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 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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

I am so glad that it is finally election day here in the U.S. that I can't express my joy. This has been a miserable, divisive, contentious year of campaigning all the way around. And I'm tired of it. Sick and bloody tired.

In case you're wondering, I am personally an Independent who advocates for fiscal responsibility (do my kid's kid's kids really need to be paying off a debt currently rivaled on the world stage only by that of Greece?) and social reform (why is it that same-sex couples can't have a legally recognized partnership like marriage?). I don't believe anyone will take my guns away from me or deny my daughters the right to a safe, legal abortion. Regardless of who is elected President. Yet I am called names by both sides - racist, hater, and oh yeah, I'm going to Hell - because I can think for myself and will not follow a major party like a blind goat on a lead.

To put it mildly, I am fed up with being anxious, angry, confused and, well, the list goes on and on.

So I'm changing up today's post and introducing all of the HQ readers to the special magick of something that is not exactly an herb: honey.

Honey is used for sweetening work in hoodoo. Through the doctrine of like-makes-like, it is believed that honey will calm the home, stop gossip, reconcile you with a lover, make a judge smile on you in a court case and so forth. Here is a powerful piece of root work utilizing honey and candle magick that you can use for all that and more.

Take a small jar that has a wide enough top to set a candle holder on. Write your name on a small piece of brown paper and put it at the bottom of the jar along with a strand or two of your hair (clippings from a razor will work if you're bald). Now, fill the jar with any type of honey you have on hand. Cap the jar tightly - you may be using it for a while and you don't want it to attract pests.

Place the jar in a central area of your home where it is safe to burn candles on. I personally like either the fireplace mantel or somewhere in the kitchen for this one. Now, put a candle holder on top of the jar and choose a candle color that matches your need:

Blue: peace in the home (for this one, you may want to add a name paper/hair strand for each person living in your house - include pets if you like)
Yellow: stop malicious gossip or lies being told about you or a family member (here, you may wish to add name papers - at the very least and hair if possible - for the family member being victimized and the bully)
Pink: draw new love/friendship or to reconcile with a lover or friend (again, if you are looking to reconcile, add a name paper for the person you have been estranged from)
Red: encourage lust (do I even need to mention adding a name paper and strand of hair here?)
Purple: revive health (a name paper for the person you wish to heal - if it is not yourself - is a must)
Brown: for a favorable outcome in court (a name paper for the judge couldn't hurt...)
Green: to draw money and/or get approval for a loan (this one works wonders when trying to get a mortgage; try adding a "name" paper with your future home's address on it)

Dress your candle, as always, with olive oil and light it with intention. Keep your need or desire in the back of your mind while allowing the candle to burn down and out. Bury any remaining wax on your property or, in the case of court, health or money issues, carry it with you in a mojo or conjure bag to appointments, trials, etc.

You can increase the power of your name paper(s) by using ink the same color as your candle. Using other sticky, liquid sweeteners - such as cane syrup or molasses - will work just as well should you be unable to use honey. You can also reuse your honey for other influencing work if you don't mind fishing name papers and hair out of it when needed.

For particularly difficult issues - like clearing away all this negative political energy - burn new candles on three, six or even nine consecutive days. Watching the moon face can help you here, too. To carry something away, do this ritual during a waning or dark moon; to draw something to you, choose a waxing or full moon.

Stay calm and carry on and remember that sometimes accepting what we can't change while working graciously to change what we can is always a better solution than calling each other names. Bonne chance ~

Header: It's Up to You by Gil Elvgren via American Gallery

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dimanche: Swimming

This photo from Hoquiam, Washington, USA was taken in 1929. The lovely ladies pictured are wearing bathing attire made of spruce veneer in honor of Hoquiam's annual "Wood Week" and the four of them are noted as the "Spruce Girls". Hoquiam, where my mother was born just a year before this photo was snapped, was run by logging and shipping at the town's largest employer, the Gray's Harbor Mill and Shipyard where my grandfather worked. Well, worked the main one of his three jobs... The lady on the far right, though my Mom cannot remember her name, was evidently a close friend of my grandmother's. Curiously, I found this photo over at Black & WTF and, when I asked her about it, found that Mom also had a copy. Small world.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Yesterday was the Feast of All Saints, and today is the Feast of All Souls. Remembering the exalted and the humble alike, the two feasts combine nicely in the person of Maximilian Maria Kolbe. The priest who is now a saint in the Catholic Church walked through the underworld as surely as Agnes the miller's daughter. But his suffering has a completely different feeling about it. Perhaps it is the immediacy of modernity; or perhaps it is the way that the martyr took the mantel of darkness willingly and came out shining.

Kolbe was born on January 8,1894 in Zdunska Wola, Poland. By all accounts he was a sickly child and contracted tuberculosis at a young age. Long months in sanitariums allowed him time for contemplation and he was just out of boyhood when he joined the Franciscan order at the age of 16. Kolbe, whose middle name may give a hint at his predilection, had a passionate devotion to the Virgin Mary. In his book Maximilian Kolbe: No Greater Love, the saint's biographer and fellow prelate Boniface Hanley called him "animated by pious zeal" so that, despite his infirmities, Kolbe was always able to serve.

To this religious end, Kolbe formed the Knights of Mary Immaculate through which he hoped to revive the Medieval Marian devotion that had always been a feature of Catholicism in his native county. He then began an order of friars known as the City of the Immaculate which quickly grew in size to the larges religious community of men at the time. He took his love of the Virgin on a mission to Japan where he organized a branch of his order called the Garden of the Immaculate.

Kolbe was not one to rest on his laurels, despite growing bouts of tubercular incapacity. He returned to Poland in 1936 with the intent of expanding the City of the Immaculate and the journal that he had started before leaving for Japan. These goals were never to be fulfilled; the Nazis took over Poland in 1939.

History is rarely what we are taught. Unlike the belief of most modern school children, the Nazi's systematic genocide did not fall only upon the Jews. Homosexuals, Gypsies and Catholics - particularly those who had taken vows of any kind - were also on Hitler's list for eradication. Kolbe knew what awaited him under the Nazi boot and quietly prepared himself. He wrote:

I would like to suffer and die in a knightly manner, even to the shedding of the last drop of my blood, to hasten the day of gaining the whole world for the Immaculate Mother of God.

Kolbe was arrested and shipped off to Auschwitz in February of 1941. He was not allowed camp issued garments, but left in his thin cassock to shiver in the winter cold. Put to hard labor, he suffered brutal beatings due to his inability to keep up with the work. His condition worsened; every cough wracked his bruised, skeletal body and brought up clots of blood.

Through it all, Kolbe remained a light of cheerfulness to his fellow prisoners. He helped who he could and encouraged all of them, regardless of background or religion. Those who survived would remember him praying with them, joking and reminding them not to despair.

Yet more misery awaited when a prisoner from Kolbe's cell block managed to escape in July. As a punishment, the commandant picked 10 men who would be immured in a bunker and starved to death. One, Francis Gajowniczek, broke down in tears pleading that he could not die as he had a wife and child. It was then that Father Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered to take Gajowniczek's place. The commandant obliged; the ten men were marched into the underground room and sealed up behind a metal door.

The prisoners managed to get along for a time, drinking their own urine as long as they could. Kolbe became the group's defacto leader, praying, offering what succor he could and sitting with them as they faded away. The group was walled up on July 30 and by August 14, only four men - including Father Kolbe - were still clinging bitterly to life. The commandant, who had been monitoring the torture via cameras, became enraged at this refusal to simply die. He also wanted the bunker emptied for the holding of yet more prisoners. He ordered it opened and the four miserable, immobile stick-figures were injected with carbolic acid. This was administered intravenously, causing death by embolism. All ten bodies were incinerated in the camp's ovens.

In 1982, Maximilian Maria Kolbe was canonized by the Catholic Church. The man whose life he had literally saved, Francis Gajowniczek, was present at the ceremony. Pope John Paul II read from the Gospel of John: "Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends."

Rest in peace, Father Kolbe. Like Agnes, you've earned it.

Header: 1939 photograph of Maximilian Kolbe via Wikipedia