The poisoned chalice: notes

This article was written for Holocaust Memorial Day 2005, an observance that grew out of an international task force established in 1998 to consider ways to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Another commemoration, Yom Hashoah, was established by the Jewish community in 1951 when Israel’s parliament appointed the 27th of Nissan to be “Holocaust and ghetto revolt remembrance day” (Yom Hashoah U’Mered HaGetaot). This later became known as “Devastation and heroism day” (Yom Hashoah Ve Hagevurah), and, finally, Yom Hashoah, which this year occurs on 6 May. [back]


From Patterns in Comparative Religion, 1958, Sheed and Ward, London. [back]  
The English word symbol derives from the Greek symballein, syn, ‘together’ and ballein, ‘to throw’. In other words a symbol is capable of simultaneously carrying many meanings, unlike a ‘sign’, which is intended to be much more specific. [back]  
The first time the swastika was used with the ‘Aryan’ connotations eventually assumed by the Nazis was on 25 December 1907, when members of a secret society named the Order of the New Templars displayed a flag with a swastika and four fleurs-de-lys at a castle in Austria. [back]


Criminals sent to the camps were designated with triangles of green. [back]


The word ‘Nazi’ is a shortened form of National-sozialist, the party that rose to power in Germany after the first World War. [back]
The grail has been pictured in literature in many guises, including a plate, a cauldron, a chalice and a healing stone, not to mention the blood of Christ as contained in his alleged descendants. The legend that it was the cup of the last supper arose in the Middle Ages, most likely a modification by Christian clerics of the Celtic cauldron-of-plenty.  However, identifying the grail—which in myth is said to be capable of feeding all who approach it—with an artefact sacred to only one set of believers is to limit its potential. [back]
Religious has a timeline of “the burning times”, the name given by modern Pagans to the period during which many people were killed. This site estimates that 50,000-100,000 people were executed on suspicion of being a witch. W.J. Bethancourt’s site lists the names of all those known to have been killed, as well as many unnamed victims; his estimate is 20,000-500,000. [back]
Toyolia, a Nahuatl word meaning ‘soul’. The words for heart—yollotl—and soul both stem from yolli, a root meaning ‘movement’. (Nahuatl was the official language of the Aztec empire.) [back]
Each of the five suns or eras began with the sacrifice of a god; the fifth sun was known as naui-olin, ‘4-movement’, named for the date in the Aztec sacred calendar on which it was created—which was also the day it would eventually be destroyed. [back]
The Spanish conquerors estimated that fifty people were killed at every temple annually, which, when taking into account the number of temples in the Aztec-ruled territories, amounts to approximately twenty thousand per year. Early chroniclers state that the neighbouring Tlaxcalans sacrificed eight hundred captives a year, rising to a thousand in the fourth ‘divine’ year. In the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, there were apparently eight hundred victims at one festival alone; another chronicler, the Spanish historian Bernardino de Sahagun, states that thousands of warriors were killed at the consecration of the great temple to Huitzilopochtli. [back]
From Chapter 8 of Women who run with the wolves, “Self-preservation: identifying leg traps, cages and poisoned bait”, Rider 1998, p. 215. [back]
A heart-rending depiction of a man and woman whose potential becomes entrapped can be found in the recent film The Incredibles; happily the situation is only temporary. [back]
Visitors to the Shoah dream project website can post dreams with holocaust-related themes; dreams about being burnt at the stake can be found in the past life memory bank. [back]

Patricia Miranda is a contemporary artist and educator whose soulful art is inspired in part by medieval manuscripts and icons. I am reproducing here part of her reply in response to my request to use her painting, as it perfectly illustrates the reason I was drawn to her work in the first place:

I have at several points throughout my life become “engrossed” in (informal) “study” of the holocaust. Friends have at times questioned it, as my near total immersion seemed to them worrisome. But I just can never shake the feeling of witness, the obligation of it. To not look away. To balance our knowledge of human behavior at its worst with the ideals of art and love as transformational forces, which I believe thoroughly in. It can be hard at times, to feel that making/observing art is that powerful, when all around you is such hardship. I want to be more effective in helping somehow. I still believe though! But I struggle with the daily-ness of living it. [back]

[16] Poem by Nora Leonard, October 2004. Background photo by Alexander Vertikoff. [back]