Category Archives: Michaelmas

Angelic Days

This week, September transitions to October. An ending and a beginning in the midst of autumn and it is a week overseen by shining beings, for these are days traditionally given to angels: In three days’ time, on October the 2nd, we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels, and today, the 29th of September, brings the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel––a day better known as Michaelmas.

The one that comes later is more personal, a day set aside to honor our personal guardian angels. It is a very old tradition, one that dates to the Fourth Century, when folks began setting up altars in their homes on the feast in honor of their angelic protectors. The one that comes today––Michaelmas (pronounced mick-il-mus)––begins with Michael the Archangel but has come to honor angels in general. Michaelmas is traditionally a night for a dinner of roast goose, and afterward, roasted nuts. But it is the humble blackberry that is most traditional for this day: In Scotland, there are Struan Micheil, Michaelmas bannocks, somewhat like a scone but more of a flatbread, cut into wedges, comprised of equal parts oats, barley, and rye, and traditionally made without the use of metal: wooden fork, wooden or ceramic bowl, baking stone. The bannocks are served with blackberries or blackberry jam, for it was Michael the Archangel who battled Satan, the fallen angel, and when Satan fell to Earth, it was in a bramble patch––a blackberry patch––that he landed. Legend has it that each year after Michaelmas, Satan returns to curse and spit upon the brambles that he landed upon, which is not so surprising: Bramble patches are thorny and painful. You’d probably curse and spit upon them, too, if you fell into a bramble patch. Be that as it may, many people will not eat blackberries after Michaelmas for this reason, and so they’ll eat their fill of the plump, juicy berries today.

My favorite part of this particular day, though, is that it is a chance to recite a litany of names––while Michaelmas is another old feast that comes out of the Catholic church, various traditions will honor today Michael as well as his companions, Gabriel and Raphael. Still others will include Uriel, Raguel, Ramiel, and Sariel. I love these names; they roll past my lips in an ancient and mysterious tongue, and the further down the roster we go, the more mysterious the names become. To speak them is to cross a fascinating linguistic bridge to the past. The “-el” suffix of these angelic names is Sumerian in origin, signifying “brightness” or “shining,” names that in their true form would be Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Uri-el, Ragu-el, Rami-el, Sari-el. The list goes on: Camael, Jophiel, Zadkiel, and Anael, Simiel and Oriphiel, then on to Metatron, Israfil, and Malak al-Maut. It is a walk across an ancient bridge of etymology that connects to the Akkadian ilu (radiant one), Babylonian ell (shining one), Old Welsch ellu (shining being), Old Irish aillil (shining), Anglo-Saxon aelf (radiant being), and English elf (shining being).

CALLING ALL ANGELS
Please join me tomorrow, 3 PM Eastern on Wednesday September 30, for Book Arts 101: Home Edition… it’s Episode 23 and this one is titled “Calling all Angels” and it is all about these angelic things, and more. Watch on Facebook Live and if you can’t make it at 3, worry not, video is posted immediately after the broadcast at our Facebook page.

A reminder, too, about our new embroidered protective face masks from Chiapas. Straight to the point: they are made by an extended family there whose traditional income source (tourism to Mexico) vanished with the pandemic. But in August, they began making face masks and they are just exquisite and you’ll love them and we love the fact that every purchase directly supports the family. They appreciate every order, and so do we. Click here to see them and to order… and yes, there are specials and free domestic shipping offers! (International orders? Write me at <mail@conviviobookworks.com> and we’ll see what we can do to get you a great price for shipping, too.)

Image: Detail from “Christ in the Arms of Two Angels” by Juan de Juanes. Oil on panel, c. 16th century. [Public domainvia Wikimedia Commons.

 

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The Sweet Things

Two holidays come this 29th of September: It’s Michaelmas, when we celebrate Michael the Archangel, and later, with the setting sun, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, will begin. Blackberries are traditional to Michaelmas and apples and honey, of course, to Rosh Hashanah. The apples and honey are purely symbolic: eat these sweet things to help ensure a sweet year ahead. You might also eat challah bread and Teiglach: small balls of dough that are baked in honey and mixed with chopped roasted almonds and candied cherries. My family discovered them one September in a local Jewish bakery. We were mesmerized by the tin plates of Teiglach, piled high into a cone, wrapped in cellophane. They reminded us so much of the struffoli we make each Christmas. We bought a plate and took it home and the teiglach was so good, we went back the next day for another. Something about the nuts and the cherries and the honey make for a sublime combination of sweetness and substance and texture. Eventually, we began making our own. The photo above is of my mom’s and sister’s Teiglach. They are so good (and not bad at all for a couple of Italian American Catholics!).

Blackberries for Michaelmas comes not from symbolism but from story, and I do love good story-based foodways. It is the story of Satan, the fallen angel, battling Michael the Archangel, and it is essentially thus: Satan fell to Earth and landed in a bramble patch––a blackberry patch. I love blackberries, but I can tell you––from well remembered experience––that they are a fruit that will make you curse and swear as you harvest them. So many thorns. They lay claim to your clothes and wound you. Satan cursed the bramble patch he landed upon, and legend has it that he returns each year to curse and spit upon that same patch.

Roast goose for dinner is traditional for Michaelmas, and it is one of the first traditional nut-roasting nights of autumn. In Scotland, there are Struan Micheil, Michaelmas bannocks, somewhat like a scone but a flatbread, basically, cut into wedges, typically made from equal amounts of oats, barley, and rye, traditionally made without the use of metal: wooden fork, wooden or ceramic bowl, baking stone. And served, of course, with blackberries or blackberry jam.

The day belongs to St. Michael the Archangel, but traditions have arisen in various parts of the world that honor other angels this day, too. Some will honor Gabriel and Raphael along with Michael. Others will include Uriel, Raguel, Ramiel, and Sariel. This is something I’ve written about in the past about Michaelmas, but will say it again: I love these names, for the further down the roster we go, the more mysterious the names become and we cross a fascinating linguistic bridge to ancient tongues. The “-el” suffix of these angelic names is Sumerian in origin, signifying “brightness” or “shining,” names that in their true form would be Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Uri-el, Ragu-el, Rami-el, Sari-el. The list continues: Camael, Jophiel, and Zadkiel; Anael, Simiel, and Oriphiel; Metatron, Israfil, and Malak al-Maut. Their etymology connects to the Akkadian ilu (radiant one), Babylonian ell (shining one), Old Welsch ellu (shining being), Old Irish aillil (shining), Anglo-Saxon aelf (radiant being), and English elf (shining being). Speak these names aloud; immediately we are transported to an ancient time, a time when angels were perhaps more commonly seen.

Are they still around? Many folks think so, and I am not one to doubt them. In a few days time, on the 2nd of October, we’ll celebrate another angelic day, one even older than Michaelmas and one much more personal: the Feast of the Guardian Angels. Its roots are in the Fourth Century, when believers began setting up altars in their homes each October in honor of their angelic protectors. But today, we enjoy the sweet things in life. L’shanah Tovah.

COME SEE US!
We begin popping up a lot throughout South Florida these last few months of the year. Here’s where you’ll find us these next few weeks. To be kept apprised, follow us on Instagram or Facebook: @conviviobookworks

FLORIDA DAY of the DEAD: OFRENDAS EXHIBITION OPENING
Sunday October 6 from 11 AM to 3 PM
History Fort Lauderdale (inside the historic New River Inn)
231 SW 2nd Ave, Fort Lauderdale
We’ll be there with a mini pop up of our traditional Dia de Muertos artisan goods. My family is also building one of the ofrendas in the exhibition.

FALL NIGHT MARKET at SOCIAL HOUSE
Saturday October 19 from 4 to 8 PM
Social House
512 Lucerne Avenue, Lake Worth
Social House is always a favorite venue of ours, and its magic is especially potent at night! Not sure yet what we’ll be showing, but count on anything we bring to be handmade by traditional artisans.

AUTUMN MAKERS MARKETPLACE
Sunday October 20 from 10 AM to 4 PM
Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton
Live music, family fun, and lots of great local makers. We’ll be there with a big boutique of traditional Dia de Muertos artisan goods, Shaker herbs & teas, Seth Thompson’s Royal River pottery, and maybe even a little advent calendar preview.

REAL MAIL FRIDAYS: HALLOWE’EN SOCIAL
Friday October 25 from 2 to 6 PM
Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University Libraries, Boca Raton
It’s a special edition of the Jaffe’s popular Real Mail Fridays letter writing socials, this one with an All Hallow’s Eve theme. Expect good old fashioned autumnal fun plus a mini Makers Marketplace. We’ll be there with a selection of our traditional Dia de Muertos artisan goods.

DIA de LOS MUERTOS LAKE WORTH BEACH
Saturday November 2 from 3 to 9 PM
Hatch 1121
1121 Lucerne Avenue, Lake Worth
Lake Worth’s homegrown Day of the Dead festival. Find us in our usual spot out in the courtyard near the dancing and the mariachi!

FLORIDA DAY of the DEAD
Saturday November 2 from 3 to 8 PM
Huzienga Plaza
32 East Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale
One of the nation’s largest Day of the Dead festivals; current plans have us there for the first portion of the event in the park on the New River where the Skeleton Processional begins. (The event continues on in one form or another all the way through to 4 AM!)

 

Blackberries & Shining Beings

We are in the midst of autumn and we come to an angelic period. In three days’ time, on October the 2nd, it’s the Feast of the Guardian Angels, and today, the 29th of September, brings the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel––better known as Michaelmas. The one that comes later is more personal, when we celebrate and honor our personal guardian angels in a tradition going back to the Fourth Century, when folks began setting up altars in their homes on the feast in honor of their angelic protectors.

The one that comes today, Michaelmas (pronounced mick-il-mus), begins with Michael the Archangel but really honors angels in general. Blackberries are part of the custom, but we’ll get to that later. First, let’s consider the universality of angels and how they have made appearances in the folkways of diverse cultures around the globe, which, I think, is pretty fascinating. And so it is fitting to celebrate not just Michael, but all angels. And while Michaelmas is an old holiday that comes out of the Catholic church, various traditions will honor today Michael as well as Gabriel and Raphael. Others will include Uriel, Raguel, Ramiel, and Sariel. I love these names; the further down the roster we go, the more mysterious the names become and we cross a fascinating linguistic bridge to ancient tongues. The “-el” suffix of these angelic names is Sumerian in origin, signifying “brightness” or “shining,” names that in their true form would be Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Uri-el, Ragu-el, Rami-el, Sari-el. The list continues: Camael, Jophiel, and Zadkiel; Anael, Simiel, Oriphiel, and Raguel; Metatron, Israfil, and Malak al-Maut. Their etymology connects to the Akkadian ilu (radiant one), Babylonian ell (shining one), Old Welsch ellu (shining being), Old Irish aillil (shining), Anglo-Saxon aelf (radiant being), and English elf (shining being).

The Feast of the Guardian Angels never did develop traditional foodways, but Michaelmas has. There is roast goose for some and for others, it’s a night to roast nuts. In Scotland, there are Struan Micheil, Michaelmas bannocks, somewhat like a scone but a flatbread, basically, cut into wedges, typically made from equal amounts of oats, barley, and rye, traditionally made without the use of metal: wooden fork, wooden or ceramic bowl, baking stone. The bannocks are served with blackberries or blackberry jam, and here is where we get to the more universal tradition for Michaelmas, one that goes back to one of the great legends of St. Michael the Archangel, for it was Michael who battled Satan, the fallen angel. When Satan fell to Earth, it was in a bramble patch––a blackberry patch––that he landed. Have you ever been in a bramble patch? The brambles are full of thorns. Those juicy, delicious blackberries come at a cost. Legend has it that each year, Satan returns to curse and spit upon the brambles that he landed upon, and who can blame him? I think we might all do the same.

The image above is one of the naive illustrations printed letterpress in the Convivio Bookworks limited edition book The Room of Crosses, in which an angel comes to grant a wish to a discontented farmer. As for blackberries, well, I don’t know that I ever did have a blackberry until I began going to Maine for printing internships when I was in grad school. In Maine, it’s easier to forage for edibles. There were wild blueberries growing beneath the power lines, and just a few yards from the house, close by to the road, wild raspberries and wild blackberries. If you’ve not been in a bramble patch and are wondering why Satan was so infuriated at landing in one, well… I wrote about my experience with blackberries in an essay that was published in 2009 in a magazine called My Table. It’s Houston’s dining magazine. I’m pretty sure it’s ok if I republish it here for you today…. as a Michaelmas gift, if you will.

 

B L A C K B E R R I E S
The sun is warm, and the blackberries are ripening in Maine. I see them along the roadside each day as I walk past, and today, the call is too alluring. Back home in Florida I’d have to pay three bucks or more for just a half pint tray at Publix, and here, so many wild berries, free for the taking.

Amongst the berries, with my stainless steel colander filling nicely, my mind wanders and I begin to think of blackberry jam, and blackberry pie, and I even wonder about blackberry Jell-O. And I am amazed at how little competition I have. No one else is here. No neighbors, no signs of birds gorging or raccoons foraging. Just branches laden heavy with fruit. And thorns––I notice thorns, though they seem harmless enough.

From the house, I hear a call for lunch. “One minute,” I yell. The colander’s pretty full, but there’s always one more berry I’m after. And there they are, at the deepest edge of the roadside woods: the plumpest berries yet, near bursting with juice. My adrenaline spikes. I make my way carefully through the plants, but still one leg or the other sometimes catches on the brambles. Shorts were probably a bad idea.

The berries are half the size of my thumb and they give gently as I pull and gather them, while the plants, relieved of their heavy burden, spring upwards in the dappled sunlight. I picture myself in a painting by one of the French Impressionists. Surely they painted berry pickers.

There’s a buzzing in my ear, and from the house, another call to lunch, as more plump berries turn up beneath a leafy branch. I lean for them, careful not to spill the contents of the colander, but distraction sets in: My legs are beginning to itch. I look down and notice swarming mosquitoes from the cool woods, the plague of my days in Maine. Torn between swatting and gathering, I attempt to swat one leg with the other as I lean in further for the berries. But as I lean, something tugs at my shirt. It’s the thorns. They’ve got me to where it would be painful to press on or to pull back. I press on. I find the thorns actually have a good enough grip on my shirt that they can support me as I lean in for another handful of berries. But then I lose my footing, slip down a small embankment, while, for better or worse, the thorns still hold their grip, as I cling tightly to the colander.

Finally I do have to pull back. The tugging on my shirt ceases as suddenly as it began as a fierce Velcro sound tears through the sylvan wooded quiet. I tense for a moment, then wonder at the pleasing cool breeze across my left arm. It feels good, but it’s blowing through a new, large gash in my sleeve. The cloth dangles at the elbow, and I realize, too, that my arms and legs are stinging. I make my way out as the bramble patch lays claim to more and more of my clothing and bare skin, and finally stumble out onto the roadside, mosquito-bit and briar-scratched, clutching my colander full of berries.

My neighbor, Mr. Knapp, drives past in his old Ford pickup. He stops, then backs up to where I’m standing. “You all right?” he asks. He is Maine born and bred, a man economical with his words. “I’m ok,” I reply. I manage a nervous smile. Mr. Knapp nods, and the engine sputters as he shifts the truck out of reverse. As he drives off, I think I see him rolling his eyes. I make my way back to the house in the wake of his exhaust. I can taste blood on my lip, and I can almost taste blackberry pie.