How to live a thousand lives


“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” (George RR Martin, in the mouth of his character Jojen Reed)

Long ago, in the days when most people in Britain lived hard, simple lives, and worked the land, there was a season called Lammas. I don’t suppose it began exactly on 1st August, because two summers are never the same. Lammas was/is the season of harvests – first the corn, and then the picking from the hedges and orchards – blackberries, apples, pears, nuts.

There was a druidic festival held at this time – Lughnasadh, It was held in honour of the great god Lug, who is commemorated in the Roman name in the Roman name for Carlisle, Luguvalium, meaning the fortress of Lug.

In Shirley Toulson’s book The Celtic Year, I read about the twelfth century Archbishop of Brecon, Giraldus Cambrensis, who described “a strangely mutated version of this festival”. Apparently the lads and lasses gathered from miles around, and danced in a wild and over-excited circle round the churchyard on 1st August, the feast day of the local saint, Almedha, singing wildly. That was the Celtic bit. The Christian part came when the gathering had to mime all the unlawful (in the eyes of the church) things they’d done on feast days, for example ploughing with oxen on a Sunday, tanning hides at Pentecost, spinning flax or weaving on Good Friday.

Was this a case of two cultures merging without anyone noticing very much?

In 1990, Brian Friel wrote a play called Dancing at Lughnasa. It’s set in 1936, in the home in County Donegal, Ireland, of five sisters and one seven year old boy. They welcome home their only brother, Jack, who has spent the past 25 years working in a leper colony in a remote Ugandan village. This is one of the most moving stage plays I’ve ever seen, mostly because Jack has become so much part of life in Africa, he has absorbed the culture and the spirituality of the people among whom he worked, and now he is more or less an outcast in his own native community.

This morning I opened the September issue of Writing Magazine, and read about Karen Armstrong has been awarded the inaugural British Academy Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding. An amazing prize for an amazing woman. But what is amazing too, is that every reader can share in understanding other cultures and religions.

As George RR Martin says, courtesy of Jojen Reed , “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”



FROG: (precariously)

What do you mean, precariously? I’m investigating the lives of tree frogs.