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‘Come cuddle close in daddy’s coat Beside the fire so bright, And hear about the fairy folk That wander in the night.’ Robert Bird.

Earlier this week I was at the park with the girls and had let them off their leads for a while so they could go exploring.  While they were pottering happily about I stood in a sunny patch of late afternoon sun, looking at the water, not thinking much about anything, until I gradually became aware that someone was standing in front of me, laughing and waving their hands in front of my face.  “Sorry,”  I said, “I didn’t see you there.  I was away with the fairies . . . ”

This is an expression I have long used when (rudely) brought back to reality from some internal mental wandering.  I am not sure when I first heard the phrase or even when I started saying it myself, and I am also sure I never thought much about where the saying came from either—until I recently came across a book which gave me a whole new insight into the mythology, and superstition, of fairies.

fairy1Fairies have never really been on my radar.  I have always loved fantasy books and films but even as a young girl (when young girls are supposed to like these things) I don’t remember being particularly fond of fairies. At least not the type that were around when I was growing up. Those fairies were all delicate gossamer wings and flowers in their hair and danced about mushrooms at the bottom of your garden.  Not really my thing.  (I prefer my fantasy Middle Earth style—with warrior elves and dragons and goblins.  I am a LOTR tragic and make no apologies for it . . . )

But then I read ‘The Good People‘  by Hannah Kent.  This book, based on a true story from 19th century Ireland, tells of three women, a disabled child and a village steeped in folklore and superstition. The fairies (‘the good people’) of this story were as unlike J.M. Barrie’s ‘Tinkerbell’ as anyone could imagine.  They were respected, revered—and feared.  The local villagers believed, beyond doubt, about a nether world populated by all manner of other-worldly creatures, and fairy abduction—the snatching of a healthy infant from its cradle and leaving a ‘changeling’ in its place—was a thing to be feared and protected against at all costs.  Those poor stolen babies were remembered by their kin as being ‘away with the fairies’ . . .

It’s fascinating stuff, and the book is a step back to a time and place few of us can now imagine.  So, if you are looking for a good read—a serious, haunting, bleak, compelling read—this might be well worth your time.

But be warned—you may never think of ‘faerie folk’ the same way again.  I shall certainly think twice about describing myself as sometimes being ‘away with the fairies’.

I now find myself a little more anxious now about what I might meet on the other side . . .

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.’ Michael Scott.

ladder1I have never really thought of myself as a particularly superstitious person. Sure, I ‘knock on wood’ when the occasion warrants it, and ‘break a match’ when two things have gone wrong and I don’t relish a third, and I never, ever put new shoes on the table. (Only ‘new’ shoes mind, apparently old shoes don’t count.  I have absolutely no idea why this is a thing but my Mum was always adamant—no new shoes on the table.  Ever.)  But other than that . . .

oh, and I don’t walk under ladders becausewellwho does that?  That’s just asking for trouble . . . .

But when it comes to Friday the 13th I admit I have never really given the day much thought, so I was quite surprised when I read an article recently about how many people there are in the world who have really serious issues with the day.  And I mean scared (hopefully not) to-death, can’t-get-out-of-bed-or-leave-the-house issues.

thirteenI knew there was a name for the fear of anything associated with the number thirteen (13), although I didn’t know what that name was.  When I looked it up I wasn’t surprised I didn’t know it—Triskaidekaphobia.  Triskaidekaphobia is apparently so widespread as to be the main reason that so many high-rise buildings, hotels and hospitals don’t have a 13th floor and many airports do not have gates numbered 13.

(Imagine going on holiday, having to travel on Friday 13th, flying out of Gate 13 and finding out your hotel room was Room 13 on the thirteenth floor.  That would give even the most sceptical amongst us pause for thought.)

Some theories about why 13 is such a unlucky number include:

  •  A Norse myth tells of a dinner party for 12 gods at which a 13th guest showed up uninvited. The gatecrasher—the trickster god Loki—killed (or at least was the mastermind behind the killing of) Balder, the god of joy and happiness.  (I can see how such an event might cast a slight pall over any dinner party.)
  • Likewise, the Christian tale of the ‘Last Supper’ names Judas, Jesus’ betrayer, as the 13th guest at the table.
  • Traditionally there are 13 steps leading up the gallows.  (Again, I can see how this might be considered unlucky for some.)bullshit
  • According to Mr Krabs on Spongebob Squarepants, there are 13 ‘bad’ words.  (Okay, not really a good reason for it being unlucky, unless you really need to know all 13 words for some reason and you don’t, but a fun fact anyway.)

Interestingly, in other cultures the number 13 is not considered unlucky at all.  In China the unluckiest number is 4, because the pronunication of the word is similar to that of the Chinese word for death. (Maybe the Chinese should give ‘4’ another name like hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia (fear of the number 666. I don’t think that word would sound like any other word, even in Chinese.)

So then, with so many people already freaked out about the number 13, when you go and add the Friday to it the fear goes to a whole new level and, of course, you get a whole new name for it—or, in this case, twofriggatriskaidekaphobia or paraskevidekatriaphobia. (I guess only one long, almost unpronounceable scientific name for this fear just wasn’t enough.)  

Friday13Apparently ‘frigga’ affects millions of people worldwide and it is estimated that many businesses incur huge losses on that day.  The bad news for suffers (and businesses it would seem)—is that every year will have at least one Friday the 13th. The good news is, there can’t be more than three Friday the 13ths in any given calendar year.  And although studies have been done (do we know of anything there hasn’t been a ‘study’ done on yet?) there seems little evidence to suggest that Friday 13 is unluckier than any other day (although rabid fans of Jason Voorhees might hasten to disagree).

But you know, if you are not worried about the number 13, and Fridays in general hold no angst for you, then there is probably not too much for you to worry about . . .

. . .  if you don’t spill any salt . . .  or break any mirrors . . . or open your umbrella indoors . . . or light three cigarettes with one match . . . don’t (obviously) walk under any ladders . . . and you speak very nicely to any black cat who crosses your path . . .  what could possibly go wrong?cat feet

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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‘I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.’ Arthur C. Clarke.

horoscopeI have just had a birthday so, in a quiet moment, I thought I’d sit down and read my ‘birthday stars’ and see what I can expect to happen in my life for the next 12 months.  Oh well, okay—you got me—I actually read every different version of my yearly horoscope I could lay my hands on, trying to find the one I liked best.  And then I read everybody else’s horoscopes for 2016 too—because I wanted to see who was going to have a better day/week/month/year than I was.  (Don’t give me that look.  I know you do that too.)  

And . . . surprise, surprise . . . from the ‘overviews’ it looks like I am in for an all-around-great-year—as is pretty much everyone else on the planet, Aries or otherwise . . .

aries1In a nutshell, it seems that I (and therefore presumably everyone else born under the sign of the Ram) can expect the rest of 2016 to be steady, chaotic, challenging, positive, volatile, passionate and erratic.  Phew.  I’m exhausted already.  So, a bit of everything then, but not really anything there to get too upset about.  But, thinking back—I don’t recall ever reading a birthday horoscope that told me that I really ought to brace myself as I was in for a really, really, crappy year . . .

Even if I did receive such a dastardly ‘horrorscope’, would that stop me from continuing to read future forecasts, I wonder?  Probably not.  I’d just do what I did this morning—keep looking for another one that told me all the good things I wanted to hear and ‘believe’ that one instead.  So sue me.

I enjoy reading horoscopes—there—I said it.  I read them all the time.  I even like to read the ones in the tatty three-year-old copies of mags in the doctor’s office or hairdresser’s salon and wonder whether the advice given actually lined up with what was going on in my life at that time.  (As if I would actually remember.  I have trouble remembering what happened last week, let alone three years ago).  It doesn’t really matter.  Two minutes after reading, be it old or current, I have usually decided it was all either ‘too good to be true’ and therefore never going to happen, or ‘so not how I wanted this week to go’ that I have blithely dismissed it all as a load of old rubbish and moved on to other things . . .

manreading(And just while I think of it—do they have astrology pages in men’s magazines?  (Seriously—I’m asking.)  Do Golf Digest or Muscle Car or Fish Life have a full page in every issue devoted to resident astrologers doling out advice to their (mostly) male readers on how they can expect the coming week to affect their personal relationships, career or financial status?  Or do the men who desperately want to know these things have to resort to sneaking a look at their wives/daughters/sisters Woman’s Weekly or New Idea (or one of the kazillion other women’s magazines) on offer?)

So why, in spite of my obvious scepticism, am I (and millions of others) driven to read our horoscopes on such a regular basis?  I guess one reason is that the majority of the ‘predictions’ given out are positive (at least in the women’s magazines)—and in newspapers and other publications full of doom and gloom at the moment, that makes a welcome change.  We like to think that things are ‘looking up’, and it’s nice to have someone else tell you that you are going to get a (possible) promotion at work, or (maybe) receive a financial windfall, or (in all likelihood) meet the love of your life (providing you are paying close attention to all the opportunities out there of course). The fact that these prophecies are so generic that they could apply to anyone, on any given day, at any given time, has very little to do with it.

pt_barnum_picApparently this temptation to read personal meaning into a general description is a recognised ‘thing’. (But you knew it would be, didn’t you? You’ve read enough of my scribblings by now to know there was going to be a ‘thing’.)  This particular ‘thing’ is referred to (by those in the know) as either the Forer Effect or more commonly (cue the circus music) the ‘Barnum Effect’ (after American showman PT Barnum’s famous line, ‘We’ve got something for everyone’).  We are all surprisingly willing, according to psychologist Bertram Forer, to attribute even the vaguest and most generic personality descriptions to ourselves.

predictionIn 1948, Forer gave each of his students a personality test, telling them they were receiving a unique outline of their character and asking them to rate its accuracy.  In fact, the outline each student received was identical, but each person rated it as an excellent description of themselves. This experiment has been repeated hundreds of times over the ensuing years, always with similar results, and this ‘wishful thinking’ human trait is what horoscope writers (and psychics, mediums, fortune tellers, mind readers, and the like) still rely on to this day.

So, if that has made you at all curious, why not have a go and take the personality test in the link above (go on, do it—just for a lark).  I did, and I have to say that the results did sound awfully familiar . . .

But will finding out how gullible and easily duped people apparently are stop me from reading any future horoscopes?  Not at all.  In fact—after that little exercise I might even contemplate starting to write my own!  Although then again, as fanciful as I can be at times, I don’t think even I could have come up with today’s offering—so I’m going to sign off now because I am expecting ‘Some beautiful dreams or visions, perhaps involving angels, spirit guides, or other such beings . . .‘ and, as you can imagine, I’m really anxious not to miss them . . .

Oh yes.  One last thing, and a timely reminder . . .

‘The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.’  
Mark Twain.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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