Friday, June 29, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In the very early days of Christianity, the heroes of the followers of the then tiny sect weren't athletes or actors, they were hermits.  Sealed away in remote caves, sitting on top of towering platforms or cloistered in beehive-like structures, the men and women who chose to seek communion with Christ to the utter disavowal of all the world were the one's to watch, and emulate if one had the mettle.

Thus it should come as no surprise that we still know, or at least are familiar with, the story of Saint Anthony the Hermit and the unrelenting torture he experienced at the hands of the Devil.

Saint Anthony banished himself to a rocky outcropping in the Egyptian desert where, as the eloquent Peter Stanford notes in his book The Devil: A Biography, he never washed or changed clothes, choosing instead to use all his resources to fight the unholy fiend.

The first account of Anthony's struggles against Satan were recorded by Bishop Athanasius.  Set down around 360, approximately four years after the hermit's death, the tale became a sensation among the faithful.  It made Anthony a favorite saint in a time when martyrs were more highly thought of than just about any other holy person around.  Anthony, as God's luchador, became sort of martyr in his own right.  Paraphrasing Athanasius' description of the saint's struggles would be criminal, and so here is the meat of the Bishop's interpretation:

[The Devil] harassed [Anthony] day and night, and he persecuted him sometimes to such a point that Anthony took up the posture of a wrestler.  The Devil sent him obscene thoughts; Anthony repulsed them by his prayers.  The Devil made himself tender and caressing; Anthony, shamefast, protected his body by faith, prayers and fasts.  The Devil took the form of a woman; he reproduced her gestures.  But Anthony remained faithful to Christ...  Finally the dragon, seeing that he could not overthrow Anthony, was seized by rage.  He appeared to Anthony as he is in reality, that is, in the form of a black child; ceasing to attack by thought alone, he took a human voice and said: "Many are they whom I have deceived, whom I have thrown down: but I have been able to do nothing against thee."  Anthony asked him, "Who art thou - thou who speakst thus?" The Devil replied in a groaning voice: "I am the friend of fornication. I lay my snares before the young to make them fall into this vice, and I am called the spirit of fornication..." Anthony, after giving thanks to God, replied to his enemy confidently: "Thou art utterly contemptible; thy spirit is black and thou art like a child without strength. Henceforth I will disturb myself no more because of thee, for the Lord is my help and I can despise my enemies."  

And that did the trick.  The Devil, curiously no more ominous than a "black child", departed the hermit's cave never to return.  Stanford responds to this with an incredibly insightful observation that seems to ring true in reference to fundamentalists Christians in our time:

The mark of goodness, of winning God's favor, had nothing to do with practicing the gospel virtues of loving your neighbor, being charitable, and attending the sacraments, but rather lay in one single feat: repulsing the Devil.

And today you may call the Devil what you will: a woman's right to a safe abortion, anything to do with LGBT individuals or groups, evolution and other pesky scientific facts, etc.  Repulsing "Him" trumps "Christ's teachings" every time. 

Header: The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Jean-Francois Millet via Wikiart  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jeudi: Curios

The beautiful, red-orange semiprecious stone called carnelian always reminds me of summer.  Its fiery color also inspired our ancestors, who used this red form of chalcedony as a ward against fear, a help with depression and a source of virility.

In ancient times, carnelian was usually worn in rings.  The Ancient Egyptians believed that carnelian set in gold could conquer feelings of jealousy, hatred and anger in one's self and others.  The Greeks and Romans believed carnelian was a promoter of health and could, in particular, keep diseases of the skin, body parasites and insanity at bay.

In the late Medieval period and Renaissance in Europe, Scott Cunningham tells us that large carnelians were engraved with the image of a sword or, to even better effect, a warrior in full armor and worn a an amulet against harm, including the psychic intrusion of someone trying to read your mind.  These amulets were also hung in homes and churches to keep away lightening and the evil workings of witches.

Now, carnelian is particularly prized for its ability to keep doubt, fear and depression at bay.  Carnelian is considered the go-to curio for people who fear public speaking but have no way of avoiding it.  For this purpose, Cunningham advises wearing the stone in a ring or necklace although I have a pair of carnelian earrings that have served me well in such situations.

Carnelian is thought to give shy people a boost of self-confidence and impart eloquence of speech.  It is also considered a psychic stone, improving second-sight while quelling nightmares.

In all eras, carnelian has been worn to encourage the sex drive and fertility, particularly in men.  Remember, too, that if you cannot afford carnelian - which is admittedly rather pricey - red jasper is a perfect substitute.  And, as always, cleanse your stone(s) with holy water, salt or sunshine before using them.

One last note, if you will indulge me.  This post is dedicated to two of my favorite guys named Scott.  First the incomparable Scott Cunningham, the anniversary of whose birthday was yesterday; may he know eternal happiness in the Summerland.  Second my dear - and very much alive - friend Scott Rose who recently had to abandon a labor of love; I have no doubt that the future holds so much more for you!

Happy Summer to all in the Northern latitudes, and - as always - Bonne chance ~

Header: Jeanne d'Arc and Saint Michael by Spencer Baird Nichols c 1925

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Lilacs, as I have mentioned before, grow like weeds in cooler climates.  Many of our neighbors are blessed with a riot of heavy blooms on their lilac bushes right now.  The delicate, lavender colored petals bunch together like grapes and give off the most amazing scent.  Our Alaska bumblebees, which are twice the size of any I have ever seen, are in heaven among those blooms.  And that lilac honey is a delicacy.

Because of their affinity for colder weather, lilacs are not much mentioned in hoodoo.  Dried blooms were always considered an excellent sachet for lingerie drawers and chests, however; rumor had it they kept the more unseemly bugs away as well.

Lilacs were much favored in the British Isles as old wives told that the bushes would keep evil spirits away from a home.  As Scott Cunningham notes, this practice migrated to New England with English colonists.  Even the staunchest Puritan would plant a lilac near his front door to keep be Devil at bay.

The same effect could be had by strewing dried lilac blossoms around the home, in corners, attics and basements in particular.

Extending the idea of protection from spirits virtually to the limit, it became popular in the 19th century to keep vases of blooming lilac around homes that were thought to be haunted.  Mediums and spiritualists were particularly fond of this practice, wearing corsages of lilac or keeping huge tubs of the bushes in their "places of business."  Whether or not this helped keep away trouble might be better answered by these people's disappointed clientele than by the spiritualists themselves.

All that said, a lovely lilac bush somewhere near your house certainly couldn't hurt.  Bonne chance ~

Header: circa 1805 watercolor fashion plate of a sleeveless, summer pelisse in lilac silk via Wikimedia

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

Last week, the ubiquitous Times-Picayune laid off half their staff and announced that they would be publishing only three times per week.  This despite having the largest readership, judging by paid subscriptions, of an daily newspaper in the United States, including the New York Times.  The Times-Picayune has officially been in business for 175 years but, prior to being a Times subsidiary, was a local southeastern Louisiana paper dating back to the days of Jean and Pierre Laffite.  If that isn't a sad comment on the state of journalism in the modern U.S. I don't know what is.

In honor of the great Picayune whose name came from how much it once cost, a wonderful old Creole recipe which has been featured in the Times-Picayune on more than one occasion: spinach Madeleine.

This recipe was probably first published in the now famous River Road Recipes cookbook from the Junior League of Baton Rouge.  It's a casserole that many Louisianans wouldn't dream of leaving off the Thanksgiving or Reveillon sideboard and it has, these days, one curiously modern ingredient: Mexican Velveeta.

2 10 ounce packages of frozen, chopped spinach
4 tbsps butter
2 tbsps all purpose flour
2 tbsps finely chopped onions
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 tsp black pepper
3/4 tsp celery salt
3/4 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
Cayenne pepper
6 ounces Velveeta Mexican Mild, cut into small pieces
Bread crumbs (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 9 inch square casserole dish with butter or non-stick spray.

Cook the spinach according to the package directions. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid from the pot.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the flour, stirring to blend; continue to stir for about 1 minute, making a very light roux.  Add the onions and cook until soft, not brown.  Add the milk and reserved spinach liquid, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.  Cook until liquid thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes.  Add pepper, celery and garlic salts, Worchestershire sauce, salt and cayenne to taste.  Add the cheese and stir until it is melted completely.

Place cooked spinach in an even layer in the prepared casserole dish.  Pour the cheese sauce over the spinach and top with bread crumbs if you like.  Bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes, and serve warm.

This recipe has another little connection to old New Orleans and Jean Laffite, at least to my mind.  One of the ladies he was linked with at times was named Madeleine Rigaud.  That's all we know of her, just her name and her connection to Laffite the pirate.  You can make up the rest over the spinach dish that shares her name.

Header: Andrew "Action" Jackson salutes the Times-Picayune

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Samedi: The Black Dog

I was poking through my books, looking for inspiration for a Halloween short story contest that a friend told me about, when I remembered the story of the churchyard guardian known in European folklore as the Church Grim.

I first heard a similar tale in Haiti, where it is believed that the first person buried in a churchyard will become its guardian, looking after those buried there to ensure that bokors do not use the body parts - or indeed the whole bodies - of the dead for evil purposes.  This is also the origin of the legend of the Church Grim in both Celtic and Teutonic lore.  It seems reasonable to imagine that the belief translated to Haitian Voudon through either French belief, or the superstitions of indentured servants brought from Ireland.  Perhaps curiously, the Church Grim is not much part of New Orleans Voodoo lore.

In Northern France and the British Isles, the Church Grim was also considered a guardian of a churchyard but it came in the form of an animal, most often a black dog.  The ancient belief that the first person buried in a churchyard would become its guardian led to concern for the soul of that dead person once Christianity took hold.  How would they find their reward in Heaven - or punishment in Hell or Purgatory - if the soul was tied to earth?  The solution was to bury an animal in the churchyard first, sometimes unfortunately while the poor thing was still alive, to have it take up the position of protector of the dead.

As noted, people of Celtic descent usually chose a dog for the duty; the larger and blacker the dog, the better.  With the advent of Catholicism, the dog's duty expanded from guardian against witches and sorcerers to protector against the Devil.  It was said that a churchyard that had a Grim was the best place to be buried, for the angry spirit of the dog would keep the Devil from dragging your soul off to Hell.  Whether or not that meant you got a free pass to Heaven is left out of the folklore, however.

In Teutonic countries, the legend remained essentially the same but the animal differed.  In Sweden, during the vary early days of Christianity, a lamb was sometimes slaughtered and buried under the altar stone of a new church.  This lamb, often black, was from then on referred to as the kyrkogrim who defended the dead against the Devil.  Meanwhile, in Denmark and Hanover, the Grim came in the form of a black, female pig.  Known as the kirkegrim or "grave-sow" she did the same duty on her graveyard turf.

All of these sacrificial animals get a bit of their own back in the end.  It was universally believed that seeing the Church Grim, and in Celtic countries hearing its howl or bark as well, was a certain sign that death awaited the beholder. 

And that, you have to admit, is a pretty good story.

Header: The Church Grim via Trapped by Monsters (see the sidebar)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

The vast, Saharan desert has always held its mysteries, some of them straight out of any chthonian nightmare.  One of these survives to this day in the form of Aisha Kandicha or Quandisha, the camel-legged succubus.  Aisha, like so many other demonic ladies of the religious "Big Three", was once a revered mother goddess who has become a symbol of that most feared item on the Judeo-Christian-Islamic taboo list: female sexuality.

According to legend and some modern day accounts, Aisha is a djinniya or female spirit, who romes the desolate mountains of northern Morocco.  She is said to have beautiful hair and a stunning face that can make a man forget what he is up to and follow her into the shadows.  There, sadly, she will reveal herself in her true form: below the neck she sports long, heavy breasts, the wings of a bat, the talons of a hawk and the legs of a camel or goat.  The wayfarer is done for at this point; Aisha will tear him to bits and he will never be heard from again.

Most curious of all the legends of this frightening harpy is that she is a creature of water.  Despite her desert haunt, her name - Aisha - can be translated as "loving to be watered."

Patricia Monaghan in The Book of Goddesses & Heroines tells us that, despite how it may look on its face, there is in fact no paradox here.  Aisha is most probably yet another demonized form of the great Phoenician goddess Astarte whose name meant exactly the same thing to her people.  The true meaning of the name has been lost however, for the water Astarte loved was the life-giving seed of her consort, Haman.  Monaghan speculates that Astarte's worship may have traveled to Morocco with colonists from Carthage, which itself was a Phoenician settlement.  Aisha's second name - Quandisha - may be a corruption of Qadesha, the holy temple prostitutes who served Astarte.

Once again, a figure who embodied sexuality as joy has been transformed into a monster, representing sexuality as misery and death.  Aisha even has a consort of her own, an evil jinn whose name is strangely familiar: Hammu Kaiyu or Qaiyu.

Modern reports of Aisha sightings continue to this day.  Disappearances in the Moroccan mountains continue to be blamed on her as well.  But don't take my word for it.  Click over to the Destination Truth blog and find out what Josh Gates and his team found - or didn't find - in their search for yet another goddess turned demon.

Header: Aisha Kandicha via Unexplained Mysteries 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Of course our mothers always told us that beauty is as beauty does meaning, as I understand it, that truly beautiful people are kind, humane and generous.  But we are not the only culture that has taken its beauty and fashion cues from people who may have been labeled by some in society - moralists, perhaps - as less than beautiful.  Consider, as an example, the high flying career of 19th century Parisian courtesan Cora Pearl.

Born Emma Elizabeth Crouch to a Plymouth, England music teacher of Irish ancestry and his seamstress wife, the future Cora Pearl was precocious from the start.  So much so in fact that, when her father left the family to find his fortune in the U.S., Mrs Crouch sent 12 year old Emma off to a convent school in Boulogne, France.  Though she never learned to speak the language with any elan, Emma got a taste for life in France and had no desire to leave it.  After returning to England and, according to her autobiography, being unceremoniously deflowered by a Covent Garden cad, she hooked up with a rich supporter who took her on holiday to Paris.  When her wealthy lover left, she stayed.

Changing her name to Cora Pearl ("more chic," she would later remark), she embarked on a path that would lead her to be a fashion icon for not only other demimondaines, but wealthy, respectable women as well.

Understanding that she needed to spend money to make money, Cora acquired a small wardrobe of the most beautiful and expensive kind.  Her gowns - all two of them at first - came from the famous couturier Frederick Worth.  She bought jewels as well; a sparkling topaz necklace with matching earrings and a set of coral bracelets.  Soon enough she would graduate to much more splendid decoration.

As the Comte de Maugny would later write, Cora had "plenty of system."  She knew how to draw attention to herself, and then encouraged men to vie for her affection by informing one lover of another's extravagant gifts.  This would bring yet more excess her way and so, as Joanna Richardson remarks in her fascinating book on the 19th century demimonde in Paris The Courtesans, the gifts would tumble into Cora's lap ad infinitum.

Soon enough, Cora Pearl was not only queen of the grande cocottes, she was the queen of Paris fashion.  Her caleche, which she drove herself on mandatory afternoon rides around the Bois de Bologne, was enameled in sky-blue with silver accents.  The interior upholstery was buttery, lemon-yellow satin and the horses - animals she probably loved more than any human - were four perfectly matched fillies, the color of cafe-au-lait.  According to Philibert Audebrand:

By unanimous consent she became, for twenty-five years, the prototype of the modern courtesan.  By 1852, Cora Pearl set the tone for that world of gallantry who eccentricities always ended by leaving their mark on the real world.

Cora owned a stable full of the best horses, three mansions and an endless supply of gowns, shoes and jewels.  She was remarked upon for her unique style, both about her person and her homes.  Her bathroom at 101 Rue de Chaillot, the mansion purchased for her by Prince Napoleon (Napoleon III's brother) was made entirely of pink marble with her initials in gold inlaid on floor and tub.  She gave lavish supper parties, strewing expensive flowers such as orchids on the even more expensive carpets.  Her language was sometimes coarse; her self-censoring switch seemed non-existent.

She wore the tightest corsets to accentuate what even her rivals noted as "the most perfect bust."  Over these she donned remarkable gowns, in colors that were not usually seen during the third Empire. La Vie Parisienne described one such in the 1860s:

A pink satin dress, with a kind of mauve gauze flounce on the hem of the skirt, over which was some blond-lace sprinkled with white bugles.  A gathered, decollete bodice, with two little mauve flounces all around.  A loose belt, with four mauve gauze streamers, sewn with pearls.

Unwilling to be second guessed on her fashion choices, she notoriously took a riding crop to a ten year old girl who laughed at her gown and pelisse in the Bois.  Richardson notes that "she was heavily fined for the offense."

Cora also introduced the use of modern makeup to the Parisian milieu and, yet more strikingly, hair dye.  Her naturally auburn locks could turn up any color on any given occasion.  La Vie reported that her hair had been dyed "the perfect mauve" to match the gown they described.  On other occasions, her locks were the same lemon-yellow as the satin upholstery of her caleche.

Her most extravagant wardrobe choices tended toward jewels, however, and for Cora diamonds were a girl's best friend.  Appearing in deshabille as Cupid on the Paris stage for a one-night-only performance that saw most if not all of her wealthy supporters attending, she quite literally dripped with diamonds if very little else.  At one point, Cora "threw herself flat on her back and flung her legs up in the air to show the soles of her shoes that were one mass of diamonds," according to William Osgood Field.  When she left the stage, Cora dropped another set of diamonds.  She left these where they lay, for her maid to pick up.

Of course the days of wine and roses could not last.  After an unfortunate scandal in which a young lover shot himself in her Rue de Chaillot home, she was exiled from the country.  Although she later returned, she never regained the elite status she had once known.  Cora Pearl published her autobiography in 1886 and died of intestinal cancer four months later.

Her legacy, however, contained both kinds of beauty, at least to some degree.  During the siege of Paris in 1870, she opened up her home as a hospital.  She nursed the wounded and dying herself and, as Richardson points out: "Her fine linen sheets were used for shrouds, and she herself paid all expenses."  More than a gesture, by any means.

Header: Cora Pearl photographed by Granger in the late 1850s via Fine Art America

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Last Friday we talked about the history and lore of the mandrake, that strange "man shaped" root that comes up so often in discussions of old wives and witchcraft.  The root as discussed in that post is the so called European mandrake, a poisonous plant in the infamous Nightshade family.  These roots are now hard to come by and particularly dear if one happens to find them.  But the magick associated with mandrake can be accomplished by simply substituting the hoodoo version: May Apple root or American mandrake.

The root of the May Apple, which is not poisonous, looks more like a stick than a man but it is used by root workers as a "doll baby" to attract love.  The name of the person one wishes to attract should be written on brown paper and tied around the center, or waist, of the root.  The poppet is then hidden in a drawer or box to attract the loved one's affection.

Scott Cunningham recommends myriad uses for May Apple root, which he also notes as a substitute for European mandrake.  The root should be "activated" and brought in tune with its environment by being left in a prominent place in one's home for three days.  Then it should be bathed in warm water, after which it is ready for use.  The water in which the root has been washed can be used to dress windows and doors to protect the home.

Placed on hearth or mantel, the root will protect the home, draw prosperity and encourage fertility.  Carried, the root is said to attract friendship, sweeten enemies and protect against illness.  The scent of the root is thought to induce sleep, and for this purpose it may be hung on the headboard or bedstead.  Money left near the May Apple root is thought to magickally multiply, especially silver coins.

In general, the root has a reputation for drawing good fortune and harmony, particularly to the home.  It's hard to ask for much more than that.  Bonne chance ~

Header: A Vision of Flammetta by Dante Gabriel Rossetti c 1878

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

I love really old recipes, like from Ancient Rome or China.  That's why I always jump on any cookbook that updates historical recipes for the modern kitchen.  So it goes without saying that Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler's Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks is one of my all time favorites.  The book was published in Canada in 1976 and is available online here.

One of my go-to recipes from the book is for spiced wine.  It is a wonderfully tasty concoction that can be made ahead, kept chilled and then broken out for a backyard barbeque or a fancy sit down dinner.  It really is that versatile and it's also a great way to use cheap red wine (like that kind in a box).

3 bottles of red table wine
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp honey
1/4 cup cinnamon
2 tbsp ginger and/or galingale
1 tsp each cardamom, mace and nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Heat the wine to a simmer (don't boil it) and stir in the sugar, honey, and spices over low heat.  Stir until thoroughly dissolved.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few moments.  Strain the wine through a fine strainer or cheesecloth and decant into an appropriate container (you can put it back into the bottles it came from if you like; something else will have to stand in if you did indeed go for that big box).

Hieatt and Butler recommend serving the wine at room temperature, which is nice for winter.  In the summer you can chill it a bit if you like.  Another wonderful summer variation is to use rose rather than red wine.  Include a few slices of lemon with the rose to really brighten it up.  Bon appetite ~

Header: A Monk in the Wine Cellar, Medieval illumination via this post at The Inspiratorium where you will find some interesting facts on Medieval food and drink

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

If any herb could be called a child of the dark underworld, it is mandrake.  Mentioned in European witch trials and alchemic treatises, Chinese herbals and African hymns, mandrake is the prototypical herb of Old World sorcery.  How the mandrake may have been used is mostly a matter of folk tales now, but the chthonian history of this interesting vegetable is worth poking around at.

First and foremost, mandrake is poisonous.  It comes from the same botanical family as tobacco and belladonna and was used throughout history as an easy (if painful for the victim) way to kill off rivals from Italy's city-states to China's various capitols. Although the "apples" of the plant, those curious red-orange fruits you can see in the illumination above, were sometimes eaten as aphrodisiacs, I personally wouldn't recommend ingesting any of the mandrake.

Scott Cunningham, in his definitive Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, points to the fact that mandrake has a long magickal history, particularly in so called "poppet magick".  But there have been other and sometimes even more sinister uses for the plant in the shape of a man.

Tradition holds that harvesting mandrake can, in and of itself, be hazardous.  Anyone who has read the Harry Potter novels or seen the movies based on same is vaguely familiar with the "scream of the mandrake" which was at one time said to drive men mad.  Pliny, writing in the first century CE, gives a ritual for pulling the plant out of the ground.  The sorcerer should stand with his back to the wind, draw three circles around the plant with a sword, pour out a libation of wine, turn to the west and then work the plant up with the sword.  According to occult author and journalist Robert Masello, it was the Jewish scholar Flavius Josephus who first mentioned the frightening howl made by the mandrake when it was uprooted.  From there, the next step was the legend that the shrieking could kill.

No doubt due to this belief the Medieval era saw at least one even more stringent requirement added to the harvesting of mandrake which, I hasten to add, was decidedly less humane.  This formula is also illustrated above.  Alchemic tracts advised tying one end of a rope to the plant and the other end to a hungry dog.  The alchemist should them move a healthy distance away and coax the dog toward him with food.  The dog would pull the mandrake from the ground and, following the mandrake's inevitable wail, drop dead for his effort.  And no treat to boot.

Once gotten - if the getter lived through the getting - the mandrake could be used for myriad purposes.  Bathed and sometimes even dressed in little clothes, it might be charmed and used as an oracle.  In this case the mandrake would be set up in its own cupboard or box and asked important questions.  How it answered remains a mystery.

In France, particularly in areas with a high concentration of wise women such as Brittany, the Auvergne, Alsace/Lorraine and Provence, the mandrake was considered a kind of witch's familiar and was sometimes referred to as a fee: fairy.  After her execution, gossip said that Jeanne d'Arc's mother, a wise woman in Domremy, kept a mandrake in the form of her daughter to ensure the future saint's safety.  The poppet was lost, they said, just before 18 year old Jeanne was "captured" by the English.

Of course, the mandrake could also be used to enchant or to kill.  Sometimes the herb was used to draw the love of another; more often, if the witch trials are to be believed, it was fashioned in the form of an enemy and manipulated to bring harm.  In 1630, a group of women in Hamburg were accused of witchcraft when it was discovered that they each possessed a mandrake root.  In an ironic twist on the story of Jeanne d'Arc and her mother, a woman of Orleans was hanged in 1603 as a sorceress for keeping a "mandrake fiend."

Today, mandrake are hard to come by and expensive when found.  But the story of their substitutions swings more to the herbal than the underworld, so we'll leave that for another time.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Harvesting mandrake, illumination from the Tacuinum Sanitatis of the 15th century via Wikipedia

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Jeudi: Root Work

June has been the month for weddings since ancient times; June being named after Juno, the wife of the Roman Jupiter, King of the Gods.  To go along with all these weddings, if Hollywood is to be considered a mirror of "real life", there are a cartload of singles looking to find "the right one."  Curiously, weddings have always been an occasion where it was considered acceptable for young people to "mingle" if not actually engage in potential romance.  The more things change....  To that end, then, a little trick is always nice to have up one's sleeve.

In hoodoo, easy to make and use magickal oils are often considered just the thing to attract what we feel is lacking in our lives.  There's Van Van oil, famous in New Orleans voodoo, for luck and success, Four Thieves Vinegar to chase off jinxes and oils dedicated to various lwa.  The most widely used recipe for Attraction Oil as said to have been created by Marie Laveau.  This will work perfectly well regardless of your gender or sexual preference so please don't imagine it is only for ladies seeking gentlemen by any means.

Of course in the process of gathering and mixing your ingredients, you should always keep your intention as the focus of your thoughts.  What ever will help you do this - music, humming, a candle burning, the silence of a late night - should be used to best advantage.  You will need a six ounce bottle, preferably glass but plastic will work, with a tight lid so that you can shake your oils to mix them together.  You will also need a base oil.  I recommend almond oil.  Some root workers use jojoba oil.  Olive or vegetable oil is also used but please note that these will go rancid in a relatively short time compared to almond and jojoba oils.

For Attraction Oil, add 1/4 cup base oil to your bottle, then add in the following order:

12 drops Rose Otto essential oil
Note: if you cannot find or use Rose Otto (it is expensive and, depending on where you live, may only be available online), Rose Geranium essential oil is a perfectly good substitute.
12 drops Lavender essential oil
12 drops Sandalwood essential oil
12 drops Jasmine essential oil

Cap your bottle and shake it gently to mix the oils while envisioning yourself drawing desirable gentlemen or ladies to you whenever you wear it.

Store your Attraction Oil in a cool, dark place. Before you head out to your next social situation, anoint your wrists with this oil while again envisioning romantic success.  This oil can also be used to dress objects such as love mojos or jewelry, even a gift for a special person you'd like to know better.  Bonne chance ~

Header: 1950s cartoon via Mid-Century

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Though decried as an outrage to the female form since before the turn of the 20th century, I'm not the only one around who is fascinated by and just a bit nostalgic for the good old fashioned corset.  Corsets, far from being some sort of insane torture device applied slavishly on a daily basis, were a fundamental garment in the wardrobe of almost every woman in the western world by the 18th century.  As fashion historian Valerie Steele puts it in her book The Corset: A Cultural History:

Most people today tend to think of the corset as a waist-cincher.  Certainly, women could and did use corsets to "improve" a relatively undefined hip-waist ratio or to suppress a heavy abdomen.  However, the corset also functioned as a brassiere, indeed as a kind of Wonderbra, lifting the breasts, "augmenting their volume" and allowing them to "blossom in all their splendor and amplitude."

The points in quotations are from advertisements for corsets, mostly from the second half of the 19th century.  During this period the appearance of so called trade cards, like the one shown above, began a long and sometimes lugubrious tradition of playing up what the consumer wanted and making it look like something he, or in this case she, really needed.

Before the Industrial Revolution, corsets were made by hand.  In fact, the vast majority of women made their own corsets right along with all their family's other clothing.  With new technology - and new wealth - came the ability for manufactures to mass produce this basic item.  And with mass production came mass marketing.

The cards often focus on the health benefits of the corset being sold.  The card above shows that Ball Corsets are available not just to the ideal sized woman, but to everyone and their excellent fit is not sacrificed by this diversity.  Here is the young miss who can "breathe to live" in her first corset.  Meanwhile the nursing mother can enjoy the same comfort, accommodating her baby without having to abandon the benefits of a well fitted corset.

The idea of marriage and family appeared early and often in the corset trade cards, either overtly or in much more underhanded ways.  Marketing has always been marketing after all and, despite what Mad Men would have us believe, they didn't suddenly come up with "the hook" in the 1960s.

Cooley's Corsets featured a folding card that showed a distressed, frumpy woman on the front wearing a shapeless, gray-toned corset.  Looking into her mirror she bemoans "How uncomfortable I feel!  And how horrid I look!" (Yes, our ancestors were not above abusing exclamation points, either.)  When the card is folded out, our ugly duckling has become a swan.  Dressed in a gleaming white Cooley's Cork Corset, she can now say "I hardly know myself! How comfortable!"

An even less subtle card offers a cartoon and calls it "A true story of the Madam Warren Corset, illustrated in 4 Chapters."  In the center, of course, is our ideal lady, snug and curvy in her 1881 Madam Warren.  To her left is the "before" picture.  The young woman is shaped like a man with the exception of her dress' prominent bustle.  "Oh! How horrible I look in this old corset," she groans.  The next picture shows the same girl in her new Madam Warren: "What an improvement the Madam Warren corset and how comfortable."  The third square shows the lady out in public with a crowd of six men tipping their hats as they stare at her.  "How delightful to be admired by everybody," she gushes.  The final picture shows our happy lass at the altar, her Madam Warren now concealed by a white wedding gown.  "The happy result," reads the caption.

Corset trade cards of the same era often showed small children and especially the little angels known as putti.  As Steele notes:

Winged putti peek out from inside corsets, lace up corsets, paint or photograph corsets.  Since nineteenth-century doctors frequently warned that tight corsets could complicate pregnancy and injure the fetus, the putti may represent not only cupids or angels but also healthy babies.  At a time when many women experienced repeated pregnancies, they may also have hoped that a good corset would counteract the ravages of both pregnancies and time. 

One could hardly argue that modern ads for Victoria's Secret bras or Spanx tummy controlling underwear do any better job at grabbing women by their subconscious fears.  And with that, enough on corsets and advertising and the numerous shapes of the female body...  At least for now.

Header: Ball Corsets trade card via

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Purge me with Hyssop; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow ~ Psalm 51

Even the Bible mentions hyssop as a cleansing herb, and to this day it is especially prized for lifting jinxes and purging negative energy.

Wiccans used the dried herb in sachets for protection.  It is also sprinkled around the house to lift negativity and open the way for positive progression.  Plants are grown in the garden or in pots in the home to help bring about the same result.

Hyssop is particularly popular in hoodoo, both in washes for the home and in baths for people.  A floor wash to reverse crossed conditions can be made by brewing a tea with hyssop and adding this to your wash water.  To increase the efficacy of this working, recite Psalm 51 as you clean and then dispose of your wash water at a crossroads away from your home. 

Likewise, hyssop can be muddled in a half cup of olive oil and then added to four cups of water to make a wash.  The process is said to remove personal jinxes and help to ease the repercussions associated with bad decision making a la the Wiccan "rule of three" - what we do to others comes back to us threefold.  The oil and water should be rubbed on the person in need starting at the head and working down to the feet while they stand between two burning, white candles.  While this is being done, recitation of Psalm 51 is again recommended.  The used bath should be collected, taken to a crossroads at sunrise and disposed of in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (or your higher power as appropriate). 

This is an old bath used by root workers to take away the potential after effects of enacting evil workings on behalf of their clients.  In New Orleans, it is said that this bath was a favorite of "Voodoo Queen" Marie Laveau and the root worker known as Dr. John for just such purposes.

An easier, if less effective, bath can be achieved by steeping a muslin bag full of hyssop in your regular bath water.  Doing this once a month or so is said to crack off that negative crust that our modern environment can to easily inflict on us.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Interior With Two Tapers by V. Hammershoi via Old Paint

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jeudi: Great Spirits

In my 7th grade creative writing class I wrote a short story about a creepy vampire lady who lived in a cave under a Gothic castle by the sea and, in an act of revenge that reached across generations, sucked the blood from the children of the family that lived there. Her name was Lamia and she was the result of two prominent features in my teenage life at the time: Greek mythology and Dark Shadows in syndication. If I had still been watching Star Trek the whole thing would have been different.

To this day I am fascinated by the tale of demonization and old gods becoming new monsters behind the ancient story of the Greek Lamia. My hackneyed prose of so many years gone by aside, I believe it still resonates today. According to the Acadian cultures of Greece, Lamia was a serpent goddess. She may have migrated to the mainland from Crete, where the Minoan’s worshiped a goddess of earth, death and rejuvenation in the form of a snake. Patricia Monaghan tells us in her Book of Goddesses & Heroines that “This Lamia seems to have been honored at mystic rituals similar to those of Demeter at Eleusis.” This heyday was not to last, however.

Once Zeus became king of the Greek gods and Hera his tortured queen, Lamia joined the ranks of so many other goddesses demoted from divinity to doxy. Lamia was then said to have been a breathtakingly beautiful woman and Queen of Libya. Desired by Zeus, he whisked her off to a northern cave and promptly sired several children on her. Abandon by her lover, Lamia was eventually tracked down by the miserable, perpetually jealous Hera. Finding Lamia and her lovely offspring, she forced the former queen to eat her own children. In some versions of the story, one of Lamia’s brood, Scylla, was spared although changed into a monster by Hera.

Driven mad by this grisly punishment, Lamia wandered the countryside howling like a stray dog. Denied shelter or help of any kind, she changed into a ravening beast of sorts who would slip into people’s homes and quietly suck the blood of sleeping children. She left these mortal babes as dead and mangled as she had her own half-god offspring.

According to the mythology, Lamia could present a beautiful face should the child wake up as she approached, and delight it with a lilting song just before she chose to strike. In fact she was a hideous, Gorgon-like half-snake who could take her eyes from their sockets while she slept so that she would never be caught unawares.

Eventually, as Monaghan points out, Lamia became a kind of bogey man that Hellenistic mothers would use to frighten their kids into behaving. The original meaning of her name was even lost and it is now translated as “greedy one.” Thus a powerful goddess was reduced to a name used to keep the brats in line. A very far fall, if ever there was one.

 Finally, some changes are on the horizon for me and HQ. There will probably be a bit of a hiccup in posting for a week or so but the news is good and, as always, I appreciate your input and support. More to come, hopefully sooner than later.  

Header: Photograph by Rahvis c 1947 via Mid-Century

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Primroses, usually thought of as an old-time flower favored by the Victorians, has a history in magick as well. It is said to be particularly helpful with obstreperous children. In Wicca, primroses are often used in love sachets.

Scott Cunningham notes that some practitioners warn that primrose can bring on wantonness, and this is probably an old wives’ tale that has something to do with their heady scent. All the same, a little wantonness in love can’t be all bad, can it? The blue and red varieties are said to be protective when planted in the garden. Cunningham mentions that they will also draw fairies; but take care on that account.

In hoodoo, primroses are trained around garden gates and front doors to provide not only general protection but keep away unwanted visitors. If you cannot grow a primrose near your front door, the dried flower petals and/or leaves scattered under the front mat or at the base of the door will have the same effect. Taking root anywhere in the garden, a primrose is thought to bring peace to the home.

Both Wiccans and root workers agree that primrose is the herb to use when seeking to raise respectful and well mannered children. For this purpose the flowers are steeped in a tea that is then added to a child’s bath, sewn into clothing or tied up in a mojo bag and placed in the little one’s pillowcase. A little more of this kind of working might help to ease the current epidemic of ill-tempered, self-centered brats I seem to perceive all over the place. But maybe that’s just me. Bonne chance ~  

Header: Nanny and Child by Margaret E. Browne

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Samedi: The Lady Bath

I've spoken of Milo Rigaud and his 1953 publication Secrets of Voodoo here at HQ before.  I’ve also mentioned the Voudon ritual known as a Lady bath.  Both converge in the book where Rigaud, a native Haitian and a student of law, ethnology, psychology and theology, discusses the ritual and the hymn to Erzulie Freda that can accompany it.  Per Rigaud:

The “Lady” bath is the bath taken under the magic auspices of Erzulie.  Generally speaking, it is desirable to summon the mystère Erzulie to come in person and administer the bath…  The bath Erzulie used to be much in vogue, but it is no longer as popular as it once was.  Nowadays initiates are content to take a substitute Erzulie bath by rubbing themselves with water in which Erzulie, while possessing somebody, has herself bathed.  The bath water used in this fashion is thought to produce good fortune and cure illness.

Rigaud gives the ingredients of the Lady bath as follows:

… three bunches of basilica leaves, seven sweet peppers, a measure of zo-douvant (Eugenia crenulata Wild) powder, baume du commandeur, tincture of benzoin and Florida Water.  Perfume may be added in any desired quantity, perfume being the most important element in Maitresse Erzulie’s toilette.

This bath is generally taken no more than once a year and this hymn to Erzulie may accompany it:

Ce chance oh! O, ce chance oh!
Ce pas wanga ou gangnin;
Ce chance oh!
Grande Erzulie Freda
Ce chance ou gangnin,
Ce pas wanga ou gangnin;
Ce chance, O Maitresse.

It’s luck, oh! O, it’s luck, oh!
It’s not a magic charm that you have;
It’s luck, oh!
Grande Erzulie Freda
It’s luck that you have,
It’s not a magic charm that you have;
It’s luck, O Mistress.

The emphasis on luck in this chant delineates the intention of the Lady bath.  The voudonist is not looking for Erzulie’s assistance in love or good looks, but specifically for her favor.  Everyone in Haiti knows that those who are favored by the beautiful Maitresse are the luckiest of all.

Header: Marilyn Monroe photograph via Mid-Century; my Erzulie is very fond of having pictures of MM used to represent her and I cannot but comply

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Though in modern terms we tend to lump every demon known in the Christian Hell into one and call him/her/it “The Devil”, this is a fairly recent religious phenomena.  Our ancestors in Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia loved nothing more than cataloguing the minutest detail of any given subgroup of obscure demons to the enth degree.  It was a particular passion for Christian scholars, who seem to have believed that by quantifying evil, they could somehow control it.

Given these obsessions, it should come as no surprise that Satan – both in name and being – was actually not one but several separate embodiments of evil.  “Our name is Legion, for We are Many,” after all. 

This was certainly the case in Johann Weyer’s 16th century work Pseudographica Demoniaca.  Weyer lists a total of eight Satans all together and the listed characteristics are certainly worth taking a closer look at.  For the purposes of this post, we will only discuss seven of Weyer’s individual Satans.  The eighth, and to my mind most complex, is Lucifer~Satan and that guy absolutely needs his own space to fully breath anxiety, jealousy, rage and brimstone.

And so, in alphabetical order, seven of the eight Satans of demonologist Johann Weyer:

Abaddon~Satan:  Our first Satan may be a corruption or extension of the Hebrew angel of Gehenna.  He resides in the very lowest layer of Hell and can be associated with demons such as Apollyon who was a Christian demonization of the Greek Apollo.

Azazel~Satan:  Azazel, as a separate “dark angel,” is mentioned in the Book of Enoch which the Christians rejected when putting together their Bible.  Enoch implies that he may have been one of, or perhaps even the leader of, those creepy angels known as The Watchers.  It is Azazel who most closely resembles the rebel angel of Hebrew lore who refused to give homage to God’s creation in the form of Adam.  “Why,” Azazel asked.  “Should a Son of Light bow before a Son of Dust?”  In this, he may also be the Christian mirror of the Islamic Iblis.

Beelzebub~Satan:  The story of Beelzebub’s fall from Lord of the House in ancient Babylon to Lord of the Flies in Christian mythos is a prototype for demonization.  To the ancients, Beelzebub was essentially the Angel of Death who conducted the souls of the dead to their final home.  Since flies were believed to carry human souls, Beelzebub was a indeed the shepherd of flies.  This was turned in on itself in the Christian version and Beelzebub became the ruler of the filth, decay and pestilence associated with insects.

Beliel~Satan:  Beliel may be an afterthought as his story tends to mirror those of other Satans.  In the (again, rejected) Gospel of Bartholomew, Beliel states: “I was called Satanel, that is messenger of God, but I rejected God’s image and my name was called Satanas: he who keeps Hell.”  Beliel also claims to have been the first angel made by God.  Most demonologists name that angel Lucifer.

Mastema~Satan:  Some scholars say that Mastema’s name has its root in the Hebrew word for adverse.  Mastema is said to be the dark angel who attacked Moses in the desert and the snake who tempted Eve in the Garden.  Weyer makes him the accusing angel who will whisk the unjust to Hell and tell Heaven why.

Sammael~Satan:  Sammael is called “chief of the Satans” by Enoch, who writes of witnessing the powerful angel Uriel in argument with these demons.  The most forceful advocate among them, he says, was Sammael.  Weyer seems to agree, calling Sammael the Angel of Death.  Sammael is also known as the Great Serpent, so he too has a claim to being the snake in Eden.  This is the Satan who, flying over the homes of humans in the night, will make our dogs howl.

Satanel:  Aside from Lucifer, Satanel seems on the face of it to have the best claim to the title of capitol D “Devil”.  Unlike Lucifer, his name has the same ending as most of the truly famous angels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and so on.  This suffix has an ancient lineage that passes from the Sumerian el meaning shining, through Babylonian ellu, radiant one into Celtic as elf or aelf, also radiant or shining one.  His name would indicate that Satanel has a good hold on the first seat in the angel band.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t the compelling story that Lucifer – or even Sammael – has and simply slapping an el onto your name doesn’t make you royalty.  Even in Weyer, our last Satan comes off more as a reflection of all the others than as a form of the Evil One.

So there are the eight minus one.  Another day we will meet Lucifer and ask to see his credentials.  Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with another bit of my Gran’s wisdom: Don’t raise more devils than you can lay down.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: St. Michael and the Dragon by Albrecht Durer via Wikipedia