Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tithera Mithera.....?

Best to be topical! Thinking of Easter and the run up to it, into my head popped a rhyme I used to repeat, long ago and far way near the north-eastern coast of England:
Tid, Mid, Miserai (or Misere)
Carlin, Palm, and Paste egg day.

Reciting it as a child, gobbledegook-wise, I didn't care what it meant, I just wanted to get at those chocolate Easter eggs! I later grasped that it had something to do with the Sundays of Lent, and customs attached.

Carlin(g)s are black peas, eaten on Passion Sunday, On Palm Sunday sometimes dried palm leaves were handed to members of church congregations, and Paste eggs (possibly a corruption of Pasch) eggs were what all the kids eagerly anticipated.

As for the mysterious first line of the rhyme, there are two explanations:
'Tid' was the second Sunday in Lent, when, it seems, the Te Deum was sung/chanted in church; Mid could refer to a hymn 'Mi Deus', sung on the third Sunday of Lent; Miserai/misere might be the psalm 'Miserere Mei', sung on the fourth. But there's also a very slight possibility, because the purpose of the rhyme was to count Sundays before Easter, that Tid, Mid was a variation of an ancient Celtic-based method/ language once used in the north of England for counting sheep. Exact spelling varies with dialects of northern England, but one, two three, four, five = yan, tan, tithera, mithera, pip. Tithera, mithera could equal tid mid? I'm not confident about this, it doesn't really fit snugly. Interesting though. It has been noted that even in parts of the US the old sheep-counting method is not not unknown, possibly brought across the Atlantic by early immigrants.

The full ancient sheep-counting method went like this, with spelling variations.
(My grandmother and neighbours of her generation always pronounced "one" as "yan", by the way.)


The sheep were counted up to twenty, the shepherd then closed one finger and repeated the count until all his fingers of one hand were down = a hundred sheep. Next he would close a finger on his other hand and begin anew. So up to 500 sheep could be counted using this method.

Regarding the mysterious custom of eating black carlin peas during Lent: there's no religious significance, but the tradition is said to be linked to the civil war of 1644. Royalist Newcastle in the north-east of England was under siege from the Scots. People were dying of starvation. The story goes that, either a French ship docked in Newcastle with a cargo of Maple Peas which were distributed to the people out of charity; or that a French ship was wrecked off the coast near Newcastle and containers of peas were washed ashore, much to the relief of starving inhabitants. Either way, a custom was born! Carlin peas are soaked overnight in water, boiled well then fried in butter and served with vinegar and bread and butter. My East Yorkshire grandmother used to prepare carlins that way, each year around Easter time.


David said...

"Hickory, dickory dock the mouse ran up the clock" is from the same counting scheme

Twilight said...

David~ Hi! I didn't know that - but now you've mentioned, of course! The rhythm is the same and...

"hovera dovera dik


mike said... speak in tongues, mate! Cor blimey, barmy 'n codswallop to me...arse about face. Thanks for the gen up.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Wotcha me old china - 'ow's yer belly off for spots then? Glad ya popped in to 'ave a butcher's.

Kaleymorris said...

This reminds me of a 10-based counting method called Chisanbop. Yours seems a bit more efficient.

mike (again) said...

Well, you Brits have a way with words, I tell ya. Thanks to the power of the internet, I was able to interpret your reply to me...LOL.

Happy Resurrection and Renewal!

Twilight said...

Kaleymorris ~ Hmm - I'd never heard of that one - clever stuff!

Looking for generally related information on finger counting, I came across the fact that, well into the Middle Ages, the Greeks and Romans seem to have used fingers for computations. The Homeric term for counting = "pempathai", which means to count by fives.

It's interesting that in the sheep-counting language in my post the word for five is "pim", so it could possibly be a left-over derivation from words used by the occupying Roman legions back in the mists of time?

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Good, glad you managed a translation - lol!

Thanks for the good wishes. I could use some renewal of my nasal passages right now. 3 days of really bad hayfever have my head reeling, I must be caught in that "pollen vortex" I've seen mentioned.

Happy weekend back atcha!

anyjazz said...

I didn't know any of that!

Twilight said...

anyjazz~ Well, you do now. ;-)

JD said...

Still used by shepherds in Cumbria (it was on the Beeb's 'Country File' not so long ago)

Base 20 counting system goes way back to the Babylonians, I think, and was used by the Maya.

Another one of the mysteries of history :)

Twilight said...

JD ~ Oh really? Good to know. :-)

I suppose 5, 10 or 20 counting methods were an inevitable consequence of humans finding themselves with 5 fingers on each hand - and 5 toes on each foot. :-)