and the hardest thing on Earth; the King of Birds, Strafil; the King of Beasts, Indrikh; Kit the Whale, mother of all fishes and foundation of moist Mother Earth; and the Book of the Dove, which is hundreds of feet wide and thick, which nobody can open, but which once told a wise king that the universe is God’s robe. The really informative thing is that the island’s name means “unruly”, in the sense of wind-tossed.

We’ve already talked about Pushkin’s prologue to Ruslan and Ludmila, in which he claims to have visited Buyan. Here’s another translation of the prologue, and a translation of his Tale of Tsar Saltan, which includes Buyan in passing, as it were.

In the Frog Princess version of the story, Koshchei the Deathless keeps his death on the Island of Buyan on the point of a needle inside an egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, inside a chest buried underneath a large oak tree. Which might be the sea-oak, I suppose.

The Fisherman and His Wife lived on Buyan, too.

Here are some pictures of Buyan, as well as portraits of Gorinya, Usinya, and the god Veles.

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Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum;
or, Why Banshee’s Going to Hellllll!

I gotta learn Aramaic. Hebrew, too.

(No, that’s not why I’m going to Hell. That comes later.)

See, I was over at Catholic Answers reading some of their pamphlets on the Sacraments. And in the one on “Christ in the Eucharist”, they included an interesting little tidbit.

As Fr. John A. O�Brien explains, “The phrase �to eat the flesh and drink the blood,� when used figuratively among the Jews, as among the Arabs of today, meant to inflict upon a person some serious injury, especially by calumny or by false accusation. To interpret the phrase figuratively then would be to make our Lord promise life everlasting to the culprit for slandering and hating him, which would reduce the whole passage to utter nonsense” (O�Brien, The Faith of Millions, 215). For an example of this use, see Micah 3:3.

So I was thinking about this, and about how Jesus’ “hard saying” would have sounded to his original audience at first hearing, and — well, here’s why I’m going to Hell.


CROWD GUY: Look, there’s Jesus!

CROWD LADY: He just multiplied the loaves and fishes and gave us all lunch! If we follow him, I bet he’ll multiply some steaks for dinner!

(CROWD rushes to shore, sits down nonchalantly. JESUS and his disciples come to shore in boat.)

CROWD GUY: Hey, Teach. When’d you get here?

JESUS (anime sweatdrops of embarrassment): Oh, come on, people. Where’s your pride? You’re not even here because I gave you signs; you’re here for the free food and the full bellies.

CROWD LADY: And? So what’s your point?

JESUS (slaps forehead): Ah, come on! Don’t work for food that rots and goes stale. Go for the food that lasts forever, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set His seal.

CROWD GUY: Well, aren’t we all third person all of a sudden.

CROWD LADY: (smacks CROWD GUY) Shut up! I wanna hear about the free food!

(recovers herself, smiles and asks JESUS) So, um, what kind of work do we have to do to get this food — I mean, to get God’s work done?

JESUS: Believe in the one God sent. And that would be Me.

CROWD GUY: Oh, yeah? And what kind of signs are you gonna do for us so we can believe? It’s been a long time since lunch. What have you done for us lately?

CROWD LADY: Our ancestors ate manna in the desert. I bet you can manage a kosher Burger King. (bats her eyes) Or at least a nice bagel place. It’s written that “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Moses did good signs.

JESUS: Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

CROWD GUY: Then give us some already!

CROWD LADY (smacks CROWD GUY again, smiles at JESUS): Sir, give us this bread always.

JESUS: I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me will never hunger, and whoever believes in Me will never thirst.

CROWD GUY: Awesome! Free food forever! And beer!

CROWD LADY (whispers to herself): There’s gotta be a catch.

JESUS: But I told you that although you have seen, you do not believe.

CROWD GUY (looking at CROWD LADY): Whoa! That was eerie.

JESUS: Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to Me, because I came down from heaven not to do My own will but the will of the One who sent Me. And this is the will of the One who sent Me — that I should not lose anything of what he gave Me, but that I should raise it on the last day.

(Murmuring starts in the CROWD)

OTHER CROWD GUYS: I hear talk about free food, but my tummy’s still rumblin’!

JESUS: (raises his voice and talks louder) For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.

OTHER CROWD LADIES: And what’s all this “bread come down from heaven” crap? This is Jesus, and Joseph is his father. Well, not literally, of course. He’s lucky Joseph even married his mother, all things considered, ’cause that Mary must’ve run into somebody who sure wasn’t from heaven. I mean, Jesus and Joseph don’t look a thing alike, and….

JESUS: WILL YOU SHUT THE FREAK UP!? I’m saying something important! Don’t you want to live forever?

(Silence falls.)

JESUS: Ahem. As I was saying… No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to My Father and learns from Him comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; He has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.

CROWD GUY: Cool! That’s easy!

(CROWD GUY and CROWD LADY do happy dance)

JESUS: Heh. Let’s see how you feel in another minute.

(CROWD GUY and CROWD LADY look worried.)

JESUS: I am the bread of life.

(CROWD makes confused “Wha?” sounds)

JESUS: Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.

CROWD GUY: Eat? But if you’re the bread….

CROWD LADY (looking worried): Tell me that’s not what he said.

OTHER CROWD GUYS: What a sicko!

CROWD GUY (yelling) Shut up!

JESUS: Okay, let’s summarize. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.

OTHER CROWD LADIES (confused): How the flip can he give us his flesh to eat? That’s not kosher!

OTHER CROWD GUYS (confused): Eat his flesh? He wants us to treat him like sh*t and tell lies about him?

JESUS (under his breath): Well, you will, but that’s not what I mean.

(raising his voice) Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. This is a signed guarantee from the manufacturer.

OTHER CROWD GUYS (still confused): Or maybe he wants us to tell him to eat sh*t and die…man, this is so confusing! I’m starting to really worry about what he meant by “living waters”….

CROWD LADY (to JESUS): But you mean all that symbolically, right? But not in a “treat you like sh*t” sort of figurative way, or an “I’ll grind your bones to make my bread” sort of way, but in some figurative way that is just way too deep and probably has something to do with sex. (bats eyes at him) You really do look yummy.

JESUS (smacks forehead again): My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink! Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me. (points at CROWD LADY) And no, this is not about sex. Get your mind out of the gutter.

CROWD LADY: Then what the frick are you talking about?!

OTHER DISCIPLES: Nobody has the power to give eternal life except God! How can eternal life come to someone because of you, Jesus?! I mean, yeah, you’re the Messiah, but there’s a limit….

JESUS: I said it before, but I’ll recap ONE MORE TIME. (points to self) This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. Capish?

OTHER DISCIPLES: You’re saying you can give people eternal life and advocating cannibalism?! Aw, man, this is such a Jim Jones moment….

JESUS: Does this shock you? (rolls eyes) What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? You’d really lose it, then! Look. It is the breath that gives life, while just plain bodies on a slab can’t do anything. The words I have spoken to you are the freakin’ breath of life. Pure oxygen. Breathe it in, folks.

CROWD LADY: I still don’t get it.

CROWD GUY: Maybe it’s a prophecy or something, and we should just wait and see what it means.


JESUS: But there are some of you who do not believe. (Looks right at the OTHER DISCIPLES.) This is the very reason why I just told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by My Father. So leave now or forever hold your peace.

OTHER DISCIPLES: Fine! We will! And everybody else better leave, too, before this turns into the freakin’ Donner Party! Eat this bread, my ass….

(OTHER DISCIPLES and CROWD traipse off in high dudgeon. Only JESUS, the TWELVE, a small knot of DISCIPLES, and the CROWD GUY and CROWD LADY remain. They look a bit lonely.)

JESUS (turns to the TWELVE): So. Are you leaving, too?

SIMON PETER: Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.

JESUS: I picked you guys well.

(TWELVE smile.)

JESUS: But one of you is a devil.

(TWELVE stop smiling.)

JESUS: Man, My life stinks. Oh, well, let’s go travel around some more.

CROWD GUY: Um. Sir….

JESUS: So what do you want?

CROWD LADY: We haven’t got the slightest clue why, because what you just said was kinda scary, but…we’d kinda like to stick around. Just to see what happens. I mean, that whole loaves and fishes thing was pretty impressive.

JESUS: Okay. As long as you promise to keep your mind out of the gutter. You wouldn’t believe the rumors already going around about me and Mary of Magdala.

CROWD GUY: As long as you promise not to eat us.

(The TWELVE glare at him.)

CROWD GUY: Heh…joke….

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Feeling a Little More Confident

This has been a real up-and-down week. Totally great cantoring on Sunday, except when I totally blanked out on the tune of the Lamb of God we were doing (and found out I was on the wrong page, anyway). I followed this up by being pretty on for my Christmas for nursing homes choir on Tuesday night, but going into total brain death and inability to focus on the page about halfway through Wednesday choir (which would be the important one, not to mention the one for which we perform sooner, like every Sunday).

Oh, well. The Lord giveth my brain, the Lord taketh away….

The Russian has been going swimmingly. I’m up to Chapter 4 in Night Patrol (Olga’s just changed back into a human) and am about to start Chapter 6 in Tanya Grotter and the Disappearing Floor (Tanya’s just had her confrontation with the Ghost King, and has been promised that she’ll regret her good deed). But since all of that was mostly a way to avoid practicing for my concert, I’ve got to step back until after OVFF. Even if I’m dying to know what happens next.

I think I’ve finally got my setlist all worked out. I recorded it and burned a CD so I could see how it worked (and engrain all the songs into my head even further). The new songs seem to be okay, though I’m afraid they’re not barnburners. Rather unexpectedly, I found myself realllllly jazzing up “Banshee Blues”. It can only be the influence of that history of Broadway musicals that I’ve been watching this week. God alone knows if I will be able to be in that good of voice and brain at OVFF.

I need to get more sleep, eat better food, drink more water, take more vitamins, practice more assiduously, and be kinder to my voice. All of which is very simple, yet easier said than done. I’m downright mean to myself, sometimes.

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Operation Clark County

Over in the UK, the Guardian (or Grauniad, as its frequent typos have caused it to be nicknamed) had the bright idea of trying to influence the US presidential elections by having its readers write campaign letters to independent voters in Clark County, Ohio.

It was a mind-bogglingly stupid idea, of course. An offense against American sovereignty, brought to us by the country from which we had to pry American sovereignty? Oh, whee! What a great plan!

But even if this had been a Swedish paper’s idea, it would still have been stupid. Who in their right minds would listen to another country’s people about their own national elections? Do the Germans care what the French think? Do the Japanese beg for Filipino opinion polls?

If they do, they clearly need some help clarifying what “sovereignty” means.

You know, the reason most of us live in this country is that our ancestors didn’t want to live in Europe, under European rules. A lot of us also live here because our ancestors were tortured and oppressed. So we feel a need to step in and stop such behavior…but really, we’d rather stay home and mind our own business. It’s mind-boggling to us that other countries don’t feel the same way…or at least, the editors of the Grauniad don’t.

Americans like people from other countries. They really do. They want them to be proud and free and prosperous and happy. They don’t want to rule other countries; they just want to govern their own. And if anybody who’s not American tries to butt in at the voting booth, Americans are not going to be happy about it. If we butted in, we would expect the same treatment from folks in other countries.

So feel free to write editorials on the other side of the Pond. As many as you want! You’re allowed to comment. But as soon as you cross my doorstep with an unsolicited letter, you’ve crossed the line.

And no, the UK doesn’t deserve a vote in our elections. Unless it applies for and is accepted as a US territory or state. (Which would certainly be a boon for the British taxpayer, but I don’t think the Grauniad would much like US law.)

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Album Update

It looks like things will be starting up again in November, God willing and the crick don’t rise.

We pretty much have to start from scratch, thanks to the destruction of the masters by the taper machine. However, we do already have arrangements and chordings for a good chunk of the songs. So it’s not starting from the absolute beginning.

Unfortunately, recording my album will entail listening to the sound of my own voice. Contrary to the impression you might get from hearing me go off into long impromptu lectures, I do not really enjoy that sound. Oh, I know objectively that my voice isn’t too bad. But the same objectivity points out every mistake I ever make, and if those aren’t evident enough, every missed opportunity and every way I fail to measure up to the great voices of history. My subjective self streaks between absolute loathing and an acknowledgment that things aren’t too bad.

All that said, when the creativity is flowing, I can get very interested and excited and delighted by my singing and my songs. But like the subjective experience of spirituality, this is cyclical and paid for by long experiences of “dryness”, when I feel intensely depressed and abandoned by what I suppose is best called the Spirit. Of course I know not to trust my subjective experience or my objective one, as both are usually rather cruel and unhelpful if taken without a grain of salt. But it’s hard to have to spend so much time trudging along with nothing but a vague faith that things will turn out all right.

Still, after a sore throat last week I managed to cantor for two Masses on Sunday. The happiness of having sung, and sung before the Lord, made even my little internal editors allow as how I hadn’t done too badly. (My voice did wobble alarmingly, and I kept running out of breath at odd moments. But for some reason my voice is sometimes quite pretty in tone just recently, and it was very sweet indeed on Sunday.) I think if I can just make myself practice more, sleep more, eat more, and generally live healthily enough not to get sick again, it really may turn out all right. But I have to practice and sleep, because it’s practice and sleep that create consistency.

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“Stay with Us, Lord”

“Mane Nobiscum, Domine” (Stay with Us, Lord), the Pope’s letter about the Eucharist, came out this week. It’s pretty interesting.

As with all papal letters, the first part is equal parts theology and a recap/tying together of previous actions on the topic. This doesn’t mean there’s no meat there. But the letter really gets rolling in the second part, when the same Pope who officially added the “mysteries of light” from Christ’s public life to the Rosary’s meditation on the lives of Christ and Mary, talks about the Eucharist as fundamentally a mystery of light. This seems to mean something like this: that the deeper we get into the mystery — the better we begin to understand it and participate in it — the more clear it will make everything else in life. Which is only logical, since Christ is Truth and Life and Light, both the Road and the place it’s headed.

The letter challenges the rest of the Church to get on the stick. We are to understand the Eucharist as the reason for the Church’s existence — and, as was said earlier this week at the Eucharistic Conference in Guadalajara, that means not asking what the Eucharist is, but Who. We are to celebrate the Eucharistic Feast and Sacrifice with the proper reverence to God in our midst. We are to teach and proclaim this to others. We are to promote devotion to the Eucharist and Christ, both through an ever-increasing revival of traditional prayers and practices with that end and through whatever new stuff we can come up with that’s fitting. And, most importantly, we are to allow the Eucharist in us to move through us, to do God’s work in the world, to be servants of everyone in need. Because, if we don’t, we have shown that we are not Christians by our lack of love.

It’s a short letter, but it’s got a lot of meat.

As the letter returned again and again to the story of Emmaus from which the Pope took its title, I kept being haunted again and again by the way that God can say a thing and make it so. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (As well as the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum and universal law.) He said, “Little girl, get up.” He said, “This day you shall be with me in Paradise.” He said, “I will be with you until the end of the world.”

And so He also said, “My flesh is real food and my blood real food.” and “This is My Body. This is My Blood.”


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Drug Interaction Problem!

Here are two things that don’t mix:

A dose of Nyquil
A 20 ounce cup of very strong linden flower tea (tilleul), drunk in a few gulps

I had the Nyquil about a half hour before I was ready to go to bed, and then at bedtime suddenly realized I hadn’t drunk my linden flower tea. Which had been stewing for about an hour. Yep, it was strong. Yep, gulping it wasn’t a good plan.

For an hour, I had a heartbeat like a shojo anime character in love. Pretty scary, seeing as I’m not a toon and thus not accustomed to hearing Ba-DUMP! Ba-DUMP! in my ears and actually being able to _feel_ my heart beat.

So…don’t try this at home, kids. It ain’t foxglove, but it’s still drug interaction.

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