Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jeudi: Great Spirits

In his epic the Aeneid, Roman poet Virgil tells us that the Queen of Carthage, Dido, committed suicide when her lover/husband Aeneas the Trojan adventurer, sails off to Italy and rejects their wedding vows. She is a victim of love and the gods and, despite her great authority and power as the queen of the largest nation in North Africa, she succumbs to both.

The story is a classic Greco-Roman reimagining of how women - and particularly women in power - needed to behave. The distaff side should not be ruling anything aside from their homes; Dido, Queen of Carthage, got what she deserved and at her own hand.

But what is the true origin of the story of Dido? Is she only a figment of Virgil's imagination or is there more to her than that? As Patricia Monaghan points out in Goddesses & Heroines, there must certainly be more to this Queen of Carthage than Virgil's epic. If not, Dido managed not only to live for hundreds of years but to commit suicide not once, but twice.

The Carthaginian legend of Queen Dido is very different - and quite a bit more heroic - than Virgil's version. It also points to a possible answer to the long life and miraculous self-imposed deaths of the queen. Dido it seems, like Candace and Helen, was originally a title and not a name.

According to Monaghan the word dido may come from the root dida meaning to wander. The original Dido Elissa or - even more ancient - Alitta which means "the goddess," seems to have come from the Phoenician settlement of Tyre. Bringing a band of colonists with her, Dido Alitta established a settlement that would eventually grow into the powerful empire known as Carthage. The story holds that the journey was spurred by the murder of Alitta's husband by her brother and that she brought only women with her to seek out a new home. Since the latter seems highly suspect, both "facts" can probably be left as legend.

Alitta, who was clearly a savvy business woman along with a proud leader, purchased a "hide's worth" of land on the shore of the Mediterranean from a local tribe. She then proceeded to cut the hide into thin strips and lay these out end to end around a vast holding that swept over much of a peninsula that now resides in the country of Tunis. Her first order of business thereafter was to begin building a great temple to her goddess Tanit (sometimes written as Tanith) the mother of the sky from which the people of Carthage believed they came. When the Romans invaded Carthage and beheld the beautiful statue of Tanit bedazzled with stars and holding the moon and the sun, they called her Dea Caelestis: "heavenly goddess."

The city flourished and was named after its first Dido: Cartha-Alitta or "city of the goddess." Of course envy from local rulers was inevitable and one particularly nasty cheiftain threatened war against Carthage if Alitta would not satisfy his lust. Alitta's response was swift and pragmatic; she killed herself and had her lecherous neighbor invited to the funeral.

In honor of their first Dido's brilliance and courage, the Carthaginians built a sacred grove in the middle of their city. This grove of Elissa would stand, and refresh the people of Dido's city-state, until the Romans destroyed Carthage during the Third Punic War in 146 BCE.

Header: Morte di Didone by Guercino c 1635 via Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Really, as much style as beauty here. These were the days, kids. If only Oscar attendees had this kind of panache once again! Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh photographed by Bret Hardy circa 1952. Thanks to the wonderful We Had Faces Then blog for originally posting this. Stunning.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Ah, gossip. That malicious form of harassment that is rarely considered bullying but actually can be. Particularly among the young, gossip can ruin a life. Teenagers have committed suicide over it and in our hyper-cyber world, it can spread five thousand times faster than it could just a short twenty years ago. Progress? Hmm.

Among the curendaros and curendaras of the U.S. and Mexico boarder, there is a simple and fortunately not fatal solution for the problem. A simple working involving a candle, oil and the seed of the chia plant will work even in our social media environment. You can find chia seeds in many Latino markets, particularly in the greater Los Angeles area. Check online as well if you're not in Mexico or the southwestern U.S. Do this working with intention and even the most persistent gossip will shut up.

Using a pin or small knife, carve the gossip's name seven times on each knob of a white, seven-knob candle. If you cannot get a seven-knob candle, which are sold at most magickal supply stores as well as online, use a white taper and section it, using your pin, into seven fairly equal parts, then follow the above process. The six equidistant lines you carve into the candle will help you know when to put the candle out each day.

Anoint your candle with olive oil or, if you can obtain it, Protection Oil, and then, while the oil is still wet. roll the candle in a tray or bowl of chia seeds. Stand the candle in the tray (using a safe candle holder) so that it is surrounded by the remaining seeds.

Burn one knob, or section, each day beginning on a Saturday and preferably in the hour of Saturn (see this chart of planetary hours by day) to aid in banishing the problem. Burn the candle until it extinguishes itself on the seventh day and put any remaining wax in the back of your freezer to seal the working.

The nasty bully should cease and desist by then end of the week and, particularly if that candle wax stays frozen, never trouble you again. Bonne chance ~

Header: Interior d'un Cafe by Juan Luna c 1892 via Old Paint

Monday, February 25, 2013

Lundi: Recipes

My daughter's middle school library recently held a Scholastic book fair and, being a family of four bibliophiles, we could not miss it. Among other things, we stumbled upon the title America's Most Wanted Recipes: Just Desserts by Ron Douglas. Mr. Douglas, who has written more than one of these books, is a genius at deciphering the ingredients in famous restaurant recipes and offering them to the home cook.

Just Desserts includes recipes from such diverse restaurants as Chart House, Zuni Cafe, Dunkin' Donuts and, for you fans and friends of NOLA, Brennan's. There's even a few from Starbucks, like today's offering that combines two things I love: Chocolate-Espresso Pudding. It's so easy (thanks to Mr. Douglas) that even I can do it:

2 cups nonfat soy milk
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolat
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the soy milk and the brown sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat; stir until sugar dissolves. Whisk in cocoa powder, cornstarch, espresso powder and salt. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to low. Simmer for about a minute, until the mixture becomes thick.

Remove from the heat and stir in chopped chocolate and vanilla extract. Pour equal amounts of the pudding into four dessert bowls. Put a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to keep it from forming a "skin."

Refrigerate for at least four hours. Remove plastic wrap and serve.

Mr. Douglas notes that you needn't be slavish to the espresso; any instant coffee you have on hand will work. If you'd like to browse through more of Mr. Douglas' recipes, find his work as ebooks here. Bon appetite ~

Header: La Chocolatiere by Jean Etienne Liotard c 1744 via Old Paint

Friday, February 22, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

The realms of the underworld and sexuality intertwine and weave a tangled web that continues to burrow into our psyche like the persistent and arrogant roots of the weeping willow will do into the foundation of a home. It's a slow process that moves in mere fractions of an inch but, if left unchecked, it just may drive one mad.

And speaking of madness, let us take the next few weeks to discuss some strange, and very chthonian, bedfellows of old: the incubus, the succubus, and their cousin and today's topic, the dream lover.

One of the best illustrations of the dream lover - who is by no means a dream and is often a shape shifter or revenant in the literature - comes from that old '80s favorite, the movie Excalibur. Early on Queen Igraine, that Dark Ages sex kitten who flairs the passions of Uther Pendragon, believes she has been visited by her husband one night while he is supposed to be away fighting Uther's hordes. To Igraine's horror, she discovers that her husband was in fact killed in battle the very night he crawled into their bed. Who then made love to her? As we all know, Uther wearing a magickal skin placed over him by the wizard Merlin.

Such protestations of women - that their far away husband appeared to them in the flesh and impregnated them - pepper the history of the witch craze. Most of these unfortunates were accused of adultery or, worse still, welcoming a demon into their beds. But once in a while the tribunals were kind and the dream lover was awarded his do: the paternity of the woman's child.

This latter is the case in a curious story written in 1698 by Professor Johann Klein of the University of Rostock. The story centers around a gentlewoman named Lucile or Lucienne de Montleon. Madame de Montleon lived in the French speaking province of Switzerland and her husband, Seigneur Jerome Auguste de Montleon had been away at war for some four years when Madame suddenly turned up pregnant.

As Madame fretted over this situation, word came to her chateau that her husband was dead. Fainting away, Lucile spent the rest of her confinement in bed. She did manage to bring forth a strapping son within the year and, pulling herself up by her corsets straps, presented him to the city council as her husband's son and heir. Her claim as far as the unusual timing of the birth was simple: her husband had made her pregnant in a dream. When she received push-back on her claim - there were doubtless others who would have liked nothing better than to take over the Seigneur's land and income - Madame asked that the matter be heard in court.

The initial findings of the local judges did not go as Madame had hoped. Most called her an adulteress and two labeled her mad. Apparently unshakeable in her resolve, Madame de Montleon appealed her case to the Parlement of Grenoble. There not only two midwives but a doctor from the local University testified in Lucile's favor. They unanimously told the court that impregnations via dream were as common as flowers in spring among the peasant classes. Just because they were rarely heard of among the gentry, didn't mean that they weren't possible among the gentry.

The Parlement, taking all testimony into consideration, found in favor of Lucile de Montleon. Her son, whose name the good doctor does not share with us, was named so heir to the Seigneur.

What Johann Klein does share is a rather blue denouement to this already colorful story. According to Klein the case became something of an international sensation, to the point that the faculty of law at the Sorbonne in Paris looked over all the evidence and testimony reviewed by their colleagues in Grenoble. They concluded, as men often will, that the Parlement was simply helping a lady out of a difficult situation. After all, what educated man, or right thinking woman, could every believe in a dream lover...

Header: The Lunatic of Etretat by Hugues Merle c 1874 via Old Paint

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Jeudi: Weather Wise

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is a well known phenomena hear at the top of the world. The beautiful streaks of blue, green and purple that dance across the cold night sky are accompanied by an eerie pop and crackle which is similar to the sound of a wood fire. While gorgeous, explaining the lights and sounds prior to the dawn of the scientific age was a difficult endeavor. Our various ancestors spoke of various possible explanations, many of which are remarkably similar.

In North America, and in what is now Canada, Alaska and the northern U.S. in particular, the lights were often linked to the spirits of the dead, be they human or animal. In what is now the province of Labrador, Canada, the native people believed that the crackling sounds made by the lights were the voices of those who had died a violent or sudden death. People were told to reply only in a whisper, for fear of disturbing these ancestors who were finally at peace.

The Tlingit of southeastern Alaska saw the lights as the spirits of the dead, while in the Yukon, native people said the lights were spirits, but those of salmon, seals and deer. Sometimes the spirits were said to be dancing. In other stories, they were playing ball, often with the skull of an animal. If it was the spirits of animals playing, however, they were said to use a human skull.

The Mandan said the lights were fires built by shaman and warriors who had passed into death. They were lit to boil the bodies of dead enemies in giant pots. It was only in the Point Barrow region of modern Alaska that the lights were thought to bode ill. Seeing them could bring on bad luck, but carrying a knife, particularly one made of metal, would repel the evil energy.

Meanwhile, in northern Europe, people tended to agree with the Point Barrow natives. While the Vikings imagined the lights as nothing more than the gods at play, most of the Celtic nations in Great Britain believed the Aurora ushered in a time of great turmoil, aggression, illness and want.

These beliefs trickled down into the 17th, 18th and 19th century. In Arctic Zoology written in 1784, the author tells us that, at the sight of the lights, "the rustic sages become prophetic, and terrify the gazing spectators with the dread of war, pestilence and famine." Though Pennant calls these beliefs superstitions, it is clear that they are held by many people. In Scotland, the lights were seen as a portend of the death of the famous. Aytoun writes in 1849 of "Fearful lights, that never beckon Save when kings or heroes die." As late as the 1870s, writers mentioned that the lights portended disaster, especially toward their own nation.

Despite all this, and perhaps because we now know their origin, the lights continue to fascinate. Even for the most cynical among us, a little chill must run up the spine at the sight of those dancing ribbons and the sound of spirit fires.

Header: Aurora Borealis over Anchorage, Alaska via Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

A lovely lady from a different era with obvious style that is all her own. I'm drawn to her name... and her face. She looks remarkably like my grandmother...

Header: Pauline in the Yellow Dress by Herbert J. Gunn c 1944 via Mid-Century

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Lots of things going on here at chez Pauline so, rather than skip another post, here is some herbal advice from the archives. Enjoy!

Nettle is a common weed in cooler climates all over the world. Known to Native shaman, old wives and root workers alike, nettle's most common use is to break and turn away jinxes. But there is so much more to the ancient history of this herb.

In hoodoo, nettle is used specifically to dispel evil. A tea of nettle and rue is added to baths along with a handful of black salt to lift curses and crossed conditions. At least some of the bathwater should be thrown out the front door of the home to seal the cure.

Both natives in North America and old wives in Europe recommended nettle tea for pregnant women to strengthen the fetus and ease labor. After the baby's birth, nettle tea continued to be prescribed to encourage milk production. Dried nettle was also sprinkled on the feed given to dairy cows for the same purpose.

According to Scott Cunningham, nettle should be carried in a sachet or stuffed in a poppet to remove a curse and send it back. Wiccans sprinkle dried nettle around the home to ward off evil. It can also be thrown into a fire to prevent harm coming to home or person and it is held in the right hand to ward off ghosts, particularly while walking alone at night near haunted ground. Putting a bowl full of nettle clippings under the bed of a sick person is thought to aid healing.

Pow-Wow also uses nettle, and for similar purposes. Silver RavenWolf says that a combination of nettle and yarrow makes a powerful amulet against fear. Scott Cunningham agrees, saying the two will also dispel negativity. Pow-Wows also use dried nettle to enhance lust, and sprinkle it over the bedclothes of the sick to encourage recovery.

A very old German "spell", which probably originated in one form or another prior to the widespread success of Christianity in the Middle Ages, saw farmers using nettle to remove maggot infestations from their cows' hooves. In Highroad to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft, Michael Kunze says the nettle should be picked before sunrise and held between both hands. The farmer should then recite:

Nettle, nettle, hear forsooth,
Our cow's got maggots in her hoof,
If you don't drive the maggots out,
I'll twist your collar round about!

The nettle stem was then twisted until it broke off and both pieces were tossed over the farmer's head. If all steps of this process were repeated three days in a row, the cow would be cured.

Finally, nettle has been used for centuries as a bandage in cases of bleeding. The leaves should be bruised slightly to allow the juice to flow and then applied to the bloody wound before bandaging to help with clotting. Bonne chance ~

Header: At the Entrance by Boilly via A Harlot's Progress

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dimanche: Swimming

Ava Gardner on location for Pandora and the Flying Dutchman in Spain c 1950 via Mid-Century

Friday, February 15, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

When modern historians discuss or write about the witch craze in Europe and the Americas, very little thought - if any - is given to the people who looked after those unfortunates accused of communing with Satan. Many times, in fact to a surprising large degree, the jailors are painted as one dimensional thugs reveling in the cruel treatment of their pitiable charges. It is much easier to focus on the horrors of torture than on the inner lives of those who administered the torture.

In his brilliant analysis of the Pappenheimer family ordeal that played out in early 17th century Munich, Germany, Highroad to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft, Michael Kunze turns his attention to the keepers of the accused. With surprising empathy and clarity he documents what his research has shown him about ironmaster Georg, the unwitting keeper of the jail known as the Falcon Tower, and his nameless, unenviable wife. Even as he tortured the Pappenheimers as well as Agnes the miller's daughter and her family, Georg's wife kept each one in fresh straw, clean water and warm stew.

Certainly, not every inquisitorial dungeon was run like the Falcon Tower, but the little crack that Kunze opens onto the ironmaster's family's world is at the very least thought provoking. Here is an excerpt from the section entitled "A Day in the Life of a Jailor's Wife" (pp 291-292):

Very little has come down to us about the ironmaster's wife, who performed a range of lowly tasks in the Munich Falcon Tower. We do not even know her name. The prisoners, to whom she brought their meals and occasionally fresh straw for their cells, called her "the ironmaster's wife." We have to imagine a woman of about thirty, not ugly but not pretty either, not squeamish but not coarse. What with all the pain and squalor suffered by the inmates of the Falcon Tower, we are liable to forget that the jailor's wife did not have an easy life herself. The reason lay in her nature, which I believe I know something about, in spite of the meager information in our sources.

The ironmaster's wife was neither stupid nor dull nor harsh. She would have had to be all these things not to find life in the Falcon Tower hard. On the ground floor of the prison she acted as a housewife, looked after her husband and her children, cleaned and washed, placed a few flowers beneath the crucifix. On the northeast side of the building she had laid out a little garden in which a few vegetables and some wild flowers transplanted from the meadows struggled to exist, for very little sun found its way into the quadrangle between the high walls. In this way she tried to lead the life of simple, ordinary fold. But she knew that beneath her little domestic kitchen there lay a vault of horrors, while above it prisoners languished, chained to the walls of their evil-smelling hutches. She could hear the footsteps of these poor wretches on the wooden stairs as they were taken to the torture chamber for interrogation. She saw them in their pitiable condition following the torture. And when her scowling husband joined her and the children at their meagerly furnished table and said grace before the midday meal, she knew that the screams of his victims were still ringing in his ears. Was it possible to talk about the weather, the price of beef, or the Sunday picnic with the children that they had planned? Of course it was possible, and they did it, but they never ceased to be aware of the misery that surrounded them; conversation about everyday things always had an undertone of terror. The ironmaster's wife was unable to separate her official life from her private life as may have been possible in later ages, for the two were linked and interwoven. When she went shopping and did the cooking, she was doing it for the prisoners as well as her family. It was not uncommon for interrogations to take place in her living room. People in the street did not see her simply as a housewife; they avoided her as "dishonorable" on account of her husband's occupation.

He had not assumed office of his own free will. The record suggests often enough that he was no more coarse and violent of disposition than his wife was. He took no pleasure in the prisoners' suffering, but in all probability he was afraid of the power of the demons, whose presence he believed he could sense often enough as he practiced his cruel trade. What forced him to pursue his vocation? We do not know, we can only suppose that he himself had once been a prisoner and had been pardoned simply because there was need of a jailor. He was not permitted to "give notice," for, had he given up his office, he would once more have been treated as a prisoner, and possibly suffered punishment of death.

And so the horrible machine ground down both accused and jailor. And the jailor's wife as well.

Header: Prisoner by Bessonov Nicolay c 1988 via InquisitionArt (please know that Nicolay's art, while brilliant, is very realistic and very graphic; viewer discretion is advised)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jeudi: Curios

Technically, it is a stretch to call the eau de toilettes popular in hoodoo "curios", but they don't really fit into any other category I don't believe so here we are.

The three perfumes in question are Hoyt's cologne, which is commercially made, and Kananga and Florida Waters, both of which are sold commercially but also often made by the root worker. All three are delightfully floral, with Hoyt's cologne probably being the most "masculine" of the scents. Likewise, all three are used in workings, particularly for love and luck, baths and as offerings to the lwa and the ancestors.

Far and away the most popular is Florida Water, which is added to floor washes, laundry and hand and body washes to chase away jinxes and crossed conditions as well as usher in times of good fortune. Florida water is a key ingredient in the Lady Bath. A cleansing dedicated to Erzulie Freda, this bath is undertaken to renew the spirit and bring the good fortune that accompanies the smile of the lady Erzulie.

Though Florida Water is the most popular of the eau de toilettes mentioned, it is not the easiest to make at home. Kananga Water, which can be used similarly to Florida Water, is however. Here is one recipe from Fortunes in Formulas for the Home, Farm and Workshop published in 1937:

10 drop ylang ylang oil
5 drops neroli oil
5 drops rose oil
3 drops bergamot or lavender oil
10 ounces of alcohol

Mix gently and steep these ingredients together in a glass jar with a tight lid for about 24 hours. Add about 10 ounces of distilled water to make an eau de toilette. Make sure to store your end product in glass as well and keep it out of direct sunlight. Use in washes, baths or as a cologne to lift your spirit. Bonne chance ~

Header: Notre Dame de Grasse, France c 15th century via Deities and Demons (see sidebar)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Bon Mardi Gras to one and all! The calendar is bringing the moveable feasts early this year and, shameless thing that I am, I started the day with a King Cake cupcake. It's never too early to celebrate, after all.

Valentine's Day, not being in any way moveable (not much of a metaphor for love when you think about it) is Thursday. And so today, the violet which is universally considered a bringer of love, friendship and harmony.

According to Scott Cunningham, the Ancient Greeks wore violets not only to diffuse anger but also to bring restful, restorative sleep. Old wives would weave violet flowers and stems into a kind of crown or chaplet that was then placed on the head of someone suffering from headache or dizziness. This treatment, along with a little rest, was thought to banish the problem within a day. Violet leaves were also applied to cuts and burns, and carried on the person in a green bag to keep the wound from festering. It was also said that picking the first violet one found as spring burst forth was a very lucky omen. One's most ardent wish would be fulfilled, the story goes, before the following spring.

In hoodoo, violets are used in workings for love and lust. The violet known in the southern U.S. as Johnny Jump-Up was mixed with High John the Conqueror and snake root chips, then carried by men to draw the sexual attention of a woman or women.

To bring a new love into their life, men and women alike would wear a violet leaf in their shoe for seven days. To boost the strength of the trick, three violet leaves are worn on consecutive weeks. The entire working then lasts twenty-one days and is thought to ensure a new love will follow one home.

Chewing violet to increase that new love's affection for you was also advised. Men who did not want to be "caught" shied away from a lady who might offer to wipe their face with her handkerchief. She may have spit into it after chewing violet, than let it dry. Rubbing the lover's skin with the hanky thereafter was thought to make them wild about you and, to some degree, "trap" them in the relationship.

When love goes wrong, as it does for all of us at some time, the violet can come to the rescue to ease the pain. Mix pansy flowers - which are a form of violet - with the buds of Balm of Gilead or rosemary (particularly for ladies). Steep this in hot water, drain and add to a nice warm bath. With luck, harmony will return to your life. This ritual is said to also soften the anger that often accompanies such episodes, and make one's frame of mind more open to reconciliation or at least friendship with the former lover.

Finally, growing a violet in the kitchen is said to draw prosperity and bring peace to the home. Ask an expert at the nursery; some violets are edible and they make an attractive addition to salads. Serve some to your lover on Valentine's Day and see what happens... Bonne chance et bon Mardi Gras ~

Header: The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Tolmouche via Two Nerdy History Girls because sometimes love just doesn't happen...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lundi: Recipes

Happy Lundi Gras! Tomorrow, of course, is Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday - one of the biggest holidays for anyone with ties to the Gulf Coast and especially for all of us Creoles. Eat, drink and be merry for Lent is just around the corner. And here's a recipe that lets you do all those things at once: bread pudding with whiskey sauce from Roy F. Guste, Jr's The 100 Greatest New Oleans Creole Recipes.

2 eggs
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
6 ounces stale french bread (about 1/2 of a 32 inch loaf)
1/3 cup bourbon whiskey

In a large mixing bowl mix the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and raisins. Break the bread into small pieces and add to this mixture. Fold all together and let it soak for a few minutes. Butter a loaf pan or baking dish. Pour the entire mixture into the buttered pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

The whiskey sauce: melt the butter and sugar together in a saucepan. Turn the heat off and add the bourbon. Mix thoroughly.

To serve, spoon the warm bread pudding onto plates and drizzle some of the whiskey sauce over the top.

Note that Monsieur Guste adds that any fruit of your choice can be added to the bread pudding before baking. I think "craisins" - those dried cranberries - are a nice substitute for raisins, of which I am not a fan. Be creative, have fun and bon appetite ~

Header: They Are Only Collecting the Usual Fans and Gloves by Charles Dana Gibson via American Gallery

Friday, February 8, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

The Mexican saint who is rejected by the Catholic Church and feared as a goddess of drug lords and sex traffickers is, in all fairness, vastly misunderstood by those outside the circle of her devoted followers. Santa Muerte, or Santisima Muerte, is the figure of saintly or sacred Death, and her cult is on the rise not just in Mexico.

It probably doesn't help her image that Santa Muerte is generally depicted much like the European figure of Death. As an example, she shares the dark robes and reaping scythe of the Breton Ankou. Her skeleton face and hands usually feature in her statues, pictures and prayer cards. Besides the scythe, Santa Muerte is often depicted holding the scales of judgment and accompanied by an owl. Her shrines, many of them incredibly elaborate like the one pictured above, can be found all over Mexico and the Mexico/U.S. boarder. Most are not readily bumped into by tourists, though. They are in out of the way places where her devotees can pray to their saint in peace.

While some stories of where Santa Muerte came from hark to her especial protection of women and children, giving her a back story as a jilted wife who killed her cheating husband, Santa Muerte's origins are probably far older. She appears to be firmly rooted in the soil of Mexico as an amalgam of both European folklore and pre-Columbian religion. Santa Muerte is generally thought to be the direct descendant of Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec goddess of the underworld. In her book Goddesses and Heroines, Patricia Monaghan describes the goddess as one who:

...ruled the nine rivers of the afterlife to which evil souls were condemned. There, however, they did not suffer torments or pain; instead, they led afterlives of boredom and monotony, while better souls enjoyed the colorful existence of heaven.

The underworld of Mictecacihuatl and her consort Mictlantecahtli resembled the Greek and Hebrew afterlife. It was a gray forever with nothing changing millennium after millennium.

Other sources claim the Mictecacihuatl and her husband were considered gateways to the ancestors through whom - if these dark gods were propitiated with blood sacrifice - the living could communicate with the dead. Thus it is believed that this goddess was the primary benefactor of what has become known as the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico. The modern Santa Muerte has the same connections as well, although her followers eschew any consideration of spilling blood in her name.

The devotion to Santa Muerte, which as I mentioned is on the rise, probably stems from the leveling nature of Death. We are all born to die. As more than one artist in more than one medium has reiterated: no one gets out of here alive. Thus it is thought that Santa Muerte hears the sincere prayer without prejudice. So she may bring back a wayward lover just as quickly as she might put up obstacles in the path of one of her devotee's enemies. Who is she to judge, after all? We will all come to her in time, prayers or no.

One of the most popular prayers to Santa Muerte links her to the Catholic Church, despite their desperate attempts to disown this other face of the Virgin Mary. The nine day novena to Santisima Muerte comes in many forms and one can adjust the wording to their needs. Find an excellent example of a novena to keep a man faithful here at Lucky Mojo as well as Cat Yronwode's amusing and fascinating tale of how she first met La Santisima.

Santa Muerte is not - necessarily - a particular guardian of those who do evil in our world. She is also not a spirit to be trifled with. Do your research before approaching La Santisima. That said, bonne chance ~

Header: Detail of an elaborate Santa Muerte shrine including a human skeleton from south of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico via Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

It seems that we often imagine the elite of past societies did not share our modern troubles, particularly when it comes to the ladies. The ingenious pair of earrings above, however, begs to differ. From Napoleonic Paris, probably around 1800, come these lovely ear-bobs designed to take a lady from day to night, and on the fly no less. The heavy grape clusters at the bottom, formed of gold filigree leaves and freshwater pearls, detach from the more demure roundels of gold and pearls at the top. Thus a lux Citoyenne, who may have an appointment with her dressmaker or an important social call in the afternoon, could be ready for a society supper or a trip to the theater in no time by simply retrieving the dangles of these earrings from her reticule and attaching them tout de suite. Day to night Empire-style never looked so good.

Header: Beautifully preserved French earrings c 1800 via A Harlot's Progress (with which I admit to currently being obsessed)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The ash tree is a long-standing staple in European folk healing, magick and Wicca. Some of those teachings have rubbed off on hoodoo as well although, as you can imagine, the rituals are a little different.

Ash trees are hearty, long-lived and usually found in cooler climates. Like birch, they're easy to find up here in my current home. It really is no wonder than that much of our current folklore about the ash and its uses comes to us from Teutonic and Celtic legend.

To the Vikings, an ash tree was the World Tree, Ygdrasill, from which Odin hung to obtain his knowledge of the sacred runes. Similarly in Celtic imagery the ash tree, drawn with roots and branches forming a sacred and continuous circle, represented the ongoing nature of the life/death cycle.

Staffs and wands of ash wood have been a staple in European magick for centuries. A branch of ash was hung over the cottage door to ward of the Evil Eye and other troubles. Staffs of ash wood were used in healing rituals, as were the trees leaves. Scott Cunningham notes that ash leaves were floated in a bowl of water which was placed next to one's bed at night. This was thought to catch and prevent illness from troubling the sleeper. In the morning, the water was thrown out and the ritual repeated the next night. Women also fashioned garters of the green bark to turn away the jealousy of other, perhaps witchy, women.

Ash leaves placed under one's pillow are thought to bring prophetic dreams. An equal-armed cross carved of ash wood and carried to sea was a popular sailor's charm to prevent death by drowning.

Burning an ash log at Yule is considered an excellent way to ensure prosperity in the coming year. The fresh leaves, carried near the skin, are thought to attract the love of the opposite sex.

Hoodoo also recommends ash leaves for love. Add a few, along with rose buds and dried lavender, to a pink flannel bag. Dress this with whiskey or Oil of Attraction and carry the mojo daily. It is said you will be irresistible to the opposite sex.

Ash is also used in hoodoo for protection while traveling, much as sailors of old once did. Write your name, or the name of a loved one about to travel, on brown paper in blue pen. Place this name-paper along with three ash leaves and a comfrey root in a yellow flannel bag. Carry this mojo, or make sure your loved one does, until returning home. Bonne chance ~

Header: Tree-Clouds-Sky via EcoInteractive on Twitter

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lundi: Recipes

Watching that horribly boring Super Bowl yesterday - no, it was never a "nail-biter"; I'm sorry but Kapernick is not a Super Bowl winning quarterback - I just focused on the New Orleans story line. It was so much fun to see so much of home, even if it was only on the TV. And when the lights went out, I laughed myself just about sick; the revenge of Saints fans everywhere.

Anyway, how could one not think about food when one is thinking about New Orleans? From beignets to etouffee, there is no better place to eat in the world. And speaking of etoufee, here is a delicious recipe from that master of old time Creole cooking, Leon E. Soniat, Jr.* This one comes with a little hint about chopping onions. If you want to avoid that horrible sting in your eyes, always use your sharpest knife and chill the onion in the frig for a bit before you chop it. This trick really does work; try it next time.

3 pounds raw shrimp, peeled, washed and deveined
1 pound crab meat
1 stick butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/2 bell pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons minced parsley
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco or to taste
Cooked rice

Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy pot such as a Dutch oven. Add onions, bell pepper and celery. Saute for five minutes and remove from heat. Add the garlic.

To one cup of stock add the cornstarch. Mix well and then add the mixture to the pot. Now you may need a little help. While stirring the pot continuously, add the wine, tomato paste, green onions, parsley and Worcestershire sauce. Add the shrimp, cover the pot partially and simmer ten minutes. Stir once or twice while it cooks. At about five minutes, stir in the other cup of stock and add some salt, pepper and Tabasco. Simmer another ten minutes while continuing to stir occasionally. Now add the crab meat and simmer another five to ten minutes to cook it through.

Serve over fluffy rice with some good bread to sop up whatever is left at the bottom of you bowl. Bon appetite ~

* recipe from La Bouche Creole II by Leon E. Soniat Jr. and June Soniat from Pelican Publishing c 1985

Header: Watching the Pot by Carl Emil Mucke via Old Paint

Friday, February 1, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In May of 2011 I put up this post regarding the so called demons Lamastu (or Lamashtu) and Pazuzu. Just as an aside, and in case you - like me - are a fan of the SyFy series "Face Off" the latter's name is pronounced PA-zoo-zoo; not pa-ZA-zoo which I imagine would make him some kind of jazz hands sporting, tap dancing demon.

Anyway, in that post I mentioned the Sumerian she-demon Ardat-Lili. This inscrutable character from folklore, who later morphed into not only the baby killer Lamastu but also informed the now famous Jewish monster Lilith, is one hard nut to crack. At least speaking in terms of research.

Unlike Lamastu, who as noted was the daughter of a god and therefore, at the very least, more akin to a demi-goddess than a demon, Ardat-Lili seems to have originated as a troubled spirit. According to the one sentence notation afforded her in Patricia Monaghan's book Goddesses and Heroines, Ardat-Lili was a storm demon not in Sumerian but in related Semitic tradition. Monaghan goes on to say:

... this ... demon caused nocturnal emissions, mounting sleeping men and capturing their ejaculations to form her demon children.

This form of Ardat-Lili is in contrast to the picture of her as "frustrated bride." In such role she is neither wife nor mother and, denied these most feminine of attributes, she seeks revenge for her bareness either on  women who are more fortunate that she or on men who represent those who have spurned her.

In their book Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, Jeremy Black and Anthony Green discuss this more ancient form of Ardat-Lili. In their entry, she is a member of a triumvirate of demons who prey on both women and men. Paraphrasing the doctors would be a bit silly, so here is the entry under "lilitu" in it's entirety (pg 118):

The male lili and the two females lilitu and ardat-lili are a sort of family group of demons. They are not gods. The lili haunts desert and open country and is especially dangerous to pregnant women and infants. The lilitu seems to be a female equivalent, while the ardat-lili (whose name means 'maiden lili') seems to have the character of a frustrated bride, incapable of normal sexual activity. As such, she compensates by aggressive behavior especially towards young men. The ardat-lili, who is often mentioned in magical texts, seems to have some affinities with the Jewish Lilith (e.g. Isaiah 34:14). 'She is not a wife, a mother; she has not known happiness, has not undressed in front of her husband, has no milk in her breasts.' She was believed to cause impotence in men and sterility in women.

A plaque thought possibly to depict her shows a scorpion-tailed  she-wolf about to devour a young girl.

Thus the evolution of one unsettled spirit into a frightening demon embodying frustration, malevolence and disappointment. How full of interesting characters the underworld, if it exists anywhere beyond our own minds, must be.

Header: Assyrian plaque of protection against Lamastu via Wikipedia (note that Lamastu, at the center bottom of the plaque, appears as a lion or wolf-headed woman; the creature holding the plaque, whose head appears at the top, is Pazuzu)