Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Mugwort has a long standing history as an enhancer of psychic powers.  It also has other properties that can be helpful when one is in need of strength, stamina and healing.  Unlike many other herbs, mugwort’s uses seem to be relatively well agreed upon by the different magickal disciplines.

In Europe old wives, who were often the wise women of their towns and villages, used mugwort to aid their psychic abilities.  A weak tisane made from the leaves was sweetened with honey and drunk before reading cards, scrying or casting lots.  (Note that mugwort is not recommended for ingestion when one is pregnant or nursing.)  The same infusion, without honey, was used to “wash” cards, crystal balls, mirrors and runes.  A pillow stuffed with dried mugwort was thought to improve psychic power.

Mugwort is said to improve stamina and strength if sprinkled in a person’s shoes.  While this is done in hoodoo with no particular ritual, Scott Cunningham tells us that the best results will be achieved if the mugwort is picked before sunrise while uttering the words tollam te Artemisia, ne lassus sim in via.

In hoodoo, root workers burn mugwort on charcoal with frankincense or copal to encourage the aid of benevolent spirits.  Similarly, Wiccans burn mugwort with sandalwood to increase the efficacy of vision quests and psychic readings.

Catherine Yronwode of the Lucky Mojo Curio Co. says that a red flannel mojo bag filled with mugwort, comfrey root and a St. Christopher medal will protect long-distance travelers not only from injury and illness but also from pesky annoyances like cancelled flights and lost luggage.

In eastern countries, particularly China and Japan, mugwort is considered curative.  Incense made with mugwort was used by the Ainu people to expel disease, as the spirits who caused illness were repulsed by the smell.  Carrying mugwort on one’s person was also a balm for a myriad of ills, from headaches to insanity.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Untitled illustration by Olaf Hajek

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

Everyone who knows me knows I love the recipes of the late, great Leon E. Soniat, Jr.  Since I did not have to good fortune to be exposed to Creole cooking on a regular basis growing up, the recipes in Soniat’s cookbooks make me feel as if I’m reclaiming part of my heritage every time I dive into them.  Here’s just another example of the gentleman’s culinary genius from La Bouche Creole II; the decadent Trout Leon:

6, 6 to 8 oz trout fillets
1 cup cold milk
Salt & pepper to taste
½ lb sliced fresh mushrooms
1 stick melted butter plus 2 tbsps butter
2 egg yolks
¼ cup finely chopped green onions
2 tbsps flour
1 cup scalded milk
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ tsp white pepper
Tabasco to taste
1 cup whipping cream, whipped
Dash freshly ground nutmeg

Marinate trout fillets in cold milk for half an hour in the frig. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the fillets from the milk, pat dry, sprinkle with salt and pepper and arrange in a baking dish.  Add the mushrooms and pour half of the melted butter on top.  Bake until fish flakes; about 15 to 20 minutes.

While the fish are baking, prepare the sauce by placing egg yolks in a mixing bowl and beating them with a whisk until they thicken.  Beat in the remaining melted butter, a little at a time.  Set aside.

Place the 2 tbsps of butter in a skillet and sauté the green onions over low heat, taking care not to brown them.  When the onions are soft, add the flour and mix well.  Simmer about 4 minutes, stirring constantly.  Slowly add the scalded milk, stirring all the time.  Let this sauce cook on low heat to thicken, about 4 or 5 minutes more.  Remove from heat and, when the sauce is almost cool, stir in the egg yolks and butter; mix well.  Add the wine, white pepper and Tabasco.

When the fish is done, remove it from the oven and preheat your broiler.  Fold the whipping cream into your sauce, add the nutmeg and spoon over the fish.  Brown for a minute under the broiler; keep an eye on it so that it does not burn.

Serve with fluffy rice for a delicious dinner for six.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Three Gurnards Beside a Saucepan by George Nicholson c 1930 via Old Paint

Friday, February 24, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Chthonian: Greek ~ underground; subterranean; relating to the underworld as the chthonian deities; applied to such Greek gods as distinguished from those of Olympus.

That definition, from Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, opened a rather verbose term paper I did back in college on the various human perceptions of the afterlife in cultures around the world.  I recently found my notes for that overly-erudite research paper and that got the juices of curiosity flowing again.  As back in my youth, when I thought that B paper was actually worthy of an A, I have been wondering why human perception of what happens after we die is so divergent and yet so similar. 

The question that really fascinates me on that score is why has it been only recently in the evolution of mythology that humans have embraced the idea of eternal and/or temporary punishment in the underworld.  What the heck turned us, almost en-mass, into a bunch of drooling voyeurs who enjoy nothing more than hearing, reading or gawking at sermons, texts and art portraying the grizzly torments of souls in, for the sake of brevity, Hell?

Well, lets face it, I can’t answer that question.  In fact, no one can.  What we can do, though, is peer into those dark, chthonian corners with a skeptical but curious eye and see what’s what out there in underworld-land.  From primitive cultures to the current religious “Big Three”, it doesn’t hurt to explore and wonder at the ideas that formed and continue to form our perception of what happens after we die.  And since rose gardens, harps and a lot of time to read are by comparison boring, the torments of the “evil” are a good place to start.

Here’s just a taste of what such investigation holds in store.  In Connaught, Ireland, the Cave of Cruachan was believed by the Celts to be a door to the underworld.  The dark opening has a vaguely mouth-like appearance and is near the original capitol of Connacht, seat of the now famous Queen Madb.  According to the Celts, this was the gateway to Oweynagat.  Though not officially a place of tormented souls, Oweynagat was thought to be the origin of destructive beasts that could emerge from the cave and cause widespread pestilence and destruction.  The connection to the sihd or fairy world was also made at the cave, with stories of changelings and abducted babies connected to the place.

Not surprisingly, Christianity painted an even more sinister face on this opening in the Earth.  It became a gateway to Hell, to be avoided at all costs but especially around the time of the Celtic festival of Samhain – October 31st on the Gregorian calendar.  On that night ghostly shades and terrifying animated corpses would crawl up out of the ground and attack any foolish mortal who made the mistake of being out and in the cave’s proximity.

It is probably reasonable to imagine that the local, pagan population around the Cave of Cruachan interacted in some way with the geological formation.  Perhaps they performed ceremonies or left offerings there, particularly around Samhain.  In an effort to demonize these Celtic practices, the Church turned the place into “The Walking Dead” complete with lost souls and ghastly zombies.  Their ruse was made easier by the already existing belief that the cave did indeed contain things to be feared.

Next week and in the Fridays to come we’ll explore more myths, legends and down right mutilated histories of the chthonian realms.  From the curious to the morbid it should be, at the very least, an interesting if Dante-esque journey.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: The Cave of Cruachan via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jeudi: Curios

As we’ve discussed before, crystals, gems and metals that are frequently used in all forms of magick would probably be classified under the heading of curios in hoodoo. Many of these items are new to root work, although some use of rocks and minerals has a long-standing tradition in Voudon. Sometimes there is a bit of a cross-over, however, and today’s metal is one of those exceptions.

Copper is a very old metal that has been used in religious and ritual magick for centuries. Copper was sacred to the Queen of Heaven in ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian and Arab cultures. Copper objects have been dedicated to all the goddesses of love and battle, Inanna, Astarte, Ishtar and Al-Uzza for instance. This in turn has led to copper’s association with Venus, the Morning Star. Copper talismans were common in Ancient Egypt and usually worn by people who could not purchase gold or silver. Copper was also sacred to the Native cultures of the Pacific Northwest.

As copper is an excellent conductor of energy, it is often used in the making of “magick wands”. These are used by individuals and groups to focus magickal energy.

The use of copper as both healer and protector is also long standing. Indigenous healers in Central and South America use copper, often in the form of old, all-copper pennies, as a conductor for removing physical or psychological illness from a body. This has translated to the New Age habit of wearing copper bracelets or anklets to balance bodily energy. According to Scott Cunningham, these should be worn on the left side by right-hand-dominant people, and vice versa.

Old Indian Head pennies are used in hoodoo for protection. The idea is that the Native American on the copper coin stands as a “watcher” to keep trouble away from a person or place. This usage of a copper penny is thought to be particularly effective for shady or outright illegal businesses. Such pennies are also believed to bring luck and money, particularly if minted in a leap year.
Finally, probably because of its ancient affiliation with Venus, copper is thought to attract love. Scott Cunningham advises that an emerald set in a copper ring is an excellent talisman for improving one’s love life. Bonne chance ~

Header: Babylonian Statue of Ishtar wearing copper jewelry c 1,000 BCE

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mercredi: Herbal-Wise

I'm not a person who has an appetite for power. I’ve been in charge at various points in my life and that’s enough of that, thank you. But there are plenty of people who quite literally lust for power. More than love or personal security, power is virtually their deity. Holy bayou, I just described Jean Laffite...

Anyway, where there is a want there is a magick and hoodoo, like so many other forms of the stuff, has several herbs for drawing power. One of the most acclaimed is known in the southern U.S. as master of the woods. Its name in many other places is woodruff or sweet woodruff, and it is also familiar to Wiccan herbalists.

In Wicca, woodruff is used to improve physical strength. Scott Cunningham says that woodruff was – and is – carried by athletes and warriors to aid in achieving victory. Woodruff carried in a leather bag is also said to protect a person from physical harm. The added bonus: this sweet smelling herb is supposed to attract money as well.

In hoodoo, master of the woods is carried to increase strength, protect and even assist in pain relief. It is thought that master of the woods sprinkled in the shoes will delay the effects of fatigue until the shoes are removed. Adding Sampson snake root to this mojo increases its effectiveness. A decoction of the same herbs in oil, particularly if it has been blessed, can be rubbed onto sore joints and muscles for magickal relief.

The so called “Master Mojo” is a red flannel bag filled with master of the woods, Sampson snake root and master root (masterwort). This is then dressed with High John the Conqueror Oil and carried to obtain physical strength and worldly power. I sometimes wonder if the King of Barataria didn’t carry this mojo in his pocket, perhaps only to lose it before things went terribly awry for his smuggling empire. Just a fanciful thought on my part, but who can say. Bonne chance ~

Header: Lafitte the Pirate by Paul Ashbrook c 1960, a contemporary imagining of Jean Laffite

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

It's Mardi Gras time once again, so I'm pulling this post out of the archives.  Go make King Cake, y'all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Samedi: Lest We Forget...

We're not much for the modern news around HQ but sometimes it is important to remember that "The Burning Times", as Wiccans refer to them, are still with us today:

Woman Accused of Witchcraft, Burned Alive in Nepal via CNN

Header:  Engraving by Jan Luyken

Friday, February 17, 2012

Vendredi: The Last of the Tea Leaves

With this post, we will wrap up the meanings of various shapes that our spent tea leaves might take on in the bottom of our empty cups. 

Table ~ a social occasion or business meeting, depending on the shapes surrounding this one
Tent ~ a rocky romantic connection; like the tent, which is usually meant to be temporary, this love will not last
Telescope ~ an eye for the future; the petitioner is good at seeing what lies around the corner
Trident ~ a successful business endeavor or trip
Tree ~ fine health, especially if three or more trees are close to each other; two trees near one another means a close relationship, while two trees far apart means a separation
Umbrella ~ the petitioner is searching for security; if the umbrella is closed, they will not find what they seek but, if it is open, a safe haven in is their future
Unicycle ~ an heroic act of balance/multitasking is being undertaken by the petitioner; look at the shapes nearby to determine if they may be overtaxing themselves
Violin ~ the petitioner is more than capable of getting by on their own; animals with negative connotations nearby may hint at self-centeredness
Volcano ~ strong feelings have been kept under wraps, perhaps for some time, and are ready to “blow up”
Wall ~ the petitioner is facing an obstacle that seems insurmountable, but persistence will bring the desired result
Watch ~ a personal proposal or business offer is on its way
Well ~ a troublesome issue on which a decision must be made has the petitioner in the dark; consulting a professional may be the best course of action
Wheel ~ the end of a period of exhausting work, worry or illness is on its way
Windmill ~ staying the course while still being willing to tweak old habits will end in success
Wings ~ news – usually life-changing news – is on the horizon
Yoke ~ the petitioner is in a danger zone for potential entrapment; consider a job offer, personal proposal or other such very, very carefully

Thus ends out discussion of the potential meaning of those odd shapes made by spent tea leaves.  I’m formulating some thoughts about a potential new direction for Friday posts at HQ that I hope to be able to unveil next week.  Until then, mes amis, Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Nameless and Friendless by E.M. Osborn c 1857

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jeudi: Root Work

Entertaining was one of the many things that my Grandmother excelled at.  She was notorious in small towns along the Washington coast such as Aberdeen and Hoquiam for her during-Prohibition-and-beyond cocktail parties.  So much so that the memory of them lingered long after Gran had joined the Ghede. 

I remember being approached by a quite elderly man in Ocean Shores when I was in my early twenties.  He asked me if I was “Helen’s granddaughter” and when I said yes he began to gush about Gran, perfectly dry martinis and a certain silk dress that evidently showed off rouged knees.  Right about then my Grandfather came around the corner.  The gushing ended abruptly; even in his 80s Grandpa could be threatening.

Since my own mother tends to loath entertaining – I suspect she loathes people in general so entertaining would naturally follow – I was always keen to hear what Gran had to say about the makings of a perfect get-together.  One of her favorite bits of advice involved the use of what we would now term “aromatherapy”.  She called in “incense magick” and gave the credit for her knowledge of the responses of the human olfactory system to her old friends, the Gypsies.

Accordingly, she wrote down a list that I’ve kept tucked in her old cookbook.  Some of these incenses are harder to find today than they were in the ‘30s when Gran was in her glory, but most can still be acquired if you’re willing to look.  Remember to always purchase the highest quality incense your budget will allow, regardless of your preference for stick, cone or loose varieties.  High quality ingredients, it goes without saying, result in high quality incense.  Here’s Gran’s list with a few of my own tweaks:

Amber ~ a fine choice for small gatherings, particularly those with romantic overtones
Cassia ~ sets a comfortable, homey mood
Cedar ~ calms men (Gran recommended this one if two rivals were bound to show up at your soirée)
Cinnamon ~ a purifier that is best to burn the day before you entertain to “clear the air”
Clove ~ stimulates the brain; great for meetings, book clubs, writing circles etc.
Frankincense or Myrrh ~ attunes the conscious mind to higher powers; the right choice for any spiritual gathering
Ginger ~ creates a warm, welcoming environment; perfect on cold winter nights
Lavender ~ a tension reliever that dissipates nervous energy; this is a good one for the hostess to enjoy in her private rooms while she prepares for her guests
Neroli ~ brings joy; a great choice for celebrations of weddings, baptisms, birthdays and a loved one who has passed on
Pine ~ this perfect holiday scent is like a combination – figuratively speaking – of Ginger and Neroli
Rosemary ~ much like a combination of Cinnamon and Clove – again in the figurative sense – Rosemary helps clear both the atmosphere and the brain; it is also a good choice for groups made up exclusively of women
Sandalwood ~ tends to make people drop their barriers and interact freely
Ylang-Ylang ~ “inspires beauty” and is perfect for gallery openings or gatherings of artists young or old; I find this scent is particularly good for children’s parties

Incense is a simple and inexpensive way to bring harmony, well-being and creativity into your home, and not just when you entertain.  Not all magick has to be concentration and sparks, after all.  If you’re like me and are not blessed with a local purveyor of good incense, I recommend Azure Green as a place to shop online.  They are reputable, have a large stock and ship to both the U.S. and Canada.  Bonne chance ~

Header: The Village Fête by Victor Nehlig via American Gallery

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

It's Valentine’s Day seems the perfect opportunity to dwell on one of the most powerful love-drawing – and holding – herbs in the hoodoo lexicon: the Adam & Eve root.  The root is in fact two tubers of a pair of orchids attached to one another, although they are now frequently sold as a separate pair.  One is a lighter color than the other and they both take on the very vague shape of an actual human heart.  It is hardly a wonder that Adam & Eve roots have a reputation for working magick in love.

In Wicca, the roots are used much as they are in hoodoo.  Scott Cunningham recommends carrying the roots together in a bag at all times.  He advises that this sachet will serve two purposes; to draw love to you and to repel rivals for that love.

In hoodoo, the roots are used by men and women in separate kinds of mojo bags to attract and keep love.  A frequent ingredient in all kinds of love mojos – along with Adam & Eve root – is lodestones.  These magnetic stones, of course through the doctrine of like makes like, are thought to attract whatever it is that the root worker hopes to gain.

One of my favorite workings with Adam & Eve root involves with two people working together to keep their love strong.  In this case, two pairs of Adam & Eve root are placed in two bags, one designated as male and one female.  A lodestone, dressed with magnetic sand if possible, is also placed in each bag.   A High John the Conqueror root is then added to the male bag while a Queen Elizabeth root is added to the female.  If possible, both bags should be dressed with a love oil such as Love Me or Stay With Me oil.  The male bag is to be carried by the woman and the female by the man when the two are apart.  When the couple is together at home, the bags should be placed together, either tied with a ribbon or in a box, under or near their bed.  This will ensure that no person can tempt the couple away from their true love.  Making two male or two female bags will have the equivalent effect for same-sex lovers.  Happy Valentine’s Day, and bonne chance ~

Header: Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach c 1538 via the Toronto Museum

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

We hosted the Super Bowl here at chez Pauline and I tried an unfamiliar to me chili recipe from the very birthplace of American chili: Texas.  The taste was great – and still is – and it gave me an opportunity to use up some of the meat we had in the freezer.  The original recipe calls for beef chuck but I used beef, pork and moose.  Yum!

3 tbsps olive oil
1 or 2 pats butter
2 pounds beef chuck, cubed
3 or 4 slices bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsps cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
½ tsp cinnamon
1 8 oz can diced chilies
3 15 oz cans diced tomatoes
1 16 oz can tomato sauce
1 bottle/can beer
Salt & cayenne pepper to taste

Heat oil and butter in a large pot or Dutch oven and brown the meat thoroughly.  Add bacon, onion, garlic and spices.  Cook until onions are clarified.  Add chili’s tomatoes, tomato sauce and beer.  Allow this to simmer for at least two hours and then taste for seasoning, adjusting salt and cayenne pepper to taste.  This can simmer, covered, for several more hours, even over night.  If the chili becomes too thick, you can add a few tablespoons of beef broth or bullion to loosen it.

Serve with grated cheese, sour cream, chopped jalapenos and tortilla chips.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Sleeping Kitchen Maid by Valloud de Villeneuve via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Samedi: Ghost Stories

I realized the other day that it has been some time since we’ve spun a good ghostly yarn here at HQ.  With St. Valentine’s Day in the offing, I thought I’d pull one from that wonderful source of old time Louisiana folklore, Gumbo Ya~Ya, edited by storyteller extraordinaire Lyle Saxon. 

As before, I’ve got my own spin on the story from friends and family down NOLA way.  In Gumbo Ya~Ya the young husband died in the first World War.  The way a similar story was told to me by Cordelia la Tour, may the angels rest her soul, the story is about an ancestor of hers who died shortly after the War of 1812.  Either way, it is both chilling and sentimental.  Here then is the story of a young widow and her search for answers at the grave of her lost husband one night in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.

The young and beautiful Madame Sidonie de la Tour was despondent after the death of her beloved husband Jerome.  They had shared only a scant few years together before his untimely death in the yellow fever epidemic of 1818.  Sidonie was inconsolable and would often visit her love’s grave in the evening to place fresh flowers, light the lantern and commune with his soul.

This ritual did not change when a new love came into Sidonie’s life.  The dashing stranger from the East Coast courted the lovely – and wealthy – widow in a whirlwind romance.  In the spring of 1819 he proposed, promising her the world.  Despite her joy, Sidonie had not forgotten her first love and so, flowers in hand, she went to his grave not only to remember him but to ask for his advice.

When she was done straightening up, placing the flowers just so and lighting the lantern, Sidonie began to talk to Jerome.  Nearby sat her chaperone, a burly slave named Aries who went with her everywhere, dozing with his hat over his face.  As the sun went down Sidonie spoke of her new beau and asked Jerome point blank: “Should I marry him?”

Silence filled the sunset air.  Aries began to snore, insects buzzed, the leaves of nearby trees rustled in the breeze, but no answer was for coming.  Sidonie ran her long, elegant fingers over the raised lettering on her husband’s tomb and began to think that maybe no answer meant she was free to marry again.

“Oya, Madame!” 

Aries’ booming voice made Sidonie jump nearly out of her skin.  She looked over and saw him pointing up to the velvet blue sky, his eyes wide.

“Do you see, Madame?  It is certainly a great owl,” Aries continued.

Sidonie looked up and sure enough, an unusually large owl was circling just overhead.  “Don’t worry, Aries,” she said.  “He is only hunting.  The mice are as numerous as – ”  She could not finish her thought as a beautiful long-stemmed rose, the very color of blood, dropped into her taffeta skirt.

While she and Aries watched, completely speechless, the owl dropped ten more red roses into Sidonie’s lap. 

“What ever does it mean, Madame?”

“I’m sure I couldn’t say,” she replied.  “How very queer.”  Sidonie was gathering up the fresh blossoms – quite out of season and full of perfume – when another rose fell onto her skirts.  This one was pristinely white, so pale in fact that it appeared luminous.  It was followed by a rain of eight more, their perfection and scent as lovely as the eleven red roses before.

“Madame,” Aries’ voice was shaking now.  “That there is powerful strange.  I tell you, it must be a sign.”

Sidonie, who hadn’t had time to think of what the roses might mean, looked to her husband’s tomb.  Again her hands went to the lettering and she began to read aloud: “Here lies Monsieur Jerome David de la Tour…”  At that moment a veil seemed lifted, and she read the meaning as clearly as looking through glass.  “Oh Aries, you are right.  The eleventh letter is N while the next ninth letter is O.  N. O.  No.”

“Madame,” Aries stood and brushed himself off before looking back to the sky.  “The owl is gone.  We should be too.”

Sidonie did not argue but gathered her roses, kissed Jerome’s name and allowed Aries to help her to her feet. 

Upon further investigation, it was revealed that Sidonie’s fiancé was a con man with a long trail of now poor and previously widowed wives behind him.  To her dying day she credited her Jerome, in the shape of an unnatural owl, for warning her against a horrible mistake.  Amour toujour ~

Header: St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 via hauntedamericatours.com

Friday, February 10, 2012

Vendredi: The Shape of Your Tea

Time once again to look at a few meanings of the potential shapes left behind after that relaxing cup of tea:

Package or gift ~ something unexpected is on the horizon
Paper or scroll ~ news; a possible announcement of promotion, or other life improvement
Pen or inkwell ~ the opposite of the above; disturbing messages
Pencil ~ temporary situation set to change, possibly for the better depending on shapes nearby
Pipe ~ a time of relaxation; nothing is fabulous or new, but life is good
Purse ~ financial gain
Racket (tennis) ~ winning a dispute or argument
Rake ~ time to organize, both in business and at home
Rod & reel (fishing) ~ either the petitioner is about to score a large gain of some kind or they are out “fishing” around for something they will never attain
Saucer ~ the petitioner is in debt, perhaps over his/her head
Saw ~ gossip or malice toward the petitioner, most probably from someone they do not know well
Scales ~ legal issues; blind justice for good or ill
Scepter ~ much like a saucer; the petitioner is strained fiscally
Scissors ~ the petitioner should beware of deceit, especially in one close to them
Scythe ~ good faith; a trustworthy friend.  Look carefully at the shapes around the scythe, however; there may be a risk of losing a faithful friend
Shovel ~ hard work leads to success & recognition
Spoon ~ the petitioner is “hungry” for attention
Stove or oven ~ a snug, comforting home & loving family is there for the petitioner, regardless of his situation otherwise

And so we end another Friday post; Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Cotton Exchange, New Orleans by Edgar Degas c 1873

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jeudi: Weather-Wise

Birds were the village wise person’s first weather indicator in times gone by.  Neither past events, the shapes and colors of clouds, the stars nor even the calendar date were as trustworthy as animals, and particularly birds, when it came to day to day forecasts.  Animals on the ground, especially the familiar rodents that hibernate in winter, were excellent harbingers of the seasons.  It was the birds, though, that told an old wife whether or not she could hang out laundry, walk down to the village or thatch her roof tomorrow.

Particularly in cold climates in the Northern Hemisphere, the beautiful birds known as Bohemian wax wings were a harbinger of either bitter cold or relief from same; usually the former, unfortunately.  These birds wing their way across the sky in large flocks, darting, swooping and changing directions with abandon and precision that would make the Blue Angels jealous.  In North America they currently range over most of Canada and the northern U.S. and they are listed as “permanent residents” in South Central Alaska and Pacific coastal Canada.

An average group of wax wings, which can range from 20 to 50 birds, massing on a tree, flying off and then returning is said to be a sign of snow within 24 hours.  Large numbers of more than 50, perhaps two or three flocks together, huddled in rows on the branches of trees, the roofs of barns or the tops of fences are said to signify very harsh weather and unusual cold. 

In colonial times, this sign also foretold more illness than usual in both men and domestic beasts.  Some even imagined it as a portend of the end of the world.  Old wives would advise that people safeguard their health and that of their children.  Animals should be brought into barns and not left out to pasture as well, and the next spring’s seed stock should be checked frequently for mildew and rodents to prevent future famine.

While I’ve yet to witness apocalyptic occurrences after odd behavior in wax wings, they surely have a way of showing up and then leaving.  The next day, almost without fail, the snowfall will arrive.  Some old weather “superstitions” are still worth paying attention to.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Alaskan Bohemian wax wings, photo by the talented Clark James Mishler from his website; this photo also appeared in Anchorage Daily News

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Valentine's Day is a week away, ladies, and it is no good excuse for you to sit around waiting for him to “get you something”.  Be creative, be thoughtful, and make your man a gift to pamper him that he can appreciate all year round.  How about a nice aftershave with the rich, earthy scents of sandalwood and rosemary?  Here’s what you’ll need:

¾ cup witch hazel
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
12 drops sandalwood essential oil
5 drops rosemary essential oil
3 drops tea tree essential oil

Simply funnel all these ingredients into a bottle with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake the mixture up and then pat on facial skin after shaving.

The witch hazel and vinegar are astringent while the sandalwood and tea tree oils are antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.  Rosemary adds a nice “nose” and helps improve circulation. 

Got a lady friend rather than a gentleman?  Consider replacing the sandalwood oil with rose otto essential oil.  This makes a great pre-moisturizing astringent for just-shaved legs.  These recipes are adapted by me from an aftershave recipe in the wonderful Reader’s Digest Book of Herbs.  A votre santé ~

Header: Breaking the Law with Style via Mid-Century

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Valerian, which is usually referred to in hoodoo as “vandal root”, is one of those plants whose awful scent has put it in high demand for protective magicks.  Historically, and now in modern herbal medicine, the dried root is brewed into a tisane to relax those who felt anxious and to help one sleep.  Some Native American tribes used a tea made with valerian as a cleanser; its astringent properties were also utilized to heal wounds.

In American Pow-Wow, valerian root is used for banishment, exorcism and protection.  Silver RavenWolf says that the plant was to be gathered with the left hand as Sirius was rising and that honey should be left as an offering to the valerian after harvesting.  This was then mixed with rosemary, fennel, sage, hyssop, lavender, basil, mint and holy water to keep away ghosts, evil intentions and ill-tempered elementals.

Old wives would pin a sprig of valerian to their marriageable daughters’ clothing, thus attracting men like meat attracts dogs.

It is probably from this traditional use that modern Wiccans derived the use of the dried plant in love sachets and incenses.  Scott Cunningham also mentions hanging the plant in the home to ward off lightening strikes and the evil eye. 

In hoodoo, valerian/vandal root is sometimes used as a substitute for graveyard dirt in jinxing tricks.  Vandal root is also burned with Uncrossing Incense to send back jinxes made against the root worker.  The dried plant is sprinkled on doorsteps to prevent unwanted visitors from approaching a home.

Probably because of its calming effect when ingested, valerian/vandal root is also used to stop fighting between spouses.  A vandal root should be wrapped round with a picture of you and your spouse.  Carry this for three days and then remove the vandal root and drop it in running water to “carry the anger away”.  Replace the root with a love herb such as a rose, lovage root or – for women in particular – rosemary and keep the pictures and herb with you from then on.  Your marital strife should subside.  Bonne chance ~

Header: The Miracle of the Jealous Husband by Titian c 1511

Friday, February 3, 2012

Vendredi: Leaves, Masks and Needles

It has been snowing for the last seven hours here, and so I have had more than one cup of tea already today – to say nothing of coffee.  Should I have found any of the shapes in my spent tea leaves, they might just indicate…
Ladder ~ climbing the ladder of success; slow, steady advancement
Lamp ~ the petitioner is searching for enlightenment.  They will need to study and seek sage advice to achieve their goal
Leaves ~ these have various meanings: a garland of leaves means acclaim while falling leaves indicate illness or a downturn in fortune.  Grape leaves indicate anger on the part of the petitioner or one close to them.  Fig leaves tend to indicate negative gossip against the petitioner; fern leaves mean someone is disloyal.  Oak leaves may point to a long, healthy life.  Two or more relatively unidentifiable leaves foretell good fortune in the near future
Letter or envelope ~ news, perhaps that the petitioner has been waiting for, will soon arrive
Lock ~ a roadblock that the petitioner must work through rather than around
Mantle, robe or shawl ~ the petitioner is covering up something personal
Mask ~ deception which works either for or against the petitioner, depending on nearby shapes
Mountain ~ the petitioner has an altruistic goal that should be pursued
Mushroom ~ movement in business; takeovers, expansion
Nail ~ possible false accusation or unjust court decision against the petitioner
Needle ~ a love affair; if near a cat, deer or shawl, an illicit one
Nurse ~ someone close to the petitioner may be in danger of serious illness
Oyster ~ a very propitious sign; joy, wealth of all kinds

And so we will close for today.  I wish you far fewer hazards than are faced by those in my neck of the woods today, and Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Veil of Winter by William St John Harper c 1890

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jeudi: Great Spirits

Today is familiar to most Americans as Groundhog Day, the day when we wait to see if the rodent after which it is named will peek out of his den and either scurry back in because he “saw his shadow” or climb out and presumably ask the gathered crowd “How’s it goin’?” while scratching himself.  Since the former occurred this morning in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, it is assumed that we must gripe and groan through six more weeks of winter.

This amusing if somewhat lugubrious ritual is in fact a gross diminishment of the origin of this calendar day.  Once, many millennia ago in the Celtic lands of Ireland, Scotland, England and France, it was around February 2nd that the spring lambs were born.  This renewal of life represented the rise of the greatest creation goddess of the Celtic people.  Out of the ashes of the hag of winter came the bride of spring and summer; the generous one who was known as Brigid or Brigit the “bright one”.

Brigit was called Bride (pronounced “breed”) in Scotland and parts of Ireland.  She was known as Brigandee or Brigandu in France and as Brigantia in England, Cornwall and Wales.  Her aspect was threefold but unlike the Mediterranean triple goddesses who wore three faces – maiden/mother/crone – Brigit was always a young woman; not yet a matron but no longer a maiden. 

She was the inventor of smith craft; her priestesses were virgins who tended a sacred forge where pure gold was crafted into royal ornaments.  Brigit was also the muse of poets and the inspiration of artists and she brought to humans the benevolent gift of healing in all its forms from herbal medicine to magickal trance.  In her triple form she was often depicted as holding a torch, a cauldron and a snake to represent each aspect respectfully.

The seat of Brigit’s worship by the time the first Christian missionaries crossed into Ireland was Kildare so it stands to reason that the Christian saint who merged with one of the greatest goddesses in history is now known as Bridget of Kildare.  The ancient place of Brigit’s worship, at whose center was an enormous oak tree, became known as the abbey where she, as Abbess, literally ruled the land benevolently.  The virgins became the nuns in her care and Saint Mel the bishop who blessed her vows, allegedly in the late 400s.  The story goes that the aging saint absentmindedly read the vows for a bishop rather than an abbess and, when the ceremony was over, could not take back the mistake.  Through this the Church allowed St. Bridget almost as much power as the goddess in whose stead she stood.  It was the Abbess Bridget and her successors who chose the Bishops of Kildare from then on.  It should come as no surprise that each was required to be a practicing goldsmith.

The virtually pagan worship of St. Bridget at the Abbey of Kildare survived nearly into modern times.  It was forced underground during the persecutions of Cromwell and slowly the traditions were forgotten.  Although there are still “Catholic ministries” that claim a link to the Celtic roots of the Abbess of Kildare, their modern brand of “Bridget worship” is sadly watered down even when compared to the rituals and traditions of a few hundred years ago.

Some of Brigit’s power and inspiration of awe survive to this day, and in some fairly innocuous places.  The mammoth stones used to create such pre-Celtic monoliths as Stonehenge are often referred to as “bridestones”, suggesting a far more ancient origin than can be traced.  Most endearing of all, in Britain – particularly Ireland – a girl named Bridget (or Brigit, like my daughter) is born with a nickname: “Brighty”.  In this way, as in so many others, language keeps alive what prejudice has tried so hard to destroy.

Header: Saint Bridget of Kildare from the Cill Dara Ministries website