OF PRODIGIES AND PORTENTS…

signs in the skies at the end of summer

The Jelovica Plateau, Slovenia, September 9

Seeing this in the Alpine foothills a few days ago, and thinking of the seemingly supernatural messages evidenced by photographs posted in tabloids and on social media last week, I was reminded that nephelomancy is divination by interpreting cloud formations, a branch of aeromancy* or aeriology – finding meaning by observation of weather conditions. The word is formed from Greek nephele, cloud and manteia, divining. (When undertaken by meteorologists using clouds to study global climate change the activity is known as nephology.) As the Queue of mourners winds its way along the Thames in London towards the late Queen’s catafalque, more celestial wonders are being reported, to add to last week’s list – reported here by the Daily Mail

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11196607/Glowing-clouds-shape-Queens-profile-form-sky-just-hours-passed-away.html

All through the summer heatwave and the accompanying drought I have been observing, and photographing as best I can, the unusually spectacular cloud formations, first above suburban London and the Surrey Hills and lately over the Julian Alps. We need not be credulous or desperate to suspend our disbelief for an instant and see in these a portent (from Latin portentum, an omen or token, borrowed into English in the sixteenth century) or a harbinger (Old French herbergere, from Old Saxon heriberga in the sense of a provider of shelter to soldiers, later a herald) of transformation, redemption or doom, or succumb for a moment to the pathetic fallacy, the notion (named by Ruskin to deride the sentimentality of Victorian poetry) that human affairs and human feelings are reflected in natural phenomena.

Of prodigies, and portents seen in air, Of fires and plagues, and stars with blazing hair, Of turns of fortune, changes in the state, The fall of favourites, projects of the great – Alexander Pope

Near Pope’s house in Twickenham, September 8

I’m not alone in observing that the mourning rituals and public displays of grief following the Queen’s death on September 8 resemble the religious observances and collective gestures that modern society has largely put aside, the mass of people moving slowly through the city recalling pilgrimage. Just as the aerial wonders and omens (the term appeared in English in the 1580s, from a Latin word of unknown origin) seemed to ebb, on September 14 a giant meteor streaked across the evening skies of northern England…

…and the following morning Buckingham Palace was illuminated by a single ray of sunshine…

When beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes – William Shakespeare

Equestrian cloud over Hull, September 14

Just a few moments after posting I became aware that today is apparently Cloud Appreciation Day…and you are all invited to add your own photographs of the skies to the celebrations…

https://www.memorycloudatlas.org/index.php

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeromancy

Update: as the sun set on Westminster on the evening before the Queen’s funeral, commentators noted that the crowd gasped…

Photo by cameraman Alex Doherty,
September 18

THE VAMPIRE AND ITS LINEAGE

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The history of the Vampire – the being and the word that names it – is fascinatingly convoluted. We know that the word came to us in the 18th century via German from Serbian vampir (вампир) but its ultimate origins and meaning are complex. Here, in fragments from a quite old – if not truly ancient –  publication are some thoughts on the enduring legend of the thirsty undead…

 

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In fact the figure of the bloodsucking or life-draining revenant is recurrent and attested in almost all prehistoric and most early modern cultures. There are examples from China (so-called ‘hungry ghosts’), Malaysia, the Americas, and, most interestingly from a linguistic point-of-view, the Kipchaks and Karachays of Caucasia and their relatives, the Tatars, and other Turkic-speaking peoples of Anatolia. Their languages give us yet another possible ancestor for the many names, culminating in today’s ‘vampire’, listed above. In modern Turkish obur denotes a glutton or greedy person, but in older folklore the Obur (Tatar Ubyr) was a bloodsucking night-demon that could shapeshift into a cat or dog or a beautiful woman. Here, then, is another possible – and rather plausible – antecedent for later slavonic upirs or vampirs.

 

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Vampire-like creatures were described, too, in classical writings, as Sententiae Antiquae relates here:

Ancient Greek Vampires 1: Empousa

 

The ‘old book’ extracts above are from my own 1999 title, Children of the Night:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Children-Night-HB-Vampires-Vampirism/dp/0575402725