Friday, December 28, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

... he above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent
Stood like a Tow'r; his form had not yet lost
All her Original brightness; nor appear'd
Less than Arch Angel ruin'd and th'excess
Of glory obscured: As when the Sun new-ris'n
Looks through the Horizontal misty Air
Shorn of his Beams, or from behind the Moon
In dim Eclipse disastrous twilight sheds
On half the Nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes Monarchs. Darken'd so, yet shone
Above them all th' Arch Angel: but his face
Deep scars of Thunder had intrencht; and care
Sat on his faded cheek, but under Brows
Of dauntless courage and considerable Pride
Waiting revenge...

~ John Milton Paradise Lost, 1:589-604

Header: Paradise Lost by Terrance Lindall via Deities and Demons (see sidebar)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jeudi: Weather-Wise

The weather on New Year's Day has always been a portend of things to come. In more mild climates, it is usually agreed that whatever the weather brings on that day - wind, rain, sun - will be the predominant type of weather throughout the year. A simple prognostication perhaps but you'd be surprised how well it works, particularly on islands and in desert climes.

In areas that tend toward rougher weather, however, what happens on New Years may have more subtle indications.

A very old tradition not only in Europe but in the Far East as well is that making as much noise as possible at the exact turning point of a new year will bring good luck. The setting off of firecrackers, discharging of guns, ringing of bells and clanging of pots and pans was done just at the stroke of midnight to drive evil away and welcome in prosperity. In some European locals, particularly the far north of Scotland and many of the Scandinavian countries, the usually unwelcome thunder storm was a happy accident on New Year's Eve. The din caused by nature at that time was thought to bring particular good luck in the coming year.

In some parts of Britain, the idea that whatever one might be doing when the New Year's noise began - be it bells from the local church or just the family clanging away in the kitchen - would be the thing to take up most of one's time in the coming year. A superstition arose around this idea that if one had retired early and was in bed when the celebration commenced, they would spend the year ill - or worse. Thus it is quoted in A Dictionary of Superstitions edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem that "few people go to bed, for obvious reasons, and even the old and infirm prefer to sit up."

Opening up the house at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve was also highly recommended. Regardless of the weather, and in some places especially if it was inclement, all doors and windows should be flung open just at that time. This tradition was thought to "let the old year out and welcome the new year in" but may have had its origin in the idea that unlatching closed things allowed negative energy to escape.

Other non-weather traditions surrounding New Year's Day included clearing up debts so that the next year would bring no more... or at least fewer. Pepys mentions this in a diary entry. On the 30th of December, 1664 he writes of "looking over all my papers to ascertain what debts should be attended. After dinner, forth to several places to pay away money, to clear myself in all the world."

The idea of "first footing" is also a New Year tradition that survives to this day. Probably originating with a Celtic ritual, it is believed that a certain person - usually a "dark man" - should enter one's home with specific items in hand. The things in question vary depending on where the tradition is upheld, but usually a piece of coal, a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine or ale or any combination of these is spoken of. Sometimes the man must travel through the whole house and then exit through the back door. Sometimes he need only enter, step in with his right foot first, and place his offerings near the hearth. Whatever the program, if it is followed, good luck will follow as well.

Much like the dead who should not be grumbled about until they are buried, the old year should be treated with respect. "Say not ill of the year, till it is past," wrote Thomas Fuller in 1732.

And as to the bird above, keep an eye out for him or his brothers the crows, on New Year's Day. According to L'Estrange writing in his version of Aesop circa 1692 "If you see two ravens or crows on New Year's Day, you'll have good luck after it, but if you should chance to spy one single, tis a bad omen, and some ill will betide you."

Here's wishing you a late night, noisy weather, a dark man with a cask of ale and two ravens this New Year.

Header: Raven by John Mankes via Old Paint

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This one seems to prove them right. From Corbis Images, Sophia Loren and Jane Mansfield at a dinner party in the fifties. That look says it all...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

It's Christmas Eve and at my house that means liquor in your coffee. How often do you really get to indulge in drink at 10:00 AM? Not often enough. Here's one of my favorite coffee and brandy combos that can be de-coffeed and brandied for the kids (adding a little hot chocolate is a perfect way to perk up the wee ones - who are probably already so geeked that a little extra sugar will hardly be noticed).

2 tbsp honey
1 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 cup coffee
1 ounce good brandy (or any liquor you desire)

Place one tablespoon of honey in each of two serving mugs; set aside.

In a medium pan over medium heat, warm milk just until it begins to steam. You can do this in your microwave if you're so inclined but the saucepan routine makes the whole process more homey and old-fashioned, I think.

Remove from heat and add cinnamon and cloves. Let steep, covered, for 15 minutes. Return pan to heat and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat again.

You need to fish out those cloves and then transfer the milk to the prepared cups. Add coffee and brandy to milk, stir and enjoy! A little whipped cream is nice on top, perhaps with a little candy cane to stir up that confection.

For the kids, replace coffee and brandy with a little hot chocolate. Yum!

Happiest of Holidays to you all. May your spirits be light and your home full of joy this Yuletide.

Header: Santa's Coffee Break via Mid-Century

Friday, December 21, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Today of all days, with Krampus behind us, Yule upon us and Frau Holda just about to come in for supper, seems the best choice for a discussion of The Wild Hunt. This mythology spreads from Eastern Europe, down through the Mediterranean, up to Celtic and Nordic lands and clear across the Atlantic to North America. If you've ever heard the famous Stan Jones country hit "Ghost Riders in the Sky," you know how the legend has been kept alive to this day.

The Wild Hunt is a tricky myth to pin down. Because there are legends about swift riding, death-dealing hunts blackening night skies all over Europe and Russia, it is hard to say where exactly the story originated. Most anthropologists now settle on a Teuton/Viking origin, probably due to the fact that the Vikings took their mythology over almost half the earth. Here the leaders of The Wild Hunt are usually Woden/Odin and/or his wife Frigg.

In the stories, which are uncannily similar, a maelstrom of hunters straddling ghostly horses and accompanied by baying hounds rides either across land or, more often, sky at a pace that proves they have no human origin. Sometimes the Hunt was actually seen by humans, sometimes witnessed only as a violent storm and on other occasions never seen but only heard. Almost always, people were advised to hurry for shelter or at least avert their eyes when the Hunt approached. One story tells of a Briton father, caught in an open field with his daughter when the Hunt swooped down, telling his little girl to lift her apron up over her face. By this gesture, the girl was unknowingly giving respect to the Old Gods and - more importantly - avoiding their deadly gaze.

As Christianity infiltrated the pagan nooks and crannies of the North, Woden and Frigg were replaced by  Satan as the leader of the Hunt. It was said that those in the open without proper protection - consecrated medals, crucifixes, or recent communion - would be swept up by the Hunt, carried away breathlessly through the air and dumped in a strange place with no way of knowing how to find home. The Hunt was also a collector of souls; those who saw it sweep over graveyards swore they saw some of the recently dead pulled up and along by the riders. No doubt these were the evil doers, on their way to their just punishments in Hell.

This remaking of godly hunt into a carrion collection party may stem more from Celtic than Teuton myth. It was the Morrigan, that beautiful, blood soaked goddess of sex and death, who collected the fallen souls in the aftermath of battle. She may have been confused with Hel, the Teutonic queen of the Underworld, in the post-Christian mind and the idea of a hunt that featured spectral Amazons may have been thought to include a sort of reaping of souls.

In later centuries, when the fear of Hell was overtaken by more scientific anxieties, the Wild Hunt became something of a children's story that came out particularly around the end of the year holidays. By the 19th century the leader of the Hunt was not the Devil but the devil-esque figure known as Krampus. Krampus was the helper of Saint Nicholas who brought switches to parents to punish their less-than-good children while the good kids got gifts from the saint. In cases of unrepentant bad behavior, Krampus would bundle up the child in his black bag and drag the mischief maker back his cave.

The Hunt is also loosely associated with Frau Holda, a Baba-Yaga type figure who will put children who fall into her magickal well to hard work in her home. Capable children will be sent home with gold; lazy monsters will return to their parents covered in pitch. Holda is often compared to the Italian whitch-lady La Befana who, something like Santa Claus, brings presents to the children of families who feed her when she shows up for supper on Christmas Eve.

As to that American Wild Hunt mentioned earlier, click over and listen to the immortal Man in Black sing it as only he can. Here's Johnny Cash with "Ghost Riders in the Sky" live. Enjoy! And a Happy Yule/Solstice to you all.

Header: Asgardsreien by Peter Nicolai Arbo 1872 via Wikipedia

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jeudi: Curios

Garnets are one of my favorite semi-precious stones, and not just because I was born in January. For centuries, garnets have had a connection to friendship and keeping friends close even when they are physically separated. While we don't think much about something like that in our "I'll text you when I get to the far side of the globe" world, only a few short decades ago such things were a lot more dear. Then too, there's the fact that the deep, rich red of a garnet always puts me in mind of the Holidays.

Garnets are ruled by the planet Mars and are therefore considered masculine and projective. For all these reasons, garnets have been and still are used for protective purposes. In times gone by, garnets were thought to repel stinging and biting creatures and anklets were made of garnets for those who had to tread on dangerous ground, particularly where scorpions or snakes might lie in wait. The stones were also thought to drive off supernatural creatures, especially those like vampires that struck at night. Wearing a garnet necklace to bed was always advisable and Jewish mothers might include a garnet or two in the charm above their baby's bed to ward against the viscous appetites of Lamia.

According to Scott Cunningham, garnets can serve a similar purpose in our modern age. Charged and worn, garnets can strengthen the personal aura and repel negative energies and intents. Because garnets have always thought to guard against theft, wearing them may help keep would-be muggers out of your personal space.

In Medieval medicine garnets, worn or crushed and drunk in wine, were thought to regulate the blood. They have been used in "New Age" medicine to help relieve swelling and rashes.

My favorite application for garnets, however, returns to the issue of keeping friendships. If you must part with a close friend, make them a gift of something with a garnet in or on it before you go. The stone, again treated with intention, will continue your mutual affection and ensure that somehow, someway, you will be together again. This is a sentiment that the Victorians seem to have understood judging from this enchanting gold locket set with pearls and garnets. A votre sante ~

Header: Chimeres by Pascal A.J.D. Bouvert via Old Paint

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

This time of year there is a lot of talk about peace. Peace on Earth, wishes of peace and, of course, peace in the home. One can imagine all those things more readily in the stillness of the season. But stillness, and even peace, are not usually the reality of this time of year. Quite the opposite, actually. How handy that hoodoo has a little helper for just that problem.

Motherwort, a fuzzy-leafed, bitter member of the mint family, comes to the rescue. Though not much thought of in other magickal disciplines - Scott Cunningham doesn't even mention is in his all-inclusive Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs - motherwort has been a boon to many a hoodoo homekeeper.

The dried herb is brewed into a tea, which it should be said is not for drinking. The tincture is added to bathwater to bring calm to fussy children and grouchy adults. A bit of the tea can also be added to the clothes washer to achieve the same results. In the past, underwear in particular was washed with motherwort tea since that particular article of clothing would invariably touch the skin of the wearer.

The tea can be included in a floor wash to encourage not only the family but guests in the home to interact peacefully. Rub your doorways and window sills with the same mixture to protect from unwanted visitors and belligerent intruders.

Another nice use for motherwort is to collect a photo of each member of your household - so much the better if it is just one picture and everyone is gathered happily together - and put them/it in an envelope or box with a sprinkling of dried motherwort. Tuck the container away in the bottom of a drawer or under your bed. Done with intention, this trick will keep peace and love flowing among the members of the family. Don't forget to include your pets.

Motherwort is believed to have gotten its unusual name because it was used by midwives to calm and relax pregnant women and women in labor. This application is frowned upon now as the herb tends to relax not only the mind and the muscles but the clotting process as well, creating the potential for hemorrhage.

Joy and peace to you and your families, then. Take a moment at some point during this long holiday season to enjoy the blessings of silence and rest. They can do wonders not only for the body but for the soul as well. Bonne chance ~

Header: A vintage greeting card via Mid-Century

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

My kids hate my mashed potatoes. There; I said it. I usually ask my mother-in-law to bring hers for the holiday feast but this year I want to do it myself. Things are a little different these days.

I know who to go to for help, though, and I'm planning on making a big batch based solely on the recipe of - you guessed it - Martha Stewart. I love Martha so don't start. That woman can cook.

So here's my version of Martha's recipe from The Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook published in 2003 with some notations. Join me in cooking mashed potatoes, won't you?

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes (according to Martha they make creamier mashed potatoes; russets, she says, are "fluffy but grainy")
1 cup milk or cream (go with cream for the holidays, right?)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel potatoes and cut into 1 1/2 inch thick slices. Place slices in a medium saucepan; cover with cold water by 2 inches and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer an cook potatoes about 10 minutes or until fork tender. Drain potatoes and return them to the pot. Place over very low heat to dry; about a minute or two.

Heat milk/cream in a saucepan over medium heat "just until steaming."

Now, Martha says to place a heatproof bowl over simmering water and then put your potatoes through a ricer into that bowl. Sorry, Martha. I plan to use a nice potato masher and the pot the potatoes cooked in. But hey, if you're into making a ban Marie and you have a ricer to hand, good on you.

Stir potatoes until smooth; Martha suggests using a wooden spoon. Now, using a whisk, incorporate butter. Continue whisking as you drizzle in the hot milk/cream. Season to taste - Martha adds a dash of nutmeg as well as salt and pepper - and "whisk to combine."

Martha says: "Serve immediately." If I know good mashed potatoes, though, I bet these will warm up as leftovers nicely.

Thanks, Martha; I can always count on you. Bon appetite ~

Header: Kitchen Maid by William M. Paxton via American Gallery

Friday, December 14, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

After a bit of thought, I've decided to continue the Friday harbingers of death theme right through to the New Year. Winter, after all, tended to be a time when our ancestors in northern climes would dwell on the passing of life. No wonder, either; when it is dark and cold and there is very little to do outside the home (in agrarian societies at least) one's thoughts naturally turn inward. And sometimes those thoughts included mortality.

Will-o-the-wisps, corpse candles and elf lights are not a phenomena, scientifically speaking, that occur only in the far north. It is there, though, that they seem to have been most often seen and discussed. The scientific explanation for hovering lights that float over the ground in particular areas is methane gas leaking up from under soggy, marshy or even corpse-strewn ground. In specific conditions, this gas will ignite creating glowing orbs of phosphorescent light.

Such explanations meant nothing to our ancestors. In fact, they're rather boring, comparatively.

In France, Germany, Scandinavian countries and the British Isles, these blue-green flickers were thought to be the spirits of the dead. What kind of dead - sad, lonely or vengeful - depended on where the lights were seen and what they did.

Corpse candles appeared most often in graveyards and were thought to be the spirits of the dead either warning the living of coming doom or simply retracing their final path: from their home to their grave. It was said that corpse candles were sometimes seen wandering the path to the graveyard from a house that had not lost a soul. This was a sign that there would soon be a death in that family.

In wilder areas, such as lonely bogs, Will-o-the-wisps were seen bobbing above the soggy ground. These sad, lost souls were said to try to bring themselves company by luring the wayward traveler into the muck. There he or she would be lost to drowning or exposure and the Will-o-the-wisp would not be alone anymore.

In other instances, the lights were lost children. Killed by a parent, stillborn or unbaptized, these little lights which were often said to be white rather than blue, also tried to draw the observer into a deadly situation. They preyed, it was whispered, only on adults and thereby exacted their revenge on the people who had condemned them to everlasting limbo.

In Celtic countries, the Jack-o-lantern was not included among these harbingers of death. Originally carved from turnips, pumpkins being a New World fruit, the effigies of Jack were said to recall a man who made a deal with the Devil and then tricked Old Scratch into letting him keep his soul. Denied both Heaven and Hell at his death, Jack was said to guard humans against his fate by scaring away the Devil's minions. In the New World, though, Jack has joined the army of Will-o-the-wisps looking to take human lives.

In the American south, we're told that wearing your clothes inside out or - more practically - carrying a new, steel-blade knife, will keep Jack from tricking you into following him into the bayou where you might be lost forever.

The Scottish and Irish did not imagine these spooky lights as only male. There they were sometimes known as Joan of the Wad or Kitty-o-wisp. Lost souls came from both genders, after all.

Some literary historians opine that Shakespeare's character Puck, the elfin narrator of his most psychedelic play A Midsummer Night's Dream, was the Bard's attempt at personifying the fabled elf light. They point to one of Puck's soliloquies which begins:

Now is the time of night,
That the graves all gape wide.
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide. 

It seems a thin thread to cling to, at least to my mind, but it also seems hard to know what old Will was about with that play.

On a final, and completely unrelated note, my thanks go out to Undine of The World of Poe blog for her generous nomination of both Triple P and HQ for a Lovely Blog Award. More on that here but, most importantly, thank you dear Undine. You are far too kind.

Header: Danse Macabre from the church of La Ferte-Loupiere via Wikipedia Francais

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Not much time today but wanted to share the picture of the lovely woman above. This is Lottie Campbell and the picture was taken in Utah in the latter part of the 19th century. Lottie's story is a little ambiguous based on the information provided here. Judging from her dress, the year must be around 1890. However the website notes her first husband's parents married in 1888. I know it took a while for fashions to travel "out west" but it is hard to imagine that this very fashionable lady posed for her portrait wearing that gown after 1900.

All that said, isn't she lovely?

Header: Lottie Campbell, photograph date unknown, via A Harlot's Progress

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Pomegranates are often referred to as a "winter fruit." Nicely wrapped boxes of these beautiful, dusky orbs are often available for giving during the Holidays. Most people who see them these days are probably thinking more about anti-oxidants than Hades, but the reason pomegranates are associated with winter has to do with Greek mythology. Persephone, kidnapped by and held in the gloomy realm of Hades, swore she would eat nothing until she was restored to her mother, Demeter. Overcome with hunger as the long days dragged into months, she ate three blood-red seeds from a pomegranate. This sealed her fate; though restored as she requested to the sunlight for most of the year, she was judged by Zeus to spend three months with Hades as his bride. Those three pomegranate seeds, then, inadvertently brought on the season of winter.

Though not an herb of any note in hoodoo, there are many old wives tales about the magickal properties of the pomegranate. Women who wished to know the number of children they would have were instructed to throw, not just drop, a pomegranate to the ground. The force had to be enough to break open the skin and the number of seeds that tumbled out foretold the size of the woman's future brood.

Women with troubles conceiving were told to eat pomegranate seeds to increase fertility. The like-makes-like reference here seems almost painfully obvious.

Along that same thought process, Scott Cunningham tells us that the pomegranate is lucky. Pomegranate branches in the home, or trees in the yard, are thought to attract wealth. The dried skin of the fruit is used as an incense to do the same. Cunningham also notes that the fruit's juice can be used as a magickal ink and as a substitute for blood should your magicks require same.

In Mediterranean countries, pomegranate branches are hung above doors and windows to repel the evil eye and jinxes.

Finally, when you're eating your Yuletide pomegranate, be sure to make a wish before you do. Your wish, it is said, is sure to come true. And what better luck could I wish you at this happy season? Perhaps health, which the pomegranate will also grant. Or so they say. Bonne chance ~

Header: Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti via The Pre-Raphealites

Monday, December 10, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

Cherries and pears are a traditional combination of fruits for the holidays. This recipe utilizes that to make a delicious pear and cherry pie that is a nice change from pumpkin or minced.

1 1/2 cups dried sour cherries
About 6 or 7 ripe but firm pears
Juice of two lemons (1/4 cup)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Package of two 12 to 13 inch prepared pie crusts
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 large egg whisked with milk for an egg wash

In a small bowl, soak cherries in hot water just to cover until soft, about 20 minutes.

Peel, core, and thinly slice pears. Stir the slices in a bowl with the lemon juice. Now drain the cherries and add to the pears. Add sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir to combine.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Fit one of the two prepared pie crusts into a 9 inch pie pan and fill with the pear and cherry mixture. Dot the mixture with butter. Now place the second pie crust over the pear mixture and slice six or nine vents in it. Crimp the edges to seal the two pie crusts together. Brush dough with egg wash.

Put the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 350 and continue baking for another 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juice is bubbling through vents.

Cool pie on a wire rack. Serve a la mode (this is great with cinnamon ice cream) or with whipped cream. Bon appetite ~

Header: Painting by Joseph Caraud c 1875 via Old Paint

Friday, December 7, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

The idea of the return of the dead has always gripped the imagination of human beings. We're afraid of the dead and dead bodies, even in 1st world countries where death and dying are separated and sanitized. Movies about sparkly vampires aside, the popularity of shows like "The Walking Dead" prove that something in us, something primal and outside our technological cage, still understands that those things, those rotting reflections of our own mortality, could rise up and kill us all.

It seems that these kind of thoughts and the stories of ghosts and ghouls that they breed, are more prevalent - or at least more interesting - in the cold, dark climates of the far north. No one tells scary dead stories quite like the descendants of the Norsemen. Here are just two...

In Iceland, where the combination of Viking and Native cultures has spawned some of the scariest monsters imaginable, whispers still flow through communities of things known only as Sendings. These creatures, which are more puppets than self-propelled dead bodies, are made from the bones of the dead. They are put together piecemeal, like Frankenstein's monster, and then sent out to do the bidding of their master. More often than not, that bidding is to kill.

The most famous story of a malicious Sending revolves around a handsome widow who lived comfortably on the sheep ranch left to her by her late husband. Though courted quite seriously by several men in her village, the widow had no interest in remarrying. Time and again she tactfully, but firmly, said no. Then one day she said no to the wrong man.

The notorious wizard of the area set his cap for the widow and, receiving the same answer as every other suitor, he went home to brew up revenge.

One afternoon in autumn the widow was preparing dinner for her ranch hands. Stepping into the dark dampness of her cold room to retrieve some butter, she suddenly felt the hair on her arms stand straight up. The widow turned, and there on the fieldstone wall was a large, black shadow that looked eerily like a spider whose legs were made of human arms. In the very center of the shadowy abomination was a white spot. The thing hissed at the widow but, undaunted despite the racing of her heart, the good woman knew what to do. She pulled out the knife she kept in her apron pocket and stabbed the thing directly in the white spot at its core. The monster squealed out an ear-piercing scream and then scurried through the open door.

An hour later, when she had finally calmed her jangled nerves with a cup of mead, the widow rang the dinner bell and her hands hurried in to their meal. One of them stopped before sitting down at the long table and spoke directly to his employer: "Isn't this your knife, ma'am?" He pulled something from his pocket and it took a moment for the widow to realize what it was. There was her knife indeed, plunged deep into the arm bone of a human being.

These stories have a curious connection with the Scandinavian tales of the ghost in the ground. Unlike the Sending, these creatures are staked down in lonesome areas that people rarely pass. The long wooden poles that hold them to the ground are sometimes encountered by wayward travelers. Thinking the stick might help their walking or serve as a fishing pole, the unsuspecting man or woman will try to pull the pole from the ground. When they do, they invariably hear a quiet voice encouraging them in their chore, although no one is nearby. Listening to the voice is at the very least foolhardy; pulling the pole out of the ground releases the vengeful, hungry ghost, who will of course take the unsuspecting traveler as its first victim.

Such tales in turn bring to mind the mysteries of the so called Bog People. These highly preserved bodies from the far north of Europe almost always appear to have been ritually sacrificed and then dumped in peat bogs or marshes. Many, however, were not just allowed to sink. They were staked down with long poles. One has to imagine to keep them from coming back to prey on their executioners.

Header: Hel's Embrace by Sash-Kash via Deities and Demons

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Jeudi: Root Work

Let's talk about something most people - especially around this time of year - would prefer not so speak of: negativity. We're all positive as the end of the year festivities bear down on us like, well, a charging grizzly sow, aren't we? You know the answer to that so let's move on to negativity, how to handle it and most of all, how to banish it.

The best way to remove negativity from your life is to keep yourself and your environments clean and organized. Really and truly, that is no joke. Dust, clutter, ring-around-the-toilet-bowl and what have you all attract and hold negative energy. This then breeds and festers in those neglected corners like some alchemical homunculus until it takes over your life and stifles your abilities to succeed and enjoy. Its an issue not so much of doing it right as doing it often, and thoroughly. And by "It" I mean cleaning. I know you didn't want to hear that - I didn't either, frankly - but it's true.

So how about some easy but effective cleaning tips that will help you both magickally and practicly to stay on top of negativity? I've got that. Here is a by no means complete list of things that will make your spirits bright this Holiday season and all through the New Year:

* Vanilla: the scent of vanilla is like bug spray to negativity. The little nasties that cause negative energy cannot stand it and will run as fast as they can to their usual hiding places (more on that in a minute) once they catch a whiff of it. So burn vanilla scented candles, use air fresheners or oil warmers with vanilla in them or just plain bake a whole lot. Whatever your scent disperser of choice, vanilla will not only help eliminate negativity but improve your mood as well. (Ladies and gentlemen with husbands/partners/callers: you should be aware that the scent of vanilla increases male libido; you've been warned.)

* Dust: get rid of it; dust thoroughly and often. I know you didn't want to hear that but if you make a daily routine of running one of those nifty dusters over every surface in one room a day you really can stay ahead of it. Sing a happy song or chant a banishing as you do if the mood strikes; it couldn't hurt.

* Clutter: get rid of that too. With all the "things" we acquire over the Holidays, this is a perfect time to box up that unwanted, unused, unworn and un-played with stuff and haul it off to a local charity. If you don't quite have time for that just now, box it or bag it and set it aside. Then it's all in one place for handling when the demands on your time slow down. And giving is a great mood elevator when those "January blues" hit.

* Drains: indoor plumbing is a great convenience but it is also a literal drain on positive energy. Seal your drains and toilets against their power to suck your personal energy by putting lemon juice down all open drains and toilets every six months. The juice of one half of a fresh lemon per drain is best but, in a pinch, plain old white vinegar is an excellent substitute. I knew a witch out on a local homestead who used hydrogen peroxide for this ritual to excellent result.

* Floors: sweep, vacuum and mop often. A good floor wash, with lemon juice or tea made from a protective herb added, is wonderful for mopping hard floors. You can add a bit of lemon juice to Murphy's Oil Soap if you have wood floors. Sprinkle a 50/50 blend of baking soda and salt on carpets before vacuuming to help pull up those little negative trolls. The bonus there is pest control: this treatment, if left on overnight, kills fleas. Repeat about a week later to catch the occasional egg that may have managed to hatch.

* Fresh Air: open your windows - just a crack will do if you're like me and it is 1 degree Fahrenheit outside - while you clean. Now all those little negative bugs you are chasing away will run outside rather than into any remaining clutter or cobwebs.

* Add Salt: When you're done, seal your hard work with a little sea or kosher salt. Throw a pinch in each corner of every room and drop a few grains on window sills and along the bottoms of all doors leading to the outside. A nice trick is to put some under doormats on the outside of the house; again, adding a protective herb to the salt just increases its efficacy. Wipe your feet all you want, negativity; you won't get back in here!

What ever ritual you follow, clean with intention and know that every bit of your hard work will encourage a positive environment. And don't forget your cubicle at work; that's kind of a living space too.

In the end, I hope you are as carefree and happy as the lady pictured above. And now: its time for me to go follow my own sage advice... A votre sante ~

Header: Christmas Shopper from a 1950s ad via Mid-Century

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The weed commonly known in the Americas as boneset has a number of uses and is very popular in those two curiously North American magickal disciplines, hoodoo and Pow-Wow.

The plant, which is in the same family as dandelions, was originally introduced to Africans and Europeans by Native Americans. Various groups used the plant differently but for the most part the dried leaves and flowering ends were used to treat digestive problems as well as colds and fevers. For these ends, the plant was brewed in a tea.

Before I go further, though, it is important to mention that fresh boneset is toxic and will, at the very least, induce vomiting. In fact, Scott Cunningham lists boneset as "not recommended for internal use" and I would advise the same.

In hoodoo, boneset is used mostly for protective and healing rituals. The plant is added to mojo bags carried to prevent jinxing and illness as well as snake bites. Dried boneset leaves were once rubbed all over the body of someone who felt they had been tricked into ingesting poison or magickally attacked. The leaves were then taken outside and burned to carry away the negative energy. Bathing in water to which a tea of boneset has been added is thought to encourage healing after an illness.

Pow-Wows also used boneset for protection, carrying a bit of the plant as a pocket piece to that end. Silver RavenWolf advises that she hangs a sprig of boneset from her rear view mirror for long car trips to protect against accidents. She also notes that dried boneset and five-finger grass should be sprinkled around an orange candle charged with the intention of landing a job. Light the candle and let it burn out while concentrating on the job you desire. Try putting your resume or a copy of an application under the candle to personalize the spell. Any remaining wax, along with the herbs, should be buried in a houseplant or somewhere in your yard.

Also according to RavenWolf, mothers practicing Pow-Wow have been known to surreptitiously dip a sprig of boneset into the beverage of an unfit suitor to turn the person's ardor away from their child. One has to imagine that the ill-effects of the plant worked their not-really-magickal touch like a charm. It's hard to feel amorous when you're throwing up, after all. Bonne chance ~

Header: The Glass of Wine by Vermeer via Wikimedia

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

Up in my neck of the woods, where salmon is king (you might be from the Pacific Northwest if you get that lame joke), it is not uncommon for fishermen to stow the biggest salmon they catch in their freezer whole. There it will wait, lovingly wrapped to guard against freezer burn after been split and gutted, to await just this time of year. Some families serve this delight one night during Chanukah or as Christmas dinner. It is a real treat. If you happen to have access to a whole salmon, I have a wonderful recipe for grilled salmon with Pinot Blanc sauce.

1 whole salmon, 4 to 6 pounds, gutted, rinsed and dried (I like to remove the head and tail for aesthetic purposes but, if you like your food staring at you, who am I to argue?)
1 6 ounce jar nonpareil capers, drained
6 green onions, cut in half lengthwise
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Season the inside of your fish with salt and pepper. Place capers, green onions, lemon and onion slices along the inside of the fish and tie it up with three or four lengths of twine. Score the thickest parts of the salmon with a knife to ensure even cooking. Drizzle the salmon skin with olive oil to prevent sticking.

Warm grill to 325. Pop in the salmon and, with lid vents open, grill on one side about 20 minutes or until skin is crisp and brown. Now turn the salmon and continue to cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. Fish should reach an internal temperature of 130. Remove from heat and let rest for carry-over cooking, about another 15 minutes. Meanwhile...

For the sauce:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Pinot Blanc (my favorite: Michel-Schlumberger)
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup butter, cubed
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute chili flakes and garlic in olive oil until soft (not brown). Add Pinot Blanc and lemon juice. Let this simmer to reduce by about half. Add butter one cube at a time to tighten up the sauce.

Cut up your fish and serve skin side down. Drizzle a little sauce over each slice just before serving.

This is great with a nice green salad, rice or garlic mashed potatoes and - of course - a bottle of Pinot Blanc. Bon appetite ~

Header: Still Life with Two Glasses of Wine by Albert Anker via Old Paint

Friday, November 30, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

On a list of harbingers of death, the doppelganger seems an oddity. Meaning "double walker" in German, meeting one's doppelganger is said to be a sure omen of imminent demise. On the other hand, there have been enough verified accounts of doppelgangers in relatively modern times - with no death in sight - that one has to list the doppelganger as a kind of paranormal activity.

Since ancient times, seeing yourself "in the flesh" so to say was considered a sign that your death was just around the corner. Often the person seeing themselves saw their own corpse rather than a "walker". Pliny the Younger, the Roman historian and pundit, wrote of seeing his body on its funeral pyre not long before his death, one hopes prior to the lighting of the flame. Elizabeth I of England told of seeing herself laid in state not long before she died and almost every American child has been told the story of Abraham Lincoln seeing himself in the same condition before his assassination. But there are other, perhaps even more chilling stories of people actually meeting themselves much like the couple in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting above.

Over at About's Paranormal Page, Stephen Wagner gives a nice list of some of these. Percy Bysshe Shelley claimed to have seen himself in Italy just prior to his death in a boating accident. Guy de Maupassant claimed to have not only seen but heard from his doppelganger, who, the writer said, dictated one of his last short stories: "Him." When Catherine the Great saw her double walking toward her, she was so distressed that she ordered her guards to shoot at it. She died within the month; there is no record of any injury to that other Catherine.

Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe saw his double while out riding one afternoon. A number of years later, while riding the same road but in the other direction, Goethe realized that he was wearing the same gray suit his double had been wearing when he say it. For some, including Wagner, this points to doppelgangers effectively stemming from a rift in the time continuum. This, logically, leads to Einstein's theory of relativity and the fact that linear time is a veil over truth and all things throughout history are happening right now. Perhaps we are allowed a glimpse of truth only once in a great while, or perhaps our minds are playing tricks on us.

One of the most famous doppelganger stories - and the one that must be put down to mass hysteria of some kind should we chose to disbelieve it - is that of the girls' school teacher Emilie Sagee. At the age of 32, Mademoiselle Sagee was teaching at an exclusive boarding school in modern Latvia. The year was 1845 and Sagee's students were uniformly pubescent girls between the ages of 9 and 16. The students all claimed to have seen Mademoiselle's doppelganger silently hovering near her on more that one occasion. At one point, the doppelganger stood next to Sagee, mimicking her movements as she wrote on a chalkboard in front of a class of 13 students. On another, the double stood behind Sagee while she ate, again mimicking her movements silently. The occurrences seem to have been relentless although Mademoiselle swore she never saw her double, Sagee did say she felt tired and listless at the exact times that people claimed to have seen her doppelganger. The unfortunate Mademoiselle Sagee, who was always given sterling references for her poise, virtue and teaching ability, went through jobs like socks due to her recalcitrant double.

Doppelgangers are also compared to "sendings," in which a person - a witch for instance - sends out an astral projection of themselves to do some type of errand. As Robert Masello notes in Fallen Angels, this was a handy trick for condemnation in witch trials. No matter how many people had seen the witch elsewhere when the milk overturned or the plague descended, the misfortune could be blamed on her sending out a doppelganger to cause trouble.

In the end, the doppelganger seems far more than a simple harbinger or portend. Outstripping the banshee and the apparition in versatility at least, the "double walker" seems something far beyond our ability to understand even in this most scientific of times.

Header: How They Met Themselves by Dante Gabriel Rossetti c 1864 via Rossetti Archives (where you can purchase various prints of the painting)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jeudi: Great Spirits

Known to his worshipers as both "he who makes green" and "raging one", the Ancient Egyptian crocodile god Sobek remains somewhat of a mystery.

His name, in direct translation, means simply crocodile and he was never represented in art without at least the head of that fearsome beast. He was a god of water and in particular the life-giving River Nile. The thing he "made green" was the land through the growth of plants and Sobek doubtless had some role in the annual flooding of the river. In fact, according to Richard H. Wilkinson in his book The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, the river was said to be made of Sobek's sweat.

It probably goes without saying that his sacred places were sandbars, marshes and any other locations where crocodiles might reside. Wilkinson tells us the Sobek was also known as the "Lord of Bakhu". Bakhu was a kind of Shanghai-La at the far edge of the world. It was conceived as an insurmountable mountain and it was near its crest that Sobek was thought to have a vast palace made entirely of carnelian. It may be for this reason that carnelian amulets in the shape of crocodiles were carried - by those who could afford them - to gain Sobek's favor and protection. Less expensive crocodiles made of pottery have also been found and jewelry, particularly necklaces, featuring crocodiles seem to have been worn by many Ancient Egyptians.

In the New Kingdom era, Sobek was thought to be a protector of the Pharaoh and his family. In this permutation he was often attached to other "royal" gods such as Amen, Osiris and the sun god Re in particular. This led to the personification Sobek-Re and probably also led to the Greeks syncratizing Sobek with their minor sun god, Helios.

Sobek was thought to be the son of the most warlike of Ancient Egyptian goddesses, Neith and his personal ferocity did not end with the association with crocodiles. He was said to "take women from their husbands whenever he wishes according to his desire." Some historians see this as a sign of Sobek ruling over virility and male fertility. It may be, however, that he is also - or alternatively - a god of the rapine and pillage that accompanies war.

Temples of Sobek were built throughout Egypt and, of course, most often located on the river. At Kom Ombo, where his consort was designated as the cow-shaped love goddess Hathor, sacred pools held crocodiles who were treated like kings in life and mummified with all ceremony after their deaths. By the New Kingdom, almost all of Sobek's temples had sacred crocodiles.

The worship of Sobek seems to have continued into the Greek era and the Ptolemy dynasty. After Egypt became a Roman possession, however, Sobek - like so many of his brother and sister deities - fell from favor. How fortunate we are that, through the work of archaeologists and historians, we can know Sobek and all those other gods once again.

Header: Sobek Protecting Amenhotep III from the Luxor Museum via Wikipedia

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The bush known by that curiously magickal name - witch hazel - is quite literally a weed in some climates. During elementary school, when my family lived in the Seattle, Washington area, there was a stand of rambling witch hazel just beyond the fence at the back of the school. I wasn't the most popular kid and I would go and sit near the fence to read a book during recess, weather permitting. The pungent smell of witch hazel will always remind me of sunny spring or fall days when I was left blissfully alone by the less than civil members of my class.

Witch hazel, as is obvious from its name, was thought to be particularly popular with witches. The bush probably acquired its modern moniker in 15th or 16th century England where the branches were used for divining rods to find lost items and - of course - hidden treasure. There is mention of use of a witch hazel wand or broom staff by the notorious Old Demdike of Pendle Witch fame. Needless to say, witch hazel growing near one's home was a sure sign, at some points in history, that trouble was afoot in the household.

Conversely, or so it seems, sprigs of witch hazel were also used to protect against evil and - you guessed it - witches. Old wives would hang sprigs of the plant at windows and above doors to turn away malice. Pieces of the bark were also carried for the same purpose.

Scott Cunningham mentions witch hazel for the healing of a broken heart as well. He recommends carrying a bit of witch hazel to recover from the loss of love. He also notes that doing the same can curb lust.

Distilled witch hazel, easily obtained at most drug stores, remains a capable astringent and can help with a myriad of household health issues if used correctly. This post by Jillee over at One Good Thing gives an exhaustive rundown of the many wonderful things a simple, inexpensive bottle of witch hazel can do for you and yours. How can anyone argue with that?

Header: Harvest Moon by George F. Wetherbee via American Gallery

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Samedi: Pictures

Yesterday we talked about the Ban-Sidhe or banshee who keens for the soon-to-be-dead members of her clan. Today a continuation of that discussion in the form of a spine-tingling video by the talented folks over at The Devil's Stomping Ground. I'm sure you'll enjoy it, especially if you watch with the lights out...

And don't stop with "The Banshee", there are more wonderful videos at the site. Enjoy!

Header: Engraving of the Ban~Sidhe haunting her family estate via Wikipedia

Friday, November 23, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Over at Triple P today, I did a post involved the good doctor Stephen Maturin from Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels. Being half Irish, Dr. Maturin was very familiar with today's harbinger of untimely death, the Celtic specter known as the Ban-Sidhe: the banshee.

The Sidhe were, in original Celtic tradition, the "old gods." Diminished by Christianity to "fairy folk", the strongest of them road out on dark, stormy nights bringing a bit of the Teutonic Wild Hunt - another foreteller of doom - into their legend. Originally, families had personal Sidhe as well, ancestors who watched over the clan century after century. These too withered away under the Christian yoke, becoming no more than ghosts akin to last week's Shivering Boy. But in Ireland, where Roman Christianity never took a full hold, the Sidhe in general and the familial Ban-Sidhe continued to hold sway.

To this day the banshee is known among Irish families. Certain of the Kennedy clan, for instance, claimed to hear her voice before the deaths of John and Robert. She is imagined as a woman dressed in gray and green with long hair undone and eyes perpetually streaming with tears. Often she is said to be corpse-like and skeletal, her eyes glowing red when she finds the family member whose time has come. In these cases, her churchyard face will appear at each window of a house in turn until she locates her target, then she will beckon with a boney finger and the victim will have no choice but to follow.

This may be the experience only of the one about to die, however.

Most of the living hear rather than see the banshee. In such cases she is heard to keen in a wild, high-pitched voice just outside or near the family home. Her voice is cold and unearthly and once heard, can never be forgotten. Sometimes more than one voice calls out - as was the case with the President and his brother - indicating that a very important individual will meet their end.

As noted too, moving away from Erin did not displace the family banshee by any means. In her book Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland, Jane Francesca Elgee Lady Wilde, the mother of Oscar Wilde, wrote of a well-to-do Irish family in Canada. When an otherworldly voice was heard near their estate one night, no one could find the source. The next day, however, the family found they had indeed experienced a close encounter with their own Ban-Sidhe:

... several persons distinctly heard the weird, unearthly cry, and a terror fell upon the household, as if some supernatural influence had overshadowed them.

Next day it so happened that the gentleman and his eldest son went out boating. As they did not return, however, at the usual time for dinner, some alarm was excited, and messengers were sent down to the shore to look for them. But no tidings came until, precisely at the exact hour of the night when the spirit-cry had been heard the previous evening, a crowd of men were seen approaching the house, bearing with them the dead bodies of the father and the son, who had both been drown by the accidental upsetting of the boat, within sight of land, but not near enough for any help to reach them in time.

Thus the Ban~Sidhe had fulfilled her mission of doom, after which she disappeared, and the cry of the spirit of death was hear no more.

No more, one must imagine, until the next time one of the family faced the arms of our final companion...

Header: The Banshee (La Belle Dame sans Merci) by Henry Meynell Rheam c 1901 via Wikimedia 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Over at the dear Susan Ardelie's wonderful Life Takes Lemons blog, her clever post for today is titled "Ladies in Turkish Dress: A Visual Feast." Click over and find the idea of Turkish attire as seen through the mirror of European taste. A fascinating study in and of itself.

With all respect to Susan, and given that my time is limited, here is my offering for ladies of Turkey or Turkish ladies (such a wonderful simile!).

To all my readers in the U.S., have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I hope you are close to those you truly love, and that you are all kind to one another. Eat up; you've earned it no doubt.

And to all who stop by from every corner of the globe, I'm thankful for your readership today and always.

Header: Turkish Lady with a Servant by Jean-Etienne Liotard c 1742 via Wikimedia

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Onions, those common garden vegetables that are a base for so many delicious recipes, are also a well thought of magickal herb. The white and yellow variety have an extended history in Wicca, folklore and old wives' tales. But today we are dealing specifically with that purplish kind known as a red onion.

In hoodoo, red onions are used extensively both for so called "white" magicks such as keeping the peace around the house. They also lend themselves to more "gray" magick - or gris-gris if you will. In these cases the red onion or parts of it are used to keep a beloved under the root worker's thrall, beginning and/or continuing a relationship whether or not the other party is entirely on board with the idea. This is a type of manipulative magick that hoodoo very rarely thinks twice about. In practices like Wicca, however, the rule of three would be minded and manipulation would be shunned. At least in theory.

So let us turn to an old hoodoo trick for a peaceful home, which surely a number of us could use with the Holidays fast approaching.

Take a red onion and bore a hole in it through to the center but not all the way out the other side. Fill the hole with sugar and seal it up with some sort of stuffing, onion bits, hot wax, what ever works for you. Now conceal the onion somewhere over the door that most folks go in and out of the house through. A great way to accomplish the concealment is to put a little shelf over your door - they're available all over the place now - and fill it with knickknacks. Include a decorative box in which to put the onion. Voila! Be sure to do this with intention, and change the onion as often as you like but at least once a year.

According to Scott Cunningham, old wives once insisted that red onions could draw away illness and misfortune and protect the home they were in. For this reason a red onion was tied to the bedpost, especially of those who were recuperating from illness.

Both Wiccans and root workers will advise you that throwing away onion skins - particularly on the ground - is a sure way to end your prosperity. The skins should instead be burned, either in the fireplace or on the stove, to increase prosperity, draw in business, multiply affection and, in hoodoo at least, keep the law away. Bonne chance ~

Header: Two Idlers by Robert Frederick Blum via American Gallery

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

Thanksgiving is only three days away and, while I could certainly put up a recipe that I like for the Holidays I would be remiss if I tried to do better than the master.

Here then, a little twist for today's recipe post. Click over to Alton Brown's Thanksgiving Recipe Primer and find a recipe for absolutely anything you can imagine putting on a holiday table. Keep this one for Hanukkah/Yule/Christmas/Kwanza et al because there are some seriously delicious offerings at this site.

I know I'm adding the deviled eggs and the Parker House rolls to my Solstice table.

Bon Appetite ~

Header: A charming, Scandinavian inspired Christmas card c 1947 via Mid-Century


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Samedi: Pictures

Why not random pictures on Saturday? When I was in middle school and really in to Ancient Egyptian mythology, I always imagined these two as a couple. I love this piece for that reason. That, and the rings on Bastet's tail...

~ Bast and Anubis by Wolfraven via Dieties & Demons

Friday, November 16, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

It seems that in colder climates such as the far north of Europe, Slavic lands and Native high points on our modern maps like Canada and my stomping ground, Alaska, concern for children lost or abandon to the elements is particularly high. In Alaska, for instance, there is a mythology surrounding people - and children in particular - lost in snow storms. They are reported to be seen again and again, calling silently for help. But when the observer looks away, they disappear into the dark, or the endless white of snow. A chilling experience for loved ones still searching for their lost family member.

These visions often hold a sinister promise as well: many of them are consider harbingers of the observer's own demise.

In Siberia, for instance, the legend continues of snow children known as the navky. These are the spirits of children who, under the cover of darkness provided by the dead of winter, were killed by their own mothers, often by starvation or exposure. These stories tell of travelers on cold roads seeing spectral and skeletal children dangling from the branches of leafless trees. They extend their bony fingers to the living and cry out for justice, squealing their mother's name over and over in a deafening, otherworldly voice. The traveler, should he chose not to take up the navky's request and kill the woman named, is doomed to die himself. After Christianity took a firm hold in the area, unbaptized infants were added to the ranks of the navky. In this case, their mothers are just as much at fault and their miserable wailing is just as deadly.

To the west, in the land of the Vikings, stories are told of the utburd. These children were also the victims of infanticide, having been exposed to the winter elements due to deformity, illness or simple lack of care. Utburd, according to Fallen Angels by Robert Masello, actually means "a child carried out" in the ancient Norse language. These dead creatures, like the navky, turned vengeful. But unlike the navky, the utburd are prepared to take action themselves.

Stories tell of an utburd entering its family's dwelling at night. Locks have no meaning for them as they can shape shift to carry out their deadly mission. As smoke or mist they enter through cracks, chimneys or pipes. Once inside, their first order of business is to kill their mother. The utburd is often envisioned as a blue, frozen replica of the child it was. Its strength and ability to do harm is more akin to that of an adult, however.

Once the creature has dispatched its mother, it would return to the place where it had died. There, it would attack any passer-by with speed and terrifying strength. The utburd was said to first call out, like a child in distress, to attract attention. Then, when the curious traveler came near, the spirit would encircle him or her, pulling the unfortunate down into the earth with it. The only hope for those who heard the call of the utburd was to cross running water before it could touch them, or produce a piece of iron. Otherwise, one was doomed just like the vengeful "child carried out."

Child ghosts who have been killed by evil and/or greedy adults can also become a form of psychopomp. The little princes of Tower of London fame, who were said to have been dispatched there so that another could sit on England's throne, are one example. Another less well known but equally dreaded vision is the so called Shivering Boy of Triermain Castle. Located in Northumberland, England, the castle is now mostly a ruin. In earlier times, however, families who inhabited it feared the touch of a child's hand or the sound of a shaky little voice saying: "Cold, cold, forever more." The experience was thought to be a sure sign of imminent death.

A terrible story hid behind the legend of the Shivering Boy. He was said to be a six or seven-year-old orphan set to inherit the castle and its lands some time in the Middle Ages. His father's brother was made ward to the young heir and, wanting the lucrative estate for himself, he locked the boy up and starved him. When the poor thing was too weak to move, his uncle carried him out to the village commons on a stormy winter night. Leaving the child in the blizzard to die, the uncle later told those who found the body that the boy had run away. Thereafter, the Shivering Boy either appeared to those about to die, whispered his complaint to them, or touched them with his icy fingers. Until the castle was abandon, he became its own personal banshee of sorts; an unwelcome portend shunned both in life and death.

Header: The ruins of Harbettle Castle in Northumberland from geograph.org.uk via Wikipedia

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jeudi: Weather-Wise

Today, a little change to the weather canon here at HQ. Instead of prognostications, a very old song that most literary historians date from Elizabethan times. The story of Mad Tom probably has an earlier origin, but it is often pinned to Shakespeare's play King Lear. The speaker in this version, which probably comes from Restoration England, is Tom's lover, Maudlin. In some stanza's she speaks as herself; in others, as her Tom. In all she speaks of the turning from light to dark in the sky, in the season and in the mind of Mad Tom.

Loving Mad Tom

From the had and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye
All the spirits that stand by the naked man
In the Book of Moons defend ye!
That of your five sound senses
You never be forsaken
Nor wander from yourselves with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon.

When I short have shorn my sour face
And swigged my horny barrel
In an oaken inn I pound my skin
As a suit of gilt apparel.
The Moon's my constant Mistress,
And the lonely owl my marrow,
The flaming drake and the nightcrow make
Me music to my sorrow.

I know more than Apollo, 
For oft when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at bloody wars
In the wounded welkin weeping;
The Moon embrace her shepherd
And the queen of Love her warrior,
While the first doth horn the star of morn
And the next the heavenly Farrier.

With an host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear, and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney,
Then leagues beyond the wide world's end,
Methinks it is no journey.

Header: The Jester by Thomas S. Noble via American Gallery

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Most of us think very little of lettuce. It goes in your salad, or holds your cottage cheese, or sits under the whole wheat toast surrounding your turkey sandwich. Meh. "Diet food." But wait; let us look at the humble lettuce in a new light. Let's evaluate it as an herb instead of just a food...

For centuries various types of lettuces were cultivated not only for eating but also for worship and magick. The Ancient Egyptians offered lettuces to Hathor, the cow-shaped goddess of love and music. Her altars were washed with lettuce juice. As a curious aside, her alter-ego (pun intended here), the lioness Sekhmet, sometimes had her altars bathed in the blood of cows.

Old wives would rub lettuce leaves on the foreheads of sleepless children to encourage slumber. Older family members were encouraged to eat lettuce to the same end. Some historians believe that the French culinary habit of serving the salad course just before the end of a meal may have come from this tradition.

Lettuce was also used as a beauty treatment. Lettuce water, probably an infusion much like rose water, was a beauty secret of the English court ladies during the Tudor era. Mary Wotton, Lady Guildford, pictured above, was a Lady in Waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon, the first of Henry VIII's unfortunate wives. Lady Guildford was not much admired for her beauty, but her exceptionally luminous and pale skin was the envy of the court. Rumor had it that the secret was rinsing plasters whose ingredients included fresh cow dung off her face and decollete with lettuce water.

The main power attributed to lettuces is over love, lust and self control. Scott Cunningham notes that lettuce of any kind planted in a garden will protect the property. He warns, however, that too much lettuce - how much is too much is not indicated - can cause sterility to descend on the household. He also tells us that lettuce or watercress seeds can be planted in the form of the name of someone whose romantic attentions you wish to attract. If the seeds sprout and grow healthy, so will your relationship with that person.

And so we come back to lettuce as food; specifically, diet food. For centuries, eating lettuces was thought to "cool the blood." Lettuce was on the menu for people with fevers and other infections. This translated to lettuces being able to cool ardor and desire. Thus, lettuce was eaten to calm lust - making it a favorite among the Catholic clergy in times of old - and to help one resist all types of temptation.

On a final note, lettuce, when eaten, was also thought to completely cure seasickness. And that's news to me.

Header: Mary Wotton, Lady Guildford, by Hans Holbein via Wikimedia

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

Hey, Thanksgiving is just around the corner here in the U.S. and that means piles and piles of flippin' food. Cook, damn you!

It also means no pie on my table. I can bake a cake like nobody's business but I just can't seem to master pie. So what the heck; instead of pumpkin pie, here are some awesomely easy to make cinnamon pumpkin cupcakes that can also be dressed up to look like pumpkins.

1 18.25 ounce package yellow cake mix
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Your favorite vanilla frosting & orange food coloring

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a muffin/cupcake tin with liners (preferably ones with a holiday theme).

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for the cupcakes and mix well, either by hand or with an electric mixer, until most of the lumps are gone. Now spoon batter into the cupcake liners until each is about two-thirds of the way full. Bake on center rack about 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Remove pan(s) from your oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Now pull your cupcakes out of the pan and let them cool completely on the wire rack. If you're like me and you only have one muffin tin, you'll need to repeat the baking process a time or two.

When your cupcakes have cooled, combine just enough orange food coloring to your frosting to achieve a nice pumpkin-y color. Then frost them up and let the kids lick the bowl. If you're channeling Martha Stewart, consider placing a green gummy candy or a little chocolate morsel on the top to represent the stems. These can also be made for Halloween using licorice to make Jack-o-lantern faces.

Of course, for me at least, all of this is hypothetical. We're going over the river and through the woods to my mother-in-law's house for Thanksgiving. Which means there will be pie; oh yes, there will be pie. But then, there's always Christmas... Bon appetite ~

Header: Woman and Child Pouring Milk by Anne Kerr Hirschberg via American Gallery

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

All cultures have folklore that tells of the psychopomp. This figure is the guide to the dead who, often quite literally, harvests souls and takes them to the next world. Sometimes the psychopomp is no more than a harbinger, like the willow-the-wisp that floats above the swamp and, when seen, foretells death. More often, though, the psychopomp has a personality of his or her own. He or she not only takes the soul to its perdition or reward, but it chooses who shall die and who shall live. Sometimes, too, the psychopomp has a bit of a temper.

All this is the case in Celtic legend. Many of the psychopomps of the Celts, who covered territory from the Iberian Peninsula to the British Isles, remain in various forms. One such is the Ankou, a Death figure who is best known in the French province of Brittany.

The Bretons, much like the Irish and Welsh in Great Britain, held on to their Celtic culture well into the 19th century. Even their language was colored by ancient Celtic. So much so that Paul Gauguin, who painted in the region for a short time, complained that he could hardly understand the local farmers at all. And it was among those locals that the legends of the Ankou were whispered, and are still considered to this day.

The Ankou, or rightly Ankous, of Brittany are generally imagined as tall, skeletal men who are seen only at night. They wear either a long, monkish robe or old work clothes and often the wide-brimmed hat curious to the Breton regions. The Ankou plods along next to a rickety cart pulled by one or three skinny and invariably black horses. More often than not, the Ankou carries a scythe. In most of the mythology, each cemetery in Brittany has its own Ankou.

It is not hard to imagine that the scythe is for reaping the dead, and the cart is for hauling the souls off to eternity.

The Ankou, it is important to note, is never thought of as Death in the flesh - or lack thereof. He - and the Ankou is always male - is considered to be only Death's assistant. In almost all stories he is sent to collect the dead soul, not angered or displeased to the point of killing someone outright as some psychopomps can be.

Various origin stories surround the Ankou but the two most prominent are that he is Cain, the fratricidal son of Adam and Eve who was, according to mythology, doomed to walk the Earth for eternity. More commonly though, the Ankou is said to be either the last or first to die in any given year, returned in a new form to collect the souls of his friends, family and neighbors.

The Ankou can also be a harbinger of death to come. When he is seen on the road, the person who sights him is considered a lost soul. Time and place are important to these sightings. The closer the Ankou is to the cemetery when seen, the sooner the seer will die. Those who see the Ankou at dusk or dawn may have years yet to live. But woe to those who are out late at night; in the blackness of midnight, the Ankou is an omen of sudden and virtually immediate death.

Legend has it that the creaking of the Ankou's ungreased cart wheels, though not necessarily foretelling death, is a sure portent of ill luck. And not a soul in Brittany would peak past the curtains once the sun had set. Why, after all, tempt the Ankou and fate?

Header: Medieval carving from La Roche-Maurice in Brittany thought to be a depiction of the Ankou via Wikipedia

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jeudi: Root Work

Knot spells are probably as old as human beings. The magick of the knot is easy to perform as all you need is your intention, your words and something to tie consecutive knots in. A strand of hair, a blade of grass, a flower stalk, the list continues ad nauseum and makes the relative ease of knot work so very obvious.

I think it is this easy, with its lack of fancy ingredients that sound like something out of Faust, that makes knot work a relatively untouched subject among modern spell book writers. Believe me, I own a book or two on the subject across a range of magickal disciplines and there are only a few that include knot magick. Silver RavenWolf stands out as a modern Wiccan who discusses the practice in detail in more than one of her books - To Ride A Silver Broomstick, for instance.

The formula for a knot spell is to tie a series of knots - generally but not always in multiples of three - in a length of thread, string or ribbon. The knots should be relatively equadistant from one another so the length of the thread is important; you don't want to run out of material before your work is done. Another broad generalization is that knot work is done to bind something or someone: keep illness at bay, drive off unwanted attentions or make a partner faithful in love, for instance. This follows the like-makes-like philosophy of magick and, though it makes sense, you should not limit yourself if knot work particularly appeals to you. Once you get good at it, you can use these spells for virtually anything and with surprising success.

Once the working is done, the knotted item should always be stored somewhere safe. No one else should see or most importantly touch the knots or the working will lose power. If you should decide that you no longer wish to apply the power of your knot work, simply reverse the process: with intention and while speaking the knots out loud, take the knots out of the item and dispose of it. Burning, burying or release in running water is best to ensure that all of your spell has been undone.

Speaking the knots is one of the largest parts of this type of spell. It allows the worker to focus on their goal and say out loud the intention of the working. This is particularly important for those who are knew to root work. Focus can be the most difficult part of successfully working magick, and all of us - regardless of our intentions - should take a little bit of time away from the constant distractions of our day to meditate, pray or focus somewhere quiet.

All knot spells follow the numbering formula and the best way for me to express that is to give an example. Here are the spoken words for each knot in a spell to keep an unwanted suitor at bay:

By knot of one it is begun;
By knot of two I'm done with you;
By knot of three you forget me;
By knot of four I close the door;
By knot of five ardor cannot survive;
By knot of six you find a new fix;
By knot of seven away from me you're driven;
By knot of eight no love, no hate;
By knot of nine freedom from you is mine.

You would tie each knot as you speak it's number. The rhyming is not a necessity but it is certainly an aid to focus as well as part of the knot work tradition. You may want to write down your speaking before you do your working. Most of us aren't good at coming up with this kind of thing off the top of our heads, particularly when we are dealing with something in which we are emotionally invested.

This brings me to two final points. If you can get something the person you are doing the knot work about and/or for to put knots in, or even have he or she touch the thread or sting that you will use, so much the better. Neither of these points are ablsolute necessities but they do help. Also, speaking of writing things down, it always helps to keep a working journal of your magick - call it a Book of Shadows or Grimoire if you have to but keep some kind of record of your spells and how they manifested. It will help you learn not only from your mistakes, but from your successes as well... Bonne chance ~

Header: Painting by William Stott via Old Paint