Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dimanche: Swimming

Sunday Swimmers at the municipal pool in Washington D.C. c July 1942 via A Harlot's Progress
I have so missed all y'all; my new job has a lot of demands... we shall see...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In the more florid days of anatomists and resurrectionists, people worried about their bodies being exhumed for medical research. Such horrors were only replaced in the Victorian mind when the likes of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein gave way to Bram Stoker's Dracula. A long interval of decades indeed and either way we're dealing with the resurrected dead, aren't we?

Today, for your enjoyment, a poem by Thomas Hood who died in 1845, fairly the height of the post Burke and Hare era of the late 1820s. The poem is told from the perspective of the ghost of a young woman who, dead before she could marry her dear William, returns to him one night to recount the ghastly dismemberment her corpse has suffered. Hood clearly has a wry sense of the issue as well as a dark sense of humor. One wonders what he might have to say about our current culture's zombie craze.

The arm that used to take your arm
Is took to Dr. Vyse
And both my legs are gone to walk
The Hospital at Guy's.

I vowed that you should have my hand,
But fate gives us denial;
You'll find it there at Dr. Bell's
In spirits and a phial.

I can't tell you where my head is gone
But Doctor Carpue can; 
As for my trunk, it's all packed up
To go by Pickford's van.

The cock it crows - I must be gone!
My William, we must part
But I'll be yours in death, altho'
Sir Astley has my heart.

Header: Pendumbra by Enjeong Noh via American Gallery

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jeudi: Weather-Wise

For centuries, the moon has been believed to prognosticate the weather. As it turns out, this is not an unreasonable supposition; sailors have looked to the moon for weather news with great success. Here then are a few weathery hints from the moon by land or by sea:

A yellow, dirty moon ~ heat
Big, white moon ~ cold
Silvery moon ~ fair
Red moon ~ wind
Pale, "watery" moon ~ rain
Rings around the moon, which appear like halos, are said to foretell storms. If the weather is warm, look for rain but if it is cold, snow is on the way. Old sailors say that the number of stars seen withing the halo tells the number of days before the storm hits.

Header: Cloud Study, Moonlight by Albert Bierstadt c 1860 via Old Paint

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Let's fast forward to flash back today with this 1950s magazine ad for lady's underwear. That's right, girls: "One record with 6 briefs. Choose record by Eddie Fisher, Elvis Presley or Perry Como." Looking back on it the choice is easy; you can't beat Elvis plus six panties for $3.97!

Thanks, as always, to the wonderful Mid-Century tumblr for this.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The herb known as fumitory or earth smoke is most commonly used in modern Wicca and hoodoo as a money-drawing incense. It has a long history, however, as an herbal cure as well.

Pliny the Younger mentions the herb in his writings where he says it is used in a decoction to treat irritations of the eye. According to Pliny, fumitory will cause the eyes to water profusely when applied which may be the origin of this use.

Old wives held that the plant grew not from seeds but from the "vapors of the earth," which may or may not be the origin of the plant's alternative name. The flowers and leaves were used in ointments to sooth skin irritations and rashes. A tea of fumitory was given to aid indigestion an cure constipation.

As an incense, the traditional use for fumitory was to drive out evil. The herb was used during exorcisms and added to the pyres upon which agents of the Devil would be immolated. In modern Wicca practice, the herb is still burned to avert the Evil Eye. Scott Cunningham also recommends the herb to increase prosperity; sprinkle dried fumitory around your home and rub it into your shoes once a week to bring quick cash.

Root workers use fumitory for money-drawing as well. The dried herb is added to Fast Luck incense to increase traffic to a business and to Money-Drawing incense to help with home finances. It can be burned alone for either purpose as well or brewed into a tea which is then sprinkled around home or business. Fumitory was also recommended to salesmen of old; placed in the shoes, it was thought to increase sales.

Finally, the seeds produced by the smokey-colored flowers were once added to a sweet syrup such as honey and given to colicky babies to help them sleep. Mothers of such infants were advised to take a spoonful as well to help them through the "sloth", as postpartum depression was once known. Bonne chance ~

Header: The Fat Woman by Aubrey Beardsley c 1894 via Old Paint

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dimanche: Swimming

Two Ladies at the Beach ~ photographer unknown c 1950s via A Harlot's Progress
Happy St. Patrick's Day to one and all!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

While enjoying a new book I received recently, The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love & Longing in the Ancient World by Vicki Leon - which I cannot recommend enough - I came across a nice little tidbit to round out the discussions of the last few Fridays. Evidently calling up the dark creatures of the underworld to inflame lust is a very ancient practice indeed.

In the chapter "Love Dilemmas & Lust at the Crossroads," Ms. Leon offers a few extant "love spells" that are intended either to draw in an unsuspecting individual or to do harm to a lost lover. In the case I've chosen today, Ms. Leon notes that a woman named Sophia had a mad lust for another woman, Gorgonia, and her remedy for satiation of that lust has survived into modern times.

Ms. Leon notes that an "elaborate erotic spell" was written down by Sophia, and quotes a portion of it in the book. As you'll note, the spell is full of netherworld imagery including reference to those untiring servants of fate, the Erinyes, and Cerberus, the three-headed bitch of Hades. I will use Ms. Leon's quote directly:

Fundament of the gloomy darkness, jagged-tooth dog, covered with coiling snakes, turning three heads, traveler in the recesses of the underworld, spirit-driver, with the Erinyes [the Furies] savage with their stinging whips, holy serpents, maenads, frightful maidens, come to my wroth incantations. Before I persuade by force this one and you, render him immediately a fire-breathing demon. Listen and do everything quickly, in no way opposing me in the performance of this action, for you are the governors of the earth. [Three lines of magical gibberish follow.] By means of the corpse-daemon inflame the heart, the liver, the spirit of Gorgonia, whom Nilogenia bore, with love and affection for Sophia, whom Isara bore. Constrain Gorgonia to cast herself into the bath-house for the sake of Sophia; and you, become a bath-room. Burn, set on fire, inflame her soul, heart, liver, spirit with love for Sophia.

That's powerful stuff and sounds very much like a modern love song with a twist. Sophia is mad with love for Gorgonia and will call up the demons of Hades to achieve her fantasy. One wonders what outcome may have materialized from so much psychic melodrama.

Header: A Greek Woman by Lawrence Alma-Tadema c 1869 via Wikimedia

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jeudi: Curios

Amber, as Scott Cunningham notes in his Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic, is quite possibly the oldest form of adornment in the world. The solidified sap of now extinct coniferous trees, amber ranges in color from a deep reddish-orange to sunny yellow. And, of course, there are sometimes little bugs and leaves permanently captured in the stones.

Amber has a myriad of magickal uses and is certainly the jewel of choice for Wiccans and particularly High Priests and Priestesses. Considered a source of energy, amber is believed to represent the so called fifth element or Akasha that binds the four visible elements - fire, air, earth and water - together. Thus wearing of amber, usually in silver settings, is thought to increase the power of the worker and the efficacy of his or her spellcraft.

Viking children were often given simple amber necklaces to protect their health. This habit is still common today in colder areas of the world where amber is most plentiful. In Siberia, Canada and here in Alaska, natives wear amber and ivory together to bring prosperity and turn away the evil eye.

Wearing amber has for centuries been thought to improve the wearer's looks. Cunningham notes the irony of this: during the Renaissance, women wore amber in order to gain weight while in our times it is worn to assist in healthy weight loss. The efficacy of both these approaches may be a little spurious, but I have found that wearing amber regularly does lift one's mood which in turn makes one more attractive.

If you feel you are under psychic attack, or perhaps just having a run of "bad luck," add a few amber beads to a warm bath, settle in and soak. Then wear or carry the beads with you until your next bath. Taking loose amber or wearing a piece of amber jewelry to a job or other interview will also increase you confidence and by turns your chances of landing that job.

A bit of powdered amber added to any incense is said to increase the intended purpose of same. In Ancient Sumer, Babylon and Phoenicia, amber dust was burned during labor to ensure a safe birthing for both mother and child.

When buying amber, be sure to do your research. Items labeled amber are sometimes nothing more than glass or resin. Know your dealer and choose wisely. Amber is not cheap by any means so you will want to purchase the best quality you can afford. I have found that the right piece of amber will often find you rather than you finding it. You may receive it as a gift, stumble upon it at a flea market or run across an ad in the paper or online. For instance, I found the amber ring I now wear regularly at a local art store that was reducing their inventory. I knew the store owner well and therefore had no concerns about quality. The real kicker was when the ring fit - which I did not at all expect given my unfortunate "man hands," to use a "Seinfeld" reference. Reduced price, trusted source and it slipped on perfectly; ring me up, if you'll pardon the pun. Bonne chance ~

Header: Amber pendants via Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

This gorgeous portrait, which I came across over at A Harlot's Progress, is of Gabrielle d'Estrees by Roman artist Lavinia Fontana. The portrait is most often dated 1599, which was the year then twenty eight year old Gabrielle died in April.

Gabrielle was the mistress of King Henri IV of France and her beauty was legendary. Her untimely death threw Henri into a funk that lasted the rest of his life. She is the subject of this scandalous and possibly posthumous double portrait, said to depict she (on the right) and her sister. In the painting, Gabrielle is holding Henri's coronation ring, which he gifted her in place of an engagement band.

Lavinia was born in Bologna but lived most of her life in Rome. She was famous in her own right, to some degree simply because of her gender. The Tudor Era on tumblr also attributes this stunning painting to Fontana.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The wives' tales of old, an ancient herbology that should never have been lost, are still alive thanks to some stubborn families and skilled researchers. One of the latter is Mary Chamberlain whose book Old Wives' Tales I cannot recommend enough. Here is what she gathered from 19th century England on the use of club moss for eye troubles:

Many incantations involved the use of numbers, often structured so that the numbers diminished... But the quaintness of the spells should not obscure their practical usage. For instance, elements of astrology were perceived as valuable symbols of healing. But more than that, the moon and sun directed not only the course of sickness but often the correct times for harvesting herbs for administering treatment. Club moss, for instance, was believed to be effective for all diseases of the eye, and had to be gathered on the third day of the moon when it was seen for the first time. The gatherer was directed to take the knife with which it was to be cut in the hand, show it to the moon and repeat:

As Christ healed the issue of blood
Do thou cut what thou cuttest for good.

Then, when the moon was setting, the gatherer had to wash the hands and cut the club moss while kneeling and wrap it in a white cloth. Afterwards it had to be boiled in water taken from a spring nearest to the place of growth and then the decoction could be used as a fermentation for the eyes. Or it could be made into an ointment after it had been mixed with butter made from the milk of a new cow.

Although the ritual appears both elaborate and heavily symbolic, it contained important principles. For the efficacy of many herbs does in fact lie in the correct time of harvest. The active principle in the herb may vary according to its freshness and time of gathering. Modern research has demonstrated, for instance, that the yield of morphine from the poppy gathered at nine o'clock in the morning is often four time the yield obtained twelve hours later.

And that once again goes to show that our ancestors, far from being superstitious morons, knew quite a bit more than modern technologies would make it appear.

Header: Woman in a Landscape by Walter Shirlaw via American Gallery

Friday, March 8, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

The slightly more creepy and definitely less written about sister of the incubus we discussed last week is, of course, the succubus. She is discussed in the largely Medieval literature as appearing to men in the guise of the most beautiful woman on earth. In fact, when the curtain is pulled back - or the exorcist has had his way - her true form materializes. She is either a grizzled hag in Satan's service or a corpse reanimated by the power of a demon.

According to Genevieve and Tom Morgan in their 1996 publication The Devil succubus means "to lie under" just as incubus means "to lie upon." One has to imagine that the reference is to the human attacked by the demon as succubi were said to straddle men in their sleep and ride them as if they were horses. The poor man would wake up, sweaty and exhausted, only to have to return to his bed and similar treatment the next night. Some authorities postulate that this is the origin of our modern "nightmare" but there is much to debate there.

In general, succubi are and were considered by demonologists to be the daughters of the first wife of Adam: Lilith. These bad girls, sometimes known as lilin, were difficult to exorcise but seemingly not quite as difficult as those nasty incubi for reasons we will discuss in a minute.

The succubi, hag or corpse, were intent on stealing the seed of human men and using it for nepharious, demonic intents. In fact, Francis Barrett, writing in his Celestial Intelligencer in 1801, posits the following origin of succubi:

... the nymphs of the wood were preferred before the others in beauty... and at length [they] began wedlocks with men, feigning that, by these copulations, they should obtain an immortal soul for them and their offspring.

In Barrett's supposition, the dryads of Greek mythology were nothing more than lovely demons who, in mating with mortal men hoped to gain everlasting life by almost literally sucking the soul from them.

Barrett's latter-day ideology aside, it probably comes as no surprise that monks and priests were favorite targets of these wood nymphs com demons. Hermits were particularly juicy prey and Saints Anthony, Hilary and Hippolytus all wrote of their encounters with the gorgeous flesh of tempting succubi. While Anthony and Hippolytus speak only of one succubus at a time, Hilary notes that he often found himself "encircled by naked women. Hippolytus' tormenter, when cloaked in the saint's chasuble, collapsed to the floor as old bones. In later writings, church fathers such as St. Augustine and St. Jerome wagged their fingers at hermits who welcomed the attentions of their demonic lovers. Augustine even mentions one monk who was so consumed with his succubus that he literally died of exhaustion due to his near perpetual fornication with her. Or it.

The overall tone of these writings, however, was that men were far more steadfast at rejecting the attention of succubi than women were with incubi. This was thought to be true to such a degree that St. Jerome claimed authoritatively that incubi outnumbered succubi 9 to 1. Quite a margin if you think about it.

Header: The Temptation of St. Anthony by Alexandre Louis Leloir via 1st Art Gallery

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Jeudi: Root Work

We've talked about gypsy spellcraft before here at HQ. Many gypsy magicks very much resemble those of hoodoo root workers. One of the common themes in both is the use of Christian and particularly Catholic iconography and verbiage. Both the gypsy culture and the cultures that created hoodoo held the Christian religion in awe at one time. It was the religion of those who lived at ease in fine houses and fancy clothes and everyone knows that the gods who grant such things must be powerful indeed.

Today's working, a gypsy talisman to prevent toothache, makes full use of Christian imagery to get its job done. My grandmother explained a variation of this spell, giving me only the "prayer" to say nightly. In his wonderful Book of Spells from 1971, Marc de Pascale gives the entire working as well as a story behind its origin which goes like this:

St. Peter was said to be sitting on a stone when Christ walked by. Christ asked Peter why her looked so unhappy and Peter answered, 'Lord, my teeth pain me'. Christ then ordered that the 'worm' in Peter's tooth should come forth and never return. The pain immediately ceased and Peter said, 'I pray you, O Lord, that when these words be written out and a man carries them he shall have no toothache'. The Lord answered, 'Tis well, Peter; so may it be.'

And here is the working per Mr. de Pascale:

You will need a piece of cloth - and kind and color but cotton works best - about 10" by 3" and a pen

Now write the following prayer on the material:

Peter is sitting on a marble stone,
And Jesus passed by.
Peter said "My Lord, my God,
How my tooth doth ache!"
Jesus said, "Peter art thou whole!
And whosoever keeps these words for my sake
Shall never have the toothache."

The cloth should then be carried on your person - as Mr. de Pascale says, until "you are fitted with full dentures". Bonne chance ~

Header: The Liberation of Saint Peter by Gerard van Honthorst c 1617 via Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

I'm dating myself here but anyone who remembers the campy old "Batman" TV show will remember one of the two original Catwomen - the other being Ertha Kitt - Julie Newmar. When I was in 2nd grade all I wanted for Christmas was one of those sparkly bodysuits. I got a bathrobe.

Anyway, for a double dose of beauty and style, click over to the ever-wonderful Mid-Century Modern Freak on Tumblr to see some stunning shots of Ms. Newmar in an awesome mid-century interior. Meow!

Header: Julie Newmar c 1958 via Mid-Century Modern Freak ~ love that wry smile

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Today's herb, moonwort, can be a little confusing particularly if one is considering planting some in the garden. Two separate plants are called moonwort and, as this nice description at Alchemy Works points out, one is a variety of fern and quite difficult to grow particularly from seed. The other, and the one that is generally used in Wiccan love spells, is called Lunaria annua and is a member of the broccoli family. It grows large, silvery seed pods that have been used in various alchemical and old wives' concoctions since Medieval times in Europe.

The nearly transparent seed pods were once placed in purses and money chests to encourage an increase in wealth. Alchemists believed that the moonwort would actually spontaneously produce silver if left alone in such places. As a pocket piece, the seed pod is probably no less beneficial for increasing cash than any other herb/curio used with intention for the same purpose.

The sweet smelling leaves are dried and added to love sachets. They can also be sprinkled into a bath or simmered into a tea to add to same to make an individual more attractive to a potential love interest. Likewise, wearing the lovely violet-colored flowers is said to draw love. Having a lover hold one of the seed pods is said to encourage their honesty should they be less than faithful, so to say.

The fern known as moonwort was thought to magickally open locks and was thus a favorite of thieves and embezzlers. A fresh sprig from the plant was simply inserted into the lock and the rest was easy pickin's, so to say. The fern was also thought to remove shoes, from both horses and people. Blacksmiths and farriers were advised to carry the plant with them and simply have a horse with a stubborn shoe step over it for instant results. This believe was so persistent that colonists from Europe brought the fern and its folk name with them to the New World where it was largely known as "Unshoe-Horse".

The Lunaria annua is said to be easy to grow and Alchemy Works offers the plant's seeds for sale as well as a wide variety of other magickal herbs. Bonne chance ~

Header: The Love Potion by Evelyn de Morgan c 1903 via Wikipedia

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lundi: Recipes

Today, another curious recipe from The White House Cookbook, which I mentioned earlier this year. This one is for a dessert called Lemon Toast. I haven't tried it yet but it sounds delightful and lemons - perhaps because of my location - always remind me of spring.

This dessert can be made very conveniently without much preparation.

Take the yolks of six eggs, beat them well and add three cupfuls of sweet milk; take baker's bread, not too stale, and cut into slices; dip them into the milk and eggs and lay the slices into a spider, with sufficient melted butter, hot, to fry a delicate brown. Take the whites of the six eggs and beat them to a froth, adding a large cupful of white sugar; add the juice of two lemons, heating well and adding two cupfuls of boiling water. Serve over the toast as a sauce an you will find it a very delicious dish.

It does sound delicious and, I imagine, the home cook could simply fry the bread in a pan rather than utilizing a "spider" with which I am unfamiliar. Bon appetite ~

Header: Bodegon by Benjamin Palencia c 1924 via Old Paint

Friday, March 1, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

The cousin or, perhaps more correctly evil step-brother, of the dream lover that we talked about last Friday is the incubus. Known of old as a demon to be feared and especially battled against, the incubus was envisioned as a sometimes handsome but in true form grotesque creature who either raped women or enticed them into sexual liaisons in the very dead of night. This demon is generally thought of in our modern, scientific world as a result of psychiatric disease brought on by the overly repressed cultures of Medieval Europe and Puritanical New England, to name two. In fact, the incubus may be a much older presence than a passing glance would have us believe.

Certain scholars, including those who study such diverse histories as Hebrew beliefs and Arthurian legends, access that the original incubus may have been one of that famous trio of Sumerian demons that included the previously discusses Ardat-Lili. The lili, a male demon, was said to trouble women's sleep, bring them erotic dreams and, in some cases, sire children of a changeling nature upon them. This would make the lili/human hybrid at least somewhat akin to a fairy child.

Fast forward to those days of Medieval tension and the stories of incubi accosting women - particularly innocent maidens and sequestered Brides of Christ - abound. In this period, incubi were said to be clever shapeshifters who could take on the appearance of anyone their chosen female prey might be attracted to. Demons, having no particular corporeal restraints, could pass as smoke or mist under a door or through the cracks in a wooden or stone wall and materialize on the other side. No woman, it seemed, was safe; but the incubi had their favorites.

Nuns were a decidedly popular conquest and, in the reverse, incubi were usually blamed for any convent indiscretions. Until well into the Gothic period, the accusation that an incubus, and not a human man, had gotten a nun pregnant was taken almost for granted.

When one Archbishop Sylvanus, who was the particular confessor of a large convent of Dominican nuns in what is now Bavaria, was accused of sexual assault by one of the good sisters - a particularly young and pretty good sister it is said - he simply turned up his silk-gloved hands. It could not be me, he protested; I would never break my vow of chastity. Surely Sister so-and-so (needless to say her name does not appear in the record) was visited by an incubus who had taken my form. What other explanation could their be? The 15th century inquisitors before whom Sylvanus appeared nodded thoughtful and then agreed with him. Case closed.

Telling an honest (or dishonest, in the case of the aforementioned Bishop) man from an incubus was surprisingly simple. When the list is ticked off, in fact, it is a little surprising that these demons troubled themselves with a disguise. The incubus had an unholy odor, either of sulfur, the barnyard or the rotting corpse that he had picked up as a skin. He had the power to paralyze anyone near his chosen victim, putting them into a trance-like sleep so that, even if the person in question lay right next to the woman, they would not be disturbed from their slumber. Worst of all, the incubus - regardless of what form he took - was said to be endowed with a huge, ice-cold member that was sometimes reported to be two or even three-pronged.

Anomolies of birth were often whispered to have been the result of rutting with an incubus. Woe to the woman who gave birth to an unfortunately harelipped, club-footed or otherwise "different" child; twins or children with red hair were also said to be the sons or daughters of incubi. The wizard Merlin is told to have been such a one and even in the Romantic era certain unkind types talked of George Gordon Byron, who had a club-foot, being the son of an incubus.

With all this, there were some ladies who willingly welcomed the incubus as a steady lover. Franciscan Ludovico Sinistrari, operating in the late 17th century and author of Demoniality, became somewhat of an expert on incubi and ways to exorcise them from the lives of such deluded women. He noted that these demons were particularly difficult to clear out as they "have no dread of exorcisms, show no reverence for holy things [and]... sometimes even laugh at exorcists." He goes on to give the example of a wife and mother so infatuated with her demon lover that she hardly blinked when, in retaliation to Sinistrari's exorcism attempts, the incubus built a wall of roofing tiles around her bed so tall that she needed a ladder to climb in and out.

A troublesome situation indeed... Next Friday, the yang to the the incubus' ying: the succubus.

Header: Incubus by Charles Walker c 1870 via Wikipedia