Tag Archives: God

What Is On My Mind Today? Spring Preparedness: Divining Rods,Weather Sticks, and Field Checks


Before the days of well-educated folks providing weather reports over the air waves, that often conflict with the view out of your window, knowing how to find water, predict weather weather and test soil was essential information passed on from generation to generation.  In our farm family that meant mastering divining rods, the weather stick and field checking protocol.

The most important topographical feature to a pioneer picking out a homestead site was an accessible nearby water source.  Here in the land of ten-thousand lakes you would think that a visual inspection of your immediate surroundings would suffice. After all, few Minnesota farmsteads rest far from a standing body of water.  Therefore, it seems to me that one could assume that the water table is high and that well locating and digging, even for the novice, could only end in success.

There are many ways to find sources of ground water.  I just finished reading a handbook for pioneers that was published in 1859.  The writer dedicated a whole chapter to signs in nature indicating ground water. Apparently my great uncles never got their hands on a copy of this fellow’s book, because to the absolute horror of my Christian grandma, they searched for ground water using, “Divining Rods”.

Divining rods are either thin metal wires or a “Y” shaped branch cut off of willow trees.  The wire ones are about 20 inches of straight with a right angle for a handle at one end.  With a rod held loosely in each hand, the operator slowly walks forward.  When the rods detect water, they quickly swing together of their own accord and cross.  As you walk away from that area, they immediately swing wide apart again.   The willow works similarly, except the pointed end will point down when over water.

luther's small catechism

Divining rods are used by a “Diviner”.  Since neither term is included in the catechism of Martin Luther and nobody can explain how these mysterious rods work, they were immediately labeled by my grandma as conscience stimulating instruments of the dark side. Of course, none of us knew how electricity worked or how roosters got hens pregnant either, yet electricity and poultry products were consumed guilt-free.

So when my great uncles, grandma’s brothers, showed up on our farm with those divining rods they were about as welcome as a horribly itchy, gland swelling, stomach emptying, body annihilating  communicable disease.  It was disconcerting to her that none of the adult males on the premises had moral sense enough to have a healthy aversion to self-motivating wires or sticks. However, since hope springs eternal, the children were warned not to go near them as they were suspect.  The divining rods, not the great uncles.

The idea that these rods could find water right out the blue smacked too much of magic or chance for grandma. Both works of the devil.  The only power she gave credence too, was God.  And rightly so. If it wasn’t God inspired, it was suspect. Grandma felt that there was nothing divinely inspired about divining rods. Moreover, she felt very strongly that expecting something from nothing was gambling.  Gambling at best was foolishness, at worst a vice. Vices were the root of all moral decay. Therefore, the divining rod pointed to sin not water.

Now, many people would bet that in a small church-going farm community like Swede Grove, in a state where games of chance were outlawed, that the fear of acquiring a gambling addiction from divining rods would be against the odds. Maybe, even irrational. If I was a wagering woman, I might agree, but I am a Swedish farmer’s daughter. There is logic to grandma’s concerns.  Sin, just like redemption, requires a first step. It’s sort of like her sex before marriage analogy.  Sex is like ice cream, if you have never tasted it, you aren’t going to miss it.

Besides, the farmers I knew were are all gambling addicts from the get go.

There were wagers on which neighbor spent the most time eavesdropping on the telephone party line, if Mennonite ladies wore underwear, how long any member of the family would stay in the outhouse, how many green apples could be consumed before you couldn’t leave the outhouse, which sow would farrow first, which cow would have the biggest calf, what ornery rooster would go next into the soup pot and on and on.  I suppose that some of the chronic wagering could be attributed to weakness of character, but I’d like to think it was because we did not have a television set.

When you really think about it. In reality, the whole enterprise of agriculture was, is and always will be one big gamble. Farming is a crap shoot, all over the place.

I think that is why the menfolk enjoyed using the divining rods. It was a small gamble in their world of constant big gambles.  Eventually, of course, we all took our turns learning to use the wires or sticks to find water.  I have used them and tested them by walking over a water pipe and they did work.

Now, learning to using a weather stick is not nearly as complicated or morally questionable as divining rods.  Weather stick usage is fairly straight forward.  The value of weather stick use is based solely on the presentation of its applications.

yard stick

A weather stick is usually the size and shape of a yard stick.  The kind you get for free at the Minnesota State Fair.  However it is painted completely white.  To predict accurate weather, the stick must first be planted about three inches into the ground.   If you cannot dig a three-inch hole in the ground, you know that your stick’s predicting powers have already begun to work as it is telling you the ground is still frozen. Should water fill the hole you have dug for your weather stick, you can be assured that grandma’s prayers have been answered and no further use of divining rods will be necessary.

Once planted the stick really works its magic.  If you can see it…it is daylight.  If you cannot see it…you need to get your eyes checked, because you should be able to see a white stick in the dark.  If nobody can see the stick…it is foggy. Should the stick cast a shadow…it is sunny outside. If there is no shadow….it is overcast.  If the stick is wet..it is raining.  If it is floating…you are experiencing a flood. If it disappears…it is snowing. Should it blow over…it is windy.  If it turns green…you need to cut your grass. And,  if it turns yellow…you need to holler at your dog.

Once you have found water and can use your weather stick, it is time for field checking.  Field checks always taken place after the snow has melted, but before all of the standing water has disappeared.

farm fields

When the time is right, usually during a chore shortage, or before or shortly after a round of food consumption, someone of driving age, between the ages of 6 and 86, will announce they are going to go check fields and start a tractor.

Tractor choice can be a poser. Sometimes, the tractor is chosen because it’s the closest to the field checker. Other times it is picked, because it already has fuel.  Most often though, it is chosen because it is the biggest and fastest.

Once the tractor is started, the field checker invites guests to ride along by hollering for volunteers over the loud revving diesel motor.  The guests, never more than two, stand on the wagon hitch behind the driver. The vehicle then roars down the farm lane.  It races down a county gravel road until the breaks are slammed down hard as its operator rudely cranks on the steering wheel attempting to make the sharp turn into the field’s landing.

Once the all important traditional pause and moment of silence on the landing has been completed.  The tractor, driver and guests brace themselves for a rigorous field testing experience.

The clutch is slowly let out as the throttle is simultaneously thrust to full.  The tractor leaps onto the rich black soil. The deep thread of its large rear tires catapults dirt clogs high into the air.  The driver jams the stick shift into a higher gear to gain speed in an attempt to outrun the dirt clog shower raining down on unprotected heads.

The tractor races across the field, with its passengers’ shirt tails flapping in the spring breeze. It slows as it crests a hill.  The tractor pauses before yawning loudly and taking a deep breath.  Then, with a loud roar it charges down the hill with its driver enthusiastically yelling, “Hang on!”.

The passengers behind the driver hang onto the tractor’s fenders white-knuckled. They stand on their toes and loosen their knee joints to act as shock absorbers to prepare for impact.  Valiantly the tractor hurls itself towards the flooded valley beneath the hill’s summit while silently screaming, “I am not a boat!.”

stuck tractor2

The splash of water and mud created by several tons of tractor hitting open water at road speed is spectacular! Physics does not lie. For every action there IS an equal and opposite reaction.  As muddy spray shoots heavenward, the tractor’s great rear tires furiously spin.  There is a slide one way, and then a slip the other way before the tractor  just sinks straight down.

Swedish farmers by nature are pessimistic optimists.  They know things can and do go wrong. However, all is not lost if you can find even a little bit of good in it.  Therefore, you only really lose if you give up.

stuck tractor

It is this innate positive attitude to never give in, that can be misconstrued by the non-Swedish as stubbornness, that makes the driver continue rock the tractor back an forth until such a time as it becomes clear to God, nature and humankind that the tractor is going no where. This point of cosmic consensus is reached when the tractor’s trailer hitch is underwater and the axles have settled below the mud line.  When these hallmarks are met, the field test is assessed as successful and the field officially declared…not ready.

farmer scratching head

Then, the tractor’s driver and guests slowly survey the scene, while figuratively and actually scratching their heads.

After a historical recitation of infamous past spring field checks and an exchange of situational observations, conclusions are reached.  The tractor is stuck.  They should not have chosen their biggest tractor.  Calls will have to be made to neighbors for assistance. There will be a mandatory re-telling of the best stuck tractor tales.  And, they are going to have to walk home….again.




What Is On My Mind Today? Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day Love


Jesus heart

What is on my mind today?  Love.

Today is a day to think about love and those we love.  And, perhaps pray for a few that we don’t.

As it would happen this year Valentine’s Day is the same day as Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian observance of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is more than a time to stand in line and get black ashes in the shape of a cross temporarily tattooed on our foreheads. Or, a time to make fun of people who wear the mark of their Christian faith in public.

On Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge that our God given human lives on this earth are just a wisp in time. From dust we were made and to dust our bodies will return.  Lent and death are serious business.

Lent is not the time to invest in fish and tofu futures or McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish stock.  Most of us know someone who observes Lent by giving up doing or eating something they enjoy or who do not consume meat on Fridays. However, I believe that Lent is not so much of a time to do without, as it is a season to seriously feed the soul.

Lent is a time to walk with Jesus the Christ and experience the love, mercy, acceptance and forgiveness of his ministry.  It is a time ponder the suffering and death on the cross of a truly innocent and just man.  It is a time to feel the devastating despair and disappointment of his disciples when they fear all is lost as Jesus’s breathes his last and his pale blood-spattered lifeless cold corpse is taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb.

Lent is about being human. One of the most amazing things about the Bible is the humanity of its humans.  Good, bad, warts and all. Jesus’s chosen disciples were absolutely and imperfectly human. No heroes here. In his time of need, they deserted Jesus and scattered like frightened sheep.

Have you ever wondered why these normal cowardly people changed and courageously, without compromise spent the rest of their lives, most dying very nasty deaths, proclaiming the divinity of the risen Christ? What steeled their spines?

After all, they had seen Jesus flogged and beaten to hamburger, hung on a cross with spikes through his hands and feet, breathe his last, his dead body put into a solid rock tomb, the only door of the tomb sealed by the authorities with a huge boulder and guarded by soldiers. The authorities were determined to end, once and for always, the heresy of this man who proclaimed himself the Messiah, Son of God…Jesus of Nazareth.

Reality oftentimes is a very dark thing and so it must have been for the followers of Christ immediately following the Crucifixion. At that moment in time those men and women were surrounded by darkness. Darkness of the heart, mind and soul.

They had to be questioning everything. Had they been betrayed by a smooth talking impostor? Lunatic? Or, worse yet an evil magician?  Jesus had died!  Where was their eternal king?  Where was his kingdom? Dead kings can’t rule! Why didn’t God send angels to save Jesus? He just let him die on that cross!

Jesus was gone!  His comfort was gone, his miracles were gone, his strength was gone, his love was gone! Death! Yes, they were well acquainted with death and their Jesus was dead!  And, now their very lives were in danger.

Would anyone who valued their lives as much as you and I, give up their lives for a liar? Fake?  Madman?  Magician?  I wouldn’t. I bet you wouldn’t either. And, neither would those men and women who personally knew Jesus.

What was it then that changed them into courageous lions for God?

They actually, and really, saw the risen Christ!  Been there!  Done that!

Nothing short of that could have created such great change in ordinary frightened powerless people. His early followers preached, were persecuted, tortured and often died violent deaths, because they had personally witnessed Christ’s resurrection from the grave.

I think it is sad that the disciples did not truly believe he was the Son of God until they saw him alive after death!  Sad, but true.  However, it would have been the human thing to do. It is probably what I would have done, in those same circumstances.

It is obvious to me that they did not fully believe when they lived with him, walked with him, were taught by him and were told by him that he was the Son of God. If they had understood that he truly was the Messiah, they would not have mourned his death.

Jesus spent his time with his disciples planting seeds of faith.  So many parables. So, many little tiny mustard seeds. His resurrection was the disciples “AH HA” moment.  The arrival of the Holy Spirit nourished all of those seedlings of faith Jesus planted to maturity.  Preparing the disciples, minds, hearts and souls to fearlessly spread the Gospel and harvest for heaven.

Some of the disciples, just like so many of us, were skeptics. Even seeing Jesus alive again, was not enough.  So he spoke with them, walked with them, ate with them, let them touched him where the nails from the cross had pierced his hands and feet, appeared to additional multitudes of people so that there were hundreds of witnesses to the resurrection.  Then, they even watched Jesus ascend into heaven.

Regardless of the vast amount of persecution of those early Christian believers the Gospel spread and the church grew. It grew without social media, the internet, television, radio or even printing presses.  It was over a thousand years after Christ’s death before a man in Germany in 1440, named Johannes Gutenberg, invented the “Gutenberg Press” and made God’s holy word, the Bible, available to the public.

Lent is a time to get those Bibles out, if necessary dust them off, and read about these very ordinary people who were chosen by Jesus to be his followers.  It is also a time to anticipate the joy felt by the women who came to embalm a dead body only to find an open tomb and a living Jesus on that first Easter morning.

It is good that today is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. The message of the whole Bible can be condensed into one word…love.  Our love of God and his undying, merciful, forgiving, love for us. So, why did Jesus die on the cross?  It was for love.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” John 15:13. 

We will never know a greater love than the love of God.

Today and everyday is the perfect time to celebrate and share love.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:34-35. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!
Love to you all!!

Just saying: There Is No Such Thing As Humanity Without God and The True Meaning of Christmas



Humans are as unique in the animal kingdom as Christianity is among world religions. Evidence strongly suggests that humans are fundamentally different than other animals. I believe that our very uniqueness as a species indicates the existence of God.  It seems to me that humanity as a concept for higher moral behavioral traits can only exist if humans were created in the image of a higher power. Without God there is no humanity.  For we would no longer be a unique creation, but would be no better, no worse, no more special than any other animal. We would not understand mortality.

Without a moral soul from God there would be no right or wrong…only survival of the fittest.  Our sole focus would be to do whatever it takes to obtain our next meal and propagate the species. Nothing would deter the violent methods needed to be successful at either of these two tasks.

There would be no such thing as a conscience.  You couldn’t afford to have one anymore than a lion, tiger or shark can afford a conscience.  The softer human traits like love and kindness would have been evolutionary death sentences.  Just like any other animal on this earth, we would merely be another link in a food chain where only the strong survive.

Of course, if here is no God there would be no need for religion. However, even the earliest humans sought out gods and practiced forms of religious rites. They had burial ceremonies for their dead and offered sacrifices to either win favor or appease gods. So seriously did they seek out gods, that not only human, but child sacrifice was commonly practiced throughout the world. In some cultures on a massive scale. A rather counter-productive evolutionary trait.

Generation after generation, culture after culture, religion after religion, humans have sought out gods.  In all of the other religions of this world people seek God. Only in the Christian faith does God seek people.

The God of Christians does not ask for sacrifice, he asks for obedience.  What does he require of us? Jesus summarized all of the commandment’s into two.  To love God with all of our heart, soul and mind, and to love one another as we would like to be loved.

The Christian God does not ask for sacrifice from us, he sacrificed for us.  In the birth of his only son Jesus Christ in Bethlehem over two millennia ago, God sought to save us, just because he loves us.   John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

God seeking us is the true meaning of Christmas. Sadly, if you don’t learn about the birth of Jesus the Christ and ask him into your heart you are missing out on the only part of the holiday season, and life, that brings real joy and peace.

Jesus is the Christ in Christmas.  Without him all you are doing is having one big commercial gift exchange.  Great for the economy, not so great for our world or your soul…..just saying.





Children’s Story: The Very First Christmas

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

Every Christmas Eve I would read three stories to my children.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is first,
That mean ol’ Grinch is really the worst.
He stole all the Who’s pudding and presents with glee,
Then he went back and stuffed up their tree.
The Who’s celebrated Christmas when the Grinch thought they shouldn’t.
Stop Christmas from coming? Even a mean ol’ Grinch couldn’t.

Next, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” is read,
after the children have been tucked snugly in bed.
Their eyes aglow with happiness and joy,
As they hope Santa brings their favorite toy.
When, what do their curious little ears hear?
A television announcement, “Santa’s sleigh drawing near!”

Then, it is time for the last story to be read.
Heads go down on pillows and the bedtime prayer is said.
The moment has come to tell of  Joseph and his Mrs.
Now it’s time for, “The…

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What Is On My Mind Today? Forgiveness, Free-will, Evil and a Thankful Heart.



I have never made any secret of the fact that I am a Christian. So, for the past several years, when attending Church has been impossible due to pain, mobility issues or my severely compromised immune system from chemotherapy treatment, I have turned on my television and watched, “The Christian Worship Hour” every Sunday morning at 8 a.m  on Channel 23.

Each week Pastor Harold Salem delivers a great bible-based sermon.  This robust ninety-six-year old minister, former sheep rancher and bull rider from Aberdeen, South Dakota, is one of the best gospel preachers I have ever heard.

Pastor Salem always preaches that we should open our Bibles and read them.  He also always recommends that new Christian converts should begin their Bible reading with the Gospel of John.  Last January, I decided to take his advice and began reading the entire Bible…cover to cover.

The New Testament was a quick read and a source of great inspiration and comfort. I have almost completed reading the Old Testament, and have just a few of the books from the minor prophets to finish.  I will start reading the Book of Amos today. I hope to finish reading the Old Testament shortly, so that I can begin re-reading the Gospels before Christmas during Advent.

It has been very good for me to read the Bible.  After reading most of the Old Testament there are many passages that I still do not understand. Some, still freak me out a bit.  Especially, the first five books of law, sacrifice and justice. At first, those books seem so restrictive, uncompromising and in many ways very harsh.  When put into the context of the time in which God gave humans these laws, it becomes quickly apparent that God was and is always only interested what is best for us.  Like any loving parent, at times he has to say no and provide rules for guidance for our own good.

I have learned that if humans had chosen to follow God’s intent, they would have been at peace with their neighbors, safe within their borders, and enjoyed health, happiness and many other benefits. Throughout the Old Testament, God shows more patience than humans deserve. And, time and time again he overcomes his disgust, disappointment, hurt and anger to forgive and welcome back into his loving arms human sinners.

For the repentant sinner, God’s forgiveness is complete.

Isaiah 1:18
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

Jeremiah 31:34

“No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

As former Sunday School teacher, youth mentor and confirmation teacher and continual sinner myself, I think teaching and practicing forgiveness as demonstrated by God, “to remember their sins no more,” or taught by Christ, to “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” is in practical terms almost impossible.

Forgiving people is hard.  Sometimes, I don’t even want to forgive.  But, I have learned that while it is nice to be forgiven, it is much better to forgive and forget.

As an artist who can paint precise and subtle details of a landscape from memory, it is very hard for me to forget anything.  I learned long ago that keeping a list of old grievances stored up, only hurt myself and is a complete waste of time and energy.  That type of attitude is a recipe for bitterness and could be the text book definition of self-defeating.

True forgiveness requires forgetfulness.  Forgiving and “remembering no more” lets the forgiver heal and avoid living a life drowning in anger and resentment.

While God expects us to forgive, he does not require Christians to play the victim or be victimized.  Not at all.  Yes, we are instructed by Christ to forgive 7 X 70 times; however, he also says there comes a time when you dust off your feet and move on.   The Bible does not condone abuse.  Jesus himself instructed that the second greatest commandment, the first being loving the Lord thy God, is to treat everyone as we would like to be treated ourselves.

One of my all-time favorite stories from Pastor Salem is about forgiveness and how God meant for it to work.  The story goes like this….there once was a young boy who had a very beloved cat.  The boy and his cat were inseparable, then one day the boy’s pet cat died.  His mother knowing how much the cat meant to her son, helped him bury the cat in the backyard with appropriate honors.

As they were covering up the cat with dirt, the little boy grabbed his mother’s hand and frantically pleaded with her if they could please just let the cat’s tail stick out.  That way if his cat wasn’t really dead, he would see the tail move and could get him out of the grave. Well, the mother thought this would be all right.  So the cat was buried with the tail sticking out.

Everyday the little boy would check on his cat’s tail to see if it was going to move.  After several days, he just had to check on the whole cat…so he dug his pet up.  After inspecting the dead cat, and seeing that it did not look very good, he and his mom, again, buried the cat. Still he wanted that tail to stick out.

A week went by and the little boy again felt compelled to dig up his cat to see if it was really dead.  By now the cat was really looking bad.  After inspecting the dead cat, the little boy turned to his mother and said, “I guess, I need to bury the cat, tail and all.”

True forgiveness means burying the cat…tail and all.  It has been my experience that after I practice forgiveness, the blinders of bitterness come off.  All of the angry energy produced by the hurt is gone and I am filled with the most wonderful sense of freedom and thankfulness.

I am thankful that I have spent so much time in the word this year. After reading almost the entire Bible, I am left with no doubt what-so-ever that there is a God and he is a God of love, whose sole intention from the very beginning was for humans to live joy-filled lives.

I also learned that God did not make evil, but he did make evil possible. God knew that true love is a gift that has to be freely given.  He desired our love, and chose to risk rejection by allowing free-will or choice.  God cannot and would not ever promote evil. That would be impossible, because evil is against his very nature.  However, he does permit evil, as a consequence of human free-will choices.

Even when humans choose to reject God and turn to evil or sin, he promises to never forsake us or leave us.  When we ask for his forgiveness, through repentance, he washes us clean, time after time after time, without end.

God makes each day of our lives an opportunity to forgive and “bury the cat.”  To heal  the wounds and scars of the past and start over. He offers us not just one life, or nine-lives like a cat, but eternal life.   For that I am ever so blessed and grateful.

May the joy of a thankful heart be yours as we move towards our national holiday set aside to thank a loving God who only and always wants to shower his beloved humanity with blessings.





What Is On My Mind Today? Holiday Jingles…Too Many…..Too Soon!

grandma and reindeer

This news story caught my eye about how psychologist’s studied the effects of Christmas music and concluded that playing holiday tunes too soon can have a negative impact on mental health.  I  have provided the link below to the news article.

Actually, I get this. Not so much the part about the tunes triggering too much thinking about all of the to do’s for Christmas, but more about them triggering thoughts about the  have not’s and who’s not of Christmas.  This time of year, mourning losses whether, health, job, material, relationship and especially the death of a close family member or friend, become exponentially hard. Along with the brightness and fun of the season, comes kick in the gut emotional darkness as heartache silently, and sometimes not so quietly, screams…why me?

Depression during this time of year is common, real and an increased mental health concern. If you, or someone you know, are suffering from depression, it is so very important to see a doctor. Depression is a disease. Treatment is available. Suicide is preventable. Speaking from experience, there can be contentment and happiness after loss and depression.

The holiday season can be very short for some and never-ending to others. Non-stop holiday music does seem to make the never-ending line move slower.  The best way to help speed up the never-ending line, is to give those caught in it the most precious of all gifts….your time.  After all, isn’t that what Christmas is really about?  Loving people.

Christmas is a Christian holiday.  It is a celebration about the greatest gift of love.  God’s holiday focus wasn’t on stuff or to do’s, it was solely on bringing his beloved, fallen and often evil, human’s peace, joy and eternal salvation by simply believing in his son as their savior.

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Please note that God said…”everyone”.

Hugs, to my many loved ones and friends who I know are going to be in the never-ending line this holiday season. I am sorry for your losses and continually pray that the peace the passes all understanding fills your heart and mind today and everyday as you struggle to climb your mountains.

And, should you come to visit me during the holiday season, there is a good chance there will be lots of cookies and…disco music.


Letters From Grandma Pat: Cat Warfare and The Battle of the Black Death


Dear Kids,

I am glad that you had a safe and Happy Halloween.   Please know that your parents’  idea of a “Daddy” or “Mommy” tax on candy collected on Halloween or Easter did not  originate with myself or your grandpa.  We would never have expected or accepted anything from our children more than what they were graciously willing to share.  At any rate, don’t eat all of the candy in one day….you, your stomach and teeth will regret it.

So, when you got home did you dump out all of your candy out for an inspection?  I bet your cats thoroughly checked out each and every piece.  They always remind me of the poor souls who had to taste all of a king’s food, to make sure it wasn’t poisoned.  I bet those folks wished they had nine lives like a cat and I bet you don’t know about the time cats saved all of humankind by winning the “Battle of the Black Death.”

Seriously,  we all know that cats do not have more than one life on this earth, so how did this myth about the nine lives get started? An Old English proverb says that, “A cat has nine lives.  For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.”  However, the nine lives myth is much older than this proverb and even merry old England itself.

The myth that cats have nine lives has been around for centuries. Even the famous English playwright William Shakespeare referred to it in his play, “Romeo And Juliet.” He wrote, “Tybalt: What wouldst thou have with me? Mercutio: Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.”

Actually, no one knows for sure when this myth got started, but historians believe it may have begun in ancient Egypt where cats were sacred. In fact, their goddess Bastet was pictured as being half cat and half woman.  Ha! The first cat woman!

Cats in Egypt were revered in life and greatly mourned after they died. They were mummified, just like people, and had their own tombs.  Interestingly, a cat tomb with over 80,000 mummified cats was discovered at Beni Hassan in Egypt in 1888.  That’s a lot of cat mummies.

The ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Greeks thought that number nine was special…even magical. Ancient Egyptians believed that their god Atum or Atum-Ra took on the form of a cat whenever he visited the underworld or as we call it today….hell.  During one of his visits to the land of the dead, Atum gave birth to eight other gods.  Therefore one life, became nine.

The Egyptians were not alone in thinking there was something special about the number nine. Tradition and religion made the Greeks think that the number nine had power for it was the trinity of all trinities. Not every culture credits a cat with nine lives. Spain has a tradition that cats only have seven lives, and in Arabia and Turkey the feline only gets six

It was the Romans who brought cats to Europe.  During their occupation of Egypt, the Romans learned to appreciate the pet felines for their mouse catching skills.  It didn’t take long before cats became popular European pets…that is….until the middle ages.  Poor cats!  Within a few centuries they went from being worshiped in ancient Egypt to medieval Europeans thinking they were a death delivering soldier of the devil.

Being born a cat, especially a black cat, in medieval Europe was just plain bad luck.  It is the only unlucky thing about a black cat.  Cats at that time were so terribly misunderstood.  Their nose-in-the-air attitudes and ability to survive falls that would have killed any other animal got them labeled as being other worldly and evil.

One guy, named Baldwin III, Count of Ypres, was so fascinated by a cats amazing ability to land on its feet that he decided to test the extent of this cat talent.  So, in the year 962 A. D.  he threw several cats off of a very high tower.  Well, the cats survived and ran away.  The experiment, with the poor unfortunate cats, was so entertaining, that the Belgian town made it an annual event and festival. Each year after a procession celebrating cat history, felines were thrown from an almost 230 foot tower.  Live cats were used until 1817, when the folks in Belgian decided that maybe, just maybe, this tradition was unkind and began using toy cats instead.

At that time, being thrown off a tower was the least of a cat’s problem.  During the middles ages, from about 1300 until the 1700, every few generations, a terrible disease called the Bubonic Plague would savage the cities and countrysides of Europe.  This disease killed up to 50 percent of the total population in some parts of England.  France lost up to 90 percent of its people in some areas.

The  Bubonic Plague otherwise known as the “Black Death” came to Europe in October of 1347 when twelve Asian trading ships docked in Messina, Sicily.  Crowds had gathered on the piers to welcome the ships when to their horror most of the sailors on the ships were  found dead and the remainder were terribly ill.

Before the ships of death had even reached Sicily’s shores, many Europeans were already frightened by the rumors that a “Great Pestilence” had ravaged the Near and Far East.  As early as the 1340’s China, India, Syria, Egypt and Persia had experienced the plague’s effects.  To protect the public from being infected by this horrible contagion, the death ships were immediately ordered to return to sea.

However, it was already too late. This disease, spread by flea-infested rats, had already jumped ship.  The plague had begun. Before it was over more than 25 million people in Europe, almost a third of its population would be dead.  Not only did this disease kill people, it also killed animals, including farm animals such as cows, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens.  So many animals perished that food and wool shortages occurred.

The plague is an ugly disease.  It causes its victims to run a high fever, vomit uncontrollably and experience an incredible amount of pain. Worst yet were the horrible black bleeding and oozing sores that covered the victim’s entire body.  These black sores are what gave the disease the name, “The Black Death.”   Its victims looked like rotting puss covered zombies.

Death from this disease came so quickly that a person could be healthy when they went to bed at night and dead before morning.  The nursery rhyme “Ring around the Rosy”  is believed to have been written about the symptoms of the Black Death.

Unlike today, in those days there were no doctors or medicines that could help the victims.  Panic ensued. People turned on each other, families abandoned their own sick family members, doctors refused help the sick, and priests refused administering last rites to the dying.

As in most cases of historical public panic, a scapegoat was needed. In this case it was….Jewish people and cats.

At the time the plague struck very little was known about how disease spread. So, people who under normal circumstances seemed to have perfectly well-functioning brains,  threw open all the doors and windows of their mental facilities to let reason and common sense escape and welcome in ridiculously stupid ideas to explain the illness.  Such as, that the plague of the Black Death was a punishment from a loving God.

While I would never speak for God or suggest he never has used a catastrophe or two to get our attention.  I don’t believe that disease is ever a punishment from God for sin, because Jesus paid the full price for all of our sins on the cross. Nor, do I believe that God tests the sick.  I think it is highly more likely that if a loving God is testing anyone, it is the people close to the stricken to see if they practice what they preach and meet the needs of the suffering with compassion, kindness and love.

No, I do not believe that the plague was a divine punishment. However, people during the middle ages were told differently.

In those days the most powerful authority in the land was the Catholic church.  Church leaders believed that the Black Death was God’s punishment. To end the plague, the church taught that communities needed to be cleansed of non-believers and perpetual troublemakers.  During the years of 1348 and 1349, violent panic-stricken mobs massacred thousands of Jewish people.  Many Jews were forced to flee to Eastern Europe to be safe.

In addition to the genocide of the Jews, cats were also targeted by the church.  A century before the plague, the church had taught that cats were evil. It was believed that devil worshipers and witches used cats to cast their spells…especially black cats.   This is where and when the superstition about black cats began.

Well, it didn’t take long before cats were feared and killed off by the thousands.  In some areas cat ownership was actually outlawed.  At one point during the middle ages cats had been almost entirely eradicated in England.

Humans often make poor choices and the attempt to rid Europe of cats was just that…a bad idea.  Cats kill rats. Rats had the fleas that caused the Black Death.  Therefore, when there weren’t a lot of cats, there were a lot of rats and a disease outbreak occurred.

Some humans ignored the law and kept their pet cats.  Other folks soon noticed that cat owners seemed to not get the plague as often.  It does amaze me that these cat owners weren’t immediately labeled as witches and burned at the stake.  Boy, did folks back then like burning witches at the stake, but that is another story.

For once, however, calmer heads prevailed.  It was decided that cats somehow protected their owners from the plague.  Primitive scientific research and thinking took place and it was determined that rats not cats spread the plague.

Of course with this discovery everyone wanted cats. Unfortunately,  there were not very many left.  It took awhile to re-populate the cat population. However, Tom Cats were up to the challenge and made every effort to impregnate every female cat they could find. (If you don’t know what impregnate means, ask your dad.) 

Due to the commitment to duty and impregnating excellence of the Tom Cats, it wasn’t long before cats were back at the job killing rats and controlling the spread of this horrible disease. Some say that without the rat killing skills of those medieval cats, humankind could have been wiped-out by the plague.  After all of the abuse from humans, isn’t it odd that cats helped save them.  Funny how life works out sometimes.

While cats helped humans land back on their feet after the plague, people still did not know why cats almost always landed on their feet.  It took until 1894 before science could explain a cat’s amazing talent for surviving a fall by landing on its feet.

French physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey conducted experiments with cats.  Unlike the Belgians, he dropped them from short-safe distances.  With the help of a camera that took multiple images very quickly, Mr. Marey demonstrated the secret to a cat’s amazing gymnastic agility.

As a cat falls, it instinctively begins a twisting action beginning with its head and ending with the tail called an aerial righting reflex. It takes only one second for a cat to complete this reflex action. Kittens as young as three weeks show signs of this ability, which the kitten masters when they are about seven weeks old.  However, a cat cannot land on its feet if the distance is too low for the cat to make its twist or if the fall is so high that it becomes a cat pancake.

Here is how a cat can almost always land on its feet:

1. First the cat’s head begins to rotate.

2  Next, the cat will arch and twist its spine so that its front and back legs are rotating in opposite directions.

3.  As the cat begins the roll, it pulls in its front legs and extends its back ones, making the front half of its body to spin more quickly than the back half.  Then, the process is reversed.  As the cat’s back legs swing around, they are tucked up into the body and the front legs extended to prevent over-spinning.

4.  The result of all this motion allows the cat to land on all four paws cushioning the impact of the landing.

I better never hear of anybody throwing a cat around and claim its a science experiment.  Cats can and do get hurt easily.  And, like all of God’s creatures, cats were put on this earth to be treated kindly and cared for with gentleness and love.

I guess cats have earned the right to ignore the concept of humility and strut their stuff like a Lion King.  After all, if it wasn’t for their ancestors killing a lot of rats none of us humans might be here.

Have a great week and I love you all very, very much.


Grandma Pat