Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jeudi: Root Work

I think it is safe to say that most people feel compelled to protect what they have.  As moderns, we probably imagine that this is a newer phenomenon, born of world conflict, rising crime and a general sense of vulnerability that springs from instant news.  Our ancestors didn’t know what was going on in the county next to theirs much less half way around the world, after all, so surely they must have felt more secure and at peace in their simple surroundings.

Actually, far from it.  Most of our ancestors lived on and worked the land – their own or someone else’s – and until remarkably recently just about anyone with a weapon, a few horses and a few buddies could take everything they needed away from them.  Including their lives.  That’s why the seemingly powerless peasants created ways to protect the few things that were theirs and the people they loved.

Frequently called a “witch bottle” or “witch jar”, this simple magick for protection of hearth and home probably goes back to very ancient cultures around the world.  The idea of putting items of power in a vessel with intention and then setting it somewhere to protect you really cannot be claimed by any one magickal discipline. 

Root works will usually gravitate to one of two forms of this magick.  One is the witch bottle, which is filled either with collected rain water or water from a running spring, to which salt and herbs of protection such as chamomile, Devil’s shoe string, rosemary, or sulphur are added.  The bottle – or bottles, sometimes each member of a family or household will make their own – is then hung from a tree or bush in the yard to keep harm away.  The drawback to such magick is obvious.  It is conspicuous and if you live around nosey neighbors, as I do, you’ll very soon be avoided like the plague at least.

A more discreet form of protective magick, the witch jar may have it’s origin in European folklore (the witch bottle is thought to be of African descent).  It is simple to make, if a tad off-putting for those who are not accustomed to working with “personal concerns”.  That said, the magick of the witch jar is powerful indeed, if you keep focused while you put it together. 

Find a smallish jar with a tight fitting lid (baby food jars and other containers around the same size work well).  Have some duck (duct) or electrical tape nearby to finish up.  Then assemble the following ingredients:

Pins, needles, tacks, razor blades and the like
A rusty nail or two
Personal concerns from every human and animal member of the family
A cup of your urine

The personal concerns may be fingernails, hair, toenails, anything that was once part of the person or animal.  I’ve even used a drop of water from a fishbowl to make sure our beta was safe and sound.

Fill the jar with the pointy objects and personal concerns.  Top it off with enough of your urine to fill completely and then seal the lid, all the while imagining your family and your home as impervious to any natural, man-made, or psychic disaster.  Now wrap tape several times around the lid of the jar to ensure a tight seal.

Take the jar to the front of your house and bury it a foot or deeper in soil that is as close to your front door as possible.  Under a bush or the lawn is ideal.  If you are renting, put the jar somewhere inconspicuous, perhaps on the top shelf of the hall closet or the back of a kitchen cabinet.  The results will be powerful as long as the jar is stowed where it won’t be discovered and handled by a stranger.

And that’s it.  Now you can go on about your business feeling a bit safer.  Of course neither the witch bottle nor the witch jar give you the right to do carless or intentionally hurtful things; karma still applies.  But the unexpected and sometimes unimagined are covered.

One finally caveat, if you bury the jar outside your home leave it where it is.  Even if you move.  When you find a new home, simply make a new jar.  Above ground jars, however, may travel right along with you to your new abode.  Bonne chance ~

Header: A bottle tree in the Southern U.S.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

We discussed masks for dry and oily skin over the course of the last two Wednesdays so today it’s time to turn our attention to sensitive skin.  Sensitive skin is a tough nut to crack, so to say, as it can be dry, oily, combination, you name it.  The thing all people with sensitive skin have in common is a thin epidermis that makes them easily susceptible to irritation by environment and products.  It’s probably the most difficult skin problem to tackle because you just never know what’s going to turn you into one big rash.

That’s why natural products that you put together yourself are such a great alternative for people with sensitivity.  You can try each individual ingredient out on your skin, in a discreet place no less, to determine what to omit or keep.  As you experiment, you’ll become familiar with what your sensitivities are and know what to avoid.  But beware: not all those “lists of ingredients” on a bottle from the department and drug store are honest.  They’ve been known to omit a thing or two in an effort to look “natural”.  Even though it’s a little more trouble, doing it yourself ensures that you know exactly what you’re using.

Today’s mask contains pear, which is soothing and restorative at the same time.  The cream helps to calm cranky skin and adds moisture-enhancing fat.

1 tbsp peeled and grated pear (softer fleshed, red apples can be substituted if, like me, you can’t always find a nice pear)
1 tbsp heavy cream
2 drops rose essential oil
Rice flour

Mix the pear, cream and oil in a bowl.  Add enough rice flour to form a workable paste.  Smooth mask over clean skin on face and neck and relax for about 10 minutes.  Rinse off with lukewarm water.

Follow this up with a good moisturizer, preferably one with calendula or chamomile oil in it.  A votre santé ~

Header: Lydia Smith by Gilbert Stewart

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Yarrow has been in use in various cultures around the globe since ancient times.  The stalks were used by the Chinese to make pieces for the divinatory system known as I Ching.  European alchemists associated the plant with Mars and prescribed it as a talisman against being wounded in battle.  Modern root workers make use of it to improve courage and reveal one’s future mate.  Wiccans say it can attract love, enhance psychic powers and drive away evil.

Yarrow is carried on the person to draw love.  Scott Cunningham says that carrying the leaves of the plant will bring far away friends and relatives to your side.  An old Mediterranean ritual involves hanging dried yarrow over a bridal bed to ensure the couple will love one another for at least seven years.  Yarrow is also used in wedding bouquets for the same reason.  Hoodoos say that a girl who puts a little bunch of yarrow under her pillow will dream of her future husband.

Flowers from the yarrow plant can be infused into a tea and added to a bath to improve psychic powers.  An old wives’ tale says that rinsing the head once a month with a yarrow infusion will prevent baldness, but it will not bring back hair that has already been lost.

Courage can be gained by making a mojo with dried yarrow and nettle.  First, write down your fears on a piece of paper.  Turn the paper one quarter turn to your left and write your full name nine times over what you have already written, crossing the fears with your name.  Fold up the paper and place it in a yellow bag.  Follow that with a bit of nettle and a bit of yarrow.  Seal the bag and carry it with you to overcome your fears.  In a pinch, simply grasp a yarrow leaf in your hand for an instant boost of courage.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Yarrow plant from a Medieval herbal housed at the Bailey Howe Library

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

No recipe today, or posts of any length, until Blogger fixes the ongoing problem with paragraph breaks. For an example, click over to Pauline's Pirates and Privateers and look at today's post, horribly formatted in one big, undoable paragraph. I take pride in what I offer at both Triple P and HQ and I am not going to put up unreadable posts just because Blogger isn't working. My apologies. Header: Market by Charles Henry Turner c 1880

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Samedi: The Frog With the Banjo

We have talked before about the importance of keeping quiet when in the midst of a magickal undertaking. Even after the thing is done and finished, whether successfully or not-so-much, the wise root worker keeps it to themselves, perhaps discussing it with a trusted companion or two but nothing more. Rumination on this time honored truth yesterday brought two things to my mind. The first involved the wisdom of this blog and the second involved an old hoodoo story about a reptile playing a stringed instrument.

The story, as I originally heard it, involves a frog with a banjo. Other versions I have sense collected include turtles, lizards and alligators as well as frogs playing banjos, guitars and fiddles. In one unusual case I found a version from Arizona that tells of an armadillo with a guitar, clearly a sign of not just hoodoo influence but Latino as well. Generally speaking, though, the animal is native to the bayous and swamps of the south and the instrument is either a banjo or a guitar. Here is the way I learned it:

A boy was out fishing in the bayou and the sun was going down. Unfortunately he had not been lucky and he wanted to catch something substantial before he headed home. He dipped his hook in the murky water and closed his eyes tight, praying for a healthy fish to take home to Grandpa. After a minute, the boy swore he heard someone strumming a banjo and then he heard singing too. He opened his eyes in surprise because this spot was not usually visited by anyone else.

Imagine the boy’s astonishment when, on a log floating by, he saw a frog playing a tiny banjo and singing in a handsome, tenor voice. The boy stood up, dropped his pole and with his heart thumping in his chest he ran home as quick as he could. He burst in to the little house where he and his grandpa lived.

“Grandpa! Grandpa! You’ll never guess what I saw.”

“Probably not,” Grandpa said without looking up from his paper. “You catch anything?”

“Yes! No! Grandpa, I saw a frog playing a banjo!”

Grandpa looked up this time, his white eyebrows raised and his dark brow furrowed. “You what?”

“I saw a frog playing a banjo down to the bayou, and he was singing too. Come on now. This is something you – ”

For as old as he was, Grandpa moved pretty well and before the boy could finish his sentence Grandpa grabbed him by the arm. The boy got a whipping he would remember all his life for lying, and Grandpa sent him to bed without supper.

The next day, after school was done, the boy managed to talk his grandpa into going fishing with him. He prayed the whole way down to the fishing hole that the frog would float by again, singing in his sweet voice and strumming on that banjo. After a time of silence, the boy started to talk about the frog again. Though Grandpa said he’d hear no more about it, the boy couldn’t help himself. As the sun began to go down, Grandpa was about to give that boy another whipping just for lying twice over.

All of a sudden, the sound of a banjo floated over the water and a handsome, tenor voice was heard singing along with the melody. Grandpa looked and there was that frog just like the boy had said, with a banjo in his little, amphibian hands. And the frog sang: “You all have seen me. Don’t tell all you know. Live happy now.”

The boy and Grandpa went home, and never again did either of them mention that magickal frog. In return, no matter when they went to that fishing hole they always caught enough fish to feed themselves and a few neighbors besides.

Of course the frog is a totem animal, otherworldly and only capable of working his magick if the creatures he looks after keep their mouths shut. The lesson is well taken. If we speak too freely, the ancestors will doubtless give us the beat-down. Faites attention, mes amis ~

Header: Frog Playing a Banjo in Moonlight via

Friday, March 25, 2011

Vendredi: Jack of Hearts

And so we come to the face cards on our exploration of the Suit of Hearts. It’s hard for me to believe we are almost half way through the divinatory meanings for an entire deck of cards. Where ever does the time go? But enough senseless musing; let us get to the business at hand.

Unlike the Jack of Clubs, which I find in most readings indicates a young man, the Jack of Hearts is gender neutral. This card may point to any younger person in the querent’s life. Whoever they are, they are probably a close a trustworthy friend. This is the kind of person that will tell you those truths you do not want to hear, not because they want to hurt you but because they genuinely love you. The Jack of Hearts is a blessing in any spread; we should all be so lucky as to have such a person in our lives.

Nobody fitting that description on the querent’s radar? Then they may be just a little time away from meeting someone like that. A great friendship may be waiting beyond the horizon. In the right spread this card might indicate a marriage proposal.

If your querent’s question has to do with infertility, this card may be a blessing as well: it can indicate the birth of a healthy child after an arduous wait for just such a gift. Double check the cards around it to confirm a reading like this. Three or more sixes of any Suit in the spread are usually a good sign for this interpretation. Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Jack of Hearts by MusicLover0137 via DeviantArt

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jeudi: Great Spirits

On Monday I did a post at Triple P about Isla Mujeres, the tiny island off the Yucatan coast of Mexico. The finger of tropical beauty that sits facing both the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico and is just north of far more familiar Cancun was once a holy place to the Maya. Although they did not inhabit the island, the Mayans built temples on it to their multifaceted goddess Ix Chel.

Ix Chel seems like a bit of a conundrum to moderns who take up her study. Like most Mesoamerican deities she was not given dominion over one issue of human concern. She ranged in representation from a lovely, nubile maiden (as shown in the statue above from my collection) to a frightening hag. She was the protector of women, but also the eater of souls. She granted fertility and made men impotent. She wove the sky and fell down dead when struck by lightening. The paradox of her power is unimaginable. But here is an ancient story told about Ix Chel, who was also the Queen of the Moon.

One morning, as she bathed in a waterfall on sacred Mujeres, Ix Chel was seen by the god of the Sun. The Sun fell instantly in love with the shimmering, silver maiden and introduced himself gallantly. Ix Chel was charmed by the golden youth and took him as her lover. Her jealous grandfather, the Lord of Lightening, discovered her with the Sun. Enraged, Ix Chel’s grandfather hurled a lightening bolt at the lovers, killing his own granddaughter.

The Sun ran from the Lord of Lightening who chased after him. Ix Chel’s body was left alone on Mujeres where it was found by a family of dragonflies. Finding the goddess dead sent her totem animals into fits of mourning. For thirteen days they grieved over their patroness, singing sweetly and imploring her to awaken. On the fourteenth day Ix Chel sat up, completely alive and even more beautiful than before. She thanked her dragonflies and granted them the gift of lovely colors that would dance in the light as they flew before ascending to Heaven to join the Sun.

The Sun and the Moon lived happily together for a time but Ix Chel, gregarious and playful, could not help dashing off now and then to dance with the stars or slide down a rainbow. Her behavior made the Sun first jealous and then intolerably angry. He accused Ix Chel of being unfaithful with the Morning Star, his brother. When she did not deny this accusation the Sun picked her up and threw Ix Chel bodily from Heaven. Regretting his harsh treatment of her, the Sun found Ix Chel once again on Mujeres, this time among her other totem animals, the rabbits. The Sun, with promises to never again do her harm, managed to coax the Moon back to his palace. All too soon the same pattern repeated itself though, this time with the Sun growing even more violent than before.

In short order Ix Chel was fed up. She left the Sun and returned to Mujeres. When the Sun again tried to follow her she sent a vulture to frighten him off. The vulture was so large that his wings blocked out the Sun’s light and the god finally gave up trying to win back the silver maiden. He returned to his palace disgraced.

Ix Chel learned to make herself invisible and began to wander among the Mayan people. She took care of the women she found, especially those who were being abused. She attended at births and laid the dead to rest, all unseen by humans. But the women knew Ix Chel was there and those who made the pilgrimage to Mujeres at least once in their lifetime where particularly favored by the Lady of the Moon.

Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women, is a now a popular tourist spot but it has not lost the spirit of Ix Chel, the ruins of whose temple can still be visited today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Last Wednesday I offered my favorite dry skin relieving mask. I find it particularly helpful after a long winter virtually devoid of humidity. But for people with oily skin, particularly teenagers, sebum doesn’t dry up just because the moisture in the air is low. On that note, today’s mask is for skin that’s prone to whiteheads and break-outs. The brewer’s yeast, which can usually be found in the organic section of your market or, alternatively, at pet supply stores (check labels to ensure what you have is pure brewer’s yeast without additives) absorbs oil and encourages cell turn over for bright, fresh skin.

1 tbsp powdered brewer’s yeast
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp plain yogurt
1 egg white
Corn flour

In a bowl, mix the yeast, honey and yogurt well. In a separate bowl, beat the egg white with a fork or whisk to a light foam. Add the yeast mixture and combine, then stir in small amounts of corn flour until you have a not-too-thick paste.

Apply the mask to clean, slightly moistened skin, avoiding the eye and lip area. Relax for about fifteen minutes and then rinse off. Follow with a moisturizer made for oily skin. A votre santé ~

Header: Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra”; may she rest peacefully

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Poke Salad Annie is a 1969 song written and performed by Tony Joe White. It was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Its lyrics describe the lifestyle of a generic Southern girl. ~ via Wikipedia

Most of us who have a fondness for blues have heard the song about Poke Salad Annie but the interesting bit, to me, is the connection between Mr. White, Louisiana hoodoo and the plant known as poke. Mr. White grew up in Louisiana and himself dined more than once on salad made from the greens that grow up from the plant in early spring. As Mr. White may very well have been aware, more than salad has been made of poke, not only in hoodoo but in other disciplines as well.

Poke is considered purifying when the greens are steeped like a tea and ingested. That said, it is important to take care when one is working with poke. While the greens are generally edible, the root – which is used in uncrossing work – can be highly toxic in large doses and in fact should not be ingested at all.

Poke root can be soaked in Reversing or Uncrossing Oil for a month, after which the oil is strained and then rubbed on the body to undo a jinx. Powdered poke root can be sprinkled on the footprint of an enemy to keep them away from you. Dirt from an enemy’s foot print is sometimes collected, mixed with the dried root and thrown into running water to force the person to move away.

Wiccans boil powdered poke root in water and sprinkle the resulting liquid around their homes at the New Moon to lift curses. It can also be added to ritual bathwater for the same result. As noted, any infusion of poke root should not be ingested. Scott Cunningham also notes that the leaves are carried to impart courage and that the berries can be crushed to make magickal inks.

Just remember to be careful when harvesting poke in swampy areas. As it says in the song, she was picking poke when the gators got Annie’s Granny. Bonne chance ~

Header: The Cabbage Pickers by John L. Moran

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

We're all adults here so let’s be honest: sometimes a grownup wants a cookie. That desire is where things can go off the track because, as a grownup, an Oreo just isn’t the right choice. Our taste buds aren’t what they used to be. They need something a little more complex at tea time. Enter this fabulous cookie recipe from – where else – the Creole cooks down NOLA way.

This recipe by Mary Youngblood Cooper, originally published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune in September of 2000, now graces the pages of that publication’s cook book Cooking Up A Storm. The book is a noble effort to re-publish recipes that people lost during the devastation of Katrina and Rita and it is full of wonderful gems. Like these rosemary cookies that are a little sweet, a little savory and perfectly paired with either coffee or champagne.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsps minced fresh rosemary leaves
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
About 2 tbsps granulated sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl beat butter, flour, confectioner’s sugar, rosemary and lemon juice together either with an electronic mixer or by hand. When your batter is smooth, spoon dough by teaspoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, spacing them about 1 ½ inches apart. Press the dough flat with the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in granulated sugar

Bake cookies until light brown around the edges, about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy. Bon appetite ~

Header: Tea by Mary Cassatt c 1879

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Samedi: Lwa Nachons

In Haiti, the lwa run in packs. It may sound a little irreverent to put it that way but I’m betting Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte at least are having a good laugh about it right now. Lwa families, or nations known in Haitian Creole as nachons, are worshipped together at fetes. They have different family characteristics and they are approached according to same. At one point there were numerous nations but over the years some have been absorbed into the more recognizable groups that we know today. In this post, I want to give a little background information on each of the five major nations with whom I am personally familiar.

Rada: The Rada nation contains the lwa considered the most benevolent and easiest to work with. They are probably also the most familiar to people who know only a little about Voudon. The lwa in the Rada nation originated among the Fon people of Dahomey and includes Damballah, Papa Legba, Erzulie Freda and Agwe. These lwa are thought to be distant, ancient and forgiving but they are said to work very slowly so they are rarely consulted in a situation of dire, immediate need.

Petwo: The fiery Petwo nation originated in Haiti. They do not claim African origin but were kindled by voudonists on their native soil, particularly during the era of rebellion and revolution in the early 19th century. This nation includes Bossou, Simbi, Erzulie Danto and Kalfou. Because this nation is much less predictable and more quick to anger than the Rada, they are sometimes referred to as ze rouge meaning “with red eyes”. They are more demanding of their devotees but they can hurry along workings for healing, prosperity and even revenge.

Kongo: This nation originated in the Congo area of Africa and many of their individual lwa have been assimilated into the Petwo nation. They too are considered fiery and quick to anger. The Kongo lwa are often referred to collectively as lwa-gad or guardian spirits. They are associated with magick and with protecting the voudonists who serve them.

Ibo: The Ibo nation came to Haiti with the Igbo people. These are ancestral lwa who are particularly concerned with protecting the downtrodden and the enslaved. This association may come from the fact that the Igbo people tended to be enslaved by their neighbors in Africa before European slavers appeared on their soil.

Ghede: This is, of course, the nation of the dead. Ruled by Baron Samedi they are the closest to living humans. They do not have their only rituals per ce but will happily barge in while other nations are being called, heedless of whether or not they were invited. They are frequently called upon for help in matters of health, money, love and particularly fertility. Talking to the Ghede is a daily occurrence for many voudonists who very much feel them to be part of everyday life.

Other nations exist as well, including the Nago of Yoruba and the Bambara from the Sudan but, as noted earlier, many of these have been absorbed into other nations. There are also lwa who are the almost exclusive domain of secret societies like the Zebop which no one with my limited knowledge has any business talking about. In the end, the lwa are like a large clan with each family having its own area of expertise and with certain members openly loving or despising one another on an ongoing basis. But that’s another story for another time. Ashe ~

Header: RaRa band in Haitian metal art via

Friday, March 18, 2011

Vendredi: Ten of Hearts

This card is the card of ultimate happiness. Even more so than the Nine of Hearts, the Ten is the card every reader wishes to see. It foretells good fortune at home and in business, a happy love life and spiritual contentment. Some experts call it the culmination of all the other number cards in the suit.

The nicest thing, at least to me, about the Ten of Hearts is its spiritual component. Showing up in a reading, the card is indicating that the querent is not just happy in the world but is also content with their spiritual path. And they are on the right track to boot. As a reader, this card gives you the pleasure of being able to honestly downplay any negative cards in the querent’s spread. The Ten of Hearts virtually wipes the slate clean of all potential despair and disaster. Your querent is living right, and they shouldn’t change a thing.

As hard as it is to believe, we will begin to explore the face cards for the suit of Hearts next Friday. For some of you, it will be spring by that time; a delightful prospect indeed. Until then bonne chance, navigation douce et Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Cardplayers by ter Borsch c 1665

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jeudi: Curios

Shamrocks as a symbol and eventually as a design in jewelry, tattoos, embroidery and other adornments have been popular since ancient times. The three leaves of the shamrock, as we discussed on Tuesday, represent a trinity usually but not always of deities.

The less common leaf groupings of the surprisingly common clover plant are also made into amulets and designs of all kinds. Four leafed clovers are familiar to almost every Western culture. They are ubiquitous this time of year, particularly in the U.S. where there are more individuals who claim Irish descent than there are people in modern Ireland. But there are other options as well.

Two clover leaves on a stem is a charm for finding true love. Finding a two leafed clover in nature is said to indicated that your wish for love with come true. Three leafed clovers – the shamrock or trefoil – are worn as protective amulets. Four leafed clover charms are said to bring luck and lead the wearer to wealth. Certain magickal disciplines recommend wearing these amulets to enhance your psychic abilities and Scott Cunningham mentions men wearing them to avoid military service. Five leafed clovers, which are particularly rare in nature, are fashioned into jewelry, key chains and pocket pieces to attract money.

In hoodoo, four leafed clovers are pressed like flowers (often in the family Bible), framed and hung in the house to draw in good luck, keep the family healthy and avert jinxes. Pressed four leafed clovers are also carried in wallets to attract cash. From the turn of the 20th century until World War II it was not uncommon to find good luck tokens, made of brass or copper, in the form of a four leafed clover with the words Health*Wealth*Luck*Love stamped on them. These were sold through ads in periodicals or in botanicas and carried in the pocket or purse for protection and luck. Many survive to this day, handed down in families or – perhaps unfortunately – offered for sale at auctions or on Ebay. Other similar tokens were round, like a coin, and embossed with not only four leafed clovers but horse shoes and even swastikas.

A piece of jewelry with a clover on it is universally thought to bring good luck and is a thoughtful gift to anyone beginning a new phase of their life. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to one and all! Bon chance ~

Header: The Four Leaf Clover by Winslow Homer

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Fresh skin is always beautiful and one of the best ways to encourage those new cells to do their thing is to get rid of the old ones. I always look at a facial mask as a sort of spring cleaning for your face. You don’t do it every day, but once in a while it can really make a difference. With that philosophy in mind I’m offering my favorite masks for dry, oily and sensitive skin over the course of the next few Wednesdays. Today, dry skin says goodbye.

There are all kinds of (very expensive) masks available on store shelves for dry and “mature” skin that probably work as well on your face as they do on your wallet. Personally, though, I believe the only way to ensure that a skin treatment is made with natural ingredients and – more importantly – that it works specifically for you is to make it yourself. Today’s dry skin helper gets a boost from fat-rich avocado, cooling yogurt and healing, hydrating honey.

½ ripe avocado, peeled
1 tbsp plain yogurt
1 tbsp honey
1000 mg evening primrose oil capsule
5 drops vanilla essential oil
Enough rice flour to bring the mixture to the consistency of paste

Mash the avocado in a bowl and then add the yogurt, honey and oils. Mix this thoroughly, until it is free of lumps. Add the rice flour in handfuls and mix until you have a paste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about half an hour.

Remove the mask from the frig and let it stand a few minutes uncovered. Remix gently and, after washing and drying your face, neck and décolleté, apply a generous layer to all. Relax for about fifteen minutes, preferably lying on your back or perhaps reclining in the bath. Rinse your face thoroughly with warm water. You’ll be surprised how soft your skin, particularly in very dry areas like your cheeks, feels. Be sure to moisturize after rinsing. A votre santé ~

Header: The Sisters by W.M. Paxton c 1897

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

We're one day closer to celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day and I thought the holiday might be a nice opportunity to delve into the magickal use of the clover, both as a plant and as a curio in the form of jewelry and other items made in the shape of clover leaves. So today, clover as it comes up out of the ground.

In Ireland and most of the British Isles, the much sought after four leafed clover generally comes from either a white or red clover plant. These varieties grow all over the Northern Hemisphere as well along with other clovers and clover as a generic species is essentially a weed. There are clovers from just about every corner of the globe, and even a “faux clover” to look out for at the nursery, especially around this time of year. For the purposes of this post, though, we will stick with the uses of red and white clover in hoodoo and other magickal disciplines.

In hoodoo, red clover is generally used in love magicks, either to draw a lover or to keep a marriage happy. The flowers and leaves are used in baths after being steeped as tea or are added to mojo bags. White clover, on the other hand, is used to keep evil at bay or nullify jinxes. As an example, white clover flowers are soaked in Four Thieves Vinegar for nine days. The resulting liquid can than be sprinkled around a room where negativity is a problem while concentrating on breaking up and banishing the bad energy. Some root workers recommend reciting the 37th Psalm as well. Do this every day for nine days and you will attract good luck, too. An added bonus is that this ritual is said to remove not only bad energy but bad people. Imagine the possibilities at the office and elsewhere.

Wiccans use white clover to drive away jinxes and recommend scattering the flowers or planting the seeds around your property to keep away negativity. Red clover flowers and leaves are used in money drawing spells and Scott Cunningham recommends using them in a bath to help you make good financial decisions. A clover placed in a shoe is said to keep evil away from the wearer. The shoe ritual is also recommended for women who wish to find a rich lover (a four leafed clover is thought to be ideal for this working). Clover wrapped in blue silk and worn at the chest will ease a broken heart.

Clover leaves come in clusters of between two and five to a stem, with three being the most common. This is why clover leaves have been identified since ancient times with the trinities of deities central to many religions. It is also why four leafed clovers are thought of as lucky since they are uncommon but yet more common than two or five. The plant known as Oxalis, which has leaves that look similar to four leafed clovers, is sold with the claim that it is in fact a clover. It isn’t at all, and the flowers look very different. Caveat emptor, as they say.

On Thursday, we’ll look again at the clover but this time as a man-made curio. A bientot ~

Header: Lucky Clover by Elizabeth H. Tudor

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

The old saying goes that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day and at my house everyone is Irish every day of the year. That does not mean, however, that my family will happily chow on potatoes boiled in the corned beef cooking liquid “the way dear old Ma used to do it”. Everyone will be turning their nose up at that – and the cabbage to go with it – directly. But this Creole recipe from the inimitable Leon E. Soniat, Jr. will stand in very nicely.

The simple buttered potato recipe does require a little extra work to prepare the potatoes for cooking. That said, it’s a great alternative to French fries that is a little healthier but just as much fun. Little hands can pick up the balls easily, too.

Peeled potatoes (how many depends on the number of servings you need)
1 stick of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Scoop the peeled potatoes into bite-sized balls with a melon baller. Let them rest in cold water as you work. When you’re ready to cook, drain and thoroughly dry the potato balls. Add the potatoes, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl and combine. In a sauce pan, melt the butter and then add the olive oil. Pour this over your potatoes and mix thoroughly. Spread the potatoes on a sheet pan lined with foil for easy cleanup and put them under the broiler for about a minute or two. Turn the potato balls and return to the oven for another minute or two. Bon appetite ~

Header: The Irish Question by De Scott Evans

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Samedi: Petitions on Paper

Writing down words that symbolize what we want from the Universe is an ancient practice that points to the power of literacy. There was a time when people who could write were looked upon as literal magicians, and that is still the case in some parts of the world. Given that the original practitioners of Haitian Voudon were slaves who were purposefully kept from learning how to read and write, it is not surprising that the tradition of oraisons, or written requests to the lwa, is still in common practice today.

Generally, an oraison takes the form of a Catholic prayer to an individual Saint. The prayers are either traditional to Voudon or transferred by hand from a prayer card to a piece of paper. Any paper is fine but pieces of brown bag are the favorite medium in New Orleans voodoo and hoodoo. The completed papers are then sewn into clothing or bedding for fulfillment of wishes. Generally a houngan or mambo will prepare the oraison to the specifications of a client in exchange for money. In Haiti, particularly at the famous (and recently restored) Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, ready-made oraisons can be purchased every day. Oraisons can also be made by voudonists themselves. This is a fairly common practice among root workers but in Haiti it is thought that, for the best result, a priestess or priest must create the petition and money should be exchanged.

Certain Saints are favored for oraisons, with their prayers having specific areas of expertise. Saint Expedite, of course, is called upon to hasten good fortune or quickly end trial. Saint Bartholomew is petitioned to heal illnesses, especially unseen disorders like nervous maladies and witchcraft, Saint Michael is called upon to keep people safe at sea, Saint Clare watches over the poor and Saint Radegund, a personal favorite of mine, protects from harm by others, either intentional or errant. Other Saints’ prayers are used as well, but these five are the most common in my experience.

As an example, here is one way I use a homemade oraison for a very modern purpose: keeping myself and my family safe while travelling in our vehicles. I tear a piece of brown bag into a relative square and then write a prayer to St. Radegund in black ink. Radegund was a Frankish princess that renounced her possessions and dedicated her life to serving God and the poor. She eventually became an anchorite, walled up in a small cell where she experienced Divine visions particularly of Purgatory. Here is the prayer:

Radegund, Baron Samedi, guardian of the cemetery,
You who have the power of going into purgatory,
Give my enemies something to do
So they may leave me alone.

Writing with intention – and sincere faith in Radegund and the Baron – is important. When you’re finished, fold the paper in half and the hide it somewhere in your car, boat, motorcycle, RV, airplane, etc. to protect you from accidents and mechanical failure. This particular prayer is unusual for calling on a specific lwa, Baron Samedi, as well as the Saint. This may indicate that Radegund is syncratized to some degree with the Baron’s wife Maman Brigitte. This is especially interesting to me as Maman Brigitte is not generally paired with any specific Saint in Haiti but I have seen her prayed to as Saint Brigit and even Saint Jeanne d’Arc in NOLA and elsewhere.

Something to think about while you consider the beautifully simple tradition of the oraison. Bon Samedi ~

Header: Medieval statue of Saint Radegund from Poitiers, France

Friday, March 11, 2011

Vendredi: Nine of Hearts

Unlike many cards in the standard deck, the Nine of Hearts when used for divination very much reflects its “sister card” in Tarot: the Nine of Cups. Both are famously and infamously known as the “wishing card”; find these in any reading and your querent is sure to achieve what they most hoped for when they sat down to look at the cards.

This is a card of fulfillment. The querent is blessed spiritually, mentally and physically. If other Hearts are near, the good news is about love or other relationships. If more Clubs are close, success in career or business is assured. Diamonds indicate an increase in wealth while Spades mean a victory in some dispute, usually – but not always – legal in nature.

This card is always a happy sign for the reader as well. Everyone loves to impart good news, after all. My wish for each of you is a Nine of Hearts kind of day! Bon Vendredi ~

Header: The Fortune Teller by Harry Herman Roseland

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Itching and flaking of the scalp are an unfortunately common problem. Probably not as common as the makers of dandruff shampoo would have us believe (that “social pariah” hard sell always irks me). Still, and particularly for young people experiencing that dismaying period in life known as puberty, it can be a hard-to-tackle issue. Not surprisingly, nature offers her own remedies for flakes and itch and they tend to be easier on the skin than store-bought products.

First, consider switching to Castile soap for shampooing. It does not have sodium lauryl sulphate which has been shown to dry out even oily skin. Eliminating contact with this ingredient, which is found in virtually all commercially made shampoos, may do the trick on its own. Try shampooing with just the Castile soap for two weeks as a test. If you find your symptoms have gone, you know what the problem is. If you’re still experiencing flaking, try this formula:

1 cup liquid Castile soap
30 drops tea-tree essential oil
20 drops rosemary essential oil
15 drops cedarwood essential oil

Put all these ingredients in a bowl and combine by stirring gently. Pour the mixture into a plastic bottle, either a squeeze bottle or one with a pump.

The tea-tree oil is antifungal and antiseptic. The rosemary and cedarwood oils are also antiseptic so this mixture should take care of any problems over and above dry scalp. To use, shampoo as normal but be sure to rinse thoroughly. Only one application is necessary (no shampoo; rinse; repeat). A vinegar rinse once a month can also help with flaking and add shine. Just pour a cup (or more for longer hair) of apple cider vinegar onto your hair and comb it through. For best results, don’t rinse and let your hair dry naturally.

A final word of caution: persistent dandruff should be looked at very closely. Unfortunately, lice eggs sometimes look virtually the same. Consult a specialist if you are unsure and consider seeing a dermatologist if your scalp peels or bleeds and scabs.

Header: Shampoo, a painting by Cynthia Westwood c 1969

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

Tomorrow is officially Mardi Gras; Shrove Tuesday for those Yankee Protestants. That means one of today’s missions at chez Pauline is to get the King Cake baked and frosted for tomorrow night’s feast. King Cake is technically not a “cake” at all but a sweet bread and, even though it takes some doing, the result is delightful. Here’s our recipe:

½ cup warm milk
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast
About 2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup melted butter
3 egg yolks, beaten
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp lemon zest
1 ½ tsps cinnamon
Grated nutmeg

Place warmed (about 110 degrees) milk in a large bowl and whisk in sugar, yeast and a tablespoon or so of flour. Mix until dissolved. Allow the yeast to activate so that you notice bubbles in the milk, then whisk in butter, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest. Add the remaining flour and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula to achieve a doughy consistency. Add cinnamon and a few gratings of nutmeg.

Once the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, about ten to fifteen minutes. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with a warm, wet towel. Place the bowl in a warm spot and let it double in volume; this will take about an hour.

Preheat your oven to 375 and then punch down your dough before pulling it apart into three even pieces. Roll each into a long strip or rope of equal length. Braid the ropes together and then form them into the traditional circle. Put your braided wreath onto a nonstick cookie sheet and let it rise again for about half an hour.

Once the bread has doubled in size, bake it off until golden brown, about half an hour. Place the finished cake on a wire wrack to cool for half an hour and then frost with vanilla icing in purple, gold, green or any combination thereof. Sprinkles in the same colors are festive, too. And don’t forget to tuck a bean or tiny toy crown or baby into the underside of the cake before cutting it. Whoever gets the token is your King or Queen of Mardi Gras and should hide the baby in the cake next year. Bon appetite ~

Header: 1930s sheet music cover; I like the guy dressed as a pirate in the background and the helpful pronunciation guide

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Samedi: Congo Square

While watching “No Reservations” on Monday night (clips here) and seeing Haiti, a place I hold very dear, Anthony Bourdain’s comment about the Ra-Ra Parade being echoed in New Orleans’ Second Line brought a lot to mind. Surely the Second Line, like so many other NOLA traditions, came to the city with wave after wave of Haitian refugees. Starting in 1800, those escaping the turmoil in what was once a French colony found a place in the soon-to-be-American city and its surrounding area. Black and white and every combination thereof, free and slave, they came and made New Orleans home. How fortunate for my mother city.

Another tradition that was certainly expanded on by the refugees – those who came unwillingly as slaves – was the Sunday dancing in what was then known as Congo Place and is now Congo Square. Located between St. Peter and St. Ann on North Rampart, as it always has been, Congo is a park with a rich and ongoing history. I could go on about the cultural and social issues swirling around the dancing – which was probably very much like a combination of Voudon celebration and Mardi Gras parade – but I think Liliane Crete’s description from her book Daily Life in Louisiana 1815-1830 does it far more justice than I ever could:

In New Orleans, Sunday was a day of relaxation, even for the slaves. Dressed in their finest, they gathered by the hundreds under the sycamores in Congo Place, and from early afternoon until nightfall they danced to the rhythm of tom-toms and crude string instruments. The dances were lively and fast paced, with quick steps and many pirouettes…

The slaves danced barefoot on the grass, as the civic guard looked on from a discreet distance and a horde of white spectators pressed around the gates of the square, their faces registering a mixture of amusement, astonishment, shock, scorn and indulgence. The African rhythms and dances were obviously not to everyone’s taste, and some of the Americans in the crowd must have looked on the scene as a display of savagery that no one but a black – or a Creole – could either savor or condone…

According to contemporary accounts, the great majority of the dancers in Congo Square were of pure African extraction. Latrobe* saw “hardly a dozen café-au-lait faces in the crowd.” Quadroons, mulattoes, and most of the Creole blacks regarded these Sunday revels as beneath them, and American blacks were rarely in evidence – partially out of deference to the opinion of the Creole blacks, partially out of fear of their Protestant masters’ disapproval. From the Protestant point of view, it was a sin to dance on the Lord’s Day or to sing anything other than hymns.

* Benjamin H. Latrobe was an architect from the east coast who visited New Orleans between 1818 and 1820. He later wrote a heavy-on-the-snark memoire of his experience entitled Impressions Respecting New Orleans: Diary and Sketches

And I will leave you with that, mes amis. Bon Mardi Gras ~

Header: Congo Square in 2006

Friday, March 4, 2011

Vendredi: Eight of Hearts

The Eight of Hearts is what I like to call the party card. Unless there are some very dire indications around it – such as the Three of Spade or the Five of Clubs – your querent is in for a good time.

As with everything in life though, there may be a price to pay for all that fun. This card is an indicator that the querent has turned away from the spiritual and is pursuing, possibly at any cost, pleasure on the physical plain. I’m fairly certain that I don’t have to tell you that this kind of behavior is usually a sign of a problem that the person does not want to deal with or will not face. Your job here is to dig around through the spread for clues, ask questions, and determine whether or not this behavior is becoming a lifestyle for your querent. If it is, the potential danger is obvious.

On the other hand, if all things point to a person who is simply outgoing and fun loving, rather than self-destructive, everything is probably fine. I’ve found that if the Three of Hearts is next to the Eight, there’s very likely nothing to worry about and you can simply wish your querent bon fete and move on. Especially this time of year; it is Mardi Gras after all. Vendredi heureux ~

Header: “King Breesus”; New Orleans’ own Drew Brees as Bacchus Krewe King of Mardi Gras 2010

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jeudi: Great Spirits

One of the most shy and retiring spirits in the religion of Voudon is not, as one might imagine, a woman or girl. Quite far from it. This lwa – or in fairness group of lwa – is all together masculine. Known as Simbi, or The Simbis, they are often anthropomorphized as water snakes gliding elegantly over the swampy waters that are their domain. Green is their color and they are of neither salt water nor sweet, but the place where the two come together.

The origin of these spirits is just as elusive as they are. Some authorities say that Simbi was born of the interaction between slaves on Sante Domingue and the Native Arawak and Taino. These people worshipped a group of spirits called zemi who consisted of female and male rulers of salt water, fresh water and destructive magick. Other writers point to the Congo spirit Zambi Mpungu, a god of lightening, whose wife – also called Zambi – was a queen of water. This spirit may have in turn become the child-spirits that are called cymbees in American hoodoo and are said to roam in bayous and swamps.

Not surprisingly, the symbols used to represent Simbi are just as numerous. The Christian icons and Catholic Saints standing in for Simbi include St. Anthony, St. Charles Borromeo, and the Three Kings. Moses, who overcame the snakes produced by Pharaoh’s magicians, is also a favorite.

Whatever the origin of the Simbi lwa, they have a lot to do. Just to name a few there is Simbi Andezo who keeps watch over swamps and salty plains upriver from the sea. Simbi Makaya is a powerful magician. Simbi Anpaka is an herbalist who knows the forest and is called on to heal disease. Simbi Dlo is the keeper of freshwater springs, and Simbi Ganga is a warrior and sorcerer who protects those who serve him.

As noted, all the Simbi are retiring and a little challenging to get to know so working with any of them takes commitment. They like to be remembered with offerings and candles but are not as demanding as many of the other lwa. That said, they will not be forthcoming immediately. They want to know that a petitioner is sincere and, if they find otherwise, no amount of entreaty will coax them out. There is a saying that either you “have Simbi” or you do not. But if you do, and if you are consistent and honest with the Simbi lwa they will give you help when you call.

Header: Dwapo lwa for Simbi

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Before the deciduous trees and shrubs start to show buds in the very early spring, the evergreen pine is already producing cones. Since it’s been green all winter, the hearty pine is ahead of the game. Not surprisingly, pine is a powerful herb in hoodoo as well as Wicca and Druidism. It can be used for money drawing, fertility and to cleanse people and places of negativity.

According to Catherine Yronwode of Lucky Mojo Curio, the Native American Iroquois burned pine chips in a new abode to drive away spirits. She also notes that adding camphor to the pine needles will increase their efficacy for this purpose. Scott Cunningham also recommends burning pine needles to cleanse a home of negativity and/or turn away a jinx. He goes on to recommend scattering needles on the floor or at the front door to prevent evil from entering. Both writers mention bathing in water to which pine needles have been added to banish that nagging feeling of personal negativity.

Pine-Sol, the prepared cleaner found at the market, is a favorite hoodoo wash to which things like Van Van oil, vinegar or even urine are added. The cleaner is then used around the house or workplace to keep away crossed conditions and draw in money/business.

The cones of a pine are particularly coveted for their powers. An unopened pinecone kept in the house is said to ensure long life, health, fertility and to keep evil away. Root workers say that if the cone begins to open it should be planted immediately and another unopened cone found to take its place.

Pine branches can also be hung above beds to keep illnesses at bay. The Holiday tradition of hanging evergreen on the front door was originally a year round practice meant to bring perpetual health and happiness to those who lived in the home.

My family has the good fortune to have a stand of pine in the front yard of our home and I like to offer the trees little treats now and then. I give them sugary water once in a while and, if I take a cone or some branches, I always pay them back with a shiny penny tucked down near their roots. It’s the least I can do, after all, while they stand out in the cold quietly guarding us from harm.

Header: Morning in the Pine Forest by Ivan Shishkin c 1889