Archive | October, 2013

Nutcrack Night

20 Oct

October 31st, known as Halloween to most, is also called a variety of other names in different parts of the world, including Samhain, Mischief Night and the Day of the Dead. In the Gaelic diaspora, the holiday is also traditionally known as Nutcrack Night. As the chill of autumn pervaded their homes, people would sit around their fires, eating newly harvested hazelnuts or chestnuts. Several fortune-telling customs grew up that involved throwing nuts into the fire, hence giving rise to the name ‘Nutcrack Night’ or ‘The Oracle of the Nuts’. It was a time, for example, when young people put nuts on the hearth to see if their sweethearts were true to them. If the nut burned normally, all was well, but if it burst or rolled away the sweetheart was, alas, untrue. In ancient times nuts were also an early divination tool, in the absence of more modern accoutrements such as crystal balls, tarot cards, runes and other arcana. The reason for this was simple – around the end of the harvest season, often there was not much left in the fields. However, nuts were often plentiful, making them the perfect medium for divination in the dying embers of autumn.

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The Curious Case of Lord Kitchener

6 Oct

It’s fair to say that, during World War I, Herbert Kitchener’s face was just about the most famous in the country. His commanding image, appearing on recruiting posters demanding “Your country needs you!”, remains recognised and parodied in popular culture to this day. Before the First World War, Kitchener won fame for the imperial campaigns, most particularly in the Sudan and South Africa, which made him a national hero. This made his unexpected and bizarre death in the middle of the war a demoralising shock. The official story is that Kitchener was killed in 1916 when the warship taking him to negotiations in Russia was sunk by a German mine of the coast of Scotland. But some suspected that this was a cover-up – a convenient explanation put out to appease a puzzled public who were in need of some sort of closure. Locals spoke of mysterious events that took place on the night of Kitchener’s apparent death. A variety of rumours, speculation and conspiracy theories have since then refused to be dismissed entirely. A further investigation was requested by many who remained unconvinced by the official version of events. This was impossible at the time due to the ongoing war effort but, in all the years since, the call for the case to be re-opened has never quite gone away. The question of what actually happened to Lord Kitchener has still to be answered definitively.

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