Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jeudi: Root Work

I have been asked on occasion whether or not the workings of root workers down through the ages are based on anything besides "mumbo-jumbo" and "oogie-googie myths." It's a fair question, really, and not a surprising one in our current anti-religious political climate. Does bayberry really draw wealth? Will rosemary water in your floor wash truly bring peace to your home? Can a white candle help one achieve healing? The questions go on and on.

There is a deeper issue at stake, of course, and that is the issue of belief. If you believe - truly believe - in the efficacy of anything, you will perceive that it has helped you. Changing your mindset is the most important part of any magickal system. On the other hand, much of root work is based on very old and, unfortunately, frequently forgotten knowledge of healing herbs, minerals and other natural formulas. Rosemary water brings peace and piece of mind to a household because its scent soothes the anxiety receptors in the brain. This has been proven by clinical research and so have a hundred other little notes in the ongoing hymn that is magick.

Another point in this discussion is the long standing use of so called "personal concerns" in root work and hoodoo. The use of bodily effluvia and things that have come in contact with same is an established tradition in these magickal disciplines. Everything from simple strands of hair to very private secretions such as menstrual blood are used. It makes sense to think that the getting of someone else's very personal items - underwear, hair, foot tracks, photographs - would allow one to have control over that person and these types of workings are certainly older than hoodoo.

One of the most effective of the "personal concerns" tricks - and one that is a clear illustration of root work being very plausible - involves keeping your dog from straying away.

Everyone knows I'm a sucker for rescuing dogs. But sometimes the dog you bring home is still pining for his or her old environment - no matter how abusive it may have been. This was certainly the case with our Saint Thor who, for a few weeks after we took him in, would find any excuse to run away looking, one has to imagine, for where he used to live. It was quite distressing, but root work gave me two options for a simple solution.

The first - and depending on your sensibilities least troublesome - is to make sure that something you have worn is spread out in the dog's chosen sleeping area(s). An old, unwashed t-shirt is the very best option. Many dogs will become very fond of sleeping on your clothes but be warned: one of the Shar-Peis we had in California took to clothing so well that he would pilfer items out of the hamper. I'm sure you can imagine the ones old Magic liked the best...

The second is an even older trick that goes back to the days when people would occasionally "borrow" good hunting and/or guard dogs from one another. For this working you'll need to go without showering and deodorant for a day. Once your body's scent has returned after its almost permanent cultural sterilization, rub a few pieces of bread under your armpits and mix them with your dog's food. This need not be repeated unless you have a particularly stubborn free spirit, then you can work the trick as often as you like. A little sweat on his bread isn't going to trouble your dog.

Both of these workings have a sound explanation for their efficacy. Dogs, like their wolf ancestors, live by their noses. Scent creates pack bonds and humans have become a dog's pack. As your new best friend becomes familiar with your scent he also becomes comfortable with being part of your pack. It's the simple use of the animal's nature to make you both happy together.

And that is the best outcome of all, no matter how you slice it.

Header: Man's Best Friend by Repin via Wikimedia

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Another glorious French fashion plate from the early 19th century (probably around 1807) today. The ladies on the left, who are overlooking a menu, have joined their - I have to say it - more elegant friend for ices. The problem is that the two cannot seem to make up their mind. The waiter is clearly trying to help, or make some time, but both seem utterly stumped. It's the Directoire version of going to Baskin-Robbins without a flavor in mind.

Header: L'Embarras du Choix (the embarrassment of choice) from Le Bon Genre No. 44 via A Harlot's Progress

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The pepper tree, also known as the California pepper tree and Jesuit's Balsam, has a long history of use for healing and purification. This is true in Central America but particularly in Mexico and among Mexican-Americans.

In traditional Mexican medicine, some of which was handed down from Mayan and Aztec traditions, healers known as curanderos or curanderas use branches of the pepper tree in ritual healing. A sick person is brushed, starting at the head and working down to the feet, with the branches, which are believed to absorb the malady. The branches are then buried, or in some traditions burned, to destroy the sickness.

These rituals might involve other herbs as well, including cilantro, rue and/or rosemary. Curanderos may also use Catholic symbols and instruments, including crucifixes, statues of saints, candles and holy water. Much like hoodoo, which calls on both pagan and Christian articles and gestures, the traditions from Mexico and other places in the Americas mix their metaphors, so to speak.

The leaves of the pepper tree are used in purifying baths as well. Rumor has it that brujas, Mexican witches, cleanse themselves in water steeped with pepper tree leaves after performing jinxes.

I lived in Southern California through high school, college and into my adult work life and I've met more than one person who would advise me to carry the red, waxy berries of the pepper tree to protect me from crossed conditions. Anything that helps during a bumpy patch can't be bad and, given how easy it is to trip over a pepper tree in Cali, getting the berries was no trouble at all. Bonne chance ~

Header: An illustration from the 16th century Florentine Codex showing a Nahua healer treating smallpox patients via Wikipedia (read some of the accompanying text here)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Lundi: Recipes

Over Yuletide I had the great good fortune to receive a time machine in book form. The door stop of a book, entitled The White House Cookbook, was originally published in 1887. The authors, Hugo Ziemann and Mrs. F. L. Gillette, both cooked at the White House and the book is full to bursting with curious recipes written in old-timey paragraph form with rarely a measure in sight.

One thing that did catch my eye right away was the recipes - there are twelve of them - for catsup (or ketchup if you're my husband.) Catsup was and is a curiously American condiment that was originally made by ladies at home. It was a wonderful way to store and use tomatoes but the cookbook includes recipes for such curious variations as oyster and gooseberry. One wonders how those might turn out. I'll focus, though, on the traditional recipe for tomato catsup which, in all fairness, may be a timely thing to have handy given that Super Bowl is coming up this Sunday. Here is Mrs. Gillette's homey recipe:

Put into two quarts of tomato pulp (or two cans of canned tomatoes) one onion, cut fine, two tablespoonfuls of salt and tree tablespoonfuls of brown sugar. Boil until quite thick; then take from the fire and strain it through a sieve, working it until it is all through but the seeds. Put it back on the stove, and add tow tablespoonfuls of mustard, one of allspice, one of black pepper and one of cinnamon, one teaspoonful of ground cloves, half a teaspoonful of cayenne pepper, one grated nutmeg, one pint of good vinegar; boil it until it will just run from the mouth of a bottle. It should be watched, stirred often, that it does not burn. If sealed tight while hot, in large-mouthed bottles, it will keep good for years.

Now doesn't that sound delicious? It would certainly be more flavorful than the stuff one gets in squeeze bottles at the modern market. But it is a deal of work and surely not a task for a hot day. Since it is 0 degrees on my front porch, perhaps I should foray into catsup making this afternoon.

More from The White House Cookbook another time. Until then, you can find it online here.

Header: Family dining room at the White House c 1900 via The White House Museum website

Friday, January 25, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife
At midnight drain the stream of life...
Wet with thine own best blood shall drip
Thy gnashing tooth and haggard lip;
Then stalking to thy sullen grave
Go - and with the ghouls and afreets rave,
Till these in horror shrink away
From spectre more accursed than they!

~ from "The Giaour" by George Gordon Lord Byron, first published in The Unbeliever, London, 1813

Header: A ring with a quote from this poem from Mostly Making Memories on Etsy

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Today, a picture far more powerful than any written word. "A Sea Coast Promenade Fashion" from about 1812. Probably a British fashion print. Oh to be by the sea in that lovely ensemble. Thanks to A Harlot's Progress for the original posting.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

We're having a troublesome day here at chez Pauline. It is time to say good-bye to our very old and very sick Saint Bernard, Thor. The wait for the vet appointment at 11:30 Alaska time is like slow torture. How fortunate we are, though, to be able to stop the animal's pain and see an old friend off to a better place.

My thoughts turn to something that will help bring peace and piece of mind to me and my family as we say adieu to one of our own. I'm wishing I had a few bachelor buttons, those pretty blue blooms also known as corn flowers, to help me do the trick.

In Wicca, corn flowers are used to draw and/or prognosticate about love. Women should wear them on the lapel as a corsage to attract affection. Scott Cunningham advises that men should carry a flower in their pocket. The freshness or wilting of the flower at the end of the day is said to predict future success - or lack thereof - in love.

In hoodoo, the flowers are steeped in water along with other blue or bluish-purple blooms like periwinkle and forget-me-not. Rosemary, which is very affective at improving one's mood, is often added as well. The water is strained and used to sprinkle in the corners of the home to bring peace to those who live there, people and animals alike. You can add some of the water to your floor wash to achieve the same end.

Dried corn flowers are also sprinkled into the corners of a room where a fight has occurred. This is said to restore harmony to the environment as well as relax the tensions of those who are at odds.

As an aside, the forget-me-not, which happens to be Alaska's state flower, is said to bring peace and prosperity to a home when grown in the kitchen. I have a big yellow pot with a thriving forget-me-not in our kitchen. With luck, it will help us through this difficult process. Bonne chance ~

Header: Letters by Annie Stegg via American Gallery

Friday, January 18, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

We have discussed Inanna, one of the most influential divinities of the Sumerians who took it upon herself to raid the underworld realm of her sister, Ereshkigal. The underworld queen, in her turn, exacted a terrible price for Inanna's presumption. Worshiped for at least a millennium in one form or another, Inanna has become a symbol of the goddess energy in all human beings for a new age of pagans.

In her wonderful book of the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna's poems Inanna: Lady of Largest Heart, Jungian psychoanalyst Betty De Shong Meador makes some very insightful - and, as it turns out, surprisingly timely - comments on the vast chasm that has grown between human perception of the origins of evil in the days of Inanna's worship and now. Meador's comments on the out-sourcing of evil under the modern "big three" religions should read as an indictment of our willingness to follow unthinkingly along the path of least resistance. Instead - and to her credit - Meador's writing is thoughtful, and thought provoking, and very much worth sharing.

Enheduanna's poetry can be seen as a reassertion of the religion of "the old, old gods." Her Inanna combats any attempt to call into question the primacy of nature as the body of the goddess. In the poem "Inanna and Ebih" this conflict is explicit. An Edenic paradise on the slopes of the mountain Ebih threatens to defeat Inanna. The god of heaven, An, Inanna's great supporter, bends toward Ebih's unnatural, idealized, conflict-free world. An's seduction by Ebih anticipates Yahweh's persuasion of Adam and Eve that his garden paradise could be theirs for the price of their obedience. This garden is not the nature Inanna rules at all...

At the beginning of a new millennium, humanity still suffers as a result of the separation of spirit from matter that took place in antiquity. Yahweh's split and Greek-influenced Christianity's additions to the separation of good and evil provide divine sanction for the dark/light oppositional mentality that pervades our psychology. Dominant monotheistic religions effectively taught generations that evil is outside ourselves, with Satan over there, in others. We learned to deny our own potential for evil.

In Enheduanna's time, the evil was within us all and each individual was obliged to keep that portion of him or herself in check for the good not only of his own psyche but of the civilization around him. Now the chthonian, the dark, the evil is out there somewhere else and therefor our responsibility is absolved. Or is it?

Do read Enheduanna's poems, and Meador's book, if you have a chance. You won't be disappointed.

Header: Cover of the 2000 publication of Inanna: Lady of Largest Heart from University of Texas, Austin; find the old fashioned book version here

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jeudi: Great Spirits

In Voudon, the lwa who rule the ocean are the one known as the Admiral, Agwe, and his powerful consort, La Siren (or Lasiren). Both lwa belong to the Congo nachon (although La Siren does have a Petwo aspect known as La Balen - the whale) and are therefor generally consider approachable, especially for those new to honoring the spirits of Voudon.

Agwe is envisioned as a broad shouldered naval commander. He is usually given the racial designation of mulatto and his eyes are invariably spoken of as green. His area of rule is the oceans and seas of the world and he is charged with looking after people at sea, ships and all those who make a living from the ocean. Agwe is syncratized with the Catholic St. Ulrich, who is often depicted holding a fish, and his altars are decorated not only with statues or pictures of the saint but also with boats, paddles or rudders and images of fish. Agwe, though slow to anger, can be responsible for terrible storms that sweep in from the ocean if he is not acknowledged with offerings now and again.

La Siren is always depicted as a mermaid. She is envisioned as very light skinned with blond hair and a beautiful, sparkling fish's tail. Her realm is the ocean depths where she has a magnificent home. Her favorite pastime is playing music or beautifying herself with the fruits of the sea. She is thought to be rich, her home and person decorated with silver, jewels and especially pearls. In her generous aspect, she is the teacher of priestesses. Some mambos claim to have met La Siren in dreams. While they sleep, they descend to the mermaid's magnificent palace below wave and she generously teaches them all the wisdom of ritual, healing and magick.

In her alternative aspect, as the giant black whale La Balen, La Siren is not so benign. Like her consort Agwe she can stir up storms. She can also punish individuals who have displeased her by luring them into the ocean with her haunting song. The unfortunate miscreant only comes out of his or her trance once they are too far out to sea to be saved. There, they drown in the salty water. This aspect of La Siren is also the one she uses to show her displeasure toward Agwe who is continuously unfaithful to her with her sister, the irresistible lwa of love and pleasure, Erzulie Freda.

La Siren is represented by Stella Maris, Our Lady of the Ocean, and in some cases St. Martha. Her altars are strewn with the offerings she loves: pearls, perfume, mirrors, combs, sea shells, champagne and sweet cookies with blue or white frosting.

The largest ritual performed in coastal communities in Haiti to honor the lwa of the sea is often referred to as the Barque of Agwe. A raft is especially made for the occasion and covered in blue and white cloth. Then it is laden with the foods and beverages that the lwa favor and towed out to sea with all ceremony, drums beating and songs to the lwa being sung. The barque, full of very precious items in a country as under served as Haiti, is then left to float as far out to sea as it may in hopes that the Admiral and his beautiful mermaid will bring good fishing, fair weather and - in this day and age - big cruise ships full of wealthy tourists.

These two are my personal lwa, and I invariably dress in blue or blue-green on their special day: Thursday. It surprises no one who knows me that the lwa of the ocean have claimed me. Destiny, after all, will out...

Header: The Mermaid by Howard Pyle via Wikimedia

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Bayberry chips, which are rather like wood chips that one might find in a garden, are a wonderful little bit of magick to have around this time of year. Most of us spend too much at the Holidays - a tradition that, contrary to what many an anti-consumerism advocate would have us believe, has been firmly in place since Roman times when people went broke giving gifts at Saturnalia. I personally don't think this is a "bad" thing; when was making others happy labeled "bad"? But, we do need to pay the bills and refilling the coffers in January is not a bad thing to concentrate on, either.

So go get some bayberry chips (easily found at any herbalist) and try one - or all - of these old hoodoo tricks for getting back at least some of what you've paid out.

Keep a few bayberry chips in the place that you keep your paper money and coins. I've mentioned that I have an envelope that I stuff the stray dollar or five dollar bill into for safe keeping until the next time one of the kids "needs money" at six thirty in the morning. There are bayberry chips in the envelope and I occasionally add a little cinnamon for good measure. Though not full to bursting by any means, that envelope is never empty.

Dress a green candle with olive oil or, if you have it, Money Drawing Oil or Oil of Success. Put the candle in a sturdy holder and put bayberry chips in a circle around the holder. Visualize your need - a job, a raise, a good tax return or investment - and light the candle. Allow it to burn down and out with the confidence that fortune will come your way.

In a green flannel bag, place six bayberry chips, a cinnamon stick, a whole nutmeg, a sprinkling of thyme and a piece of pyrite (fool's gold) or a silver dime. Tie up the bag with yellow or gold thread and say the 23rd Psalm or recite out loud your need to good fortune/luck/prosperity. Feed the mojo frequently with whiskey or Money Drawing Oil and carry it with you.

As a final note, bayberry candles were originally made from wax from the plant - which is also known as the myrtle candleberry - and were burned to draw success and good fortune to the home. Modern bayberry candles by and large are only scented with synthetic fragrance and have, therefore, lost their innate power to draw luck. These candle should be dressed before burning when being used in magick, just like any other store-bought candle. Bonne chance ~

Header: Illustration by Coby Whitman via Mid-Century

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

On January 11, 1696, a group of the jurors who sat on the Salem witch trials four years earlier signed a "Confession of Error" meant to relieve those tried and executed of the taint of witchcraft. Curiously these jurors, trying so hard to wipe the blood of innocent men and women from their hands, turned around and blamed Satan. Again.

We whose names are under written, being in the year 1692 called to serve as jurors in Court at Salem, on trial of many who were by some suspected guilty of doing acts of witchcraft upon the bodies of sundry persons, We confess that we ourselves were not capable to understand, nor able to withstand the mysterious delusions of the Powers of Darkness and prince of Air *; bu t were, for want of knowledge in ourselves and better information from others prevailed with to take up such evidence against the accused as on further consideration and better information we justly fear was insufficient for the touching ** of lives of any.

Whereby we fear we have been instrumental with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon ourselves and this people of the Lord the guilt of innocent blood... We do therefore hereby signify to all in general, and to the surviving sufferers in especial, our deep sense of, and sorrow for our errors in acting on such evidence to condemnation of any person. And we do hereby declare that we justly fear that we were sadly deluded and mistaken, for which we are much disquieted and distressed in our minds, and do humbly beg forgiveness, first of God for Christ's sake for this error...

* Satan
** some scholars translate this word as taking, although that opinion of etymology remains in question

You can read the Confession of Error in its entirety here

Header: Arresting a Witch by Howard Pyle from Harper's volume 67 1883 via Wikimedia

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Our stay in New Orleans was not long enough to permit our entering into society, but I was told that it contained two distinct sets of people, both celebrated, in their way, for their social meetings and elegant entertainments.

The first of these is composed of Creole families, who are chiefly planters and merchants, with their wives and daughters; these meet together, eat together, and are very grand and aristocratic; each of their balls is a little Almack's, and every portly dame of the set is as exclusive in her principles as a lady patroness.

The other set consists of the excluded but amiable Quadroons, and such of the gentlemen of the former class as can by any means escape from the high places, where pure Creole blood swells the veins at the bare mention of any being tainted in the remotest degree with the Negro stain.

Of all the prejudices I have ever witnessed, this appears to me the most violent, and the most inveterate. Quadroon girls, the acknowledged daughters of wealthy American and Creole fathers, educated with all of style and accomplishments which money can procure at New Orleans, and with all the decorum that care and affection can give; exquisitely beautiful, graceful, gentle, and amiable. These are not admitted, nay, are not on any terms admissible, into the society of the Creole families of Louisiana.

They cannot marry, that is to say, no ceremony can render an union with them legal or binding; yet such is the powerful effect of their very peculiar grace, beauty, and sweetness of manner, that unfortunately they perpetually become the objects of choice and affection. If the Creole ladies have privilege to exercise the awful power of repulsion, the gentle Quadroon has the sweet but dangerous vengeance of possessing that of attraction. 

The unions formed with this unfortunate race are said to be often lasting and happy, as far as any unions can be so, to which a certain degree of disgrace is attached.

~ from Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances Trollope

Mrs. Trollope was an Englishwoman who traveled through the U.S. from 1827 to 1831. Her book is full of dislike for Americans and, as this passage shows, certain misunderstandings - and surprising insights - of and into the customs she encountered.

Header: Frances Trollope by Auguste Hervieu c 1832 via Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mardi: Yet More Meta...

And so I was, for the first time in my life, officially diagnosed with influenza yesterday. I'm on medication now but still feverish and a little loopy. Putting up a real post would be hard to do - and hard for you all to read. I hope to be up and running again later this week. My apologies for the necessary if unexpected break.

Header: The Inexperienced Babysitter by an unknown French artist c 1860s via Old Paint

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mardi: Happy New Year!

HQ wishes you and yours a happy, healthy 2013 with plenty of excuses to party and magick all around.

Header: Dancers at the Bon Temps Carnival Ball in New Orleans c 1953 via A Harlot's Progress