Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dimanche: Swimming

A dock in Barataria Bay, Louisiana; inviting you to swim (mind the crane)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Samedi: The Ghede at the Palace

Though the vast majority of Americans – or at least the ones I’ve chatted with on the subject – believe that all Haitians are steeped to their necks in Voudon, a few souls in that country might disagree.  The story goes that the Duvalier dictators used their people’s devotion to the lwa against their enemies, making their guards and police a virtual secret society.  This is true to some degree.  This behavior on the part of their leaders did not stop upper class Haitians from looking down on Voudon as something akin to ignorant superstition.  In fact before the Duvalier regime, most Haitian leaders very much distanced themselves from the spiritual beliefs of the populace.

The curious thing is that these people, who look down their noses as Voudon, are usually practicing it themselves.  They will have discreet niches in their homes, ostensibly in devotion to Catholic saints, which are actually altars to the lwa.  How similar this behavior is to that of slaves before the revolution probably doesn’t even bare mentioning.  The hypocrisy of it, however, is lost on no one and has led to an oft told tale of a virtual uprising of the Ghede.

It is said that a certain President of Haiti was particularly vocal about his rejection of Voudon and he encouraged his people to follow his lead.  Along with this, his regime was corrupt in the extreme and people only blocks from his palatial palace were literally starving.  One evening, under a blood red sky, a mass possession fell upon the populace of Port-au-Prince with hundreds of people mounted by Ghede lwa.  The Ghede marched through the streets to the Presidential palace with Baron Samedi, Baron Cemetere and Maman Brigitte in the lead.  Those not possessed stood in awe, and followed the procession to see what would happen.

The Ghede mounted the steps of the palace, waving the President’s guards aside as if they had no fear of their weapons.  And of course, they did not; weren’t they dead already?  The mob pounded on the palace door and demanded that the President come out and meet them. 

In abject terror, the President appeared on the balcony above.  “Who are you?” he cried.  “What do you want?”

“We are the Ghede,” Baron Samedi replied.  “We want the people fed and we want your devotion.  Give us money and call me your Lord.”

The President protested against these demands but the Baron promised that his Ghede would break down the doors and wreak havoc in the palace.  At last the President, terrified beyond reason, rained money down upon the people and vowed to honor Voudon and most of all the Ghede from that day forward.

The Ghede, pleased and pacified, left the palace and their horses to return to their home in the cemeteries.

It is probably safe to say that the story is apocryphal but it is instructive nonetheless.  When Voudon is threatened, it is the lwa of the Dead who champion it and they can champion the sincerely devoted individual, too.

Header: Ghede lwa from Mambo Sallie Ann Glassman’s “Wall of Voodoo” in New Orleans

Friday, July 29, 2011

Vendredi: Ace of Diamonds

Now we come to the last group in our exploration of the divinatory meanings of playing cards.  The Suit of Diamonds is generally regarded as dealing with monetary wealth issues and corresponds to the Suit of Pentacles in the Tarot.   Since civilization began, people have always been concerned with money whether they have it or not, and the devotion of an entire suit of cards to the subject is only another example of that fact.

The Ace of Diamonds is generally thought of as a very lucky card.  Some root workers even recommend framing it and hanging it in your place of business to draw a steady income.  Depending on the person, they will recommend anointing the frame regularly with Easy Life, Money Drawing or Van Van Oil to keep the success coming.

In a divinatory spread, the Ace of Diamonds is no less lucky.  Certain cartomancers consider it a sure sign of gambling luck and will advise their querents to get out to the card table or the race track ASAP.  I am not quite so sanguine but this card can indicate a streak of general good luck on the horizon.

The Ace of Diamonds is a very good indication if the querent is considering a new endeavor that will provide an income.  While the card does not guarantee success (what does?), it certainly answers yes to the question should I pursue this undertaking.  It can also indicate an unexpected but hoped for surprise: found money, an upturn in the querent’s stock portfolio, a proposal of marriage or in unusual cases a pregnancy.  Consider the cards in proximity to the Ace and your discussion with the querent, as always, to determine what is in store.

Unfortunately, this card does not differentiate between small and large victories.  That found money may be an unexpected mention in rich Aunt Beulah's will, but it could just as easily be a quarter on the street.  In other words, it's better for you as the reader to downplay the potential for wealth.  Greed, as sad as it is to say, can make people do stupid things and you don't want them doing stupid thing to you out of a warped sense of betrayal.  Better safe than sorry.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds by Georges de la Tour c 1635

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jeudi: Root Work

The potential for little bundles of joy has been hovering over my life for the last couple of months.  I just got past a scare in the pregnancy department and I call it that because, for a woman my age, being pregnant would quite literally be the stuff of horror movies.  Recently, though, a dear friend announced she was expecting which definitely is good news.

All this baby talk had me running back to my notebooks for a working that my grandmother taught me.  This one is to settle a sleepless child in for the night and it comes from Gran’s Roma friends.  The gypsies, like so many others who have a distinct magickal discipline, put a lot of store by the use of hair in spell craft.   Since hair was once part of a person or animal, it is thought to carry that creature’s essence with it. 

This working is one of those that requires the subject to be aware of what the worker is doing.  I have yet to see it work on sleepless infants; and believe me, I have tried.  For children two or older, however, who have a conversational vocabulary it can be a tremendous help to both mother and child.

Three strands of Mom’s hair
A little cotton or muslin bag, or a small square of either
Needle and white thread
A glass of your child’s favorite drink

Place one strand of hair into the muslin bag/square and sew it closed with the needle and thread.  Give this to your child to place under their pillow.  Now, sew the next strand into your child’s nightclothes so that it will rest close to their heart as they sleep.  Take the finally strand and break it down in a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon.  Add this to you child’s favorite drink and have them finish it before getting ready for bed.

Involve your child in the first two steps of this working, telling them that what you are doing will soothe them and help them sleep without trouble.  My Gran would remind me that she was always with me, even in dreams, as long as the “magick bag” was under my pillow. 

In my experience, it’s best to prepare the hair and put it in the drink before you start the other steps of the working.  That way it will be ready when you’re done and there won’t be any fussing about drinking something infused with hair.  The original recipe called for elderberries to be crushed and the juice given to the child.  Since elderberries quite notoriously ferment on the vine, I wonder if the Roma didn’t use the possibility of slight intoxication as their ace in the hole to insure this spell’s success.  Just speculation on my part, but… Bonne chance ~

Header: To This Each Night by Dorothy Bartholemy via American Gallery

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

The so called “dog days” of summer are surely upon most of the Northern Hemisphere right now.  Heat indexes have gone sky high in various parts of the globe and that gets people thinking about shedding clothing when they venture outside.  Unfortunately, lots of swimming and beach going can lead to over exposure to the sun and sunburn. 

Up here at the top of the world summertime sunburns happen faster than they do down toward the equator because of the proximity of the sun and the long hours of daylight.  Of course you should slather on the SPF 30 even if you’re only running to the mailbox.  Accidents happen, though, and when friends ask me what can help take the sting out of a sunburn the first thing I recommend is a plant no home should be without, aloe vera.  Slice open a fresh leaf and literally put it right next to the burn (this works with first degree burns from fire sources as well).  Leave it until the skin feels less sensitive and then rinse gently with cool water.  Repeat daily until healing begins.

When a sunburn is covering too much skin area to make the aloe treatment practical, consider this easy to concoct cooling bath.  It utilizes the antiseptic properties of calendula and the soothing relief of buttermilk.

¼ cup dried calendula flowers
¼ cup dried buttermilk

Combine ingredients in a bowl and put them in the middle of a piece of muslin or cotton about 12 inches square.  Bring the sides of the square together and tie it tightly with a string.  Put the muslin square in a bath filling with lukewarm water.  Leave the bag in the water with you.  You can even press it gently to particularly painful areas of skin.

This bath also works well for heat rash, which is not uncommon this time of year.  A votre santé ~

Header: circa 1862  photograph of Cora Pearl, the famous demimondaine, whose complexion was rumored to be perfect due to her frequent baths in water steeped with calendula flowers

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The time of dandelions, when the hardest core lawn police fairly freak out, is upon us.  In many a yard and field, however, dandelions are plucked enthusiastically for everything from salads to wine.  They are also popular in hoodoo and other disciplines for wishing, psychism and even telling the future.  

To improve lucid dreaming and divinatory powers, a tea of dried dandelion roots is brewed.  Most root workers say that the root should be chopped fine and the tea should be drunk three times a week without fail for the best effect.  Scott Cunningham advises leaving a saucer of the same tea by one’s bed to call up spirits.

Of course most of us have made a wish and blown on a dandelion that has gone to seed, releasing the wish into the element of air.  Some Wiccans advise doing the same to determine the number of years you have left on Earth.  Count the seeds left on the head of the dandelion after you blow on it; that is the rest of your life span.

Dandelion root is also used in a hoodoo wishing mojo.  Write your desire on a slip of paper, and then write your full name three times so that the name crosses your wish.  Now fold the paper toward you around a dandelion root and place it in a red flannel mojo bag.  Carry this with you as you work toward your desire.   Adding seven Job’s Tears to the bag is supposed to speed a positive result.

It’s said that burying a blooming dandelion in the northwest corner of your house will bring good fortune.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Ville d’Avray by Jean Baptiste Corot c 1865

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Samedi: Listening to the Lwa

Some will caution you at great lengths about the dangers of Vodou.  They will tell you that the lwa are jealous, thin-skinned, and hot-tempered.  Only those with years of training can serve them properly, they claim – and if you miss a minute detail, you run the risk of being ruined body and soul ~ The Haitian Vodou Handbook by Kenaz Filan

While Mr. Filan, whose book I cannot recommend enough, goes on to point out that this attitude is over-reacting he does not shy away from the possibility of spiritual retaliation.  Nor should anyone else; least of all me.  I am now recovering from a spiritual smack-down, so to say, that has left me a little the worse for the wear.  And, I’m embarrassed to say, it took me way too long to figure out what was going on.

I won’t name any names here but I will say that I did a little house cleaning about eight months ago and moved a few altars around.  Well, in all fairness, I moved a statue of a very much venerated lwa to a new niche in favor of a more recent addition to our home pantheon.  Allow me to say that, looking back on it now, the proverbial poo hit the fan almost immediately.

First, I began to experience bizarre and usually female-related illnesses: bladder infections, ovarian pain that was virtually crippling, wide variations in cycles and so on.  No amount of modern medical attention helped; in fact after tests and biopsies I was quite frankly told there was nothing wrong with me.  My children’s health suffered as well.  My youngest was diagnosed with migraines and my eldest, who has JRA, saw a few months of improvement in symptoms only to take two big steps back and have to return to medications we hoped she could stay off.  Our finances went far south, to the tune of my husband’s company deciding not to increase salaries in 2011.  Then the house started to come apart, with odd black areas appearing on the walls and experts advising expensive repairs that we quite frankly could not afford.  What was up?

Only very recently, in a flash of enlightenment brought on by – I am not joking – an advertisement for a favorite TV show, did I get the picture.  That much venerated lwa, to whom my family has been devoted for years, was as angry as she knew how to be.  Her place of prominence had been usurped and, like the warrior she is, she hit me and those I loved hard.  The stupidity on my part – not to pay attention to my dreams and other obvious signs – was absolutely inexcusable.

Needless to say the lady is back where she belongs and surrounded by offerings.  The house feels lighter already; the air is cleaner and I’m suddenly motivated to tackle a bunch of home projects.  All the same the hangover, if you will, is still very much upon me and mine.  My fondest hope is that my children get better soon but its baby steps at this point.   I don’t feel I can ask anything just yet.

I write this not to foist my troubles upon you but as a bit of a heads up.  Know who and what you’re dealing with in all spiritual disciplines.  And for heaven’s sake, please don’t be as knuckle-headed as I’ve been.

Header:  Crucifixion of St. Julia by Hieronymus Bosch

Friday, July 22, 2011

Vendredi: Divinatory Spread

Now that we have wrapped up the Suit of Spades it is once again time to look at a divinatory spread.  Practicing divination on yourself will give you a chance to learn the meanings of the cards in a leisurely and rewarding way.  This spread, sometimes called the Gypsy Method, can be done very simply at first.  As the student becomes more proficient, cards can be added to achieve in depth readings making it ideal for everyone from beginner to adept.

Never skip the usual preliminaries of chatting with the querent and asking them to cut the cards.  That done, lay out seven cards in a fan shape starting on your right and moving left.  Each card represents an influence in the querent’s life with regard to the question they bring to the table.  Reading from right to left, the influences are as follows:

The present psychic state of the querent.
Their present home life.
The question at hand.
The querent’s expectations.
The issues they do not expect or have not thought of.
The immediate future.
The long term results.

This spread is one of my favorites because it allows for a free flow exchange of information between the reader and the querent.  You, as the reader, can look at the big picture first and then begin to pick the issue apart with input from the querent.  The only time I would not use this spread is when I am dealing with an agitated or hostile individual.  In such cases discussion and interaction are not called for by any means; quick answers with a quick reading are your best option.

To go more in depth with this reading, add two or even three cards to each of the seven points on the fan.  This gives you and the querent not only more to discuss but it allows you as the reader to be more specific at each point in the reading as well as with the over all outcome.  Have fun with it; you may be surprised at the insights you uncover.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: La Reussite (The Issue) by Joseph Caraud c 1894

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jeudi: Great Spirits

When my family first moved to Southern California I was very much wrapped up in Ancient Egyptian mythology.  In that hot, arid land it was very easy to imagine the creatures and spirits that Egyptian culture conjured up.  During the extreme weather known as Santa Ana winds, I always found myself meditating on the Lord of the Red Land, Seth.  To me, this ancient god is one of the most paradoxical of the Egyptian pantheon.  And, perhaps, one of the most misunderstood.

Seth, whose name is sometimes spelled Set following the correct pronunciation, was one of the original five children of the sky goddess Nut.  He is an old god; representations of him as a bizarre, donkey-like beast appear on pre-dynastic artifacts such as the war club of King Scorpion.  In the Old Kingdom he was considered a god of strength and courage who rode at the head of the sun god’s barge where he kept the terrible serpent Apophis at bay.  Seth was the protector of Egypt in general and the Pharaoh in particular.  The strongest metal known to the Egyptians, iron, was called “the bones of Seth”.  But something happened to Seth’s good name around the time of the Hyksos occupation toward the end of the Middle Kingdom, and his powerful personality began to take on a very dark mantel.

The Hyksos, invaders from central Europe who introduced the wheel and the horse into Egypt, found a great affinity for the warlike, powerful Seth.  They equated him with their god Ba’al and worshiped him accordingly.  Whether or not the conquered Egyptians, who always had a distaste for foreigners and their customs, imagined Seth had betrayed them is unclear.  What is clear is that, with the restoration of Egyptian Pharaohs around 1640 BCE, Seth became an embodiment of evil.

He was known euphemistically as the “Red One” and, in a culture where order and balance were primarily important, assumed the throne of chaos.  He caused the withering hot winds to blow sand storms toward the Nile.  He encouraged rebellion and invasion.  He married foreign goddesses like Astarte and Anat.  Seth became so horrible in the eyes of the Egyptians that his name was not spoken, or even written, and depictions of him were often pierced through the head or body with a knife to nullify his out of control power.  Though the 19th Dynasty of Seti I and Ramses II would embrace the old vision of Seth, the damage to his character was essentially done.

The real slander to Seth’s name came with the reworking of the myth of his family which became part of both popular and ceremonial religion by the start of the New Kingdom.  As noted, Seth was one of the five children of Nut and the Earth god Geb.  These children, some of the most powerful gods in the Egyptian pantheon, were born over the course of a five day period in the following order: Osiris, Seth, Horus, Isis, Nephthys.   Four of the gods were grouped into couples, with Osiris marrying Isis and Seth paired with Nephthys. 

The story goes that even at birth Seth was competitive and cruel.  As he saw his brother being born before him, he clawed his way out of the womb rather than have to follow behind anyone else.  Nephthys, originally a quiet consort, was said to be none too happy in her marriage.  Her son, Anubis the jackal headed lord of funeral rights and embalming, was now rumored to be the offspring of a fling with Osiris rather than Seth’s child.

Osiris and Isis took the throne of Egypt and a time of plenty and peace fell over the land.  Seth grew more and more jealous and, in a bid for power, killed Osiris by getting him drunk and convincing him to climb into a sarcophagus which was then locked down and thrown into the Nile.  Isis, a master magician, found her husband’s body in a sycamore tree in far off Cypress.  With her dead husband she managed to conceive their son and heir who was confusingly named after – and eventually absorbed – his uncle Horus.

After Seth found his brother’s body and desecrated it by cutting it into seven pieces, Isis regained all but one piece of her husband and then hid in a swamp.  Here she not only performed the first embalming on her beloved spouse but also raised her son to hate his uncle Seth.

When Horus grew to manhood he challenged Seth for the throne of Egypt and an epic battle lasting eighty years ensued.  Horus lost an eye to Seth and in turn castrated his uncle when Seth tried to rape him.  In the end good, in the form of the falcon headed son of Osiris and Isis, prevailed.  Horus became the protector of Egypt in general and the Pharaoh in particular.

It is obvious, when one takes a closer look, that the story has been doctored.  Originally Horus was not the nephew but the younger brother of Seth.  While obviously murdering ones brother to gain the throne is questionable, there can be no question that in the original family lineage Seth would be next in line for that throne.  It is only with the glaring addition of Horus-son-of-Osiris and the disappearance of Horus-son-of-Nut that the succession changes.  The addition of particularly vulgar actions on Seth’s part, like corpse mutilation and rape, only add insult to the original injury.  Particularly curious to me is the fact that Isis, who is always held up as the ultimate hero of the tragedy, was not known as Isis by the Egyptians but as Au-Set.  Even her name was kin to the Red One’s.

The Egyptian religion, which dominated much of the Middle East for 4,000 years, was bound to be a fluid, ever changing doctrine.  But the jarring demonization of Seth is as unprecedented as it is an instructive bit of foreshadowing with regard to powerful religions around the world.

Header: Ramses III crowned by Horus and Seth c 1170 BCE

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The humble plantain, that plant with the big leaves and dark-brown-husked, banana-like fruit, is quite popular in a number of magickal disciplines.  Some of which, perhaps, are simply less well known than others.

It probably goes without saying that plantain is used in Santeria and Voudon.  Both Cuban and Haitian cuisines use the fruit, so making use of all parts of the plant in magickal and spiritual workings is no at all surprising.  Plantains are also utilized in Wicca, American hoodoo and another less well known American magickal system called Pow-Wow. 

All three disciplines agree that plantain can be used to ward off snakes; carrying plantain root as a pocket piece is the most common recommendation.  Some root workers place dried plantain leaves in a blue flannel bag in their car to prevent it being stolen.  Plantain leaves used as decoration in the home are also said to deter thieves.

Wiccans use the leaves to ease headaches.  Scott Cunningham recommends tying them to the afflicted person’s head with red yarn.  He also mentions placing them beneath the feet to relieve weariness.

Similar uses for plantain can be found in the Pennsylvania Dutch faith healing system known as Pow-Wow.  In her comprehensive 1995 book on the subject, American Folk Magick, Silver RavenWolf notes that the leaves can be used to “… rid oneself of headaches or weariness…”  She also recommends placing a poultice of crushed plantain on the skin for ten minutes to alleviate the pain and swelling of bee stings.

Since, as hoodoo expert Catherine Yronwode notes at her Lucky Mojo Curio Co. website, Pow-Wow practice has greatly influenced hoodoo, it is not surprising to see similar uses for this and many other herbs in both disciplines.  If you would like to know more about Pow-Wow, I cannot recommend Ms. RavenWolf’s book enough.  It is available directly from Llewellyn Publications and at Amazon.  Bonne chance ~

Header:  A postcard from Pennsylvania Dutch country; Berks County Pennsylvania

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

Where I live we are not treated to fresh produce for a large portion of the year.  Everything – or just about everything – is shipped up from the lower48 which means it is pretty tasteless by the time it gets to us.  Tomatoes in particular suffer to the point where I have yet to encounter a person who grew up in Alaska that likes tomatoes. 

When I was a child we always had garden fresh tomatoes.  One of the first things Mom would do when we moved into a new house was plant tomatoes and geraniums in the back yard (the geraniums were supposed to keep the bugs off the tomatoes).  This time of year I can get good, homegrown tomatoes at the farmer’s market and I want to eat as many of them as I possibly can.  So here is an old Creole recipe for a tomato salad that features the rich, zesty taste of these wonderful fruits of the vine.

1 nice, ripe (Creole if possible) tomato per person being served (the following portions will reflect one serving)
1 tsp balsamic or champagne vinegar
1 generous tsp Creole or Dijon mustard
3 or 4 basil leaves, chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Cut your tomato into bite sized wedges.  Mix vinegar and mustard with salt, pepper and olive oil to taste in a bowl.  Add tomato and toss.  Plate tomato and sprinkle with chopped basil and more salt and pepper if desired. 

Variations: marinate the tomato wedges in the mustard mixture for up to an hour before serving.  In France, a similar salad also includes thinly sliced white or red onions, added on the plate.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Tomato by Elizabeth Osborne

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Samedi: The Altar at Home

We've talked about the white table, or ancestral altar, before.  Simple to do and rewarding to have, it is something I hope everyone will consider.  But what about altars to the lwa specifically, particularly when a person – like myself – has no connection with a Voudon société?  There is nothing stopping you from setting up an altar, or for that matter several, to the lwa as long as you follow some guidelines.

First, decide what type of altar you want to construct.  A large altar to multiple lwa, such as the one shown above, will require a good deal of space.  Consider a spot where you already practice spiritual pursuits like meditation or root work.  Next, think about what lwa you wish to honor and remember their likes and dislikes including those of each other.  Putting sacred space for Erzulie Freda next to sacred space for her sister Erzulie Danto will only bring unrest to your home.  Their bickering is legendary (to the point where Freda once slashed Danto with a knife); no reason to encourage that kind of energy.  My Danto altar is on the first floor of my home while Freda has her niche upstairs. 

If your altar is for multiple lwa, draping it with a pristine white cloth is advised.  Specific lwa altars should be draped with either a white cloth or one in a color that pleases them; light blue or pink for Erzulie Freda for instance.  The cloths should be washed frequently and kept free of stains.

In Haiti, most altars on constructed on the ground connecting them to the earth.  In your home, adding a pebble or stone from around your home is a good way to make that connection as well.  Candles, either white or colored as with the cloth, should be a prominent feature as well.  Some voudonists keep a glass of water on their altar to represent the waters of Ginen to which we will all return.  If this is appealing to you, be sure to change the water frequently.

From there, your imagination and relationship with the lwa can determine what goes on the altar.  Flowers, pictures of saints, offerings of food or drink and myriad other items will be welcome if they are cleansed first with a little salt water and given with sincerity.  Food and drink offerings should be left only until the lwa have had a chance to absorb their energy; rotten substances are not a pleasant addition to your décor.

A few words of caution are in order before I conclude.  First, keeping your altar scrupulously clean is a must in almost all cases.  Dusting and washing of fabric items should be done regularly.  Statues can be bathed in water to which a pleasing perfume such as Florida Water (popular with all the lwa) has been added.  The only exception is a Ghede altar; the Lords and Lady of the Dead seem to appreciate a little dust and even a cobweb or two.  This plays into one of my pet theories about New Orleans where la beauté d’entropie – the loveliness of decay – is so readily appreciated.  Where Baron Samedi rules, the dilapidation of the grave is a beautiful thing.

Another rule in Haiti is to never put a home altar in your bedroom.  Sometimes this can’t be helped but, if you do, make sure that the lwa’s sight line is screened off from you bed.  You’ll sleep better and so will they.

Treating the lwa like honored guests is probably the best way to do right by them.  In turn, as you spend time with them near their altar(s), they will get to know you and begin to work for you just as you honor them.

Header: Multi-lwa altar from the Tropenmuseum via Wikipedia

Friday, July 15, 2011

Vendredi: King of Spades

The general consensus among root workers who practice divination with playing cards is that the King of Spades represents a very bad man.  Words like ambitious, deceptive, bad luck, egotistical and even dangerous are thrown out like bread to ducks.  The over all impression is a Machiavellian type who is a cross between the modern psycho-pomp images of Lord Valdemort and Glenn Danzig. 

To that I say, first of all, rock!  (Really, that’s far more about the Danzig but anyway…)  In all seriousness, though, I have found that these interpretations tend towards over-reaction.  In some cases, in all fairness, they lean more in the direction of the kind of histrionics that a certain type of cartomancer imagines their clients expect.  That said, an objective view can reveal things yet more sinister than the stereotypes.

Personally, I would temper the notion of evil with the idea of real power.  I have found that, very often, the King of Spades represents a man in charge.  He is a judge, a governor, a business mogul and yeah, in one specific instance of a reading I did for a young lady, a rock star.  Any man with the ability to run their not only their own life but the lives of others falls into this category.  It is easy to see how this person might be perceived as manipulative or even down right evil; they didn’t get where they are by being nice.  

Often this man is a firm disciplinary both publicly and personally.  He is a generous friend, but cross him and you will pay the price.  He is not generally highly moral – although he may appear to be so in the role of a religious leader – and he is not above illegal dealings.  I have no trouble seeing great American anti-heroes like Jean Laffite and John Dillinger in the King of Spades; charming, well dressed and deadly.

Regardless, it’s time to lock up your daughters, or in the case of the ladies your hearts, when this guy shows up.  True love is not in the offing, but the good times will roll.

The King of Spades is one of the few face cards that, even if he is not recognized by the querent, his type is almost certainly indicated somewhere in their future.  Both men and women should take precautions to recognize what he is, and then make their judgments as to relationships or business dealings with eyes wide open.  Forewarned is forearmed.  Vendredi heureux

Header: King of Spades via Back to the Castle

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jeudi: Curios

Many of the tricks in hoodoo follow the magickal pattern of “like makes like”.  In this concept, what something does in the mundane world, it will also do in the realm of magick.  To this end, the old fashioned laundry whitener known as bluing was, and still is, used for purposes of purification and luck drawing.

One hundred of years ago copper sulphate, known colloquially as bluestone, was carried for gambling luck.  Bluestone is highly toxic, however, and doubtless more than a few who were trying to bring themselves good fortune brought just the opposite.  A natural replacement was to turn to laundry bluing (historically spelled “blueing”) which kept white clothing – a favored color in both hoodoo and Voudon – clean without dulling it.  Gamblers began to carry a bluing ball, nine silver dimes and a lump of alum in a green flannel bag as a mojo for luck. 

As time went by, the bluing’s properties of purifying laundry translated to spiritual purity and safety as well.  Bathing in water to which a bluing square, a tablespoon of ammonia and a tablespoon of sugar have been added is said to clear the way for success in both business and personal matters. 

Bluing is also dissolved in water and then set out in saucers around the home or place of business to ward of evil and draw in benevolent spirits.  Some sprinkle their front porch with this mixture each morning to scare off “haints”; the malevolent dead who can bring sickness and tragedy into a home.  As an aside, it is interesting to note that some people paint their entire porch a blue color referred to in the South as “haint blue” in order to affect the same purpose.  Benjamin Moore even has a specific line of haint blues.

Bluing is not as easy to come by as it used to be.  The two types of bluing most commonly used in hoodoo or bluing balls from Mexico and Reckitt’s Crown Blue Squares from France.  Both dissolve in warm water and have the added bonus of being pre-measured.  Botanicas like Lucky Mojo Co. and New Orleans Mistic (see sidebar for both) are good places to find either form of bluing. 

Since I live far from the madding crowd (and, unfortunately, often far from the reasonable shipping cost), I improvise with what’s available at the local market.  In my case it’s Mrs. Stewart’s Concentrated Liquid Bluing (since 1883).  Of course, precautions should always be taken to following manufacturer’s instructions.  That said, properly diluted bluing is safe for adults to bathe in but not to ingest.  As an added bonus, bluing really does do wonders on white textiles.  I find it to be even more effective than bleach, especially for delicates.  Bonne chance ~

Header: The Laundress by Boilly

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The Jezebel Root, a form of iris bulb, is much favored in the more shadowy practices of hoodoo magick.  Virtually ignored by Wiccans, Roma and Druids, the root is a favorite of prostitutes of both sexes who wear it as an amulet to insure a continuous flow of good – and relatively safe – business.

The root is, of course, named for the Biblical figure of Queen Jezebel.  In the Bible, Jezebel’s only crime is her pagan religion but she has come down to us as a nymphomaniac, cannibal witch.  Not at all unusual if history is clinically observed.  The conqueror almost always turns the conquered into abhorrent beasts good only for execution and Jezebel faired no differently than Druid priests, European wise women or African houngans and mambos.

The most famous, and controversial, root work done with the Jezebel Root is known as the Curse of Jezebel.  This jinx is flexible and can harm men or women but it is most powerful when performed by a woman.  Many variations have been added to the original version that smack of popular imagination “black magic” trappings not the least of which are black candles and inverted Crucifixes.  The core root work has no such baggage but it is a powerful working in the right hands and should only be attempted when one is absolutely certain that the target of the jinx is the source of the harm.  Otherwise, as with all workings of vengeance, the full force of the magick could come back to the root worker.

Hold a Jezebel Root in your left hand for two hours, concentrating on the destruction of your enemy for the entire time.  Do not talk, sing, hum or make any other noise during this period of meditation.  Some root workers say that even coughing, sneezing, burping or hiccoughing nullifies the magick.  At the end of the two hour meditation, place the root in a jar full of your own urine and close the lid tightly.  Now take the jar to a river or to the ocean and toss it in with your left hand.  Turn and walk away without looking back.  The jinx will manifest within three days.

Jezebel Root is sometimes confused with Queen Elizabeth Root.  Unscrupulous botanicas may also sell certain pine barks as Jezebel Root.  This is just another example of the fact that knowing your supplier is as important as knowing what to do with your herbs.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Dream of the Hungry Ghost by Colette Calascione

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

My mother was never one to invite me into her kitchen or hand out cooking tips.  In fact, to this day she will not write down a recipe when asked.  Fortunately, her mother was much more forthcoming and always had a good word for me about kitchen management and feeding a family, particularly on a budget.  One of the pieces of cooking wisdom that I remember Gran telling me was that the recipes on Campbell’s soup cans could always be trusted.  For a substantial and inexpensive meal that tasted good, Campbell’s was a go to.  So that’s what I did.  When Mom wouldn’t pass on her enchilada casserole recipe, I turned to a soup can.  And then I tweaked it a bit.  Here is the happy result.

2 cups cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped
1 can Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Chicken soup
¾ cup sour cream
1 ½ cup salsa
2 tbsps chili powder (or 2 tsps if you’re a bit of a gringo)
8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese
8 ounces shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
10, 6 inch flour tortillas

Spray two shallow baking dishes with nonstick cooking spray and preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Mix the soup, sour cream, salsa and chili powder thoroughly in a large bowl; reserve 1 ½ cups of this mixture.

Add chopped chicken to the remaining soup mixture and mix thoroughly.  Place a little more than a serving spoon full of the chicken mixture on a tortilla, sprinkle with a handful of Jack cheese, roll the tortilla up and place it roll side down in the baking dish.  Continue this process with all ten tortillas, filling both baking dishes with five enchiladas each.

Pour reserved soup mixture over enchiladas and then sprinkle on the Cheddar cheese.  Cover both dishes tightly with foil and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. 

This recipe is delicious and makes enough enchiladas for two meals for a family of four.  Good call, Gran.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Supper Time by Dorothy Bartholemy via American Gallery

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dimanche: Swimming

U.S. Navy officer ready to take the plunge circa WWII via

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Samedi: Honoring the Mo

Ancestors, whether well remembered or long forgotten, are an important part of Voudon in daily practice.  When a soul passes, we are told, it retreats to the primordial waters of Ginen where it learns the secrets of life and death that no living human can know.  Once this transformation has occurred, the soul joins the ranks of the mo; the dead.  They can aid their descendants with a variety of issues, sending dreams to lead us on the right path.  They’re not much inclined to help out, however, if we ignore them and forget.

It is common practice in many homes of various religions to keep pictures of our deceased loved ones.  In my father’s Creole culture, for instance, pictures, votive statues, crucifixes and candles are often arranged on a fireplace mantel.  Grouping the pictures and other items together, on a form of altar, is a great way to begin to serve the mo.  Interaction with the ancestors does not have to be elaborate.  If it is sincere, however, the benefits will be enormous.

The mo, whether or not we know them by name, are always thankful for an offering of food and/or drink.  If you knew the person in life, take pains to offer them something they enjoyed.  A favorite offering at my ancestral altar is the occasional martini.  All four of my grandparents and my father were fond of a before dinner martini with an olive; I make sure the glass is chilled and has five olives in it – one for each.

For more ancient ancestors that you know something about, offerings of food or drink from their culture will always be appreciated.  My New Orleans ancestors like Creole chicken, for instance, while my French ancestors enjoy sparkling wine.

Knowing nothing about the ancestor is not by any means prohibitive to making offerings.  An excellent bit of advice in this regard is offered by mambo Sallie Ann Glassman: fresh water and any food made with grains will always be appreciated.

Most of the mo will never join the ranks of the lwa, but that doesn’t mean that their memory should be lost or that their help should not be actively sought.  Next week we will talk about setting up an altar at home and hopefully encourage you – whatever your spiritual path – to reconnect with those who came before you.

Header: Barataria Bayou c 1975; one of my ancestral homes

Friday, July 8, 2011

Vendredi: Queen of Spades

Now here we have a lady.  While the Queen of Hearts may charm, and her Diamond sister generously give even as their cousin in Clubs could pass for genius, the Lady of Spades remains regal, aloof, and unreadable.

In most cases, the Queen of Spades represents an older woman that one could easily call wise.  Often unmarried and more often a widow, she has seen and born much in her time.  Ask her your hardest questions and listen carefully to her answers.  Some cartomancers swear she is a witch, others a saint.  Very frequently she is an accomplished dancer.

If no woman is indicated, this card may represent separation from loved ones, a kind nature and/or – for good or ill – pride.  Your querent may have a quick, and perhaps too sarcastic, wit.  Depending on the cards around the Queen of Spades, indications of the mastery of its use may appear.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Queen of Spades via Cabbages & Kings

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

It's Independence Day here in the States and I thought I’d share one of my favorite Southern treats that I completely forgot to make for this afternoon’s barbeque: Red Velvet Cupcakes.

2 ½ cups sifted flour
1 ½ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tbsps red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp champagne vinegar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin tin with cupcake wrappers. 

Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Add dry ingredients and mix using a spoon or hand mixer.  Be careful not to get this batter on any clothing or towels that you care about; that red food coloring packs a punch!

Spoon batter into cupcake cups, about two thirds full.  I like to use a gravy ladle for this process as it seems to pick up just the right amount of batter.  Bake cupcakes for approximately 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the top comes out clean.  Let cupcakes cool before frosting with this awesome cream cheese frosting:

4 oz cream cheese, softened
4 oz butter, softened
Confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Cream together cream cheese, butter and vanilla until thoroughly combined.  Add powdered sugar by tablespoons until the frosting takes on an appropriate consistency.  Frost those cupcakes and let the kids lick the spoon and the bowl.  Bon appetite ~

Header: The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer c 1657