Sunday, September 30, 2012

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Samedi: Ghost Stories

There's a chill in the air and the smell of smoke. Night comes earlier and creatures great and small are preparing for the bleak months ahead. Hallowe'en is in the offing; that can only mean one thing: it's time for Saturday ghost stories. Gather round and let me tell you of the things that go bump in the night. And so we shall honor those whose day it is, the King and Queen of the Dead, Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte.

This story originated somewhere in the southeastern United States. Often claimed by the Gullah coast of Georgia, that claim is just as often contested by the bayous south of New Orleans. It plays on the ancient belief that dogs can see supernatural beings in general and ghosts in particular. I tell it in my own voice, imagining myself back on the old homestead down Rigolets way when I was a teenager. The place was my father's Aunt Bette's house, rickety and creaky and full of it's own spirits no doubt. It's gone now, but I remember the two short summers I spent there every time I tell these stories.

My Aunt once told me, when I was just fourteen, that dogs can see ghosts. I didn't think much of it at first, but she would often point to her big mutt when he jumped or barked or howled for no apparent reason and say: "There; Gator sees a spirit." It did get me wondering about it when I went back home to California.

Two summers later, I was back at Aunt Bette's and I asked her to tell me more about dogs seeing ghosts.

"Oh, people can too," she told me. "How," I asked. "All you do is run your finger over a dog's eyelashes and then run that wet finger over your eye," she made the motion as she spoke, smearing her thick eyeliner a bit. "Y'all will see all the spirits round this bayou. But be warned." My Aunt paused here, and looked at me with a serious stare. "Some of 'em ain't that pretty."

A few nights later, after supper, I was on the porch with Gator. He was snapping at a fly that got through the screens and then all of a sudden he stopped, looked straight out into the dark and howled. The sound was high pitched, like a hurricane wind through broken glass. The hair on my neck stood up; the hair on Gator's did too. I don't know what came over me but before I could think I wiped my finger over Gator's one good eye and then swiped it over both of mine.

I turned my eyes back to the dark. "Any spooks out there," I called. "Cause my dog and I can see you all."

I didn't see a thing except dark beyond the porch light. The only noise was the song of frogs.

Standing up, and still quite without thinking, I opened the porch screen and stepped down to the ground. Gator came with me, his one good eye still peering out toward the water and his tail between his legs.

"You spirits out there?" My bravado was more for myself now. The dark was thick and I could spy a mist rising from the dead cypress trees in the water. "I can see you. Show yourselves."

As we watched, Gator and I, that mist took form. Rising up before us, like a reanimated corpse coming straight out of its tomb, was the white incarnation of a dead woman. She wore old fashioned clothes that were dripping with water and moss. Her face was like a skull and as we watched her right arm raised up from her side and her bony finger pointed straight to us. Her jaw dropped and a scream, so piercing I thought my eardrums exploded, emanated from her open mouth.

Where a moment before we had been glued to the ground, Gator and I sprang into action at the same time. We jumped back up onto the porch, ran into the house and dove under the afghan that always hung over the back of it. There we huddled together, shivering even though it was 90 degrees outside.

My Dad and my Aunt, who had been in the kitchen having a little after supper something, heard the screen door slam and came into the front room. When Aunt Bette saw Gator and me quivering under her blue and white afghan, she must have known what was going on. "Just leave 'em, Jack," she said when my Dad starts asking what we're up to. "I think I scared your girl with my ghost stories."

Dad went back in the kitchen but Aunt Bette turned back the afghan and whispered: "You better wash your face well tonight. Especially those green eyes. Gator and I can tell you, there's a lot more gruesome specters in the corners of this old place."

Aunt Bette went back to the kitchen and I ran upstairs, my eyes closed until I reached the bathroom. I scrubbed my eyes with soap, and that's no lie. They were red for a week, but it was better than ever, ever seeing a ghost again.

Header: Danse Macabre via Gutenberg online

Friday, September 28, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In the early modern age, what we would now term vampires were virtually unknown. The pale, handsome, aristocrat with a hunger for human blood that exploded onto the archetypal playing field when Bram Stoker's Dracula made it big would have been completely foreign to those born prior to the Victorian era. Mention of that sparkly guy in that other book would probably have encouraged the same people to commit you.

What our ancestors may, or may not, have called vampires were far more akin to what we would now call ghouls or even zombies.They were usually envisioned as disheveled denizens of the churchyard who rose at night, hair flowing, breath foul and long, broken fingernails caked with mud. Unlike our later-day bloodsuckers, these original vampires usually had it in for their own families as well. Eschewing lovely, languid young women, they went for their mothers, wives, brothers and children. They weren't above disemboweling the family livestock, either.

An excellent example of this proto-vampire - the type that still roams the forests of the occasional rustic locale - can be found in this excerpt from Puritan Henry More's pamphlet An Antidote Against Atheism. Published in London in 1653, the pamphlet tells a series of grizzly, and allegedly true, tales of the supernatural that are quite literally meant to frighten the unbelieving back to church. Here, the story of a German man named Johannes Contius:

Immediately after the burial of this Contius, a citizen and alderman in Silesia near Poland, stories began to circulate of the appearance of a phantom which spoke to people in the voice of the man. Remarkable tales were told of the consumption of milk from jugs and bowls, of milk being turned to blood, of old men being strangled, children taken out of cradles, altar cloths being soiled with blood and poultry killed and eaten. 

Eventually it was decided to disinter the body of the alderman. It was found that all the bodies buried near that of Contius had become putrefied and rotten, but his skin was tender and florid, his joints by no means stiff and when a staff was put between his fingers, they closed around it and held it fast in their grip. He could open and shut his eyes, and when a vein in his leg was punctured the blood sprang out. This happened after the body had been in the grave for some six months.

Great difficulty was experienced when the body was cut up and dismembered by order of the authorities. But when the task was completed and the remains consigned to the flames, the specter ceased to molest the family or interfere with their slumbers or health.

Not only was this grandfather of the Dracula archetype more loathsome, but it took a good deal more effort to kill him as well. Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Death on a Pale Horse by Albert Pinkham Ryder via Wikimedia

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

It's been a little while since I've offered a beautiful recipe rather than a study in beauty for these Wednesday posts. Too much fashion history research of late, I guess. But my current situation had me poking around for a rich and soothing moisturizer recently. Radiation may kill cancer cells and all, but it does nothing good for our bodies' largest organ.

While I have not had time to put this body butter, modified from an old Reader's Digest recipe, together yet I hope to in the near future. I'm relying a Costco size tub of Cetaphil moisturizing cream right now and it is definitely helping. So much so that I would recommend it to anyone. For healing though, there is a lot to be said for something made with both intention and your own two hands (or those of someone who loves you).

So, besides healing intent, here's what you'll need:

1/4 cup grated shea butter
1 tbsp grated beeswax
1/2 cup avocado oil
2 tbsps almond oil
3 tbsps vegetable glycerine
15 drops chamomile essential oil
15 drops sandalwood essential oil

Using a double boiler, combine the first four ingredients over simmering water until the first two ingredients are completely liquid. This can take a few minutes so be patient. Move the ingredients around frequently with a whisk or wooden spoon to speed up the process a little. Don't rush it, though; you'll want a nice, smooth consistency particularly for irritated skin.

Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool for about three to five minutes. Do not let it harden again or you'll need to start over.

Using a whisk, stir in the glycerine. Then add the essential oils, about five to seven drops at a time whisking after each addition. Whisk thoroughly until all ingredients are combined. Pour into a glass jar with a mouth wide enough to allow you to dip two or three fingers in. Seal and store in a cool place away from light.

This moisturizer is perfect for wind or sun damaged skin. It is also great for mature skin or for when the dry dead of winter has you feeling more crusty than silky. Shea, avocado and almond all absorb quickly and both chamomile and sandalwood essential oils provide soothing rejuvenation. The sandalwood oil in particular is renowned for its aroma-therapeutic effects, imparting a sense of relaxation and well-being to the subconscious. I don't recommend this moisturizer for young children, however, as a reaction to the essential oils is occasionally possible.

Make it for yourself, make it as a gift, but make it with love and - for those few moments after a shower or bath at least - all will be right with the world. A votre sante ~

Header: Portrait of a Young Woman by Lloyd Branson via American Gallery

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Lemons are probably my favorite citrus fruit. When I was young, I remember eating lemon wedges like you would orange or grapefruit with sea salt on them. It was a summer treat at my Gran's house; something to look forward to the way other kids anticipated lemonade.

Lemon juice has always been used to purify. Even very early people understood that the juice of these bright yellow fruits could help them avoid infection, even if it meant stinging the heck out of a cut or scrape. Lemons and their juice are used the same way in many magickal disciplines now just as then. Contradictorily, they are also thought to encourage friendships while undertaking to break up lovers.

In Wicca, hoodoo and Druid practice, lemon juice can be mixed with water to achieve a ritual cleanser easily as effective as holy water. As Scott Cunningham notes, any magickal jewelry should be cleansed with this mixture to ensure that negative energy has been gotten rid of. Occasionally repeating this ritual doesn't hurt either; we run into a lot of negative out there in the big World.

Lemon juice is added to baths to purify and turn away the Evil Eye. Floating some lemon slices on your bath water is a great way to help you focus on this goal. It's kind of fun too as it turns your bath into something like a big cocktail, visually speaking.

Foods flavored with lemon and served to those you care about are thought to help the relationship to blossom, succeed and continue. Giving the gift of a lemon tree you have grown from seed is said to ensure the recipient's friendship for life. Scott Cunningham also mentions a spell for luck requiring an unripe (green) lemon and pins with colored heads. Shove as many pins as you can (but don't use any with black heads) into the lemon while concentrating on good fortune. Hang this up in your home and watch this lemon and pin charm attract luck to you and yours.

In hoodoo, lemon juice is an acceptable substitute for any trick that calls for urine (good if you are squeamish about that sort of thing or you don't care to wash down your floors and walls with your own excretions). Lemons and/or their juice are often ingredients in workings to break up a couple. For instance, a root worker will begin a jinx by cutting a lemon in half. They will then write the individual names of the couple, one on each of two slips of paper. These name papers are then put together so that the names face outward; sometimes an herb like red pepper flakes - to ignite anger and encourage fighting - is put between the papers, too. These papers are then placed in the pulp of the lemon and the fruit is put back together and tied up with black thread or twine. The lemon is then either buried near the couples' doorstep or sealed up in a jar of vinegar. The couple will know nothing but strife until they finally separate.

An old spell to protect a home, which may have come from the Strega practice of witchcraft, is also popular in hoodoo. A lemon is pierced through with nine nails and red thread is wound around and through the protruding nails nine times. This charm is then hung over the front door to turn back the Evil Eye and keep negativity at bay. The charm should be renewed yearly, around the turn of the New Year. Bonne chance ~

Header: Signal by F. Scott Hess via American Gallery

Monday, September 24, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

As of last Saturday it's officially fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Where I live, fall comes quite a while earlier than the equinox. In fact, it corresponds to the old Celtic harvest holiday known as Lughnashad or Lammas on the Catholic calendar. The leaves are turning by August 1 so we're hustling to get the bounty of our short summers put away and preserved.

One of the few fruits that we can still get fresh this time of year is berries. It's now that the raspberry brambles are heavy with fruit and the blueberries are as sumptuous as they will ever be. What better use for these good-for-you fruits - aside from jam of course - than a berry cake? Here's what you'll need:

1 cup each blueberries and raspberries (washed and patted dry)
1 21 oz can blueberry pie filling
2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup sugar
1 stick cool butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp lemon juice
Lemon zest for topping (optional)

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 13x9x2 inch loaf pan an line with parchment paper.

Mix the fresh berries together and set aside.

Mix the flour and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with your fingers until crumbly, as you would with pie crust. Set aside 1/2 cup of this mixture, stir in lemon zest to taste if desired. This will be the topping for your cake.

To the rest of the flour and sugar mixture, add the milk, eggs and vanilla. Combine each ingredient with the flour and sugar before adding the next one. Add the berries and combine. Pour this batter into your prepared pan.

Combine the blueberry pie filling and the lemon juice and spread this mixture in a relatively even layer over the cake batter. Finish by sprinkling the reserved flour, sugar and lemon zest over all.

Bake about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn the cake out on a rack to finish cooling. Cut and enjoy!

Berries really are a super-food full of anti-oxidants and excellent for all kinds of health issues. If you're so inclined, concentrate on healing and helping the immune systems of those who enjoy your berry cake while you bake. This is old fashioned "kitchen witch" magick. It's simple, easy and can be done any time you prepare food.

Last, remember to leave any berries not picked by Hallowe'en on the brambles. According to Irish legend, these berries are the rightful domain of those goblins known as pucas. They sustain themselves through the winter with these last fruits, and will become bitter and destructive if they must go hungry. No one wants to anger the pucas after all...

Header: Hazel Scott with the harvest preserves c 1940 via Mid-Century

Friday, September 21, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In a recent post, we discussed the eight forms of Satan as listed in Johan Weyer's Pseudographica Demoniaca. While all of them or curious to the student of historical demonology, there can be no arguing that the big dog among them must be the one known as Satan-el: Lucifer.

Lucifer is a far more ancient spirit than the Big Three patriarchal religions would have us believe. He seems to be part and parcel of almost all the first religions to emerge from the area now known as the Middle East and in almost all of these myths, he is the son/lover - by any other name - of a very powerful goddess.

Lucifer's name means Light Bearer and in this form he is syncratized with the Earth's sun.This makes sense when we look much further back into history than the Bible will generally allow. And certainly much earlier than any Hebrew writings on Lucifer can attest. In fact, we should be looking to his other, more populist, moniker: Son of the Morning Star.

In this, early Semitic peoples were not calling Lucifer the sun itself, but the son of She who escorts the sun. Thus Lucifer would be the offspring of the Sumerian Inanna who becomes the Babylonian and Persian Ishtar. She is personafied as both the morning and evening star. In the morning she is the warrior, ready for battle. In the evening, she is the temptress, perfumed and prepared for love, perhaps even with her son.

This pattern of a goddess represented by the morning and evening star continued in Ancient Egypt. There both Neith, the warrior and Isis (Au-Set), the mother, were linked to the star. Most notably, however, the dual goddess Hathor/Sekhmet took on the celestial persona. Sekhmet, the lion-headed warrior claimed the morning while Hathor, the gentle cow goddess, took over in the evening.

Other goddesses such as the Phrygian Cybele and the Arab Al-Uzza would be similarly personified in the star. Eventually in Hellenistic Greece the star was linked to Aphrodite and so to Venus in Rome. This is the name she still bears in modern times.

It was during Hellenistic times that Lucifer - or the spirit that would become Lucifer - was first written about by the Hebrew nations in exile. It was after the Maccabean revolt of 168 BCE, as Peter Stanford points out in The Devil: A Biography, that the apocrypha began to be written. In these books, Jewish philosophers tried to work out the idea of a good God allowing horrible things happening to his chosen people. In books like Wisdom, which made it into the modern Bible, and even more so in books like Enoch, which did not, the problem became identified as an "adversary" to God. Enter the newly made but already ancient Lucifer.

This is where Weyer's interpretation of Lucifer/Satan-el takes its sustenance. Lucifer, the Light Bearer, is the favorite of God's Archangels. When God determines to make man in his own image, Lucifer refuses to bow down before him. Angels take sides and a war ensues resulting in the casting out of the rebel angels. Lucifer and his band fall into hell where they will reside, working their mischief against God's creation until the End of Days. When he takes charge of Hell, Lucifer becomes Satan-el, the Adversary.

Curiously, another story exists in the Gnostic versions of the Gospels. This one is fed not only by the apocrypha but also by the teachings of Zoroaster. There is light and dark, good and evil and in the perception of the Gnostics, Lucifer was the twin brother of Christ and marched before him in defying the old - and Evil - God. This is a confusing scenario for modern Christians in particular. Having been taught from the get-go that Lucifer is the Devil and the Devil is bad, they pick and chose which of Christ's words to pay attention to. When Christ accuses the Jews of worshiping the "wrong God" in Yahweh, no one pays attention. No one, that is, but the Gnostics who, in teaching pure duality, embrace Lucifer and Christ while rejecting Yahweh who made the most evil of all things: the physical world.

Thus Lucifer is more than the sum of his parts. And certainly more than any of the almost geeky eight Satans. Weyer's depiction of Satan-el as a malevolent, angry monster who plots the destruction of God's most perfect creation, Man (and I mean Man to be gender-specific here), seems puny by comparison. Lucifer, the Son of the Morning Star, is a shining god by any comparison.

Header: Lucifer, Bearer of Light by William Blake via Public Domain Images

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jeudi: Curios

The alligator is an amphibian both maligned and adored along the Gulf coast of the United States. Feared for their quiet ferocity, they are also appreciated as sources of magickal instruments. They just happen to taste great, too.

In old time hoodoo, animal curios were used quite literally all the time. Though the practice is discouraged more or less in our modern age, alligator curios continue to be popular. Bats, cats, frogs and toads have been set aside to a large degree but alligator parts can often be found, usually because they are raised commercially. The majority of the animal is sold for meat or hide - much like cattle - while feet and teeth are doled out to root workers. For a fee, of course.

Alligator teeth are popular amulets worn for protection in the South, particularly around the neck. This is no different than the practice in my current home state of Alaska, where bear and wolf teeth are worn to protect and impart the strength of the animal. The nice thing about gators is that they shed their teeth throughout their life. The truly lucky person will find a gator tooth along the bayou and then use it for the most common intention of this curio: good fortune in gambling.

Both the feet and teeth of alligators are considered extremely lucky as pocket pieces for those who frequent the gambling table. The tooth probably obtained this reputation for the reason just mentioned. Carrying the foot - usually of a small alligator - can reasonably be considered a form of like-makes-like magick. These amputated parts somewhat resemble an outstretched human hand, just waiting for money to be deposited in it.

Here are two old time recipes for gambling luck pocket pieces. One enlisting a gator's tooth, the other its foot.

Take an alligators tooth and, while visualizing yourself winning consistently at your chosen game of chance, dress it with whiskey, Van Van oil or Easy Life oil. Carry this in your pocket when you go out to gamble, and re-anoint it frequently.

On a piece of brown paper (a piece of paper bag works well), write down your wish for money in red ink. This may be specific to gambling or any other way of getting an income. Dress a gator foot with Van Van oil or whiskey and wrap the brown paper tightly around it. Wrap red thread or twine around this packet three times and tie this off with three knots. Carry this with you, in your pocket or purse, as you pursue your chosen source of money. As with the tooth, dress this mojo frequently with your chosen libation.

Some folks also attach an alligator foot to a key chain and use this daily to bring general luck and, as always, money. If you are really old school, attaching the foot to your watch fob harkens back to the very old days of New Orleans voodoo/hoodoo. Legend has it that Jean Laffite had a bejeweled gator foot that dangled from his watch fob. This was lost, depending on the story you hear, either at the Battle of New Orleans or in the great Galveston hurricane of 1818. Either way, his luck seemed to go with it.

And there's the lesson; hold on to your alligator foot, or tooth, for dear luck. Bonne chance ~

Header: Alligators by Tom Root via American Gallery

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Galangal is a plant with large, tuberous roots and lacy flowers. It grows like a weed, which it technically is, in mild climates, and is a particularly popular herb in hoodoo. Known in that magickal discipline as Chewing John or Little John to Chew, it is one of the Three John Roots that are said to be particularly helpful for men.

In Wicca, galangal is often used for protection and jinx-breaking work. The root is carried on the person for protection and to draw good luck. Dried and powdered galangal root is burned as an incense to break jinxes and to discourage crossed conditions in the home. It is also sprinkled around the home or in the path of an unsuspecting love interest to encourage unbridled lust. Galangal is placed under one's pillow to encourage psychic dreaming and/or to speed recovery from an illness.

In hoodoo, Chewing John is particularly prized for its ability to favorably effect court cases. A small piece of the herb should be chewed as one enters the court room. Then the juice should be spit, as surreptitiously as possible one imagines, on the court room floor. This is said to turn any case in your favor. In our modern environment, discretely spitting into the palm of your hand and then touching a piece of the courtroom is said to also do the trick. It is certainly less likely to raise eyebrows.

Chewing and spitting Chewing John out of one's front door is said to drive away jinxes as well.

A mojo known as a Jack Ball, which is only created for and carried by men, can be made using the Three John Roots mentioned above. A small ball of wax should first be formed, then chips of Chewing John, Southern John (trillium) and High John the Conqueror roots should be stuffed into the wax. While focusing on the desired outcome, red thread or twine should be wrapped around the wax ball until none of the wax is showing. This should then be anointed with High John the Conqueror oil (made by soaking a few chips of the root in olive or almond oil) and carried in a red flannel bag. The bag should be dressed with High John the Conqueror oil occasionally with the result that the bearer will be protected from harm, obtain power and be a magnet for passion.

Scott Cunningham notes that if galangal is unavailable, ginger root is an excellent substitute. Bonne chance ~

Header: A book illustration by Harold Von Schmidt c 1942 via Wikipedia

Friday, September 14, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

A witch or hag is she which being deluded by a league made with the devil through his persuasion, inspiration and juggling, thinketh she can design what manner of evil things whatsoever, either by thought or imprecation, as to shake the air with lightnings and thunder, to cause hail and tempests, to remove green corn or trees to another place, to be carried on her familiar - which hath taken upon him the deceitful shape of a goat, swine or calf, etc. - into some mountain far distant, in a wonderful short space of time, and sometimes to fly upon a staff or fork, or some other instrument, and to spend all the night after with her sweetheart in playing, sporting, banqueting, dancing, dalliance and divers other devilish lusts and lewd disports, and to shew a thousand such monstrous mockeries.

~ from Simboleography by William West c 1594

Header: Witch by Mahlon Blaine via American Gallery

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Jeudi: Root Work

Negativity is, unfortunately, all around us. Our ancestors who practiced magickal arts knew it, and they knew how to wash it off - both physically and spiritually - on a regular basis. Particularly in hoodoo, a magickal discipline informed by those on the margins of society, baths to wash away negative and harmful vibrations are plentiful. Here is my favorite recipe for both a relaxing and affective bath to scrub you clean of psychic gunk.

In a muslin square, assemble equal parts of the following dried herbs, either from your garden, the farmer's market, or that big grocery store down the way:

Lemon zest
Sea or Kosher salt

Tie the bag up with white thread and let it steep in your very warm bath water for five to ten minutes.

Meanwhile, add a sprinkling of holy water (either from the Catholic/Orthodox Church or made by you) and/or a sprinkling of Florida Water (available at many of the shops noted on the sidebar including New Orleans Mistic and Erzulie's Voodoo).

Florida Water is an American version of a specific French eau de cologne that became popular, particularly in New Orleans and then New York, in the late 18th century. By the 19th century, Florida Water was the scent of choice for both lady and gentleman Creoles in Old New Orleans. The recipe was quickly picked up by root workers for use in a like-makes-like sort of way: if rich people wore the scent, it would surely convey their luck to the less fortunate.

This bath will work perfectly well without holy water and/or Florida Water so don't feel constrained by ingredients. In fact, never feel afraid to omit or substitute an ingredient in any hoodoo working. As noted before, root work is largely an art of the less fortunate, and that means we don't always have access to everything a spell/working calls for. As in love, you most beautiful magickal tool is your mind.

Soak in this bath for at least fifteen minutes, allowing the scent of the herbs to wash your mind clean of negativity as their presence in the water cleanses you body. When you step out, allow your skin to air dry if at all possible.

If you do not have a bathtub, you can brew the same mixture in four or five cups of warm water and pour it over you at the end of a shower. The spiritual results will be exactly the same. Bonne chance ~

Header: Lisbeth Prepares a Bath by Carl Larson c 1909 via Old Paint

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The herb known as Solomon's seal is, it probably goes without saying, named for the Biblical King Solomon. The seal part comes from an obscure talent that the Hebrew king happened to have: imprisoning demons. He kept his catches in a jar with an enchanted seal and thus the herb, in almost all magickal disciplines, has a reputation for guarding, protecting and banishing.

Scott Cunningham tells us that Solomon's seal root is dried, powder and sprinkled in the four corners of a home to guard it. Wiccans also use the powdered root in exorcism rituals and spells for protection. An infusion of the root is used to sprinkle things and people to banish troubles, often with fern fronds or fresh rue.

In hoodoo, Solomon's seal root chips are placed on window sills and along the tops of door frames to keep trouble from entering the home. I remember my aunt doing this when she didn't want her daughter's "no account" boyfriend coming around. It worked; my cousin is now married to a doctor. Catherine Yronwode advises adding fern fronds if there is a particular concern about break-ins.

A mojo to encourage others to respect you can be achieved by combining Solomon's seal root, High John the Conqueror root, three Devil's shoestrings and a chip of Dragon's Blood resin in a red flannel bag. Feed the mojo with Crown of Success or olive oil. This should be kept near the skin and is said to draw advantageous friendships to the person who carries it. The results can be enhanced by adding a curio such as a silver dime (best if it is from the year of your birth, or that of a successful person you know) or something that belonged to someone successful.

Solomon's seal is a favorite herb in Pow-Wow as well. The dried root is used in healing rituals, particularly sprinkled in the four corners of the sick person's room or to make a magick circle around them. As Silver Ravenwolf notes in her book American Folk Magick:

To country folk, a salt circle was considered suspicious in nature to outsiders, therefore Pow-Wows mixed angelica, Solomon's seal, and vervain to create an area of protection inside a room. It could be swept away easily without raising any undue attention.

And, as unfortunate as it may be, that is an excellent tip for those of us who to this day have to be a little clever and a lot surreptitious about our magick. Bonne chance to all and a Happy Birthday to Ms. Ravenwolf.

Header: Lamb Clouds by Adolf Bohm via Old Paint

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

I'm feeling really good today, despite some family issues that have nothing to do with cancer, so I thought I would hunt around for a fabulous recipe to share. I found one, tucked in the back of one of my cookbooks, and then had the good luck to find an illustrated article about the recipe online at I think it's a sign. So here it is, a dessert right out of Golden Age Hollywood history: The Brown Derby's Grapefruit Cake. I know it sounds a little crazy but trust me it is a real treat!

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, separated
3 tbsps grapefruit juice
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

For the frosting:

2  6 ounce packages of cream cheese at room temperature
2 tsps lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1 lb can grapefruit sections or fresh grapefruit segments for garnish (optional)

To make the cake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour either one tall cake pan (two to four inch sides) or two regular cake pans (one inch sides). I like to put a parchment paper round in the bottom of the pans to make removing the cake even easier.

Sift the first four ingredients together into a large bowl. Add water, oil, egg yolks only, grapefruit juice and lemon zest. Mix until smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until eggs form very soft peaks. Add the rest of the mixed ingredients gently to egg whites and fold - don't beat. Pour this mixture into you pan(s).

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Turn pan(s) over on a rack to cool briefly, then gently remove cake, running a knife around the edge if necessary. Allow to cool thoroughly on rack.

To make the frosting, beat softened cream cheese in a medium bowl - by hand or with a mixer - until fluffy. Add lemon juice and lemon zest and combine. Stir in sugar in small batches until the mixture is smooth. Add grapefruit juice and stir to combine.

Cut a tall cake in half if necessary and spread frosting on one half. If you have grapefruit sections, place some in the frosting before topping it with the other half of the cake. Frost the entire cake completely and then artfully arrange the rest of the grapefruit wedges around the sides or in any way you please. Cut and enjoy!

This is a refreshing way to end any meal and it virtually melts in your mouth when eaten with a nice glass of sparkling wine (or two). Bon appetite ~

Header: High Society by H. Weston Taylor via American Gallery

Friday, September 7, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In the face of a very busy day running back and forth to medical appointments, I am letting a picture tell the dark history today. The striking painting above is entitled "Satan Tried to Tempt Christ." It was executed by the masterful James Tissot in 1895. This image truly says more than words about many people's belief in a bifurcated universe. Click on the image to see all the splendid detail.

Many thanks to the wonderful Tumblr site Deities & Demons for this amazing offering. Click over to see a plethora of other images, both beautiful and creepy. There are even mermaids! Vendredi heureux ~

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jeudi: Great Spirits

The water spirit who has taken on the collective, and perhaps unfortunately generic, moniker of Mami Wata is far more than the sum of her parts. A spirit venerated as far afield as the entire Atlantic coast of Africa, most of South America, Central America, the Caribbean and in the Cuban and Haitian diasporas, one is hard pressed to find a more frequently worshiped form of water deity than she.

In my personal frame of reference, Mami Wata most resembles the Voudon lwa known as La Siren/La Balen. La Siren is the light-skinned, either blond or brown-haired mermaid who imparts wealth and beauty upon those who are devoted to her. La Balen, her Petwo personification, is the whale who may appear at first as a beautiful woman, but has come only to lure those who have offended her to a cold, dark death in deep water.

Mami Wata in all her transmogrifications has a similar light and dark aspect. Stories are told of her appearing near the ocean, usually in the guise of a beautiful woman and usually - but not always - to a handsome young man. She is combing her hair with a silver comb, or admiring herself in an expensive mirror, or adorning herself with pearls when the human comes upon her. Startled, she slips into the water and disappears leaving her treasures behind. The young man may gather up these costly treasures but he is warned to return them immediately when he again, invariably, encounters the beautiful mermaid. Failure to do so will bring untold misfortunes and sometimes even a withering, miserable death.

In other stories, which show a similarity to the Voudon lwa Erzulie Freda Dahomey, Mami Wata demands sexual fidelity from the young men she encounters. They must join with her and shun human women. Failure to do so will mean the worst possible luck for not only the young man, but his family as well. Agreeing to the mermaid's terms, however, ensures health, wealth and happiness. One also assumes a continuing conjugal relationship with Mami Wata as well.

Like a third Voudon lwa, Grande Erzulie, Mami Wata is designated as the protectress of prostitutes in some of the cultures that worship her. In this aspect, and in her aspect as a bringer of fertility to both the land and its people, her symbol is a snake. This aspect also bares a striking resemblance to Ix Chel, the Mayan protectress of women and she who bestows them with fertility.

The names given to Mami Wata are as numerous as the forms she takes. Her African names, such as Watramama, have a similar ring to Mami Wata; that name is also sometimes found in Africa. In Brazil she is syncratized with the Orisha of the oceans, Yemaya; this is also the case in Cuba and the Cuban diaspora. On previously French-speaking Caribbean islands such as Guadalupe, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago, she is Maman de l'Eau or simply Maman Dlo. In Haiti, of course, as in New Orleans, she is La Siren.

Her various aspects are so numerous, and her worship so far-flung, that she is a testimate to the enduring power of the water goddess all over the world. Even the Catholic Church gave in when it came to Mami Wata and assigned a particular aspect of the Virgin Mary to look after the oceans. Known as Stella Maris - Star of the Sea - her picture is often used to represent any of Mami Wata's many faces.

That's a back-handed complement from a patriarchal religion many a modern theorist would opine. Be that as it may, those of us who straddle that fence, as our ancestors have done for centuries, will take it where we can get it.

Header: Mami Wata of Trinidad and Tobago by Zofia Bogusz via American Gallery

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

As I mentioned over at Triple P, we are preparing for a "storm of the century" sort of scenario here in Anchorage. A hurricane has formed in the Bering Sea, and the weather prognosticators say we can expect winds up to 100 miles per hour in our area. Needless to say, that's a little scary.

So I went to the hoodoo cupboard to see if I could find a nice combination of herbs to create a "throw" to calm the storm - at least to some degree. Click here for a previous post on just this sort of situation.

I'm off to put together my sage and basil mixture, and hopeful encourage the worst of this thing to calm down before it hits us. Bonne chance to you all, and to us here in the Far North ~

Header: The Venerable Sergius of Radonehz by Mikhail Nesterov via Old Paint ~ the Venerable Sergius is sometimes invoked to protect gardens and homes from storms

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dimanche: Swimming

Summer by Duffy Sheridan via American Gallery
For those of us in the North, it's ending; for those of you in the South, it is soon to begin
Happy Sunday