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About meAugust 6, 1999
The basis of this paper was a series of bulletin boards and displays placed in the US Geological Survey Library in 1991, rather tongue in cheek, showing the need for heavenly protection for our library. It has been posted on the Internet a number of times in part and in sections, and has been translated into Estonian and published by the Estonian Library Association. This is a work in progress, and has not been edited to conform to the style manual of the USGS, or anyone else’s style manual for that matter.
This was also posted to other library discussion lists, such as LISNews.com in 2001 and Libref-l.kent.edu.
Included are some quotes received on e-mail from past postings on the Internet.
I hope you will enjoy this incomplete calendar of scholastic and library lore.
“An Appeal to Heavenly Library Patrons” By R. Lee Hadden
Throughout history, Librarians, Archivists and Records-keepers have appealed to Heaven and to Heavenly beings for protection of their charges. Since so many books, scrolls and records are susceptible to fire, theft, decay and insects, the job for many of these librarians was effectively impossible and the books and records could never be completely protected. All that was left for them to do was to appeal to Heaven for protection and guidance.
These appeals, whether to saints, angels, demons or insect kings, all share a common thread in that the items to be protected were both precious and perishable. Today, library books are no less valuable or vulnerable. While great strides have been made in protecting documents from insects and decay, the slow fires of acid still eat at paper fibers and render many documents illegible and worthless after only a few years. Unenlightened administrations, hiring freezes and budget tightening strangles the accumulation and safe storage of information. Cockroaches, silverfish, dermestid beetles and other insects still threaten paper and books, and mystical "bugs" still threaten electronic information.
Sometimes, it is all a librarian can do to keep from throwing up their hands, and appealing to heaven! Well, here's how libraries do it!
ARABIC AND MOSLEM APPEALS
Appeals to heaven for the prevention of the deterioration of Arabic manuscripts traditionally takes two forms. The first is a holy inscription in the book that will give metaphysical protection by divine beings such as jinn or angels, who would then prevent the desecration of holy writ.
A second traditional form was an appeal to "Kabi:Kaj," the "King of the Cockroaches." By appealing to the king to protect a manuscript, cockroaches (or lesser insects) would refrain from intruding on documents which could be eaten by the king only. Since many manuscripts were made with fish-glue, starch-paste, leather and other tasty substances, insect appetites were a constant and never ending problem to Arabic books and scrolls. (Pollock, James W. "Kabi:Kaj to Book Pouches: Library Preservation Magic and Technique in Syria of the 1880's and the 1980's West." Middle Eastern Library Association Notes (MELA Notes), Number 44, Spring, 1988, pages 8-10.)
A similar technique from Syria was to name the first and last page of a document or manuscript "The Page of the King of the Cockroaches", in the hope that the Cockroach King will control all other insects. Translated appeals include "O Kabi:Kaj, save the paper!", "O Kabi:Kaj, save this book from the worms!" and "O Kabi:Kaj, do not eat this paper!" (Adam Gacek. "The Use of Kabikaj in Arabic Manuscripts." Manuscripts of the Middle East. Volume I, 1986. Pages 49-53. See also James Pollock’s paper mentioned above.)
"In Maghribi manuscripts, the word appears in its evidently corrupt form, Kaykataj, and is clearly used as a talisman... and mentions, after a certain Muhammad al-Samiri, that when one writes "Kaytataj" on the first and last folio of the book, one can be sure that worms will not attack it." (Ibid. Page 49.)
This appeal to Kabi:Kaj is sometimes used with the term "Hafiz," which is a religious term that means "One Who has Memorized the Holy Koran." In this case, the term "Hafiz" is used in the older sense of "Protector (of the document)" or "ya kabikaj ya hafiz." (Ibid. Page 49.)
Colophons and Curses
The term "colophon" refers to a slip of paper that describes the physical parameters of a work. In ancient scrolls, it often included some or all of the following: the name of the author, transcriber, the title, subject, publisher, place, date and sometimes a repetition of the first line of text. This slip protruded from the body of the scroll, and was used as an index or finding aid.
The colophon verified that the item was a true copy, and sometimes the number of lines in the scroll were added up and the sum placed on the colophon so a purchaser would know that the copy was a complete copy of the original text, and, by the way, helped establish the fee for the copy.
The term "colophon" comes from the Greek and means "summit" or "finishing stroke," although the origin of the term has been attributed to Erasmus during the Renaissance.
In Mesopotamia, the colophon would often have a blessing on the owner of the scroll, or a curse if someone would try to alter it, burn it, dissolve it in water, lose it, lend it, or allow anyone else to steal it. This custom spread to Hebraic and Arabic works as well, and then into Europe.
Even today, modern books have warnings against copyright infringement, although they pale in comparison to some of the ancient curses and threats of divine retribution.
PHAROANIC (ANCIENT EGYPTIAN) APPEALS
The Thrice Great God Thoth
In ancient Egypt, Thoth was the ibis-headed God of Learning, and was the mythological inventor of the hieroglyphic symbols used in Pharoanic (ancient Egyptian) script. He was a patron god of scholars and "Keepers of Scrolls" (librarians and archivists) in the ancient temples. The nearby example on papyrus shows him with scroll, pen, and a simple transliteration of the ancient hieroglyphic alphabet into the modern western alphabet. All scrolls were kept in boxes that had his figure, or his name, placed on it for protection against destruction or theft.
Hieroglyphic script could be written either up or down and left or right. By the placement of the symbol of Thoth, either an ibis symbol (or later on just a curved line representing an ibis beak), at the beginning of the script, the reader can then see in which direction to read a document.
Thoth is the Greek form of the Egyptian word "Djhowtey," and in early representations he was a form of the moon god. In the myth of Osiris, Thoth protected the goddess Isis during her pregnancy and healed her son Horus of the wound inflicted by the god of the underworld, Seth (Set).
Thoth was identified with the Greek god Hermes (Mercury, the fleet footed messenger of the gods), and they traced him back to the "Thoth, the thrice great" or "Hermes Trimegistos."
At the final day of judgment, Thoth would weigh the hearts of all persons against a single feather (usually an ostrich plume), and if the heart was heavier than the feather because it was weighted down with sins, the malefactor would be thrown down to be devoured by the eternal crocodile. If the heart was as light as the feather, Thoth would then report the "catalog" or a complete listing of all their sins to the presiding god, Osiris. Hopefully this would not take long to list all the sins. Thoth is sometimes represented with a balanced scales as well as pens.
Thoth was the creator of the sacred books of magic, and one of the heavenly authors of the "Egyptian Book of the Dead." He wrote the numerous (more than 300) questions that the gods of the underworld would ask the human soul (Ka) at the Judgment Day, which had to be answered precisely and correctly to avoid divine punishment for all of their earthly sins. (From the Encyclopedia Britannica, and also, several notes and discussions held with staff at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, 1981.)
The Scarab or Dung Beetle
To the ancient Egyptians, the scarab or dung beetle was considered the wisest of all beings because it seemed so tenacious and dedicated when it moves a ball of dung (often weighing far more than she does) to lay eggs. Also, the eggs of the beetle were so small they can't be seen with the human eye, and when the juvenile insects would dig out of the earth after the annual Nile floods, it appeared as if they magically reappeared or spontaneously regenerated.
When a person died and went to their final judgment, the gods of the underworld would ask many detailed and intricate questions which had to be answered precisely and ritually, according to "The Egyptian Book of the Dead." Since many people of those days were illiterate, even placing a copy of this scroll in their coffin would not be enough to protect them from being sent to Hell for giving a wrong answer. As a result, the priests would read the questions and their appropriate answers to the beetle, which would then be killed, mummified, and placed in the ear of the deceased. When the gods then asked their questions, the ghostly scarab would whisper the correct answer into the ear of the supplicant, who could then answer the gods wisely and correctly. Sort of like a scarab cell phone.
The scarab was also used as a holder or medium for seals. A figurine of a scarab would be carved out of stone, and then on the smooth stomach of the scarab, the engraving of a seal was made. Later, this oval image was used for the representation of the cartouche, or name/title seals. (John Ward. The Sacred Beetle: A Popular Treatise on Egyptian Scarabs in Art and History. London: John Murray Co. 1902.)
In part, it is noted that the ancient Pharoanic priests would read the tracks of the beetle, who would leave almost a circle or oval shaped track in the loose sand. This circle, to the ancient priests, was similar to the holy rope or border that mystically surrounded written incantations. As a result, there was almost always a shallow line carved surrounding the hieroglyphics. Later, during the Roman period, these would be symbolized by a golden cord or girdle worn by priests. Even today, borders of gold fringe are placed around national flags and banners, as an unknown but traditional continuation of this ancient belief.
By carving the signet into a seal, cartouche or ring, a bit of the soul of the owner goes into the seal. By writing his name or sealing a document with his name, a person can then extend his soul to be in two places at once. This is why it was so important to ancient Egyptians for the Pharaohs to place their names on monuments, and why it was such a terrible punishment to remove or deface their names after their death (as was done to the heretic pharaoh, Ankhenaton). The scarab's ghostly Ka would punish anyone who pierced the mystical rope surrounding the seal, and would thus help protect the signet itself, as well as the person indicated by the seal.
Ganesh (Ganesvha or Ganapati) is the elephant-headed god of learning and new enterprises. As the god of wisdom, he knows all. Since he has the head of an elephant, he has the reputed memory of the elephant, and thus does not forget anything. His statue is placed over the doors of and entrances of many buildings in India and Sri Lanka, including most libraries. Ganesh is the scribe who wrote the Mahabharata ("Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty") from Vyasa's dictation.
After he lost his head to Siva's sword (Siva was his father, and Parvati was his mother), Ganesh wandered through the animal world, seeking a creature who would share his head with the god. He had many adventures and learned many new things from the creatures of the earth, including all their languages. But only the elephant was wise enough to give Ganesh his head, and in return, Ganesh blessed and made the elephant the wisest and longest lived of all the animals. (Sammanabar. "Conversations on Sri Lankan History." Lectures given in al Baha, Saudi Arabia, January, 1981.)
A more traditional story says that Siva repented of cutting off his son's head, and offered to cut off the head of the next living thing that walked by and join it to his son's body to assuage his wife's grief. The next living thing to pass by was the elephant.
Ganesh is credited with inventing the Sanskrit alphabet, and he broke off his right tusk to make the first pen. Representations of Ganesh also show him with the tip of a broken tusk in his superior (upper) right hand. Since Indian elephants have a smaller tusk than African elephants, I wonder if they are more suitable as pens. Classic Sanskrit has a capital or bar stroke over each letter to symbolize and memorialize Ganesh's creation of writing.
In many representations, Ganesh also holds a magical mace. With this, he will tap someone who is wise lightly on the head and grant "inspiration," or he will use it as a goad or “dope slap” on someone slow or stupid by hitting him with a firm stroke of punishment for being "heavy headed."
Many art works show Ganesh contemplating, reading, writing or dancing, with a small rat at his feet. The rat, who is the sidekick or companion of Ganesh, is noted in Hindu stories as a wise creature, similar to the wise and trickster fox, "Reynard the Fox" in traditional European fairy tales.
As the inventor of the alphabet, as a scribe, and as a keeper of wisdom and knowledge, Ganesh is credited as a patron of libraries, librarians and book sellers and buyers.
His day of celebration is a movable feast day in the Hindu calendar, usually in August or September, which is the month "Bhadrapada" in the Hindi calendar. The day is called “Ganesh Chaturthi,” "Vinayaka Chathurathi" or "Ganesh Puja." Traditional festival foods for this day are fruits such as apples, pineapples, or custard apples (Annona reticulata). Nuts of all types and rains are also appropriate.
Saint Lawrence (San Lorenzo or Saint Laurence)
A patron saint of libraries and librarians is Saint Lawrence the Librarian. He is a third century saint and martyr (died 258 AD) who had responsibility for the written archives and records of the early church.
St Lawrence was one of seven famous deacons of the early church. The other six deacons along with Pope St. Sixtus II (Xystus II) were captured by the Emperor Valerian on August 6, 258, and martyred. They were buried together in the cemetery of Callistus. The oppression of the Christian church was very severe, and many Christians fled Rome or died.
As librarian and archivist, Lawrence was thought to have a list of all the members of the early church, and the locations of all the mythical hidden hoards of gold belonging to the Vatican. Captured by the soldiers of the Emperor Valerian a few days later, on August 8, 258 AD, he was told to produce all the wealth of the church. He was given only two days to bring all the treasures to the imperial palace. Particularly desired were the names of all the Christians who were also Roman nobles, since they could be ransomed for gold by the emperor, or executed and their wealth confiscated by the emperor for the state.
Lawrence gathered up the all the diseased, orphaned or crippled Christians on the appointed day, brought them to the palace, and told the startled emperor that "These are the treasures of the church!"
For his presumed impudence, Lawrence was then slowly roasted on a grill on the site of the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Rome, in the hope that he would publicly renounce his religion and reveal the names of the wealthy Christians. He is often represented holding a gridiron to memorialize this grisly manner of martyrdom.
Although St. Lawrence was most certainly beheaded and not roasted, the traditions of his being cooked are somewhat stronger than fact. As a result, St Lawrence is also considered a patron saint for cooks. There is also the popular story that he was so willing to embrace Christ in heaven, that he did not mind the pain from the fire of his martyrdom, and indeed, he found the strength to tell his executioners "Turn me over. I am done on this side."
The courage and dignity of St Lawrence and many of these other early Christians in facing their death did much to gain respect for their religion in Rome, and after the death of St Lawrence, there was widespread conversion to Christianity.
His feast day is August 10th, and is usually celebrated by librarians and archivists (in honor of his method of death) with cold cuts.
The annual Perseid meteor shower, one of the best known of the annually occurring meteor showers, and which occurs near his feast day in August, is sometimes called "The Tears of St. Lawrence" in Italy.
A reliquary with the head of Saint Lawrence is said to be held in the Vatican Library. There has been some correspondence about the location of this relic, which is shown at: http://sxws.com/charis/relics16.htm
Another patron of libraries is Saint Jerome (also known as Hieronymus Eusbius or by the scholastic or literary name of Sophronius), known mostly for translating the Holy Bible into Latin. He is considered the patron saint of translators, scholars and editors, and by association, the patron of libraries and librarians.
St. Jerome was born in what is modern day Croatia (alternately his birthplace is noted at Stridon in Dalmatia) in 347 AD. He was educated in Rome, and at a very young age argued with church scholars and disputed current doctrines, especially those dealing with the divisions between the eastern and western churches. He withdrew to Bethlehem to begin a new monastery based on his principles, and also started a convent that stressed the purity of Christian values.
He first supported, then argued vigorously with St. Augustine (who gave the advice to Christians to withdraw from the material world and its cares and who wrote the famous line "Ama Deum et pende laxe" or "Love God and hang loose") and the north African Christian scholars on the relevancy of religion, Marian principles of eternal virginity, and other, finer points of ecclesiastical law and dogma.
In 382 AD he went to Rome and was a secretary to Pope Damasus I, until the pope's death in 384. During this period, Jerome helped with the establishment of the papal library and to begin the translation of the Psalms and New Testament, the beginning of a 20 year project to translate the entire Bible.
St. Jerome was most noted for his translations of the Holy Scriptures from Greek and Aramaic into the Latin Vulgate (everyday Latin), which made the Bible accessible to many Christians instead of to only a few scholars and the priests. He is also noted for his many books and writings on theology.
However, today he is criticized for being both argumentative and for not being a very original thinker, but one who quoted often other people and works to support his beliefs. As such, he may have more in common as the patron saint of irascible library patrons rather than librarians. Much of his works is direct translation or other writers, or translations with some editing, rather than works of his own thoughts.
Paintings of St. Jerome often show him at a desk, surrounded by books, and with the figure of a lion nearby.
He died in Bethlehem at the age of 90, in 420 AD, and is buried in the Church of the Nativity, the traditional place of Christ's birth. His feast day is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on September 30, and as a day of commemoration in Lutheran churches. (Kaschins, Elizabeth and Jane Kemp. "Saint Jerome, the Patron Saint of Librarians." Library Journal. September 1, 1988, pages 135-136. See also Bartlett's Lives of Saints.)
Damon D. Hickey, a librarian at the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, wrote about St. Jerome: I'm not sure Hieronymous would approve of our being happy on his day. Maybe, "Have a Solemn St. Jerome Day" would be better.
“Jerome was also one of the "Desert Fathers," monks of the Eastern Church who protested the increasing worldliness and affluence of the church by retreating into the desert where they lived alone or in small groups, eating food that they were able to collect or that was brought to them either by the faithful or by wild animals hence the lion in the paintings with Jerome. If there are special foods associated with Jerome, they should be roots and berries!”
“Although St. Augustine and St. Jerome disagreed theologically, Augustine (an active bishop of the Western Church in North Africa) admired the contemplative life of Jerome, believing that Jerome's was the true life of saintliness.”
“Jerome, in his single minded meticulousness and devotion (his Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible was the standard for the Roman Church until well into the twentieth century), was certainly an appropriate saint for medieval librarians: reclusive, meticulous copyists of ancient manuscripts (broadly parodied in Umberto Eco's _The Name of the Rose_). Insofar as librarians work alone and are meticulous in their work, Jerome remains, if not quite a role model, at least an inspiration. Perhaps, though, we should look for someone less antisocial. Any candidates?”
One librarian wrote: “One reason that St. Jerome is associated with the figure of a lion is that he is said to have won the friendship of a lion by removing a thorn from its paw. (He is, of course, not the only storied character to have performed this act of kindness.) Nonetheless, this may make him a particularly apt patron for academic librarians vis-à-vis relations with teaching faculty.”
Another librarian wrote in 1994: “I thought you might like to know that I co authored an article with my reference colleague on St. Jerome in the September 1, 1988, issue of Library Journal, pages 135 136. I do collect images of St. Jerome in an informal way and have found him represented with the lion most of the time. He is very recognizable in art museums with his books, cardinal's hat, and lion. Have fun with your project. Jane Kemp.”
St Catherine of Alexandria
Christian Saint and Martyr
Feast Day November 25th
St Catherine of Alexandria lived during the 3rd century, and was one of the more popular of the early martyrs of the Christian church during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Valarius Maxentius (emperor from 306-312, when killed by Constantine at the Battle of Milvian Bridge). Given a good classical education by her father, she converted to Christianity at a young age. She then helped convert a number of people to Christianity, including several high ranking soldiers and the wife of Maxentius. The emperor sent his religious advisors to dispute Christianity with her, and she used logic and classical examples to support her beliefs, to the point where some of her questioners were themselves converted.
Because of these conversions, her conversion of the emperor’s wife, and her opposition to the persecution of Christians, she was condemned to be first broken on a spiked wheel and then put to death. The spiked wheel broke when she was placed on the rim (hence the term “St. Catherine’s Wheel” for a noisy firecracker apparatus), so she was beheaded.
Some years after her death, St. Helena discovered the site of Mount Sinai where the Ten Commandments were given to Moses, and established a small monastery there in the 4th Century. Somewhere during the ninth century, many people believe, it was discovered that angels had removed St. Catherine’s body from the place of execution and hidden it in a cave on Mount Sinai, from whence it was discovered by monks and then removed to the monastery that now bears her name, and where her bones remain to this day.
The Monastery of St. Catherine is owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, with administration under the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Cairo. It is world renowned for their very fine theological library. Visiting crusader knights, while waiting for meals in the refractory, would sometimes carve their coat of arms with their daggers in the soft stone of the walls. Because of the threats from local Moslems, for many years the doors along the walls were sealed up, and entrance was only given by lifting visitors up in a large basket and crane.
A long standing custom of the monastery has been to write to temporal rulers throughout the region and ask that they send a letter offering protection to the monastery. Such letters have been received over the centuries from kings, emperors and religious leaders, including Charles V and Napoleon Bonaparte. The Prophet Mohammed, who was illiterate, dictated a letter of protection to be sent to the monastery, and then inked the palm of his hand and placed the impression of his right hand on the letter to seal it, in a most unique document.
St. Catherine was a favorite saint of the Middle Ages among both men and women. St. Catherine was claimed as one of the heavenly voices heard by St. Joan of Arc.
Because of her association with learning and with the famous monastic library in Egypt, St. Catherine is appealed to as a patroness and protector of librarians, libraries and scholars.
On November 25th, on her traditional feast day, prayers for her intercession are given. In France, unwed women who have attained the age of twenty-five, wear richly-decorated bonnets on this day to attract potential spouses. Traditionally, only married women wore a bonnet- unmarried women wore a chaplet, and do not assume a bonnet until their wedding. For that reason, unmarried women are said to have “put on St Catherine’s bonnet (coiffer Sainte Catherine).” This custom is explained by the legend. After St Catherine converted the wife of the Roman Emperor Maxentius, she crowned the new Christian empress with a crown she took from one of the angels that had appeared to her. (Ciba Review. Number 35, “The Hat.” Ciba Corporation: Basle, Switzerland. September, 1940, page 1280.)
This day was removed from the Roman Catholic Church calendar during the reform of 1969, but is still remains in the church calendars of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Coptic Church.
In memory of her sacrifice in some homes, Egyptian and other Middle Eastern foods are offered, such as hummus or tabouli salads. Favorites also are melons cut into circles with sherbet “hubs,” or cookies shaped as spiked wheels with icing.
Those with a more sardonic nature (in memory of the flaming St. Catherine’s wheel) consume more spicy foods, either with chili or curry.
CHRISTIAN PRAYERS FOR DESTRUCTION
Many monasteries had libraries and scriptoriums during the Middle Ages, and some of the monks placed extra comments at the end of their labors, especially when copying secular works. Some of these comments were "Let the copyist put an end to his labor", "Let the reader's voice honor the writer's pen" and my favorite, "Now I've written the whole thing; for Christ's sake give me a drink." (Whole Library Handbook. American Library Association. ALA: Chicago, Illinois. 1991. Page 159.)
A more recent appeal was put at the end of books placed in the library of the monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona:
"For him that stealeth a book from this library, may it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. May he be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. May bookworms gnaw his entrails, in token of the worm which dieth not. And when at last he goeth to his final perdition, let the flames of Hell consume him forever and aye." (Taken from an electronic mail letter sent by Chris Syed, of the University of Toronto, on the USENET "soc.libraries.talk" as (firstname.lastname@example.org) on August 23, 1993. Taken from: Marc Drogin. Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses. Totowa, NJ: Allanheld, Osmun & Co. 1983. Page 86.)
A favorite of mine is this example from Germany, in which the curse is enlivened with "detail, sound effects and justification... for each line begins in Latin and ends in German:
"This book belongs to none but me
For there's my name inside to see,
To steal this book, if you should try,
It's by the throat that you'll hang high.
And ravens then will gather 'bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you're screaming "oh, oh, oh!"
Remember, you deserved this woe."
"Hic liber est mein
Ideo nomen scripsi drein.
Si vis hunc liberum stehlen,
Pendebis an der kehlen.
Tunc veniunt die raben
Et volunt tibi oculos ausgraben.
Tunc clamabis ach ach ach,
Ubique tibi recte geschach." (Drogin. Anathema! Pages 78-79.)
Another example of a Christian curse is this medieval jingle placed at the end of a work:
"Christ's curse upon the crook who takes away this book.” Or the Latin: “Sit maledictuus per Christum, Qui librum subraxerit istum.” Drogin. Anathema!. Page 71.
The ancient Chinese god Wei T'O is the patron god of libraries and books. Many examples of appeals to Wei T'O can be found in Chinese manuscripts dated five hundred or more years ago. Sometimes the last page of manuscripts would be dedicated to him, in a manner very similar to the Arabic prayer of protection to the King of the Cockroaches.
Wei T'O is especially invoked for the protection of books and libraries against fire. Since many modern books are suffering from acid decomposition (slow fires), Wei T'O is especially relevant to modern librarianship, and a modern product to de-acidify paper is named in his honor. (Richard D. Smith, Wei T'O Associates, Inc. Private Conversations, January, 1992.)
While not specific to libraries, Sri Lankan symbols or images of the Sinhalese "Fire Demons" are hung in buildings to appease the incendiary demons and to avert fire, lightening and cataclysm, according to Sinhalese mythology. The demons show only a grinning face surrounded by flames. The expressions shown on the wooden figures are of glee or insane pleasure, as these demons eventually burn themselves up.
Since fire and acid decomposition (also known as "slow fires") are a special problem for libraries because of the concentration of paper products, the "Fire Demons" are also included in this display.
AZTEC AND MAYAN APPEALS
The Aztec and Mayan Indians of Latin America also had deities concerned with libraries. Quetzalcoatl, also known as the "Feathered Serpent," was the tribal god of the city-state Cholula in modern Mexico. Quetzalcoatl was his Nauhuatl name: he was also known as a god to the Toltecs, but his representation name is now lost. The Mayans recognized him as Kukulcan.
An ancient deity of vegetation and fertility in Teotihuacan (the main classic site on the central Mexican mesa or plateau), he was revered as a wind god and as a representation of the Toltec golden age, where he was worshiped as a god of fertility and soil. He is credited with the discoveries of the arts, the calendar, and of writing.
During the ninth century AD, a branch of the Nahuatl-speaking Toltecs invaded the central area of the older Toltec empire from the north, and established a city called Tollan or Tula. The ninth and tenth centuries were a time when there was a struggle between the older Teotihuacan religion in which Quetzalcoatl was the main god, and the new religion brought by the invaders who worshiped astral gods such as Tezcatlipoca, the god of the night sky.
Quetzalcoatl lost the theological struggle, and was vanquished by the sorcery of Tezcatlipoca, and left Tula. Central Mexico then underwent a religious transformation, and began the cruel rites of the sky and war gods, who demanded the blood of human sacrifices.
After the fall of Tula in 1168 AD, the disintegration of the Toltec empire began. By the 14th century, the Aztecs, a northern tribe, had taken control, and began to combine the religious beliefs of 28 city states into one theology, combining the star and night sky gods of the north with the rain and fertility gods of the south. Quetzalcoatl had been promoted up to the stars and worshiped as the god of the morning star by the Aztecs. This syncretism of religions by the Aztecs did not end with the Spanish conquest and mass conversion to Christianity: many Aztec religious rites and beliefs were retained and practiced by the Indians, even to this day.
The Aztecs believed that all mankind was wiped out several times in the past, and that the universe is unstable and was to be destroyed at some future time by a massive earthquake. During the previous extinction of all the humans, Quetzalcoatl entered the realm of the dead, Mictlan, and revived the bones of humans by sacrificing his own blood. By the beginning of the 16th century, Quetzalcoatl was elevated to the rank of the pre-eminent god Tezcatlipoca, and was considered his brother and equal. All the other deities came from these two gods.
In the Mayan calendar, the sixth month Xul was sacred to Kukulcan. Since the Mayan calendars were both solar and ritual calendars that agreed with each other only once every fifty-two years, this was a movable feast and the date would change each year.
A single feather or plume at the beginning or at the end of a document or stone carving would indicate a dedication to the “Feathered Serpent.” This symbol degenerated over time to a single fringed line.
So if you love reading, you may want to thank one of these heavenly patrons. Don’t mess with them, or you’ll find all your library books are mysteriously marked, “Overdue!”, and you will incur the wrath of the librarians.
About my libraryMany librarians, like me, are also members of LibraryThing.com. Other members of LibraryThing.com, like librarians, acquire many books. Done well and done rationally, this is called “book collecting,” and many of these people are also esteemed as “bibliophiles” or “book lovers.” These people usually have a hobby of books, and they may collect different types of books, such as first editions, autographed copies, or books in a particular genre. Disciplined, rational and purposeful, they are an interesting group of people to talk to and to visit with.
Bibliomaniacs are deranged people. These are the people who steal books because they are afraid that the books would be lost if they weren’t preserved in their care. Sometimes they steal copies of books they don’t want other people to read for various reasons, most often for sex, religion or politics. Often these people don’t ever read the books they steal, and they just fill storage spaces with their ill-gotten loot. They are a terror to librarians and library users, since they don’t trust libraries, and they often steal from libraries because they want to get the books for themselves before other people can steal them or read them.
But some people, especially in LibraryThing.com, also love books, and also fall somewhere in between the bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs. These people are what I call “bookaholics” or “biblioholics.” To them, books are a necessary part of their lives, and they have large personal libraries in their homes and their offices. Unlike disciplined book collectors, they don’t collect specific kinds of books, rare books or incunabula; bookaholics collect all kinds of books. Like bibliophiles, their books are paid for, but bookaholics usually don’t pay large sums for their books, since they know they can buy more books with a lot of money rather than just one measly old title. Used paperbacks at $0.50 each are just as valued as other books, if they like the author or story. Indeed, many bookaholics hold on to their titles for so long that a cheap book purchased years ago often turns out to be quite valuable when and if it is ever sold.
Unlike bibliomaniacs, the bookaholics’ titles are usually obtained legally, although the cheaper the better. Also unlike bibliomaniacs, bookaholics actually read and enjoy the books they own. Since bibliomaniacs hoard their books and try to keep their book stash secret, and bibliophiles often keep their collections secret for fear of theft of their valuable treasures, bookaholics are different from both in that they are usually quite willing to lend them out to friends and others. We regret when they don’t come back, but know that one day or another we will either re-purchase that title, get it on inter-library loan form the local public library, or get it borrowed from another bookaholic when we want it. Bookaholics treasure books, not for their value as books themselves, but for what they contain inside. Bookaholics are readers first, and collectors second.
You know you are a bookaholic when:
You can tell the true bookaholic, because they are the ones who only write their name in the book when they have completely finished it, thus showing they have been there before if they should ever pick up the book again.
We are the ones who send used books to our relatives, who then send them on to other relatives, each one writing their initials and dates to show who has already read the book.
It's an either/or thing. Either you have an extraordinarily fine bookplate, or you don't use bookplates at all.
Bookaholics are the ones who go to bed early because there's nothing else around the house to read.
Bookaholics are the ones who start to feel uncomfortable and uneasy in another person's house, and suddenly realize there are no bookshelves or magazines lying around. People who only own a telephone book and their high school yearbooks scare us.
Illiteracy is a nightmare to us. When I was in the Middle East, I found myself once trying to read the label on a ketchup bottle, sounding out to myself the letters in Arabic, when I didn't even know the words the letters made up. I was so desperate to be able to read something, and so frustrated because I was illiterate in the language around me.
Do you visit a museum and spend more time in the bookstore browsing the tomes than you do viewing the masterpieces?
We bookaholics often put the date we have read the book under our signature, simply because we have pretensions that we really won't re-read it until five years have passed. Or ten. Or one. Whatever.
Does your significant other make sarcastic remarks about your book collection and floor load weight, the fire hazards of paper or their mass causing the house to tilt a little to one side?
A rebellious teen to a bookaholic parent is a child who can read but won’t. Words a bookaholic most wants to hear from their child: “Gee, Dad, I’m bored. Is there anything around here worth reading?”
As a bookaholic, I went into librarianship to be around books, but now find I have little time to read. I have heard a statistic that the reference librarian should spend about 30% of their day reading just to keep up in their work, profession and academic fields, but there is no way I can come even close to this standard. It is like being an alcoholic who is also a barkeeper, and can't drink any of the potions that he makes for other people.
A real bookaholic is told to write their name at the bottom of the route list at the office so other people will have a chance to read the new things, too.
A bookaholic’s nightmare: a messy bookaholic and a neat spouse who isn’t also a bookaholic.
When you want to put a book down and you have no other bookmark to use, have you ever used a dollar bill from your wallet? Have you ever opened an older book in your collection, and found either a dollar bill of yours still stuck between the pages, an unpaid electric bill, a winning lottery ticket, or some other item of value? A true bookaholic’s brag- I once found a $0.25 bill from 1863 still marking a page in a 19th century book. For me, this was a metaphysical contact with another bookaholic from over a hundred years ago, and this also shows how few other people had ever read that book between then and now.
Speaking of bookmarks, you're the only one you know who actually uses a bookmark with a tassel on the end, because you remember reading somewhere that demons and ifrits are fascinated by tassels and will not enter the book if they have a plaything to work on instead, and so you decided to...
(I have often been asked about this. Tassels, fringes and dangily things are very common in Middle Eastern (not necessarily Moslem) societies. The tassels are on hats (the fez), clothing, pillows, Arabic "worry beads," knife handles, saddle blankets for camels (tassels also keep away the flies), and tassels are even made of silver and placed on rings and other forms of jewelry. Many Arab men and women close their robes with strings ending in tassels. The story I have been told is that demons, genies, book reviewers and other evil spirits are fascinated by such items, and will stop to play with them rather than commit their evil deeds. And if I remember my undergraduate folklore a-right, the mortarboard hats used in academic graduation ceremonies are descendents of the student boards used in traditional Arabic schools. The students would write their verses and lessons on a small wooden board similar to the school slate or chalk board used in the west. To test their skills in memorization, they would place the boards on top of their heads to show they weren't cheating (I saw that this is still done in Koranic schools today in Africa and the Middle East). The symbolic change of the dangling tassel from one side to the other means something important, but I forget which. Perhaps something to do with debts owed to college bursars or to passing evil spirits, or perhaps not. 8-)
In oriental societies, the tassel is, if anything, even more used than in the Middle East. However, I don't know of an association with evil spirits connected to tassels in the Far East. Maybe the influence came from Arab countries, or vice versa. But I saw almost as many tassels on things and people in Korea than I did in Saudi Arabia.
Anybody want to tussle over tassels?)
It's an either/or thing. Either you make notes, underline passages or highlight sections of the books as you read them, or you consider this an evil blasphemy and refuse to profane the printed page. Ditto for dog-earing a page to mark your spot. Either you do it, or you recoil in horror at the very idea.
Bookaholics think that it is a small mind who can only read one book at a time. Real bookaholics have a partly read book in each room of the house, plus office, car, etc.
Books on tape go too slow.
When you arrive in a new town and the family doesn't know what to do, you know what and where everything is because you have also read the roadside signs and advertisements while speeding down the highway.
You return for your 25th high school reunion and visit the library. Sure enough, one of the books you take off the shelf still has your name inside when you first or last checked it out.
It’s an either/or thing. Either you religiously keep the dust jackets on the hardbound books you buy, or you throw them away as a thundering nuisance, and you think the dust jacket is only piece of paper between you and the words in the text, much like a shrink-wrap cellophane sheet over a box of chocolates.
Speaking of dust jackets, you are often annoyed when the dust jacket in a bookstore has the cheap cover illustration preserved by placing the price sticker over the blurb. Yes, most people buy a book because of its cover and clever illustration. But you want to know what’s inside the book, and it’s annoying to live in a world with these other people and the bookstores that pander to them.
Bibliophiles have “cabinets” for their rare and valuable books. Bookaholics are familiar with homemade bookshelves, or planks stretched across cinder blocks, or various piles of books in the kitchen and bedroom.
You know what ISBN means, and you recognize some of the publishers' numbers.
The smell of a new book on a cool, humid day.
At one time or another in your life, you have sat down to seriously and finally make a catalog or list of all the book titles you own. However, after about ten minutes of efficient work, you find that you have abandoned the list to read one or more of the books that you are handling.
Real bookaholics give out bookmarks along with the Halloween candy. Hopelessly committed bookaholics give out some books, too. “Something for the mind as well as for the tummy,” you say cheerfully. Normal people look at you strangely.
Not only do you know the reference librarians and staff at the local library by their first names, they also know you by your first name. They think of you, sometimes in exasperation, when they are ordering new titles for the library’s collection. Or they call your home to let you know a new title has come in that you might be interested in checking out. Your spouse even recognizes their voice on the answering machine.
We bookaholics are familiar with the differences in books. There are ones you read over and over again. There are the ones you read as mind candy, just to be reading. There are bad books. There are good books. There are books that change the way you think or books that stretch your mind. There are books that should never have been published. A bookaholic can usually tell the different kinds of book, and won’t read one type when another type is called for. Non-bookaholics think all books are good and that they are all equal in value. Bookaholics know this isn’t true.
You know you are a bookaholic when you see the children’s book titles in your collection, and you don’t have any children. This is because you know that many good children’s books are ripping good stories; you saw some favorites from your own childhood at a used bookstore and couldn’t resist re-reading them; or you know that reading books written and published for adolescents will improve your adult reading speed and comprehension.
You might be a bookaholic if, as a child, were you ever told to put down your book and go outside and play instead? Ever been punished by having a book taken away from you, but not television? Do you have a frequent buyer’s card at a bookstore, but not at a video store? Ever been startled or confused when your best friend doesn’t like your new favorite book, or says they don’t even like to read?
It’s an either/or thing. Either you know exactly how many books you have, similar to a miser who constantly count his gold coins. Or you don't have a clue or a care as to how many books you have, except in both cases it is certainly a lot more than normal people have. One ofthe reasons for joining LibraryThing.comwas to find out how many books I have when I finally finish adding all my titles. Yesterday, I bought a new book that hasn't been entered yet, and gave one away to another bookaholic. so it goes.
A true bookaholic “reads between the lions.” This is a pun on “read between the lines,” and shows that bookaholics most often “get” things in books that other readers miss. However, you also know that the lions mentioned are placed in front of the New York Public Library, where if you haven’t ever been you one day aspire to see; it is also the name of a children’s show that discusses books. You are hopeless as a bookaholic if you know the two NY Public Library lion sculptures are named “Patience” and “Fortitude.” You are an incurable bookaholic if you know which lion is on the right hand side as you exit the library.
Visiting the in-laws can be excruciating, especially when they expect you to spend the whole day in front of the TV watching professional sports, when you would rather be alone on the porch swing with an iced tea and feeding your bookaholic addiction by reading. Pretending to be normal and to pretend to like the banal chat while watching millionaire athletes get hot and sweaty is difficult, but is usually achieved through much practice. And your spouse appreciates your sacrifice. Sometimes.
Priorities in life are important. They are: Reading, breathing, drinking, eating, shelter, warmth, companionship, making some money to buy more books, household chores. Everything else in their appropriate time and place.
Sex is not mentioned above, because of course, it is always done between the sheets. Do you refer to your bedspread as your dust cover, and thus do it under the covers? Bookaholics are novel lovers. Librarians do it quietly. Real readers learn about sex by Braille, etc., etc., ad nauseam.
When you meet someone new who might be a new Significant Other, do you make an excuse to visit their house so you can scan the titles in their bookshelf? Astrologers and computer matchmakers who waste hours trying to find compatible pals have nothing on bookaholics who try to find common titles and favorite authors.
It’s and either/or thing. Either because of your bookaholic facility with words, you are excellent at game shows such as “Wheel of Fortune,” Scrabble, crossword puzzles and that sort of thing; or because of your facility with words you are not.
Because of the range of books that you have read over time, you have accumulated a trashcan full of miscellaneous facts, much like a whale gathers barnacles as she swims through the seas. So the same is true with trivia games, Jeopardy and car travel games such as “Twenty Questions.” Either you are good in this sort of thing, or you aren’t.
Real bookaholics come from many generations of bookaholics. Boys say with authority, "My father told me...." Real readaholic boys say, "My grandfather read somewhere..."
Suitcase heavy because of too many paperbacks? Got a small tome stashed away somewhere for an emergency? Buy a new PDA in part because you can download books on to it and read them on the crowded bus or subway, and with the backlight feature, even read in the dark?
A bathroom without a library is like a library without a bathroom.
Speaking of bathrooms, bookaholics have special relationships with the little room which has no window. Routinely, you can gauge a normal persons’ educational level by whether or not they read in the john. More that two-thirds of people with master’s degrees or beyond read in the can. About 56 per cent of all college grads do, and only fifty per cent of high school grads read on the ceramic throne. However, almost all real bookaholics read in the bathroom.
True bookaholics have also ruined at least one or more good books by dropping them in the water when reading in the bathtub. Reading a good book in a hot bubble bath by candlelight is what will happen when you die and go to heaven.
Lists of books amuse bookaholics. Every so often you will see a list of recommended books for college students, the ten most banned books, or twenty most read books of the last century, or whatever. Glancing over them, you realize that you have already read them, or that you have a nodding acquaintance with most of the books listed.
Ever get caught for ditching gym class to read a new book instead? Did you ever find yourself teaching the dirty-minded kids at school the truth about sex that you learned from books instead of experience? Were you ever late for class or an appointment because you couldn’t put a good book down? Ever find the books on limericks on the poetry shelf in the school library, and amuse your friends with the off color ones? Did you ever write literate graffiti in the school bathroom, such as “I crap therefore I am” in Latin or writing in very small letters at the bottom of the stall door, “If you can read this, congratulations, you are now crapping at a 45° angle”? By the way, did you ever learn to read things upside down while in the teacher’s or principal’s office in school?
One or more of the books in your personal library is in a foreign language. Either they are holdovers from a school language course, something you bought cheap somewhere, or you had ambitions (when you have the time) to try to study and understand it. Most often it is something in Latin, but in many homes can be found the odd texts on how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics or directions on how to use a Chinese dictionary (ever try to look up a Chinese ideogram in a dictionary?).
Speaking of dictionaries, they are usually covered in dust in the homes of real biblioholics. Most common dictionaries aren’t used, since the bookaholic is already familiar with most of the words they run up against while reading. Instead, our dictionaries are of the unusual sort, such as slang, special terms or literate works such as “The Devil’s Dictionary” type. Also, you have probably picked up at least one dictionary in an area you are unfamiliar with, such as one on shipbuilding and nautical terms, medieval mining terms or polyglot terms in the hydrological sciences. Alternately, dictionaries are used for etymological curiosity and for other reasons. Can you say, “Oxford English Dictionary?” By they way, no one can claim to be a real bookaholic unless they have read at least one letter’s full of a dictionary at sometime or the other in their life, usually when in high school. Most people seem to choose “L”, because it is close to the center or the dictionary, and also because they know that’s where the lascivious, leering and lustful words are hidden.
My name is R. Lee, and I'm a bookaholic. Read 'em and weep.
An earlier copy of this article was printed in the librarian’s STUMPERS-L@cuis.edu discussion list on May 22, 2001.
Another one was printed in Mensa’s Capital-M in 2004.
GroupsAmerican Civil War, Flashman and Fraser
Favorite authorsRoy Chapman Andrews, Stephen J. Bockmiller, C. S. Forester, George MacDonald Fraser, Whit Haydn, Virginia Mescher, Mark Nesbitt, Dennis Rogers, Frederick P. Todd, Michael J. Varhola, Alta Walker, Dennis Wheatley, Charles Harry Whedbee, Charles Williams, Philip Wylie, John Wyndham, E-An Zen (Shared favorites)
Favorite librariesLoudoun County Public Library - Cascades Library
Membership LibraryThing Early Reviewers/Member Giveaway
Account typepublic, lifetime
Member sinceJun 29, 2006
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