Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy Vernal Equinox

The Equinox, known to the Pagans as Ostera, is a day of balance, the midpoint between Imbolc or Candlemas and Beltane (the feast of the green man). Twelve hours of darkness and twelve hours of light. It is the time when light overtakes darkness and even though the days have been growing longer since the Winter Solstice, they are now greater than the night. On the equinox the sun rises due east and sets due west.
   The expression "Mad as a March Hare" may be foreign to many, except for those who spent a lot of time hobnobbing during the 1500s when the saying first came into fashion. Back then, "mad" meant crazy or wild, and this could certainly be used to describe the behavior that was commonly exhibited by the normally shy and quiet hare during the spring mating season (which in Europe primarily meant the month of March). 
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Their odd conduct included boxing with potential paramours but contrary to early belief, it was the female throwing the one-two punch

Erasmus used the words mad as a marsh hare because he felt the hares living in the marshes were wilder due to their lack of hedges and cover. But Chaucer used the expression mad as a hare before him and Lewis Carroll gave the usage new life with the creation of his character the March Hare in Alice and wonderland.  

  March is also a time when we should consciously make an effort to balance our life and offset any sadness with joy, anger with forgiveness. Like being on a tightrope, sometimes balance is not easily achieved either physically or mentally, but use this day to try to align yourself for the days ahead which will be filled with activity. Ask for energy even as you are grateful for the energy returning to the earth.     

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Mysterious Shell Grotto of Margate.

    In Kent England, in1835 a labourer was digging a 
field just outside the English seaside town of Margate.  His work was interrupted when he thrust his spade in to the soil and it simply vanished into the ground.  The master of the nearby Dane House School, was made aware of this strange disappearance.  He volunteered his young son, Joshua, for the task of being lowered, candle in hand, into the void via a length of rope 

   Joshua’s tale was nowhere near as tall as people may have at first imagined.  When the hole was widened enough for adults to enter they too witnessed the wondrous contents of the winding subterranean passageway, complete with an altar chamber and rotunda. 

We recently discovered that Lewis Carroll came to see the Grotto, on 28 September, 1870. He described it in his diaries as “a marvellous subterranean chamber, lined with elaborate shell-work”.

In 1837, just two years after its discovery, the grotto opened to a curious public.  Yet to this day debate rages (in a very English way, of course, involving polite discussion over tea and cucumber sandwiches) about it origins.

It has been suggested that the grotto was a smuggler’s cave – almost all the shells are British and so it could have been a hideaway made by locals for stolen and contraband goods.  Yet this idea doesn’t hold much water. Although near to the sea, the waves remain a number of miles
away and there are no tunnels from coast to ‘cave’. Plus with a distinct lack of an escape route any smuggler would have been mad to hide their booty here – not to mention the fact that they would have had to spend more of their time decorating the place than doing any actual smuggling. So, it’s a no to that theory.

Could it be a Roman temple?  A remnant of dark-age rituals?  A prehistoric astronomical calendar? Make up a theory and it could well be feasible. There have even been séances held in the grotto to try and contact the spirits of the builders, such as the one from the 1930s above.

The latest research which took place in 2006 points
towards an explanation which might please Indiana Jones fans.  Mick Twyman of the Margate Historical Society put forward the suggestion that the grotto was built by the Knights Templar or their associates sometime in the middle 1100s.  
     Why not get the shells carbon-dated? This has been advised against. First and foremost quite a number of shell samples would be needed to ensure that dating caught the earliest shells and not just those used in previous (unknown) restoration work over the centuries.  Secondly it’s expensive and money needs to be more urgently spent on conservation of the grotto.

What are your thoughts on who built this mysterious wonder?

Go here for a virtual tour of this spectacular grotto. 

Photo thank you to:
Ben Sutherland

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Mary Anning Archaeologist and A woman ahead of her time.

  She sells sea shells by the sea shore- remember this popular tongue twister? Well it turns out Marie Anning inspired this rhyme!

Born in 1799 into a working class family on the Dorset coast, Mary grew up near the cliffs of Lyme Regis--to this day--a fossil hunters paradise. Rich in an array of fantastic fossils deposited from the Jurassic seas 200 million years ago, the area contains a wealth of hidden treasures. 

Mary's father, Richard, was a cabinet maker but also spent some of his free time collecting fossils and it was he who first taught her to hunt for fossils.

The father and daughter duo set up a stall along the seafront where they sold the various curiosities they had collected. 

    Mary was banned from the Geological Society of London in the 1800's. But revenge is sweet, although unfortunately long in coming. In 2010 she was named by the Royal Society as one of the top 10 British women to have most influenced the history of science.   

Unfortunately Anning's father died in 1810, following a battle with consumption But not to be defeated Anning continued to sell her curiosities to help supplement her family's income this was dangerous work too, largely owing to the unforgiving seas, steep cliffs and treacherous tides. 

         In 1811 Mary uncovered the first complete 
Ichthypsaurus - or fish lizard- ever seen! Some of her most notable finds included the discovery of a Plesiosaurus in 1823, appropriately nicknamed the 'sea-dragon', and in 1828 the Pterodactyles - a type of flying dinosaur!

Despite receiving no formal training, Mary managed to make a name for herself as one of the foremost fossil hunters of her generation. She taught herself anatomy, geology, and paleontology - a testament to her passion and determination - and became an expert in these fields.

Mary Anning died of breast cancer in 1847 at the age of only 47. But her legacy continues to live on today.