Posts Tagged ‘folklore

26
Oct
17

Candles

It’s my birthday week, so I thought this was a timely article to write –

Candles are romantic, candles are for birthdays, candles are for scent, candles are for religion and celebrations, candles have lots of different meanings for many of us – crossing cultures around the world.

The earliest candles may have been small torches – branches dipped in animal fat and lit for a slow burning, dependable light source.

In 3000 BC, Egyptians were using tallow (fat rendered from animals other than pigs) for candles and as time went on, other cultures began finding different sources to use. In India they found that a residue was left by melting cinnamon and it would burn (also smell nicer than tallow, I presume!). China was using whale fat and insects, while Japan extracted oil from tree nuts.

Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest found that fish called eulachon had a very high fat content during spawning, so they would dry them and use them as candles for lighting, thus the fish’s new name “candlefish.”

In more modern times, beeswax, bayberry wax and whale spermaceti were used. Spermaceti was made by crystalizing sperm whale oil which was a harder wax that didn’t melt in the summer, produced a brighter light and didn’t smell as badly as tallow.

In the early 19th century a French chemist discovered how to extract stearic acid from animal fatty acids, which lead to stearin wax, a wax that burned cleanly and was hard and durable. Later, paraffin wax, made by distilling coal, came into use.

Candles seem mystical – have you ever been mesmerized by watching a candle’s flame flickering? It’s easy to understand why/how certain superstitions got started. If a flame burns blue, supposedly a ghost is in the area and if there is a tall, straight flame it means a stranger will come. Burn a candle in the window to make sure a lover will return.

You should always light a candle with your right hand, otherwise, expect bad luck! Also, it’s bad luck to melt the base of a candle to make it set well in its base or to light it from a fire’s flame. I do hope, for your sake, that a candle that you light does not immediately go out – otherwise bad luck will follow! If it is difficult to light – rain is on the way.

The Irish used to have a superstition that 12 candles must be lit around a body at the wake as protection from evil spirts.

In 1700’s New England, a cultural tradition was begun using wax and oil of the bayberry plant added to their candles. They found the candles burned longer and gave off a wonderful scent. They presented these new candles to friends and neighbors at Christmas time, with the poem that indicated all good wishes would be lost in the smoke if they were blown out.

A Bayberry candle, burned to the socket

Brings joy to the home, and wealth to the pocket.

And now to the point of this whole article – birthdays! And of course, with birthdays, come candles on birthday cakes (or in my case birthday pies) and the tradition of blowing them out.

Apparently, the first birthday party was recorded in early Egypt, for a pharaoh on his coronation, which marked the moment he was “birthed” as a god. But the Greeks made cakes in offerings to some of their gods and eventually placed lit candles on some cakes as a way to symbolize the moon. It was believed that when the candles were blown out their prayers were carried up to the gods.

In the 1700’s in Germany, there were many accounts of cakes and candles used to celebrate children’s birthdays – a kinderfest. A record of a cake decorated with a candle for each year of life was in 1746, for Count Ludwig Von Zinzindorf.

Just when the belief of having to blow out all the candles to have your wish (or prayer) come true is unsure, but we still all make that important wish (prayer) annually, and send the wishes up to the heavens.

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25
Aug
14

Research is Fun, but Sharing is Better

I have selfish reasons for this business – I love history and I love research! As fulfilling as intriguing research can be, I’ve found that it really needs to be shared for the best results.

I think of it as a treasure hunt – whether it is genealogy or a ghost story or historical research, once I find that first clue, I’m sucked in. I often can’t devote the time I’d like to continue the hunt, at least for the moment, but sometimes it’s hard to break away. The challenge is to find the information I need, but not get swept away for the whole day!

I have a diary that I’ve been reading. It dates to the late 1800’s – spanning 40 years! I don’t know how many transcribed typewritten pages it is but I’m only on page 70 something and not a third of the way through. It’s at a nearby library, in the reference section, which is probably a good thing. If I could check it out, no one would see me for days!

In my last post I mentioned a new offering coming to Wiscasset. It is an afternoon tour called History & Haunts of High Street. At either end of beautiful High Street are 2 historic buildings that we will tour through, while telling history, folklore and tales of both as well as all the homes in between. We will offer these only once a month June through October. Our first is this coming Friday, August 29.

One of the buildings is a courthouse; the oldest continuously working courthouse in Maine, dating to 1824. The other is “Castle Tucker,” now a museum owned by Historic New England, but once was a private home. It dates to 1807. The other buildings we will see are sea captains’ homes, a painted lady, an old bank with a “jug vault” in the cellar, a duplex dating to 1852 (who knew they built them that early?!) and more.

As I’ve been researching for this new tour, I’ve found myself getting so excited about sharing the information I’ve found! I can’t wait until Friday, and I hope the guests will appreciate the tidbits that I’ve come up with.

Another exiting “show and tell” that I experienced recently was during Boothbay’s 250th Anniversary Celebration. I was fortunate enough to be able to share “Ye Ol’ Burying Ground” with about 50 people. The amount of history found in old cemeteries and graveyards is incredible! Did you know a cemetery is different from a graveyard? A cemetery is not associated with a church, while a graveyard is. We ran into difficulties at this particular burying ground because it is now called a cemetery, but there did used to be a church right next to it. I didn’t know about the church until a local person shared with me during this celebration, so now there’s yet more research to be done – which came first the church or the burying ground?

I had a winter full of research this past year, and now it’s time to share… my husband has written a book, with my assistance, and it is now available to the public! “Haunted Damariscotta, Ghosts of the Twin Villages and Beyond” by Greg Latimer was published by History Press and can be purchased from them online here:

https://historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Series/Haunted%20America/Haunted-Damariscotta/9781626193055

Obviously, we’re very excited to have accomplished this, but also to share with all of you. Please let us know if you’d like to purchase signed copies from us – we can take care of that for you.

I hope you enjoy these last days of summer – I know I will, peeking out between the pages of that diary!

30
Aug
12

Once in a Blue Moon!

Tomorrow is a full moon night; always special, but this time it’s extra special as it’s the second full moon during the month of August! 2 full moons in one month does not happen often, the last one was in March 2010.

A blue moon has nothing to do with the color of the moon, just the old folklore expression for something that doesn’t happen very often.

Of course, many people believe it’s good luck to be born on a blue moon, or even in the month of a blue moon, so lucky birthdays to those!

The next blue moon will be in July 2015, so take advantage of this one, especially being on a Friday night, and enjoy – it’s a great night for a Haunted History Tour!