Friday, December 31, 2010

Vendredi: KIng of Clubs

Hail to the King! It seems fitting that, on this last day of 2010, we come to the end of our discussion on the suit of Clubs.

The King of Clubs is generally indicative of a mature man, as apposed to the young person indicated by the Jack or Knave card. This does not mean he is middle aged; he may be in his late 20’s. It means that he speaks and behaves maturely. He’s a steady individual with a good outlook and a handle on life. By no means does he have all the answers, but he’s working on it with purpose.

This man is honest and generally sincere. Unless the cards around the King of Clubs are horribly unfavorable, this is a man your querent should get to know. For single ladies, this guy would make a tremendous love interest if not husband.

Should no man be indicated (and remember our discussion of the Queen of Clubs; make sure your querent isn’t protesting too much), then there may be a lady in question. If so, she is laconic hard case. She’s seen the worst of the world and knows how to deal with it. A soft heart she may have, but you’ll need a pick axe to get to it.

Have a safe and happy New Years Eve; bon fete!

Header: King of Clubs via Macedonia on the Web

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jeudi: Root Work

Personal hygiene has crossed the line into metaphysical cleansing in almost all cultures, ancient and modern. From the Ancient Hebrew right of Tahara, purification, wherein a person completely immersed their body in a well of water known as a mikva to modern Hindus ritually cleansing themselves in the Ganges, the list is endless. In both the religion of Voudon and the workings of hoodoo, bathing is an integral part of keeping the body, mind and soul in tune.

The number of magickal baths in the lexicon of root work could certainly fill a heavy tome. There are baths for drawing love, jinxing a rival, bringing in cash, gambling luck, uncrossing and healing. These have ingredients as diverse as seemingly harsh cleaners like ammonia and bluing to obviously harmless ones like lemon juice and olive oil. It’s a powerful process, and all you need is a place to bathe, water, a few ingredients and your own intention.

With the New Year only two days away, I want to share the ritual bath most important to me at this time of year: the bath to banish negativity. For me personally, the end of the year is a time when I cling to the past. The recent past has been full of holiday cheer and the rest of the passing year looks a little brighter than it probably was. The detritus of all the negativity that is now fading from memory is cloying around me, wanting to stay and pull me into a deceptive, self-serving funk that is only enhanced by the dark, cold January ahead. I don’t know about you, but that’s just no way to start the New Year.

My favorite New Years bath involves beer which, with its effervescence, hops and barely, has the added bonus of alleviating mild depression. You should cleanse first – take a quick shower and then scrub out your tub if you don’t have the good fortune to have a separate one – and then proceed.

Fill your tub with warm water. Add to this 12 ounces of beer (I find dark beer is especially helpful for breaking up negative energy but whatever you have will work just fine), the juice of one lemon (to deflect evil and cleanse unwanted ties to the past) and 1 tablespoon of salt (for grounding and confidence). Stir the water clockwise with your dominant hand until the ingredients are well mixed. Use intention while you do this; concentrate on starting the New Year fresh and full of energy.

While continuing to concentrate, climb into the tub and immerse yourself completely in the water – tip to toe, hair to sole – nine times. Now sit in the water for nine more minutes while continuing to envision your bright future. I’ll admit, I set a timer before I dunk myself the last time. When the nine minutes are up, climb out of the bath and wring out your hair because everything has to dry naturally. Toweling off or wrapping your hair up will negate the benefits of the bath. Lock the bedroom door and relax for a while; it’s totally worth it.

If you are unable to work with beer for any reason, substitute 1 cup of apple cider vinegar for a result that is just as powerful. The added bonus to both beer and vinegar: they make your hair soft and shiny.

If you don’t have access to a tub, the alternative is to mix the ingredients in a bucket full of water and pour the bath over yourself nine times. This is awkward but effective. Just make sure the bucket is large enough to dissolve the ingredients, which means you may want to use a cup or mug to dish out the bath rather than pouring directly from the bucket.

So tomorrow, before the champagne pops and supper hits the table, I’ll take a bit of time for myself and cleanse the old year off with a bath. Some jazz and a few scented candles won’t hurt either. Bénédictions lumineuses ~

Header: Blue Tone Bathing Girl by Edgar Degas

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The New Year is almost upon us and, for those of us with Southern roots, that means its time to shop for those good luck foods and herbs that will bring prosperity, success and peace into our homes in the coming year.

Of course the favorite food for all around good fortune is the black eyed pea. These are actually a form of bean, vigna sinensis, and they are generally white or cream colored with a black spot. Sometimes referred to as cow peas, particularly in the Northern U.S. and the U.K., they are the primary “good luck bean” of the New Year.

There are lots of ways to eat black eyed peas and really they can be used in most bean dishes. Often, they are cooked for New Years with molasses and brown sugar, making them akin to the northern baked beans of Boston fame. This dish will be served for luck with cornbread (to bring coin into the house) and dark greens like collard or kale (to bring paper money). The like-makes-like magick of the side dishes is obvious, but the beans are not so telling. From what I know, they are simply considered “lucky” and especially good for relationships – such as a family household. Black eyed peas are added to mojo bags focused on marriage.

Our family tradition, which I learned from my father’s Aunt Bette, centered on a dish known as Hoppin’ John. This is a bit like the Creole red beans and rice and it makes a delightfully comforting meal to wind down the Holiday season. Here’s the recipe I use for your consideration:

2 15 oz cans black eyed peas (for luck)
8 slices of bacon cut in fourths
2 tbsps olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup chicken stock or water
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (to keep trouble away)
¼ tsp thyme (for peace of mind)
1/8 tsp rosemary (for luck)
1 bay leaf (for success)
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry the bacon in a heavy pot (like a Dutch oven) until crisp. Add olive oil and add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Cook until onions are clarified. Add black eyed peas broth, spices and salt and pepper. Cover and cook about 15 minutes, testing beans for doneness (they should be soft, not mushy) thereafter.

Serve over white rice with grated cheese on top.

I will serve this with the traditional cornbread and a not-so-traditional dark green: broccoli. My family isn’t big on collards. Bonne Annee ~

Header: Anonymous Victorian imagining of a Medieval Family at Table

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Samedi: Great Spirits

In honor of the occasion, I would like to wish a happy birthday, in order of youngest to oldest, to the Great Spirits who inspired today’s holiday.

First, Jesus Christ, God of the Christians, shown with his mother Mary at the header.
Next, a god from Persia and Phrygia who introduced the Roman Legion to the concept of baptism and religious rebirth: Mithras. The god is shown performing the seminal act of his birth/death/rebirth cycle, the slaughtering of a bull in whose blood his worshipers were baptized in his name.
Finally, the original December 25th birthday boy, Horus the hawk-headed Egyptian god of sunrise and solar winds whose claim to the throne of Egypt finally put an end to the reign of his evil uncle, Set. Horus appears in this sculpture as an infant being nursed by his mother, Isis who was, by the date assigned to the birth of Christ, one of the most widely worshipped Goddesses in the world.

At one time in history Jesus, Mithras and Isis all had a shot at becoming the supreme deity of the Western world. At this time of year in particular, I like to imagine how different things might be if the conqueror had not been Christ. Joyeux Noel ~

Pictured: The Virgin and Child by Jan van Eyck c 1413
Mithras Slaying the Bull, Roman sculpture c 40 CE
Isis Nursing Horus, reproduction of an Egyptian sculpture c 1300 BCE

Friday, December 24, 2010

Vendredi: Queen of Clubs

The suit of clubs is winding down, which is appropriate given the time of year, and so we meet the Queen.

As with all the Queens, the person represented is a woman, not a girl. She may not be a crone or even a matron, but she has passed the age where one might refer to her as nubile.

The Queen of Clubs is usually thought of as an intelligent woman, someone who has probably had a number of years of higher education. She may very well come from privilege, although she is not apt to flash her background around. The lady is confident and comfortable in her own skin. Frequently, this individual is well versed in occult arts in one form or another. If your querent is seeking a teacher in the metaphysical, and the reading leans favorably toward this Queen, it may be that this woman can help.

If a woman is absolutely not indicated, then the card could represent a gentleman who is prone to certain eccentricities that will probably be indicated by the cards around him.

In almost all cases, the Queens represent a woman. Give a little push back if the person you’re reading for at first denies knowing any similar lady. If they protest too much, you may be able to get an excellent feeling for that particular querent without asking any more questions. Something to think about as you continue to study cartomancy. Bon chance ~

Header: Queen of Clubs by Katheairene via deviantART

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jeudi: Great Spirits

As the Nativity of the Christian God creeps ever closer, allow me to detour just a bit and discuss one of the very ancient players in the story of Jesus: the Archangel Gabriel.

Of course Gabriel is familiar as the winged trumpeter, announcer of not only the end of time but also the pregnancy of the Virgin Mary, in which case he is pictured holding a lily. But wait a minute. Did you say he?

In fact, if all the history and language are considered, little doubt can be left that Gabriel is the one and only female Archangel. She is the ruler of the Cherubim and the Governor of Eden, the angel most concerned with conception, birth and death. In the very early Christian texts as well as the Jewish texts which inspired them, she is herself the Angel of Death. It is she who snatches the protesting soul from Paradise, transports it to a woman’s womb and calms its anxiety until it is born nine months later, only to take it back home at the end of life.

Gabriel is best known as the Angel who appeared to Mary, announcing the birth of the Messiah. In this role as messenger she is often depicted carrying a lily which has been said to refer to the virgin conception. In fact, the lily was originally not Mary’s flower but Gabriel’s. It is through this connection that her original identity can be surmised.

The Semite word Gbri probably descended from the Sumerian word Ningbri which is now translated as Ninharsag, the goddess of birth, death and rebirth. The goddess’ vagina, which she gave to her husband each year that he might be reborn, became a goddess onto itself: Lilu. Lilu or Lilitu in turn became the servant of first Inanna and then the Babylonian Ishtar. She was the divine prostitute who brought men into the temple to share in the Love goddess’ favors. Lilu, the lily, became Lilith, the Canaanite first wife of Adam. As the story goes, Lilith rejected her husband and his God preferring equality in the desert to subjugation by men. First Gabriel and then Mary take up the lily and make it a symbol of the virginal aspect of the goddess. Mary is not frightened when she learns, through her offering of the lily, that Gabriel is a woman. As St. Jerome writes, Mary “… had never been greeted by a man before” and her fear of doing wrong is quelled by Gabriel’s chaste revelation.

Of course, no amount of scholarly discussion of ancient religions and their relationship to the modern Big Three will change the closed mind of a fundamentalist. But here, at my house, Gabriel holds a fleur-de-lis, symbol of the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. Bénédictions lumineuses ~

Pictures: Archangel Gabriel from the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck c 1432
Babylonian sculpture of Lilitu/Lilu

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mercredi: The Art of Giving

Now that I live in the snowy north I often hark back to the days when seeing snow meant either a several hours long drive up the mountain or slapping a Currier and Ives lithograph on the refrigerator. It occurs to me at that moment that most people live in that kind of situation. Though the descendants of European ancestors tend to think of Christmas, Yule and cetera as cold weather, snowy holidays, they may very well not be. As I write it is 84 and overcast in Caracas, Venezuela and 68 and clear in Sydney, Australia.

I think the lack of the white stuff is particularly hard on kids who see pictures of Santa and the “North Pole” and stockings hanging over a crackling fire. I remember So Cal vividly; a crackling fire is the last thing you want to think about when Christmas dawns at 80 degrees. With this is mind, I thought I would share a couple of simple projects that I learned before we moved to Alaska which can bring a bit of Holiday snow to your home where ever that may be. These projects are a great way to decorate, keep the kids occupied now that school is on hiatus, and teach a little science and magick if you are so inclined.

First up, ice flakes. These are relatively simple but they can be messy and are not a project for young children alone. You will have to help them as these ingredients can cause trouble without supervision. Here’s your list:

White chenille stems
A tall, wide glass jars that can hold more than
2 cups of boiling water (for each jar)
5 tbsps borax (or each jar)
A dowels, pencils or rods of some kind
White string or fishing line and scissors

Cut any number of chenille stems (those foot-long wires covered with fuzzy fabric that used to be called pipe cleaners) into equal thirds. Twist them together to form a six-spoke wheel that looks like an asterisk. Tie some string (or fishing line) to the middle of your pencil and the other end to a spoke of your asterisk.

Set your future flake aside and pour boiling water into the jar followed by the borax, one tablespoon at a time. Stir well; the borax may not totally dissolve, which is fine. Dip your asterisk in the jar, letting the pencil rest on the lips of the jar so that the flake is suspended in the water and borax mixture. Repeat with as many jars and asterisks as you have time for, and then leave your creations on the counter overnight.

The next morning, remove the new ice flake. It will be covered with clear crystals formed by the borax which look very much like ice. Chemistry at work! Help the kids hang these near windows where they will catch the sunlight. Have your children make a wish for the New Year with each flake you hang; there’s the magick. If you’re giving ice flakes as a gift, have the kids make a wish for the recipient instead.

Another, and admittedly less messy, way to make snowflakes is to again use chenille stems but this time string them with silver, clear or white beads until each arm is covered with glittering “gems”. Leave room at the end of each arm to wrap it back around and through the last bead to secure them. Make a loop at the end of one arm to hang the snowflake – either with string or fishing line – from windows, doors or even the tree. This is another great “wishing” project that will keep until the next year when kids can recount whether or not their magickal intention worked. Re-evaluating and even keeping a journal on magickal workings is a wonderful habit to start early; that way you know what might need tweaking next time. Ayez l'amusement ~

Header: Children with lanterns Victorian clipart via The Graphics Fairy

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Almonds are not much considered in hoodoo, probably because edible almonds were not originally found in either West Africa or North America. In other traditions, though, particularly those from Southern Europe, almonds and almond trees are considered intensely magickal. I often think of almonds at this time of year because nonpareils, those delightful almonds covered with a colored sugar coating, were usually added to our holiday stockings when I was growing up.

Almonds themselves, as well as the leaves and flowers of the trees, are used in money drawing spells. Scott Cunningham tells us that climbing an almond tree will ensure the success of your business. He also mentions that carrying almonds in your pockets will lead you to hidden treasure. I’ll bring some with me next time I visit Barataria; maybe I’ll find that storied lost booty of the Laffite brothers.

Certain Wiccan traditions favor almond wood for magick wands. Because the almond tree is ruled by the element of Air, and these traditions cast the wand under the protection of Air and the East, this makes perfect sense.

There are also magickal outcomes involved with eating almonds. Eating five almonds prior to imbibing alcohol is thought to keep one sober. This is a tradition which harks back to the Renaissance at least. Lorenzo de Medici, the great Lord of Florence, always ate nonpareils prior to attending any feast to help keep his wits about him following toast after toast. Lorenzo suffered broken noses several times in his youth and he did not taste food very well, but he loved almonds, nonpareils and almond milk. The rumor began in Italy that ingesting these foods would make one as wealthy, powerful and successful as the Medici who favored them.

Eating almonds or taking almond milk was also considered a cure for fever. Eating almonds daily is said to increase wisdom in any individual, and that may just be their very best use. Who among us could not use a little more wisdom? Bon chance ~

Header: Almond Branches by Vincent Van Gogh c 1890

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lundi: Recipes

Like many of my Creole relatives and ancestors, I am a big fan of the long, late breakfast now frequently called brunch. Nothing says luxurious like a midday meal that is part breakfast, part lunch and long on conversation and sparkling wine.

The best brunch I ever ate was consumed at Antoine’s in New Orleans when I was unfortunately too young to be served sparkling wine. We had the most delicious egg dish this side of eggs Benedict. Known as Eggs Sardou this dish is traditionally attributed to the same gentleman who invented Café Brulot, Jules Alciatore, then owner of Antoine’s. He invented it and served it to the French playwright Victorien Sardou in 1908.

It is not a simple dish, but it is a beautiful gesture for family and guests this time of year. Our family follows the Creole tradition of opening presents and enjoying reveillon on the night before Christmas and then sleeping in on Christmas Day and Eggs Sardou is wonderful as a late supper or Christmas Day brunch. Alciatore’s original recipe can be found in the book I mentioned last Monday, The 100 Greatest New Orleans Creole Recipes written by Roy F. Guste, Jr. This is my version with a couple of shortcuts. But make your own Hollandaise if you can at all; it really is worth it.

4 tbsps butter
1 small white onion, diced
2 9 oz. bags of fresh spinach, washed or the equivalent of frozen spinach, drained
2 tbsps flour
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
8 artichoke bottoms, cooked at home or canned
2 tbsps white vinegar
8 eggs
Hollandaise sauce (see below)

Melt 2 tbsps butter in a pan and sauté the onion. Once onion is clarified, add the spinach, as much as will fit in your pan at once, lower heat and cover to wilt. Continue, stirring occasionally, until all spinach is incorporated. Sauté a few minutes more while stirring regularly and then set it aside.

In a separate pot, melt the rest of your butter then turn the heat to low. Whisk in flour and, while continuously whisking, cook 1 to 2 minutes. Continue to stir as you pour in your heavy cream and allow this mixture to come to a very gentle boil to thicken. Add salt and pepper off the heat and then stir into your spinach mixture.

Warm the artichoke bottoms just slightly if you did not cook them yourself – 20 seconds in the microwave works fine.

Poach your eggs as you would usually, either in a poacher or in salted water to which the vinegar has been added. This dish is best with a runny yolk which adds to the Hollandaise sauce.

Place creamed spinach on four plates, and top it with two artichoke bottoms on each plate. Place a poached egg on each artichoke and top with Hollandaise. I like to sprinkle the sauce with some chopped fresh chives and be sure to have pepper sauce on hand for those who like it with a kick.

You can use prepared, warmed Hollandaise for this recipe, but here is Antoine’s recipe if you would like to give it a try:

1 pound butter (no one said this was diet food)
8 large egg yolks
4 tbsps lemon juice
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp cayenne

Start with eggs, lemon juice salt and cayenne in a ban Marie on simmer, then cut the sticks of butter in half and add the first half to the egg mixture. Now whisk until the butter has melted, then add your next ½ stick of butter and continue until all the butter in incorporated. The sauce will start to thicken in the course of a few minutes. Once it is a nice consistency, remove from heat and set aside for use as above. Remaining sauce can be kept in the frig for up to two weeks (that means eggs Benedict for New Years!).

Et voila, prenons au pot!

Header: Antoine’s Restaurant via the NYT

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Samedi: La Tribu de Ghede

Though Baron Samedi is King of the Ghede and Lord of the Cemetery, he has a number of associate and cousin Ghede who rule over other aspects of Death and Sexuality. Here, for your perusal, is a by no means all inclusive list of the Barons and the Ghede as they were taught to me during my time in Les Cayes, Haiti:

Linto ~ an unusual Ghede child who represents the lost children among the dead, those aborted, miscarried, still born, or neglected or abused until they died. Frequently represented as a skeletal child dressed in rags.

Maman Brigitte ~ first among the Ghede lwa as wife of Baron Samedi, she is the just judge and wise cracking mother of the Dead.

Ghede Loraye ~ frequently described as a little woman who appears near shore before a storm, she is the keeper of the Dead at sea and a particular concern of sailors. I find it interesting that her name is similar to Lorelei, a legendary European mermaid and former storm goddess.

Ghede Masaka ~ another female Ghede, she is usually given a wide berth by all but the darkest sorcerers. She is considered an angry spirit that represents women who died in childbirth. She carried a gris-gris bag with poisons and the umbilical cord of her lost offspring in it. Rarely, she is pictured holding the hand of Linto.

Baron Samedi ~ as noted previously, the Lord of the Ghede.

Baron Cimetière ~ the Lord of the Cemetery who decides who is welcome among the Dead and who must remain alive.

Baron Le Croix ~ represented by the main cross in any cemetery, he is the keeper of the community of the Dead.

Ghede Brav ~ the Lord of the Penis, he is usually represented by a phallus or as a skeleton with an obvious aura of excitement in his genital area.

Ghede Double ~ the giver of divinatory talent, those who read fortunes will call on him.

Ghede Fouye ~ upon the order of Baron Cimetière, he digs the grave of the newly dead.

Ghede Lorage ~ I was told that this Ghede is relatively new to the pantheon and that he specifically deals with those who die by gunshot. He may be an upshot of the violent times surrounding the Dictatorships of the Duvalier family, but that is speculation on my part. Ghede Lorage is mentioned in the brilliant documentary Cite de Soleil about the large slum in Port-au-Prince by the same name, which I highly recommend.

Ghede Nivo ~ who tends the tomb.

Ghede Souffrant ~ the Ghede who suffers, a patron of those who die after protracted illness, torture or other long suffering.

The Ghede, like death itself, are innumerable, but this list gives you an idea of the care to detail that has been taken by Voudon in the land of the dead. In a place where suffering and death have always stalked the people, it is little wonder that the Ghede are everywhere.

Header: Ghede Barons by Voodoomama

Friday, December 17, 2010

Vendredi: Jack of Clubs

At last we come to what are known as “face” or “Court” cards in our journey down cartomancy lane. The face cards are read a bit differently than others. The first thing you as the reader will want to intuit is whether or not one of the cards represents a person in your querent’s sphere. Generally speaking, Jacks or Knaves represent a young person, either male or female, while Queens represent a woman and Kings represent a man. This is not always the case but it is more frequently so than not. You’ll find this to be true even when your querent initially denies knowing anyone “like that”.

Usually, I find that the Jack of Clubs represents a young man. He is fully mature in his own mind, knows everything he needs to know and tends to speak before he thinks. Nine times out of ten this guy is a high-minded college student who has already figured out how to change the world and make it just right. Unfortunately for him he is actually a horse wearing blinders, treading the path set for him by some carriage driver. If your querent is close to this young man, they need to be aware (not beware, just aware) of his potential influence on them and make their own decisions. In the worst case scenario, this young man is a criminal and can potentially draw the querent into trouble.

If there is really no man of such description familiar to the querent, enquire about a woman. If a light bulb goes on then it is time for your querent to actually beware. Everything mentioned about the young man is doubled for a woman.

No person at all familiar here? Then your querent is potentially in some kind of bad company. Note the cards around the Jack of Clubs and advise accordingly.

As an aside, some readers ascribe coloring to the individual represented by a face card. As an example, the Jack of Clubs might be a dark young man with olive skin and brown eyes, while the Jack of Hearts might be fair, blond and blue eyed. I personally find that this only confuses the issue. In my experience, any face card can be any person in your querent’s life; you just have to find out which one. Bon chance ~

Header: Reading the Cards by Harry Herman Roseland c 1903

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jeudi: Curios

We've all heard of “Fool’s Gold”, particularly those of use who live in the western United States where innumerable Gold Rushes made fools of more than one man (and just as many women). The technical term for Fool’s Gold is iron disulphide but its common name is pyrite. It is a mineral that looks deceptively like the gold one “pans” for in a river or lake. Because of the principle of like-makes-like, which is very popular in hoodoo and other “folk” practices, pyrite is said to bring success, money and luck.

Pyrite is cleansed, either with holy water or by being left out in the sun (never with salt, which is thought to take away its power), and carried with a person’s cash to draw more. Places of business will keep a hunk of pyrite in the cash register to ensure good sales. Gamblers carry mojo bags that include pyrite to increase their winnings and keep up a streak of luck.

A money drawing mojo bag is made of green flannel and includes a chunk of pyrite and a lodestone to which is added a money drawing herb such as nutmeg, cinnamon, rice or bayberry. The items in the mojo bag should total three and this should be carried daily, if possible close to the skin, and anointed weekly with a money drawing oil like Lodestone, Cinnamon or John the Conqueror oil.

I like to cleanse a few little pieces of pyrite and place one in the toe of each of my family’s stockings (currently hung by the fire with care), with a wish for great success and good luck in the coming year. They can then carry it with them until next Yuletide, when I can start the whole process afresh. Succès à vous et au vôtre ~

Header: Anonymous painting of Elizabeth Woodville wearing cloth of gold c 1495

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mercredi: The Art of Giving

This time of year is about all family members, not just the opposable thumbs variety. At least it is around my house. Since I’m allergic to cats, have a phobia about rodents (with the noted exception of Walter Jr., the bilge rat) and don’t currently share my space with any fish, reptiles or arachnids (despite my ongoing campaign for a tarantula), that means I need to make something giftable for the canine in my life. Maybe you do, too.

This is my favorite dog biscuit recipe. It’s easy, very healthy and really popular with every dog I have ever known, even the ones that turn their snouts up at the store bought variety. It was given to me by my only celebrity friend, the actress Christi Sweeney, on the occasion of my husband and me bringing home our first dogs; two Shar Pei named Magick and Tucker who are now in the land of Good Dogs.

3 cups whole wheat flour
½ cup powdered milk
1 egg
1 cube of beef bouillon
¾ cup boiling water
½ cup cream cheese, soften
¼ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325.

Dissolve bouillon cube in boiling water and let stand to cool. Meanwhile, mix cream cheese, powdered milk, egg and salt together. Add cooled bouillon and mix well. The batter will be runny. Now add flour one cup at a time and mix thoroughly before moving on to the next cup. The batter will become very stiff; keep after it. While you work, think of your animal companion being healthy and happy, strong and safe throughout the coming year and impart that into your dough.

Roll out on a floured surface to approximately ½ inch thick and cut shapes with cookie or biscuit cutters. Place on a greased or Silpat lined cookie sheet and bake for 40 minutes. Then turn your oven off and leave the biscuits in it for an hour.

Hints: If your dog is allergic to wheat you can use rice flour. The biscuits won’t be as firm but dogs still eat them up. If you really want to go all out for Spot, use chicken fat or lard instead of cream cheese. Finally, look for bone shaped cookie cutters around Halloween; I’ve found two now, both at the market.

Keep the biscuits in a tin or zip top bag for treating your best friend all through the Holidays. Bon appetite mes chiens amis ~

Header: Thor, God of Thunder and official Saint Bernard of chez Pauline, out for a walk last summer

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

As promised, today we will discuss myrrh, that companion of last Tuesday’s herb frankincense. Myrrh is actually a tree gum and, because of its very heady fragrance, it is rarely used alone as an incense.

The dried resin, which usually comes as crystallized chips, will be mixed with close relatives copal or frankincense and can then be burned on an incense charcoal to protect or heal a space. Myrrh is said to create an atmosphere of tranquility and peace. It is often used by people who practice divination to bring calm to their workspace. As a writer, I find that myrrh and frankincense together can add an imaginative spark to the air as well. In Ancient Egypt, the scent was believed to have a sensual edge and myrrh incense was used in rituals to heal infertility. Myrrh is sometimes mixed with sandalwood chips to encourage recovery from illness.

Again like frankincense, myrrh can be added to magickal preparations to increase their power. Sachets and mojo bags of all kinds will benefit from the addition of a chip of myrrh. It is rarely added to oils or waters, though, because it is a dark resin that will discolor the preparation and can stain fabrics or even skin once dissolved. Should you receive a gift of frankincense and myrrh, you will always be able to tell them apart if you remember that myrrh is the darker and more heavily scented of the two.

As with frankincense, the scent of myrrh aids meditation. Some practitioners use the smoke of myrrh incense to consecrate and purify objects to be used in magick. If you are using it for this purpose, be certain that the incense you have is actually myrrh and not a synthetic substitute (sometimes used in stick or cone incenses). For best results, stay with the resin burned on charcoal; it takes a little more tending, but the work is worth it.

And, as I mentioned in our last herbal-wise post, frankincense and myrrh make a thoughtful and delightfully scented gift at this or any time of the year. Those Magi certainly knew what they were up to. Bon chance ~

Header: The Adoration of the Magi by Sandro Botticelli. Note that Sandro, like Albrecht Durer, has included himself in this famous scene; he’s the gentleman swathed in gold on the far right, looking over his shoulder at the viewer.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lundi: Recipes

It has been winter where I live for a long while now. Just this morning it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit on my porch. It’s no wonder my Saint Bernard wants to get back in the house as soon as he can (not long strolls this time of year). This is the time of year that I like to make one of my favorite warm cocktails as an after dinner treat, especially when Holiday company calls.

Café Brulot a la Diabolique was created in New Orleans by Jules Alciatore for his restaurant, Antoine’s. The making of it is a show unto itself, with Monsieur Alciatore’s special copper bowl used tableside to flame the brandy in front of patrons. Very impressive.

At home, I just use a good saucepan and I don’t flame anything. I don’t have a crazy urge to get to know the local firemen any time soon. So, here is my version of Monsieur’s recipe based on the one in his great-grandson, Roy F. Guste, Jr’s, book The 100 Greatest New Orleans Creole Recipes.

6 ounces brandy
Peel of 1 lemon
2 sticks of cinnamon
8 whole cloves
1 ½ tbsps granulated sugar (or more, if you like it sweeter)
4 cups of hot, black coffee

Heat the brandy, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, cloves and sugar until warm and fragrant, but not boiling. Remove from heat and let stand for five or ten minutes. Add this to you coffee and stir. Pour into demitasse cups. Alternatively, serve about half a cup in a regular coffee cup. This amount will serve 6.

Guste recommends adding Grand Marnier for a kick of orange flavor. I like whipped cream atop mine at this time of year. Salute ~

Header: El Jaleo by John Singer Sargent c 1882; this painting reminds me visually of how Café Brulot tastes ~ spicey!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dimanche: Swimming

Ladies swimming for health ~ engravings from the late 19th century

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vendredi: Ten of Clubs

Holiday stress, in all its permutations, is starting to hit me hard. Thus, I’m hitting the ground running with this one.

The Ten of Clubs is considered by most hoodoo cartomancers to be a “wrap up” card. It is the last words at the end of what ever sentence the querent asked you to finish by doing a reading for them. In general it indicates a satisfying closure or completion. The querent has finished the race and his or her perseverance will pay off with good fortune. The Ten of Clubs is a happy card and I have found it to be the very bright spot in an otherwise difficult reading on more than one occasion.

In situations where the querent is adamant that they have nothing to complete, this card may indicate unexpected money – even wealth. Some practitioners call it the “lottery card” and a few of those will even go so far as to advise their querent to get out and gamble on this card’s recommendation. I personally would never go that route; it’s a good way to have an angry customer at your door the next morning. I usually tell the querent to keep their eyes open for unusual sources of income, like a side job or a craft or interest that they can turn into a money-making opportunity. It just seems more sensible than hurrying them off to Vegas or asking them when that rich old relative is apt to pass on.

And now, I’m off to get more done. Appréciez votre Vendredi ~

Header: The Fortune Teller by Jean-Honore Fragonard

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jeudi: Great Spirits

Yesterday, December 8th, was equivalent to the date set aside in the Ancient Egyptian calendar for one of the many festivals of their goddess Neith. As with most of the pantheon of Ancient Egypt, Neith’s attributes built up over time, layer by layer, until by the New Kingdom she was recognizable to the Greeks as a distant cousin of their own Athena.

Originally, Neith was probably a foreign goddess brought to Egypt through trade or war. Patricia Monaghan, who literally wrote the book on the world’s goddesses, says in her Book of Goddesses and Heroines that Neith was the ancient “… essence of the tribal community perceived in its totems, two crossed arrows and a mottled animal skin.” These symbols, with the skin in the shape of a shield, almost always appeared in depictions of Neith up until the Amarna period.

Neith was worshipped as a creator of crafts and protector of property. She is a warlike goddess who will stand up to her worshipper’s enemies with shield and spear, but she is also the inventor of weaving who strung her loom and wove the world. By the late Middle Kingdom, Neith is called the mother of Ra and in this guise is given the form of a cow. Her priests and priestesses were doctors and wise women that Egyptians looked to for treatment in time of illness and help in childbirth.

At the height of her power, she was depicted wearing the combined red and white crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt and hailed as the Lady of the Throne. Her festival city was Sais, where bonfires and oil lamps were kept burning night and day to please the Lady of Light, a name that was probably related to her motherhood of Ra.

When the famous Greek historian Plutarch made his tour of Egypt, he wrote of the inscription on Neith’s temple which read:

I am all that has been, that is, that will be, and no mortal will be able to lift my veil.
Isis would assume a similar mantra as her worship spread around the Mediterranean and from there it would pass on to male deities of modern acquaintance. I bet you can think of some of them right now.

So today, before the sunset, raise a belated glass of your chosen beverage to Neith, the warrior mother who wove the world, then pour a little on the ground as an offering. Because all our ancestors are sacred.

Header: Sculpture of Neith c 600 BCE, currently in the Louvre, Paris

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mercredi: The Art of Giving

Today's is another gift of condiment and this one comes from by own culture. Or one of them anyway. When speaking of Creoles in Louisiana, the reference is pretty specific. Creoles are the descendants of French people who came to Louisiana – usually New Orleans – directly from France. Though often confused with Cajuns (Acadians who were expelled from modern Canada by the British in the late 17th century and migrated to Louisiana), we are not the same thing. In fact, one will generally bristle at being called the other.

One thing Cajuns and Creoles tend to agree on, with only minor tweaks here and there, is food. Oh sure, Creoles like their tomatoes a little better and dark roux is more of a Cajun thing but very few of us are picky as long as it tastes good. I know for a fact that we all enjoy Creole mustard. Whether we’re adding it to salad dressing, slathering it on a po-boy or using it as a spicy dip, it’s all good. Here is a recipe that I got from my father’s Aunt. I like to give it as a gift as a way to introduce my friends to the flavors of my ancestry. And they usually end up asking for more!

½ cup champagne vinegar
2 tbsps water
2 tbsps olive oil
1/8 tsp celery seed
Pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, sliced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
¼ cup whole mustard seed
2 tbsps dry mustard

Combine the vinegar (if you don’t have champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar works fine) and the next seven ingredients in a small saucepan. Cover tightly and bring to a rapid boil. When the mixture boils, immediately remove the pan from the heat and allow it to sit, with the lid on, for 40 minutes.

Strain the liquid through cheesecloth. Put the mustard seed and dry mustard into a blender (or a food processor if you have one) and blend for 1 minute. Slowly pour in the liquid and blend until the mixture thickens. Personally, I like to blend the mustard seed and dry mustard and then use a whisk to mix in the liquid. It’s a little more traditional and it’s good for the arm muscles. As you mix, concentrate on the mustard bringing good fortune and protection from harm to anyone who tries your spicy condiment.

Put the mixture into a glass jar (one of those canning jars for jam works well) with a tight lid. The mustard will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator and has a million uses. Donner joyeux ~

Header: The house at 628 Dumaine St. in New Orleans, known as Madame John’s Legacy, where my ancestor Renato Beluche was born on Dec 15, 1780

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Frankincense, along with myrrh, is the quintessential “Christmas gift” in Christian culture. The Magi, those mysterious “wise men” or, if you prefer “kings”, who came to gawk at the Christ child on Epiphany, brought with them the two most expensive tree resins in the ancient East. And they threw in some gold to boot.

In fact, frankincense had a long history when the authors of the New Testament wrote down their tale. It had been burned by the Ancient Sumerians and particularly the Egyptians as an offering to the rising sun. The use of frankincense as a holy incense by the Jews is mentioned in the Old Testament. It is still used in the censors that smog the occasional Mass at Catholic Churches, although the burning of incense seems to have fallen out of favor with the Roman church. Frankincense is believed, in hoodoo and other magickal disciplines, to be an herb of power. By adding it to just about any preparation, whether it be incense, mojo bags or sachets, powders, oils or waters, one can increase the efficacy of any magickal undertaking.

Frankincense is, as stated before, hardened resin from a hearty little tree that originally grew wild in the dry conditions of the Ancient Middle East. Burning the resin to scent and purify the air is its most well known use and small chunks of frankincense burned on charcoal uplift the space and drive off crossed conditions. Frankincense is excellent for clearing any area after a negative incident (a robbery at a business or a fight in a home) and some magickal practitioners will not begin any working without it.

Add a small hunk of frankincense, while concentrating on your desired outcome, to any premade oil, perfume, incense or what have you that you buy for spell work. The preparation will be strengthened by the herb and your personal intent. Burn frankincense, which is frequently mixed with its close relatives myrrh and copal, to aid in vision work and meditation. Put some shavings of frankincense in a white cotton or silk bag while imagining a restful night’s sleep. Touch the bag to your forehead before you turn out the lights. You’ll sleep deeply and without rousing in the middle of the night. Moms: this works (to a lesser degree, sorry to say) on babies and toddlers, too.

Finally, consider giving the gift of frankincense and its mate myrrh (which we will discuss next Tuesday) with a small incense burner and some incense charcoals as a house warming or hostess gift. Almost universally, it will be gratefully received and hopefully put to good use regardless of religion or creed. If nothing else, it will make the house smell wonderful. Bon chance ~

Header: Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Durer (note that Albrecht has featured himself prominently as one of the Magi; he’s the guy standing in the center with the flowing hair and beard)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lundi: Recipes

I love to make spaghetti sauce. I find it sort of relaxing to chop up all those vegetables and throw in all those spices and just let it simmer. The added bonus is that it makes the house smell wonderful. I always use my Mom’s recipe so it was with a certain amount of awe that I came across the very same recipe – with only minor tweaks in Mom’s version – in an old add for NOLA favorite Schwegmann Brothers Giant Super Market.

The Market was a New Orleans tradition and they were definitely a one stop shop. By the time we lived in NOLA (in 1967), you could literally get anything you wanted. They had hardware, produce, a butcher’s counter, baked goods from McKenzie’s (I still remember their Halloween cookies), even live goldfish in fancy glass bowls. They had a full bar as well as a diner where they sold things like fries and po-boys and the most amazing, slow cooked spaghetti and meatballs.

Schwegmann’s, like K & B, McKenzie’s and Pontchartraine Beach, has gone the way of the dodo (as they say in NOLA, ain’t ‘dere no mo) but evidently the spaghetti sauce lives on. Who knew Mom had lifted hers from an add in the Times-Picayune? This is how food traditions happen.

Anyway, and more to the point, here is the recipe with Mom’s variations at the bottom. The recipe is great for this hectic time of the year because the sauce can sit on the stove literally all day (even overnight) and simply taste that much better for it.

½ cup butter
1 cup chopped green onions
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
2 green bell peppers, chopped
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsps Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
1 28 oz can whole Italian tomatoes
3 6 oz cans tomato paste
3 8 oz cans tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar

Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot (like a Dutch oven) and add the first 7 ingredients. Add a bit of salt and pepper and sauté over medium heat 15 minutes. Add the Italian seasoning, bay leaves and whole tomatoes. Using a fork, mash the tomatoes against the side of the pot. Now lower your heat, put a lid on your pot just slightly askew so steam can escape and let the mixture simmer for 1 hour. Add the tomato paste and sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Add the sugar, cover again and allow the sauce to simmer for another 2 hours or longer. You can add water if the sauce thickens too much for your taste.

Mom left out the parsley, because Dad and my brother didn’t like it (“Too much green”). She used a tablespoon of basil and ½ tablespoon each of thyme and oregano rather than the Italian seasoning and she deglazed the pan with a bit of wine (red or white; whatever was open) before adding the seasonings and tomatoes. She never made meatballs but would often put ground beef in to brown after the veggies were clarified and pour off the fat before moving on to the next step.

There you have it. I’m thinking this sauce made into lasagna for Christmas Eve will hit the spot very well. I’ll let you know. And do let me know if you all want the Schwegmann’s meatball recipe; I found that in the add, too. Bon appetite ~

Header: Medieval cooks working on a sauce

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Samedi: Against the Voudon

Throughout the history of Haiti as a free nation, intolerance of her people’s belief in Voudon and the lwa has repeatedly taken up arms against her culture. The Catholic Church in particular has felt threatened by the people’s practice of Voudon despite the fact that the old saying is usually true: who appears at the ounfo (temple) on Saturday night will be seen at Mass on Sunday.

So called Antisuperstition Campaigns have popped up repeatedly. These are organized attempts, the first of which occurred in 1896, by first the Catholic Church – and later Protestant missionaries – to “cure” people of their “superstitious” belief in Voudon. The prominent Catholic campaigns happened in 1912, 1913, 1925, 1030, 1940 and 1941. By 1986 the Protestants were in on the deal, preaching not only against Voudon but against Catholicism as well, and those efforts continue to this day.

A fine idea of the thought process of organized Christianity in its battle against “superstitions” is given by this quote from The Cross Versus the Rattle. The book, written by Father Carl Edward Peters during the 1941 campaign, gives one priest’s eye witness account of the Church’s efforts to stamp out Voudon once and for all:

We must… break the bottles and jugs, rip up the images, pull out and burn the posts and the cross [in the ounfo] carry away the stones, take away the necklaces, crush the cayes-lwa [spirit houses], cut the worshipped wood, desecrate all that reeks of the superstitious ‘service’. … And they will not take us seriously if we are not strict.

Like children playing with an electrical cord, the voudonists must be deprived of their toy and, through harsh paternal discipline, come to see the error of their ways.

Though not as formalized as in prior decades, and now more often led by fundamentalist Protestant faiths than the Catholic Church, this “saving of souls” continues in Haiti. And so, too, does Voudon. Grace a Bon Dieu ~

Header: “The lwa and the lamb”, dwapo lwa (ceremonial flag) via Madalia Art

Friday, December 3, 2010

Vendredi: Nine of Clubs

It's Friday once again and time to discuss our by now old friends the suit of Clubs. The Nine of the suit is no more helpful than most cards from a standpoint of clear, one word answers. But then just how often do we get a yes or a no from the cards?

This card is usually an indicator that the querent has almost reached the peak of the mountain they have been climbing, perhaps for a long time. Almost is the key word here, though. Like even experienced climbers close to the summit of Everest, your querent may feel overwhelmed. They may be questioning why they undertook the challenge in the first place. They may be frightened of the success or of the final push towards it. Exhaustion and doubt may be all they can feel. The Nine of Clubs is reassuringly saying “You can do it” and not in a snarky, Nike add sort of way. The querent can do it; they have to find the strength within themselves.

Be sure to evaluate cards close to the Nine of Clubs carefully. Sometimes this card hints that the querent’s doubt or hesitation comes from the suggestions of family or friends. If you see a card near this one that represents such a person, make a few gentle enquiries. The Nine of Clubs is telling your querent to complete their undertaking. This is a chance for the cards to help them to understand that even the most well-meaning loved one isn’t always right about how they should handle their lives. Vendredi heureux ~

Header: A Fortune Teller by Joshua Reynolds c 1777

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jeudi: Curios

The term curio is used in hoodoo to indicate something used for magickal purposes that is not an herb. It might be an animal or part of an animal, a stone, a specific kind of wood or, as in the case of today’s offering, a metal.

Lodestones, which are sometimes called magnetite, are indeed magnetic stones that are used in hoodoo and other magickal traditions for drawing things to the person that possesses one or more. There really is no limit to the creativity you can apply here and, at least with lodestones (you may occasionally see it spelled loadstone), size matters. The bigger the hunk, the more drawing power it will have.

Lodestones have been used since ancient times. In Assyria, oil in which a lodestone had been placed for several days was rubbed on the body of an impotent man (while his partner rubbed her body with oil containing metal fragments). This form of sympathetic magick was thought to create an irresistible bond between the couple that would overcome their medical situation. In Ancient Greece, lodestones were an attribute of Herakles (Hercules) and were carried to bring strength of will, body and character.

Modern workers recognize “male” lodestones, which have pointy terminations or a pyramidal shape, and their “female” counterparts which are possessed of more rounded ends. The two are often used together. After washing in salt water and being allowed to air dry, they may be put together in a red mojo bag which is worn to secure a lover or protect a marriage. Stones used for this purpose should be the same size, approximately.

Lodestones are said to be “hungry” and most root workers will frequently “feed” their lodestones with magnetic sand (iron grit). Some workers will also put their stones in a cup of water for an hour or so a week to allow them to “drink”. I know Wiccans who perform both ministrations only on Fridays.

The stones are a very common addition to hoodoo mojo bags, and are frequently dressed for this purpose with an appropriate oil such as Crown of Success, Fast Luck, Love Me or Compelling oil. The color of the bag, which is usually made of flannel, depends on the desired outcome. Green for business success or money, yellow for success in endeavors and friendships, red for love (remember to use two lodestones here). Herbs with the qualities to achieve the outcome are added and sometimes a charm like dice for gambling success are also put in the bag. After the mojo “hand” is completed it should be carried close to the body and “dressed” with the appropriate oil once a week while the lodestone(s) is “fed” with magnetic sand at the same time.

Lodestones can frequently be found on altars, usually in pairs, to ensure that the work done there will draw a successful result. Bon chance ~

Header: Painting of Adam and Eve from Mongolian Iran c 1966

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mercdredi: The Art of Giving

For these next few Wednesdays, HQ’s “Art of Beauty” posts will morph into the “Art of Giving”. I’ll post some of my favorite easy to make gifts that you can throw together in a couple of hours (usually) and have ready for the hostess, fellow volunteer or overnight guest. Who doesn’t appreciate a thoughtful, handcrafted gift over something hastily pulled from a store shelf, after all?

Today, herbed oils. Really all you need it good olive oil, a nice cruet or glass bottle (with or without one of those fancy metal tops that pour “just the right amount” Martha Stewart style) and access to herbs. Here are two recipes I’m fond of:

Basil Oil

3 to 5 tbsps basil leaves (depending on the taste of your recipient)
1 cup boiling water
2 cups olive oil

Put the leaves in a glass bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for two minutes and drain. Dry the leaves slightly between two sheets of paper towel. Chop the leaves very fine and then add them to two tablespoons of oil. Mash this mixture with a fork until it achieves the consistency akin to baby food. Alternatively, mix oil and basil in a food processor if you have access to one.

Place the basil mixture along with the remaining olive oil in a jar with a tight fitting lid and store for at least two days or up to a week. Strain the mixture through muslin and then decant your oil into the bottle of your choice.

This oil is insanely good on a tomato and mozzarella salad or in a vinaigrette. Handle your basil with intent to infuse wishes for friendship, prosperity and protection into this gift.

Rosemary and Garlic Oil
4 sprigs of rosemary
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups olive oil

Hit the rosemary and garlic a time or two with the flat of a knife to open them up a little. Put both herbs directly into the bottle you will be using for the gift and pour in the oil

Again, set this a side for a day or two before giving. The longer it sits the more flavorful it becomes.

This is a great blend to brown meats in and is wonderful for dipping bread because it holds its own with balsamic vinegar. Use intent when bruising your rosemary and garlic to impart love and a youthful attitude (rosemary) and protection and health (garlic). Les meilleurs voeux ~

Header: Girl with a Wineglass by Vermeer