Friday, August 31, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Alchemists of old would call upon the protection of angels when stepping into unknown territory. Believing that their art had a certain chthonian element to it, these men and women would often draw elaborate circles on the floors of their workrooms, place candles around the circle and call upon the Archangels of the Cardinal Directions to be with them and protect them as they strove to learn the mysteries of the Other World.

The overriding school of thought which has come down to us regarding which angel rules which direction is as follows:

Uriel in the North for Earth
Michael in the South for Fire
Gabriel in the West for Water
Raphael in the East for Air

Though there are other combinations and match-ups floating around out there, this makes the most sense given the Gabriel is most probably the only female Archangel. She was also the original "Angel of Death" and many early cultures believed that the Land of the Dead was somewhere "to the west."

Of course, those who dabbled in darker magicks picked up on this handy protection formula fairly quickly. Necromancers and other less savory types, not wanting to scare off the demon hoards they were trying to call up and manipulate, began utilizing a similar formula with devils in the place of angels. Thus we have a canon not only for protective angels but, almost counter intuitively, for protective demons as well.

Not surprisingly, however, there has never been any agreement on which demons rule which cardinal points. Those who practice the blacker arts appear to be much like politicians; they can't seem to agree on anything. That said, the two main schools of thought seem to jibe, at least somewhat.

In her book Dictionary of the Damned, Michelle Belanger gives some examples from Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Two seem almost matched. The Abramelin, for instance, gives the following list:

Ariton in the North
Amaimon in the South
Paimon in the West
Oriens in the East

Meanwhile, Agrippa tweaks this slightly with:

Egin in the North
Amaymon in the South
Paymon in the West
Urieus in the East

It is easy to make the argument that Paimon and Paymon, for instance, are probably the same demon to begin with. But who can say for certain? None of this sort of thing ever did men like Faust much good, after all.

Personally, I like the idea of protective angels at the four corners of my life. In fact, when things get bad - and they are truly bad indeed right now - I like to remember the lines of the Kate Bush song "Lily". Even if the positions of the angels are a little wonky in the song, it's an easy way to remind one's self to stay protected with the Divine, salt and fire. Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Three Archangels and Young Tobias by Filippino Lippi c 1485 via Wikimedia

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jeudi: The Art of Beauty

The interesting accessory known in the West as the muff has had a long history. Although many fashion historians look for origins of such things, it seems that some fashion trends pop up virtually simultaneously in various so called civilized places around the world. Like pyramids, certain accoutrement just seem to make sense and so various cultures adopt them, putting their own spin on the item. This may, or perhaps may not, be the case with the muff.

According to R. Turner Wilcox, whose epic and beautiful volume The Mode in Costume has become a standard by which other such books are measured, European muffs probably became fashionable in the city-states of Renaissance Italy. They were first popular in port cities like Genoa, Naples and in particular Venice. These muffs were flat and square, allowing room for only one hand at a time. They were made of brocade, silk, and in the colder months velvet. Along with flag-shaped fans on long handles and embroidered handkerchiefs, these early muffs were the very cutting edge of fashion unseen anywhere during the Medieval period.

The location of the birth of this new fad may give some indication of its origin. Or it may not. When Marco Polo visited China in the 13th century, he mentioned court ladies concealing their hands in what he called rolls. These were made of shimmering silk and lined with what was probably one of the softest materials available to these wealthy ladies: lynx fur. For those of you who have not felt the pelt of a lynx, allow me to assure you that you will rarely feel anything so delightfully soft.

The curious issue here is the time lag. It seems that the ladies of Venice did not adopt their version of the muff until the late 15th century, which leaves well over a century blank if indeed the trend migrated from China upon the great explorer's return to Italy. Perhaps the accessory was so rare as to be overlooked until it caught on. Or perhaps both cultures developed the muff as an alternative to long sleeves which covered the hands. The issue is certainly open to speculation.

By the reign Charles IX the fashion had migrated to France. Muffs were still small but by now they could fit two hands and were made of various types of fur. These furs were often dyed brilliant colors and the mania for colorful muffs had gone so far by the reign of Henri III that a royal decree banned all colors of fur muff aside from black for the middle class. Only court ladies could venture out with brilliant blue or scarlet red warmers for their hands.

Muffs became popular in England, particularly during the brief era of Charles I when they grew in size to accommodate the arms up to the elbows. Even Cromwellian ladies - if not staunch Puritans - carried such muffs, often made of beaver. More sumptuous furs returned with Charles II although, as an aside, it was this Charles who banned the making of any fur hats other than beaver. This was probably a bid to improve the cash flow in his colonies in North America, where trapping was as much a part of the economy as rum and slaves.

A curiously English spin on the muff, known as muffetees, appeared during the Restoration. These were something like mittens, worn one on each hand, and were for men exclusively. By 1663, this fad - perhaps mercifully - passed and men, like their ladies, returned to larger muffs often hung from a ribbon tied around the waist.

Muffs made of silk, satin or brocade and trimmed and lined with fur became the rage at the court of Louis XIV. This fad continued into the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI with only the size of the muff varying according to the current mode. Marie-Antoinette was at first stubbornly fond of the small, fur-puff muffs she had known in her childhood, but when she appeared one evening in the gardens of Versailles carrying an over-sized fox fur muff, the mania for gigantic muffs began in earnest.

Madame Mole Raymond's muff in the painting above gives an idea of the more scaled down, Directoire version of the "big" muff. In England, however, the rage for large muffs carried by both men and women continued into Jane Austen's time. It was only toward the end of the Romantic era, as English society began its slow slide toward the Victorian era, that muffs once again began to shrink. By the 1840s they were as dainty as the hands of the idealized "angel in the home."

Muffs continued as a fashion accessory into the 20th century. They saw a brief revival during the gay '90s when unusual materials like feathers would be used for their construction. Larger muffs again became popular before World War I but that may have been their last hurrah. From the 1950s the occasional designer has shown muffs on runway models but in our modern age of smart phones and tablets free hands - even at a freezing bus stop - are a priority.

Like the fan, I wouldn't mind a revival of the muff. There's a lot to be said, after all, for keeping one's hands to one's self.

Header: Madame Mole Raymond by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun c 1797 via Art History Archive

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Sarsaparilla is known to most of us as an additive in "old time" soft drinks. Anyone who has watched old Westerns remembers the guy who orders a "sas'perilly" at the saloon being made fun of by the hard drinking toughs around him. Hey, a steady hand shoots better. Or that's what my Daddy used to say. But the herb sarsaparilla is considered in magickal practices as a drawer of money and lust, which is nothing to make fun of.

In Wicca, dried sarsaparilla is mixed with true cinnamon bark and sprinkled around a home to draw prosperity. Scott Cunningham also mentions burning it with sandalwood as an incense for the same end.

This jibes nicely with hoodoo usage of the herb. Dried sarsaparilla is burned with cinnamon and sandalwood to draw money. It is also burned with frankincense and myrrh as a house blessing incense. This ritual is particularly popular around yuletide, when the cleansing and blessing of one's home is a nice way to start things off right in the New Year.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, root workers and those familiar with their ways would sprinkle a pinch of dried sarsaparilla in the envelope in which important documents were being mailed. This was thought to ensure safe passage and accurate delivery for the mail in times when such things were spotty at best.

Sarsaparilla is also used in baths to spark flagging sexual passions. Combined with two or eight other love drawing herbs such as rose petals, mint, dill or juniper berries, brewed into a tea and added to bath water, sarsaparilla is said to aid in the rejuvenation of carnal interests.

Those drinks that may seem old fashioned these days but include sarsaparilla as an ingredient can have a positive magickal use as well. Used with intention, they are said to prolong health and encourage a happy life. And who among us doesn't want that? Bonne chance to all, and in particular to those of you on the Gulf Coast. You are in our thoughts and prayers...

Header: Transporting the Mail AD 1800 to AD 1900 by Lloyd Branson via American Gallery

Friday, August 24, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In the ten to twenty years prior to the Protestant Reformation, artists were beginning to express the ever growing sense hostility toward the Catholic Church that would sweep through wide swaths of Europe. Through the use of humor, sometimes in the form of cartoons and on other occasions as mock expressions of religiously sanctioned art, these talented men would point up the issues surrounding such common practices as the selling of indulgences and the lack of celibacy among the clergy.

An example of this kind of non-verbal condemnation of the Church can be seen in the pen and ink piece shown above. Exquisitely executed by Urs Graf in 1512, it tells a story that would be instantly familiar to many of Europe's citizens in the year it was completed. Depicted is the stereotypical "lecherous monk", complete with demon or devil to inform his next act of sin.

While the monk is a standard religious, even recognizable to people in our modern age, the demon has some unique if not entirely original features. Most of these can easily be read as - you'll pardon the pun - pointing to the monk's favorite vice.

The demon's face seems permanently twisted into a lecherous leer complete with rolling eyes and grinning mouth. His head is full of jutting spikes that echo what's going on below his waist. There a one has to imagine permanently erect phallus is only partially concealed by a twining, prehensile tail that would likely scare off even some well seasoned professionals in debauchery. All that aside, my favorite little detail here is the devil's left leg. This tapers into a peg, shaped rather like an upside-down wine bottle, which will remind post-modern observers of nothing so much as a pirate's wooden leg.

As a precursor to the denunciations of men like Luther and Calvin, this picture really is worth a thousand words.

Header: Hermit and Devil by Urs Graf c 1512, pen and ink on paper. Copy from the book Damned by Robert Muchembled, Chronicle Books, 2002

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jeudi: Curios

Silver in all forms, as amulets, coins, beads, pieces of jewelry and even as table wear, is a powerful magickal substance in all disciplines around the world. It was one of the first precious metals worked by man because it comes from the Earth in its pure form. There is no need to add anything to silver before working with it. In the past it has been less expensive than gold, as well, making it a comfortable choice for the average person.

In Wicca, silver jewelry is worn to honor the Mother Goddess. This tradition probably goes back centuries and links silver to both Earth and sky. The metal is pulled from the Earth, but has the sparkling quality of the moon and stars. Crescent shaped objects, either to be worn or put on altars, have been made of silver since the dawn of civilization. Even after Christianity and Islam swept across much of the world, the silver crescent continued to hold a place of honor. As one of the attributes of the Virgin Mary, the crescent is still a symbol of the Divine Mother.

In many cultures, silver has always been considered an excellent choice for amulets of protection. As Scott Cunningham notes in his Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic, there's a valid historical reason for the literary notion that silver can destroy vampires and werewolves. Crosses of any kind may foil a vampire, but a silver cross trumps all. And what better way to dispatch a werewolf than with a silver bullet?

In hoodoo, as we've discussed before, silver dimes are prized for their money-drawing qualities. Minted in the U.S. until 1945, these dimes are added to mojo bags or carried as a pocket piece. They are also considered good for drawing love or inspiring lust.

Silver jewelry, set with any stone or none at all, can have a wide range of benefits. Cleansed and worn with intention, it can improve psychic ability and encourage psychic dreams. Silver is worn to attract love as well, and the metal's drawing power is increased if it is etched with the planetary symbol of Venus, according to Cunningham. The Celts believed that silver would calm anger and anxiety; just touching a person with something silver could relieve their mental torment. Silver is worn for this purpose today as it is thought to balance emotions and instill inner calm.

I'll end with an excellent, and elegantly simple, money-drawing spell provided by the master, Mr. Cunningham. This working in particular is for the attraction of unexpected cash - something most of us could certainly use - so plan on a little surprise if you use it. Acquire a pure silver coin, if possible; if not, any small piece of silver will do. Empower this and place it under a candle holder. Dress a green candle with olive or money-drawing oil while concentrating on your need for funds. Place the candle in the candle holder and light it with intention; visualize that unexpected money coming your way. It helps if you know the amount you need and can keep that in the back of your mind while the candle burns down and out. Bury what is left of the candle on your property or in a house plant and carry or wear the silver piece to encourage your bank account to grow. Bonne chance ~

Header: Assumption of the Virgin Mary by William Henry Machen via American Gallery

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The flashy hibiscus flower, which grows on bushes that can sometimes be as tall as trees, is found in warm and tropical climates. It has been used in love magick since ancient times, and even today has a reputation for inciting unbridled lust.

For the most part, the flowers of the hibiscus bush are used in love sachets, mojos and to decorate altars when working love spells. Scott Cunningham notes that the hibiscus was the chosen flower for brides on many South Pacific islands. Prognosticators on the island of Dobu looked into the future by watching the movements of hibiscus flowers floated on water in a wooden bowl.

The flowers can be dried and used in love incenses. For centuries around the Mediterranean, the flowers of the red hibiscus were dried and brewed into a tea. This was imbibed, almost exclusively by men, to encourage sexual vigor. In Ancient Greece, women were forbidden to drink - or even brew - this tea. According to Cunningham, that is still the case in some Middle Eastern countries where the hibiscus is known as the kharkady..

In hoodoo, hibiscus flowers are also used in love magick. Dried or fresh, they can be added to mojo bags or baths for this purpose. Small pillows filled with dried hibiscus flowers were made by young women hoping to dream of their future husbands. Bonne chance ~

Header: Painting Statuary by J. Gerome via Wikimedia

Friday, August 17, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In 1521, Pierre Bourgot of Poligny, France confessed to being a werewolf. He further went on to tell, in grisly detail, of breaking the neck of a nine year old girl and eating her intestines. Though Bourgot's confession is often said to have been free of coercion, the fear of witches, werewolves and other dark denizens of the underworld was high in the area at the time. It is hard to imagine, given the climate, that Bourgot was not at least threatened with torture.

But the writings of the judge who tried Bourgot and two compatriot werewolves, might lead to the conclusion that these people were affected by some sort of delusion that actually made them think they were wolves in the flesh. Here is the most compelling passage of Judge Jean Boin's notes:

I have seen the accused go on all fours in their cells just as they did when they were in the fields; but they said that it was impossible for them to turn themselves into wolves, since they had no more ointment and they had lost the power of doing it by being imprisoned. I have further noticed that they were all scratched on the face, hands and legs as if by bush or bramble, and that one of them bore hardly any resemblance to a man and struck with horror those who looked upon him.

The judge was quick to adjure that Bourgot and his fellows in transformation were none other than true werewolves. The men were sentenced to death and burned at the stake.

Header: The Werewolf by Lucas Cranach c 1521 via Wikipedia

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

When I was working in an office, and I'm dating myself here, we ladies had to wear skirts and the gentlemen had to wear suits.  There was the inevitable groaning about ties and pantyhose with the majority of the ladies claiming that "some man" surely designed both.  Particularly the pantyhose. Although history would prove my distaff coworkers mostly wrong, it turns out that there is a grain of truth to their grumbling.

Stockings or hose as we know them today probably started as a necessary fashion choice of the Northern tribes known to the Romans as barbarians.  It goes without saying that it gets a lot colder in Northern Europe than along the sunny Mediterranean so, aside from those wacky, blue-faced Celts, most of the tribesmen in cooler latitudes chose to cover up their legs.  This was accomplished with a kind of leather legging that was fastened around the thigh with cording of leather or fabric. The cord was then wrapped around the leg down to the ankle.

This trend in men's legwear continued into the Medieval period but with the leather legging replaced by a knitted stocking.  The trend began in Italy, where the stockings were held up with a sort of garter belt around the waist, and headed north in a hurry.  By the mid-16th century, the stockings had become what we would now recognize as a pair of hose.  They were made from cloth or silk and during the high Renaissance might be worn parti-colored, with one leg mismatched to the other or a pattern, in particular the now ubiquitous diamond pattern that we associate with court jesters, all over.

By the mid-17th century, what was known as trunk hose had become the norm. These continued to be made of cloth or silk, but were attached to the short breeches, often called slops, worn by both the fashionable and the working man.  While silk was preferred at court, home-knit wool or linsey-woolsey was the more frequent material for these type of leggings.

Meanwhile, women had jumped on the stocking bandwagon.  For a number of centuries after the Renaissance era, European women wore their stockings only to the knee or just above.  Here, they were gartered with ribbon, leather or string, depending on the means of the wearer. A well constructed pair of wool stockings was expected to last a working woman for a year and extra petticoats would probably have been necessary in colder climates to keep the exposed area from knee to waist at least somewhat comfortable.

By the 18th century, cotton stockings were available, although silk was still the favored material for the wealthy.  By this period both men and women were wearing these accessories no higher than the knee, and the mania for exquisite, jewel-encrusted garters, which began during the Restoration of Charles II in England, had spread like wildfire.

Stockings also began to be embroidered, particularly at the outside ankle, with what was called "clocks".  These were detailed embellishments, either of scroll work, natural items like leaves or flowers, or even animals, that were particularly popular with the ladies.  Une roulette ostentateuse, "a flashing clock," became a euphemism for a certain kind of lady among the Creoles of old New Orleans in the late 18th century.  A lovely example of a late 19th century pair of stockings with peacock clocks can be found here. Most stockings, particularly those of ladies, were white throughout the 18th century and into the Victorian era, with dove gray and - almost exclusively in Paris - nude making a brief appearance during the Napoleonic era.

As the 19th century advanced, men's stockings turning into socks while women's stockings became more and more daring.  By the 1870s, Paris was exporting stockings saturated with color. Purple, royal blue and even black were popular but the most coveted stockings were made of scarlet silk. The stocking color often matched that of the petticoat. A brief mania for stockings with horizontal striped, usually alternating black and red, took hold during the 1890s.

At the dawn of the 20th century, more familiar, muted tones became popular and stockings were, for the most part, made by machine.  A garter belt, usually attached to some form of undergarment, held up stockings that were often matched to the shoe color in shades of taupe, beige and particularly gray.  The mad '20s saw ladies casting off their girdles and rolling down their stockings, but they the mid-'30s garter belts were again firmly in place although some of the privileged who could spend time tanning went without stockings, at least in the summer.

After World War II, a reborn mania for fine, nylon stockings emerged spurred no doubt by the material's sudden availability.  The design houses of Paris would custom dye them for their clients. R. Turner Wilcox, in her contemporary and addictive book The Mode in Fashion described the joy of post-war stockings:

With the quantities of exquisite sheer nylon stockings again available, the bare-legged fashion has left us. The general color is darker and in many hues of muted tones of green, plum, brown and black, but so gossamer sheer are the stockings that such colors appear but as shadows over the flesh.

It wasn't until the late '60s and '70s that the "innovation" of pantyhose came upon woman kind.  Thankfully, we're not as likely to be wearing them now. Instead, we've traded their tyranny for the joys of "shapewear". But that is an entirely different subject...

Header: Fine Feathers stocking ad c 1954 via Mid-Century   

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

For regular readers of my ramblings here at HQ, it will come as no surprise that I have been engrossed in research on healing herbs recently.  Dear friends have been helpful, particularly our yoga instructor brother-from-another-mother Joe, as well as holistic healing pyrates of the New World Seika and Captain Swallow.  Magickal ends are also worth seeking out, though.  Radiation therapy, meditation and grape seed oil can all use a little push, right?

To my surprise, one of the most effective healing herbs across all manner of magickal disciplines turns out to be humble, garden variety rue.  Rue is a favorite in Mediterranean cooking, and rue tea has been prescribed to pregnant women for centuries by midwives hoping to even out those occasional mood swings.  The herb is also a bit of a jack-of-all-trades magickally speaking, bringing luck, love, courage, protection and healing.

Druids, Wiccans and Gnostics/Copts have used rue for centuries.  The Coptic word for rue is bashoush, which can be translated as lucky.  The Ancient Etruscans and Romans included rue in their food not only as a spice, but to protect their internal organs from disease caused by hexes or the Evil Eye.  To this day one of the most popular amulets in Italy is the Cimaruta.  Made exclusively from silver, the Cimaruta is worn around the neck to aid in healing, ward against future illness and the Evil Eye, and bring luck to the wearer.  This tradition is popular in the Strega practice of Wicca, and is thought to date back to the Etruscan culture.  You can find a lovely example of a Cimaruta here.

Druids and Wiccans also use bundles of rue as sprinklers to shake salt water around homes for cleansing rituals.  Rue is rubbed along clean floorboards to repel evil magick, according to Scott Cunningham, and hung over the doors to protect against same.  Cunningham also recommends placing fresh rue on the forehead while relaxing to cure tension headaches and taking in the scent of fresh rue to clear the mind and enhance mental acuity.  Love poppets are often stuffed with rue.

In hoodoo, rue tea is is sprinkled around the home for protection and added to baths to help healing and break jinxes.  Cleansing incense is made by mixing dried rue and hyssop with ground frankincense, camphor and sandalwood.  The mixture is burned on charcoal and used to smudge the home or people for purification.  A healing and protecting mojo should include rue, comfrey root, coriander and nine Devil's shoestings.  These should be placed in a red flannel bag and dressed regularly with a healing or protection oil or whiskey.  The bag should be carried close to the skin whenever possible.

Silver RavenWolf mentions the use of rue in Pow-Wow, which echoes the Wiccan use of the herb for clarity of thought.  She also notes the hex-breaking qualities of the herb and, perhaps curiously, advises that rue can be used to protect self and home from werewolves.  I'd call that an added bonus.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Coming Events Cast Their Shadows Before by Charles C. Ward via American Gallery

Friday, August 10, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

The "witch craze", as a certain particularly horrific part of European/North American history is often referred to, allegedly lasted from some time around the beginning of the 16th century to the end of the 18th.  In fact, hunting "witches", particularly those of the female variety, goes back to the Dark Ages.  In those times, Christianity's desperation to convert any human it ran into often translated into violent acts that had a battle cry of "join or die."  Charlemagne's mass beheading of Teutonic tribes-people who refused to "turn" is one of the most bloody examples of such policies.

But even in the very early years of accusation, torture and death, there were men who not only disbelieved, but were willing to speak up.  From Peter Stanford's definitive biography of the Dark Lord, The Devil, I offer just two examples.

In 1233, the Archbishop of Mayence spoke out against the policies of Pope Gregory IX's lap-dog, Conrad of Marburg.  Marburg was systematically subjecting people he imagined were in league with the Devil to ordeal, including but not limited to trial by water and tortures such as the ladder and the boot.  Mayence, clearly nauseated by these goings-on, wrote to the Pope:

Whoever fell into his hands had only the choice between ready confession for the sake of saving his life and a denial whereupon he was speedily burnt.  Every false witness was accepted, but no just defense granted - not even to people of prominence.  The person arraigned had to confess that he was a heretic, that he had touched a toad, that he had kissed a pale man or some monster.  Many Catholics suffered themselves to be burned rather than confess to such vicious crimes of which they were not guilty.  The weak ones, in order to save their lives, lied about themselves and other people,, especially about such prominent ones whose names were suggested to them by Conrad.  Thus brothers accused their brothers, wives their husbands, servants their masters.  Many gave money to the clergy for good advice as to how to protect themselves and the greatest confusion originated.

How the Pope reacted has not come down to us.  It is telling however, as Stanford notes, that St. Conrad of Marburg is still on the roll of the Catholic beatified.

Much later, in 1631 when the Reformation was whipping up the mania to find, torture and destroy witches to a fever pitch, another German priest saw through the insanity.  Father Friedrich von Langenfeld, who by his own admission escorted 200 people to death by fire, wrote of the guilt he felt:

I swear solemnly that of the many persons whom I have accompanied to the stake, there was not one who could be said to have been duly convicted; and two other pastors made me the same confession from their experience.  Treat the heads of the Church, the judges, myself, in the same way as those unfortunate ones, make us undergo the same tortures, and you will convict us all as witches.

The horror and contrition that these men felt fairly jumps off the page.  Their voices, along with those of a few other brave souls, could not drown out the din of madness.  A witch hunt will always be a witch hunt.

If, like me, you are a lover of true history, I cannot recommend Mr. Stanford's book enough.  Though currently out of print, and unfortunately unavailable online, it is well worth hunting for.  As an example, one last quote from Mr. Stanford himself:

The Bible is a collection of writings by people who use history not simply to report events, but to put over a particular slant.  Without some knowledge of the background and of the politics of the time, a straight reading of the Bible is akin to a Martian reading a biography of George Bush by Bill Clinton without knowing any of the context and believing it to be gospel.

And there, but for the Bon Dieu's grace, go I.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Witch Hill by Thomas S. Noble via Wikimedia

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Jeudi: Weather-Wise

Historically speaking, and probably to some degree even today, people who work on the sea and those who live near the coast have what inlanders call "superstitions" about weather.  As it turns out - even in today's age of hectic climate change - the rhymes and adages developed by our ancestors tend to be fairly accurate.

Memories of weather past, and the conditions that foretold it, were often passed down in the form of songs or poems.  This made them easy to remember, use and hand along to the next generation.  One of my favorite weather rhymes probably originated in fishing villages and other coastal areas along the Atlantic seaboard of what is now Great Britain.  To this day it holds up, whether you're living near an ocean, sea or large lake, and can even be helpful in flat, damp areas such as moors, marshes and bogs.  Here is the version I am familiar with:

The hollow winds begin to blow,
The clouds look black, the glass is low;
Last night the sun went pale to bed,
The moon in halo's hid her head.
Look out, good men, a wicked storm,
With heavy rain, is soon to form.

The glass mentioned in the rhyme refers to a ship's barometer.  And, as a curious aside, seafaring folk also believed that a halo around the moon could help predict how soon a storm would hit.  All one had to do was look at the number of stars visible in the halo; one star meant the storm was a day away, two stars meant two days away and so on.  Any exception to this rule might indicate that the storm had an unnatural origin and was a good indication of witches at work.  A votre santé ~ 

Header: Wuthering Heights by Robert McGinnis via American Gallery

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

When I was young, very young in fact, I remember my grandmother always had a small, potted fern in her bedroom.  This was not one of those big, masculine fiddle head ferns that lots of people kept in their bathrooms back in the '70s and '80s, but a dainty, lace-like plant that Gran called a maidenhair fern.  The plant was carefully tended, always in beautiful shape and, except when taken out to the porch to be watered, it sat in a place of prominence on her art deco dressing table.  I remember it distinctly and wish now, all these years later, that I had gotten that plant when Gran went on to her reward.

Of course I talked to Gran about it when I was older and she told me the secret of that very special plant, curiously not long before she died.  I've mentioned before that Gran, after being excommunicated from the Catholic Church, studied and practiced Druidism.  She never imposed her religion on anyone - both my aunt and my mother were raised strictly Catholic - but, as I got older she opened up to me about it.  A little bit anyway; and one of her secrets had to do with that maidenhair fern.

The plant, which was kept exclusively in a clay pot, had been dug out of the soil of Washington State with Gran's own hands.  Ever year, at the summer solstice, she soaked it in purified water.  The entire plant, pot and all, was dunked into a bucket and then left in the sunshine to dry.  Gran swore that this ritual brought peace to her home and grace and beauty to her being.  As long as the fern thrived, and the ritual was performed each year with intent, Gran would remain the elegant, graceful person, surrounded by calm and love, that I always remember her being.

Later in life, when I began to study alternative religions in college and on my own, I found that Scott Cunningham recommended the same ritual for the same result.  His Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs even advises that the fern should be kept in one's bedroom, just like Gran's.

Sometimes you have to go a long way to realize that the wisdom you were looking for was always right there in your own DNA.  Thanks, Gran; I know that even in Ginen you are still full of elegance, grace, and peace.  Bonne chance ~

Header: An elegant couple dancing in Havana, Cuba c 1954 via Mid-Century

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dimanche: Swimming

Marilyn Monroe at the sea shore via Mid-Century
(If you are as fascinated by MM as I am, check out this review of a new book about her)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In Hebrew folklore, Lilith is the demon most likely to attack women and children.  We've talked about Lilith and her history before, so I won't go into her alleged evil deeds so old as to predate most of mankind.  For this post, we will focus on the many names of the night-demon who takes the lives of fetuses and infants and the mothers who would give them birth.

Lilith is a jealous demon.  Her vengeful nature stems from her envy of human women who can give birth to beautiful, human children.  Lilith, on the other hand, has only spawned hideous, deformed demons and she seeks at every turn to make the descendants of her first husband, Adam, pay for her misfortune.  The best defense against Lilith's killing hand, again according to Hebrew folklore, is the very name of the demon herself.  But this can be tricky too; she has many names and one cannot be sure which she will wear at any given time.

According to T. Schrire's Hebrew Magic Amulets, seven names of Lilith printed or embossed on an amulet will keep the demoness at bay.  The trick is to know the names and, perhaps, know the subtle differences between each one.

The name Lilith, of course, tops the list.  This is followed by a name which identifies one of the only other distinct personalities in the group: Obizuth.  Over time, Obizuth has become her own form of demon.  She is an ugly, slithering torso devoid of legs and arms who can be heard dragging herself across the floor of a home.  Her particular interest is women in childbirth and, if she cannot kill the newborn outright, she will maim it in some way.  Her victims can be born blind or deaf; they may have deformed limbs, or none at all much like the demon herself, and many die not long after being born.  Though her vicious chores seem the same, in her physical ugliness Obizuth is something of an anti-Lilith, who is often said to be dazzlingly beautiful.

The other names, though equally exotic, do not seem to carry the distinct personality that Obizuth does.  They are simply alternative names for the all encompassing she-demon Lilith.  In alphabetical order, Schrire lists them as Amitzrapava, Kawteeah, Khailaw, Khavaw Reshvunaw, Mitruteeah and Paritesheha.

If knowledge is power, than the idea inherent in these ancient amulets is obvious.  Knowing the name of the enemy will help to empower the human against the demon's evil.

Header: La Lune by Jacques Prevert via Old Paint

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jeudi: Root Work

People want to protect what is theirs.  Whether it's just a pair of shoes, maybe the only ones we have, or an entire home full of stuff - half of which we keep telling ourselves we should give away or sell - we want to keep it and the people inside of it safe.

This primal need goes back to habits that probably began with our prehistoric ancestors.  Anthropologist note that the urge to protect what is ours tends to grow stronger at night and even in artificial darkness.  Our brains, no matter how tweaked by technology that evolution has not yet found a fit for, still remember the predators in the dark who would do us harm or even eat us whole.  We want to fend them off almost instinctively.  For most humans, that means doing something.

Historians call the action of guarding our homes at night shutting, or sometimes locking, in or down.  In Europe, clear documentation of this begins in the post-Roman era, when families became more nuclear and less extended and putting slaves on guard was no longer an option for most.  Animals and people would be brought into the home/barn and doors and shutters would be closed and locked.  Everyone was in for the night at that point and, baring a catastrophe like fire or earthquake, there would be no venturing outside until morning.

Today, most of us do the same thing. The predator at the mouth of the cave is no longer a wild animal but he (face it, 99.9 times out of 100 the person trying to break into a home is a man) could potentially be equally as savage.  Close the windows, lock the doors, make the rounds just to be sure before you go to bed.  The word paranoid might come to mind but that is an over-simplification.  There is real danger in our world and a few extra precautions cannot hurt.

That's why, as I lay in bed each night, I call up the four massive gargoyles who stand at the corners of my home to keep watch while we sleep.  In my mind, these four handymen look very much like the demonic mountain king in Disney's original Fantasia.  You know, the finally segment set to Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain"?  They work for me probably because that movie stuck with me as a kid and I'm a great lover of gargoyles.  I see them in mind's eye quite clearly and happily thank them in the morning for their help and hard work. 

I also call on ravens and wolves, two animals who I have always had an affinity for, to help out in keeping home and hearth safe.  Please do not mistake this for a familiar situation, as is common in Wicca.  That's great if it works for you, however if you happen to be a rabbit or a garter snake person, a larger, and yes, more potentially vicious animal might be in order.

Connect with creatures, or even humanoid forms such as samurai, Vikings or angels, that work for you.  As to animals, go big if you like: basilisks, griffins, lions, elephants, heck, I have a friend who has a Tyrannosaurus Rex running around his yard at all times of the day and night.  The visualizations and connections are key; if you can see these protectors clearly in your mind's eye, you're well on your way to securing their assistance.

Also, a sing-song or rhyming chant can sometimes help with this kind of visualization and, once you memorize your chant, you can connect to the visualization almost immediately upon beginning it.  I borrowed a bit from Silver RavenWolf, and begin my chant each night with "My house has four corners, one, two, three four; four ancient guardians protect her from rafters to core." 

From there the connection is made, and though my little rhyme goes on, I'll let you modify your own to your taste.  In times like these, to secure peace we must prepare for war, even on the home front.  Bonne chance ~

Header: The Flight Into Egypt by Adam Elsheimer c 1609 via Old Paint