Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jeudi: Weather-Wise

Superstions die harder in some areas than in others.  In a place like New Orleans and the bayous that surround it, weather signs are so engrained as to be almost second nature.  Here are just a few summertime weather signals and superstitions from that wonderful catalogue of all things Louisianan, Gumbo Ya~Ya; Lyle Saxon, editor.

Bullfrogs sing when rain is coming (the old Cajun saying is Laplie tombe ouaouaron chante.)
Killing a cat or a reptile will bring hard rain.
Good weather is coming in summer only if the night before was clear.
Heavy dew is a sign of fair weather.
A whirlwind in the dust of the street heralds dry weather.
Rain or tears at a wedding brings bad luck.
“If the oak is out before the ash, it will be a summer of wet and splash.  If the ash is out before the oak, it will be a summer of fire and smoke.”

All of these may work anywhere, although the one I wish most for is the first.  We’ve no bullfrogs here, and I remember their singing fondly…  Bonne chance ~

Header: The Old Absinthe House by Louis Oscar Griffith via American Gallery

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

The Hurricane is a Rue Bourbon staple that most locals know should be indulged in sparingly.  In fact, no one I know personally in NOLA goes to the bars for Hurricanes; they make them at home and often “put it in a go cup”.  The best recipe I know is from a restaurant, however: Pat O’Brien’s.  Established in New Orleans in 1933, Pat’s is the quintessential NOLA bar and well worth stopping by if you’re in town.  Order a Hurricane there and you’ll find that it tastes so good you’ll be tempted to drink half a dozen.  Trust me, though; stick to just one. 

This recipe makes one cocktail and, according to Roy F. Guste, Jr., is actually older than Pat O’Brien’s:

1 oz lemon juice
4 oz dark rum
2 oz red passion fruit cocktail mix or Hawaiian Punch (seriously)
Crushed ice
Orange slice and a cherry for garnish

Shake the lemon juice, rum and cocktail mix together and pour into a tall (preferably chilled) glass with crushed ice.  Garnish with orange slice and maraschino cherry.  Serve with a straw and enjoy.

Note: Add more lemon juice if you find the cocktail mix or Hawaiian Punch is too sweet for your taste.   Happy Memorial Day and bon appetite ~

Header: Pat O’Brien’s by Brad Thompson via Southern Comfort Gallery

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Today, a dark story in the form of a poem by the literary lion, intrepid traveler and admonisher of children, Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953).  This piece is from his book Cautionary Tales for Children, which is available with illustrations by none other than Edward Gorey.  This tale of spoiled Matilda has a large dose of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and an even larger dose of tongue in cheek.  Then, too, there’s the fact that our heroine dies horribly due to her own mischief.

Matilda, Who told lies, and was Burned to Death:

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;

Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.

For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,

And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the Telephone
And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.

Within an hour the Gallant Band
Was pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow,
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow
They galloped, roaring through the Town,
“Matilda’s House is Burning Down!”

Inspired by British Cheers and Loud
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;

And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,

Until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed;
And even then she had to pay
To get the Men to go away!

It happened that a few Weeks later
Her Aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her Niece
To hear this Entertainment Piece;
A Deprivation Just and Wise
To Punish her for Telling Lies.

That Night a Fire did break out –
You should have heard Matilda Shout!

You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street –
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraged her to obtain
Their confidence) – but all in vain!
For every time She shouted “Fire!”
They only answered “Little Liar!”

And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.

Header: Frontispiece by Edward Gorey from the poem in Cautionary Tales for Children 2002, Harcourt, Inc.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

The style of makeup worn by Japanese geishas is a hallmark of their profession.  People around the world instantly recognize the white, mask-like visage with its eye-drawing accents of pink, red and black.  The history of this traditional style is just as fascinating as the gorgeous look achieved by these talented women, and some of their ancient beauty secrets are now available to all of us.

The studied makeup look that we attribute to geishas actually began with Japanese courtiers during Heian Era, from approximately 795 to 1185 CE.   In this period, court ladies perfected a style of ethereal beauty that included layers of sweeping silk kimono, inky black hair so long it nearly touched the ground, and pale faces with high, thick eyebrows.  This was the period in which Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji, and illustrations from this classic show the ritualized beauty expected of high born women of the time.

The very white face, neck and décolleté were the hallmark of the Heian Era style, and this was achieved by carefully painting these areas with a lead based paint.  Similar to the ceruse that would be used in Europe for the same purpose by the 16th century, the paint was made of finely ground white lead powder mixed with a moistening agent, often vinegar.  This type of makeup gives a perfectly smooth surface to the skin, hiding every flaw from pimples to scars and wrinkles.  Eyebrows were plucked out all together and drawn in much higher on the forehead with charcoal.  Small, bright red lips were achieved by painting the natural lips with the white makeup, and then creating the desired shape with juice from the sallflower or beni.  Women also blackened their teeth with oxidized iron filings.

The result was a perfect mask, intended to draw the attention of the viewer through striking contrast.  Artfully applied, the made-up face reflected the refined elegance of the woman wearing it.

Similar makeup styles have been popular throughout Japanese history, but where and by whom they are worn has changed over the centuries.  By the 20th century, use of the lead base was in decline and eventually was discontinued.  The very white mask is now a hallmark of the young geisha, known as a maiko, who will wear this recognizable style for the first three to five years of her career.  She will graduate to a much less heavy style of makeup when she achieves full geisha status.

The makeup is still applied in virtually the same way it was in the Heian Era.  A heavy, white base is painted with a brush onto the face, neck and décolleté after they are rubbed with a warmed wax.  Small patches of skin are left unpainted around the hairline and at the nape of the neck.  In this latter area, a highly attractive part of the female body in many cultures, a careful V or W of skin is left bare.  This can be glimpsed between the dipping collars of the kimono and the high, black wig.

A sponge is used to even out the base and soak up any excess moisture before a hint of pink powder is applied around the eyes.  Eyes and eyebrows are defined in black and accented in brilliant red.  The lips, which have been concealed with the white base, are redefined in red.  In some traditions, young maiko only paint their lower lip.  Crystallized sugar, in the form of a gloss, is then swept over the lip paint to give it an attractive, lacquer-like finish.

This entire process, which can take over an hour to complete, is only a geisha’s first step in her traditional preparation.  Her kimono and wig await, as makeup must be applied first to avoid soiling her expensive accoutrement.  Though young maiko will receive help with their makeup, they are expected to learn quickly and handle all the details themselves for most of their careers.

If you’re interested in geisha history, makeup and/or traditional Japanese beauty products, I highly recommend both Immortal Geisha and Hannari-Ya cosmetics.  You’ll find a wealth of information at the former, and be tempted to try some of the geisha’s famous secrets of timeless beauty at the latter.  A votre santé ~

Header: Woman Applying Makeup by Hashiguchi Goyo via Old Paint

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Cherries are a favorite in spring and summer all over the world.  They are a symbol of renewal in such diverse cultures as those of Japan and Washington, D.C.  And yeah; I’m gonna say Washington, D.C. has its own culture that is nothing at all like anything found in the real United States. 

Given their wide popularity, it is not surprising that cherries as fruits, as blossoms and as trees are used in magickal disciplines around the world.  The one focus of these magicks, almost without exception, is the finding and keeping of affection and love.

The working can be as simple as cherry cobbler or cherry pie, both of which are used by girls in the Pennsylvania Pow-Wow tradition to "sweeten" the temperament of a young man.

In Japan, old wives would advise their daughter to tie a lock of her hair to a budding cherry tree’s branch.  This would draw love to the girl, particularly if birds used the hair for their nests.  As a curious aside, gypsy lore warns people not to leave their hair out where birds can get to it as it is thought that, should the birds use your hair for nesting, you will be subject to migraines. 

Scott Cunningham tells us that cherry juice is an acceptable substitute for blood when the latter is called for in spell work.  He also advices that one can predict how long they will live by finding a tree full of ripe cherries and running around it at full tilt.  Then shake the tree very hard; the number of cherries that falls tells the years you’ve left to live.  This one sounds particularly specious, but it would be a fun way to harvest cherries for those yummy deserts.

In hoodoo, cherry bark is used for controlling work, particularly to keep a man from straying.  Love mojos are made with cherry bark, lavender and damiana.  If you are looking to attract a man, add catnip.  If your goal is a woman, add High John the Conqueror root.  Put these herbs in a red flannel bag and dress it frequently with Come to Me Oil or rose oil.  Carry it with you, close to your skin.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Veranda by Stephen Pan via American Gallery

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

A Quatre Cake, or Quatre Quart as it is known in its native France, is essential pound cake a la Francais.  You need to channel a bit of Alton Brown to do it correctly, because the ingredients are based on weight, not measure.  There are four (quatre) ingredients: eggs, room temperature butter, sugar and all purpose flour, and the very best way to tackle this recipe is with a scale.

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a bunt or loaf pan.  Now you’re ready to mix.

Start by weighing your mixing bowl, then break the eggs into the bowl and weigh it again.  The difference is the weight of butter, sugar and flour you will need for the recipe.  Everything goes into the bowl to be mixed well. 

Pour into your pan and bake for about 50 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted toward the center comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let stand for a minute or two.  Then turn your cake out onto a wire rack to cool. 

This basic cake can be tinkered with a million different ways.  Add berries or other fruits, drizzle in some honey or chocolate sauce or top it with something as simple as a dusting of powdered sugar.  It is, of course, very dense so a loaf of this cake will make up to 15 servings.  Bon appetite ~

Header: A lively yellow kitchen from 1959 via Mid-Century (that would wake you up in the morning!)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

When my dear friend Undine passed along a link to Romanian artist Mihai Mihu’s Lego interpretation of Dante’s Inferno, I got inspired.  Seriously: Dante plus amazing Lego art equals a chthonian post. 

Today, then, I offer my overview of the brilliant Dante Alighieri’s vision of Hell with its nine progressively more horrific circles.  You can follow along with Mihu’s astoundingly detailed masterwork, if you like.

The Forest or Hell’s Antechamber:  Here Dante finds himself rather suddenly, without much knowledge of how he got there:

Midway upon the journey of our life / I found myself within a forest dark, / For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Dante encounters wild beasts and finally meets Virgil, the Roman poet, who offers to lead him on his quest.  The two bards converse briefly with the shade of Dante’s great platonic love, Beatrice, “who did bid you here.”  Then they move onward to the now famous gate of Hell: “All hope abandon, ye who enter in!”

The First Circle: Either fearless or reckless, the two poets pass through the portal to behold the river Acheron and the ancient boatman Charon “the demon, with the eyes of glede.”  They are ferried across with the moaning souls of the damned to Limbo, where the “innocent souls” of those who accomplished nothing, including evil, in life live hopelessly.  Also here, in a more pleasant glade, are the shades of pre-Christian heroes and poets; these are righteous souls who are denied Heaven only by an accident of birth.

The Second Circle: At the lip of a great chasm, Dante and Virgil witness the punishment of the lustful: “The infernal hurricane that never rests.”  Here, Dante recognizes Cleopatra and Helen of Troy buffeted by the unending winds.  He also converses with the shades of Paolo and Francesca, whose story of star crossed love and murder at the hand of her husband causes Dante to “swoon away as if I had been dying.”

The Third Circle: The poets descend and meet Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hell whom Virgil seems to know.  The great dog guards the gates of the realm of the gluttons, where those who were avaricious in life are forever pelted by painful, freezing rain as they wallow in mud.  Here Virgil meets Pluto and reprimands him: “Be silent, thou accursed wolf.”

The Fourth Circle: Here those who horded their wealth and longed only for money are doomed to Sisyphus fate: they must push enormous bags of coin uphill, only to repeat the process over and over for eternity.

The Fifth Circle: Dante and Virgil come to the river Styx where the irascible, “those whom anger overcame,” are condemned to flail in the filthy water.  While being taken across the river by a second boatman, Phlegyas, Dante is confronted by the shade of Philippo Argenti who struggles to climb into the boat.  Virgil handles this situation: “Whereat my wary Master thrust him back.”

The Sixth Circle: On the far bank of the Styx, Dante and Virgil are confronted by the grim City of Dis.  The ancient Furies of Greek mythos live here and heretics are tortured beneath them.  These sad souls “make themselves audible by doleful sighs” from where they are walled away in sulphur spewing tombs.

The Seventh Circle: The poets descend past the City of Dis and enter the wood of the suicides.  Those who took their own lives have become living trees condemned to feel every branch that snaps off their bodies, which bleed when inflicted with this torture.  Beyond, blasphemers are pelted with fiery rain in an endless desert.  Nearby, the violent are perpetually sunk in a bloody lake.

The Eighth Circle: Descending on Geryon, the monstrous symbol of deceit, Dante and Virgil achieve the Maleboge, Hell’s sewer.  Here flatterers “smother in filth,” pimps and seducers are whipped by demons and those who sold the favors of the Church are buried in fiery holes with only their feet protruding forth.  Hypocrites march grimly by burdened forever under lead cloaks.  Dante and Virgil narrowly escape a tumult of demons and then move on to the place where thieves are eaten by enormous snakes.  Schismatics and alchemists are disfigured and dismembered.  It is here that Dante meets Mohammed who opens his chest with his hands saying “See now how I rend me.”  Finally, forgers are condemned to a burning leprosy which causes them to itch themselves until they tear their skin away.

The Ninth Circle: Dante and Virgil are handed down into the freezing abyss by the giant, Antaeus.  They maneuver across a frozen lake where traitors are trapped beneath the ice.  Here, the sad story of Ugolino who in life was locked away and starved to death with his four sons by the Archbishop Ruggieri plays out.  Trapped next to each other, Ugolino eternally gnaws on the head of the Archbishop.  Then Virgil warns Dante that he will see Lucifer, “Where thou with fortitude must arm thyself.”  They encounter the massive, bewinged Devil, chewing perpetually on Judas, Brutus and Cassius – the ultimate traitors.

With all this under his belt, Dante says:

The Guide and I into that hidden road / Now entered, to return to the bright world.

And thus they begin their journey through Purgatory to Heaven, where the saintly Beatrice awaits the pious pilgrim.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Dante and Virgil in Limbo; Lego art by Mihai Mihu

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jeudi: Curios

Roosters and hens with black feathers probably have a place in every magickal discipline around the globe.  They are especially prized, to my knowledge, in gypsy folklore and by hoodoo root workers, particularly in and around New Orleans. 

The African-based spirituality of the Caribbean, Southern U.S. and South America has a long history of using chickens for sacrifice but, to a large degree, the use of these specific creatures – that is chickens with black feathers – does not involve butchering and eating them.  The focus is the power of the animal itself and that of its feathers.

An old and somewhat shadowy gypsy working known as taking up the black fast is used to retrieve stolen goods and/or take revenge on the thief.  Of course, travelers had and still have very little in the way of possessions so theft was a particularly vicious crime that required equally vicious retribution.  In this ritual, the victim of theft would obtain a black hen.  Both man and bird would abstain from food and water from sunup to sunset every Friday for nine consecutive weeks.  This was thought to force the culprit to return the stolen goods.  Alternatively, it was imagined that he or she would meet a gruesome end.

In hoodoo, black hens and roosters are kept by root workers so that their feathers might be utilized in uncrossing magick.  Feathers were burned to a fine ash and this would be used on the body of those suffering from a jinx, either rubbed or blown on by the root worker, to take off the evil trick.  Workers used black chicken feather whisks for similar purposes.  These were made either from a bundle of feathers tied together or from a whole wing which had been dried with the feathers still attached.  The victim would then be brushed with the whisk, usually working down from the head to the feet, as part of an uncrossing ritual.

Most prized in and around New Orleans were the speckled chickens known as Fizzled Fowl.  Because root workers removed jinxes and sent them back to their original creator, these men and women were thought to be targeted by witches and others who meddled with evil.  Most of them would tell you that it was not uncommon to find some form of jinxing mojo or throw somewhere in their yards now and again, left there by someone with the intent to harm.  To this end, many kept Fizzled Fowl to scratch up, peck at, eat and destroy these agents of evil before they had time to work their magick. 

Some root workers even rented their chickens out to clients who were having similar trouble, letting the animals “work” the afflicted person’s yard for a few weeks to clear up the problem.  One New Orleans root doctor, working in the city around the turn of the 20th century, became so famous for his uncrossing work that he was known as the Fizzly Rooster.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Two Fizzled Fowl c 1874 via Albion Prints

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

The Western lexicon of beauty has, to one degree or another, usually included young women with high foreheads and light hair.  This “fairytale princess” archetype truly came into her own in the late Medieval and early Renaissance periods, when women went to extremes to remove and bleach their hair to fit the ideal.  The looks achieved differed depending on the area of Europe, but the two most readily recognizable to us as moderns came from the areas we now know as France and Italy.

In both regions, methods of hair removal were the same and, to some degree, just as shockingly painful as they are today.  Women carefully plucked and tweezed hair from every area of the face, including the nose, eyebrows, hairline and neck.  Although these were the most readily identifiable areas of hair removal, no part of the body was spared. 

The goal was to achieve a glowing, smooth finish to the skin and hair got in the way more often than not.  Medical papers of the era, coming out of the newly authoritative Universities built in large cities like Rome and Paris, opined that hair was, as historian Philippe Braunstein notes in A History of Private Life: Revelations of the Medieval World:

… the condensation of crude vapors and that excess feminine moisture which did not flow naturally was transformed into moss that should be trimmed.

This theory explained why post-menopausal women grew more hair on certain areas of their bodies, their “natural flow” having been stopped up.  It also sent any woman who had the time running for rags soaking in hot pitch and lime-based depilatories to yank out all that unruly “moss”.

On the face, tweezers were generally the favored hair remover but those who wanted to go the extra mile for beauty might have heated needles inserted into hair follicles to destroy the roots.  Curiously, Geoffroy De La Tour Landry turned this treatment around and made it a torture inflicted on vain women in Hell.  In his eponymous Book of 1371 he writes:

In every hole that [the sinner’s] hair hath been plucked out, the devil thrusteth a burning needle into [her] brain.

Take that, vanity.

The resulting effect, of a perfectly oval face lacking much in the way of eyebrows and with a forehead so high that not a hair can be detected under the elaborate, dark headdress, has been termed “the pious egg.”  As witnessed in the painting at the header, only the very hint of golden hair is seen and that because the sitter is an unmarried girl.  The effect is completed by a loop of black velvet which accentuates the paleness of the forehead.

In Italy, meanwhile, the so-called hennin headdress that originated in Burgundy was eschewed for complicated hairdos that mimicked Classical curls and braids.  The hair was bleached in the sun at every opportunity, using lemon juice and even watered down lye to encourage the hair to a brassy, yellow sheen.  A good example of this, split ends and all, can be found in Alesso Baldovinetti’s 1465 Portrait of a Lady in Yellow.  The forehead, right down to the black velvet loop, matches the northern girl’s, but the rest of the style has a more Mediterranean flair.

Of course fashions change but then too they do seem to stay the same…  A votre santé ~

Header: Portrait of a Girl by Petrus Christus c 1450 via Wikimedia

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Purslane, which is basically a weed in mild to warm climates and – at least to me – has a very Medieval ring to its name, is used in hoodoo, Wicca and Pow-Wow.  We’ll call this dainty herb purslane for the purposes of this post because that sounds so much better than pigweed.

In Wicca, the flowers, stems and roots of purslane have broad uses.  The flowers are carried as pocket pieces to bring luck in love and keep evil away.  Dried purslane is sprinkled in the corners of homes and workplaces to keep things peaceful and running smoothly.  Old wives advised their daughters to lay  a sprig of purslane on a restless child’s pillow, as it was thought to ward off nightmares.  They also sent their sons into battle with a handful of purslane to guard them against harm.  I wonder, did Saint Jeanne’s mother press a sprig of purslane into her little girl’s hand before she went off to free Orleans?

Pow-Wow and hoodoo treat purslane similarly, which is a fair hint that this use of the herb came to both disciplines through American Natives.  Dried purslane is combined with patchouli leaves and anise seeds.  This herbal mix is steeped in oil and then the oil is used to anoint the forehead before engaging in divination.  A little dried purslane sprinkled in the box or bag in which you keep your fortune telling cards is thought to enhance their effectiveness as well.

Hoodoos also burn dried purslane for protection against evil spirits.  The effects are said to be enhanced when purslane is combined with a premixed warding or blessing incense.

Ingesting purslane is not recommended, particularly for pregnant women; frequent dosing can cause or exacerbate kidney stones.  In other words, use this stuff externally.  Bonne chance ~

Header: St. Jeanne d’Arc statue in New Orleans via NOLAFemmes

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

My older daughter loves to cook, which is to our whole family’s benefit.  She made these delicious muffins and a pan of brownies for Mother’s Day (I’m pretty spoiled) and she has announced her intention to cook dinner once a week during her summer break from school.  Summer starts for both my girls in a short three days – hard for me to believe – so we’re already picking menus.

Fortunately, Brigit has a great cookbook entitled Teens Cook that she received a couple Christmases ago.  The book, written by teenagers Megan and Jill Carle with the help of their mother Judi Carle, is full of great tips and easy to follow recipes that take the guess work and mystery out of everyday cooking.  I can’t recommend it enough.

To give you a taste, if you’ll pardon the pun, of what we have to look forward to in the way of summer meals, here is one of the recipes that we’ve already picked out: Broccoli Cheese Soup.

½ bunch broccoli
3 tbsps butter
3 tbsps flour
4 cups milk
4 slices American cheese
¼ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

While the recipe recommends blanching the broccoli after cleaning and cutting the stems, then cutting the florets into bite-size pieces, I like to do this part of the cooking in a microwave.  Just clean and cut the broccoli florets, then place them in a single layer in a Pyrex or other microwave safe dish in a single layer.  Add ¼ cup of water, salt the broccoli, cover the dish with plastic wrap and poke 6 to 9 holes in the wrap to vent steam.  Place the dish in your microwave and cook on high 4 minutes.  Turn the dish one half turn and cook another 3 minutes on high.  Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and stir in flour.  Cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture bubbles.  Add 1 cup of room temperature milk and stir until smooth.  Add the remaining  milk and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

Reduce heat to low and add American cheese, stirring until it melts completely.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Reserve 4 broccoli florets for garnish and then stir the rest into the soup. 

This soup can simmer on very low heat while you complete the rest of your meal prep.  To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with cheddar cheese and a piece of broccoli on top.  This recipe serves four.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Helping Herself by Pierre Edouard Frere c 1856 via Old Paint

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dimanche: Swimming

A handsome sailor at Seattle Beach measuring a local mermaid; why we don't know...  Image via Black and WTF Find a little more info on this unusual picture at Triple P  That said: Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Since, in its long history, the word chthonian can relate not only to the underworld but also to the hidden and by extension forgotten, I’d like to take this post aside and bring up an all too often forgotten part of our shared history.

Thanks to the extreme and aggressive efforts of a male medical elite in Europe, women who practiced any kind of medicine are relegated in historical texts to either the status of midwife or, more pejoratively (just as those medical men would have liked it), old wife or “wise” woman.  Both of which basically boil down to witch.  But certain dark corners of history are being illuminated, and we’ve those angry, well educated men to thank for the memory of one Jacoba Felice, the woman doctor of 14th century Paris.

Jacoba, who is sometimes called Jacqueline and whose last name is sometimes spelled Felicie, was born in or near Paris some time around 1280.  Probably through empirical practice, learning at the elbow of her mother or father, she became a renowned physician within the city.  She was sought after not necessarily by the poor, although what little record we have of her mentions that she turned no one away, but by people who could afford to pay a doctor which meant at the very least those of the burgeoning guild class.

It was in 1322 that Jacoba’s name – though spelled differently at various points – became part of the public record.  In this year, according to Elisabeth Brooke in her book Medicine Women, charges were brought against her by the former surgeon to the King of France, John of Padua.  John, or Jean as he is named in the filing, accused Jacoba not of practicing medicine as a woman, necessarily, but of being an unlicensed practitioner.

According to the Charter of the University of Paris, no person could legally practice medicine without a license issued by the same august body.  The law had been in effect for close to 60 years when Jacoba was accused and it probably goes without saying that almost without exception only male graduates of the University held licenses.

Jacoba’s hearing is recorded in the Charter, and a number of Parisians filed through the doors of the University to give testimony on Jacoba’s behalf.  These people said that they had heard of Jacoba and her successful cures through family members or friends.  There is no mention in the testimony of the defendant hanging out a shingle or advertising in any way.  It seems that Madame Felice’s good name as a healer went before her.

People spoke of her feeling their pulses and examining them thoroughly.  Jean St. Omer testified that Jacoba had visited him repeatedly throughout a grave illness, never asking for payment prior to a cure.  He affirmed that she had done more for him, and with far less demand on his purse, than any licensed physician.

Yveau Tueleu told a similar tale of going from physician to physician with no relief from a persistent fever until she was seen by Jacoba, who made her well with the aid of a “clear drink”.  Another woman got to the heart of what must have made female physicians like Jacoba so popular among women:

It is better and more seemly that a wise woman learned in the art should visit the sick woman and inquire into the secrets of her nature… than a man should do so…  And a woman… would allow herself to die rather than reveal the secrets of her infirmities to a man.

Despite the high praise heaped upon Jacoba by her patients, the court found – almost predictable – in favor of Jean of Padua.  They upheld not only the licensing issue, but chose to bring gender into their decision as well:

Her plea that she cured many sick persons whom the aforesaid masters could not cure, ought not to stand and is frivolous, since it is certain that a man approved in the aforesaid art could cure the sick better than any woman.

With this, the case was turned over to the parochial authorities and Jacoba Felice was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.  Though in this day and age that sounds almost laughable, it would have been the equivalent of banishment from the very center of a medieval person’s community and a loss of all possibility of salvation.  In the world view of both Jacoba and her neighbors, her soul was doomed to eternity in the chthonian pit of Hell.

What became of Jacoba Felice, who was probably around 42 years old at the time of her trial, is unknown.  I like to think that she continued, at the very least, to take care of a family who loved her and that, in such circumstances, she passed on into something better than what her judges had hoped to leave her to. 

Header: French manuscript showing men and women during harvest c 12th century via Wikimedia 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Jeudi: Root Work

I'm not a big believer in jinxes, crossings, the Evil Eye or “dark magick” for that matter.  I think most of the problems that we run into, even if they seem random and as if they are piling on like a rugby scrum, are brought on by what we do or have done.  As my mother is oh so fond of reminding me, the runner gets himself to the end.  If you don’t point yourself in a reasonable direction (or you step on people along the way), trouble awaits.

All that said, everyone needs to feel protected now and then.  The help of something you made and poured your wishes into can alleviate anxiety and make you more willing to face any problems head on.  Along with a witch bottle, I like to recommend this simple working to help those who feel like they’re under a dark cloud get through to the light. 

Preferably on a Saturday and/or at the full moon (neither condition is necessary, but either will assist in any banishing work) mix 4 tablespoons of olive oil with a teaspoon of ground cloves in a container with a tight lid.  Shake thoroughly to combine while envisioning your troubles running away from you, your home, your family, etc. like rats deserting a sinking ship.

Now take a black candle (white is an excellent substitute if you don’t have black) and dress it with your clove oil, working from the center outward.  Continue your visualization.  If you are so inclined, speak your troubles out loud during this process and then, as you secure the dressed candle into a safe and sturdy candle holder, ask that these problems be taken from you.

Put the candle in an open space where you can keep an eye on it and then light it while again visualizing you problems taking flight as well as what you will do to help that outcome along.  Thank your higher power and allow the candle to burn down and out.  Collect any remaining wax and dispose of it off your property or away from your home. 

The clove oil will keep in an air tight container and can be use for other banishing rituals as well.  Note: clove oil, when ingested, can cause severe illness particularly in small children.  Treat this oil like you would any poisonous substance and keep it out of reach of kids and animals.  Bonne chance ~

Header: The Black Prince at Crecy by Julian Russell Story via American Gallery

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Casting around for something nice to give to Mom this Sunday that won’t break the bank and has a handmade feel?  Or are you just looking to relax after a long, hard day?  Either way, allow me to offer the following suggestions, which are among my favorite at-home spa treatments.

I am a sucker for the relaxing scent of lavender combined with the brain-stimulating properties of rosemary.  There’s something about that combination that, for me at least, gets the head right where it needs to be to start the creative juices flowing.  A bath steeped with these herbs is the perfect way to unwind and clear the mind.

For this bath, all you really need is a muslin square large enough to hold your herbs.  You can then tie it up with string and use it like a big teabag in your tub.  If you’re planning on giving this herbal bath as a gift, consider something prettier like those fancy organza gift bags they sell at craft stores.  Alternatively, you could decorate your muslin square with embroidery or other waterproof decorations, and/or tie it up with a fancy ribbon.

Dried herbs for these bags can be as simple as lavender and rosemary alone, or you might add other fragrant herbs such as bay leaves, dried orange or lemon peel or whole cloves.  If you’d like to soften the water a little as well, add a handful of rolled oats.  They won’t add much scent, so you don’t have to worry about them overpowering the herbs you’ve chosen.  Remember to use dried herbs, about a tablespoon or so of the scents you most want to accentuate, as they tend to be more fragrant when steeped than fresh leaves.

The completed herbal bath bags can be stored in an airtight container for up to six months.  To use, just tie the bag to your faucet so that the hot water runs over them as you fill the bath.  Then untie them and let them float in the water while you relax and soak all that tension away.  You can get a nice burst of scent by squeezing the bag and then dropping it back into the water to soak again.

If you only have access to a shower, you can still enjoy the benefits of rosemary and lavender (or any other skin-friendly) aromatherapy.  I’ll first refer you to the post on dry brushing a while back; sprinkle your long-handled brush’s bristles with about two drops each of lavender and rosemary essential oil.  Complete your dry brushing ritual as you normally would and then step into a hot shower.  The aroma is fantastic and you’ll enjoy the benefits of dry brushing, too (just remember to thoroughly clean your brush afterward).  A votre santé ~

Header: Ad for Cannon towels via Mid-Century

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

One of the highest hurdles I have had to surmount in my life so far was infertility.  Unfortunately, we needed a lot of help to get to the goal of sharing our lives with a couple of young ‘ins.  Of course this made Mothers’ Day a torturous hell that I was required to grin and bare. 

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, I empathize.  There are lots of options in this day and age and the universe can help you find the right one.  While you’re at it, why not encourage the process with a little magick?  It couldn’t hurt, and it just might help.

The botanica is full of helpful herbs that are considered perfect for promoting fertility.  For women, one of the most highly recommended is seeds.  The like-makes-like nature of this type of magick makes perfect sense, especially when you consider that many prehistoric peoples believed that a woman could become pregnant by swallowing a small living thing, a flower stamen or a handful of seeds.

In Wicca, carrot seeds are particularly popular for this kind of work.  Scott Cunningham recommends them for fertility and also the vegetables themselves to boost male virility.  This gives the carrot a definite one/two punch in the quest for parenthood.

Figs are also said to be an aid to fertility.  They are an excellent fruit for partners to share, regardless of gender, to promote conception.  Wooden amulets carved from fig wood, particularly if they have a suggestive, phallic shape, have long been warn by women in and around the Mediterranean to encourage fertility.

Sunflower seeds are one of the most popular herbs for fertility, recommended in Wicca and Pow-Wow as well as by Druids and root workers.  Eat up, but try to stick to the low sodium kind if you can.

In hoodoo, the pine tree is considered an aid to conception.  Perfectly shaped and unopened pine cones are collected and carried home.  They are generally placed in a room where the family most often gathers, such as the kitchen, and empowered to draw fertility as well as good health.  When the cone begins to open, plant it in your yard or near your home while continuing to focus on your goal of parenthood. 

Root workers also recommend that women carry Queen’s root for fertility.  This is the root of the plant known as stillengia or yaw root and should not be confused with Queen Elizabeth root.  This plant was also a favorite with old wives, who recommended placing one or two of its gray-silver leaves under the mattress to promote conception.  Bonne chance ~

Header: The Bath by Charles W. Hawthorne via American Gallery

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

A few years back when the big cupcake craze was unleashing its tentacles out of New York and Los Angeles to en-fatten the rest of the country, my older daughter bought Cupcakes! From the Cake Doctor.  This book by Anne Byrn, which is actually pretty large at 374 pages, takes the muss and fuss out of cupcake making by literally doctoring cake mixes.  Some of the recipes are really good – the Mardi Gras cupcakes will probably appear here at HQ one February – but my favorite section is about muffins; or, as Ms. Byrn calls them, “breakfast cupcakes.”

Here’s one I’d personally love to see on the brunch menu for Mother’s Day: Double Lemon Poppy Seed Cheesecake Muffins.

1 8 oz package of cream cheese at room temp
2 large eggs
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp grated lemon zest
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 15.8 oz package lemon poppy seed muffin mix (is you can’t find lemon poppy seed mix, plane poppy seed muffin mix works just as well; add a little extra lemon zest to up the lemon quotient if you’d like)
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place cupcake papers in each of 12 cups in a muffin tin; set aside.

For filling:  in a medium mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, one egg, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla until creamy either by hand or with a mixer.  Set aside.

For muffin batter:  place muffin mix in a large mixing bowl and make a little well in the center.  Put the oil, milk and one egg in the well and stir the wet ingredients with a whisk or fork to combine and break the egg’s yolk; if you’d prefer, you can do this in a separate bowl or measuring cup.  Once this is done, combine all ingredients with a spoon for about 20 strokes.  You don’t want to overwork the batter; it should be a little lumpy.

Spoon the batter into your cupcake paper-lined muffin tin, filling the cups to about ¾ full.  Drop a generous tablespoon of the cream cheese filling in the middle of each muffin.  Place pan in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 20 to 22 minutes.  The muffins should spring back when lightly pressed with your finger.

Allow pan to cool on a rack for about five minutes.  Remove muffins from tin and place on a wire rack to cool at least fifteen minutes.

Repeat with remaining batter and filling until done.

These muffins will keep in zip top bags for a couple of days in your bread box or up to a week in the frig.  Bon appetite ~

Header: Lauren Bacall and her mother at home via Mid-Century