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Jul 27, 2011

In the end of the fourteenth century there was a monk who was writing tirelessly secular music. He was especially good at writing songs in the form of ballata, an Italian form of a song that was popular in Europe up for about hundred fifty years or more. This Italian composer was called Andrea da Firenze. In the late medieval period he was a member of Servite monastic order and took a vow of poverty, in order that all his time and energy could be expended on religious work.

When he entered the order, he got his first assignment: to build an organ for the Servite house in Florence. And what he did? He hired his dear and close friend – another prolific composer Francesco Landini as a consultant. These guys had fun and drank a lot of wine during this assignment. And in the end they managed to expense the wine that they drank and submitted the receipts to the order! Historical evidence shows that they drank a lot during three days that took them to tune up the instrument.

Well, evidently, in spite of being drunk most of the time, Andrea was successful with his first assignment. Soon he received a second one – to build an organ for Florence Cathedral. Two friends had a couple of other similar tasks to build organs in other Italian cities as well.

Obviously, Andrea was not just a prolific famous composer, but a great business administrator as well Andrea was also active within his order as an administrator. He was moving up the monastic order’s “corporate ladder” pretty fast. Soon he became a prior of two monasteries in Italy. But that did not stop him. Almost up to the end of his life in 1415 he ruled the entire Servite order in Tuscany.

Basically, we don’t know much about Andrea’s life before he became the monk. We don’t know his age at all. He got lucky, because since he entered the order in 1375, his members monks kept all their records in pristine environment. And anyways, we know about Andrea than the bios of other fourteenth century famous composers. His survived heritage includes thirty elegant and dramatic songs, with eighteen being for two voices and twelve for three.

Nov 14, 2008

I was interested in the development of magic rituals and traditions in Greco-Roman world. During my research in archives of web analytics company I found some interesting facts about it.

It seems, that a huge interest in magic was on the rise in the Hellenistic period, especially around 3d century b.c. Piles of texts, both literary and some from actual practitioners, in Greek and in Latin came to us from this time. Truly speaking, a lot of existing magical papyri was written in the first centuries after Christ, but the manuscripts’ concepts, formulas and rituals reflect the earlier Hellenistic period. These magical papyri are no doubt only a fraction of the magical literature available in antiquity. The ascendancy of orthodox Christianity by the 5th century CE had much to do with this. This is reflected by the book of Acts where the Apostle Paul convinces many Ephesians to bring out their magical books and burn them.

The language of the magical texts reflects various levels of literary skill. Generally they are standard Greek, and may well be closer to the spoken language of the time than to poetry or artistic prose left to us in literary texts. Many terms are borrowed from the mystery cults. The texts are often written as we might write a recipe. In other words the magic requires certain ingredients. Of course it is not just as simple as knowing how to put a recipe together. Appropriate gestures, at certain points in the magical ritual, are required to accompany the ingredients, different gestures it would seem produce various effects.

Oct 9, 2008

Ancient history tells us a lot about formation of magic. Appearing from aboriginal tribes in Australia and Maori tribes in New Zealand to rainforest tribes in South America, bush tribes in Africa and ancient Pagan tribal groups in Europe and the British Isles, some form of shamanic contact with the spirit world seems to be nearly universal in the early development of human communities. I was observing with excitement at the office of my local web analytics company photos of the ancient cave paintings in France and Germany, that were widely speculated to be early magical formulations, intended to produce successful hunts. While going through other sources I could not help noticing, that much of the Babylonian and Egyptian pictorial writing characters appear derived from the same sources.

Although indigenous magical traditions persist to this day, very early on some communities transitioned from nomadic to agricultural civilizations, and with this shift, the development of spiritual life mirrored that of civic life. Just as tribal elders were consolidated and transformed into kings and bureaucrats, so too were shamans and adepts devolved into priests and a priestly caste. This shift is by no means in nomenclature alone. While the shaman's task was to negotiate between the tribe and the spirit world, on behalf of the tribe, as directed by the collective will of the tribe, the priest's role was to transfer instructions from the deities to the city-state, on behalf of the deities, as directed by the will of those deities. This shift represents the first major usurpation of power by distancing magic from those participating in that magic. It is at this stage of development that highly elaborate rituals, setting the stage for formal religions, began to emerge, such as the funeral rites of the Egyptians and the sacrifice rituals of the Babylonians, Persians, Aztecs and Mayans.


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Ekaterina G.
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Delray Beach, FL, USA
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