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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Les Saintes Puelles, once again

For some reason, Google hasn't indexed my post on Les Saintes Puelles, so I'm gonna link to it in a new post and see what happens. Kind of a test.....

Les Saintes Puelles

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Smash It Up"

"The criminal fight against culture is only the reverse side of a criminal culture." -- Pierre Klossowski

We've dedicated quite a few posts to the "Illuminati pyramid" of Blagnac. And why not? It is a blatant and unmistakable representation of Illuminist principles, elitism and, according to how one interprets the symbolism of the tessellated map of the world below the fountain, either a goal of world enlightenment....or domination.

Also, people flock to this shit like kids to candy. If we had AdSense or the like we could make a few cents or two. Cash in, like so many seem to be doing, on people's apparent need to believe that somebody is in control.

That world map, by the by, as we reported back in February, has been covered over, literally whitewashed. The paranoid in me might attribute this to all the new-found attention our post eventually generated. Or maybe the mosaic was simply prone to leaks. Author Terry Melanson (Perfectibilists, a comprehensive study of the Bavarian Illuminati) suggested rather wisely that we contact the mairie of Blagnac and find out why this is so; he also suggested we contact the architect behind the monument. Much to our discredit, we haven't done either....yet.

Anyhoo, because it seems to be a topic of interest, we bring you another update. One one side of the pyramid there are two tombstone-shaped bronze tablets bearing swirling images of what appear to be planets and cosmic winds; to these are affixed a smaller plaque bearing an Eye of Providence (observing all and simultaneously radiaiting light) and the text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

Gid, incidentally, only just posted an engraving of a woman with an Eye of Providence in the place of her breast, an image subsequenty identified as "Reason." One wonders if the author of that image intended to link the revolutionary Enlightenment sentiment with a warm, maternal feeling, the eye of reason with mother's milk?

In this engraving, she is also wearing a lion skin as a cloak, the head of the lion a kind of headdress. I'm sure this has an established allegorical meaning, but I don't know it. For our purposes, it does remind me of Leontocephaline, upon whom LoS commented in May. This figure is one of the most enigmatic symbols of Mithraism. In the rich iconography of this ancient religion, Mithras himself was often pictured wearing a Phrygian cap, another important Revolutionary symbol. A coincidence, probably.

In any event, one of the bronze tablets is now missing a section.

Did it come loose? Had it become wonky, forcing the municipality to remove it for repair?

Or was it vandalized? Did some angry guy come along and bang it off? Was this a political act? Will we see more of this in the future?

I don't know, but here's a pic for your edification:


Obvious suggestion is to call the mairie and find out what's up.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Eye Nipples: What is this?

In response to a recent post, Daurade's "Staff of Life" (which sounds sort of perverted when you put it that way), I noted St. Lucy's tray of eyeballs resembled St. Agatha's tray of breasts, and I mentioned the possibility that the historiographies of these saints may have been conflated. Daurade wondered if we could find other example of conflating eyeballs & nipples.Well I googled for images of "eye nipple", & I found this wonderful image.
But what is it?
It's a beautiful picture. To me the woman looks Hellenist, but I barely know what that word means, so I'm probably wrong. I see a lion's head draped across her head, and the lion's paws across her breast. And I think, but am not sure, that the "breast" is actually some object that she may be holding in her left hand. And the "breast" appears to to have rays emanating from it, as if it were a sun or a meteor; the rays seem to express upward as if fanning from an object hurtling from the heavens. There's clearly lots of symbology that I'm just not getting--which is why I'm asking for your help!
The image itself points to a bizarre little page that also shows a relevant Rene Magritte (see below), quotes Shakespeare's King Henry VI ("At their mother's moist'ned eyes babes shall suck"), and provides deadlinks to "the chapter Before the Milk of the World: Nipple-Eyes out of N. Hilton’s Lexis Complexes.
But the page doesn't say what this image is! So I ask again:
What is it

Monday, July 19, 2010

English Closed Triple Compound Words

shit shat shot

What the hell does the title of this piece mean?

Let's break it down, in reverse order:

* Compound words -- I'm sure you know what a compound word is: Two or more words joined together to form a new word.

* Triple -- Now I'm just making stuff up. My idea here is that most closed English compounds are formed with a pair of words -- but there are very few instances, in English, of three joined words.

* Closed (or "solid") -- Just means that the compounded words are mashed right together (e.g., wallpaper) instead of hyphenated (e.g., single-minded) or separated by a space (e.g., dead end, which, if closed, would make the wonderful "deadend"!).

* English -- Duh. Or not so "duh"? Keep reading to learn about the relevant controversy surrounding this seemingly innocent term!

Okay--so you're with me so far? Good! I've been collecting a few closed English triple compound words that I'd like to share. Many of them can be grouped according to key "root" words. Some dictionaries will differ, but I found all of these listed somewhere. I'll also share a few good fakes and questionable entries. Let me know if you have others! (One ground rule--I am excluding scientific mumbo-jumbo, so please don't break out your chemistry books.)

"Man" Group
There are a handful of triples created by adding "man"/"men" to a pre-existing compound. I reckon you could do the same with "woman"/"women", "person", and, if you wanted to cross the line, "bot".

* backwoodsman
* crossbowman
* longshoreman
* newspaperman
* plainclothesman

"Super…man" Group
Supermen warrant their own category! (Surely there are other "super" triple plays?)

* supersalesman
* superseamen
* superstatesmen

Directions

* Eastsoutheast, etc.

"...soever"
Lots of triples are formed by placing a word in front of "soever":

* whatsoever
* whensoever
* wheresoever
* whichsoever
* whithersoever
* whomsoever
* whosoever

"…upon"
I nearly overlooked this entire family, quite forgetting that upon is "up" "on"! Actually, I suspect that this just a subset of a larger "…up…" family, but I couldn't come, er, up with anymore.

* hereupon
* whereupon

Uncategorized
Do you have any more to offer? Note that there are some mini-groups here ("here…", "inso…", "…the…"), which may help to jog your memory…

* counterclockwise
* heretofore
* hereinafter
* insofar -- perhaps the shortest of all English closed triple compound words!
* insomuch
* nevertheless -- if dig back real deep and consider "never" as a contraction ("n(ot)ever"), this is close to quadruple territory!
* nonetheless
* notwithstanding
* whatshisname, whatshername, whatshisface (debatable, I'll grant you, but these seem to be in common usage at this point)

Questions
What's your opinion on these candidates? Anymore good fakes out there?

* highwayman (and superhighway) -- On the one hand, "highway" does seem to refer to the high way (rather than the main way), but the term is so old that it actually stems from OE heiweg via ME heyewey, both of which are compounds. In otherwords (teehee), "highway" may not be directly formed from mashing "high" with "way", but the compound was originally formed in English (albiet Old English), and the root words both "translated" individually as the word carried forward to contemporary English.

* nowadays -- Similar to my "highway" concern, "nowadays" stems from ME nouadaies which was a joing of nou ("now") and adaies ("during the day"). Adaies was, as best as I can tell, a contraction formed from a (short for "of"?) and daies for days. Nowadays, however, "nowadays" feels like a joining of "now", "a" (bastardized "of"), and "days".

* wherewithal and therewithal -- "Withal" is a word in its own right, but I think that it does stem from ME joining of with and al ("all").

* woebegone -- Not actually "woe" "be" "gone" :-) Instead, this stems from ME wo ("woe") joined with begon (means "beset"). Anyone want to argue that ME begon stems from an OE compound of be and go, which would make this a triple play if we count a ME/OE blend as fair game?

Fakes
My favorite category of all!

* buttonhole -- "but" "ton" "hole"
* catalog -- "cat" "a" "log"?
* champ'ion'ship
* cot'ton'mouth (& cot'ton'tail & cot'ton'wood)
* counter'at'tack
* cub'by'hole
* disc'on'tent
* do'or'knob (& …man, …mat, & …way)
* fat'her'hood
* feat'her'bed (& …weight)
* her'ring'bone
* sports'man'ship -- My favorite fake! Plenty others in this vein (e.g., "gamesmanship", "horsemanship", "seamanship")… (My hat's tipped, bytheway [hahaha], to Paul's Glob for a number of these triple plays, including the wonderful "sportsmanship"!)

Compound compounds
My thanks to ohsuplauren for the idea of mashing compounds together. For example, moreover + overrule = moreoverrule. You can also get sillier: goldfish + fisherman = goldfisherman. Here are a few more:

* fatherhoodwinked
* loinclothespin
* dumbbellhopscotchmankindhearted

Friday, July 16, 2010

Notre Dame de Sabart

I. Summary of the Legend and History of Notre Dame de Sabart[1]

Legend has it that in 778 Charlemagne set up camp in the vicinity of Tarascon (Ariège) with the intention of engaging the Saracens. While following the enemy’s trail on the evening of September 8 he found himself at the mouth of a valley[2] that his horse refused to enter. Digging his spurs the horse still refused to move ahead. Twice more he tried to urge the beast forward it remained obstinate; he would not enter the valley. After his third try a luminous Virgin appeared. As Charlemagne gazed upon her, we must imagine not without much awe and wonder, the Virgin disappeared as suddenly as she had appeared. At dawn the emperor assembled his army at the spot of the apparition. They began to dig and discovered a bronze statue upon which was written “Our Lady of Victory.” The soldiers erected a stone altar on the spot. According to the legend, it was his horse’s stubborn refusal to advance which prevented Charlemagne from entering the valley and walking straight into a Saracen trap which would have almost certainly led to his defeat.

The emperor decided to carry the Virgin of Victory to the abbey of St. Volusien at Foix, but after two attempts the statue miraculously disappeared and returned to where she had originally appeared. This was clearly where she wanted to be venerated; Charlemagne ordered a chapel built at the place, thenceforth called Sabart.

According to Saillens in Nos vierges noires (1945):

“A Black Madonna called Our Lady of Sabart--or Victory--is venerated near Tarascon and Ussat-les-Bains. The site, deserted today, gave its name to the Sabartès. Legend attributes the chapel to Charlemagne, victor over the Saracens, but we can find the same explanation at Thuir and Rochefort-du-Gard, and Sabart was a sacred place well before the alleged visit of Charles. The mountain which dominates the chapel is pierced with caves of prehistoric paintings. The long presence of the Romans is attested to by a series of coins…”

The miraculous statue of this sanctuary became an object of widespread devotion and Sabart a place of pilgrimage benefiting from the protection of St Volusien abbey. In 1569, during the wars of religion, the church was destroyed but rebuilt in the 16th century. An annual pilgrimage was consecrated to the emperor’s victory. Pilgrims from all over the region arrived thundering a sacred ballad composed for the occasion circa 1672 by a canon of Pamiers, one Father Amilha in pure “langue moundi”[3] of Toulouse.

In the 17th century a hospice and convent were founded there.

During the revolution the chapel was pillaged, sold off as national property and converted into a barn. In 1842 the abbot Vergé bought the chapel along with the house next door and restored it with assistance from the parish of Notre Dame de Sabart. It once again became a pilgrimage site.

In our time there are no remnants of the Carolingian church. The chapel is Romanesque and granite blocks from the 12th century are still visible in the façade. The current structure dates to 1842.[4] Two very old stained glass windows were conserved and restored. The chapel, one of the most venerated in the diocese, was classified as an historical monument on June 5, 1846. The crenulated turret and false fortifications date from 1870.

II. Coronation

On June 7, 1954, the Notre Dame de Sabart was crowned. This is a reverence shown to especially important images of Mary and for which the Catholic Church has developed special rites and customs. It is an ancient practice which became widespread at the end of the 16th century. According to the Order of Crowning an Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1987):

“....it should be noted that it is proper to crown only those images to which the faithful come with a confidence in the Mother of the Lord so strong that the images are of great renown and their sites centers of genuine liturgical cultus and of religious vitality.”[5]

In addition to the standard coronation rite, one abbé Sabas Maury composed a devotional him to Our Lady of Sabart especially for the occasion. Take if you will this stanza from the hymn:

Mais, dans la nuit sans étoiles

La Vierge apparut soudain

Blanche et pure sous ses voiles

Comme un beau lis du jardin

Ave, Ave Ave Maria (repeat)


But in the night without stars

The Virgin appeared suddenly

White and pure under her veils

Like a beautiful lily in the garden

Ave, Ave Ave Maria (repeat)

So, if Saillens in 1945 identifies her as a Black Madonna, there is no indication that as soon after as 1954 her apparition was noted for her darkness; quite the contrary, she was "White and pure under her veils."

Notre Dame de Sabart does has several of the common characteristics of Black Madonnas: the strange comportment of an animal, being buried and/or emerging from the earth, miraculously returning to the spot where she was found after being removed, thus indicating the spot where she was to be worshipped.

As with other Black Madonnas, she generated a fervent cult and became the site of an important medieval pilgrimage.

But was her "blackness" really important to these medieval pilgrims? Before Saillens there is no particular indication that her darkness was considered an especially salient feature. Current authors such as Begg are not entirely corroborative because there's no indication he didn't simply take his identification from Saillens. Cassagnes-Brouquet includes her as one of the Black Madonnas of the Crusades, like Saillens equating her with the Black Madonna at Thuir which is also associated with Charlemagne and a victory over the Saracens. Numerous references to her as a Black Virgin exist, but these are contemporary and do not necessarily indicate a medieval provenance. It is hard to ignore that as recent as 1954 a hymn written to accompany the coronation denoting her special significance makes no mention of a dark hue. Quite the opposite.

III.

When I first saw Notre Dame de Sabart I was on a lunch break. On limited time I popped down from nearby Foix. I knew there was a Black Madonna in Tarascon but had forgotten the name. After seeing a few sites in the Pyrenees I've developed a kind of intuition about where they are located so I skirted the town and arrived at the chapel of Sabart: situated out of the town center on a somewhat elevated position overlooking the town (as in Aspet, Saint-Béat, Oust) with a chapel not dissimilar to others housing Black Madonnas, that is to say a 19th c renovation of a much earlier chapel. After moseying about, I was not sure she was the Black Madonna I had been seeking. Certainly she's darker than other representations of the Virgin in the chapel, and certainly the most honored, but she didn't seem strikingly dark, even if visibly darker than other representations in the chapel.

Verifying the name I later I discovered that she was indeed the Black Madonna I'd been looking for.

In 2006 she became a "sister" to Our Lady of Merixtell, the Patroness of Andorra. This latter Madonna was allegedly found on January 6 under a wild rose bush miraculously in bloom. Like Notre Dame de Sabart, she always returned to the spot where she was found when the people tried to remove her. Thus a church was built on the spot. This church was gutted by fire on September 8, 1976. You will recall that this was the date that Notre Dame de Sabart appeared to Charlemagne! This statue was destroyed but survives in many copies, some of which are dark, other less so. I have seen two other representations of the Virgin in Andorra which are the centerpiece of elaborate retables which are also very dark in relation to the depictions of the saints around her. In some there are over a dozen saints depicted, very pink, but the Virgin remains very dark. This is not surprising. After Auvergne, the Pyrenees remain the area with the densest cluster of Black Madonnas. As far as I know, however, very little has been written about the phenomenon in Andorra.


[1] The entirety of Part I is more or less a translation --with minor adjustments--from an article entitled “Meritxell-Sabart, un jumelage réussi” by Laurence Cabrol, found in the AriegeNews on May 3, 2006. Further information can be found in the following:

Notre-Dame de SABART, Fêtes du Couronnement, 7 Juin 1954
Impr, Narbonne, Pamiers, 1954, 10 page brochure concerning the coronation ceremony.

SABART, Histoire de l'église de Sabart dans le canton de Tarascon-sur-Ariège
Impr, d'Aug, De Labouisse-Rochefort, Toulouse, 1849, 233 pages.

[2] Present-day Vicdessos Valley ; although it is impossible to say whether or not Charlemagne actually encamped at this spot, some battles were certainly fought there.

[3] Somes say “Languedocien”, “Occitan” or simply, “patois”. “Moundi” is all of these, but more specifically the dialect of Toulouse and environs. See: Lingua Populi, Lingua Dei: Language, Religion, and the Origins of French Revolutionary Nationalism by David A. Bell in The American Historical Review, Vol. 100, No. 5 (Dec., 1995), pp. 1403-1437.

[4] Two much earlier stained glass windows were conserved and restored.

[5] http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/resources/crowning.html; this text comes from the English translations of an earlier rite approved by the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship in Rome in 1981. In the 17th century rites were composed for the coronation of images of Jesus, Mary and the Saints. A rite specifically for Mary dates to the 19th.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Staff of Life

It should come as no surprise that sometimes, various breads and bread-like treats should be invested with spiritual meaning. After all, John 6:35 (KJV) says:

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

John 6:48-58 goes even further, explaining in metaphor what Jesus would later make concrete at the Last Supper: this is My body, this is My blood.

As we all know, Catholics and some mainline Protestants remember this every Sunday when they take Communion. Indeed, the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation has it that the bread (host) given during this rite is literally the same as the body of Christ.

While this cannibalistic theophagy may turn you off, you certainly like snacking on tasty little cakes, no?

Unsurprisingly, France has plenty of those to offer.

The Madeleine (Magdalene) is one such cake. It's biggest claim to fame is that it kicks off Proust's ten-volume In Search of Lost Time, where he describes it as having the form of "a pilgrim's shell". In one traditional form it is indeed scallop-shaped. The pilgrims Proust refers to are those on their way to Santiago de Compostela, who affix this scallop to their staves as they make their way towards the holy destination. The scallop, as we have discussed, is associated with Aphrodite and its vaguely feminine forms may evoke a woman's sex; one often sees stoups for Holy Water in the form of a scallop (in France, at least). The origin of the Madeleine is in dispute, but most agree the name comes from inventor Madeleine Paulmier. Whether she was an 18th or 19th century figure is uncertain, but in either case they are native to the Lorraine region of France.

Another cookie with more direct religious overtones is the so-called "navette", which among other things means "barque" or "little boat". This hard cake is associated with Provence, especially Marseilles, and there are several theories as to its origin. Ean Begg speculates that it comes from the little cakes offered to Isis and that the barque here refers to the barque of Isis. Another speculation is that it recalls the legend that has the three Marys (including Magdalene) landing in France at what is now Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer; in a similar vein the boat is said to be a metaphor for the word of Christ landing on the shores of France. Others still say it commemorates the founding of Marseilles by Phoenicians.

The navette is associated with the Saint Victor Abbey, especially its Candlemas celebrations. There is a legend that a polychrome, wooden statue of the Virgin, crowned and slightly battered, washed up on the shores of a lake near the abbey sometime towards the end of the 13th century. Some took her to be a protectress of people who plied the waves, sailors, fishermen, etc. To commemorate this legend, one Monsieur Aveyrous decided to give his biscuit the form of a boat. Finally, the metal container that is used to carry incense in the Catholic liturgy is in French referred to as a "navette". Come to think of it, the scallop shell form used for stoups is also used in Western iconography as a kind of boat (think of Botticelli's Bith of Venus), bringing us back to Madeleine, or Magdalene, who arrived in Provence in a tiny little boat....

Whatever the case, most of these theories give spiritual origins; not so shocking when we consider again that the "main man" of Western Civ is metaphorically referred to as bread and consumed in bread form in the Communion rite.


There are other cakes that come to mind. For a long time I was a great devotee of the "galette St. Michel", a small buttery cookie, not especially delicious. I liked it because it was the only cookie I'd ever seen which featured such a striking design: St Michael standing on the Devil's neck, thrusting a lance into the vanquished rebel. This cookie is from Brittany and may recall a Breton legend where the Devil, jealous of St. Michael, challenges the latter to....a jumping contest. Ready, set, go! The Devil plummeted into a canyon, but Michael, borne by pinions of air, floated safely across, coming to land on a mountaintop that still bears his footprint (shades of the Dome of the Rock, said to bear Mohammed's footprint). Devil, as Jack Black said so wisely, You can't win!

This was all triggered by a recent random encounter with an Oreo. A Canadian colleague was eating some and I wondered where she'd gotten them (being in France and all) and apparently, our office vending machine, um, vends them. So I bought myself a packet and before consuming it, looked at it closely in nostalgia. Lo and behold, I noticed that the Oreo name was surmounted by a Cross of Lorraine and what appeared to be 12 Maltese crosses. Those latter are in fact four-leafed clovers but the Cross of Lorraine is just that. It's a copy of the Nabisco logo, in fact. Maybe I've read too many of Boyd Rice's esoteric writings, but that Cross of Lorraine always geeks me out on the Merovingian mythos.

Funny that these symbols have also stoked the paranoid fantasies of the truly deluded. Researching this symbolism I came across people calling this the "Illuminati cookie" because the Cross of Lorraine is the symbol of the 33rd degree Mason or because the Nabisco logo could be seen as an eye in a pyramid. Trouble is, the Cross of Lorraine is not a Masonic symbol. It is symbol associated with Joan of Arc though. Maybe food companies have a thing for her. We recently posted about Joan of Arc beans made by Underwood.

Finally, I was at a wedding in Barcelona in June and at a dinner hosted by the bride's parents, the mother told us of a festival in her village in honor of Saint Agatha. It involved quite a few things, but what stands out is that the people of the village baked cakes shaped like breasts, brought them to the church to be blessed, then distributed them afterwards. Agatha, patron of bakers, among other things, is often pictured holding her own breasts on a platter, which were sliced off in her martyrdom.

So, sometimes cigar is just a cigar, but a loaf of bread can be something else...


Another coincidence is that the only Jack Chick cartoon tract I own is called "The Death Cookie" and relates how the Devil has tricked Catholics into worshipping the host instead of Jesus himself. Aside from the literal Devil thing, he may have a valid theological point, but since I'd just as soon not promote Jack Chick, let's just leave it at that.

Coming back to France, how could I forget the galette des rois? This cake is consumed on and around Epiphany to honor the Three Wise Men. It can be like a large donut or a disc, but inside there is always a "fève", or bean, which is now not literally a bean but a small porcelain figure that could be anything from a soccer ball to a Smurf, or even a religious figure such as a shepherd or a Wise Man.

The person who receives the slice of galette with the fève then gets to wear a crown and is "king for a day". I'm too afraid to peep into my copy of The Golden Bough to cite the many pre-Christian precedents for this idea of the temporary king, they're far too plentiful. The festival I mentioned earlier about the bread breasts of Saint Agatha also featured electing two young girls as queens of the festival. It occurs to me that Miss America pageants, where a young beauty is crowned as the queen, as well as the whole homecoming/prom king and queen business, certainly have forgotten roots in these pagan festivals. The king for a day idea can also be traced back to the Roman Saturnalia via the Medieval Feast of Fools.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

No more light in the universe

Gid brought the following blurb to our attention, on a subject he wrote about rather insightfully some months ago. Hard to see how Illuminati-centered conspiracy theories could divert so much "time and attention" from the IAO....In any event, Gid got his info here, a useful site as the DARPA FAQ no longer carries this question:

Statement of the Information Awareness Office
regarding the meaning and use of the IAO logo

Source: Question 15 in the IAO Frequently Asked Questions
document dated February, 2003 which can be accessed
at http://www.darpa.mil/iao/TIA_FAQs.pdf


IAO FAQ --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Question 15: What does the IAO logo mean? Why has it disappeared from the web site?

Answer; DARPA offices have traditionally designed and adopted logos. However. because the IAO logo has become a lightning rod and is needlessly diverting time and attention from the critical tasks of executing that office's mission effectively and openly, we have decided to discontinue the use of the original logo.

For the record, the IAO logo was designed to convey the mission of that office; i.e., to imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate, and transition information technologies, components, and prototype, closed-loop information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness useful for preemption, national security warning, and national security decision making. On an elemental level, the logo is the representation of the office acronym (IAO) the eye above the pyramid represents "I" the pyramid represents "A," and the globe represents "O." In the detail, the eye scans the globe for evidence of terrorist planning and is focused on the part of the world that was the source of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "Scientia est polentia" means "Knowledge is power." With the enabling technologies being developed by the office, the United States will be empowered to implement operational systems to thwart terrorist attacks like those of September 11, 2001.

The unfinished pyramid and the eye depicted in the logo were taken directly from the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States of America (for a history of the seal, see http://www.heraldica.org/topics/usa/usheroff.htm). Both sides of the seal also appear on the back of the U.S. $1 bill.



Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Independence Day (USA)

Okay, so this is a few days late, but that's fitting as you'll see.

July 4 is independence day, the day we yanks decided to be a free nation, independent from the Brits -- right?

Wrong! The resolution of independence was actually voted to approval on July 2.

And guess what else?

Though we declared independence in 1776, we didn't even celebrate the holiday until 1796--some 20 years later.

What gives?

Well, to start with, July 4 is actually the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which was a document explaining why the 13 colonies had already chosen independence. So, as I understand it, we voted for it on July 2, and two days later we agreed on how to go about declaring it.

Okay, but why the delay before the celebration? I think that a clue to this mystery is that in 1796 the U.S. was in the midst of what was, as I understand it, the first "true" presidential election. George Washington was a shoe-in the first couple of times, so it wasn't until he chose to step down that political parties really started fighting to get their boy in office.

1796: In one corner we have John Adams who's been Washington's VP. In the other we have Thomas Jefferson.

Now I move into speculation based on something that I vaguely recall hearing on the radio but cannot seem to confirm. I think that at this point in time (i.e., late 1700s), George Washington's birthday was the primary patriotic holiday of the nation.

Consider this from Jefferson's point of view: The entire nation focuses its patriot zeal upon your opponent's boss' birthday.

So what does Jefferson do? Well, if my vague memories and suppositions are correct, he (or perhaps his political party) starts promoting July 4 as "Independence Day", the true & proper day for our nation's patriot zeal, a day focused on our nationhood itself--rather than a day of worshiping some ruler, all king-like.

Remember, though, that Independence Day is not a tribute to the actual collective decision that the 13 colonies made to be free--that happened on July 2. Instead, Independence Day is on July 4, in honor of the Declaration of Independence, which--now here's the big kicker--was principally authored by Jefferson.

Thus, the cynical argument that I'm seeking to confirm is this: Did Jefferson and his political party successfully transition America's chief patriot holiday away from Washington's birthday and over to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence as part of a political ploy to point patriot zeal away from Adams (Washington's VP) and toward Jefferson (author of the Declaration of Independence)?

Can anyone out there confirm or reasonably dispute this?

To end on a cheerier note, here's a bit of trivia to convolute matters. Washington was born under the Julian Calendar on February 11. By the time he was president, the Gregorian Calendar was in place--under which Washington's birthday was February 22. (There were actually many bitter complaints, even riots, about the "missing" 11 days!) For a long time, people just went ahead and partied on both days.

But that's surely not trivia, is it? Heck, I'll bet that's old news for the likes of you. So answer me this, smarty pants: On July 4, the Declaration of Independence was adopted. But when was it signed?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Nigra Sed Sum Formosa

You may have noticed in several posts of Christmas past we have remarked knowingly about the phenomenon of the Black Virgin or Black Madonna, without elaborating on just exactly what it is. Fact is, I (Daurade) wrote quite a few little "essays" on various Vierges Noires over the years, before LoS began.

An essay on my namesake Notre Dame de la Daurade gives a brief overview of what a Black Virgin is. Someday I'd like to revisit the subject in more detail but it's such a vast topic I've found it too daunting!

I'd thus like to give you a few links to these writings in order to not leave an important part of the puzzle unaddressed.

The following are only the Virgins I've visited, a small sampling of the 500 or so said to exist. Those mentioned without links I haven't gotten around to writing about yet....  

Notre Dame de la Daurade, Toulouse, Haute Garonne 

Notre Dame du Palais, Toulouse, Haute Garonne  

Notre Dame du Taur, Toulouse, Haute Garonne  

Notre-Dame du Pouech, Oust, Ariège  

Notre Dame des Ermites, Montaut, Ariège  

Other Vierges Noires of the Pyrénées, Aspet and St. Béat, Haute Garonne

Notre Dame de Tudet, Gaudonville/Tudet, Gers

Notre Dame de Cahuzac, Gimont, Gers

Mare de Déu del Socors, Tossa del Mar, Girona (Catalonia) 

Notre Dame de Sabart, Tarascon, Ariège 

Notre Dame de Rocamadour, Rocamadour, Lot 

Notre Dame de Boisville, Verdun-sur-Garonne, Tarn-et-Garonne (destroyed)

Notre Dame de Bonne Délivrance, Neuilly-sur-Seine

Notre Dame de Paix de Picpus, Paris

La Vierge de Chaillot, Paris

Nuestra Señora de Torreciudad,  Secastilla, Huesca (Spain)

Notre Dame de Marceille, Limoux, Aude


Mare de Déu de Meritxell, Andorra

Notre Dame de Loubens-Lauragais, Loubens-Lauragais, Haute Garonne

Notre Dame de Sescas, Bourisp, Hautes-Pyrénées

The Throne of Wisdom, Aragnouet, Hautes-Pyrénées 

Our Lady Of Dublin, Dublin 

Schwaerz Noutmuttergootes, Luxembourg City



Good online articles:


This article has the benefit of featuring many examples in German-speaking localities.  This article has become very influential for me.  As a result of reading this I've begun to think less of the origin and reasons for Black Madonna than of the development of perceiving their blackness and the importance attached to it.


From the universal to the particular.  A look at the dwinding devotion to a reproduction of a Black Madonna among Sicilian immigrants and their descendants in New York and New Jersey.  A good overview of the principal theories about the origins of the Madonna followed by a description about how a particular cult is disappearing along with the Italian-American community that it was part of.  This ain't Puzo's New York.

This I didn't know: 

Italy has one of the highest concentrations of Black Madonnas in all of Europe, and they are known by their gradations of skin color: nera (black), scura (dark), or bruna (tawny).

In support of Scheer:

According to a popular legend, a polychromed cedar statue was brought to Sicily from the Middle East sometime in the eighth or ninth century to save it from destruction during the Iconoclastic Wars. Yet the statue is similar in style to the Romanesque "throne of wisdom" figure, with the seated infant Jesus enthroned on his mother’s lap, created in Europe during the twelfth century.

 Yet: 

...it is not until 1751 that someone in Tindari distinctly mentions the statue’s color and also associates it with race.

Some Books:

Begg, Ean.  The Cult of the Black Virgin.  1997.

Cassagnes-Brouquet, Sophie.  Vierges Noires.  2000.

Saillens, Emile.  Nos Vierges Noires.  1945/2007.

Les Saintes Puelles

Lately, I have been working on a longish inventory of representations of women, both secular and religious, in the south of France and especially Toulouse. Originally meant to be a series of brief sketches, it has become something a bit more. What follows was originally just a smidgeon of the whole but has since taken on a life of its own. So, I've decided to break it off into a separate post. It touches on some profound issues which revolve around the conflation of saints and other syncretic processes, but I haven't quite gotten to exploring this as fully as I'd like. For now, I'm working with particularities and intend to work my way towards a more general approach.

It's certainly not intented to be my final word; this is more of an initial survey.

This post deals with the martyrdom of the Patron Saint of Toulouse and more specifically, the two women who gathered up his remains after the deed was done.

Let's go.

Saint Saturninus of Toulouse is variously known as Saturnin, Sernin, Cernin, Sanzornín, Sadurní, etc. according to what language you speak. His cult is centered in the south of France and the North of Spain, from Catalonia over to Asturias and even into northern Portugal. Although not the most wildly popular or well-known figure, several places in Spain and France bear his name and he is connected with the evangelists of the early Christianization of the area.

The legends around his life are taken from the Acts of Saturninus, which have been lost to time. Briefly, they state that Sernin (I use the local appellation) was the son of a king and the grandson of another on his mother's side. He was said to have been one of the 72 disciples of Christ (Luke 10:1-24) and present at the Last Supper. Furthermore, he was ordained by no less than Saint Peter himself.

This legend is historically impossible as it is most likely he was one one of the seven bishops Pope Saint Fabian (236-250 CE) sent out to Christianize Gaul. His lifetime was certainly well after the events portrayed in the Acts.

It is said that Sernin had to frequently pass before the pagan altars of the Toulouse to and from the Christian church. It so happened that oracles located there fell silent as he passed. This understandably pissed off the pagan priests, who blamed him and his sermons characterizing their gods as devils. They seized him, brought him to their altars and gave him an ultimatum: "sacrifice to our gods, or else." He apparently said something like "Why should I, when my very presence makes them mute?" Then came the "or else". He was tied to a bull and dragged until he died. Or, as one version has it they

"bound him to the feet of a bull and drew him unto the highest place of the capitol and cast him down the degrees and steps to the ground, so that his head was all to-broken and the brain sprang out, and so he accomplished his martyrdom."

What seems to be a minor detail is that two pious young Christian women known as "les Puelles" (from the Latin puellae, "young girl"), then buried his body. Not much is know about the Puelles, but they have, like innumerable other minor figures in the vast history of Christendom, inspired a small cult in their own right.

Later legend relates that Sernin had met the Puelles in Spain and that they were daughters of the King of Huesca. (Interesting in that Sernin too was the son of a king). Legend also relates these pious women gathered up the remains and buried them in a "deep ditch." For this they were punished. They were stripped, whipped and driven out of town. They found refuge in a place called Ricaud (in the Aude département); or maybe not. "Ricaud" or "Recaud" merely means a "safe-haven." In any event, the place is now called Mas-Saintes Puelles in their honor. In the town, one can find a monument to the women and in the church, a painting depicts the women being driven out of town, their torsos naked and their backs whipped.

I'd like to examine the Puelles story in more detail in connection with other legends from the South of France. First, though, I'd like to say a few words about the bull. The bull is still an important symbol in Toulouse, which until not so long ago continued the tradition of bullfighting. There is a Rue du Taur, where Sernin was apparently dragged to his death, a station Matabiau (Kill Bull), and the big bell in a Toulouse carillion is called the Bull, etc.

Some have speculated that the bull imagery somehow refers to Mithraism. The Occitan cross, symbol of Toulouse and of Occitania in general (where all of our events take place), is configured so that there are twelve points which some speculate refer to the signs of the zodiac, and a lot of Mithraic symbolism was based on the zodiac. This site notes that a bas-relief at St. Sernin Basilica in Toulouse depicts the Puelles with a lion and a lamb and goes on to a very detailed explanation of the astrological symbolism in the church. It may be Sernin was battling Mithraists. Other sources mention that the oracle who Sernin offended was in fact that of Jupiter.

Sarcophagus of St. Sernin; St. Hilaire Abbey
The cult of the Puelles in France seems to be located principally around the Aude. The Abbey of Saint Hilaire (Aude) holds the sarcopahgous of Saint Sernin, a white marble masterpiece depicting the arrest, martyrdom and burial of Saint Sernin. In addition to depicting the Puelles, Saints Papulus and Honestus are depicted. Papulus was beheaded in Toulouse, while Honestus was martyred in Pampluna; variants of the same legend have conflicting accounts of whether or not Sernin or Papulous (Papoul) converted and baptized Saint Fermin, patron of Pamplona. The martyrdom of Sernin is sometimes transferred onto Fermin. That is say that while some accounts have Fermin beheaded in Amiens, others have him being dragged to his death behind a bull.

Interesting that many of the cities associated with these three saints--Honestus was born in Nîmes and martyred at Pampluna, for example, also have very strong bullfighting traditions. Some have speculated that bullfighting is an echo of the central rites of Mithraism. In any event, the reversal of a man killing a bull, may indicate that Sernin was killed by Mithraists. Many scholars have noted the two sects share many features in common: virgin births, baptisms, last suppers, the 25th of December, blood symbolism, etc. Others have speculated that the deep-ditch into which Sernin remains were place may have been a Mithraeum (although why this would be so is a mystery if in fact his quarrel was with Mithraists). Whatever similarities the two sects share, there is a chicken or egg situation here. Some believe the Christians borrowed elements from Mithraism to broaden its appeal; Justin Martyr, writing in the 2nd century, claimed the Mithraists were perverting Christianity.

Was there some kind of syncretism going on between the two, reflected in Toulouse in the imagery we have described? We may never know the answers to this question but the parallels and associations are striking indeed. I would like to here mention, with the intention of elaborating at a later date, that the link of bulls with Christian imagery in the south of France is not limited to San Sernin. The phenomenon of the Black Madonnas, most highly concentrated in Auvergne and the Pyrenées, is also connected with the animal. Indeed, there is now a church on the Rue du Taur called Notre Dame du Taur, and the statue itself may or may not be a bona fide Black Virgin. I have never seen it identified as such, despite is markedly dusky hue, but it is certainly very close in style to other examples. (For more about Black Virgins please see Notre Dame de la Daurade and Notre Dame du Taur).

One of Sernin's disciples was Saint Fermin. According to tradition, the place where Saint Fermin was baptized by Sernin was at the Pocico de San Cernin, the "Small Well of San Cernin" across from a temple dedicated to the latter and built upon a pagan temple. There is evidence that Fermin had a cult in Anglo-Saxon England. A monastery bearing his name was also said to have a sacred well. "Unofficial" pilgrimages to this place were halted in 1298. Three towns in England (North Crawley, Thurlby and Thorney) have churches bearing his name.
The Saintes Puelles; Tautavel
Again, I'm in the early stages of this project, but the recurrence of sacred wells bears interest for this story because they too are associated with the phenomenon of the Black Virgins.

Another veneration of the Puelles, after Mas-Saintes-Puelles and St. Hilaire, occurs in Tautavel (Pyrénées-Orientales, a stone's throw from Aude), where there is a chapel dedicated to them. This chapel dates from the era when many chapels were erected to various Black Virgins and, like many of these, is located outside of town in an isolated spot.

In this chapel one can find a strange sculpture, about which there is an interesting discussion here. Visitors have noticed striking similarities to a painting on the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, called "the Holy Hermits", where two figures are said to be Mary Magdalene and the Egyptian Maria (Maria Aegyptica).

Maria's legend is that she ran away as a child to Alexandria and lived the life of a sexual profligate, buying her way to Jerusalem with sexual favors. Once there, she tried to enter the Church of the Holy Sephulchre but was prevented from doing so by an unseen hand; she promised to reform her ways andafterwards was able to enter the church. She then went off to live as a hermit in the desert.

One description of the altarpiece:
Mary Magdalen and Mary of Egypt;

 Ghent Altarpiece
Upon the nearer of the two panels to the left are the Holy Hermits HEREMITE SANCTI the foremost is Saint Paul, with at his left, leaning on a staff, Saint Anthony, and close to him another, bald-headed and bare-footed, these two telling their beads ; on their right, seven more ascetics, mostly dark- complexioned, with beards and tangled hair, are followed from behind some rocks by Saint Mary Magdalene, bearing her pot of ointment, and Saint Mary of Egypt.

These two Mary's were often conflated into one figure, as some legends state without scriptural basis that Magdalene fled into the desert after the Ascension of Christ and lived as a penitent. In the 11th century this desert was relocated to Provence. Given the prominence of their association, penitents who had been harlots, it is interesting that the legend of the Puelles has grown up with similar iconography at least in this case, such as the pot of ointment for anointing the dead. Mary of Egypt usually holds three loaves of bread and this one holds a book. Which is, in fact, another symbol commonly used for Magdalene. You can even find images of Magdalene with a small pot or jar, resting on a book. Our statue of the Puelles at Tautavel depicts one carrying the jar and the other, a book.

There is more than one conflation going on here. Mary Magdalene is never in fact described in the Bible as either a harlot or a whore, but the association of Mary of Egypt shows that by the Medieval period this was a widespread belief. One reason for this is that Mary Magdalene, in the Latin church, is considered to be the same person as Mary of Bethany, described as a "sinner." But this identification is not at all clear, and there is confusion here, as with other Marys, as to exactly how many Marys there were:

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) states, "The Greek Fathers, as a whole, distinguish the three persons: the "sinner" of Luke 7:36-50; the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Luke 10:38-42 and John 11; and Mary Magdalen. On the other hand most of the Latins hold that these three were one and the same. Protestant critics, however, believe there were two, if not three, distinct persons."

Odd that in both Van Eyck's painting and the Tautavel sculpture, the women seem to rise out of the same dress, like a pair of Siamese twins, or two manifestations of one principle, perhaps?

Robert Graves speculates in The White Goddess (1948) that Mary of Egypt can be identified with "Mary Gipsy", a virgin with a blue robe and a pearl necklace. Otherwise known as Marina, Marian or "Maria Stellis". She is supposedly a remote descendant of Aphrodite, the love goddess from the sea.

The Myrrhbearers
This is exactly what I thought when I considered the legends associated with Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer; a town which, for those already familiar with it, cannot but spring to mind given the context of our discussion. It helps that the famous feast days described below were taking place at the very moment I was beginning this post. This town is named after the three Marys, that is to say the women who first saw the empty tomb after the crucifixion. These three Marys are often depicted with the same kind of Jar as we see in the van Eyck painting and the curious sculpture of the Puelles.

On May 24 the Roma (Gypsies, so named because they were commonly though to descent from Egyptians) population of France descend upon Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in order to venerate their patron saint, Saint Sarah, like Mary of Egypt, a dark-skinned Egyptian. According to legend, Saint Sarah and the three Marys either set sail or were cast adrift from Alexandria (further shades of Maria Aegyptica) before arriving at the place now bearing their name.

Again, it seems that just as Magdalen and Mary of Egypt are sometimes taken as one figure, there is a link between Mary of Egypt and Sarah; indeed, some recent writers have it that Saint Sarah was in fact Mary Magdalen's daughter.
Older legends place her at the empty tomb. Not all the legends accord with another.

Incidentally, Sarah's crypt in the Church of St Michael at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer contains an old altar that may be the remnants of a Mithraic altar and a sacred spring:

Once a sacred
site of the Celtic threefold water goddess, the holy spring was known as Oppidum Priscum Ra. Superseded by a Roman temple dedicated to Mithras in the 4th century BC, the site was later taken over by the Christians.

Mary Salome and Mary Jacob
The crypt has all the trappings of a fervent cult typical of potent saints: notes, trinkets, photos, abandoned crutches, etc. The church has altars to only two of the Marys: Mary Salome and Mary Jacob; these were the only people from the "landing party' who remained in the village, eventually becoming venerated. Every year in the annual pilgrimage of Gypsies, the statue of Saint Sara is brought down to the ocean to reenact her arrival. The next day the statues of the two Marys are likewise brought to the sea. They seem, like the Puelles and the other two Mary's in the van Eyck painting, to be joined together; one carries the pot of oil.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer has been a sacred spot since prehistory; archeological evidence reveals this veneration focused on a sacred spring.

What is clear is that the iconography of Magdalen and the two Marys is also found in the sculpture of the Puelles: jars of oil for anointing and a book. I would like to investigate this further and see if the theory that the Puelles are merely a local copy of the two Marys who rested at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is plausible. Or if it reflects that of Mary Magdalene and Mary Aegyptica. For the Puelles and Magdalene, their stories also tell us they were women who had a special role in caring for the body of a martyred holy figure. They played the same role and the connection in this regards goes far in explaining why they intersect with other legends of early Christian women.

A poster on the thread linked to above also excerpts a passage from the oddly-named Come Carpenter, which is worth re-quoting here:

For the Hermetic arcanes, Egypt has remained the threshold of the occidental realms of death and resurrection, the kingdom where the worship of the departed reigns supreme, the "land of western exile", the Khemi: the black earth where the seed of life is buried before rebirth and where the soul sinks into the afterlife. The land of the Nile is called Misr in semitic languages, a word which may well bear a relation to the latin word miseria. The world Saviour, according to various hermetic and gnostic traditions in the Middle East that reappear in certain alchemical texts, is the son of Maria Aegyptiaca, the black virgin or black stone that fell from heaven.


I have no idea where Mr. Carpenter gets his information, but it is interesting that he calls Maria Aegyptiaca the Black Virgin; other traditions hold that it is Mary Magdalene; still others say the Black Virgin is Sarah!

In the course of my research I experienced a strange coincidence. While I know that there is some foundation to the notions of sacred topography, I'm highly skeptical of many attempts to impose this upon the Languedoc. I believe it's Henry Lincoln who breaks out a ruler and compass and begins drawing lines between various "significant" places until he comes up with a suggestive form which then proves that the Cathars or Templars or Merovingians or what have you founded towns and erected castles in order to conform to a sacred geometry.

That said, when I put a thumbtack on the three places where there seem to be significant references to the Puelles: I first marked Mas-Saintes-Puelles and Tautavel, then pegged the Saint Hilaire Abbey. This was in order to get an idea of the distances involved in order to plan a day trip. I was amused to see that they are almost perfectly aligned and almost equidistant. I ascribe no intentionality to this; it was merely unexpected, and amusing.

Google Earth Image of Puelles-related sites
I came across another potential veneration of the Puelles in Barcelona. One of the oldest churches in Barcelona is all that remains of a nunnery known as the Sant Pere de les Puel·les. The "puelles" in the name refers to the nuns themselves. These nuns has the reputation of being beautiful young women of noble families and, as this site recounts "was the setting for some of medieval Barcelona's most tragic stories of impossible love."

"Legend has it that the puellae, when threatened with rape and murder by the invading Moors under Al-Mansur in 986, disfigured themselves by slicing off their own ears and noses in an (apparently futile) attempt to save themselves."

Another version has it that the facial disfigurement was a more general phenomenon; that the woman did this in order to avoid being forced into loveless arranged marriages. Whatever the case, it evokes another theme of my larger survey: the suffering young woman.

What is even more curious is that this convent was built on the site of an even older church dedicated to San Sadurní, or as they say in Occitan, San Sernin. The convent dates from 945 and was founded by one count Suñer in order to honor his wife, Riquilda de Tolosa.

So you have a monastery dedicated the "puelles" on the site of a church dedicated to a Saint Sernin by a count whose wife hailed from Toulouse, (the Spanish city Tolosa was not founded until 1256). This would seem to indicate that in fact we are dealing with the puelles from the martyrdom of San Sernin.

But all is not so clear. Apparently, the church is dedicated to a Saint Saturninus martyred in Zaragoza, Spain in 303 A.D.) This Saturninus was one of 18 companions of Saint Engratia who were beheaded for being Christians. Apparently, there were four men with this name among the 18. A rather common name in the area, evidently, thus making it less surprising that this church in Barcelona shares the name of that in Toulouse. Still, although what I've dug up so far makes no mention of a connection with the Toulouse legend, it's a lead I'd like to follow.

The French connection, is more prominent in many regards than the Spanish. The church that

"originally stood here, [was] located just outside the old Roman walls of the city, as early as 801 A.D. according to some preserved inscriptions. It was expanded under the patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious (known as Lluís El Piadós in Catalonia), King of France from 814-840, who was the son of the Emperor Charlemagne. At that time Catalonia was, in a sense, a part of France, as the Counts of Barcelona were vassals of the King of the Franks, who ruled the city in the King's name. It was only later that the Counts of Barcelona asserted their independence, beginning in 985, and began to build their own empire and royal dynastic traditions without deference to the Frankish throne."

In Lérida, not too far from Barcelona, there is a place calles "Les Puelles" but I haven't found out the provenance of the name. Might be tough going. Only 21 people live there! There is also a town in the area called Sant Sadurní d'Anoia. This doesn't necessarily imply that this is our Sernin and Puelles; it may be coincidence stemming from the Catalan family name of Puelles.

In Asturias, on the other hand, there is also a place called Puelles and nearby is San Saturnino.

Here one can find a church of San Bartolomé de Puelles which was remodelled at some point "se usaron elementos de la capilla de San Saturnino (Sanzornín), que parece que era un monumento de gran interés y belleza, a juzgar por lo que de él se conserva." I will be there in August, as it turns out, and will definitely be paying this place a visit.

Catalan Wikipedia lists several places bearing the name Sadurní and one Sant Serni. This latter is definitely named after our man, but the others may come from the martyrs of Zaragoza.

North of the Pyrenees, many towns in France bear his name; but only one for the Puelles.

In conclusion....

Well, there is no conclusion yet. What I've done above is make some observations and connections and raised more questions than answers. Without some more traditional and serious research, I risk blathering. So, quite arbitrarily, I'm stopping here in hopes of returning to this topic in better detail as soon as I have some.

In the meantime, I welcome any thoughts or comments or rebuttals of the demi-theories I've presented above.

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention this book by Mary Ange Tibot: Les Saintes Puelles Ou la destinée de Saturne (The Saint Puelles or the Destiny of Saturn). I haven't read it yet, but it appears to be an examination of the diffusion of the cult of Sernin and especially the Puelles. Tibot examines the astrological significance of Puelles symbolism, but until I've read it that's all I can say for now.
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