Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mercredi: Happy Hallowe'en!

No time for a "real" post today but that's no reason at all not to wish you all a Happy Hallowe'en with a bewitching witch by the talented Jay Scott Pike. I hope you all enjoy a frightfully good holiday evening! A bientot ~

Header: Be Witching by Jay Scott Pike via American Gallery

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Spanish moss which trails in otherworldly tendrils from trees, homes and pretty much anything it can establish itself on in sub-tropical climates is familiar to most people. It is often used for spooky effect in horror movies, particularly those that take place in the American South, and it is associated with antebellum plantations and their enormous oak trees. Spanish moss is also considered a magickal herb. How you might use it, though, depends on what your magickal predilections are.

According to Scott Cunningham, Wiccans use Spanish moss for protection. The herb is included in protection sachets and grown in the garden or even directly on the home to keep the property and inhabitants safe. Cunningham also mentions stuffing poppets for protection with Spanish moss.

In hoodoo, however, the usage of the herb is very different. It is mainly utilized for jinxing but also for drawing love. There are some root workers who use Spanish moss for money drawing, placing it in mojo bags to help attract wealth. Others use it specifically for jinxing and, as herbalist and hoodoo expert Catherine Yronwode notes, it can be an ingredient in the crossing mixture known as War Water.

Where all root workers agree on Spanish moss is its use as a perfect stuffing for doll babies and so called "voodoo dolls". These are often used for manipulative working such as making someone love you or causing them to move away, leave a job or become ill. The Spanish moss is usually mixed with other herbs in combinations of three, six or nine that will achieve the desired outcome, then stuffed into a handmade doll baby representing the person on whom the root worker is focusing their magick. It is the rare root worker - I personally know of none - who will stick pins in the doll Hollywood-style. We're generally a tad more subtle than that...

A note on Spanish moss: this plant tends to attract bugs and even parasites like ticks and chiggers. If you harvest it yourself, you will need to wash it thoroughly and preferably before you bring it into your living area. A bucket or tub with soapy water is a great place to soak the stuff. After a half an hour or so you can rinse it and let it air dry as you might any other herb in a warm area. My aunt used to have an old washer on her back porch that my uncle had jerry-rigged to the kitchen water supply. She would wash work clothes in it but she also used to put any Spanish moss she had gathered in an old pillow case and wash it in that  machine. Then she'd hang is up near the water heater with her other herbs and flowers. Most of us don't have the luxury of a second wash machine, but it's a thought if you do. Bonne chance ~

Header: Spanish moss in a garden in Louisiana via Wikipedia

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

I can't speak for everyone but it seems to me that Hallowe'en is upon us all of a sudden. I've had the decorations up since September and we carved pumpkins weeks ago but I'm still a little surprised that Wednesday is the big day.

In preparation for all that entertaining you'll be doing, here's my favorite punch recipe which is turned into "Ghoul-Aide" by a suggestion from Terry Krocker in A Taste of Home's Halloween Food & Fun booklet from 2011. Add "eyes" to the punch and watch those faces light up. These portions make between ten and fifteen glasses of punch.

The Punch

1 16 ounce can frozen Pink Lemonade
Red food coloring
48 ounces chilled lemon-lime soda (or as much liquid as is recommended on the lemonade can)

The Eyes

1/2 cup fresh or frozen (unsweetened) blueberries
1 15 ounce can lychees, well drained

In a pitcher or punch bowl (approximately three quart capacity), mix the thawed pink lemonade with enough red food coloring to make it look like blood. Set aside.

Insert one blueberry into the center of each lychee. Place these in a single layer on a plate or baking sheet and freeze for up to two hours.

When guests arrive, add the lemon-lime soda to the pink lemonade mix. Serve in individual glasses with an "eye" floating in each one. The white, slightly slimy lychees absorb some of the red food coloring for a particularly realistic look.

Having a "grown up" Hallowe'en? Add a few shots of vodka to this recipe or replace the soda with sparkling wine. Yum! Bon appetite ~

Header: My daughter and her best friend ready for a Hallowe'en party (my daughter is dressed as Michone from The Walking Dead)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dimanche: Swimming

Beyond the Esplanade by Dorothea Tanning via American Gallery
An oddly Hallowe'en-like painting of a lady in a bathing suit

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Samedi: Ghost Stories

The ghost story I'm about to tell is an old favorite down New Orleans way. It tells of a young woman who was the Devil's mistress, and the horrible fate that awaited her when she strayed from his bed. But the Devil gets a bit of his own back as well. Retold in writing a number of times, most famously in the Depression era collection of stories Gumbo Ya~Ya edited by the irrepressible Lyle Saxon, I was pleased to see it included in a library book brought home by my middle school daughter called Spooky South by S.E. Schlosser. The story is best told by someone who witnesses the haunting rather than by a detached third person, at least to my mind. So here is my version of "The Devil's Mansion" as told by young Arlette Panelle whose Maman knew a lady that lived there...

I'm old enough to sit at table with my parents, but not old enough to debut in society, and it's just now that Maman's best friend Madame Larendon moves into the biggest house on Rue St. Charles. There are rumors about the house and always have been. Folk say it's haunted and I have even overheard the servants' gossip about deaths and ghosts. Maman crosses herself and holds tight to the golden crucifix around her neck when our coach goes by the mansion. But no one will tell me what was wrong with the house. In the daylight, gleaming white and windows clean, it looks like a lovely place. I suppose I didn't think about it until Madame moved in.

Maman and Madame have been friends forever. My mother is from an old Creole family that claims men who stood on the line with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. Madame Larendon is a Beauregard; her father is the famous General Pierre Gustav Toutant - the Little Creole. I was born after the war, but heard nothing but praise for the old man. When Madame's husband moved the family into the mansion on St. Charles, my mother was a bit upset. After all, Madame is in the family way at last. How could Monsieur make her move in such a state? Or is it the house that troubled Maman?

When the Larendons had lived in that old mansion awhile, our whole family is invited over for supper. I'm the eldest and of course expected to keep my four brothers in line. I imagined we'd be seated in the kitchen. Was I surprised when Madame had set a place for me at the head table. But what is even more shocking is that that table is set in the back dining room, a small rotunda where the family would normally break their fast in the morning. Madame called it cozy but it is, in fact, cramped what with Monsieur's older sons and all. When Papa inquires about the main dining room, Monsieur Larendon mumbles something about renovations. No one says any more on the subject.

We manage to finish without spearing one another with out meat knives, and we ladies retire to the back parlor for coffee and cakes. I'm not allowed coffee, but Madame makes up for is with warm milk. I'm bored with all the talk of fall fashions from France and who is marrying who and the scandalous painting of Madame Gatreau. When no one is making the least attention, I sneak out of the parlor. I'm determined - just red-head determined - to find  out if the main dining room really is being renovated. What if the haunting takes place there? I pass through the foyer and find a lamp at the bottom of the enormous staircase. Picking it up, I slide the dining room door open and enter the dark room.

The room is chilly and the furniture is covered with white sheets. Maybe Madame is renovating. The whole place smells musty and a breeze - seemingly from nowhere - makes the crystal chandeliers ripple and sing like a cold spring. I shiver; my late summer gown hardly covers my arms and goose flesh starts to rise. Nothing happens in the oppressive darkness, like sticky molasses. I turn to push the door back again and then I am made of marble. I literally can't move, other than to turn my head.

As if by a switch, the chandeliers glow with candles. The sheets are gone and a man and woman sit at the long table, the food before them making my mouth water despite the way I glutted myself at supper. The couple is dressed in ancient clothing; the man's cravat is so high he can hardly move his head, and the woman's gown is a scandalous sheath that accentuates every curve of her gorgeous figure. Her breasts spill over the lilac satin. The two are talking, but I can't hear a sound. Even the clink of china and silver is not to be heard.

As I watch, the woman's fair face darkens. Her onyx eyes flash and she stands up so abruptly that her chair falls to the ground. She is yelling now, screaming soundlessly at her supper companion while twisting her long, white, linen napkin in her hand. To my horror, she runs to him, whips the napkin round his neck, and chokes him clear to death. It is hard to believe her tiny hands can be so strong, but he falls to the floor as white as the linen around his neck.

A moment later and blood begins to drip from those slender hands. The woman, who has not seen me before this moment, begins to wipe her hands on her dress as her eyes cast their gaze on me. The blood keeps flowing, not from her but from some unseen source, and she wipes and wipes, staining the delicate satin with globs of purple gore. Finally she offers her hands to me, her mouth open in an unheard scream. It's worse not to hear than to hear. I drop the lamp and cover my ears but the specter just keeps screaming.

And then the world goes black.

I spend two weeks in bed, shivering with a fever no one understands. Finally, Maman answers my only question: what happened in that house?

A beautiful octoroon became the mistress of the Devil just after the Americans came to Louisiana. There was so much mischief for the Devil to do then, what with smugglers and pirates, bootleggers and new money, that he couldn't settle down with his gorgeous doxy. So he set her up in that mansion on Rue St. Charles and told her not to betray him. But she was bored and had a wondering eye. Soon enough she took a rich young Creole as a lover, and they supped in splendor every night in that grand dining room.

The Devil heard of his cocotte's betrayal and he met the young man on the levee one fall afternoon. "You can have her," he told the startled boy. "Marry her; I'll make you a gift of ten million silver reales if you do. But you must promise to always live under the names of Madame and Monsieur Elle."

Delighted, the couple celebrated with a feast. It was only then that the girl's beau told her he had changed his name. She knew the awful truth of that name. It was not Elle but L; L for Lucifer, a name that would brand the couple as infamous no matter where they went. The gorgeous octoroon saw red and, in her uncontrollable rage, she killed the young Creole before supper was done.

Seeing her crime, she lost her sanity and imagined blood on her guilty hands. As she tried to wipe it away, the Devil appeared and killed her. He carried the bodies of the octoroon and her lover to the roof of the mansion. There, in the yellow light of a full bayou moon, he butchered and gutted them whence he proceeded to feast on every part of them but their skins. And here my mother spares me not a word, even telling me that the stray cats ate the lovers' discarded flesh.

But the Devil had forgotten one detail - and isn't the devil always in the details? He'd promised Our Lord and Savior in the desert long ago that he would never, ever do his worst under the light of a full moon. And so, as he ate with the fluids of his kill running all over his hands and arms, he began to stick to the roof. Before the Devil knew it, the bodies of Madame and Monsieur L had molded his visage to the top of the gable above the front door of the mansion on Rue St. Charles. And there he sat, a living, motionless gargoyle. A reminder to all of New Orleans how evil once ruled their glorious, sunken city.

I recover at last. Ten days later we hear the awful news; Madame Larendon has died in childbed. But Monsieur lives on in that nasty house until his own death just after my wedding. Then another acquaintance, Madame Jacques, moves into the mansion on Rue St. Charles. She too sees that horrible incident replay itself and yet she stays for some time. At last, after the birth of my first child, she vacates that hated house too. And so it stands empty, with the Devil grimacing down at all who pass, and the story only whispered from one person to another while the foolish octoroon and the Creole boy suffer night after night after endless night...

The story ends long after Arlette's time. Though no one can say exactly where on St. Charles the Devil's mansion really was, everyone is sure it was demolished in 1930. And isn't that a curiously specific detail for a so called fable?

Header: Mansion on St. Charles Street in New Orleans via Wikimedia

Friday, October 26, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

After spending the last three Fridays with the harrowing tale of Agnes the miller's daughter, I for one am ready to turn to lighter fare. And what could possibly more feather light and squeaky clean than the good folks at Disney explaining the origins of Hallowe'en? That's right; nothing. This video was originally released in 1984; essentially when dinosaurs roamed the earth. See if you recognize any of the cartoon clips used in it and in particular watch for the footage from the original Haunted Mansion; that alone dates this thing.

A word of warning: Just watch the video and ignore the comments - they are worse than the creepy looking hooded Druids in the video. Trust me.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jeudi: Curios

On Tuesday we talked about the uses of tobacco in various magickal systems. One of the herb's uses in hoodoo is as a substitute for the unpredictable curio now known as sulphur but frequently referred to in older texts as brimstone. Sulphur has been, and to some degree probably still is, used for jinxing and uncrossing alike. It is also an original component in the crossing formula known as Goofer Dust.

Sulphur is both toxic and combustible, so using it the way it was originally intended, magickally speaking, is not something I recommend. I'm not big on jinxing either so sulphur isn't in my hoodoo cabinet. Information, however, and historical usage is a different story. Use sulphur at your own risk.

When the intention was to lay a jinx on someone, a simple trick of making an X over their footprint with sulphur was frequently employed. Done with intention, this was believed to bring ill-fortune to the enemy. Some root workers claimed they could even kill a person this way. For the most part, this type of magick is more an issue of belief than supernatural power. The footprint chosen was invariably somewhere that the enemy would see it and, believing in the magick, the person would fall ill, bring trouble on themselves or  sometimes even pick up stakes and move.

The opposite could also be accomplished with a mixture of sulphur and salt. In this case, should a person find evidence of a jinx being put on them, they were to cover the trick with sulphur and salt to nullify the problem.

My favorite use of sulphur in hoodoo is a trick designed to make a friend out of an enemy. The hard part of this working is to obtain something sharp and nonflammable from your enemy. You do not necessarily have to harvest this item - which can be as simple as a tack and as fancy as a pair of scissors; you can ask an acquaintance to obtain it for you. Next, while concentrating on your future friendship with your former enemy, pass the point of the object through the flame of a white candle. Now dip the point in sulphur and then pass it through the flame again to ignite the sulphur. *Do this out of doors if you are indeed using sulphur. As noted, the fumes are toxic; you don't want them in your home.* Wipe the point clean and dress the object with holy water or whiskey. Return the object to the place from which it came exactly as it came to you (either with your own hand or through another). Your enemy will warm to you within the week.

There is a very old voodoo trick involving sulphur, black ink, and some other items that is said to achieve the death of an enemy. I've never tried that, and I'm surely not about to... Bonne chance ~

Header: The Harvest is Past, The Summer is Ended by J.F. Wetherbee via American Gallery

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

I talked a little bit about sailors' use of tobacco at sea today over at Triple P, so I thought I'd cross-pollinate and talk about the magickal uses of this uniquely American herb here as well.

Tobacco was cultivated and used in various ways in both North and South America long before Europeans showed up. Ritualized, made into medicines and used for relaxation and bonding, tobacco's utilization by various Native cultures has influenced Wicca, Druid, hoodoo and Pow-Wow. Variously associated with protection and healing as well as jinxing, tobacco has known a myriad of uses in different magickal systems.

The ritual drinking of tobacco juice to induce visions remains a staple of some shamanic traditions. The plant has been considered sacred by many Native American cultures, and continues to be treated as such in some areas to this day. Tobacco was smoked to encourage communion with spirits and the use of tobacco as an offering was common all over the Americas. People of importance were sometimes buried with pipes and tobacco.

Tobacco was also used as an incense and burned, much like sage, to smudge both living areas and people. The smoke was thought to do everything from driving away evil spirits to curing common maladies such as upper respiratory infections.

Nightmares could be carried away by offering tobacco to a running stream immediately upon waking, according to Scott Cunningham. He also notes that tobacco can be used as a substitute for harder to find herbs such as nightshade and for curios like sulphur. The plant is considered less harmful, but that is only in the immediate. Both smoking and chewing tobacco have been proven to cause cancer; don't make the mistake of starting a habit that could potentially kill you outright.

In hoodoo, tobacco is a favorite additive to jinxing and court case workings. Generally speaking, people use chewing tobacco for such things. A simple mojo to win a court case consists of equal parts salt, deer's tongue leaves and tobacco carried into court in one's the pocket. Tobacco is burned as incense along with black candles to bring harm to an enemy.

Tobacco is also believed to draw love and in particular past lovers. Burn an incense made of tobacco and myrrh near your phone or computer for 9 days; it is said that you will be contacted by a lost love on the 10th day. Bonne chance ~

Header: The Widow of a Chief Watching His Weapons by Joseph Wright of Derby c 1785 via Old Paint

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

I love rum. Admittedly, I don't drink it all that often; I'm basically a wino. But it's great to cook with and lends itself particularly well to sweets.

Today's recipe is from the Times~Picayune and the entry in their book Cooking Up A Storm begins:

New Orleanians have a long history with rum, which was the base of many early drinks, so it's not surprising that this cake is a favorite of our readers. We received many requests for it and had several recipes in our archives. Here is one that Y.G. of Kenner sent in 1997.

And so, Y.G.'s recipe for Classic Bacardi Rum Cake:

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 (18.25 ounce) box yellow cake mix
1 (3.25 ounce) package vanilla instant pudding
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup dark rum (80 proof), such as Bacardi


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark rum as above

Cake ~ Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10 inch tube pan or a 12 cup Bundt pan.  Sprinkle the chopped nuts over the bottom of the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix all the remaining ingredients together, then pour the batter into the pan. Bake 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cake should pull away from the sides of the pan a bit when it's done.

Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes and the turn it out onto a rack to finish cooling.

Glaze ~ While the cake is cooling, melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the water and sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly so the mixture doesn't scald or stick. Remove from heat (turn off your gas burner!) and add the rum. Stir to combine.

When the cake is thoroughly cool, prick the tip with a fork or toothpick. Drizzle the glaze over the top and let it sit a half an hour or so to allow the glaze to seep into the cake.

This cake will produce eight to ten servings. Bon appetite (and cheers!)

Header: Cakes and Wine by Thomas Waterman Wood via American Gallery

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Samedi: Ghost Stories

Today's story comes, not from my family tradition, but from my husband's. My father-in-law grew up in the south-east of Pennsylvania where coal mining is a long-standing profession and a burden at the same time. The seams run deep in that most northerly portion of Appalachia, and even those - like my father-in-law - who never went down into the darkness, were touched by the gritty stories that came out of the collieries.

This tale tells of a young man named Daniel whose family had, since time-in-memorial, been coal miners. Dan had no desire to descend into the pits, but time and circumstance caught up with him. When things went bust in Hazelton after the coal miner's strike, Dan lost his job as a clerk at the company store. He and his young wife Mary had just bought a small cottage along the main road and Mary was expecting in the fall. The bosses brought in men they knew would side with them if trouble arose again and left the hard-scrabble job of mining to the upstart locals.

Dan had no choice. He gathered up his uncle's gear and followed his two brothers into the mine.

Dan's brothers, Lew and Jerry, were both older and Lew had made his way up to the more lucrative position of fire boss. They took their baby brother under their wing knowing that their long dead parents - God rest their souls - would haunt them if they didn't look after Danny. Lew made sure Dan worked at Jerry's elbow in the bottom pit where you had to stoop all day for the low ceiling and you stood in water up to your ankles.

The two were happy together though, telling jokes and reminiscing, and they always tried to stop for dinner just when Lew could join them. They'd pull the cold roast or chicken that their wives wrapped in waxed paper out of their dinner pails and chuckle together as they ate. One evening, after Dan had been in the mine for some weeks, Jerry ventured to ask a question.

"You ever heard of the death watch, Danny?"

Lew's expression changed. His dark brows met over his falcon nose. "Jerry..."

"He should hear about it. What if - "

"Jerry!" Lew's voice echoed down the seam.

"What's the death watch," Dan asked through a mouthful of baloney. "Some of you stand up for us all?"

"Nothing like that. It's a watch." Lew pulled his pocket watch out of his threadbare tweed coat. "Lost they say by an old timer."

"A-yeah," Jerry continued. "He got blown to bits in the closed seam when Dad and Uncle Hugh were here. They found every scrap of him, but not his watch. Now they say, men about to die here a ticking that doesn't match their own watch. Within twenty four hours..." Jerry made the sound of dynamite ripping the earth in two.

"Enough, Jerry." Lew could see the terror on his youngest brother's face. "Nerry ya mind, Danny," he took another bite of his apple. "Didn't I say I'd look after ya? Wouldn't Ma and Dad want it that way?"

"God rest their souls," Jerry and Dan said simultaneously. "Besides which," Dan added. "You're pulling my leg and no mistake. I never heard Dad speak of - "

Just then the whistle blew. "Dinner's done," Lew said, closing the lid on his pail. "Back to work you loafers."

And so the days turned into months and years. Dan came not to love his job but to tolerate it. Seeing Mary happy and his son David growing by the day made it worth the while. But stories started to pile up of men who had died, and then men Dan knew became part of those stories. Henry in the three seam was buried in a cave-in after telling his partner that he'd heard a weird ticking sound. Henry, it was revealed after his death, had never carried a watch. Then Henry's partner said he heard the ticking too and sure enough a day later an explosion took his life.

No one talked about it much, the death watch: how it had no set pattern, how it popped up all over a ten acre mine, how it didn't spare young or old, how death stalked them all. The men just went to the funerals and held their hats in their hands. But everyone kept their ears peaked for that dreaded sound: tick... tick... tick...

Dan continued a non-believer, though. The very idea of a death watch made him wonder if too much time in the mine made a man go daft.

Three weeks after Henry's partner's funeral Dan found himself on his own. Jerry was sick in bed with the influenza and Dan didn't mind pulling double work. The sickness was bad. Men died just as surely of flu as they did of cave-ins. "There's been no sign of that horrible sound though," Dan murmured to himself as he shuffled to his spot. "Jerry will be -"

"Dan!" The sound of his brother's voice almost made him drop his dinner pale. "Danny! You gotta go home."

"Lew, what the hell?"

"You gotta go home," Lew said through gasps for air. "You gotta go home."

"Is it Mary? David - "

"No," Lew shook his head. "Listen now. I heard the watch on my rounds this morning. Before dark, Dan. I heard it. The watch ticking right here."

"Lew, com'on now. I can't miss a day's wage on a -"

"I heard it!" Lew's voice echoed down the seam. "Go on now. You're sick, you hear? Fever. Tell Mary too."

Dan saw the sheer terror in his brother's onyx eyes. "OK," he nodded, picking up his pail. "OK." With that he left, straight up the lift and home.  He ran through the heavy, gray fog of a fall morning, wanting nothing more than to hug his wife and son and sit near the hearth in his cottage.

But when he got there he found the place empty. After looking around he saw a note. Mary's writing was lovely and small: "Gone to Jerry's. He's worse than ever. David is with my Ma. ~ M."

Dan panicked. His brother, his closest brother, was near death and here he was home from work over a stupid legend. He pulled on his coat and ran out of the cottage, straight down the main street toward the train tracks. His brother's house was just on the other side but...

The coming train had tripped the lever and the barriers were down. Dan hesitated. The fog was thick but he couldn't see the train's light. Surely he could make it. Why stand here and wait? He dipped under the barrier, stepped onto the ties and -

Witnesses would later say that they thought the 7:30 flyer seemed to come out of nowhere that morning, straight out of the fog and gone. It wasn't until a search party, looking for Dan after his brother died after noon, found his boot near the tracks that the truth was discovered. He'd been hit by the train, and all that remained was his left foot and ankle in his boot on one side of the tracks. And his silver watch on the other.

Header: Men Leaving a Colliery by Gerald Palmer c 1914 via Wikipedia

Friday, October 19, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Today's post is the third and final installment of the unfortunate story of Agnes the Miller's Daughter. Read the first here and the second here.

From October through the winter, Agnes the miller's daughter knew nothing but torment. Only three spaces were allowed to her: her cell in the Falcon Tower in Munich, the torture chamber on the main floor, and the stairways in between. Her head and body were shaved, her limbs were bent and crippled from the horrors of strappado and her mind was all but gone with fear and confusion. She reported seeing the Devil and feeling him in all her limbs.

She was visited by a priest who sang hymns over her as she sat like a rag doll in the corner of her cell. He brought altar boys and incense; the sound and smell must have been almost more than she could bear. But this brief visit did not stop Judge Wangereck from putting Agnes to the question. Even after she was baptized with a new name - Ursula - the terror and pain did not stop.

One morning, which must have seemed like any other if time had any meaning at all, Agnes now Ursula was brought into the chamber. She had to lean on her goaler, an ironworker by trade name Sebastian Georg. There is no evidence that Georg took his job voluntarily but he did it without complaint. He saw to the prisoner's in the torture chamber while his wife took care of their food, bedding and chamber pots.

As Agnes entered the room, Wagnereck caught sight of a bandage around her neck. There was a noticeable bloody spot and he took a moment to ask the girl what had happened. If he sounded concerned, which he may very well have, Agnes probably did not notice.

Georg told Wagnereck that he had "found the prisoner in a pool of blood" that morning, a stab wound in her neck. Agnes finally spoke up and her words very much reveal the horrible state of mind through which she perceived her world:

I did it myself. Today at seven o'clock, a little time before you worshipful gentlemen came to the Falcon Tower. That was when the Devil came to my window dressed like a farmhand and said the rogues - he meant you worshipful gentlemen - the rogues will come back to you now and have you put to the torture again. Look, make away with yourself! That way you'll escape their torture. Otherwise they'll chop off your head and do fearful things to you. You can do it in a flash. In my cell there is a hole in the wall and I had a knife hidden there. And when the Devil coaxed me like that, all at once it was lying in my lap, and in a flash I stuck it in my throat, and cut myself. But our Lord surely did not want me to kill myself, because when I went to stab myself with my left hand, seeing as how I use my left hand for all my work, I simply pushed the left hand away with my right. After that, I fell to the floor.

It was revealed that Agnes had the knife secreted in her cell for two weeks. Master Georg's wife confirmed that a knife had gone missing around that time. Though the girl's cell was searched, the knife was never found. The spin would later be that the Devil himself had taken it away.

But there was no pity for an injured Agnes now Ursula. She would be put to the question on seven more occasions and dangled by her wrists behind her back if she could not answer correctly or refused to name other witches. Insanity stalked poor Agnes. At night in her freezing cell, if she did not see the Devil she saw the ghost of her father, mercifully killed by the torment she currently suffered. He would sit by her quietly, saying nothing but sighing now and then.

In March of 1601 Agnes the miller's daughter, now known by her "Christian" name Ursula, was taken to a field outside the gates of Munich. Here a pyre had been erected and she, along with her mother and other conspirators named by mutual acquaintances, would lose her life to the awful misery of fire. The flames were supposed to burn the Devil out of the witch; the final agony was supposed to lift up the soul to God. Saints are made in such ways.

The family who called Agnes, her father and her mother witches suffered even more than the miller and his kin. The now famous Pappenheimers would know a grisly death march rarely rivaled in the annals of the witchcraft trials. Their story is one of governments finding the least of their people and using them as an "example." The sad story of Agnes the miller's daughter may be but a footnote to theirs, but it should be well remembered. There but for the grace of some great spirit go we...

Header: Burning of Witches at Baden c November, 1585 via Wikipedia

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jeudi: Great Spirits

The Aztecs of what is now known as central Mexico, and the Toltecs they claimed as ancestors, believed that the earth had not four but five directions. The fifth was a straight line bisecting the island Earth and was known as one of their greatest goddesses: Coatlicue "Serpent-Skirted Goddess". The other directions, north south, east and west, were her sisters and they met nightly on Coatepec - "Snake Hill" - to relax, meditate and adorn themselves for the next day with necklaces of white feathers.

But this seemingly playful, introspective maiden was only one form of the great divinity the Aztecs called their mother. As Patricia Monaghan points out in her book Goddesses and Heroines, Coatlicue had something of the maiden/mother/crone aspect known in other mythologies. She was life giver and destroyer, kind and cruel all at once.

Coatlicue was said to have been the first sentient being. She floated for untold years in the shiny abyss of space, creating the stars and presumably the sun to light the void. The sun noticed the beautiful goddess only after many millenia, and then he took her as his bride, making her the Queen of the Moon. This is just one mythos that makes Coatlicue a mother goddess. In another, perhaps less ancient tale, Coatlicue is impregnated while still a virgin by a sprinkling of jade. She then gives birth to a son: the savior god and feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl.

In yet another myth, Coatlicue is not the moon, but the mother of the moon. One of her star children, her daughter Coyolxauhqui whose name means "golden bells", got wind of a rebellion among her sisters and brothers. The stars plotted to kill their mother and Coyolxauhqui defected, informing on her siblings and giving Coatlicue time to plan a counter attack. When the Serpent-Skirted Goddess had wiped out half her progeny, the remaining stars turned on Coyolxauhqui. They dismembered and left it for their mother to find. In another version of the story, it was the sun god who murdered Coyolxauhqui. In her grief over the death of her faithful daughter, Coatlicue took Coyolxauhqui's head and hung it in the sky, where it became the moon.

The darkest aspect of Coatlicue, the bringer of death in all its forms, has been depicted in statuary. Here she is an old woman wearing a necklace of hands and hearts with skulls at her waist, a skirt of snakes and a flayed human skin draped over her body. In the most famous statue now on display in Mexico City, she also wears an enormous headdress in the form of a snake.

With the invasion of Europeans and the holocaust of disease and enslavement that followed, Coatlicue became two separate spirits to the descendants of the mighty Aztecs. She was Tlaltecuhtli, a hideous toad whose appearance foreshadowed trouble and death. But she was also Tonan the gentle mother and healer who would eventually be syncratized with Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As Ms. Monaghan so wisely notes, when it comes to goddesses, a people will rarely give up its own entirely. So it is with Coatlicue, the Serpent-Skirted Goddess, is to this day recognized even if by other names...

Header: The Coyolxauhqui Stone showing her dismembered body via Wikipedia. The Stone was discovered in Mexico City in 1974 and the archaeologists who found it were so overwhelmed that they sang a hymn to the goddess on the spot.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

We've got company coming to chez Pauline this evening so my time is not entirely my own. But I do have a quick herbal not that speaks to the season, whether you're a Hallowe'en aficionado, curious about "voodoo" or just a fan of The Walking Dead.

Hold on to your conical hats because this one is a little unusual. According to Scott Cunningham, pistachios cure zombie-ism. No kidding. Here is the notation from Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs:

The nuts are... given to zombies to bring them out of their trances and to give them the rest of death. Curiously enough, the pistachios which have been artificially dyed red are said to be the best for this purpose.

If we are talking about Voudon "zombies", it may be that there is a component in the nut that acts as an antidote for the chemicals used by a sorcerer to "turn" a person into a zombie. I don't recall Wade Davis mentioning this in his definitive book on Haitian Voudon The Serpent and the Rainbow, but that doesn't discount the possibility.

If only Rick Grimes and company had a truck-load full of pistachios... But then we wouldn't have much of a show, would we?

Interested in zombies and in particular zombie related movies? Follow along with the Zombie-thon crew for some great suggestions for your own zombie-movie-marathon. Bonne chance ~

Header: The Picture of Dorian Gray painted for the 1944 movie by Ivan Albright via Old Paint

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

It surely is that time of year and, because I made them yesterday after carving pumpkins on Saturday, I'm rerunning my all time favorite recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds. Yum!

This one comes from Silver RavenWolf's book Halloween which (witch?) is full of recipes, crafts and workings to fit the season. As I've noted before, the real secret to these gems is a quick dunk in boiling water before the seeds are roasted. Cooked with intention, the seeds are a great way to feed you family, body and soul.

Seeds from one large or two small pumpkins
1/4 cup (or to taste) sea or kosher salt (for protection)
2 tbsps olive oil (for health)
2 tbsps dried, crushed rosemary leaves (for prosperity)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Rinse the pumpkin seeds and boil in water until they turn grayish and begin to sink to the bottom of the pot.

Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with foil. In a bowl, combine the salt, oil and rosemary.

When the seeds are ready, drain them in a colander and pat dry. Put them in the bowl with the other ingredients and mix well to coat the seeds. Pour them onto the baking sheet and spread evenly in a single layer.

Pop the baking sheet in the oven and bake until golden brown. I like mine dark and crunchy so I generally bake them about 30 minutes. It all depends on your oven and your taste. Bon appetite ~

Header: Casper comic book cover via the now - unfortunately - defunct Tumblr Uncle Strangely's Dark Mansion of Big Crap Scares; I love this cover as the witch in red reminds me a little of the awesome Sharon Needles

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Samedi: Ghost Stories

I'm watching The Walking Dead marathon on AMC in anticipation of Sunday's season three opener. I'm a junky for this stuff. Anyway, it's late and big, fluffy snowflakes float down outside my window but a ghostly tale couldn't hurt. So here's a repost of a NOLA tale set in the infamous Parish Prison. What could be more appropriate?

For anyone who has studied, hunted or read about ghosts, it goes without saying that places like prisons are often more susceptible to haunting than other structures. The negative energy built up in prisons and penitentiaries cannot be denied and the wraiths that haunt these types of places are often as twisted and malevolent as they come. This is certainly the case in today's ghostly tale.

The story comes from Parish Prison which once stood at the corner of Saratoga and Tulane in New Orleans. This story made its way into the New Orleans Daily Picayune on my birthday, January 23rd, back in 1882. The brief article indicated that fourteen separate suicide attempts had occurred in the prison the prior year, all committed by inmates of cell number 17. Those who managed to survive told horrible stories of a pale woman - sometimes she was said to be a seductive redhead, other times a silent nun - who appeared in their locked cell and tortured them mercilessly all night long. She went about her grim work while wearing a pleasant expression and a tender smile.

When the prisoners' bodiees were examined, they revealed agonizing burns in the shapes of hands and fingers. The authorities, realizing something was up but unsure what to make of it, stopped using cell number 17. The haunting calmed, but only for a few weeks. Soon enough the redheaded haint was back, this time in cell number 7. Six women killed themselves over the course of a three month period.

Now the officers who worked at Parish Prison began to claim they had seen the ghost, but she appeared to them as a beautiful, regal woman. Employees dubbed her "The Redheaded Countess" and it was at this time, when the article was written, that the warden of the prison claimed to have met up with her on the back stairs. Captain Bachemin swore he passed the Countess; she smiled at him and touched his arm, searing his flesh right through the sleeve of his uniform.

While the story is certainly intriguing, it is impossible to verify over 100 years later. As the storyteller in Gumbo Ya~Ya ends the tale: the captain met the specter, or so he claims...

Header: Red-Haired Man from Swank Magazine c 1958; art by Charles Copeland via Mid-Century ~ it really has nothing to do with the story but it has a nice, creepy vibe, don't you think?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

When Agnes the miller's daughter was brought once again before Judge Wagnereck she had been in her drafty cell in Munich's Falcon Tower for more than a month. Her clothes had been taken from her and replaced by a shapeless and doubtless itchy wool robe. She was probably thin; the accounts imply that she had refused food. She was certainly not the defiant young woman she had been only a few short weeks before. And now she stood across the table from a man she would soon imagine as an arch-fiend. A man who was well fed, well rested and unfortunately full of news and questions.

Wagnereck first informed Agnes that he and all his fellows present knew her for a witch. The evidence said as much. She should not trouble herself with denials that would only endanger her immortal soul.

She said, we imagine in a clear voice: "Although you speak to me a great deal about my soul's salvation, I am not a witch."

The judge then pounced: did Agnes know that her father was dead, his neck broken by the Devil in his cell?

Agnes reeled a bit, stunned by the hard blow. But she righted herself: "I am sorry for it."

Seeing that one strike would not do, Wagnereck continued. "If you do not give up your recalcitrance, we are given no choice but to put you to the question."

"If it must be so," Agnes continued, "then so it must be in the name of the Lord. Jesus Christ was also tortured."

Probably in a fit of rage by now, Wagnereck ordered the girl's wrists tied behind her back. She was then hoisted up by those wrists to dangle in exquisite agony just inches above the forgiving floor. She whimpered as her tortures stared at her, none of them in any hurry to relieve her pain. Just when the misery must have seemed unbearable, Wagnereck unleashed his hardest pitch:

Did Agnes know that her mother, Anna, had confessed to being a witch? Did she know that Anna had also revealed that Agnes had been consecrated to the Devil? Did she know that the judges were aware she had been a witch sense she was twelve years old?

This broke the wall of strength that Agnes has manage to build for herself. This and, most probably, the blinding agony of torture. "If my mother says I am a witch, then I might just as well be one."

Agnes was let down and Wagnereck began the questioning. "Who taught you witchcraft?"

"I'd just as well say my mother. I'll just have to put up with being a witch - " by now sobbing uncontrollably " - Oh dear mother! Go on! Make us suffer both of us!"

"Where did you first meet the Devil?"

A loud sigh emanated from Agnes: "I have never seen a devil in my born days."

With that, she was hoisted up again and Agnes screamed out in abject misery: "I have repented and suffered for all my sins! I have seen the Devil at home!":

Wagnereck left the poor innocent dangling above the floor as he pummeled Agnes with a laundry list of questions: What form did the Devil take? What did he give her for her soul? What malefice did she make in the Devil's name?

Agnes answered as best she could, making up a jumbled, hodge-podge tale of flying ointment and witches Sabbaths. Eventually, the shallow breathing forced on the girl by her insanely painful position took its toll; Agnes began to lose consciousness.

At this point, the record says that Agnes "suddenly began to talk in a strange manner." She said "my only work is but in prayer," and "If I am not pleasing, I wish I should become so." Then she raised her head as best she could and addressed her tormentor: "Sir, I give you praise and thanks that you have taken care of me. Spare my mother as little as you spare me. My father and my mother are also witches.... Oh! My soul is all a-tremble... How brightly the sun is shining."

This brought on a brief fit of pity. Agnes was lowered to the floor and given a bit of water. She asked for holy water, "that I might become a child of redemption" but there is no record that her request was granted. Instead the respite was cut short. Agnes was pulled up once more and the questioning continued.

The torture went on, probably for hours. Agnes was subjected to more and more misery, let go and then jerked up again, when she could not fathom what it was that Wagnereck wanted her to say. She must confess to killing babies and eating their flesh, but she probably could not comprehend such an abomination. Of course the judge would not put words in her mouth. Why he would not is easy to imagine.

Finally Agnes succumbed to her misery. She feinted away and was unbound and taken back to her cell. But only for a while. She was returned to the torture chamber in the afternoon but this time no torture was necessary. Like her mother, Agnes said whatever her tormentors wanted to hear. Tales of cannibalism, murder, and sex with demons all spilled out of her mouth; she said things she had probably never imagined before. It didn't matter though. As long as it kept her from the agony in the corner of the room it didn't matter one little bit.

Eventually, as night fell, Agnes was allowed to return to her cell. Her limbs would swell unbearably and turn the most miserable colors of black and blue. She knew more awaited her as she lie in her dark, cold cell. But there wasn't anything at all that she could do. Agnes the miller's daughter, just one of so many who were made to tell lies that they themselves might learn to believe, tipped over into the dark pond of madness...

(The inevitable end of Agnes' story will appear here next Friday. Again, I am indebted to Michael Kunze for his tireless research and the book Highroad to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft.)

Header: Procession of the Guilty by Francisco Goya c 1812 via Wikimedia

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jeudi: Weather-Wise

The idea that changes in weather, and particularly storms, are a harbinger of death is not new. It seems to have been a Victorian preoccupation, however, that storms and the deaths of criminals were inextricably linked. Particularly in Britain, folklorists have been able to gather a number of examples of this perhaps not so odd belief. Here are just a few from A Dictionary of Superstitions published in 1989 and edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem:

When judges are in circuit, and when there are any criminals to be hanged, there are always winds and roaring tempests (verbal comment from a laborer c 1854)

The whole country side is excited by these storms, and the people connect them with the death of a Mr. ___, a notorious wrecker. On Sunday evening this day week, he was seen watching the sea, it is supposed for a wreck. He returned quite well... At Six O'Clock next morning the servants knocked - no answer. They went in, and there he lay quite dead. Ever since the storms have been continual. While I now write my Table trembles with the wind. (letter from H.S. Hawker of Cornwall, 12/26/1859 - note that a wrecker was someone who watched the coast for shipwrecks and then went to them, often with the spoken intent of finding survivors but with the real mission of finding booty to sell illegally.)

Remarking recently to an old man that, though it rained, it did not appear warmer, he replied: "We shan't have fine weather till after tomorrow... tomorrow is 'hanging day'." Three men were to be hanged the next day at Worcester. (from the N & Q of 1890)

This superstition, if one must put a label on it, continued in rural areas well into the 20th century as is witnessed by this entry from the Fenland Chronicle of 1967:

One of his beliefs were that it always blowed a gale on a day anybody were hanged fro a crime, to show God Almighty's displeasure at the taking of a human life by other human beings.

That last may settle the reason for the belief although, given man's inhumanity to man who was made in God's image according to organized religions, it seems a flimsy excuse by both man and God.

Header: The Tree of Crows by Caspar David Friedrich c 1822 via Old Paint

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Today's is the 600th post here at HQ, an accomplishment I am personally quite proud of. So I thought, by way of celebration, I would write about the most popular herb in hoodoo and certainly a universally used magickal herb: five-finger grass.

Also known as cinquefoil, five-finger grass gets its name from its distinctive leaf pattern. The compound leaves form five segments, similar to fingers. Each is said to symbolize a seperate grace or blessing: love, money, power, luck and wisdom. This is true for all magickal disciplines that use the plant, which is not, by the way, a grass but a flowering herb.

Cinquefoil grows wild in moderate and cool climates and was often the focus of old wives' remedies in pre-and early-modern Europe. A small bag of the leaves was hung over the cottage door to protect the inhabitants. The same would be hung over the bed or from the bedstead to protect the sleeper and ward against nightmares. Young girls were told to pick a cinquefoil leaf with seven "fingers", should they have the good fortune to find one, and bring it home. This was then placed under the pillow, particularly on auspicious nights for divination such as Hallowe'en or Christmas Eve. The cinquefoil leaf was said to bring dreams of one's future husband. I can find nothing about whether or not the same mechanism worked for boys wishing to dream of a future wife.

Scott Cunningham recommends making a tea of cinquefoil leaves. This is then used to wash the forehead and hands on nine consecutive mornings in an effort to undo malicious magick and curses.

In hoodoo, a bag of five-finger grass leaves is hung above a home's mantel but hidden from view. Hang the bag behind a picture, statue, stack of books, etc. Used with intention and replaced each new year, this trick is said to make it impossible for anyone - even the bank - to drive you from your home. A tea of five-finger grass leaves is added to floor wash to protect a home, clear away any crossed conditions (such as after a fight, an illness, or an unlucky event like the loss of a job) and bring better fortune into the home. The same sort of tea can also be added to baths for uncrossing, lifting jinxes and improving mental health.

A famous money drawing mojo is made from a five-finger grass leaf, a stick of cinnamon, and three mojo (fava) beans. Carry these in a green flannel bag and dress it frequently with whiskey or Money-drawing Oil.

According to Silver RavenWolf, five-finger grass is a "catch-all for Pow-Wow."  The five blessings noted above make the plant useful as they encompass "all that the Pow-Wow desires to receive and to give."  That's a tall order for one little herb. As in other disciplines, Pow-Wows also employ five-finger grass for hex breaking.

Bonne chance and thank you so much, one and all, for continuing along this journey with me.

Header: The Three Graces by Edward Augustus Bell via American Gallery

Monday, October 8, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

I've featured recipes by the incomparable Leon E. Soniat, Jr. here at HQ before. I like to mess around with recipes, too, and fit an existing recipe to the taste of those I cook for. Chef Soniat's Creole style recipes are a great base to take off from and today's omelet recipe is a good example.

The original appeared in La Bouche Creole II as the Potato-Onion Supper Omelet. My kids aren't big on onions but they do like potatoes and are very fond of rosemary potatoes. Voila! Soniat's supper omelet went from Potato-Onion to Potato-Rosemary just like that.  I don't much trouble to make it an omelet either (no folding over, etc.) Here's the recipe; enough for four hungry people.

6 to 8 tbsps olive oil
2 potatoes, washed and cubed (you can peel the potato if your family prefers, by all means)
2 tbsps butter
8 eggs, lightly beaten (add a little milk if this is how you usually scramble eggs)
1 to 2 tsps dry rosemary or a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves peeled off the stalk and coarsely chopped
Black pepper

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the potatoes and cook them over medium heat until golden brown and crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the potatoes to a paper towel to drain.

Pour off a bit of the oil, leaving about 2 tablespoons, and add the butter. When it foams, return the potatoes to the skillet and add the eggs and rosemary. Stir in the salt and pepper to taste and a few dashes of Tabasco. Continue to stir for a minute or two more then - and this is the hardest part - leave the omelet alone. Let it cook for another one or two minutes, or until the eggs are done to your liking.

Serve immediately with some warm rolls or a fresh baguette. This is a delightful winter meal and can be tweaked with any herb that particularly appeals to you and yours. Bon appetite ~

Header: Egg by Edward B. Lintott via Old Paint

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Samedi: Ghost Stories

Today's story comes to us from the Arkansas. Yes, I am duty bound by familial ties to speak of it the way my ancestors would have when their associate and then spy for Spain Jean Laffite went off into its wilds to map out the U.S. settlements there abouts circa 1816. My Aunt Bette used to only refer to the state above Louisiana as "the" Arkansas, and that with a disparaging tint to her voice. Sorry Razor Back fans; I can only say that it's in the blood.

In many rural areas along the Mississippi River, Arkansas for instance, the landscape is dotted with hunting shacks. These are used only during "the season", at least for the most part, and to a large degree they are not furnished with the finest amenities. They are "shacks" more than cabins or homes, meant to be used for a brief time and then closed up to the next round.

This is the case in my adoptive home as well. Here in Alaska, hunting shacks are not unusual out in what locals call "the bush." While they may be hundreds of miles from one another, they are not all that uncommon and, in some cases, are literally open to all who happen upon them. In these instances they are as spare as they probably sound, but they are better than sleeping out in the raw environment of hunting season which encompasses the short, cold months of September and October. It's not January, of course, but it can be pretty bleak.

All that said, this story translates beautifully to Alaska. What happens in the bush stays in the bush for the most part. And none of what happens in this story would make an "old timer" do much more than shake his or her head...

Around the night fire the talk turned to the cabin by the lake. It had been there for ages as far as anyone knew, its timbers gray and its moss-covered roof sagging. No sane hunter had the gumption to go inside, even though it was in sight of the fire. The stories of men driven mad by the screams and wails of long dead souls were too numerous to ignore. The ancient cabin was haunted; everyone said so. No one wanted to challenge the idea if they could possibly avoid it.

No one, that is, but the grizzled hunter known as Old Pete. Pete had come up from Montana ten years ago and had soon put his tracking talents to good use showing greenhorns the best place to find a slow bull moose. He had a good reputation as a guide but a bad reputation as a companion. Old Pete was obnoxious, and when talk around the fire turned to the shack he spoke up right away.

"I'll stay up there all night," Pete said, standing up and planting his feet wide. "But I'll need money to do it."

How much money was settled on quickly - fifty dollars seemed reasonable - and the men laid out their cash. Pete also took a slab of good bacon and six cans of beer and, shouldering his pack, he hiked the short distance to the shack.

"Haunted," he mused, standing in front of the dark, low lump that would be his home for the night. "I'm more haunted than you are." And then he went in.

With his flashlight Pete could see that the place wasn't much. There were a couple of chairs and sleeping ledges built of pine. He smiled when he saw a stone hearth already laid with kindling and wood. Someone had been here and failed to light a fire; Pete wouldn't be so foolish.

When the fire was crackling, Pete unfurled his sleeping bag and put his little cast iron pot on the flames. "Time for bacon," he said and he threw the slab in the pot. Settling back in a chair, he cracked a can of beer and smiled. It was a quiet night, and not too cold. "Dinner and then to bed. Fifty dollars easy."

As Pete relaxed, he heard a shuffling sound along one wall. He didn't think too much of it; shrews and voles loved to hole up in places like this for the winter. Hell, he'd even run into a raven in a place like this once. He took a long swig of his beer, and turned the sweet smelling bacon with his fork.

The shuffling noise grew louder but Pete was comfortable. He opened another beer and thought how glad he was not to be a rodent. As he settled further back he heard something else; something like a voice...

"Smells good, Mister."

Pete sat up. "What?" He called out: "Is that you, Len?"

"Ain't Len," the voice whispered. Hissed, really. "Smells good, Mister."

The voice made Pete's skin crawl. It was like a snake or a roach, dry and sneaky. "This isn't funny," Pete called. "Len; this isn't - "

Pete saw a shadow, dark and small, move from a corner and jump - he swore later it jumped - right into his cast iron pot. The bacon let out a hiss and some steam and then he heard that voice again. But this time it came right out of the fire. "Thanks for dinner, Pete."

Old Pete looked carefully at his pot and he saw two eyes staring back at him over the rim. They were as red as the hot fire and as he looked, unable to move or blink, he heard that voice again: "My friends and I are grateful."

Suddenly a howling, squealing, groaning and screaming came right out of the wood that the shack was built from. It was as if a hurricane raged outside, but the night remained calm. Pete clapped his hands over his ears as the sound pummeled him like punches. He screamed right back, loud and long. All the same he couldn't hear himself. These noises would drive a sane man crazy.

Pete jumped up, grabbed his pack and, leaving his pot and sleeping bag behind, burst out of that old shack and ran toward his companions' fire.

When he reached them they stood up, shocked by Pete's sudden return and riveted by his appearance: from head to toe Pete was as pale as new fog - even his brown hair had turned white.

"Holy Hell, Pete;" Len asked. "What - "

"Here," Pete threw the money at his friends. "You keep it. I'm goin' home. Don't go in there. Don't none of you ever go in there!"

Old Pete left the hunt, called for the plane and paid the extra for the unexpected lift. He went to work on the North Slope and never went back to hunting ever again.

Header The Old Hunting Shack by Les Kouba via Alliance Art Publishing

Friday, October 5, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

As Hallowe'en draws nearer, our thoughts turn to ghoulies and ghosties and witches in pointy hats. My thoughts personally turn to the real "witches" of yesterday and today who were and are tortured, persecuted and either killed or driven to kill themselves. Imagined or real, these "servants of Satan" most typically come with female bodies and the fact that such persecution continues to this day all around the world is a sad commentary on just how far "civilization" hasn't come.

In honor of those who have lost and will lose everything to religious zealots, the next few installments of Chthonian Histories will be dedicated to the true story of a simple German girl who was given up by her unfortunate family, questioned, tortured and murdered in 1600.

Agnes was the daughter of a poor miller and his unfortunately ugly wife. They ran what was known as "the convent mill" in the village of Tettenwing in Lower Bavaria. Their mill did not thrive as it was considered haunted. Stories flew about their village that linked the mill itself, the miller and his family to everything from the sending of nightmares to causing plague. It was only travelers that patronized the mill and a traveler with grain to grind was an unusual occurrence in depressed times. The mill fell into disrepair. Local gossips whispered that the miller's wife was an ogress. And a witch.

The one bright spot around the mill was the miller's only surviving child: Agnes. Unlike her parents, Agnes was beautiful. At somewhere around the age of 16 in 1600, Agnes was the object of many a local farm boy's affection. Much to their mothers' dismay, these local sons brought Agnes gifts and got into brawls over her. Every now and then the sheriff would stop by to tell the miller to keep his daughter "in line." As if her beauty was something she could control. As if she put a spell on all the farm boys.

One summer day the sheriff came again, but this time he came with unfamiliar and well dressed men on horseback. They had come to search the house, they told the miller, for signs of "witchery". He and his family had been accused of practicing the dark arts for "these thirty years and more." That included his ogress wife and his enchantress daughter.

The miller protested, of course, but to no avail. It did not take long for the thugs that came along with the fine gentlemen to find a second hearth, built under the kitchen stairs. It was concealed behind a door and on it was a "pot containing a stiff paste, a congealed liquid, or something of the kind. That was no doubt witches' ointment."

The pot was confiscated, the miller and his family put in chains, and Agnes, along with her aging mother and father, was on her way to the notorious Falcon Tower in Munich.

The local judges went to work right away, subjecting Agnes to long, verbal interrogations but finding her "recalcitrant" and unwilling to confess to any knowledge of witchcraft or the devil. She informed the head judge, Wangereck, that she knew people called her parents ogres. All the same, the accusation was unjust and "would never be shown to be true of her, either."

Wangereck, intuiting what would truly break the young woman's spirit, put her in a dank cell for two months while he worked her parents over. The miller died after several rounds of the torture known as strappado (illustrated above). His wife, Anna, was also subjected to the heinous dislocation of various joints. Like her husband, she endured not only the horrible position of hanging from her wrists with her arms behind her back, but she also suffered the misery of having weights tied to her ankles to pull her knees and hips loose.

Anna confessed in a stream of wild babbling. She was returned to her cell where her swollen joints made it impossible to move from the straw bedding.

Meanwhile, Wangereck returned to lovely, recalcitrant Agnes...

(The tale of Agnes the miller's daughter continues next Friday. The majority of my research is indebted to the book High Road to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft by Michael Kunze, translated from German by William E. Yuill)

Header: Interrogation by Bessonov Nicolay via InquisitionArt (please note that Nicolay's art, while brilliant, is very realistic and very graphic; viewer discretion is advised)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jeudi: Root Work

I know it's only October but the holidays will be here sooner than we think and that usually means just one thing for root workers and wise women: requests for love potions. No one wants to feel like Evangeline up there during the darkest months of the year. Although I tend to counsel people against too much manipulation, the reality is that a little insurance for a good relationship (not one that's on the fence and especially not one that's abusive) never hurts.

The term "love potion number nine" is thrown around a lot in our culture. There's even a song about it, I think. This fabled drink may actually have originated in hoodoo. Different root workers have different recipes for the love potion, which actually amounts to a simple tea made from nine different ingredients. The caveat with most of these mixtures is that rose petals, catnip and cinnamon must be used in the mixture.

Fresh or dried herbs work equally well so it is entirely up to the person making the tea which way they want to go. The idea of the tea is to draw love or, if it is shared with the loved one, strengthen the bond. Whether the loved one knows what the maker of the tea is up to is entirely open for discussion.

Here's my recipe for the fabled love potion:

A small piece of apple
A small piece of ginger
One rose petal and a pinch each of:

Wrap all of these ingredients in a square of muslin and tie it up with a long piece of twine to form a teabag. Place your teabag in a cup and pour hot water over it. Add a drop of vanilla or whiskey (your choice, but not both). While you pray/infuse the tea with your intention, allow the mixture to steep for nine minutes.

Remove the teabag and drink the cup down, preferable in nine sips. You should continue to focus on your wish for love while you drink. Dispose of your teabag as you will need to make a new one the next day.

Repeat this ritual nine days/nights in a row, if possible at around the same time each day. Toujours l'amour ~

Header: Evangeline by Christian Schussele via American Gallery

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Though probably not technically an "herb", that's how we are going to treat kelp and that odd form of seaweed know as agar today here at HQ. The stuff is certainly in demand for magickal workings both in Wicca and hoodoo regardless of any semantics issues.

Sea kelp, which can be found in fresh and dried form on just about any saltwater beach, is sometimes still called bladderwrack for its diuretic properties. In the past, the home nurse and/or local wise woman would keep the stuff handy to help out when frequent urination was called for as a form of purge.

In Wicca, kelp is often utilized as a way to connect with the spirits of the sea. Mermaids and other potentially helpful water sprites are thought to be drawn to the stuff. According to Scott Cunningham, one should stand in the water and toss kelp that has washed ashore back into the waves while calling to the sea spirits and asking them for their help. Be careful though; like fairy folk, sea spirits can do just as much harm as they can good.

Old wives told that carrying seaweed while one was at sea was a must for protection. This practice has expanded in our modern age and it is now considered protective to carry a piece of seaweed while traveling by plane as well as by ship. This particularly if the plane is crossing the water.

Another old wives tale - or perhaps it is an old sailor's tale - adds kelp to improve the efficacy of "whistling up the wind." The story goes that standing on the shore while waving an arm of kelp over ones head, in a clockwise motion, and whistling will stir up a good wind.

In hoodoo, kelp is boiled into a tea which is then strained and used as a floor wash to keep a steady stream of business coming in to any sort of establishment. In the home, a bit is bottled up in a jar to which whiskey is added. The jar is then sealed tight and placed near the stove or in a sunny kitchen window. It is said that this trick will ensure that the family is never caught penniless.

Agar, or agar-agar as it is sometimes called, is best known as that semi-gelatinous medium in which bacteria are grown in a lab. In hoodoo, the same stuff is used in a powder form which is often called sea spirit. It is said that carrying a bit in your pocket can make you recede from view in a crowd as long as you are careful and quiet. A pinch of the powder sprinkled in a glass of water that is then kept next to one's bed at night is thought to ward off bad dreams and malicious sendings.

Bingo players also wash their hands in a tea made with chamomile and sea spirit before going out to play their chosen game of chance. This is said to increase anyone's chances of winning at the game. Bonne chance ~

Header: Mermaid by Henry Clive via American Gallery

Monday, October 1, 2012

Lundi: Recipes

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a member of the Who Dat Nation. I saw my first Saints game when I was five and, though I went through a weird Seahawks thing in my youth (my family lived in Seattle when the team first appeared) I got over it. I rejoiced when the Saints won the Super Bowl and I am as low as any football fan can be now.

Even my daughter is a Saints fan. She knows the players, wears her Pierre Thomas jersey on game days and cried, down right bawled, yesterday at the end of that sad, sad loss to the Packers.

Thanks to Roger Goodell, my child understands that there ain't never gonna be nothing fair. And she's not the only one. I wouldn't want your karma even with your salary, sir.

Tears aside, I'm old enough to seek solace in an adult beverage. So here's a recipe for a delicious Bloody Mary straight out of another institution that is being "phased out" due to greed and ignorance: The Times-Picayune. Make two pitchers and have some friends over. Misery loves company.

4 cups tomato juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp celery salt
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
10 to 12 drops of Tabasco sauce (more or less to taste)
2 tsps fresh lime juice
7 ounces vodka of choice
Lime wedges and celery stalks for garnish

Combine all ingredients but garnish in a glass pitcher and chill for at least an hour. Stir before serving. Pour into four ice-filled glasses and garnish as noted.

You might also like to add prepared horseradish for an extra kick.

Not feeling up to making your own - and who can blame you given the circumstances? I recommend Tabasco's own brand of Bloody Mary mix. It's delicious and a great pick me up without the vodka, too. Bon appetite ~

Header: Family: Because no matter what the outcome, we always love them via New Orleans Ladder