Monthly Archives: September 2020

Robin J. Nakkula, RIP

Yesterday, one of my filk friends told me that the Columbus filker Robin Nakkula had passed away. Of your goodness, please pray for her soul.

Robin was a scientist by trade, and was a gifted lab technician and lab manager. She did medical and biological research at Ohio State and at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She is credited on a huge number of scientific papers. Other papers credited her internally for recordkeeping, “setting the standard for reproducible experiments,” “keeping the lab from being shut down,” “making the histones,” and generally keeping younger students on the straight and narrow.

She also had at least one published story, “State Road,” in Mike Resnick’s 1993 anthology Christmas Ghosts, which was co-written with her husband.

She loved lab rats, and had a long term personal project to breed natural colorations back into lab rat strains without losing their intelligence or other favorable qualities of white lab rats. She also trained and made clean, gentle pets of many generations of these lab rats in her own home.

She also participated in the Central Ohio group for Irish culture, the Shamrock Club of Columbus, and in her local neighborhood group.

She had a sharp sense of humor, sometimes mild and sometimes cutting. Many of her songs were about the lighter side of science, particularly biology. But she also tended to look out for younger filkers and help them, and she had a particular kind concern for people experiencing depression or alienation from fandom. I know she contacted me when she was worried about me, and I wish I could have done more for her. I saw her check in at NASFiC and sent her a shoutout, but we did not get to talk.

She was married for twenty-five years to Alan Dormire; their anniversary was just a few weeks back.

St. Gertrude of Nivelles, patron saint of rats, pray for her!

And may He Whose eye is on the sparrow’s fall be gentle with the soul of our friend.

“The Ethology Song (R and K Selective)”

Songs on Captain Wayne’s Mad Music Show: “The Android”, “Biotech Fantasy”, “Something Lingers in the Fridge”, and “You Never Seem to Listen to Me”.

I was always fond of her song “Asteroid Ore”, a spacemining ballad to the tune of “Red Iron Ore.” I gather that she wrote a Zenna Henderson song that I never got to hear.

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St. Atreus?

No. Don’t do it. Don’t name your kid “Atreus.” Please. And there’s no saint. It’s an ill-omened name, and if you only know the name from the God of War games, you need to figure it out.

(And the only reason the hero of Dune is named Paul “Atreides” (ie, descendant of Atreus) is so that you will know right away that his entire family is going to be dysfunctional in the extreme.)

Pelops, the legendary founder/settler of the Peloponnese peninsula, started out life being a beautiful young man who was a grandson of Zeus, and a son of the human king Tantalos and the Titaness Dione. Tantalos had the gods over for dinner, and decided to prove that they were just as stupid as humans by killing and cooking his son Pelops and serving him up to them. (This may have been a power move, because making the gods break an important taboo would make them lose their power, and possibly allow that power to be usurped.)

As soon as the meat was served, the gods figured it out and refused to eat — except for Demeter, who was depressed about Persephone and not paying attention, and therefore chowed down on Pelops’ shoulder. Hermes (or Rhea) put all the pieces back in the cauldron, and then used his (or her) power to resurrect Pelops from the cookpot, and Hephaestus made an ivory shoulder prosthesis for him. All his descendants were then to have one discolored ivory shoulder, lighter than the rest of them. Tantalos was punished in Hades by never being allowed to eat but always having food dangling in his face.

(Interesting comparisons to both the Welsh cauldron-born and to the pickled boys resurrected by St. Nicholas.)

Anyhow, Pelops ended up getting out of Phrygia and settling the Pelopponese, and his sons Atreus and Thyestes got involved in a struggle for the throne with both their half-brother Chrysippus (either murdered by his brothers or by Pelops’ wife Hippodamia, or both) and with each other. Atreus married Aerope, who was in love with Thyestes. Thyestes and Aerope cheated on Atreus, and Aerope gave her husband’s kingship claim object to Thyestes. Atreus killed a bunch of Thyestes’ sons and successfully got Thyestes to eat them at a banquet, and Thyestes slept with one of his daughters to conceive a son who could depose Atreus. It was ugly.

So of course all their kids were cursed. Menelaus married Helen, which was nothing but trouble, and started the Trojan War; Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter to get favorable winds for the war, stole Achilles’ woman and nearly lost the Trojan War, raped a Trojan princess who correctly prophesied his death and her own, and then got murdered by his wife for the whole sacrificing his daughter thing. And then Agamemnon’s son Orestes had to avenge him by killing his own mom, although this would have meant he would have to kill himself. The gods stepped in and saved Orestes, but there was lots of killin’.

Atreos means “not-shiver, not-tremble” which is probably what led the God of War people to think of linking Greek and Norse mythology, as well as Norse fairytales. The implication is “fearless,” but “not-fear” would be Aphobos (which is a Biblical and Gospel word and has good connotations all over the place!). “Not tremble” possibly implies also that one is not afraid of the gods or of doing things that are shameful or wicked, things that a sensible man would never do.

There’s a famous set of Norse fairytales about “the lad who could not shiver,” because he was both fearless and very literal, and possibly not all that bright. He finally learns to shiver by having his wife stick ice down his back, IIRC. These are connected to similar stories about Ashenlad, who can be depicted as stupid or as very wise and tricky, and with other seeking your fortune stories. Loki and Thor’s stories are very similar, so connecting Loki/Atreus to “the lad who could not shiver” is a nice tie-in.

(It doesn’t totally work, because actually, it turns out that most of Norse mythology seems to post-date Norse contact with the Roman Empire, and a lot of the Norse gods are actually deified late Roman historical figures from Burgundy and the Lombards, or various Germanic tribes. Which is freaky and weird, but there you go. And to be fair, deified founders or ancestors weren’t unusual in world religious history.)

Overall, the character in the God of War series is positive, but not everybody plays God of War; and everybody generally does know about the whole multiple-cannibalization-incest-and-kinslaying curse of the House of Atreus.

The ancient Greeks did not use Atreus as a given name. For good reason. The Christian Greeks didn’t name their kids Atreus either.

So please don’t name your kid Atreus. Especially not your Catholic kid.

(Oh, and btw, “Thyestes” means something like “sacrificer.” So his parents initially meant him to be pious and to appease the gods, but he wasn’t.)

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St. Blythe?

Yes!! Yes, it’s a real saint’s name! Hahahahahah! I am really delighted to find this out!

St. Blitha of Martham (also known as St. Blyth, Blythe, or Blida) was a laywoman in East Anglia. She was a kinswoman of the illfated King of the English, Aethelred the Unready, and of his son, King Edmund Ironside. She was married to a wealthy nobleman named Benedict. He had at least one son, St. Walstan, who moved to Taverham at the age of twelve and became an ordinary farm laborer, albeit a pious one.

Benedict and Blitha seem to have lived in either Blythburgh, Suffolk (which may have been her property, or may have changed its name in her honor) or in Bawburgh, Norfolk. But at the time of her death, after Benedict died, she was living in Martham, which is a lot further inland and somewhat closer to Taverham. A chapel was built in her honor in Martham.

The Old English word “blithe” or “blythe” meant friendly, agreeable, cheerful, kind, merciful, pleasing, gentle, pretty — basically, a lot of pleasant qualities. Its ultimate root means something like “shining.” It’s a great name — and now we know it’s a saint’s name! Great stuff!

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St. Denver?

Nope. Denver in Colorado was named after a politician with the last name Denver. His family was probably named after the town of Denver in Norfolk — “Dena faer” or Dane ford, Dane passage.

Another girls’ name that the Social Security Administration says is increasing in popularity. It’s not a bad name; it’s just not a saint’s name.

There is a Servant of God from Denver, Colorado, who is being submitted for the process of being named a Venerable. Julia Greeley was an ex-slave who moved west, worked as a housekeeper, and used her small wages to help others. She only had one eye, because it was whipped out by her ex-master, and she towed a little red wagon full of needful things like food, coal, and clothing, giving them out to anyone of any race who needed them. When she died, the bishop laid her in state in the cathedral, and thousands of people came to say goodbye to this saintly woman.

Servant of God Julia Greeley, pray for us!

Denver, Norfolk was a very small village until the fens were drained a bit, and it’s still pretty small. So there don’t seem to be any local saints.

There are tons of saints from the general Norfolk area, both missionaries (St. Felix the bishop from Burgundy, Ss. Fursa and Foillan from Ireland) and royal laypeople (Edmund, Etheldreda, and Sexburga). There are also martyrs killed by the Danes.

The most unusual saint was Walstan, a nobleman with royal kindred and wealthy parents (his mom was St. Blitha, aka St. Blythe), who decided he was called by God to become an ordinary farmhand. He left home at age twelve, moved inland from Blythburgh to Taverham, and got a job, vowing celibacy but otherwise living a normal life. He died in 1016, but the oxen drawing his body on a wagon took him to Bawburgh, and that’s where his shrine was built. His feastday is May 30. In the Middle Ages in the area, many farmers visited his shrine on his day.

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St. Navy?

“Navy” is an up and coming name for girls in the US, according to the Social Security Administration.

Um. Well. I don’t want to be too negative, because it’s certainly patriotic. But you do realize that there are certain traditional connotations about young women vs. young military men, right? If you are naming a girl after the color, maybe you should pick another shade of blue? (Indigo, Azure, stuff like that. But those probably make better middle names.)

There’s an Indian name, Anavi (“kind to people”), that has the nickname form “Navi.” Other names from India include Navya, Navita, and Navistha. Some of them refer to the Sanskrit for “new.”

There’s a Hebrew girls’ name, Navi, which apparently means something like “named.” I don’t know if it’s an allusion to the Name of God, but normally that would be Shem.

The Hebrew word for “prophet, seer, one who sees” is pronounced “Na-BEE” and usually spelled “nabi.” (So if that is the name you want for your kid, please spell it that way.)

The feminine form (“prophetess”) is “nebiah” (nuh-BE-ah) or “hannebiah” (HA-nuh-BE-ah).

That said, there is a traditional connection between the Church and St. Peter’s fishing boat, and hence with the Church as a ship or as Noah’s Ark. So yes, there was a St. Navida (martyred in Africa) and a St. Navigia (at St. Etienne d’Auxerre).

Nautica would be an okay name, although everybody who speaks English would call the girl “Naughty.” Also, it’s a clothing brand.

Nausicaa is a pretty name, if you want to go all classical. She was the (probably a fairy) princess who found Odysseus shipwrecked on the shore, and kindly helped him out. (Although what her name means is “burner of ships.”)

Other pretty names come from devotion to Our Lady of the Snows (Aug. 5), like “Nieves” (Spanish). There’s also the related names “Nova,” (Latin for “new”), “Novita,” and “Novella” (although that’s a literary form now, so probably not a good plan).

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St. Briar?

According to the Social Security Administration, this name is growing in popularity for girls in the United States. I think it’s a bad idea. I don’t know about the rest of the US, but in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, “Briar” is a slur term for poor rural Appalachian people. So if you wouldn’t name your little girl “Hillbilly,” don’t name her “Briar,” either.

If it’s one of your family surnames… well, make it a middle name, that’s all I can say. Alternately, call the kid Briar-rose, like Sleeping Beauty. (But in that case, why not just call her Rose?)

It’s also not a good name, because it associates the kid with the bad effects of the Fall cursing the plants of the earth. You know, “and thorns infest the ground”? Briars are also associated biblically with the ‘crackling’ sound of fools talking, with abandoned settlements and fields, and with all sorts of dire prophecies against the wicked and the pagan nations being burned up. The only positive association is the Crown of Thorns, and that’s an awfully sad name for a kid; or the “lily among the thorns,” which is a comparison of the Beloved to other women. And your kid would be the “other women,” not the Beloved.

If you want a Bri- or Bree- name, there are tons of those.

That said, there is a St. Spinella (“thorn”), who was martyred in Rome with St. Felix and her seven brothers (feast: June 27), and a Bl. Spinela who was a Cistercian nun in Arouca, Portugal (Nov. 1).

I suppose you could go with Bruyere, the French version, if you really really wanted to inflict this name on your kid. It means “heather” and “moorland” as well as “briar,” so at least your munchkin will have some positive associations.

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Mattel, Say “Catholic.”

Just say it, Mattel. Say it. It’s not hard. CAAAAATH-LIC.

“BarbieĀ® celebrates Dia De Muertos 2020 with a second collectible doll inspired by the time-honored holiday. Dia De Muertos is a two-day holiday in early November when families gather to celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones. This colorful and lively event is filled with music, food, sweets, offerings and flowers. The BarbieĀ® Dia De Muertos series honors the traditions, symbols and rituals often seen throughout this time.”

So yeah, let’s totally avoid the words “Catholic” and “Mexican.” Let’s avoid the fact that it’s a religious holiday. And why do you think it’s only about “ancestors,” and not about all the dead, and especially the Poor Souls who have nobody to pray for them? And what exactly do you mean by “offerings,” Mattel? And what are the two days of the “two-day” holiday, Mattel? Why would you say “early November” and not give the dates????

Ugh, ugh, ugh. Two steps forward, two steps back.

It’s not about going to cemeteries to “celebrate the lives” of the beloved dead, although that happens. It’s about praying for the souls of the dead, and asking them to pray for us from Purgatory and Heaven. It’s about remembering that dead Christians are still part of the Communion of Saints, and hence present with us as a “cloud of witness” — which is why people have cemetery picnics and put up temporary prayer station. It’s about making reparation for the sins of those who died repentant but were sent to Purgatory to purify them for bliss in God’s presence, and for praying for the unbaptized or pagan dead to be under Christ’s mercy, also.

And of course it’s not just a Mexican holiday, although Mexico got the full benefit of the traditions of all the Hapsburg monarchs’ domains in Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands, all the way to eastern Europe and the Far Eastern missions, courtesy of many religious orders and settlers. Everywhere there are Catholics and decent weather on November 2, it’s a big deal.

And no, dressing up candy skulls and such are not a pagan Mexican thing, sorry. It’s a danse macabre, memento mori thing from medieval Europe. It got big in the 1400’s and stuck around through the 1600’s, but hung on in places like Spain and Italy up until the present, and it got to Mexico by way of the Spanish settlers. You don’t have to like the aesthetic, just like you don’t have to like hellfire and brimstone spirituality; but it’s Christian unless people are purposefully paganizing it.

If anything, it was meant to combat the Aztec spirituality where the gods were wearing people’s body parts, and the jaguar god idea where skulls and headhunts were used to enslave human souls, with the idea of honored relics and cheerful deathless skeleton pictures anticipating the full joy of blessed souls reunited with their resurrected glorified bodies.

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Forgotten Titles: Mary of the Pregnant Women, and Mary of the Slapped Face

I was browsing around some webpages about Old St. Peter’s in Rome, and found out that there used to be a big side altar, right next to the nave’s entrance doors, which was dedicated to S. Maria Praegnantium. (Handy if you were really big and needed to pray.)

The altar included an old picture of the Virgin Mary holding Barely Toddler Jesus. Mary has one arm curled protectively around her Son, Who is standing up and blessing the onlookers. With the other hand, she holds a gauze veil across His privates, while highlighting His bellybutton to prove that He was born of her. Otherwise, He’s a totally naked little boy, showing that He is true man as well as true God.

Today, there’s a whole chapel dedicated to her, under the name of the Madonna delle Partorienti (My Lady of the Women Giving Birth), and it’s in a place of honor. But here’s the catch: it’s downstairs in the crypt, under St. Peter’s. So maybe there’s an elevator now, but there didn’t use to be. For a shrine for pregnant women. (Facepalm. Men. Usually that’s not the problem, but here, it pretty clearly is.)

There’s also a chapel for another old medieval icon of Mary, which was also moved from Old St. Peter’s. S. Maria della Bocciata, or the Madonna della Bocciata (of the Slap, or of the Rejection) , was a wall fresco of Mary holding Baby Jesus, which was in the portico between the Ravenna Door and the Door of the Dead. Jesus is turned away from His mother and is blessing the onlooker below. But Mary has an odd-looking face, which some see as swollen, and her cheek has a dark spot that looks like a big bruise.

It’s a miraculous picture, because apparently it used to look normal, and it was painted in the 1200’s. It used to be called “S. Maria in columna,” Mary on the pillar. (Probably a picture of the Spanish apparition of Mary, “Our Lady of the Pillar,” which has Baby Jesus sit-standing against Mary’s shoulder. Her feast day is October 12, which is also Columbus Day from Columbus’ first landing in the Americas. Columba, Columna. Horrible pun.)

But one day in 1440, a drunken soldier, who had just lost a game of bowls, had a tantrum and threw one of the little balls or rocks that they were using for the game, and hit Mary’s picture right in the face. Drops of blood fell from her painted cheek and stained the floor; and ever since then, the picture has borne the bruise damage as a rebuke to those who disrespect the Blessed Mother. (And I’m sure we remember the similar thing that happened to the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.)

So of course the picture was removed from the wall before the old basilica was demolished, and now it also has its own home, down in the crypt. The two bloodstained paving stones sit behind grates on either side of the picture, and you’re meant to reach through the grates and touch them.

Unfortunately, this is another shrine that used to be a lot easier to visit, back when it was in the portico! But in this case, people actually got more attached to “the Rejected Madonna” after it was moved several times during all the building and renovation. So you never know.

Here’s a PDF from the Knights of Columbus, who funded the restoration of various crypt chapels, including these two. There are nice photos of the two pictures.

Many fragments and reproductions of Old St. Peter’s stuff live in the crypts. On the right hand wall of the Rejected Madonna’s chapel is an old inscription from the “sacellum” or “oratory” of the saints, which was created by Pope St. Gregory III, and dedicated at the opening of an anti-iconoclast synod in Rome on November 1, 731. To make his point stronger, the pope changed the Roman date of All Saints’ Day from May 13th to November 1, thus creating Halloween.

So the first Halloween decoration ever is sitting under St. Peter’s, in the Chapel of the Madonna della Bocciata!! Being all holy and historical and stuff!*

A webpage for the Chapel of the Madonna della Bocciata. Includes some nice big pictures. The remains of Cardinal Peran are back in his country now.

A webpage for the Chapel of the Madonna delle Partorienti.

Today is Mary’s birthday (December 8, feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary). The eve of the feast was associated by St. Brigid of Sweden with a devotion to St. Anne and the Virgin Mary, praying for pregnant women by starting a simple novena of nine Hail Marys a day, or even nine Hail Marys per month of pregnancy (which she received in an vision from Mary). St. Anna Maria Emmerich received a similar vision, where Mary asked pregnant women to say nine Hail Marys at noon on September 8, and then to continue saying nine at noon for nine days.

(But any time during the day is fine – it’s noon somewhere. Noon was associated with saying the Angelus and hearing the Angelus bells ring, so Mary was trying to make it easy.)

*There are two known inscriptions. One is all about the guys who witnessed the synod and the pope being happy to praise the Lord (which is the one in the chapel), and the other is all “anathema” and “interdict” to violators of the synod’s teaching. Which would be Emperor Leo III.

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