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Oxford House HatsThe men and boys of Oxford House, northern Manitoba.
1926 Photo by Jack Kell.

The end of April was the time when the Swampy Cree of Oxford House, Manitoba came back from winter camp, ready for the Spring season.

They had gone far into the bush, lived in shacks, shot duck and moose, and fished for themselves and their dogs. They were more healthy and contented when they were out in the bush than on the reserve because they had meat to eat. The missionary had given their fathers their school exercise books and made them promise to have their children look at them at least once a day.

Now Spring was here and with it came travelers from the South. Eager to make some money, the men and boys tried to make a good impression. Strong and swift-footed, with valuable knowledge of nature and skills as craftsmen, they were indispensable as guides to carry the outsiders’ gear, paddle and portage canoes and navigate the trails through the bush. They would also exchange meat for ‘white man’s’ food such as jam.

Where Did They Get Their Hats From?
Each man or boy has his own style and no two hats are the same. I suspect they came out of the bales of clothing which were sent up to the reservation from church congregations in the South who wanted to help the Aboriginal people. The influence of the new age of aviation was detectable in some of the hat styles.

Look at this Historical Photo:
Chief Jeremiah Chubb is standing second from the left in the back row. He is the one who “although not musical, played the organ as best he could for the church services”.

His right hand man, Bobbie Chubb, is standing — on his right. He liked to brag and had a good sense of humor, which my mother (the missionary’s wife) adored.

One night when he was at Mission House, he told her that his children were not let out of the house at night because he locked the door at 10 p.m. Then he looked at his watch and said: “To-night I have locked myself out.”

Which hat in this historical photo appeals to you most?

What’s your new Spring hat like?

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pancakes

Pancakes (Photo credit: Shoot into the Sun)

You may want to run out and buy some pancake mix, not just because stormy blizzards are coming but also because tomorrow, Feb. 17th, is Mardi Gras, aka Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday or Fat (Gras) Tuesday. If you do, you’ll be taking part in the revelry of  Carnival (carne levare) , a last fling before putting away fleshly things like meat and sex during the sombre days of Lent leading up to Good Friday. In  medieval Christianity, you had just until midnight on Tuesday to splurge!

Here are some quotes from Mark Twain:

Mardi Gras is a relic of the French and Spanish occupation; but the religious feature has pretty well been knocked out of it now.”

“The very feature that keeps the Mardi Gras alive in the South — girly-girly romance — would kill it in the North or in London.”
From Life on the Mississippi, 1869

They’ll make good conversation pieces if you decide to celebrate the bad weather by having a pancake party (assuming you still have power.) You could even make them ahead of time and serve them cold with syrup.

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Being a minister’s daughter is a life full of social and personal pitfalls with exaggerated penalties hanging over her head. Writers seize the juicy topic of a sweet girl as a focus for the battle between good and evil. George Orwell couldn’t decide whether his The Clergyman’s Daughter itself was good or bad. First he banned it from publication, then let it go because his heirs needed the money. In Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery didn’t resist getting a snicker from the idea of a minister’s daughter eating grapes from around a grave and riding on a pig. The whole tragedy of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter centers on a strict religious community’s revolt against an embryo in a womb who turned out to be an accidental minister’s daughter.
1941family

Off to church in Toronto, 1941. A minister, his wife and girls are all set to hop over from the manse to the United church next door to start the Sunday morning shift in the pulpit, at the organ, in the Sunday school and choir.

The latest addition to the literature is Julie Hearn’s The Minister’s Daughter. The reviews describe it as a real potboiler with a surprise ending. One thing is for sure, it has a great cover. hearnministersdaughter

Inside, the reader is reminded of witchcraft, conflicting religions and the perceived sinfulness of sex, children and women in our history. Minister’s daughters came to public notice after the Protestant reformation brought in Christian churches with no policy of celibacy for clergy, just a lot of moral hang-ups around sex.

My book about a minister’s daughter will break the mold because it is autobiographical. First I brought it out as a subtitle but now I have decided to do more research, expand, publish and release it to fly on its own.”Growing Up in an Ego Void” actually means “Growing Up as a Minister’s Daughter”. Right now I’m wondering what the cover and title should be. Book front2

What I hope to add to the world of writing is:
1. Practical tips for minister’s daughters trying to survive.
2. A contribution to the genre of identity literature. Charlotte Bronte, an Anglican curate’s daughter who wrote the classic, Jane Eyre, is credited with being the first to write about woman’s independence, a theme that still resonates today.
3. Insights for psychologists trying to help minister’s daughters who have fallen into depression because of their stressful role.
Conventional wisdom is that the minister’s daughter is clueless about the world but actually she has social skills and has learned how to manipulate a whole community. Jane Austen, an Anglican rector’s daughter, is still guiding us with her books, such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.

My nonfiction story will be dramatic, entertaining and dedicated to all minister’s daughters, especially those who were aborted in a more cruel past because of the delicate situation.

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is passed on by word and example. To find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church  please click here.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

“. . . one may live all one’s life without being concerned about God”, said Northrop Frye, a Canadian who was one of the best literary critics and  theorists of the twentieth century. He was a professor of English at Victoria College and also an ordained but very progressive minister of the United Church of Canada. Frye was my professor for three years and I have plucked these quotes from Myth & Metaphor: Selected Essays: 1974-88  Northrop Frye; edited by Robert D. Denham. Frye’s views could help us cope with the mess we’re in today. His legacy has been preserved by Denham, retired professor of English at Roanoke College who has compiled some 30 books of Frye’s works.

Statue of Professor Northrop Frye on the grounds of Victoria College, University of Toronto  where he used to teach invites passersby to sit and have a chat with him.

A bronze bench statue of Professor Northrop Frye on the grounds of Victoria College, University of Toronto is there for passersby to sit and have a chat with him.

Literary criticism trains the imagination just as systematically and efficiently as sciences train the reason, says Northrop Frye. He believed in critical thinking and the power of literature to create a tolerant and civil society. His dictae explain things the sciences don’t:

  1. MYTH “The word ‘myth’ is used in a bewildering variety of contexts. To me it means primarily ‘mythos’, story, plot, narrative. It lies along an axis of extremes from true history to fantasy.”
  2. “The myth does to time what the metaphor does to space.”
  3. METAPHOR “Metaphor suggests a state of things in which there is no sharp and consistent distinction between subject and object.”
  4. “A typical metaphor takes the form of the statement A is B e.g. ‘Joseph is a fruitful bough.” An undercurrent of significance tells us that A is not B and nobody but a fool could imagine that he was.”
  5. IMAGINATION “Imagination is a constructive, unifying, and fully conscious faculty that excludes no aspect of consciousness, whether rational or emotional.”
  6. “What imagination, attending to the similitude of things, gets from the past is not history but myth — the same thing it gets from the future.”
  7. IDOLATRY “Man invented the wheel thousands of years ago, and promptly turned it into an idol of external fate or fortune.”
  8. GOD or GODS “Gods are invaluable to poets because they are traditional and recognized metaphors.”
  9. “Such a god as Neptune is a prefabricated metaphor. It unites a personality and a natural object, and is the entering wedge of that union between subjective and objective worlds that all creative activity depends on.”
  10. THE BIBLE “The Bible’s narratives range from legend to partisan history, but historical fact as fact is nowhere marked off in it.”
  11. “Efforts to demythologize the Gospels would soon end by obliterating them.”
  12. CREATIONISM “The account of creation in the Bible does not describe the origin of nature and was probably never intended to. If it were, it would have been a little cleverer, and not had the trees created the day before the sun was.”
  13. FUNDAMENTALISM “A body of words can never be literally anything but a body of words.”
  14. POLITICAL INFERENCES from the BIBLE “The obvious political inference from original sin is democratic. There is no point in giving unlimited authority to others who by definition cannot be any better than we are.”
  15. “Resurrection, where the power bringing the new sense of time comes from below, is most naturally a revolutionary myth, just as incarnation, which visualizes that power as descending from a higher world of greater order, is most naturally an authoritarian one.” sleeping baby
  16. PRIMARY CONCERNS “One cannot live a day without being concerned about food but one may live all one’s life without being concerned about God.”
  17. “Primary concern is based on the conviction that life is better than death, happiness better than misery, and freedom better than bondage.”
  18. “All the ideologies presented by political, economic, and religious bodies fall short of a genuine mythology of primary concern.”
  19. DESTRUCTION of HUMANITY & the PLANET “Any form of intensified ideology is pernicious if it leads to another excuse for war or for exploiting either other men or nature.”
  20. “If the human race were to destroy both itself and the planet it lives on, that would be the final triumph of illusion.”
  21. IDEOLOGY “Ideology is a secondary and derivative structure; what human societies do first is make up stories. An ideology is always derived from a mythology.”
  22. SUPERSTITION “Superstition is a frozen ideology, a pathological social condition that obstructs the developments in the arts and sciences, and so frustrates the central aim of education.”
  23. SOCIAL VISION “There would clearly be some point in trying to develop a technique of making ourselves aware of our mythological conditioning, of removing the ideological cataracts from our social vision.”
  24. ANTICHRIST “A human leader who claims a more than human authority is one of the things the New Testament means by Antichrist.”
  25. LITERATURE “Literature reflects the concerns of a community but is detached from immediate action, so that the community remains a community and does not turn into a mob.”
  26. “When society comes close to the level of bare subsistence … the literary arts leap into the foreground among the essentials for survival.”
  27. “The Canon is the idea of a collection of books unified, not by consistency of argument or doctrine … but of vision and imagery”
  28. WRITERS “Ideology is primarily an anxiety to a writer and not a guide to the form of what he should write.”
  29. “Ideologies enter literature as elements of content, not as forms or shaping principles.”
  30. “A writer may have to persist in his loyalty to the demands of what he writes even when threatened with censorship or personal persecution.”
  31. CENSORSHIP “The most serious writers are almost always censorship’s chief object of attack, whereas the serious writer ought to be considered the ally of social concern, not its enemy.”
  32. LANGUAGE, FREEDOM & CRITICISM “A deliberate debasing of language can wipe out all genuine freedom and culture in a society.”
  33. “It is in their doctrines or conceptual language that religions disagree.”
  34. “The literary critic ought to occupy a central place in everything that has to do with words.”
  35. GOOD FAITH “What a man’s religion is may be gathered from what he wants to identify him with.”
  36. “There is a current of love flowing from God to man, and it is man’s duty to accept that love and communicate it to his neighbor.”
  37. REDEMPTION & a PRESENT MOMENT “Redemption requires a God, but a God within time is no better off than we are, and a God wholly free of time is of no use to us. Fortunately we have the Incarnation, the descent of something outside time into time, and this creates in time the possibility of a genuine present moment.”

Thank you for spending some of your time reading this post. Please browse around top and bottom and, if you like, leave a comment. 

This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is passed on by word and example. To find out more about the books I have written, please click here.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

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A Role Model for All Mothers

“Margaret! We had the same mother!” a voice from behind declared recently when I was out shopping. It was the president of the local heritage association who had just finished reading my book. She was referring to a woman who lived almost three centuries ago — Susanna Annesley Wesley, the mother of John Wesley.

suwesleyShe did not have an easy life. Due to her husband’s absence and two house fires she was forced to place their eight (out of 19) surviving children in different homes for two years. She was dismayed at the poor care they got and the way they were neglected but managed to bring them back and do the job herself. Her huge sense of duty to God also led her to create a list of child-raising rules for all women to follow.

How Many of Annesley’s Common-sense Tips Ring a Bell with You?

  • Don’t allow eating between meals
  • Have the children in bed by 8 p.m.
  • Have them take medicine without complaining.
  • Teach a child to pray as soon as he can speak.
  • Give them nothing they cry for or don’t ask for politely.
  • Prevent lying by not punishing a fault which is first confessed and repented
  • Always punish a sinful act
  • Never punish a child twice for a single offence
  • Comment on and reward good behavior.
  • Commend any attempt to please, even if poorly performed
  • Preserve property rights, even in smallest matters.
  • Strictly keep all promises.
  • Require no daughter to work before she can read well

Maybe Annesley’s way binds millions of us from successive generations together even today;

Annesley Student Executive, Victoria College, UofT 1955

Annesley Student Executive, Victoria College, U of T 1955

I found out about her legacy at Victoria College in the fifties when she was just a ghost of the past. We students were only dimly (if at all) aware of who she was. Here’s what I wrote a few years ago in my family history book about my last year at college:

“In my senior year, I was elected president of Annesley Hall, the girls’ residence a.k.a. the ‘Bastion of Virginity’. This home to sixty Vic co-eds was named after John Wesley’s mother Susanna Annesley who set the Methodist pattern for raising children. She considered obedience the basis for all other virtues, since children must learn from their parents until old enough to form their own judgments. They must

  • clean up their plates,
  • speak softly to the servants and
  • be honest, knowing that forgiveness was at hand.

She taught her eight children the alphabet on their fifth birthdays, although two of the girls took one-and-one-half days to master it. They learned to pray and read the Bible, and each evening she spent an hour with one child alone. She paid particular attention to John, God’s special child who had been saved from a fire in the rectory at the age of six. He grew up to be called ‘the most influential Englishman since Shakespeare.’

Vic’s atmosphere espoused the Christian motto, ‘The Truth Shall Make You Free’, the liberal values strengthened by victories in two world wars and science. Our job was to open our minds, broaden our intellects and reassess our world view on the basis of well established facts, learned views and experience. Times were good and we were forward-looking.

 

“All You Have to Do Is Love Them”

When I was expecting my first child, I had no idea what I was in for but I was lucky to get the best and simplest advice imaginable. It came from my boss at the Toronto YMCA, Ed Wybourn. He had kids and I thought he should know how to raise them, so I asked him.

  • All you have to do is love them,” he said reassuringly.

Phew! That sounded good to me because I knew I could do that! I would go all out with gifts of time and attention, putting my children first by being there, listening to them so they would see themselves as worthy human beings and talking to them so they could learn how to express themselves and think.

Is Annesley’s Subduing of Will ‘Smotherhood’?

What my friendly reader/heritage association president meant was that both of our mothers had a huge sense of duty which put distance instead of hugs between us. Because of religion, souls were nurtured at the price of egos. Finding one’s identity was terribly difficult. Mother and child did not share any joy in life, laughter or playfulness. Maybe this repression is the down side of Annesley’s severe, although perhaps correct, theory.

She says, “When the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies may be passed by. I insist on the conquering of the will of children betimes, because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education. When this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by reason and piety.”

What Did Her Son Think?

John Wesley wrote, “My mother was the source from which I derived the guiding principles of my life.” Yet perhaps he might envy his contemporary, Benjamin West, who said, “A kiss from my mother made me a painter.”

Two different views of how to raise children bring about success by two very different ways.

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This and many other colorful incidents from Canada’s past are recounted in Margaret’s family histories, A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and its abridged e-book version Kathleen’s Cariole Ride.

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orchf-25The obit read “Bob, the husband and best friend of Wendy, died at home on Oct. 23rd in his 80th year. They had celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary on Dec. 23rd with eggnog and Good King Wenceslas . . . ”

When his heart stopped at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, and the fear of having to return to hospital to amputate his diabetes-stricken legs ended, Wendy’s love did not skip a beat. She called her son and daughter’s families to come and they asked her to “make it like Christmas or a birthday for the kids.”

So the beautiful, red-haired grandchildren slept beside her that night on the livingroom floor while she stayed awake by the coffin and they were not frightened. Wendy saw Bob’s face was still radiant; she put a copy of the book he had edited in his hands and Russell, the eldest, gave “Grumps” a chocolate bar.

On the third day, friends and family came to murmur and munch and mourn, while the closed coffin peeked from behind delicate, exuberant orchids and lilies. Next morning the gloomy sky provided the tears as the Saint James the Less funeral chapel filled up with people.

The eulogists painted a heartfelt portrait of a brilliant, shy, complex, compassionate man. After listening, the minister said First Corinthians 13 came to mind. A ripple of laughter rustled the pews when Bob’s daughter Shelley quoted an article in CA Magazine that said, “What Bob can do to a shirt and tie over lunch is legendary.” They had had to send one to the cleaners to dress the corpse. The minister said that was a waste, since Jesus had gone ahead to prepare a banquet.

Not a spook was in sight in the graveyard as we left Bob’s body in the chapel and went to Wendy’s home for lunch.

**************************************

From the Toronto Globe and Mail

Robert Douglas Brown
Born August 3, 1934 in Stratford, Ontario
Died October 23, 2013 in Toronto

Bob, Wendy’s husband and best friend, passed away at home on October 23, 2013, in his 80th year. Together since 1961, Bob and Wendy celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary last December over eggnog and Good King Wenceslas. We all loved Bob. For his tremendous intellect, insatiable curiosity and that mischievous sense of humour. His son Rob and wife Sookie (nee Allen); daughter Michelle (never called Shelley) and husband Chris Farano will all miss Bob’s loving guidance. Who will we go to now that we can’t, ‘go ask Dad’? He was dubbed ”Grumps” by his grandchildren Russell, Theo (aka Charlie), Tilly, Sarah and Ellie. They knew and loved his booming voice and conspiratorial grin. To them, he was the Stony Lake Shark. Growing up in Stratford, Bob and his sister Bev (who died in 1999, leaving her husband Clark Shaw of Lake Hughes, Quebec) shared a love of reading – although they both began all books on the last page. Why read a book if you don’t like how it ends? Indeed. ”Bob’s your uncle” isn’t something that applies to just anyone, but it was true for Karen, Kevin, Kyle and Kelly Shaw and Mary-Elizabeth Protter (nee Day). Bob taught himself to read before he went to kindergarten and graduated from Parkdale Collegiate at the top of his class. Scholarships took him to the University of Toronto for his B. Comm and the University of Chicago for his Masters in Economics. Bob joined PriceWaterhouse in 1957, when he couldn’t tell one accounting firm from another. He earned his CA designation in 1960, became the firm’s youngest partner at the time in 1966, and went on to become Chairman of the Canadian firm and Member of the World Board in 1990. Bob claimed that he retired in 1996, but we were never quite sure what he meant by retirement. He became Chair of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1996, then became Chair of the CD Howe Institute in 1997, and had to cut that short when he started commuting to Ottawa as the Clifford Clark Visiting Economist to the Department of Finance from 1998 to 2001. Throughout his adult life, Bob tirelessly and passionately committed his time and energy to the shaping of tax and government spending policy in Canada, serving as Chair of the Canadian Tax Foundation and on various Parliamentary Committees, and writing and speaking prolifically. Bob enthusiastically served on many corporate and charitable boards and with many industry associations. Bob and Wendy met over a bridge game on a blind date in 1961 at Marg and Tom Virany’s; they played their last game together with dear friends Don Stevenson and Carol Galimberti on Sunday. Bob and Don, partners that day as so many times before, won hands down. Bob is resting at home; friends and family are invited to visit Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. at 164 St. Leonards Ave. The funeral service will be on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at St. James-the-Less Chapel (635 Parliament St., just south of Bloor). Donations to the Stony Lake Heritage Foundation or the Royal Ontario Museum would be gratefully appreciated by the whole family.

Margaret Kell Virany is the author of A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and Kathleen’s Cariole Ride. http://www.amazon.com/author/margaretvirany

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A 1939 Canada Grade One/Two Lesson in Gas Chambers Being Bilingual

First Day at School in Toronto, Canada 1939

On Sunday, September 3, 1939 Germany defied a British ultimatum to withdraw its troops from Poland and World War II broke out

Next morning Father sat glued to the radio at our breakfast table in Toronto and solemnly told us, “This is the darkest day in the history of the British Empire.” Outside the window the sun shone brightly, daring to differ.

I danced, not walked, with my sisters up the quarter-mile cinder path along Dufferin Street to Briar Hill Public School for my first day of school on Tuesday, September 5.

Grade One teacher Jeannie McDowell had shoulder-length, loose,  wavy black hair and was a little preoccupied, plump and lopsided. She wore a black sweater coat and brightly flowered dress with a white background. She was colorful and dramatic compared to the housewife mothers I knew.

At first I was seated near the front which was particularly good on the day we had a substitute teacher. She was wearing an egg in her bosom to see if it would hatch and that kept our attention.

We did our sums with a choice of two colors from the crayon box. My favorite combination was purple and green, although some days I was in the mood for yellow and orange, or red and blue.

Miss McDowell loved to have us do art but always insisted we draw a black frame around our creations, as if they were important and permanent.

She didn’t read stories to us; we stood in a line at the front and took turns reading out loud ourselves.

One day she turned solemn, like Father, and told us Jews were being gassed to death in Nazi concentration camps, their bodies burned and turned into soap. I knew from her eyes she was telling the truth and trusting us the way she would adults.  In my heart I decided not to ever join with people who made comments about Jews. This was a decision about who I was, made without my parents’ input. I was sure they would agree but they were too passive.  I felt very grown up, thanks to Miss McDowell.  I thought the Campbell side of our family should stop having its reunions at a camp site on Lake Simcoe with a ‘Gentiles Only’ sign.

Another day, after I had been moved back to the grade two corner of the class, Miss McDowell picked up the chalk to begin writing on the blackboard beside me. We sang O Canada in English every morning but now she taught it to us in French. This was a giant step outside of the curriculum box. For good measure, she taught us La Marseillaise as well.

The Five Teaching Keys

Jeannie McDowell was a very smart teacher.

  1. Her classroom was colorful and fun.
  2. She shared adult facts with us but made us feel secure.
  3. She visualized the future and helped broaden us to be good citizens.
  4. Thanks to her, I started to become my own person.
  5. From art to antisemitism and bird-birth to bilingualism, I learned a lot and felt very stimulated in her class.

Margaret Kell Virany   lover of language and literature, note-taker of Northrop Frye, journalist, editor, author

For More Details of Fascinating Lives, Read Margaret’s Books: Kathleen’s Cariole Ride, a war bride’s answer to a call of love in the wilderness; A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, a 20th century Canadian confession.

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The  biblical English poet William Blake didn’t believe in either God or Man as separate entities but in Divine Humanity as a union of creative effort. The divine being takes the initiative. At the point of communication the two become an identity. Man must let go of  his ego to be resurrected. The self-surpassing of human limitations is infinite.  Paradise can  be made here.

IMG_0490_1 Blake saw the American (and later French) revolutions as victories for humanity against established authority and the message of Jesus as one of social liberation. In his 1790 poem The Marriage of Heaven & Hell (where the exuberance proverb appears) left-wing and right-wing political forces are wedded when the right is converted.  The ‘left’ are the Devils and the ‘right’ are the Angels. Blake was on the left, supporting Voltaire and Thomas Paine.

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Blake is a complex poet and no one really understood him until Northrop Frye came along. In this  blog I am relying on “Blake’s Bible” which is published in Robert Denham’s Myth & Metaphor: Selected Essays by Northrop Frye 1974-88

Blake’s rules are radical but as our civilization crumbles they make more and more sense for us writers and concerned citizens:

  1. Throw away judgmental, conforming morality.  It is the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ which God warned Man against in Eden
  2. Don’t be prudish about sex or nudity; this attitude came from having eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree
  3. Pursue your abilities to love and to create. Make them your highest goals. They are the center of potentially divine powers.
  4. Destroy your own grasping and clutching ego. That also will  make you more human.
  5. Realize that the old, metaphorical cosmology of the Bible is not historical or scientific. Paradise and the Apocalypse are scenarios to be enacted on earth by human creators with a spiritual partner. Hell is what we have now.

Thanks for dropping by.The roses are blooming at my home as I write. I’ve helped them a little by fertilizing them and discarding the leaves ruined by black spot and pests.  Please leave a comment below, as  exuberant as you wish.

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Margaret Kell Virany   lover of lang and lit, note-taker of Norrie Frye, journalist, editor, author, almost octogenarian

NF Northrop Frye Statue

As a writer, it’s freeing to learn that the natural habit of the human mind is to think metaphorically. Lately I  have ‘encountered’ many quotations on this subject from two men I would never have put in the same ‘boat’. Let me call them Norrie and Dan, since I’ve been ‘spending’  a lot of  time in their ‘company’. Frankly, I am sick of fruitless debates over subjects such as the literal account of ‘Creation’ and whether ‘God’ exists.

You might as well question whether we need words. Here are some quotations which ‘nail down’ answers to the wobbly question of  what a metaphor is. Of course the quotes are taken out of context, but they are exact. Take  your pick:

From Northrop Frye: Myth and Metaphor (Selected Essays 1974-88), edited by Robert D. Denham:

  • My own view is that every form of speech can be reduced to metaphor, but metaphor is primary language, and metaphor cannot be reduced to another kind of language: as long as we use words at all we can never escape metaphors, but only change them.
  • Our primary thinking…is not rational but metaphorical, an identifying of subjective and objective worlds in huge mental pictures.
  • Metaphors are statements of identity: they tell us, for instance, that the poet and the lady he loves are shadow and sun.
  • Metaphor does not evoke a world of things linked together by overstated analogies; it evokes a world of swirling currents of energy that run back and forth between subject and object.
  • (Metaphor) is also a primary structural effort of consciousness. (It) may be followed by or even translated into more continuous rational thinking.

From The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown:

  • Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.
  • Every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith — acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove. Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory, and exaggeration from the early Egyptians to modern Sunday School.
  • Metaphors are a way to help our minds process the unprocessable. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors.
  • By teaching through a metaphorical game (Tarot cards), the followers of the Grail disguised their message from the watchful eyes of the Church.
  • Magdalene’s story has been shouted from the rooftops for centuries in all kinds of metaphors and languages. Her story is everywhere once you open your eyes.

For an example of a practical application of this wisdom Frye says, “The account of creation in the Bible does not describe the origin of nature and was probably never intended to. If it were, it would have been a little cleverer and not had the trees created the day before the sun was.”

Have you written any metaphors lately you would like to brag about here? Please use the comment box to tell us!

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English: Victoria College in the University To...

Victoria College at University of Toronto  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the fall of 1947-48, ‘The Finest Generation’ had returned from WW II  and gone back to school, looking for knowledge and inspiration to lead a peacetime society.

At Victoria College in Toronto English Professor Northrop Frye was ready and welcoming. He had compiled a punchy Bible course in line with the college motto, ‘The Truth Shall Make You Free‘.

These students were the most brilliant he ever taught, his diaries say. After an hour-long lecture, they’d head for a coffee with friends who wanted to know what “God” said today.

This fall students’ notes of those 24 lectures (36 pp) edited by Professor Robert Denham have been posted online. They have not lost their punch. You can read and download them as a PDF without paying fees.  https://macblog.mcmaster.ca/fryeblog/aa/

Here’s what he told them in the beginning of his first lecture (direct,  unabridged quotes):

1. The Bible is the grammar of Western civilization; it brings down an entire culture and civilization to us.

2. The Bible  represents a vision of the whole of human life. Transcendental genius and ridiculous genealogies are side by side. It is crude, shocking, funny.  It has a beginning, a middle and an end. The narrative from Creation to Last Judgment takes an epic survey of time. The perspective is of eternity. Jesus is the center of the Bible. Jesus and the Bible are identical.

3. Several theological systems are based on the Bible and all claim to be equally correct. All religions are on a level as far as moral doctrines are concerned; the moral loftiness of the Bible is accidental, like its aesthetic beauty.

4. Recurrent symbols in the Bible form a single pattern. The structure is complicated and must be studied. The whole Bible is the history of man’s loss of freedom and organization and how he got it back.

5. There are two kinds of symmetry: (1) the chronological story of creation, etc., as a legendary, mythical story of the fortunes of the Jewish people from 2000 B.C. to 100 A.D.  and the spread of the Christian Church. (2) The second kind is circular. The conception of true and false as we think of it is not dealt with in the Bible. The fall of man and the apocalypse have nothing to do with history. The whole question of causation, order, purpose is not dealt with.

6. Christianity clings to revelation, and the only practical way to do this is in a book. All we know about God is in the Bible; there is no God in nature or “up there” in the sky. The association of God and Man is the basis of Christianity.

Frye gave his Bible course for decades and died twenty years ago. He became principal of the college; to honor him on an anniversary, the  motto carved in stone into the arch over Vic’s entrance door appeared almost miraculously to read ‘The Truth Shall Make You Frye’.

Click on this link to read all of the 24 lectures of Frye’s 1947-48 Bible course. The notes taken by students Margaret Gayfer and Richard Stingle are part of the Robert D. Denham collection in Moncton, NB, the birthplace of Frye.

Margaret Kell Virany, author of A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void

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