Monday 3 February 2014

St Blaise

Yesterday was Candlemas, a name which I particularly like.  The other names for the day include The Presentation of Christ at the Temple (forty days after his birth on Chrimbo).  That is strongly associated with the now defunct practice of 'churching' women after childbirth.  This is put out as giving thanks for the safe passage of the mother through this difficult and potentially dangerous time but is tied up with the necessity to 'purify' women so that they can be approached by their blokes for further insemination. The Patriarch doesn't want to get dirty, after all. It's all in the 12th Chapter of Leviticus: "If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean. And she shall continue in the blood of purification three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification be fulfilled.  But if she bear a maid-child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her impurity; and she shall continue in the blood of purification threescore and six days."  To explain the lurid 400 year old English, the "impurity of her sickness" is a normal bodily function experienced by women every month. Apologists for religious practice make a case for eschewing pork, rather than merely chewing it, as a rational response to a Trichinosis world.  But the same people who told their followers to pass on pork and lobster also say that girl-children are twice as polluting as their male brothers.  Now that's just silly and annoying.

Having picked up your Candles the day before, you're ready for St Blaise's Day today.  Blaise's iconography involves a pair of crossed candles and if these are held to the throat they are efficacious against such throaty problems as diphtheria (see yesterday! I am so synchronic) and errant fish-bones.  I figured that if you contract diphtheria at the end of February rather than the beginning you'd be done for, but The Beloved's sister was prone to laryngitis and losing her voice in her youth and she claims that suitable rituals on St Blaise's Day  "Per intercessionem S. Blasii liberet te Deus a malo gutteris et a quovis alio malo" etc. are good for the whole year. Just as well because diphtheria is no respecter of seasons and fish-bones happen every Friday.  It is easy to get snitty and superior about such things.  But harrumphing about superstitious nonsense doesn't answer why such beliefs might be efficacious.  In my course on human physiology the same compounds crop up as neurotransmitters and as hormones, and there is an increasingly respectable branch of science called PNI - psycho-neuro-immunology - which suggests that, in the grossest terms, we may be able to think ourselves well.  I find this much more interesting to cogitate upon than the dismissive idea that belief in healing powers is merely a poorly analysed combination of anecdote and ascertainment bias.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a soggy but tremulously Blaisy day  . . . and don't forget the candles (N = 2).

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