Friday, September 30, 2011

Vendredi: Ten of Diamonds

Many root workers who read playing cards will tell you that the Ten of Diamonds is the most auspicious card in the deck.  In this interpretation, this is the card that indicates all doors to success and happiness will open for the querent.  Hard times are over; you’ve pulled up on Easy Street.

Personally, though I do feel that today’s card is usually a good omen, this reading is over-simplified.  While the card may indicate the coming of well-deserved wealth (usually after a lot of hard work) it can also indicate joys that have nor direct involvement with sudden wealth.  Often the card points to the querent turning their attention to their family.  This is usually very broad in meaning; they may be sustaining a spouse and children, but they may be taking care of a parent or other relative, adopting a child or delving into their family’s genealogy.  Whatever the endeavor, the Ten of Diamonds is an indication of probable success. 

The darker side of this card, if such there is, usually has to do with family inheritance.  The querent may be involved in a dispute over a will or property left without specific instructions.  This can mean a private home or homes but it also may indicate business property or the business itself.  As always, a quick check of the cards close to this one in the spread, and then a specific conversation with your querent will usually lead you to the right interpretation.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: The Ten of Diamonds and the Five of Spades from the “Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Deck”; still available today, this fun if curiously inaccurate deck was my favorite as a child

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jeudi: Curios

We have spoken previously about lodestones.  These magnetic stones are thought to draw love, luck and prosperity to those who know how to manipulate them.  Their companion curio, which can also be used in certain kinds of root work, is known as magnetic sand.

Sometimes called lodestone hairs or anvil dust, these small iron shavings stick to lodestones.  They are used to “feed” the stones in certain tricks and to mix with other ingredients in others.  Their primary purview is luck in love or money.

Lodestone Oil is easily made by adding small shavings from a lodestone to a vile of olive oil.  This can be used to dress money to make sure you never run out or to anoint one’s hands before going out for a night of gambling.  It is also used to dress mojos for prosperity and luck.

An allegedly powerful mojo for finding treasure calls for filling a black flannel bag with five-finger grass, comfrey root and a little lodestone.  The bag should be dressed with Lodestone Oil and the lodestone should be fed with magnetic sand regularly.  This will ensure that you will find money – physically, not figuratively – when you travel.  I prefer the simpler version of this hand which eliminates the Lodestone Oil and the magnetic sand all together.  In this case the bag should be dressed regularly with Commanding Oil and carried whenever you travel, ensuring that you will never be lost or injured away from home.

Magnetic sand can be used as a throw to draw love to you.  While concentrating on attracting a certain someone’s romantic attention, throw a handful of magnetic sand on the ground where you know they will step frequently.  When their shoes pick up the little iron shavings, they will become attracted to you.

A very broad trick for attaining just about anything you desire calls for Lodestone Oil, brown paper and pen, a photo or drawing, an old plate, a lodestone and magnetic sand.  Write your desire on brown paper and sign it with your name.  Now take a picture, drawing or other representation of your desire and anoint the four corners with Lodestone Oil.  Do the same with the paper, all the while focusing on your ultimate goal.  Place the paper and then the picture on a plate and place a lodestone on top of them.  Now take the time to speak to the lodestone.  Tell it your dearest desire and end with as I give to you, so will you give to me, as you sprinkle a pinch of magnetic sand on the lodestone.  For your desire to manifest, you must be true to your word.  Speak to the lodestone each day and feed it a generous pinch of magnetic sand.  For the trick to work, you must keep it completely to yourself.  While the work is in progress, no one must find your supplies or catch you at this endeavor.  When your dream is made manifest, thank the lodestone and bury all the supplies in tact – plate, paper, picture, lodestone and magnetic sand – in your yard.  Though it sounds simple, this working requires commitment.  If you miss a day, begin to doubt your potential success or become insincere in your process, you will have to start from scratch once again.  Bonne chance ~

Header:  Strega by Pia Valentinis via Old Paint

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Those beautiful plants known as peonies whose flowers are only rivaled by chrysanthemums and vintage roses as perhaps the most frau-frau in the garden, are also popular among those who practice root work and spellcraft.  In both hoodoo and Wicca, the herbaceous varieties are used for protection, healing and luck.

Peony roots, dried and carved into beads known in Appalachia and the Ozarks as “piney beads” are strung on red thread and made into necklaces.  These are worn by children to guard them against the mischief of the fey.  This tradition of keeping children safe from fairies, and later minor imps of Satan, may have come from Celtic tradition where children were believed to occasionally be stolen by fairies and replaced with an otherworldly double.  Since many of the people who settled in the mountains were of Scottish, Irish or Scots-Irish heritage, this would certainly follow.      

Scott Cunningham recommends keeping a potted peony in the home to keep evil spirits at bay and turn the evil eye away.  He also advises that peonies planted in the garden will not only ward off evil but keep destructive storms at bay.  Wiccans use peony root in potions for exorcism and say carrying it as a pocket piece will dispel madness.  Cunningham also says that whole peony root can be used as a substitute for mandrake.

In hoodoo, peony root is added to mojo bags for luck.  One recipe calls for carrying a peony root, a Solomon Seal root and three Job’s tears in a red flannel bag.  This should be dressed and fed with Florida Water for general luck, Success Oil for financial success or John the Conqueror Oil for personal power. 

If someone you care for is ill, write their full name on a piece of brown paper and wrap it around a single peony root, a small cross (not a crucifix) and a lock of the afflicted person’s hair.  Place this in a blue mojo bag and dress it with holy water, Blessing Oil or Protection Oil.  Give the completed mojo to your loved one to carry close to their skin. 

Peonies are generally not available from herbalists but can be easily found where ever plants and garden supplies are sold.  Peonies grow in USDA zones 2 through 9; the coldest temperature this plant will tolerate is 55 degrees below zero but if you live in a cold climate, like I do, you’ll need to grow herbaceous peonies rather than peony trees.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Girl Arranging Peonies by F. Bazille c 1870

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

In the era known in England as the Georgian and in the U.S. as the Federal, special occasions called for special foods.  Dessert, a course that – hard though it may be to believe – was even more important in the late 18th and early 19th century than it is today, was surely no exception.  One of the most frequent offerings of any self-respecting hostess would be the small and beautiful confections known as rout-cakes.  These were especially coveted by ladies who enjoyed them after the theater or while gambling late into the night.

In Lobscouse & Spotted Dog, Anne Grossman and Lisa Thomas give an authentic and delicious recipe for rout-cakes.  They are a bit labor intensive, but these little trifles are certain to impress your guests or the customers at the next bake sale.

2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter
6 eggs
1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp almond extract
3 cups flour
Icing and colored sugar to garnish

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Separate two of the eggs and reserve the whites.  Cream butter and sugar together and then add the four whole eggs and two yolks, lemon zest and almond extract.  Cream these together thoroughly and then incorporate the flour one cup at a time.  

Scrape batter into a greased 10 inch baking dish (batter should be about 1 inch deep).  Bake for 30 minutes.  Note that lining the dish with greased parchment paper will make removing the cake a snap.

Let the cake cool a bit before turning it out on a rack to cool completely.  Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200 degrees.

Spread your icing evenly over the top of the cake.  Cut the cake into small shapes; Grossman and Thomas suggest squares, diamonds or triangles.  Brush the sides of each piece with the reserved egg white and press them lightly into the colored sugar.  Place the cakes on a cookie sheet and dry them in the oven for about 10 minutes.

This recipe makes about four dozen 1 ½ inch cakes.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Engraving of an American family at dinner, early 1800s

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Samedi: Ghostly Tales

Many of the ghostly tales of old New Orleans feature the secreting away or burying of treasure.  Perhaps it is the idea of sudden and uncomplicated wealth that appeals, or the idea that pirates once walked the streets and alleys of the Vieux Carre.  Most likely, it is just the imaginings of those who would like very much to find a cache in their own backyard.  What ever the reason, today’s story taps into that time honored tradition.

The gossip on Saratoga Street says that after the Civil War a rich but stingy old bachelor lived there.  Though he made money hand over fist he lived on the edge of cruel poverty, taking his joy from the closeness of his wealth which he kept in the form of gold coins and called his “children”.  Before this man died he buried his “children” in his backyard but he never told anyone exactly where.  He went to his grave, conveniently located in the cemetery across from his house, and his secret when with him.

Now it is said that the old miser returns on dark moon nights and runs about his former yard in spectral form, anxious to retrieve his gold.  While watching the decrepit haint dig with his bony hands in the cold dirt is spine tingling enough, more terror may pop up on any given inky night.  Sometimes the miser brings other phantasms with him.  The most frightening is an ancient hag with white hair, long nails and decomposing flesh that drags along on the ground behind her.  When she looks up from her digging it is said that she has no face but a pair of glowing, red eyes.  The miser calls out to his “children” as his unfortunate companions dig, and the moaning of these pathetic creatures keeps the neighborhood awake.

Some people stand and watch this spectacle, hoping to see where the old man buried his hoard of gold.  Though someone will periodically dig up the backyard, no buried treasure has yet been found.  It is probably safe to say that it never will, and yet the specter of the miser and his ghostly companions – especially the horrifying hag – will doubtless continue to return.

Header: New Orleans Street by Louis Oscar Griffith via American Gallery

Friday, September 23, 2011

Vendredi: Nine of Diamonds

Today's is a card of opportunity.  Generally speaking, the Nine of Diamonds is pointing the way to good fortune well deserved.  The querent should make sure to take advantage of what comes their way regardless of initial hesitation.  If what ever opportunity is indicated appears safe and is legal, they should dive in with both feet.  The only caution would be to keep their eyes open; prudence is wise regardless of the situation.

This card can also indicate an inheritance, but this is in very rare cases.  Many other cards from the Suit of Diamonds nearby or a face card that the querent recognizes as a recently deceased friend or relative may point to this possibility.

If the fruits of labor are not indicated, the querent may be an avid – and usually very talented – gardener, decorator or home handy person.  This card may indicate a coming opportunity to get paid for what they love to do.  Perhaps the thought of starting a small business in their favorite field has already occurred to them.  The appearance of the Nine of Diamonds says that now is a good time to take the leap and start putting out feelers, at the very least.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header:  The Fortune Teller by Valentin de Boulogne

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jeudi: Root Work

I'm not quite sure why but, as Tuesday’s post seems to hint, I’ve become fascinated by lore surrounding brooms lately.  It may have to do with the fact that I am currently rereading Anne Llewellyn Barstow’s chillingly well written Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts, which I cannot recommend enough.  On the other hand, it may just be the time of year.  Along with all that, I’m gearing up for the time of entertaining and parties, which will descend upon us in October and not let up until January.  This thought also brought brooms to mind, which may not be as surprising as it sounds.

I’ve mentioned before that my maternal grandmother had friends in the Roma community.  Roma are sometimes referred to as Gypsies and they have a long tradition of being excellent at spell craft.  Just like hoodoo root workers, Gypsies take a serious “keep it simple” approach to influencing their surroundings.  Both communities tended to be marginalized if not down right impoverished so they had to work with what they had on hand.  This held true for a situation familiar to anyone who has ever invited people into their home: unwanted guests.

According to Gran, the Roma she knew had an easy and effective way to get rid of guests who overstayed their welcome.  The hostess would simply excuse herself for a moment, take her household broom and sweep the front step while saying three times: From my home I bid (name of guest) will go, stay no more and may his/her/their return be slow.  The broom was then to be stood on its handle next to the front door.  The smart worker would not exit their home with their guest(s) or they might also be compelled to leave and not return for a while.  The broom could be taken in as soon as the guest was gone, or left at the door overnight to ensure a long while between return visits.

Hoodoo has similar but stronger remedies for unwanted visitors.  If you wish to keep a guest from ever returning to your home, throw a mixture of salt, black pepper and red pepper or black salt made by mixing salt and soot from your fireplace after them when the leave.  Sweep this throw all the way to the curb in the direction of your guest’s retreat and say as you do: (Name of guest), go away and never return to my home.   

A hoodoo trick to keep people out of your house, whether you know them or not, is to simply lay brooms across the doors leading into your home.  The belief is that anyone who steps over the broom without your invitation will be immediately stricken with such bad luck that they will injure themselves or wander in a daze right back out of the house.

Regardless of where or how we live, it is a virtual instinct in humans to want to protect our home and the people we love.  To that important end, it’s nice to have a few tricks up your sleeve; or in this case, in your pantry.  Bonne chance ~

Header:  Family Sitting on the Back Porch by Rico Tomaso via American Gallery

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

As deciduous trees in the far north go, the birch tree reigns supreme.  While aspens are much touted (and imminently fashionable) at ski resorts in less elevated longitudes, we here in truly cold climates prefer our birch.

It probably goes without saying that birch is not much considered in hoodoo.  Having grown up in tropical and subtropical climates, the discipline probably had no knowledge of birch originally.  Wicca and Druidism both make use of birch, however.  Surprisingly to me, I can find no mention of its use in American Pow-wow practice.

In high northern areas of Europe and Asia, birch was used for numerous pursuits, both mundane and magickal.  The abundant leaves, which are usually resistant to local bugs and infections, were raked up as they fell in the fall and used as insulation in animal and human bedding. 

Birch twigs were particularly popular bound together as brooms for keeping homes clean.  The autumn ritual of gathering dead twigs, stripping and binding them to broom handles and trying them out on front stoops may have been one of the origins for the notion that witches flew to esbats on brooms.  While Scott Cunningham points out that Wiccans continue to be fond of birch brooms, there is scant documentation of their use by witches prior to the European witch craze.

Birch twigs were used since ancient times to exorcise people afflicted by spirits.  A moderate to severe beating with a birch switch was considered a sure cure for possession by Celtic Druids.  A birch switch was also a tool for punishing children and it is hard not to make a comparison.  Were parents hoping to “beat the devil” out of a naughty child aside from simply teaching them a lesson?

Birch trees are thought to bring good luck when planted in one’s yard in Russia, Alaska and northern Canada.  In Russia, red ribbons are tied around the trunks of birch trees to ward off the evil eye.  An added bonus is that birch trees are thought to attract lightening, keeping it away from home and barn.  Bon chance ~

Header: 16th century engraving of witches on brooms by Gillot de Givry

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day and to celebrate, I’m offering a bit of cross-pollination with Triple P.

This post I did over there back in March offers a recipe for the delightful Creole favorite known as turtle soup.  This is Leon E. Soniat Jr.’s recipe from his encyclopedic cookbook La Bouche Creole, and it comes with a little superstition from old New Orleans as well.

Did turtle soup as we know it today descend from our seafaring ancestors’ love for sea turtle?  It would be hard to say for sure, but on ITLAP Day you want to believe it did.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Rue Bourbon in New Orleans; another Laffite legend that never really was

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Samedi: Ghostly Tales

I hope everyone is ready for another haunted tale because I’ve been eager to tell this one all week.

The story is set in a charming townhouse on Rue Royal which was built during the Spanish era.  It was the “in town” home of a wealthy Creole family in the first decade of the 19th century and the handsome young man who inherited with the death of his father was the most eligible bachelor in New Orleans.

He remained a bachelor, rumor had it, because of the dazzling beauty and undeniable charm of his quadroon mistress whose name I have heard given alternatively as either Colette or Guimauve (which rather amusingly means “marshmallow” in French).  Guimauve was vain and haughty, but the young heir was cruel and enjoyed playing with her emotions by coming home periodically with the announcement that he had at last found the perfect Creole bride.

Finally Guimauve put her foot down and demanded that her man put up or shut up.  She was very light skinned and could easily pass for white, she reminded him.  Therefore she would no longer consort with him until he agreed to rip her name from the “colored” baptismal book at St. Louis Cathedral, marry her and call her his Creole bride.

The young man thought for a while.  Marriage between white and black persons was not just forbidden but illegal.  If Guimauve’s scheme was found out they would both suffer dire consequences.  He pondered his mistress’ demands while growing more and more frustrated – on more than one front – by the day.  Finally he thought of his own solution and approached Guimauve with a deal.

This was not long after the dramatic volcanic eruption at Krakataua.  Though no one in most of the world knew exactly why, volcanic ash caused a dramatic cooling of the climate that made even tropical areas decidedly less comfortable, particularly in winter.  The young man used the unusual cold to his advantage and told his mistress that if she would but spend a night on his townhouse’s rooftop completely nude, he would meet all her demands.

It was December, with three candles already lit on the Advent wreath, and temperatures dropping so low that snow had sprinkled New Orleans a week before.     Guimauve, both determined and proud, did not stop to consider these facts when she took her lover’s challenge.  The following night she ascended four flights of wrought iron stairs, set up a chair and a lamp on the roof and dropped her gown and small clothes to the floor. 

She sat completely naked in the chair for hours, her teeth chattering and her long fingers gripping her arms.  The bitter cold grew worse and worse.  Guimauve’s lantern was blown out by the wind.  Her hands and feet and lips turned blue and finally, as dawn just nudged the east, beautiful, haughty Guimauve breathed her last.

Her lover had triumphed.  Whether or not he felt remorse is never mentioned in the story but only days after Guimauve went to the grave he married a fourteen year old Creole girl who would give him a nursery full of children. 

All that success not withstanding, Guimauve with typical determination returned.  Her baleful but beautiful ghost in all its naked splendor walked the roof of the family’s townhouse each year from the first day of Advent to the last.  It was said that when a member of the family saw her, they caught a chill and died.  Perhaps Guimauve had her revenge after all.

Although the family no longer owns the house on Rue Royal, the beautiful quadroon is seen to this day.  She walks the rooftop naked, lit by a single lantern and as frightening as she is seductive.  The story goes that you can see her bones right through her charming flesh.  Bon Samedi ~

Header: Gailestis by Aubrey Beardsley c 1895 via Old Paint

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vendredi: Eight of Diamonds

Today's card usually signifies the beginning of a profitable undertaking.  Depending on the cards around it and the querent, however, that can mean just about anything.  Everyone’s idea of “success” is different and both communicating with the person you’re reading for and looking at the other cards in the spread will help you determine what is going on.

If there are two or more Clubs near the Eight of Diamonds, the indication is that the querent should be prepared to make a large change in order to succeed.  Whether they are considering going back to school, changing careers or making a move to a new city, now is the time to jump in with both feet. 

Are Hearts the predominant cards nearby?  The querent has become lucky in love.  It is time for them to take a leap of faith: get involved in a relationship, propose, accept a proposal, move in with their partner etc.  This relationship will strengthen and bolster the querent, quite possibly for the rest of their life.

When other cards from the Suit of Diamonds are present, the querent is a virtual Midas at this time.  Provided what they are up to is legal, encourage them to take that new job or start that much considered business.  Success will follow.

The only exception to the rule with the Eight of Diamonds is a preponderance of Spades around it.  This is the only case where the querent should proceed with caution.  As so often happens, I’ve found that usually this is a situation where the querent is also most eager to begin their new endeavor.  A word to the wise is important here; success will come but not without strife and the possible loss of a friend or, in the worst of scenarios, a falling out with family.  Vendredi heureux ~   

Header: Cards from a fortune telling deck, British c second half of the 18th century

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mercredi: Weather-Wise

Watching, predicting and even changing the weather has been the domain of local wise people and old wives for centuries.  Keeping track of what was going on with weather signs as they related to individual seasons and months was often the purview of the same village expert who people went to see for love potions, cures for illness and help in childbearing.  Nine times out of ten, that person was a woman.

I’ve been researching the old weather chestnuts from around the world for a while now.  My interest began some time ago with sailing rhymes like “Red sky at night, sailor delight” and has only grown from there.  With this in mind, I’d like to add an old wives’ tale or two about each month’s weather here at HQ.  For me, this is simply an avenue to share what I’m learning.  If nothing else, it will be amusing.

In ancient Europe it was August, not September, which kicked off the harvest.  These days, however, our calendars say fall begins at the Equinox and not at the old Lammas festival celebrated on August 1.  Much of the older weather wisdom, then, tends to focus on harvesting in August and things like preserving and butchering in September and October.  For instance, only when the first frost is seen should any pig be butchered.

Early September signs often focus on how wet or dry the rest of the harvest season will be.  One of my favorites advises paying close attention to the leaves on local deciduous trees.   Stillness among the changing leaves portends only light rains and potential late heat.  Leaves rustling often throughout the day – especially if they fall in large batches and land with their undersides up – is a sure sign that persistent rain will be bothersome and continue until the first snows.

Based on this, and despite the brilliant sunshine streaming into my window, it looks like we’re in for some soggy weather where I live.   

Header: Falling Autumn Leaves by Vincent Van Gogh c 1888

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Deer's tongue, which is sometimes spelled “deerstongue” and also referred to as hound’s tongue or wild vanilla, has large, slightly fuzzy leaves that do resemble an animal’s tongue.  While it is not surprising that root workers employ it in “like-makes-like” workings to improved people’s communication skills, it is a little strange that no other magickal discipline seems to do so.

In Wicca the leaves are used specifically to attract men as lovers.  For this purpose they are dried and then sprinkled where the love object will sit or on a bed.  Scott Cunningham also notes that deer’s tongue can aid in improving psychic powers when worn.

In hoodoo, deer’s tongue is said to bring the gift of eloquent speech when carried.  This is thought to be especially true in court and the herb is favored by defendants, witnesses and lawyers alike.  Deer’s tongue is an ingredient in the hoodoo mojo dressing known as Court Case Oil.

Bathing in a tincture of deer’s tongue, basil, rose petals and lavender is thought to increase one’s affection for the people they live with, particularly family.  If everyone in the household does so, harmony will come to the home.  Please note that deer’s tongue should not be ingested so even a weak tincture is only for external use.

Mojo bags containing deer’s tongue are sometimes put together for young men heading out to propose marriage.  Wrapping three leaves with red silk thread and carrying them in a red flannel mojo bag to which a lock of his girl’s hair is added will give the young man a silver tongue.  The lady will not be able to say no.  Bonne chance ~

Header: The Black Brunswicker by John Everett Millais c 1860

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

The corn dish known as Maque Choux is a standard in Louisiana.  The name of the dish is alternatively said to be Creole or Cajun and does not readily translate to English.  Choux is an old-fashioned spelling of the French endearment chou which literally means cabbage but implies the affectionate use of the word darling.  The main ingredients, corn, bell pepper and onions, seem to magically transform in to something even more delicious than usual when combined.  It’s an easy side dish that is perfect any time of the year since frozen or canned corn can be substituted for fresh.

6 to 8 ears of corn or equivalent frozen or canned corn
2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup water
1 tsp sugar (if using fresh corn) or 1 tsp cornstarch (if using canned or frozen corn)
Salt and pepper to taste

Clean fresh corn or thaw or drain frozen or canned corn.  Set aside.

Add oil to a skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, bell pepper and garlic and sauté until soft.  Add corn, water, sugar/cornstarch, salt and pepper.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about twenty minutes or until the mixture has thickened, stirring frequently.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed and serve.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Still Life by Charles Legon

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Samedi: Ghostly Tales


As the weather cools down, the leaves begin to fall and the smell of fireplace smoke drifts on the evening air, my thoughts turn to my favorite holiday: Halloween.  That, in turn, gets me thinking about ghost stories; remembering the ones I’m fond of and hunting around for new ones.  I especially enjoy the many ghostly tales that originate in my favorite city in the world: New Orleans.

Recently I’ve gone back to the chapter entitled simply “Ghosts” in perhaps the most wonderful product of the 1930s WPA Louisiana Writers Project Gumbo Ya-Ya.  Louisiana slang for a group of people making noise or “everyone talking at once” Gumbo Ya-Ya was edited by Lyle Saxon, Robert Tallant and Edward Dreyer.   I’m a huge admirer of Lyle Saxon whose wonderful books about New Orleans past and present are a treat to savor again and again, so seeing his hand in these old, familiar ghost stories is particularly dear to me.  

From now until the end of October, I’d like to honor both The Ghede and Mr. Saxon by repeating some ghost stories found in Gumbo Ya-Ya every Saturday here at HQ.  I’ll tell you the ones I remember so I can put the spin I heard on them rather than just regurgitate what’s in the book.  Today let us investigate the story of Hans Muller, the ghostly sausage maker.  This story was evidently remembered by a lady named Rica Hoffman, whose parents were friendly with the doomed Muller but it is also one told to this day in the Big Easy.

Hans Muller ran a popular sausage factory in New Orleans.  He and his wife were German immigrants and it seems that once they settled down in bayou country Hans began to look upon his wife – whose name is never mentioned in the story – as a dowdy if hard working frau when compared to the local beauties.  Emboldened by success, Hans took a lovely young mistress and got it in his mind to do away with Mrs. Muller.

One day, while she was working over the enormous grinder in the factory, Hans pushed his wife into the machine.  She was ground up along with the sausage meat and her husband thought he was free to marry his paramour.

A few days later, customers began returning sausage they had purchased complaining of bits of cloth and hair in the product.  Gossip flew around NOLA, as it always will; soon Hans was out most of his trade.  Worse still, his young lovely got wind of the rumors and dumped him without remorse.  Hans was in despair, and neighbors said they saw him wandering his factory at all hours.

On one of these midnight jaunts Hans heard a loud thumping near the grinder.  Hurrying over to investigate, he was met by the gruesome and mutilated specter of his wife.  She lunged at him and he screamed so shrilly that one of the neighbors came to the door of the factory to see if he was all right.

Hans thought fast and claimed to have fallen asleep in his office and experienced a bad dream.  When the neighbor enquired after Mrs. Muller, Hans claimed she had gone back to Germany for an extended visit. 

Not long after that night, one of Muller’s few customers broke a tooth on a sausage.  Finding that the culprit was a piece of gold ring in the casing, the customer called the authorities.  When the police arrived at his factory, they found Hans unshaved and unwashed, curled up in a corner and starring wide-eyed at the meat grinder.  Questioned, the sausage maker could not reply coherently but only rave about the gory ghost of his wife rising from the grinder and trying to kill him.

Since Muller would say no more on any subject, he was finally committed to an asylum where he lived out the rest of his days.

Next week, the story of a beautiful quadroon, her cruel lover and a cold December night.  Bon Samedi ~

Header: Rue Bourbon c 1933 via Retro-Snapshots

Friday, September 9, 2011

Vendredi: Seven of Diamonds

With this card, the general gist is that the querent, for whatever reason, has stepped back from what is beginning to look like a potentially successful endeavor.  It may be that they are simply taking a break or they may actually be reconsidering the entire thing.  Either way, this card is an obvious nudge.  The querent’s endeavor will pay off and they need to persevere in order to achieve that success.

Looking at the cards around the Seven of Diamonds is important when it shows up in a reading, but even more helpful is to find out where the querent’s anxiety about their project originates.  Are they awaiting word from a client or approval of a loan?  Have they simply hit a psychological roadblock?  Or is they’re concern that they may actually find success which can at times be more frightening than failure.  Many of us have unfortunately programmed, sometimes from childhood, to believe that we do not deserve success and I have found that this is the all too frequent reason for the Seven of Diamonds rearing its head.

Whatever the case, it is time for you as the reader to become the coach.  Particularly if other cards in the spread are encouraging, help your querent to see that success is not the enemy and it may very well be within their reach.  There’s no promise that the journey will be easy, but it will be worth it.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: The Card Players by Adriaen Brouwer

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Jeudi: The Art of Beauty

I was browsing the catalogue of a fairly prominent New York based spa the other day and just about fell out of my seat when I began to take note of their products’ prices.  Many of the items they have are doubtless perfectly capable of doing what they claim, but they could also very easily – and very inexpensively – be made at home.  Yes, it’s a little more work than clicking a mouse or picking up the phone and the jar you keep it in won’t be made in France or Ireland but seriously, how important is that?  Especially in these dizzyingly uncertain economic times. 

One example that struck me in particular was a lip polish.  Referred to in the catalogue as a sugar lip scrub, the product claims to contain “… natural oils, butters and vitamins” as well as “granulated sugar”.  No mention of the specific ingredients (aside from sugar) is forthcoming.  This sounds suspiciously like my favorite remedy for the flaky, chapped lips that can trouble one any time of the year: honey and baker’s sugar.  Here’s what you’ll need for one treatment:

1 tsp honey (try to buy local if possible; if not, the stuff in the plastic bear works perfectly well)
¼ tsp baker’s (finely granulated) sugar

Thoroughly mix the two ingredients on a nonstick surface such as ceramic, glass or plastic; I usually use a square of plastic wrap.  Apply, concentrating on the area where your lips meet your skin, and rub gently with your finger to exfoliate.  You can wipe the mixture off immediately with a tissue or leave it on for a few minutes to increase the benefits.  The sugar gently removes dead tissue while the honey, which is antibacterial and emollient, encourages healthy, soft lips.  Added bonus: dabbing a little honey on a cold sore a few times a day helps it heal faster.

Be sure to apply your favorite lip balm after cleansing your lips.

Total cost of this treatment: about $1.00 U.S. for twenty treatments.  Cost for .5 ounces of the spa’s lip polish: $18.00.  Will they achieve the same results?  I’m not about to spend that kind of money to find out.  A votre santé ~

Header: Mary Nolan via The Flapper Girl

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Cardamom is one of those “Oriental” spices that was so coveted by Europeans in times past.  It thrives in tropical regions and is probably most associated in popular Western consciousness with India.  The tasty little seeds have found their way into hoodoo, Wicca and other magickal disciplines since being brought west and they are almost always used to attract love.

Cardamom has been chewed as a breath freshener for centuries, which may or may not have led to its association with amorous contacts.  One old hoodoo trick is no more complicated than chewing a few cardamom seeds before heading out for a night on the town in order to draw attention from potential lovers.  Cardamom seeds are also sprinkled under marriage beds to spice up lovemaking.  Powerful lust drawing mojos are made with flower petals from roses, passion flowers and cardamom seeds.  For extra zing, a woman might add catnip to attract men; a man could include High John the Conqueror to attract women.

In Wicca, cardamom is used similarly.  Added to sweet foods like carrot cake or apple pie, it works to “sweeten” a potential lover’s attitude toward the witch cum baker.  Just remember to work with intention, and to make sure that the creepy guy at the office doesn’t accidently get some of your pâtisserie de l'amour.  Bon chance ~

Header: The Kiss by Francesco Hayez c 1859

Monday, September 5, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

Sometimes simple is best and on a holiday morning – whether it’s a hectic holiday like Christmas or a laid back day like today – a simple, filling and delicious breakfast is absolutely essential.  Just a little planning ahead will make this delightful and traditional French breakfast staple, known as a tartine, a favorite at your house.

Good bread is the key to this recipe and so, a bit of insight first.  French culture is very much against home baking.  We like out breads made by professionals with professional ovens.  While homemade breads and cakes are a treat in many modern cultures, including here in the U.S., we Frenchies cling to our corner bakeries.  May they never leave us.  Thankfully many bakeries now have take-and-bake options which means fresh-from-the-oven bread is possible even on a holiday.  I like a long baguette for this recipe and the excellent bakery at my Fred Meyer’s sells them not only fresh from their oven but ready to bake at home.

All that said, here’s all you’ll need for an excellent French tartine:

1 long baguette
Unsalted butter
Jam, jelly, honey or peanut butter

Cut the baguette into eight inch sections and open these lengthwise.  If the bread has not been freshly baked, toast it under your broiler or in a toaster oven for a minute or two.

Slather with butter and jam or honey (or both!).  Young children often prefer jelly.  Peanut butter brings an American twist to the party.

Dip your tartine in warm milk, hot chocolate or coffee and enjoy a little time around the breakfast table with the people you love.  Happy Labor Day and bon appetite ~

Header: Basket of Bread by Salvador Dali c 1926

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Samedi: Charm Lamp

Magickal lamps are popular items in Haitian Voudon.  Though we generally think of the jinn of the ancient Near East when we think of such a thing, lamps are often encountered burning in businesses and private homes in Haiti.  Usually constructed of a halved and scraped out coconut shell, the lamps are filled with olive oil in which a wick is suspended via a playing card or shards of bone.  Lamps are not items that people make for themselves.  These are constructed by mambos and houngans with a specific lwa’s favor in mind.

One example of this type of Voudon magick is the charm lamp.  This is constructed under the auspices of the great Rada lwa Erzulie Freda Dahomey.  It is intended to draw a lover or a business partner to the person for whom it is constructed and the Lady of love and luxury will expect something pretty for her trouble.

To construct a charm lamp, the priest or priestess puts a piece of lamb or sheep brain into a coconut shell.  This first ingredient follows the rule of like makes like as the animal’s brain is a stand in for the thoughts or will of the person to be influenced.  Other ingredients may include a magnet or lodestone (to draw the person in), a sweetener such as cane syrup or honey (to sweeten their thoughts toward the owner of the lamp) and Florida Water (a cologne favored by Erzulie Freda).  Once these ingredients are in the coconut shell they will be covered with olive oil.  A wick is then threaded through a hole in the center of a Queen of Hearts card and this is floated on the olive oil

The lamp is kept burning day and night, usually on a home altar, and more olive oil is added daily.  This ritual will continue until the favor sought has been made manifest.  At that time the lamp will be extinguished and disposed of (it is usually buried in the ground) and an offering will be made to the lwa who looked over the lamp.  In the case of a charm lamp, a nice piece of jewelry or some French perfume would doubtless be appropriate.

Header: Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (an image frequently used to represent Erzulie Freda)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Vendredi: Six of Diamonds

The six of our current suit is often called the artist’s card.  It tends to turn up in spreads laid out for those who make their living – or aspire to make their living – creatively.  Of course, I’m using “artist” in the broadest possible terms.  The querent may be a visual artist, a crafter, a musician, a writer, a director, a model; the list goes on and on. 

Many times you will find that this person has come to gain insight in a hectic and over-wrought time in their life.  They have so many projects on the stove – perhaps for the first time in their career – that they have no idea where to begin or end.  Both you as the reader and the Six of Diamonds are here to reassure them that all this newfound mess and stress is a very good thing indeed.

The best advice for anyone with this card in front of them is to prioritize, stay on track and don’t panic or give up.  They will meet all the demands currently made on them if they focus, delegate (sometimes a near impossibility for people with a creative temperament) and take one step at a time.  This will help in the future as the Six of Diamonds happily indicates that much more work – and many more satisfied customers – is coming the querent’s way.

If on the off chance that the person in front of you swears to have not a single crystal of talent under their skin, probe a little bit to find out what sparks their passion.  You will probably find that the area of their life where they are most “dialed in” is changing for the better whether it is work, family, volunteering or what have you.  And with that, Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Cards from a deck for children from the late 19th century, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jeudi: Great Spirits

In Chinese tradition the 7th month of the year, which begins mid-August, is known as Ghost Month.  Within the context of this remembrance of beloved and largely benevolent ancestral spirits is a darker celebration known as the Festival of Hungry Ghosts.  Hungry ghosts are the kind that are generally unspoken of and avoided at all costs but, during Ghost Month, they must be welcomed, entertained and remembered.  Otherwise unthinkable consequences will ensue.

In the Buddhist and Taoist traditions of China and certain other countries such as Malaysia, the gates of hell – usually closed to the hungry ghosts – are believed to open during the 7th month.  The hungry ghosts are allowed to roam the earth seeking not only food but also amusement in the form of theatrical productions and music.  At this time, children are warned to be home before dark so that the ghosts will not mistake them for the food they crave.  Swimming is generally avoided; the hungry ghosts are often thought to cause drowning.  People try not to drive at night, and the word “ghost” – which is usually appropriate in regular conversation – is not uttered.  The terms “good brother” or “backdoor god” are used to avoid angering the spirits.

Hungry ghosts are believed to be the souls of people whose descendants no longer do them honor through offerings and remembrance.  To feed their ravenous need for not only food but earthly possessions as well, people burn joss papers in various forms.  Sometimes the papers look like cars or houses.  Other times they are replicas of money.  This so called “hell money” is said to be the currency of the netherworld.  Offering it to the hungry ghosts makes it possible for them to live in relative comfort and thus leave the living alone.

Altars of food and incense will also be set up, sometimes in the streets.  Local businesses will close to facilitate the hungry ghosts’ acceptance of these offerings.  Stage shows with live or recorded music will also be mounted with the first few rows of seats reserved for the phantom visitors.  Sitting in these seats will bring horrible luck or, at worst, possession by one of the “good brothers”.

Hungry ghosts are pictured as painfully thin people with huge, distended bellies, ribs showing, gray skin and disheveled or missing hair much like someone suffering from prolonged malnutrition.  Their necks are often imagined as pencil thin and very long, making it impossible for them to swallow what food they can find.   Tales are told of hungry ghosts failing to find their way back to hell and scavenging through garbage dumps at the edges of human towns.  They are invisible in daylight, but take form in the darkness.

In some places, the end of the Festival of Hungry Ghosts is marked by the lighting of lanterns which are then set afloat on outbound streams and rivers.  These are to light the ghosts’ way back to hell.  It is said that when the lanterns’ lights go out, the ghosts have gone home.  Hopefully, that means all of them.

Header: Japanese scroll depicting the realm of the hungry ghosts at left and how to make offerings to them at right via Wikipedia