Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Missed the Leonid Meteors? Find Them Here With Pics and Superstitions

Leonids Over Niagara Falls

We pass through the remnants of an ancient comet every November during the Leonid meteor shower.

The night sky lights as minute particles within the comet's ice flash as they pass through the earth's upper atmosphere and burn up in a beautiful flash of light. More info from Huff Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/20/leonid-meteor-shower-2012-return-tuesday_n_2162177.html

The peak of the Leonid happened this morning, with up to 20 flashes per hour. View a few here if you missed them.


The world has been captured and sometimes frightened by heavenly bodies as long as history has been recorded. Many cultures have been shaped by superstitions, some relating to the comets and meteors they saw in the night sky. For example, some native Americans had beliefs relating to meteor showers that struck fear: 

  • The Blackfeet of Montana believed a meteor was a sign that sickness would come to the tribe in the coming winter, or that a great chief had just died.
  • The Kawaiisu (California) thought a meteor that started high and fell to the horizon was an omen of sickness and death.
  • The Cahuilla thought a meteor was the spirit of their first shaman, Takwich, who was disliked by his people. Takwich was said to wander the skies at night looking for people far from their tribe. When someone was found, he stole their spirit, and sometimes even the person, took them back to his home and ate them.
  • The Shawnee believed meteors were beings "fleeing from the wrath of some adversary, or from some anticipated danger."
  • (From Meteors and Meteorites http://www.crystalinks.com/meteors.html )

    The following are two quotes form the 1949 book The Encyclopedia of Superstitions from 1949:

    Falling, or shooting stars, are souls coming down from heaven to animate new-borne children.

    When death occurs the flame of life lights up a new star.

    Some superstitions could bring good things. It is said if when you see a meteor you can make a wish before it disappears, your wish will come true.
    Or, if you see a shooting star and say "money" three times, your pockets will be full.

    The Einsisheim meteor depicted in a 1492 etching.

    Although we now know what a comets and meteors are, we still hold onto many superstitions relating to them, and probably make wishes on them--it sure can't hurt.

    Some interpretation of superstitions from 100 Unfortunate Days:

    Day 98

    Some popular superstitions and my interpretations: a black cat crossing your path is bad luck. I think any cat crossing your path is bad luck because they are familiars of the devil. The black cats are the worst because they are the most evil. Their souls have been charred and they are diseased and if they scratch you, you will most likely die.

    If there are thirteen people at the dinner table, one will die within the year. This is probably a flat-out fact. One out of three or four women get breast cancer, several are probably just old, someone there is probably brewing some kind of heart disease and accidents happen every day. One of those thirteen is in for it.

    Breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck. Probably based on the idea that your image contains a part of your soul.

    I don’t believe in any of the traditional superstitions—but I have some of my own. For instance, if I pray too much the devil will get me. If I look at myself in the mirror in the dark I will see something terrible. If I am not around when my children are sick they will get worse. If I want something really bad and I get it, and I will be very unhappy. The devil is there at 3:00AM.

    I would love to know if there are any superstitions you believe in and why. Looking forward to hearing about them :)


    Wednesday, November 7, 2012

    Unusual Art from the Usual Artists--the Dark Side of van Gogh, Cezanne and DaVinci

    Cezanne riveted us with his bright still-life paintings of fruit and lush fabrics and their slightly altered perspective.

    Starry, swirling skies, multi-colored blooms and luminous cafes made van Gogh a favorite,

    and DaVinci always fascinated us with his machines, forward thinking, perfect dimensions.

     Degas gave us a back-stage look at enigmatic ballerinas,

    and Picasso used shapes and shadows to change the art world.

    We are used to seeing certain things from certain artists.

    We expect to see skinny walking skeletons dressed like Santa from Tim Burton, or dark and morose,  unfortunate children sketched in ink by Edward Gorey, but we do not assume the classic artists to have a dark side. We expect soft, blurry flowers and gardens  from Monet, or achingly perfect depictions of people sitting near a window by Vermeer.

    Although we know van Gogh had a dark side by the famous and terrible story of his ear, we do not see his angst in his glorious pictures, unless we look for it. The Philadelphia Museum of Art had a display of many impressionists. I was very ready to feel bright and cheerful and to soak in the glow from the flowers and sunshine shown in the paintings.  I was not ready to see some of the more dark works of some of these same artists.

    As I turned a corner I came across and small but stunning painting of skulls by Cezanne. The feel of his work was there, but the subjects opened a new corner in my brain. I was not used to this. This was new, and I was practically shaking.

    The slightly upturned table so familiar to Cezanne's works was not covered in a rich fabric and lovely fruits and a bowl. In this painting it had death upon it.

    Van Gogh has the ability to make you want to be part of his paintings. His cafe glows, his fields sway, and his flowers remind us of nature's beauty. And his bat shows us of the dark side we so rarely see in his art.

    The picture of a skeleton with a cigarette also by van Gogh made a recent appearance as the cover of the David Sedaris's book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and also shows a bit of humor.

    And two rats also by van Gogh--another surprise.

    And here is a deliciously bleak Picasso.

    A skull by Degas.

    DaVinci was the slight exception. His medical drawings, machines, and inventions could lend themselves to the slightly macabre. Here is an example.

    So yes, we have Tim Burton, Edward Gorey and Charles Addams--but we also have the web. We can find the dark and mysterious paintings and pictures from impressionists, post-impressionists, modernists and any famous artists that only the curators and collectors previously had access to.

    And I am thrilled.