Raud the Strong

January 9

Viking ship

Far north in the Salten Fiord
By rapine, fire and sword
Lives the Viking, Raud the Strong;
All the Godoe Isles belong
To him and his heathen horde…

With rites that we both abhor
He worships Odin and Thor
So it cannot yet be said
That all the old gods are dead
And the warlocks are no more…

Tales of a Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When King Olaf Tryggvason came to power in 998 he converted the Norwegian population to Christianity Viking style; by…

“looting and burning Pagan temples and compelling community after community to be baptized or die, taking hostages to enforce continued Christian observance.”
A History of Pagan Europe, by Prudence Jones

Despite these persuasive efforts, many of the Vikings were reluctant to renounce their Gods and accept Jesus as their savior. New and increasingly painful tortures and executions were devised by King Olaf and his men.

The seer Thorlief had his eye torn out. Eyvind Kinnrifi was tortured with a brazier of hot coals on his stomach. Other pagans were beheaded with an axe, mutilated, drown, or burned alive along with their residences.

But the most innovative torture developed was reserved for a landowner, leader-priest and sea-farer known as Raud the Strong. Raud the Strong was known for his beautiful longship, a boat larger than any of the King’s, with a dragon’s head crafted into the bow.

When Raud the Strong refused to renounce Thor and Odin, King Olaf’s men inserted a poisonous snake into a long metal horn. The horn was then rammed down Raud’s throat and the end of it was heated with a flame, forcing the snake to wriggle down Raud’s esophagus.


Longfellow waxes poetically on the scene. After Raud refuses King Olaf’s offer…

Then between his jaws distended
When his frantic struggles ended
Through King Olaf’s horn an adder,
Touched by fire, they forced to glide.

Sharp his tooth was as an arrow
As he gnawed through bone and marrow;
But without a groan or shudder,
Raud the Strong blaspheming died.

Then baptized they all that region,
Swarthy Lap and fair Norwegian,
Far as swims the salmon, leaping
Up the streams of Salten Fiord.

In their temples Thor and Odin
Lay in dust and ashes trodden,
As King Olaf, onward sweeping,
Preached the Gospel with his sword

After Raud’s death King Olaf seized Raud’s beautiful ship, and supposedly copied the design. According to legend this is how the famous Viking ships got their distinct shape.

How Asatru’s observe Raud the Strong Day, I don’t know. But it is not by shoving horns with snakes down Christians’ throats.

Birthday of the King: Elvis

January 8

The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National guitar,
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the civil war,

I’m going to Graceland, Graceland
In Memphis Tennessee…
…I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

Paul Simon, Graceland

Today is the birthday of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Elvis Presley. Though not an official holiday in any nation, it is observed throughout the world.

Elvis statue Elvis worshipper

(Above: the author praises the King in Memphis, Tennessee)

The focal point of the celebration is Graceland, Elvis’s former home in Memphis, Tennessee. Festivities begin each year with a gospel tribute at the Gates of Graceland at midnight.

Graceland was not named by Elvis, but by the original owner S.E. Toof after his daughter Grace.

Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. At age 13 the Presley family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where Elvis lived for most of his life.

In 1957 the 22 year-old superstar purchased the Graceland mansion in Memphis. He was proud to move his parents into it, a long way from the two-room house where Elvis was raised. His mother Gladys died the following year.

Graceland living room

Early viewers of Elvis’s concerts, such as rock legend Roy Orbison, cite his instinct and incredible energy as a performer as separating him from the artists before him. It is difficult to convey the novelty of Elvis after the half-century of imitations and changes that followed. Various morality groups assailed him for his “vulgar” and “obscene” music and movements on stage.

His discoverer, Sam Phillipsof Sun Studios, said Elvis “put every ounce of emotion…into every song, almost as if he was incapable of holding back.”

When Elvis first entered the Sun Studios, receptionist Marion Keisker asked him who he sounded like. He is reported to have said “I don’t sound like nobody.”

While this was true in mainstream radio, Elvis was heavily influenced by the black gospel singers he had seen at Memphis’ Ellis Auditorium and black blues performers in the clubs along Beale Street.

Stories make it sound like Elvis walked into Sun Studios and the rest is history, but in fact, after his first recording in 1953, Elvis politely hassled Sam Phillips for a year—while working as a truck driver—before Sam teamed him up with bassist Bill Black and guitarist Scotty Moore. The three recorded a high-energy version of black R&B artist Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right, Mama” in July and the single was released that month. Some white disc jockeys refused to play Elvis’ music at first, believing Elvis was black.

In January 1956 RCA released Heartbreak Hotel, co-written by a part-time Florida schoolteacher Mae Boren Axton, who was inspired by the newspaper epitaph of a suicide victim: “I walk a lonely street.”

Heartbreak Hotel slowly and steadily climbed the charts, entering at #1 68 in March, and making its way to #1 in May.

Elvis the #1 Hits: The Secret History of the Classics

Though Graceland is considered the musical Mecca for Elvis fans, do not miss Sun Studios just to the east on Union Avenue, for a more in-depth historically revealing tour about Elvis and Memphis music history.

Victory Over the Genocidal Regime Day

January 7

When Cambodia has a holiday it does not mess around with names.

Victory Over the Genocidal Regime Day, or Commemoration of the Fall of the Khmer Rouge, marks the end of the Pol Pot led genocide of 1.7 million Cambodians during the 1970s, out of a population of 7 million.

“We will always remember the most horrific events of three years, eight months and 20 days under the regime of Democratic Kampuchea, which carried out the most cruel genocide policy resulting in massive and limitless destruction.”

–President of the Cambodian People’s Party in a 2004 address, marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge. (BBC)

Most of the killings occurred between April 17th, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge assumed power of Cambodia until January 7th, 1979, when after a two-week war with Vietnam, the Vietnamese government invaded ousted Pol Pot and his followers.

The dates April 17th and January 7th are remembered by every Cambodian, for there is virtually no family that did not lose someone during the Khmer Rouge regime.

The genocide was the result of the world’s most morbid social experiment. The Khmer Rouge virtually annihilated the middle and upper classes of Cambodia, and did not stop there. Anyone deemed educated or cosmopolitan was killed. Ordinary people could be killed simply because they wore glasses, seen as a sign of literacy.

In an effort to “purify” the “Khmer race” and create an absolutely classless utopian society, the Khmer Rouge began by emptying all Cambodian urban centers of their population, abolishing banking, finance and currency, outlawing all religions, reorganizing traditional kinship systems into a communal order, and eliminating private property so completely that even personal hygiene supples were communal.


Orn Theng recalled:

“I was the only one who survived in my family [of nine],” Orn said. “It was not because they didn’t have food … there was bran and rice in stock. They didn’t kill us with hoes or axes. They killed us by starving us.”


Yet despite the bloodshed the Khmer Rouge flag still hung at the United Nations until the 1990’s. Ben Kiernan, a professor who works to document and increase awareness of genocides in places like Cambodia and East Timor, compares it to:

“Image the swastika flying in New York in the 1950s, with the Nazis still maintaining an army on the border of Europe and threatening to return to power.”


In addition to the almost two million lives lost, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians emigrated during and after those years.

The largest concentration of Cambodians in the USA, and perhaps anywhere outside Cambodia, is Long Beach, California, although the Cambodian population of Lowell, Massachusetts is soon to surpass it.

Epiphany, Day of the Kings

January 6

Every child knows that at one point Christmas had twelve days. The song says so. “On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

But this begs two questions:

First, what kind of sicko sends their true love sends 23 birds, 50 assorted pipers, drummers, milk maids, ladies and leapin’ lords, five rings and a pear tree, and doesn’t include one vacuum?

And second, what happened to the other eleven days? What kind of cruel world advertises the twelve days of Christmas to its children and gives them only one? “Sorry kids, we just couldn’t afford the first 11 days this year. If only you’d been born last century.”

The truth is…

The Truth

Actually December 25th is the first day of Christmas, not the last.

In the modern world of Christmas so much energy is focused on preparing exclusively for the first day that by the time the 26th rolls around many people are simply Christmas’d out.

But for much of Christian history, the twelve days began on the night of December 25th and ended the day of January 6th. (…though the calendar varies for different Churches. Christmas in the Russian Orthodox Church, for example, doesn’t fall until January 7th.)

Today we tend to mark our holidays by calendar day–midnight to midnight–but these holidays were traditionally celebrated sunset to sunset. The famed “Twelfth Night” actually falls on the evening of January 5th, though calendars mark the Epiphany as January 6th.

The Epiphany

The Epiphany literally means ‘manifestation’ and marks the day the Three Wise Men, or Magi, encountered the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus.

There are different theories as to the details surrounding the Magi mentioned in the Gospels. In fact no number is specified in the Bible, but the number three may have originated due to the three gifts bestowed upon Christ: gold, myrrh and frankincense. Matthew does not give clues to their origin, nationality, religion, or ethnicity either except to say they came “from the East” to Jerusalem. Hence they are referred to as the Three Kings of the Orient, although their rank is also supposition

The three differing places of origin may have developed as a way of demonstrating the diversity of Christ’s influence.

The names attributed to the Magi vary from place to place. We can trace the names Gaspar (or Caspar), Melchior, and Balthasar to a 6th century Greek text]

One theory for their origin is that they were Zoroastrians. Zoroastrianism was one of the most common religions of Persia at the time, and its priests were astrologers, who were revered for their knowledge of the night sky.

The Magi bestowed three gifts that represent:

  • Gold – royalty, for kings
  • Frankincense – piety, for priests
  • Myrrh – suffering, or painful death

which led to the Virgin Mary’s famous quip: “So which one of you Wise Guys brought the Myrrh?”

Over the next two millennia many European traditions associated with the winter solstice merged with the twelve days of Christmas. For example, on Twelfth Night roles were often reversed, such as master and servant, a tradition stemming from the Roman Saturnalia.
So enjoy this the twelfth and last day of Christmas. And whatever you do, don’t give a baby myrrh. That’s just rude.










Gobind Singh: the Penultimate Guru

January 5

The Guru known as Gobind Singh was the second to last of the 11 Gurus of the Sikh religion. The Guru is the leader and the most revered figure in Sikhism. Most Sikh holidays revolve around the births, martyrdoms, and life events of the Gurus.

Guru Gobind Singh became the leader of the Sikhs at the age of 9 in 1775 when his father, the ninth Guru, was beheaded by Mughal ruler Aurangzeb for refusing to convert to Islam.

Guru Gobind Singh
Guru Gobind Singh

Gobind Singh’s three-decade reign determined the present shape of Sikhism today. Four of the religion’s holidays are directly related to Gobind Singh’s life:

1666: His birthday – on or around January 5

1675: The Martyrdom of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur – on or around November 24

1699: Vaisakhi – the Sikh New Year, on or around April 13, which honors the Guru’s establishment of the Khalsa, or “Community of the Pure”

1705: Maghi – remembers the “40 Immortals” who sacrificed their lives at the Battle of Muktsar

But perhaps the Guru’s most miraculous achievement was in choosing and preparing his successor, Guru Granth Sahib.

Guru Granth Sahib became the 11th Guru in 1708 and is still the Sikh Guru today. Talk about a record for longevity!

Shortly before Gobind Singh’s death in 1708, he declared that he would be succeeded not by a person, but by the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, the writings of the ten Gurus of Sikhism. By taking the revolutionary step, Gobind Singh made the Guru immortal. Henceforth Sikhism could be guided by eternal principles instead of dependent on a mortal leader.

Sikhism is sometimes simplified as a cross between Hinduism and Islam, but is a unique philosophy. Sikhism rejects the Hindu caste system and idol worship. Unlike Islam, Sikhism does allow for images for adoration.

Sikhism has experienced conflicts with Islam ever since its inception in the mid-15th century. Sikhs have often sided with Hindus on political matters; Sikhism’s structure and culture has resulted in massive Sikh overrepresentation in the Indian armed forces. However in the late 20th century conflicts with Hindus increased as well.

Guru Gobind Singh died in October 1708, after a stab wound inflicted by a would-be assassin reopened while he was drawing a bow.

“The 12 months, the seasons, the dates, and all the days are blessed: each hour, minute, second, leads naturally to the True One.”

— Guru Granth Sahib

Myanmar Independence

January 4

It is not power that corrupts but fear. — Aung San Suu Kyi

The people of Myanmar–formerly Burma–are in a difficult spot while celebrating January 4, the anniversary of their independence. The public secretly reveres the country’s national hero, but cannot utter his name outdoors.

The main force behind Burma’s independence was Aung San. During World War II Aung San was Commander of the Burma Defense Army. He opposed British rule in Burma and saw an alliance with Japan as the way to independence. However, San soon saw that the thin veneer of independence achieved from the British was a sham. For the nation was now under the thumb of the more-controlling Japanese.

Aung San founded the Anti-Fascist Organization in Burma, and led the Burma National Army with the help of the British against the Japanese, whom they ultimately defeated.

Aung San
Aung San

In 1947 Aung San negotiated the “Aung San-Attlee Agreement” with the British, which guaranteed Burma’s independence the following year.
Aung San would not live to see the free Burma. He was assassinated along with six other Councillors at an Executive Council meeting in July 1947. He was 32.

Aung San’s daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, is and has been for twenty years, an outspoken critic of the current Burmese (Myanmar) government.

Suu Kyi was 2 years old when her father died and Burma gained its independence. She lived most of the next 40 years in peace and quiet. At 43 she was “leading a quiet life in England as a housewife and academic.”

She returned to Burma to care for her mother who was gravely ill at the time. A month before her visit in 1988, riot police shot and killed 200 demonstrators, mostly students. In August they killed close to 3,000.

I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that is going on.

— Aung San Suu Kyi

Martial law was declared in 1989. Ang San Suu Kyi became head of the opposition party, the National League for Democracy. Due to her rising popularity she was placed under house arrest. She would not see her children in 2 1/2 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi should have taken office when her party won the national election in 1990. However, surprised by their overwhelming loss, the military junta refused to acknowledge the election.

According to the BBC, Suu Kyi “has spent more than 11 of the past 18 years in some form of detention under Burma’s military regime.”

As a result “Aung San’s name has been dropped from official speeches. His boyish face has disappeared from Burmese bank notes. His grave has been closed to the public for years.” — time.com

In 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest. When she was released in 1995, she was told if she left the country she could not return. Thus she did not leave even when her husband in London was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997. She never saw him again. He died in 1999.

She was placed under house arrest again in 2000, where she has remained for most of the past decade.

The irony of imprisoning the daughter of the father of national independence has not been lost on the military junta. Its military chief Than Shwe has called for a “discipline-flourishing democratic state.”

Whether Aung San Suu Kyi will, unlike her father, live to see the promise land, a democratic Burma, remains to be seen. She still fervently clings to a non-violent approach to regime change, despite knowing that peaceful change may take longer. She believes it is a precedent that must be set.

Update: Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest on November 13, 2010.

St. Genevieve

January 3

St. Genevieve of Paris
St. Genevieve of Paris

Today is St. Genevieve’s feast day. She’s honored as the Patron Saint of Paris.

St. Genevieve became a nun at the tender age of 15 and devoted the rest of her life—another 65 years—to Christ. The secret of her longevity may have been her diet. She didn’t eat much more than barley bread and beans, and according to her biography, only twice a week, Sundays and Thursdays. She loosened this restriction at the age of 50 at the request of some bishops.

When Huns Attack

During the Hun invasion of what’s now France in 451, St. Genevieve’s prayers were believed to have prevented the Huns from attacking Paris; they headed toward Orleans instead. (Notice Genevieve is not the patron saint of Orleans…)

St. Genevieve
St. Genevieve

The following decade, during the lengthy Childeric siege on the city, Genevieve sneaked through a blockade to bring back much-needed grain to Paris’s starving citizens.

Death did not stop Genevieve from performing miracles. Parisians held a procession of her relics during the deadly plague of 1129 which killed 14,000 people. Spread of the disease ceased almost immediately, and many who were sick were reported to have healed upon touching her relics.

St. Genevieve’s saint day is January 3, but for centuries Parisians celebrated the anniversary of that first procession–November 26, 1129–with another procession in her honor.

Berchtold’s Day – Switzerland

January 2

Berne Coat of Arms

We made it to day 2 of the new year and the Swiss are already celebrating their second holiday.

Berchold’s Day, January 2, is named after Duke Berchtold V of Zahringen who founded the capital city of Switzerland in 1191.

Local legend goes that Bertchtold announced he’d name his future city after the first animal he slay on his hunting trip. He scored a bear, and thus the city is called Berne. (Good thing he didn’t kill a donkey.)

A duller theory is he named it “in memory of Dietrich of Berne (Verona), a favourite hero of Alamannic poetry.” (Names and Their Histories, Isaac Taylor, 1856″)

The Great Bear Hunt

St. Brechtold’s Day is celebrated mostly in the area around Berne. Though the confederacy of Switzerland is 700 years old, each region has maintained their own culture and identity. Switzerland’s central location in Western Europe makes it the “melting pot” of very white people: French, German, Italian, and Swiss. So I guess it’s more of an assorted cheese wheel of cultures, since it hasn’t really melted yet.

According to sacred-texts.com:

…the second day of January is devoted to gay neighborhood parties in which nuts play an important part.

You know, I’m not even going to quote you the rest of that.

Okay, yes I am.

In early autumn children begin hoarding supplies of nuts for Berchtold’s Day, when they have “nut feasts.” Nut eating and nut games, followed by singing and folk dancing…One favorite stunt of the boys and girls is to make “hocks.”

Hocks are made up of five nuts—a pyramid with four nuts on the bottom and one on top—and apparently they’re harder to construct than you’d think. We don’t know why nuts are involved. Officeholidays.com theorizes that Berchtold really killed a squirrel.

Whatever the reason, there’s no better way to usher in the New Year than by breaking out some nuts, build those pyramidal hocks, and sing the national song of Switzerland:

O Great Berchtold
You killed a bear
You founded Berne
We stack nuts in your honor.

— Ancient Swiss Canto*

Photos of Berchtoldstag Parade

[*Ok, just to clarify, this is a made-up song, not the Swiss anthem. — Ed.]