Page 258. " Its throat would be slit in front of an ursine idol "

Animal sacrifice dates back to ancient times. In the Bible, Adam's sons offer their flocks to God, whilst ancient Greeks and Romans sacrificed beasts to their own deities.  To please these gods, it was believed that the animal offered should be the best of its kind; beasts were cleaned, robed in ceremonial garments, and the horns of an ox might be gilded before its death.  Each god had his or her own requirements. The gods of the upper heavens required white, infertile animals of their own sex; for Jupiter a white ox, for Juno a heifer.  Lower gods were offered fertile victims, whilst the gods of the underworld were given dark-coloured, sometimes pregnant animals, and those passing between the two worlds might receive a piebald or spotted sacrifice.  It was believed that these offerings would reinforce the gods' divine power and incline them to use it on the giver's behalf.

In Christianity, the sacrifice of animals is thought to foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of Christ -- 'the lamb of God'.

In traditional shamanism, animal sacrifice played a similar role to that in ancient Greece in appeasing the spirits and winning benefits to humans.  Shamans played an important role in guiding the spirits of sacrificed animals through the upper world to the lord of the heavens.  In Siberia, horses were often offered in sacrifice, their skins stretched out on poles to help guide them to the upper world.  Sacrifice may have a very specific purpose - perhaps to quench the hunger of malicious spirits who bite human victims, causing illness - or be offered as a general invitation to the spirits to interact more closely with the shaman and his or her people.  In modern shamanism, as in other religions, true sacrifice is discouraged although some contemporary teachers permit the letting of one's own blood.

Page 262. " Oh, say can you see By the dawn's early light... "

The Star Spangled Banner is the national anthem of the United States of America, in which the words of an 1814 poem by Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), The Defence of Fort McHenry, are set to the tune of a popular British drinking song of the era.  It was in regular use by the Navy and President in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but was not formally adopted until 1931.

Today, only the first stanza of Key's poem is generally sung, with the fourth added occasionally.  However, it is the fourth stanza which provides the phrase 'In God we trust', the US motto since 1956.  The opening stanza describes rockets bursting over Fort McHenry, Baltimore, in defence of US freedom against British attack.  The 'star spangled banner' is the American flag, decorated with the stars and stripes to represent the first and existing states of the union.

Page 272. " I don't know if it is only a week since we lost him "
Statue of Chronos by George Heermann (1696)
Public DomainStatue of Chronos by George Heermann (1696) - Credit: Mirko Schmid

Over the course of the novel, time shifts and changes.  Initially, and in possession of her handbag and clock, it is Lizzie who tampers with the hours.  Now, however, she has lost her accoutrements and can only observe how time, for Walser, appears to be passing more swiftly than for the remainder of the circus.

In Greek mythology, the god of time was Chronos - the root of our modern words chronology, and chronicle.  During the Renaissance, Chronos was confused and combined with Cronus, or the Roman Saturn, god of the harvest.  This combined figure developed into Father Time; his scythe, originally for cutting wheat, became associated with the 'cutting off' of life in the inevitable progression of time.  He was depicted as an old man with a long grey beard, and also having the wings of an angel.  As the furthest planet and that with the longest revolution, it was also felt that Saturn held some power over the progress of other bodies within its orbit.

Modern witchcraft continues to draw parallels between Chronos, Saturn and Old Father Time, and to associate both with the control of the hours.  In the figure of Father Time on Ma Nelson's clock, perhaps Lizzie had a powerful talisman which allowed her to tamper with chronology at will.  Now the clock is abandoned in the snow, and Limbo itself seems to be altering the speed of its inhabitants' lives - perhaps giving the 'unhatched' Walser the time he needs to mature into Fevvers' equal, and the primitive tribe the time to catch up with the approaching century.

Page 273. " one of the ruins that Cromwell knocked about a bit "

Statue of Oliver Cromwell at St Ives, Cornwall, England
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeStatue of Oliver Cromwell at St Ives, Cornwall, England - Credit: Keith Evans
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was an English political leader who overthrew the monarchy with the assassination of King Charles I, and who led the country as a temporary republic for five years up to his own death.

During the English Civil War, pitting Parliament against Royalty, Cromwell was a leading figure of the 'Roundheads', or Parliamentarians, and ended up leading the entire attack.  He was strongly opposed to the Roman Catholic church, and in the course of the war he was responsible for the destruction of many churches and castles.  He saw these buildings as both a physical threat, providing strongholds for the Royalists, and as a challenge to his preferred Protestant religion.