Monday, October 24, 2016

Is Samhain Just a Gaelic Halloween?

In short, no. Though it is often referenced as a sort of Pagan analogue, Samhain has distinct celebratory and cultural differences from Halloween. October is a month generally recognized as a formal entry to autumn; when the leaves start to turn colors, pumpkins patches open to the public, and Halloween costumes are prepared with care. Halloween parties overtake the end of the month and serve as celebrations for all things spooky, scary, and fun. But did you know that another significant holiday occurs on October 31?

Samhain, pronounced “sow-in”, is a Gaelic festival that marks the end of the harvest season. It also represents the beginning of winter. Samhain is not commonly known or celebrated in the United States, as it was historically observed through Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Traditionally, it was a time to gather food supplies and take stock of the herds in preparation for the “darker half” of the year.

Samhain is one of four Gaelic seasonanal festivals along with Imbolc (February), Beltane (May), and Lughnasadh (August). Celtic neopagans and Wiccans have observed Samhain as a religious holiday since the late 20th century, though Samhain was celebrated for centuries prior. All Saints’ Day, a Christian holiday to honor saints, and All Souls’ Day, another Christian holiday honoring the deceased, merged with Samhain in the 9th century which created the modern Halloween we know today.

A large part of the Samhain tradition involves lighting bonfires, which captured various symbols and pagan meanings. Rings of stones, known as Ochtetyre, were laid around the fires to represent individuals. The next day, the stones were reviewed for any changes, and if any were disturbed, it was believed that the individual the stone represented would not live out the year. Those traditions, among many others, make Samhain a uniquely fascinating holiday that is distinctly different from Halloween, despite falling on the same day and having some ties to the holiday commonly celebrated in America on October 31.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Mongolia and Genghis Khan's Influence

October's Coffee with the Curator at the Museum of World Treasures will introduce the history and modern culture of Mongolia, the "Land of the Blue Sky." Wendell Skinner will present this topic on Wednesday, October 20 at the Museum of World Treasures from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

Mongolia is a landlocked sovereign state in East Asia, bordered by Russia borders to the north and China to the south. Though quite large geographically at ~604k square miles, it’s sparsely populated with just 3 million residents. A sovereign state in international law means it is represented by one centralized government that has sovereignty (the right to govern itself without outside interference) over a geographic area.

Mongolia’s independence and status as a sovereign state was in flux for centuries and has only abided by its current constitution since 1992. Mongolia may be most widely known for Genghis Khan, a fierce and brutal chieftain from the 12th century. He swept much of Asia with his military campaigns and formed the Mongol Empire, which existed during the 13th and 14th centuries. The Mongol Empire was the largest contiguous land empire in history and eventually stretched from Central Europe to the Sea of Japan. Genghis Khan (born Tem├╝jin) rose to power by Northeast Asian nomad tribes, then developing the Mongol Empire. His invasions conquered most of what was known as Eurasia (the combined continental lands of Europe and Asia).

Genghis Khan died in 1227 and was buried somewhere in Mongolia in an unmarked grave. His descendants continued to conquer various parts of Eurasia which repeated the large slaughters previously perpetrated in other regions. Though his legacy was filled with violence and, he encouraged religious tolerance and practiced meritocracy. Thus, he is regarded by present-day Mongolians as the founding father of Mongolia.

Photo credit: Georgios Kollidas /

 Learn more on Facebook about this Coffee with the Curator event. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

The ABC's of the American Civil War

September's Coffee with the Curator at the Museum of World Treasures will expand upon engineering during the Civil War. Leading up to that event, we will cover some of the basics of the Civil War. 

The American Civil War continues to be one of the United States' most fascinating periods of history. The war was fought from 1861 to 1865 which, though relatively short in comparison to other war periods, is rife with historical significance. The origins of the Civil War stemmed from the issues of slavery and what degree of autonomy states had from the federal government. Intense combat over four years left an estimated 750,000 soldiers dead and destroyed the South's infrastructure.

Many large wars have their own vocabulary or glossary that develops, and the Civil War is no different. Read on to learn some of the terms frequently used throughout Civil War history texts.
  • Abolitionist: person(s) who wish to get rid of, or abolish, slavery
  • Antebellum: a term to describe the U.S. before the outbreak of the Civil War
  • Bayonet: a metal blade (often a long knife or short sword) that could attach to the end of a musket or rifle-musket to serve as a spear in hand-to-hand combat
  • Bivouac: temporary, makeshift encampment for soldiers that could be constructed quickly with materials nearby
  • Blockade: the North's efforts to keep ships from entering or leaving Southern ports
  • Cavalry: a military branch mounted on horseback; these units could move quickly and were used to gather information about enemy movements
  • Emancipation: freedom from slavery
  • Hardtack: a term used to describe the hard crackers issued to soldiers; these simple crackers were made of flour, water, and salt, and became rock hard when stale
  • Infantry: military branch that traveled and fought on foot
  • Kepi: a cap worn by Civil War soldiers, mostly among Union soldiers
  • Mason-Dixon line: a boundary in the 1760s that ran between Pennsylvania to the North and Delaware, Maryland and (West) Virginia to the South; it became a symbolic division between free states and slave states
  • "Peculiar Institution": a term for slavery in the South
  • "Quaker Guns": large logs painted to look like cannons in hopes of fooling the enemy into thinking an area was stronger than it was
  • Rebel: those loyal to the Confederate states
  • Slavery: a state of bondage where people, mostly African Americans (and some Native Americans), were owned by others; slave owners were typically white and forced their slaves to work for them
  • Union: also referred to as the North or the United States; this portion of the country remained loyal to the Federal government during the Civil War
  • Yankee: a Northerner; someone loyal to the Federal government

Join us September 15, from 9 - 10 a.m., for Coffee with the Curator. Enjoy coffee from The Spice Merchant, pastries, and new friendships. While you are there, be sure to check out our Civil War Exhibit.