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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Finnish Wife Carrying Competitions

You've heard of the Caber Toss, you've heard of Camel Jumping, but have you heard of Finnish Wife Carrying?

Starting in the small village of Sonkaj√§rvi in Finland, Wife Carrying started out as a celebration of local history, and turned into a global sport. Every year in July, couples from around the world flock to this small Finnish town to compete in a grueling obstacle course. The obstacle course includes two dry obstacles, and one wet obstacle. Throughout the course one partner (usually the husband) must carry the other partner on their back. If the partner being carried is dropped the carrier has to pick them up, and keep going. Though Wife Carrying is a somewhat serious sport, it is, by no means, serious. The winner of the competition gets the weight of the wife in beer, and prizes are given out for the best costumes.

The competition celebrates the legend of Rosov Ronkainen, a notorious thief from the 1800s. Rosov was notorious for stealing women and food from local villages, and he required all men involved in his band of robbers to complete difficult obstacle courses while carrying heavy weights on their back--presumably to make it easier to kidnap women.

Today, Wife Carrying is more about building the relationship between couples than preparing for pillaging. Competition requires a great deal of trust and communication between partners, and is a fun way for couples to spend quality time together.


The event is inclusive of LGBT and single people, so long as you have a partner you can participate. There are qualifying events around the world which determine who is allowed to compete at the world championships. Those interested in competing can find the world championship website here.

Sources
2016 World Wife Carrying Championships in Finland Captured in Incredible Pictures

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Damn, Girl-Hildegard of Bingen

Though armed with only a scant education, Hildegard of Bingen would go on to be the world's first known composer, a prestigious scientist, and a legendary prophetess. A true renaissance woman, it's difficult to know which of her achievements is most influential today. She revolutionized music, wrote medical textbooks used well into the renaissance, and proposed the idea that people, like plants, could inherit traits from their parents--some 700 years before Gregor Mendel did his experiments with pea plants.

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Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard was the tenth child of Hiltebert and Mechthild, most likely members of the local nobility. The custom at the time was to give up the tenth child as a nun or monk to the Catholic Church, and as such Hildegard was sent to a Benedictine cloister at Disibodenberg, where she was put into the care of Jutta von Spanheim, a distant relative, and abbess of the cloister.

Hildegard suffered from illness as a child, and living in the austere Benedictine cloisters didn't help her. The damp, poor sleep, and lack of food and sunshine saw that Hildegard was bedridden for much of her childhood. In addition to her illness, Hildegard also had visions that she believed were sent from God. She was cautioned by Jutta to keep her visions quiet, and Hildegard did so for most of her life.

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Page from the Liber Scivias
When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard succeeded her as prioress. Under Hildegard's leadership, the atmosphere at the cloisters became more relaxed. The sisters were allowed to wear their hair uncovered, and encouraged to step out into the sunshine. Hildegard was still having visions, and five years after being installed as prioress she had a vision so intense that she was prompted to confide it to her mentor, Volmar the Monk. Volmar encouraged Hildegard to record her visions, and with Volmar's help Hildegard began working on her first book, the Liber Scivias.

As a visionary, Hildegard had a fine line to walk. She had the challenge of recording what she saw, while not verging into heretical territory. Proposing new religious ideas, while easier for a nun than a common person, was still a risky venture, and could cost Hildegard everything should she be denounced as a heretic. Luckily for Hildegard, her visions were accepted by the pope of the time, and she was encouraged to keep writing.
Hildegard began to build up a reputation as a mystic. Her study of local medicinal methods saw her praised as a great healer, and she composed music for her nuns to sing. In 1150 Hildegard founded the convent of Mount St. Rupert in an effort to get away from the hoards of people who made pilgrimages to see her. Taking Volmar as well as a few sisters and novitiates with her, Hildegard started writing in earnest.

Because her education had been scant and interrupted, Hildegard relied on Volmar to help her with the actual physical writing. Her exact process is unknown, but it is speculated that Hildegard either wrote everything out on a wax tablet, and then Volmar put it to parchment, or that Hildegard simply dictated to Volmar. After the initial putting of words to paper, Volmar had his monks make copies of Hildegard's words. Though it took ten years, the Liber Scivias was finished in 1158.

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Hildegard and Volmar
The Liber Scivias was disseminated throughout the Catholic countries, and Hildegard began working on her next book of visions, the Liber Vitae Meritorum. The visions contained in her books pertained to the workings of the universe, and how the earth, air, sun, moon, and stars were all connected. In addition to her books of visions, Hildegard also began working on medical textbook, which put forth the idea that boiling drinking water was a good move.

In addition to her writing, Hildegard also traveled Europe preaching pacifism, and promoting orthodox religious ideals. She founded another convent, and corresponded with hundreds of people from all across Europe, including kings and popes. She was so well loved that when she died at age 81 she was immediately dubbed 'St. Hildegard', though she was not formerly canonized until 2012.

Hildegard is best known today for her music, but her religious and medical writings have seen an increase in popularity in recent years too. Several biographies and novels have been written about her, and her song cycles have been recorded hundreds of times by classical vocalists. She is much beloved in the Catholic church, and the convent that she established still stands today.

Sources
Saint Hildegard, German Mystic
Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen: Life and Music of the Great Female Composer

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Hatpin Panic

The turn of the century saw a great increase in mobility for women. Women were no longer relegated to the parlor and kitchen--they could leave the home unaccompanied. They began riding public transport and taking jobs outside of the home. However, with this new mobility and freedom came the new threat of street harassment and aggression.

Image result for hatpin panicThe harassment of women on the street continues to  be a problem to this day. Today it's called cat-calling, around the turn of the century it was called 'mashing'. It's more or less universally detested by every woman, and nearly every woman has a story about being harassed on the street. The fight against street harassment continues in government halls and online forums, but in the late 1800s/early 1900s women took matters into their own hands. Instead of trying to solve things with words these ladies stabbed the offenders with their sword like hatpins.

The hatpin was a common accessory at the time.  Large hats, festooned with ribbons, fake flowers, and wax fruit were the fashion, and to keep the millinery concoction on their heads, women secured them to their heads with steel pins known as hatpins. The average hatpin was around 9 inches in length, had a sharp point on the piercing end, and jewels, feathers, or filigree on the other. Hatpins had to be sharp in order to get through the fabric of the hat, and, due to the size of the hats, were often quite lengthy.

Women were, essentially, wearing knives in their hair. However, there are no recorded instances of women having used them as such until 1903 when Leoti Blaker, a young Kansan visiting New York City was accosted on public transportation. When an elderly man attempted to take liberties with her person, Leoti stabbed him 'in the meat of his arm', driving the man away. Leoti later stated to newspapers that “If New York women will tolerate mashing, Kansas girls will not.”

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The typical headgear of an early 20th century
woman
Leoti's move against her harasser was only the first recorded of such instances. Stories about women defending themselves and others from attackers with their hatpins began to crop up around the country with increasing frequency. One woman in Chicago stopped a train robbery, one in New York stopped a man from stealing the payroll of an entire company.

With the popularity of the hatpin as a weapon of self defense, and the publication of self defense manuals for women, women were protecting their rights to exist in public spaces, and this was making the men of the time uncomfortable. Editorials in newspapers started cropping up about how women were 'attacking defenseless men', and that to avoid street harassment women should perhaps dress more modestly, or, better yet, not leave the house. Legislation to regulate hatpin length was introduced in several cities, and motions to ban them outright were discussed.

Admittedly, there had been some hatpin accidents. More than once another man or woman had suffered injury from being jostled against a lady's hatpin, and women had been known to stab policemen and police horses while resisting arrest. However, the rate of accidents was much lower than stated in newspapers of the day. Newspapers, especially the Chicago Tribune, stirred the public into a frenzy that would later become known as 'The Hatpin Panic' or 'The Hatpin Peril'.

This trend of using a hatpin for self defense spread to the United Kingdom and Australia, who all had a 'hatpin panic' too. While some legislative measures were passed, the hatpin panic ultimately died with the onset of World War One. Because of metal shortages, women no longer wore large hatpins, and after the war large hats went out of fashion. Bobs and cloche hats became the norm, and the biggest female threat to society became the flapper, not the hatpin.

Sources
The Hatpin Peril Terrorized Men Who Couldn't Handle the 20th Century Woman
With Daggers in Her Bonnet: The Australian Hatpin Panic of 1912
Early 1900s Women Had an Ingenious Method for Fending Off Gropers
When Men Feared 'A Resolute Woman, With a Hatpin in Her Hand'

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Caligula Never Made His Horse Senator, but He Did Conquer the Sea

Caligula, the third and most infamous emperor of Rome was a colorful character. He was sadistic, grandiose, and possibly insane. He enjoyed dressing as gods and demi-gods, and had the faces on statues of dieties replaced with his own likeness. His cruelty has seen that he's gone down in history as one of the baddest of the bads, but he certainly left us with some fantastic stories.

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Bust of Caligula 
The most famous stories about Caligula involve his horse, Incitatus. The most popular story, that Caligula intended to appoint his horse consul, is most likely untrue, and likely the result of Romans taking Caligula's jokes that his horse could do a better job as consul than the actual consul too seriously. However, it is undeniable that Caligula loved his horse. He had a marble stall erected for Incitatus, and an ivory manger made for him to eat out of.

Caligula aspired to be a great military conqueror like his great-grandfather, Augustus. Unfortunately, he was insane, and lacked the attention span for real warfare. He took his armies on several pointless campaigns in Gaul. When he reached the Gaulish coast to prepare for an invasion of Britain, he had his soldiers collect seashells to show as proof of him having 'plundered the sea'. Then, instead of invading Britain, he turned his army around and went back to Rome, displaying the shells as booty.

By far the biggest, and most costly, of Caligula's whims was his decision to bridge the Bay of Naples by tying hundreds of ships together. Caligula did this so that he could ride his horse (remember Incitatus?) across the bay, galloping back and forth across the bay several times.

Superficially, the reign of Caligula is a terrifying and hilarious footnote on the history of Rome. However, beneath the surface lingers questions about Caligula's mental health and how much of his supposed cruelties were made up after his death.

Sources
The Roman Empire in the First Century-Caligula
Caligula-Ancient Encyclopedia
Caligula: Historical Background
Caligula-History Network
Caligula: Roman Emperor