Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Giving

It happens to be that time of year again.  The one where pretty much all of us, regardless of background, creed or faith, start to think about the giving of gifts.  The problem is that we in the Western world are bombarded by the media blitz of “only the biggest is best”.  If you don’t buy her a diamond, you don’t love her.  Only the largest, most plugged in, most HD-iest TV will do for him.  And as for the kids? iPod, XboX, new phone, laptop…  what is your problem Mom and Dad?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no.  You have to put a stop to it at some point and yet – despite the withering of our economy here in the U.S. and elsewhere – we still insist on buying, buying, buying.

But that’s not the point of this post.  Everyone needs to do what’s best for them.  I maintain, however, that something handmade tucked into a stocking or waiting on a breakfast plate is one of the kindest things anyone can do for someone they love.  So I’ll kick off the season with a dream mojo.  Easy to make, easy to use, and full of sweet dreams.  Here’s what you’ll need for four bundles:

5 tbsp dried lavender
25 whole cloves
5 tbsp dried rosemary
1 amethyst bead for each mojo
Four fabric squares about 5” x 5”; your choice of color
Ribbon or thread to tie up your bundles in either matching or coordinating color

Take some time away from your worries to concentrate on putting these dream mojos together for family and/or friends.  Light a candle, put some music on, immerse yourself in a dreamy atmosphere so that you can infuse your work with wishes for pleasant, prophetic dreams.

When you’re ready, combine the herbs in a bowl or cup.  If possible, use your fingers for this and concentrate on the magick of sound sleep.

Next, lay out your fabric squares.  I like to use a soft fabric like silk, satin or velvet in dreamy, night time colors like dark blue or violet but white muslin will work perfectly well.  Distribute the herb mixture evenly into the four fabric squares.  Place a little amethyst bead on each of the piles of herbs; this is to keep away nightmares and restlessness.  No semi-precious stones to hand?  No worries; use a pinch of salt or a large seed such as a pumpkin or sunflower seed to do the same job.

Now you are ready to tie up the bundles with your ribbon or thread.  Remember to use three knots for each before finishing with a bow if you like.  Don’t forget to continue to focus throughout the process.

Give these right away or tuck them into a safe, quiet place for presentation at your holiday celebration with instructions for them to be placed under the receiver’s pillow at bedtime.  And please don’t forget to make one for yourself; you deserve beautiful dreams, too.  A votre santé ~

Header: Dante’s Dream by Dante Gabriel Rossetti c 1871

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

It seems to me that as we near the Holidays and the winter months creep close – at least here in the Northern Hemisphere – people are more prone to accidents.  And I’m not just talking about the kind that happen because conditions are really bad on the road and you probably shouldn’t be driving at all.  Injuries, particularly those involving winter sports, rear their ugly heads.  Even in perfect climates, people distracted by the concerns of the season make mistakes behind the wheel that they wouldn’t normally pull.  And then there is the overt hazard that is so called “flu season”.  Given all the other obligations that pile up this time of year, very few of us have the dubious luxury of being sick or injured.  Right now, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Old wives had a simple solution in the form of an herb known to this day as feverfew.  A form of chrysanthemum, the feverfew plant was carried in sachets, planted in window boxes and brewed into tisanes to keep away illness and injury or to cure those that had already occurred.  This plant found its way into both Wiccan magick and hoodoo root work, and its properties for protection and healing are still widely regarded.

Scott Cunningham advises carrying feverfew to keep illness away, particularly those of the upper respiratory variety.  It is also thought to guard against accidents.  A sprinkling of the dried leaves and flowers can be carried in a muslin bag as a pocket piece for this purpose.

In hoodoo, feverfew is often added to warding mojos.  Dried feverfew and comfrey root are placed in a bag along with a Saint Christopher medal; if the medal has been blessed, so much the better.  Keep this in your vehicle to avoid accidents.  The same mix, along with dried rosemary, is thought to be an excellent protection for people who work on or near roads and highways.  A similar mojo filled with feverfew and wormwood should be carried while undertaking dangerous sports such as rock climbing, skiing, sky diving, etc. to prevent serious or life threatening injury.

As a final note, though feverfew was and is brewed into curative teas, one should consult an herbalist or other expert before trying that route at home.  Feverfew decoctions can cause digestive upset and pregnant/nursing women should never ingest the plant in any form.  Bonne chance ~

Header: The Skating Pond by Currier & Ives c 1862

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

In the most recent issue of the magazine 61 Degrees North, published by our local paper, Anchorage Daily News, there was a page full of recipes for cold-weather beverages.  Some I’ve tried, some I’m new to; some are good for you and the kids, some are strictly for grown-ups.  This week, I’d like to offer two of the non-alcoholic delights.  We’ll save the booze for next Monday.

Mulled Cider

2 quarts apple cider (raw pressed if possible)
3 cinnamon sticks plus 8 more for garnish
2 whole allspice berries
5 whole cloves
5 cardamom pods
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 orange, thinly sliced

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients on the stove.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Pour into eight mugs and garnish with reserved cinnamon sticks.

Hot Chocolate from Modern Dwellers

2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cocoa
2 ½ cups powdered milk
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cornstarch
Hot milk
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Marshmallows (per the recipe, not optional)

Combine the first five ingredients.  Fill two mugs half full with this mixture, then top with hot milk.  Add cayenne if you like; leave room for marshmallows.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge in midtown Anchorage, AK via Superwife

Friday, November 25, 2011

Vendredi: Numbers and Letters

The meanings of numbers and letters in tasseography are probably the most straight forward in this form of divination.  Although everything is open to interpretation, and of course the reader should inform the reading with their own intuition, these shapes are pretty cut and dried.  All interpretations have been taken from Albert S. Lyon’s Predicting the Future published in 1990 by Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

The shape of any letter at the bottom of a teacup indicates the first letter of the name of a person that has influence either over the situation or the petitioner.  I would add that this is probably a person the petitioner already knows as the letter is completely meaningless in any context if it is not recognizable to him/her.

With numbers, which in my research over the last few weeks come up a lot more frequently than I would have thought, the meanings are more specific.

1 ~ ambition, a leadership role, excitement about a project/undertaking
2 ~ partnership, love interest or friendship
3 ~ written communication including writing for a living or musical talent
4 ~ hard work or the settlement of an argument or disagreement
5 ~ possible public speaking; a significant change
6 ~ harmony; a happy home and/or personal partnership
7 ~ decision made on intuition or a spiritual awakening
8 ~ good business decisions; possible promotion to an executive position
9 ~ volunteering or other altruistic venture; a flash of insight

Note that numbers are read separately; in other words a 5 and a 4 together are not 54 but simply two single numbers next to each other.  If they are touching, their meanings strongly influence one another.  Depending on the petitioner and their question, I might interpret that combination as a significant change in the petitioner’s life brought about by hard work or a court settlement.

Next week, we’ll look into geometric shapes (which will include that circle you may have thought would have been read as a “zero”).  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Telling Fortunes by Harry Roseland c 1900

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jeudi: Root Work

It's Thanksgiving here in the country where I was born and I will step up straight away and say I have much to be thankful for.  I have a wonderful family, a cozy home, reliable transportation, good health and the best dog in the world.  Really, beyond enough to eat – which I am also blessed with – what else is there?

All that said, this time of year carries exceptional burdens and many of them are unfortunately linked to finances.  The so called Holidays loom large and, if you are like me, the expectation of giving is beyond the reality of budget.  Thankfully (there’s that word again) real need is a powerful tool in magick.  Tomorrow, coincidently, is not only the start of the Holiday season but a brand new moon (the birth of the Long Night Moon in Wicca).  That makes it the perfect time for a money-drawing working to get you through the “season of giving” with a little extra cash to spare.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 green candle
Olive oil
Sea or Kosher salt
Peridot or olivine chips or sand (optional)
Green fabric square
Gold or yellow embroidery floss, ribbon or thread

While concentrating on or even stating aloud your need for money, dress your candle with olive oil.  The olive is a symbol of prosperity as is the color green.  Make a ritual of this and have a clear picture of your need in your mind.  If it will help, go through your finances and write down a reasonable figure on a scrap of paper using green ink if possible.  Place this under your candle on a plate or candle holder.

Once your candle is anointed and set in a safe container, ring it with a thick band of salt.  Salt, which was once as valuable as gold, draws money.  You can add peridot chips or olivine chips/sand to the salt if you like.  The green color of the stones is also money-drawing; the debate is ongoing as to whether or not they are actually the same stone.  Peridot chips in particular are easy to find at craft stores like Michael’s.  The stone chips are not at all necessary to the success of this working, however; if you’re in a real bind, just plane table salt will work equally well.

Once your ring of salt/stones is complete, light the candle with intention.  Again, speak out loud about your need if you like; the universe will hear you if your thoughts/words are sincere.  Let the candle burn down and out in a safe place away from flammable objects.  Remember to keep it in your sights.  If you like, you can meditate on wealth and your thankfulness for what you have already been given as the flame burns.

When the candle is out and cool, save any remaining wax in a plastic bag.  Then collect the salt/stone ring in your fabric square.  Green fabric is nice but white fabric will work just as well.  Bundle up the ends of the fabric and tie the bundle securely with thread or ribbon, using three knots to bind the tie.  Carry your bundle with you, in your purse or pocket, throughout the season. 

When your need is fulfilled, thank your spirits and bury the bundle, along with any wax from the candle, in your yard or in a flower pot to keep the prosperity coming your way in the new year. 

Happy Thanksgiving and bonne chance ~

Header: Jeanne d’Arc Finding the Sword of St. Catherine de Fierbois by Miles W. Mathis

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

These days we hear a lot about the correction of a skin condition known as rosacea.  This disease causes red patches on the face that tend to follow a “butterfly” pattern covering the nose and both cheeks, although chin and forehead can also be affected.  The redness can very from bright prink to crimson.  Of course exertion increases the effect as do some foods and alcohol, particularly red wines, dark beers or ales and hard liquor.  Unfortunately, the problem is often a source of embarrassment for those afflicted

Our modern obsession with reducing redness is particularly amusing in my view as the classic pattern of rosacea used to be a sign of youth and vigorous health.  When did you ever see a Fragonard or Boilly painting whose buxom heroine had not a spot of red on her face?  All the same it seems that skin now should be a blank canvas that is only made to “blush” with the help of manufactured powders and creams.

Most people treat rosacea over-the-counter but the products, even without a prescription, can be cost prohibitive.  As a sufferer myself, I generally eschew the drugstore cure in favor of a calming mask that features, of all things, potatoes.  Raw potatoes actually have both a calming and anti-inflammatory property when used on skin.  While cucumbers are the vegetable of choice at spas and in commercials to relieve puffiness around the eyes, slices of plain old potato work better and faster.  Elizabeth Taylor allegedly relaxed for five minutes every morning with potato slices over her eyes.

You will also need pure clay, which is an excellent skin softener and deep cleanser.  This can easily be found on beauty supply sites around the web.  My favorite is Living Clay Company who sells clay powder and does not test on animals.  Keep in mind that pure clay does not have preservatives in it, so you should make only enough of this mask for one treatment and remake a new batch every two weeks or so.

¼ cup pure clay
1 tbsp potato very thinly grated
1/8 tsp powdered marjoram
4 drops tea tree oil

Mix the clay as per the directions with a small amount of water to form a paste.  When you are satisfied with the texture, add the other three ingredients and mix thoroughly.  The mixture should be quite stiff but feel free to add a little more water if it becomes too thick.

Keeping very clear of eyes and lips, rub the mask over your entire face.  Relax for ten to fifteen minutes and then remove with a cloth soaked in warm water followed by a thorough rinse.  Complete the treatment with your favorite moisturizer.  A votre santé ~

Header: The Swing by Jean Honore Fragonard c 1767

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Peaches are by and large considered a mild climate fruit.  In the U.S. they are particularly associated with the South where peach pie and peach cobbler are staples at holiday tables.  Not surprisingly, peach trees figure into hoodoo root work.  They also have ties to Far Eastern and Wiccan magick as well.

In hoodoo, the dried leaves of peach trees are ground down and used to make an oil that is said to help students do well in school and particularly on tests.  Adding dried verbena and sage increases the power of this dressing oil which can be used as a hand wash or to anoint things like pencils, books and other tools of the scholar’s trade.

Wiccans believe that peaches can encourage attraction;  offering a the fruit or a dish made with it – with intention of course – to a potential love interest of either sex can start a romance.  Scott Cunningham notes that the fruit can also be eaten to gain wisdom.

In China, peach tree branches are used in rituals of exorcism.  Chinese children once wore peach pits on necklaces to protect them from demon possession.  In Japan, eating peaches is thought to increase fertility and peach branches were used as divining rods.  Carrying a piece of peach bark was thought to increase longevity and possibly make one immortal.

What ever their use, the fruit of the peach is a treat at any time of the year, particularly if you live somewhere where growing them means a well-kept and spacious greenhouse at your disposal.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom by Vincent van Gogh

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and for many of us that will mean leftover turkey.  Turkey sandwiches are one of the primary ways to enjoy those leftovers but the same old turkey on wheat with Swiss can get a little old, even if you do change up the condiments.  So here is a different approach to the turkey sandwich: turkey pesto on French rolls.

¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp pesto
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp black pepper
4, 2 oz French bread rolls
2 cups trimmed arugula
8 oz sliced turkey
8 slices of tomato
4 slices mozzarella cheese

Preheat your broiler.  Thoroughly combine the mayo, pesto, lemon juice, oregano and pepper in a small mixing bowl.

Cut rolls in half horizontally and spread both halves with the mayo mixture.  Divide arugula, turkey and tomato slices between rolls; top each with a slice of cheese.  Place the bottom halves of the rolls (with turkey and cheese on them) on a foil lined baking sheet.  Broil about 2 minutes or until the cheese melts.  Remove from broiler, cover each with the top half of its roll and enjoy!  Bon appetite ~

Header: Thanksgiving by Doris Lee c 1959

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

Vendredi: Tea for Two

We started our discussion of tasseography – divination through the interpretation of tea leaf patterns – last Friday with a general overview.  Today, let us have a look at what is necessary to begin practicing the art of tea leaf reading.

Of course all divination is similar in that the practitioner must be able to clear their mind, focus, and pick up the clues afforded by their divinatory medium of choice.  Tea leaf reading is no different than cartomancy from that standpoint.  What tasseography does bring to the table that many other traditional modes of divination do not is the active participation of the person for whom one is reading.

In cartomancy, the person consulting the cards is called the querent; in tasseography that person is referred to as the petitioner.  According to several sources including Raymond Buckland, Marc de Pascale and Albert S. Lyons, the petitioner should be asked to tune out any extraneous thoughts and distractions once they sit down to a tea leaf reading.  They cannot simply sit and watch the action unfold; they must be willing, active and preferably sober participants in the process.

It is a good idea to keep one cup set aside for tea leaf reading.  Old fashioned cups with wide but not necessarily deep bowls are preferable and, of course, something that delights the touch like china brings a lot to the table in terms of atmospheric sensation.  White cups or cups with interior bowls that are white are preferred because the shapes of the dark tea leaves will stand out more prominently.  It probably goes without saying that the cup should be washed between petitioners.

Loose leaf tea – the type is largely immaterial and rarely mentioned in the literature – should be placed in a tea pot to which boiling water is added at the beginning of a session.  While the tea is steeping, ask your petitioner to hold the cup between their hands to warm it.  They should clear their mind and concentrate on one area of their life that they are most curious about.  Suggest things like career, relationship, family, travel, finances, etc. to help them focus.  Shotgun questions about several different issues will only muddy the waters and can potentially make the reading impossible to accomplish.

When your petitioner is ready, pour them a cupful of tea and encourage them to drink while continuing to concentrate on their issue.  They should drink until just a bit of liquid is left at the bottom of the cup with which to distribute the tea leaves.  Now have the petitioner hold the cup in their left hand and swirl it around three times before giving it over to you.  At this point you need to, quickly and authoritatively, dump the rest of the liquid from the cup.  Return the cup to an upright position as fast as you can and then set it between yourself and the petitioner.  You are ready to begin your reading.

Some general rules that seem to hold true across the literature include that, if a cup’s contents are not producing readable patterns after the first try, the above ritual should be repeated.  It can also be repeated a third time if necessary but if the third try yields nothing but big, indiscernible junks of leaves the reading should be abandoned.  The tea is saying, quite literally, that the future is unreadable at this time. 

Another point is that a symbol has its meaning modified by its position in the cup, its clarity and its proximity to other shapes.  As an example, a crisply outlined anchor all alone near the top of the cup conveys its “true” and positive meaning: success in business, in social life and/or successful travel.  If the anchor is obscured or blocked by other tea leave it may indicate financial trouble, a friendship gone or going bad or a need to avoid travel.  If the anchor is surrounded by little dots, this is a good financial sign.  At the bottom of the cup, the anchor may still have its “true meaning but the petitioner should “proceed with caution.” 

Finally, pay attention to any shapes, letters, numbers, etc. that your petition mentions seeing in the leaves.  This can be the sign of a “dialed in” petitioner who has indeed set trivial matters aside for the moment and is getting a message from the medium you are working with; in this case, tea leaves.

Next week we will dive into looking at the meanings of shapes in tasseography, beginning with letters and numbers.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Example of a cup with tea leaves ready for reading

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jeudi: Weather-Wise

Winter weather is a subjective thing.  Real winter came to Alaska before Halloween; heck, it came to the North Slope before mid-September.  But there are places where it is still warm now and places where it will never actually get cold.  “Winter” in Ecuador – at sea level anyway – means a light shawl in the morning at the most.  But much of our winter weather wisdom in the Northern Hemisphere focuses on snow: the threat of it, its many different types, and when (oh! when) will it go away.

One of my favorites on this score has to do with the home fire.  The hearth has always been a place to gather, even in warmer climes, but where it is cold out a fire was a lifeline.  Not surprisingly then, many weather signals grew up around the hearth.  As an example, in Northern Europe it old wives say that, when you stoke an already burning fire for the first time before sundown, you should go outside and look at the smoke that emanates from your chimney.  If it rises straight up, the current weather conditions will prevail.  If it blows to one side or another, rain is in the offing.  If the dark trail of smoke dips down below the chimney to touch the roof as it blows away, snow is a certainty.  This sign is particularly consistent before the first snow of the winter, or so those wives would say.

At sea and in northern coastal areas, it is said that a lavender sky predicts snow.  In particular, this oddly colored horizon is thought to denote the big, goose down type of snow we so often see in books and movies.  I never believed this little tidbit until we moved to the Last Frontier.  As it turns out its true, during the day at least.  The usually gray winter sky will skew to a surreal sort of lavender and at some point the snow will arrive.  If a wind kicks up as well, particularly one that moans through the trees, the snow will dance in those classic, dust devil flurries that make a body want to head home early.  At that point, a fire and some hot chocolate are beyond optional.

Header: Landscape with Snow by Vincent van Gogh c 1888

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

When it gets cold outside, I especially crave a warm, relaxing bath now and again.  Given that it is currently 7 degrees on my porch, I’d say it has official gotten cold around here.

Nothing goes better with a bath than aromatherapy.  Whether it is in the form of an herbal tea or sachet added to the bath, scented bath salts or a decadent bath oil, the warm, steamy environment helps one appreciate the scents more than usual.  Today’s recipe is for bath oil, which can be added to the bathwater, used to moisturize post-bath or both.  I generally use oils for moisturizing because I don’t like to have to scrub out the tub when I’m done with a bath (that kind of impairs the “relaxation” part for me) but to each his or her own.

This oil incorporates the warm scents of vanilla and rose and includes oils that will hydrate your dry, winter skin. 

½ cup almond oil
½ cup olive oil
1 tbsp jojoba oil
4 vanilla beans (or 15 drops of vanilla essential oil)
20 drops of rose essential oil
2 500 IU capsules of vitamin E oil

If you are using whole vanilla beans (which will give your bath oil a richer, denser scent) slit the beans lengthwise and scrape out the tiny seeds.  Put this in a glass jar that will hold all of the above ingredients.  Now cut the pods down into pieces that will also fit in the jar and pop them in.  Add the almond and olive oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E oil and essential oil(s). 

Cap the jar tightly and swirl gently to mix.  Place your bath oil in a cool, dry and preferably dark place such as your kitchen pantry for at least 30 days.

If you have used whole vanilla beans, strain the oil through cheesecloth or a coffee filter.  Pour the resulting mixture into a glass bottle with a secure stopper.

To use, either add about two tablespoons to a bath full of warm water or use as a moisturizer on still-wet skin when you emerge.  Either way, this luxurious oil is delightful.  A votre santé ~

Header:  Madame Adeline Baltard and her daughter, Paule; pen and ink by Ingres

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Spikenard is old enough to have been mentioned in Ancient Egyptian texts (as a cure for “lovesickness”) and in the Bible.  It has fallen off in popularity somewhat, however; there is precious little in the way of old wives’ wisdom about the herb sometimes simply referred to a nard.

According to Catherine Yronwode whose Lucky Mojo website is an unending source of information on hoodoo, herbs and numerous other esoteric topics, there are three types of nard/spikenard employed in American hoodoo.  These are nard from the Valerian family, American spikenard, which is in the Aralia group and Ploughman’s spikenard coming from the Aster family of English plants.  Any of these is acceptable for use in hoodoo and, one would have to imagine, in Wicca as well.

Scott Cunningham lists spikenard as a charm against disease.  Wiccans also wear a branch on necklaces to attract good luck.  “It is also used to remain faithful,” is Cunningham’s final entry on the subject.

This hints at the hoodoo use of the herb; spikenard is used to encourage proposals and keep the subsequent marriage happy.  Wives would mix spikenard with sandalwood and burn the mixture on charcoal to encourage conjugal bliss in their home.  Either partner could brew a tea of spikenard and dab a bit of it onto a photograph of their mate to help insure their fidelity.  Placing the photo face up in a flower pot, sprinkling it with dried spikenard and then planting basil in the pot was said to work even more efficiently.  The basil must be tended carefully though; should it fail to thrive, so would the relationship.  Bonne chance ~

Header: April Love by Arthur Hughes c 1856

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

Bananas, pineapples and pecans feature heavily in desserts that are thought of as regional to the Southern U.S.  Today’s recipe is one such and it manages to use all three of those ingredients.  Originally published in a community cookbook from the city of Austin, Texas this dessert, called for some reason Hummingbird Cake, can be made either in layer pans or a Bundt pan.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 ½ cups vegetable oil (I like canola oil for this recipe)
1 tsp melted butter
3 large eggs
1 8 oz can crushed pineapple with the juice
2 medium bananas, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a large Bundt pan or two regular layer cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, stirring well before each new ingredient is added.  Pour the batter into the pan(s).  Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before turning the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Though the original recipe does not mention frosting, a powdered sugar glaze is excellent drizzled on top.  This is a very moist cake, however, and is perfectly delicious without any icing at all.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Still Life with Fruit by Georges Borgeaud via Old Paint

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Samedi: Voudon Chants

One of the largest parts of any Voudon ritual is music.  Drums are a staple at the oumphor; in fact each one usually has its own name and resting place for when it is not in use.  The rhythmic stomping of feet and clapping of hands is also part of the tune and the clear voices of the worshippers raised in song completes the sound. 

The songs, or chants, are slightly different in each oumphor, but their meanings and their use in worship are the same.  Some are sung in Haitian Creole and some are sung in French; in New Orleans voodoo, the chants may also be sung in English.  None of this changes the importance of the songs, which can address a specific lwa or a lwa nachon.  Either way they are sung to entreat the spirits to help in a specific working being undertaken by the mambo or houngan.  They are similar to the raising of power done by groups of Wiccans or the prayers repeated by an entire congregation of Catholics.

Milo Rigaud, a native of Haiti born in the early 20th century, recorded many of the old chants in his book Secrets of Voodoo.  Published in 1953 and still in print today, the book is a careful study of Haitian Voudon that, despite its somewhat titillating title, should be on the shelf of any serious student of the religion.  Rigaud documented many of the chants, in Creole or French and English, so the words used when he was writing are still available to us today.  To my knowledge, not much about them has changed.

As an example, here is the Yanvalou (part of the service-lwa or ritual of worship) to the Queen of the Ghede Maman Brigitte as sung in Port-au-Prince according to Rigaud:

Maman Brigitte!  Maman moin!
O! Ououe ca?
A l’entour caille-la
Gangnin dif e la-dans ni
Nous cache bois
Pou Nous semble dif e;
Nous cache d’l’eau pou nous
Touye dif e.
La plus par tome
Ou pas our?
Terre-la glisse.

Mother Brigitte!  My mother!
Oh! See that?
Around the house,
There’s a fire in it.
We gather wood
To build a fire;
We gather water to
Extinguish the fire.
The rain does not fall.
Don’t you see?
The ground is slick.

Maman Brigitte is thus called up to protect not only the oumphor but the worshipers within it as well.  An appropriate chant, I think, on this her holy day.  Bon Samedi ~

Header: Maman Brigitte painting via Vudu Mexico

Friday, November 11, 2011

Vendredi: In the Cup

When I was young I remember visiting my Mom’s parents on a fairly regular basis.  We lived near them for about six years while I was in elementary school and I loved to go there for Sunday dinners and holidays.  All of the furniture was old, doilies decorated surfaces and the house always smelled of good cooking.  Best of all was the spare bedroom, where Gran kept her books.  She had one I was particularly fond of.  It was old by my standards –written in the 1920s – and had a pen-and-ink drawing of a very flapperesque gypsy holding a tea cup on the cover.  The title was “The Gypsy Guide to Reading Tea Leaves”. 

Whatever happened to that thin little tome is unknown to me.  Sadly I did not inherit it, nor did I absorb the arcane information it contained, but to this day I have a fascination with the occult art of reading tea leaves.  That said, and having acquired some good references on this form of divination, I thought that we might learn a little bit about it together.  Since most books on tea leaf reading are nothing more complicated than lists of what the shapes formed by the spent leaves may be hinting at, it is a subject almost tailor-made for a blog.

According to Albert S. Lyons in his book Predicting the Future, tasseography is a fairly recent form of divination.  There is little if any evidence that it was practiced in the Far East and it is not mentioned in the European record until well after tea began to be widely available in the 17th century.  For the most part, the reading of tea leaves was thought to be a “gypsy secret” and, in the latter part of the 19th century, this was capitalized on by sellers of tea.  Tea houses would often employ a “Gypsy tea leaf reader” to draw in the trade; more often then not, the “gypsy” in question had not a drop of Roma blood in her veins.

More recently, tea leaf reading is treated more as a psychological exercise than as a way to foretell the future.  The reader strives to give the person they are reading for some insight into themselves.  Often the goal is to help the person understand their own influence in their life; to answer the age old question “why do these things keep happening to me?”

Next week we’ll evaluate the tools of the trade, so to say, and then we can start looking at the meanings of those mysterious shapes at the bottom of your tea cup.  Have your tea to hand and bring an open mind.  Until then, Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Russian Tea by Irving R. Wiles c 1909

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jeudi: Great Spirits

Western Alaska is experiencing a pretty nasty storm right now.  I’m thankful to be on the outskirts of the weather but I’m thinking often of the battered coast of my state, where the sea, the ice, the wind and the cold can conjure up some pretty terrifying things.  Some of these things have come down to us as tales of the spirits of the north and one of the greatest of these is the Old Woman of the Ocean, Sedna.

The Inuit people tell us that Sedna was one of the most beautiful young women among them.  She lived in a comfortable home with her father Anguta (whose name means “he who has something to cut”) and men from all around her village came to court her with soft pelts and seafood.  Though Sedna could have her pick of a husband, she was seduced away by a minion of the trickster, Raven.  The bird promised her a life of luxury where she would never have to work another day and she flew off with him.

Instead of the warm, bearskin-lined hut she was promised, Sedna found herself keeping house in a filthy nest where she was exposed to the elements and forced to labor day and night.  When, after a year and a day, Anguta came to visit his daughter she fell before him in tears.  She apologized for leaving him and then told him of all the evils that her corvine mate had brought down upon her.  Anguta, moved by his daughter’s misery, bundled her up in his kayak and paddled for home under cover of night.

Unwilling to give Sedna up, her husband called upon his cousins and a host of bird-people chased after the girl and her father.  Anguta worked to escape but the birds were relentless and the cold, dark sea threatened to swallow him and his daughter alive.  As the bird-people closed in, Anguta threw Sedna into the sea.  Why he did this varies in different versions of the story; he was selfish and sacrificed her life for his own, he wished to save her from the revenge of her husband’s family, he planned to follow her into the murky depths.  Whatever the reason, Sedna would have none of it.  She clung to the boat desperately while her father, also in desperation, cut off first her fingers, then her hands, then her arms up to the elbows.  Finally he shoved her with his oar, mutilating one of her eyes, and she sank pitifully to the bottom of the icy sea.

There, Sedna underwent a miraculous transformation.  She was remade into a half-seal, half-woman whose regenerated arms, hands and fingers gave birth to all the fish and mammals of the sea.  She set up house in a palace made of whale ribs, made a companion in the form of an ugly and vicious dog-seal and called her kingdom Adlivun.  From here, she sent her sea-children to the shores to feed the humans who had once been her family.  Her father, Anguta, eventually joined her and became the harvester of the souls of those who died at sea.  These drown shades also lived with Sedna in Adlivun.

Sedna’s generosity had parameters, however, and the souls of her slaughtered sea-children would return to her to tattle on the humans if they broke her rules.  In such cases Sedna would bring her sea-children back to Adlivun and deny the humans their much-needed meat. 

When this happened, a skilled shaman would need to take up a trance and journey to Adlivun to beseech Sedna for their people’s lives.  He or she would meet many terrible challenges including the realm of those who died by drowning, a razor-sharp wheel of ice and Sedna’s terrifying dog.  If the shaman passed through each challenge successfully, he or she would be asked to ease the pain in Sedna’s arms and hands; the pain caused by the inappropriate killing of her sea-children.  Should the shaman succeed, Sedna might relent and allow the creatures over whom she held sway to return to the sight of men.

Among her people, Sedna was spoken of as Old Food Dish, the spirit who gave life or death depending on the unspoken contract long established between herself and the Inuit people.  Sedna is a favorite subject for Native Alaskan and Native Canadian art and her story is told and retold around stoves and in schools to this day.

Header: Sedna with a Mask by Alaska Yupik and Inupiaq artist Susie Silook c 1999

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mercredi: Herbal-Wise

Nettle is a common weed in cooler climates all over the world.  Known to Native shaman, old wives and root workers alike, nettle’s most common use is to break and turn away jinxes.  But there is so much more to the ancient history of this herb.

In hoodoo nettle is used specifically to dispel evil.  A tea of nettle and rue is added to baths along with a handful of black salt to lift curses and crossed conditions.  At least some of the bathwater should be thrown out the front door of the home to seal the cure.

Both natives in North America and old wives in Europe recommended nettle tea for pregnant women to strengthen the fetus and ease labor.  After the baby’s birth, nettle tea continued to be prescribed to encourage milk production.  Dried nettle was also sprinkled on the feed given to dairy cows for the same purpose.

According to Scott Cunningham, nettle should be carried in a sachet or stuffed into a poppet to remove a curse and send it back.  Wiccans sprinkle dried nettle around the home to ward off evil.  It can also be thrown into a fire to prevent harm coming to home or person and it is held in the right hand to ward off ghosts, particularly while walking alone at night near haunted ground.  Putting a bowl full of nettle clippings under the bed of a sick person is thought to aid healing.

Pow-Wow also uses nettle, and for similar purposes.  Silver RavenWolf says that a combination of nettle and yarrow makes a powerful amulet against fear.  Scott Cunningham agrees, saying the two will also dispel negativity.  Pow-Wows also use dried nettle to enhance lust, and sprinkle it over the bedclothes of the sick to encourage recovery.

A very old German “spell”, which probably originated in one form or another prior to the widespread success of Christianity in the Middle Ages, saw farmers using nettle to remove maggot infestations from their cows’ hooves.  In Highroad to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft, Michael Kunze says the nettle should be picked before sunrise and held between both hands.  The farmer should then recite:

Nettle, nettle, hear forsooth,
Our cow’s got maggots in her hoof,
If you don’t drive the maggots out,
I’ll twist your collar round about!

The nettle stem was then twisted until it broke off and both pieces were tossed over the farmer’s head.  If all steps of this process were repeated three days in a row, the cow would be cured.

Finally, nettle has been used for centuries as a bandage in cases of bleeding.  The leaves should be bruised slightly to allow the juice to flow and then applied to the bloody wound before bandaging to help with clotting.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Cows in a Pasture by Marie Dieterle Van Marcke de Lummen

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

It's getting on to that time again; the holidays are right around the corner.  So much so in fact that my jaw dropped when I noticed Thanksgiving is two weeks from Thursday.  Holy buckets!

With the holidays comes holiday cooking and for most of us that means obligations away from home as well as closer to it.  There will be pot lucks at work, expectations of side dishes at family dinners, parties and what not that will require you not only to make something tasty, but give it legs as they say.  Then too it seems like everyone is watching their waist/health so throwing marshmallows on sweet potatoes and calling it a casserole just isn’t going to work these days. 

Here’s a recipe that fits all the bills: it’s easy and quick, keeps and travels well, is quite health conscious and features winter veggies.  It’s even red, white and green so it looks perfect at a Christmas buffet.  Sounds too good to be true, I know, but check it out.

3 pounds trimmed green beans
2 to 3 pounds fennel bulbs
2 heads of radicchio (also known as red chicory) halved, cored and sliced
1 cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Cook the green beans as you normally would, either in boiling salted water or steamed in the microwave.  Drain and put in a large mixing bowl.

Trim off the lacey tops of the fennel bulbs and cut away any bruised areas.  Cut the bulbs into quarters lengthwise.  Add the fennel and radicchio to the beans.  If you are preparing this recipe a day ahead, stop here, cover the bowl and pop it into the frig until just before you want to take it with you.

Pour in the olive oil and toss to coat.  Add the vinegar and repeat.  Add three cups of the cheese, salt and pepper to taste and toss one last time.  Before serving, sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over the top.  Bon appetite ~

Header: My Eldest Daughter Suzanne with Milk and a Book by Carl Larsson c 1904