There's no better celebration of any season than the decorated tree adorned with the rich symbolism of nature—my ritual to inform and inspire you in the journey called life.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

devilish or divine?

HALLOWEEN tricks or treats can be devilish or divine, respectively. But there's always an edge of one or the other with either—the good always comes along with the bad. Disguised blessings seem to be the rule—one has to stay cognisant of the bright side of things or the lesson learned. My beautiful Calico cat Luci (photo in this post) was diagnosed with cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) affecting her tongue just this week, so I'm greeting this holiday season with a grim perspective of how precarious life can be. I'm trying my best to keep in mind that I still have more precious time with her until that day comes. I try to find solace in knowing that she's fifteen—a ripe old age for a cat. Keeping hopes for the best, her future is uncertain. Cancer of this type is an insidious disease that is practically untreatable. As long as she is not suffering too much, I have her, but I won't let her suffer for my sake. I hope she'll let me know for sure when it is time.

HER NAME is actually Lucifur in longhand. In Latin, the name literally means "light-bearer." It is almost always used as a name for the devil (Lucifer) in Christian convention. The pagan myth of the fall of angels associated with the morning star was transferred and personified as Satan. But in my life with this incredible cat, I can't  begin to think of that name in a negative light. Some contend that Satan and Lucifer are two different beings. It's all mythology to me. Fallen angel or morning star, all I know is that my Luci has been a constant source of light for me and all those who know her.

ALTHOUGH a mischievious and playful kitten, she is quite a divine diva in her adulthood—and deservedly so. Instead of being a devil, she has always been a complete joy. She's the Cat in Man and Cat Omnidesign. Whatever amount of time she has left, she does and will live in my heart—a shining light and a true familiar spirit. She has become a part of my soul.

THE FRIVOLITY of the holidays is always balanced with things to spoil all the fun. St. Nicholas in Europe (especially in Austria) is accompanied by his companion Gruss vom Krampus (or Krampus for short), a devil-like creature with a long tongue (what a terrible irony with Luci's diagnosis). As St. Nicholas travels door-to-door leaving gifts for all the good boys and girls, Krampus deals with the ones who have behaved badly over the course of the year. Krampus is pretty harsh. He shackles the bad ones and stuffs them in a wood-staved pail on his back and carts them away, flailing them mercilessly with a switch from his birch bundle. The jolly, twinkly-eyed St. Nicholas is an American invention, patterned largely  on Washington Irving's tale of the good saint as chubby, pipe smoking and industrious figure. Irving was a member of the New York City Historical Society which promoted St. Nicholas as its patron saint. The writer Clement Clarke Moore's "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and the classic cartoon of Santa by Thomas Nast which illustrated Washington Irving's (under the pseudonym of Diedrich Knickerbocker) "History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty" popularized the modern form of Santa in America. This fictional history took hold and pretty much erased modern memory of St. Nicholas' discipline-dispensing companions. European traditions of St. Nicholas always rewarded the good and unleashed the punishment of the bad with his dastardly and devilish companions. 

ON THE EVE of St. Nicholas (December 5th), hordes of people gather in Austria and Hungary to participate in an unusual winter festival called "The Running of the Krampus" (or Krampuslauf). It is an Old World tradition in which young men dressed as Krampus are brought into town by the gift-giving St. Nicholas in his long robe, glistening miter (a bishop's hat) and carrying an ornate pastoral staff—and unleashed on the crowds. The furry Krampus costumes are largely handmade and elaborate, sometimes towering seven or eight feet tall. This all serves as a reminder to all that goodwill to all men and charity toward one another should be the modus operandi for all of us in the coming year.

MY CAT LUCI reminds me of all this with complete simplicity. All it takes is a nuzzle and a lick or a bite on the nose to let me know that good behavior is reflected back toward one in many unexpected and mysterious ways. One has to take the bad with the good. Love is as ephemeral as the morning star. Love bites, licks and is warm and furry. And regretfully, it is ephemeral in the end. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

DEVIL IN THE DETAILS | A publishing anomaly it seems (not available at this time), I found this beautifully-designed "Red Fire" edition Bible (above, right) at Ross on the clearance book shelf. It is a bit of cultural anthropology that illustrates the sometimes myopic and unwitting mistakes the culture of publishing makes, along with the sometimes desperate attempts to moving the young masses by modern religion (to make it "cool"). It is accompanied by a mouthblown and handpainted devil/Krampus head ornament by Inge Glas of Germany. Imagine a proselytizing barker standing on the street corner holding this Bible toward heaven and yelling out fiery words of hellfire and damnation.

KRAMPUS AND CAT | A valuable antique Krampus (probably German) scrap ornament framed by a circle of lametta tinsel is from the mid-to late 1800's. It is shown with Halloween postcards, one of which is postmarked October 28, 1908. The stalwart cat sitting on a fence and silhouetted by a full moon is a die-cut Halloween invitation from the Martha Stewart Crafts line at Michael's (2008). The small bumpy glass ornaments from Martha Stewart Everyday at Kmart.

KRAMPUS IN DISGUISE | An unusual candy-colored interpretation of Krampus (left) by talented illustrator Ana Bagayan is deceptively inviting (used with her permission). Her blog is here.

photography and styling by Darryl Moland, illustration ©Ana Bagayan

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