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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Our Ladye in English Piety

In spite of reformation iconoclasm, the Mother of God is still remembered in popular tradition in England. It was not for nothing that England was formerly known as "Our Ladye's Dowry", the equivalent of the Russian title, "The House of the Mother of God", which was given to Russia in the days before the revolution. We are left today with the beautiful names of the Feasts; Lady Day for the Annunciation, Our Lady in Harvest for the Dormition, and Our Lady in December for the Conception of the Mother of God.

The ladybird is, in fact, "Our Lady's bird", and nearly a dozen flowers are named after the Mother of God, for example, Our Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis), and the marigold is, in fact, "Mary's Gold". How appropriate it would be to use such flowers to decorate icons of the Mother of God on her various Feast days! Indeed, one wonders if such a practice might not be the utlimate origin of the names themselves. As far back as the eight century, the Venerable Bede made the Madonna Lily, also called the Mary Lily, the emblem of the Dormition of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, likening the white petals to her spotless body and the golden antlers to her soul glowing with heavenly light. To this day the saying that a bride must wear something blue at her wedding goes back to the liturgical blue, worn on the Feasts of the Mother of God. if a bride wears something blue, she is in fact asking for the blessing of the Mother of God on her marriage.

The terrible tragedy is that the reverence of old for the Mother of God has so degenrated in modern speech. The real meaning of the corrupted swear-word "bloody" is "By Our Lady": it is, therefore, a blasphemy.

From the chapter Fragments of Orthodoxy in English Popular Tradition in Fr Andrew Phillips' book, Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post! Thank you! Every golden word is brilliant!

Leetle M.

Michael said...

Fr Andrew really is amazing.

This book is full of gems along similar lines to the above. I have recently learnt of another book of his, entitled "The Hallowing of England", which is a guide to the Orthodox Saints of England and their places of pilgrimage. This may have to be added to my "to get" list, although funds aren't brilliant at the moment. Still, all in good time.

Many of the words that we consider "bad" words are nothing of the sort, but are simply Anglo-Saxon words which came to be seen as the language of the uneducated when Latin terms became more popular among the wealthier, educated upper and middle classes. This is pure snobbery and I make no apologies for using these words in their proper context. What I do object to is the rape of the English language by the gratuitous and vulgar use of these words where one would place a comma in writing. I can just about tolerate this in others but refrain from it myself.

However, I draw the line at blasphemy. This is why I was horrified when I first learnt that "bloody" is a corruption of "By Our Lady", as this word was no stranger to my lips.

What I find revolting is when people who don't consider themselves Christians use such blasphemies. Words which I give great reverence to, such as the Most Holy Name of Jesus, others use casually and disrespectfully in my presence. One has to wonder why, if they don't actually believe Christianity, they choose sacred figures from that religion to use in such a manner. Surely, there must be ways in which they can express their strong emotion without misusing sacred elements from somebody else's religion. It just shows that they have no respect whatsoever for people who subscribe to those religious beliefs, and I have no qualms about pointing this out to people.

But enough of my ranting.

Ian said...

Thank you. Beautiful as LM said.

From an equally horified Ian who used "bloody" today: I didn't realise, despite me loving linguistics. I shall cease and desist.

Eric John said...

I've found that when I mention to a person the fact that he or she is using Our Lord's Name as a swear word, they don't even realize it. It's like they're not even aware of what they're saying.

Anonymous said...

So true...there are so many who swear without realising what they're saying, in English. I imagine that German is similar to French, which has many expressions, for example "Mon Dieu!", which translate quite mildly into English, since in French those things are not really blasphemous..."Mon Dieu" merely means "My goodness!"

It must be a cultural phenomenon.

But that's no excuse for us to swear in English. I agree, we must try harder to control what comes out of our mouths, for it reflects what's on the inside.

Leetle M.

Aristibule said...

French swearing is quite blasphemous (as my mother, for whom French is a first language, has often said.) The French 'sacre bleu' is also a swearing by Our Lady.

Either way, there is a difference between obscenity (earthy, concrete language - ie Saxon/Norse words), and profanity (misusing sacred things.) The latter is the real crime.

Richard said...

I'm sorry, Michael, but I don't think that 'bloody' DOES mean 'by Our Lady' (as you must have realised on Sunday when I used it repeatedly). That might have been its etymology but that's no longer what it means - it's a mild curse.

Similarly, according to the programme on the OED, 'Naff' means 'Not available to f**k'. No, it doesn't. It means 'not very tasteful'.

duchessSoF said...

I was informed when I was staying in London 3 million light years ago that "bloody" was a slam against the blood of Christ Jesus. I then had trouble even as a pagan using this term (all the Yankees I was over there with highly enjoyed picking up this word among other choice ones).

I do not use it. I would rather hear a streamline of cussing F--- and the like than one WORD taken my LORD in vain. +

Anonymous said...

You are so right, Duchess! We are always so respectful of people we know who have done kind things for us... but when it comes to the One who died for us, His name is uttered sometimes with no respect at all.

I read somewhere the comment (concerning a foulmouthed individual who turned the air blue every time he felt the least bit frustrated): "And, as he knew not what to say, he swore."

On a jollier note, however, I once had a spiritual father whose name happened to be George. He disapproved of the expression, "By George!"

Leetle M.