Hecate

Hecate

How did the Greek goddess, who once blessed Athenian homes, change from being the protective “Mother of Angels”  into Shakespeare’s grand witch, the medieval “Queen of Ghosts”?

Hecate was a pre-Olympian earth spirit and the counterpart of the Roman Goddess Trivia.  Her name suggests “The Distant One,”  because she was a liminal deity who stood at the threshold of other worlds.  For this reason she was often depicted at the crossroads holding torches (to light the way), keys (to open doors), or accompanied by daggers and serpents (to protect the entrance).  Legends claims that Hecate embraced solitude.  And like the moon she came and went through the nighttime, appearing and disappearing at will.

According to Hesiod, Hecate was the only child of Perses and Asteria.  She was a virgin who remained unmarried, kept safe under the protection of Zeus.  Aeschylus described her as a great goddess who ruled over the earth, sea, and sky.  She was responsible for storms, yet she also looked after women in childbirth.  Some mythologies present Hecate as a triple goddess with three heads who could see in all directions.  Her wisdom extended into the past, present, and future – and also into the mystical realms of the sleeping and the dead.  In this way Hecate became associated with those who live on the margins of society, and those who wander in the spectral space between life and death.

Hecate’s reputation started declining when Sophocles and Euripides made her the mistress of magic.  Thereafter, she was aligned with ghosts and herbal lore – perhaps as the result of helping Demeter in her search for Persephone in Hades.

But on the cusp of the Dark Ages, Christian Romans began persecuting pagans, demolishing temples and statues, and destroying all symbols of female power, intellect, and influence.  Hecate suffered in this purge and was turned from a goddess into a witch.  From that time on she was cast as the “she-dog” or “bitch,” and was portrayed with either a polecat or canine familiar spirit, a sign that she was in league with demons.  Her herbal lore focused on poisons and she became associated with garlic, yew leaves, and cypress trees – common symbols of death and the underworld.  And then she began demanding blood.

Shakespeare put Hecate in command of the three Weird Sisters from Macbeth.   This cemented her popular medieval image as the evil sorceress famed for human sacrifice, who gave birth to Medea and Circe.  And that was where she remained – far removed from the “Mother of Angels.”

But modern Wiccans have reclaimed this goddess as a symbol of female emancipation.  Hecate is now called upon for wisdom, protection, power, prophecy, and guidance in the world beyond.

And so, ironically, it appears that the Bard’s words have finally come true:

“Witchcraft celebrates Pale Hecate’s offerings” (Macbeth 2:1).

 

Picture: Campamento Mestizo

Olde English Oat Cakes

Oat Cakes have long been a favorite cracker in the North of England and Scotland.  They are delicious served buttered, with cheese and Branston Pickle, or with chutney.  For a sweeter treat try them with berry compote, jelly, or jam!

Oatcakes

Ingredients

4oz rolled oats

1 tablespoon rolled oats

4oz whole wheat flour

4oz unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

2oz sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

3oz black treacle

Method

1.  Set oven 200c / 400f / Gas 5.

2. For triangles: Grease a sandwich tin with butter and dust lightly with a half tablespoon of oats.

For rounds: Grease a baking tray with butter and dust lightly with a half tablespoon of oats.

3. Sieve the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and stir in the oats.

4. Place the butter, black treacle, and sugar in a saucepan and melt over a low heat on the stove.

5.  Add the sieved ingredients and mix thoroughly.

6. For triangles: Press the mixture into sandwich tin and sprinkle the remaining half tablespoon of oats on top. For rounds: Roll out the mixture on floured surface and cut into circles with a biscuit cutter.  Sprinkle the remaining half tablespoon of oats on top.

7. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 – 30 minutes until the mixture is dry and slightly brown.

8. For triangles: Cool slightly. Cut into wedges.  Remove carefully and continue cooling on a wire tray.     For rounds:  Cool slightly.  Carefully remove to a wire tray.

Old Demdike: Twenty Three

Here’s a little rhyme to tell your future by counting Magpies!


One for sorrow

Two for joy

Three for a girl

Four for a boy

Five for silver

Six for gold

Seven for a secret never to be told

Eight for a wish

                                                     Nine for a kiss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten for a bird you must not miss.

Happy counting!

Kit’s Crit: A Mercy (Toni Morrison)

A Mercy

In many ways Toni Morrison’s witchcraft novel A Mercy (New York: Knopf, 2008) is a precursor to her masterpiece, Beloved.  It is hailed for its insights into human relationships – particularly family, motherhood, and sisterhood – but it is also an exploration of fear and persecution.  The clue to this lies in the opening sentence, “Don’t be afraid.”

Set in the 1680s,The Europeans are colonizing America.  Jacob Vaark (an Anglo-Dutch trader) takes 16 year-old Florens (a black slave girl) in part-payment for a bad debt.  Florens was born in America (the start of the coming race) to an African woman and Portuguese plantation owner, and is offered alongside her mother.  The mother, however, persuades Vaark to leave her behind because she is still nursing a son, believing that her 8-year-old daughter will have a better life away from their cruel master.  Throughout the rest of the novel Florens struggles to understand why her mother gave her away.  The drama peaks when the new plantation owners contract smallpox.  If they both die, the slaves will be at the mercy of any man who comes along.  Florens is sent on a mission to save the plantation.

There are many clues suggesting that the settlers are trying to create a new Eden, but instead end up experiencing Paradise Lost.  They live near the town of Milton.  Vaark has twin serpents wrought into his copper gates.  Bur the evil is already in the garden, waiting to poison the American Dream.

Two major themes are sisterhood and motherhood in a world controlled by men.  Do women support or undermine each other?  Is abandonment, death, or separation the only way to save an African American child from slavery?  Morrison’s novel explores the essence of slavery – the way education leads to personal power, freedom, and autonomy – and how human beings crave community, creating their own “families” when blood relatives are not available.  She suggests that mercy is the one crucial gift we can give to each other in times of need.

Morrison’s high literary style will not appeal to everyone.  And some readers have expressed disappointment with the lack of obvious plot development.  I, however, believe she weaves together a quilt of individual tales to create a beautifully lyrical introduction to the Salem Witch Trials.  A Mercy highlights the irony of settlers arriving to the New World in search of religious freedom, only to destroy the indigenous population and enslave millions of Africans.  Not only that, they brought their own prejudices with them, which finally resulted in the witch hunts.  It can be no coincidence that Florens – seen as a witch by Northerners at the start of the persecutions – features in a novel called A Mercy.  She functions as an early version of Mercy Lewis – the historical servant who played a crucial role in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Styx

 

 

 

StyxI crossed over in the night for the very first time –

just floated serene and lonely

on coffee-brown water that lapped at my raft, unfelt.

 

I was not so much frightened as stricken with awe –

full of no earthly sensation

but the rushing of time, propelling me on and on.

 

Then at some exact moment –  the slate horizon

cracked like a splintering egg-shell

and strange orange light bled through the fissures of dark.

 

It was not yet my time.

 

Little Mix’s “Black Magic” Love Potion

This is such a cute song.  Check out what a little witchcraft can do!

Love Potion

“Black Magic”

(Ed Drewett, Henrik Michelsen, Edvard Forre Erfjord,Camille Purcell)

All the girls on the block knocking at my door!
Wanna know what it is make the boys want more!
Is your lover playing on your side?
Said he loves you,
But he ain’t got time.
Here’s the answer.
Come and get it
At a knocked down price. Hey!
Full of honey,
Just to make him sweet.
Crystal balling,
Just to help him see
What he’s been missing.
So come and get it,
While you’ve still got time. Hey!
Get your boy on his knees
And repeat after me, say:
“Take a sip of my secret potion,
I’ll make you fall in love.
For a spell that can’t be broken,
One drop should be enough.
Boy, you belong to me,
I got the recipe
And it’s called black magic
And it’s called black magic.
Take a sip of my secret potion,
One taste and you’ll be mine.
It’s a spell that can’t be broken
It’ll keep you up all night.
Boy, you belong to me,
I got the recipe,
And it’s called black magic
And it’s called black magic.”If you’re lookin’ for Mr. Right,
Need that magic
To change him over night.
Here’s the answer.
Come and get it,
While you’ve still got time. Hey!
Get your boy on his knees
And repeat after me, say:
“Take a sip of my secret potion,
I’ll make you fall in love.
For a spell that can’t be broken,
One drop should be enough.
Boy, you belong to me,
I got the recipe
And it’s called black magic
And it’s called black magic.

Take a sip of my secret potion,
One taste and you’ll be mine.
It’s a spell that can’t be broken
It’ll keep you up all night.
Boy, you belong to me,
I got the recipe,
And it’s called black magic
And it’s called black magic.”

All the girls on the block knocking at my door!
I got the recipe.
Wanna know what it is make the boys want more?
Now you belong to me.


Take a sip from my secret potion,
I’ll make you fall in love.
For a spell that can’t be broken,
One drop should be enough.
Boy, you belong to me. Hey!
I got the recipe.
And it’s called black magic, and it’s called, and it’s called black magic!

Take a sip of my secret potion,
One taste and you’ll be mine.
It’s a spell that can’t be broken
It’ll keep you up all night.
Boy, you belong to me, belong to me,
I got the recipe.
And it’s called black magic
And it’s called black magic.

Falling in love. Hey!
Magic!

 

Name That Devil

satan

What the devil should we call the Evil One?

If God is a personification of the term Good, then Devil may derive from Evil – a word stemming from the Latin diabolus, which in Middle English became devel.

With over 40 names, the Devil has far more titles in The Bible than anyone else except Jesus – the most common being Lucifer, Satan, the Prince of Darkness, and the Anti-Christ.  Revelation mentions The Beast, though Matthew refers to the ruler of the Lake of Fire as Beelzebub.

The Evil One is also called the Deceiver, Dragon, Enemy, Father of all Lies, and Leviathan.  Portrayed as the Serpent of Old, the Tempter, and the Wicked One, the Devil appeared as the snake who seduced Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Traditionally, the Devil is a fallen angel who lures human beings into sin.  He is often seen as the opposite force to God, stealing souls away from Heaven for the darker realms of Hell.

In many cultures Satan remains a symbol of evil – a metaphor for sin and excessive pleasure.  He is the trickster, folk villain, enemy, anti-hero, tyrant, and source of unhappiness and misfortune.

So what the devil should we call the Evil One?  Anything except Master!

Faust and The Devil

Faust

The Faust legend is a morality tale warning ambitious young men to reject the devil and all earthly temptations of power and desires of the flesh.

In German classic literature, a jaded scholar called Doctor Faust makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles, signed and sealed with his own blood.  He agrees to exchange his soul for worldly pleasure, riches, and knowledge – but when the terms of the agreement expire he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in hell.

Who is Faust based on?  The most likely prototype seems to be Dr. Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480-1540), a famous German alchemist and magician.

Why does Faust make this pact?  He is a dissatisfied academic who yearns for something more.

How long is his rule on earth?  Faust is granted 24 years – one for each hour of the day.

What does the magician do with his new powers? First, he seduces a beautiful maiden called Gretchen.  Yet although he destroys her earthly life, she is granted a place in Heaven because of her innocence.  Then he plays pranks on people, settles old scores, and meddles in the politics of his day.  At one point he demands to see the most beautiful woman ever, and is granted a visit from Helen of Troy.  And finally – having sated his lusts and tamed the natural world – he has a moment of utter contentment before the devil appears and rips his body to pieces.

In choosing instant gratification and pleasure, Doctor Faust rejects Christianity and turns away from God.  He is a personification of Matthew’s warning: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (16:26-27)

Would you be likewise tempted?

Olde English Fruit Fool

Need a refreshing dessert for hot summer days?  Try a chilled fruit fool as a quick, easy treat!

 Ftuit Fool

Ingredients:

1lb raspberries, gooseberries, or rhubarb

4oz sugar

Water

4oz fresh elderflowers

3oz butter

3 eggs

1/3 pint of milk or single cream

4oz sugar

1 tablespoon of vanilla

Method:

1. Prepare the fruit for stewing (wash, peel, top-and-tail as needed) and place in a medium-sized pan on stove.

2. Add the sugar, elderflowers, and sufficient water to cover the fruit.  Bring to the boil and stew until all the fruit is soft.   For a smooth texture, strain the fruit through a sieve.  For a crunchier taste, stir the mixture with a fork to soften the remaining pulp.

3. Cool in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

4. Over low heat melt the butter.

5. Add all the remaining ingredients and whisk continually for 8 – 10 minutes until the mixture thickens.

6. Cool in the refrigerator for at least thirty minutes.

7. Fold the cold fruit mixture carefully into the cold custard to create a marbled effect.

8. Spoon into individual serving dishes and top with fresh fruit, mint leaves, or whipped cream.

Cliff Richard’s Devil Woman

Devil Woman

I’ve had nothing but bad luck
Since the day I saw the cat at my door.
So I came into you, sweet lady,
Answering your mystical call.

Crystal ball on the table
Showing the future, the past.
Same cat with them evil eyes
And I knew it was a spell she cast.

She’s just a devil woman
With evil on her mind.
Beware the devil woman
She’s gonna get you!

She’s just a devil woman
With evil on her mind.
Beware the devil woman
She’s gonna get you from behind!

Give me the ring on your finger,
Let me see the lines on your hand.
I can see me a tall dark stranger
Giving you what you hadn’t planned.

I drank the potion she offered me,
I found myself on the floor.
Then I looked in those big green eyes
And I wondered what I came there for.

She’s just a devil woman
With evil on her mind.
Beware the devil woman
She’s gonna get you!

She’s just a devil woman
With evil on her mind.
Beware the devil woman
She’s gonna get you from behind!
Stay away, look out!

If you’re out on a moonlit night
Be careful of them neighborhood strays.
Of a lady with long black hair
Trying to win you with her feminine ways.

Crystal ball on the table
Showing the future, the past.
Same cat with them evil eyes,
You’d better get out of there fast!

She’s just a devil woman
With evil on her mind.
Beware the devil woman
She’s gonna get you!

She’s just a devil woman
With evil on her mind.
Beware the devil woman
She’s gonna get you!

She’s just a devil woman
With evil on her mind
Beware the devil woman
She’s gonna get you

She’s just a devil woman
With evil on her mind.
Beware the devil woman
She’s gonna get you!

 

 

 

Kit’s Crit: Like Water For Chocolate (Laura Esquivel)

Chocolate

Like Water For Chocolate (New York: Doubleday,1992) is a strange debut novel written in the magical-realism tradition.  The title comes from “an extremity of feeling” – perhaps sexual desire – where intense emotion melts the human heart, mind, or soul, just as boiling water melts chocolate.

Esquivel explores the impact of old Mexican traditions within modern culture, examining the filial responsibilities of a child to its parents, gender issues, personal sacrifice for the greater good, and the role of food as a metaphor for human feelings.

While I like the original premise that recipes contain secrets and can change with the fluctuating moods of the cook, this is not a book I would read more than once because the breaks from reality, sequencing, and characterizations sometimes make the tale a little too hard to swallow!

Vivien: The Lady of the Lake

Vivien and Merlin

“For Merlin, overtalked and overworn,

Had yielded, told her all the charm, and slept”

(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Most Arthurian legends feature Merlin’s love-interest, Vivien.  She usually appears as The Lady of the Lake and ruler of Avalon, but sometimes she is described by other names such as Nimue – Niviane – the daughter of a vavasor named Dionas – a princess of Northumberland – or the Queen of Sicily.  And like the great magician himself, her character has undergone several important changes throughout history.

In the majority of early versions Vivien meets Merlin by a spring in the Forest of Broceliande, Brittany.  They fall in love, share a relationship, and exchange supernatural knowledge.  The Lady of the Lake is associated with water, the essential essence of life, and she quenches the lonely old man’s thirst for companionship.  She also gives King Arthur the magic sword Excalibur, and raises Lancelot in Avalon after the death of his father.  Then she takes Merlin away from Camelot and he is never seen again.

In Thirteenth Century Pre-Vulgate French mythology, Vivien is a fairy.  She appears as Merlin’s adoring student and he falls in love with her youth, intelligence, and beauty.  When Vivien uses one of her mentor’s spells to create a magical tower that locks them both away from the rest of the world, she does so to preserve their happiness together.  She acts out of genuine love without any deception or malice.

But when the Catholic Church adopted King Arthur as a champion of Christianity, Vivien was transformed into an evil sorceress and witch.  She is thereafter portrayed as another Eve-like temptress who seduces a good man and brings about his downfall.  In these tales she uses her feminine wiles to uncover Merlin’s most powerful spell and ultimately uses it against him.  Then she locks him in an enchanted tree – or prison made of air –  or tomb covered with a stone that no one can move – rendering him invisible from the outside world until he falls asleep forever.

In the post-feminist era, however, this fascinating character has evolved yet again and  Vivien emerges as the New Woman.  No longer is she portrayed as a dependent fairy or malicious witch.  Instead she has become a strong force in society – a free thinker –  someone in charge of her own destiny.  She lives with Merlin as a lover and equal.   She could survive perfectly well without him, but chooses not to.

The modern Lady of the Lake tale now suggests that mutual love is the greatest magic of all!

Sources:

Brunel, Pierre.  Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes and Archetypes. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Collier’s Encyclopedia (15).  Macmillan, 1974.

Wikipedia, “Lady of the Lake”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_of_the_Lake

(Picture: Julia Margaret Cameron)

Selene

Selene

I refuse to vanish or set

when gravity tugs me to earth

in a blaze of gore or glory –

to wane to nothingness beyond

a slice of ashen promise –

And I will not slide quietly by

a masculine smothering of power –

for the damage will already be done.

Have you seen how moonlight blazes so hard

it slips beyond any brute shadow?

(Painting: Victor Florence Pollett)

Olde English Bread Pudding

 

Bread Pud

Ingredients:

12 slices white bread

Knob of butter

3 eggs

1/2 pint milk

4oz dried fruit ( currants, raisins, or sultanas)

4oz sugar

nutmeg or cinnamon

 

Method:

1. Heat the oven to 325 / 170/ Gas 3.

2. Grease a loaf tin with the knob of butter.

3. Cut the bread into triangles and place in the tin.

4. Sprinkle the dried fruit on top.

5. Whisk the eggs and milk together.

6. Add the sugar.

7. Pour over the bread.

8. Sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon.

9. Cook 40 – 50 minutes until golden brown.

10. Remove from the oven and serve immediately with custard, cream, or ice cream.

 

Merlin: Madman or Magician?

merlin

There are many contradictory legends surrounding the famous magician, Merlin.  Tolstoy suggests he was a real Druid who lived in Sixth Century Scotland, though it is more likely that the sorcerer was actually a composite created from several mysterious literary figures.

Most stories agree that Merlin was the son of a nun who was impregnated by an incubus in her sleep.  This means he was born of a devil and a virgin.  The demon gave him knowledge of the past – but the nun had the child baptized at birth to protect him from Satan – and in order to create a natural balance in the universe God granted the child a prophetic knowledge of the future.  His life was thereafter spent on the threshold of good and evil.

The Welsh claim Merlin as one of their own Celtic prophets and magicians.   In British mythology he was the protector of the young King Arthur.  Merlin was often portrayed as a princely figure who was overcome by madness.  He ran off to live in the forest and there acquired the supernatural powers that made him famous.

Some tales claim that a disguised Merlin slept with the Duchess Igerna and fathered the future King Arthur.  In other versions Merlin helped King Uther Pendragon to seduce Igerna, whom he married a short time later.  Either way, Arthur was protected by the wizard until the time was right for him to step forward and be crowned the king.

Merlin made the Round Table for King Uther.  It is also said that he created Stonehenge, in memory of Uther’s brother who was massacred at the Battle of Salisbury.  The wizard was said to control the wind, foresee the future, and transform his shape at will.  He once made a dragon on a banner breathe real fire, and enchanted a bed so that those who slept on it lost all sense and memory.

The magician’s most famous saying is, Who aims to cheat a friend / Gets cheated in the end.  Yet his wisdom did not stop him falling into the clutches of Vivien – the Lady of the Lake who brought about his end!

Sources:

Brunel, Pierre.  Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes and Archetypes. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Collier’s Encyclopedia (15).  Macmillan, 1974.

Wikipedia, “Merlin.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlin.

Kit’s Crit: Illuminations (Mary Sharratt)

Sharratt

Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) tells the story of Hildegard von Bingen, the famous German Benedictine Abbess who lived from 1098-1179.  Hildegard’s genuine mystical prophecies earned her the name, the Sibyl of the Rhine. 

Given to the church at the tender age of 8, Hildegard was entombed in a tiny room with a radical anchorite called Jutta von Sponheim, and here she grew into a great thinker who had a strong impact on the early Catholic Church.  She also became a gifted composer and artist, and was able to heal the local population with herbal medicines and gemstones.  Her God was a feminine version of love.

Hildegard began experiencing visions at the age of 3, and eventually began recording them in a brilliantly illuminated manuscript.  But were these images sent from God or from Satan?  Fortunately she was able to convince those around her that her mysticism was a holy gift.  And as she lay dying her sister nuns claimed to see two streams of light in the sky crossing over her room – a sign they interpreted as a heavenly blessing.

Illuminations is an absorbing story about a fascinating woman who bravely took on the medieval patriarchy to create a safe community for religious women.  The book is well-written, filling the gaps in history with plausible suggestions that help explain why certain characters acted as they did.  Although Sharratt is aware that if Hildegard had lived at a later time in Puritan England she might well have been accused of witchcraft (http://marysharratt.blogspot.com/2012/07/of-witches-and-saints-mother-demdike.html), Illuminations maintains a firm focus on the mystic’s religious calling, and does not undermine her venerable status within the church.  A very good read!

Crone Stones

Rocks

This is the womb of the world

where two seas collide

at a hammock of land

and bony rocks arch

in the jet blood-black spray.  Three

mythical crone stones –

who see what sharp lips never

tell – still watch through

their ageless snake hair for the

goings of they that

once crawled from their legs in the

primeval salt-dawn of time.

Olde English Summer Pudding

Summer Pudding is a delicious traditional treat to enjoy in warm weather!

 Summer Pudding

Ingredients:

6 slices white bread with crusts removed

Knob of butter

4oz redcurrants

4oz blackcurrants

4oz blackberries

6oz sugar

Method:

1. Grease a pudding bowl with butter.

2. Line the base and sides of the bowl with 5 of the 6 bread slices.

3. Wash all the fruit and place in a pan. Add sugar.   Over a low heat stir in the  sugar to hull the fruit to a soft consistency.  Use only its own juices.  Cool.

4. Pour this mixture into the bread bowl.

5. Add the final bread slice to form a lid.

6. Cover with a saucer and add a 1-2lb weight to press the pudding into shape.

7. Place in the refrigerator to set overnight.

8. Serve with fresh cream.

Old Demdike: Nineteen

The Witch Test  #10

This test is called Swimming the Witch or Trial by Water.

You shall be bound up and thrown in the water while the townsfolk watch to see what happens.
If you sink and drown you prove innocent.
If you float – the sign of a witch – you will hang or burn as a heretic!

Morgan le Fay: The Fairy-Witch

Morgan

Another of Merlin the Magician’s students was King Arthur’s half-sister, Morgan le Fay.  At various times she challenged the Lady of the Lake for the title, The Queen of Avalon, and early writers had trouble deciding whether she was a fairy or a sorceress.  The name “le Fay” suggested she came from fairy heritage, while others associated her name with “Morgen,” meaning “sea-born.”  In all accounts though, she had supernatural powers.

Scholars now believe that Morgan derived from the Celtic Welsh goddess, Modron.  The first tales made her the eldest of nine sisters – or one of nine virgin priestesses – who lived on the Isle of Apples (Avalon).  She was an enchantress and healer, capable of flying and changing shape.  After King Arthur got wounded at the Battle of Camlann, he was taken to Avalon to be healed.

Throughout the ages Morgan has retained her healing powers.  But in patriarchal times she became more sinister and dangerous.  Like the Lady of the Lake, she was turned into a witch figure – lustful, sly, and unpredictable – finally becoming the arch-enemy of Arthur and his queen.

Later versions of Morgan made her more human.  She was born to Arthur’s mother (Igraine) and her first husband (Gorlois), and was therefore the king’s half-sister.  Morgan spent time as Guinevere’s lady-in-waiting, got unhappily married to King Urien, bore a son called Ywain, and had an unrequited passion for Sir Lancelot.  When she learnt of Lancelot’s love for the queen she caused all sorts of mischief to expose their affair, often being thwarted by her counterpart, the Lady of the Lake.  At some point she became Merlin’s apprentice, but instead of using her powers for good she commanded the forces of evil.  Her obsession with Lancelot – and hatred for Arthur and Guinevere – intensified to such a point she was exiled from Camelot.  Morgan lived in the forest and carefully perfected her craft, until the locals started calling her The Goddess.  Then she ended Arthur’s reign.  She gave Excalibur to her lover, and threw its protective scabbard into the lake, leaving King Arthur completely unprotected in battle so that he became mortally wounded.  She was ultimately the bringer of chaos and death.

But having been called a fairy, healer, enchantress, seductress, and witch, modern pagans are now reclaiming Morgan as a symbol of feminine power.  She is seen by some as the third face of the Triple Goddess (the Crone or Warrior Woman), which reunites her with Celtic Modron – the Mother.

Of all the many aspects of her mythology, Morgan le Fay is indeed a shape-shifter!

 

Sources:

Norako, Leila K. “Morgan le Fay.”  http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/theme/morgan

Wikipedia, “Morgan le Fay.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgan_le_Fay

(Picture: Frederick Sandys)

Circe the Witch-Goddess

Circe

Circe – one of the foremost witch goddesses from the European literary tradition – was immortalized in Homer’s Odyssey.  Offspring of the sun-god Helios and a sea nymph called Perse, Circe lived on the island of Aeaea.  Some sources, however, claimed she was the daughter of the dark goddess Hecate because of her association with the moon.

The fair-haired Circe was skilled in the arts of transformation and illusion.  She was also the mistress of glamor magic with a vast knowledge of potions and herbs.  In Homer’s tale she transformed Odysseus’ men into pigs with human intelligence.  Eurylochus escaped the enchantment and managed to warn Odysseus, who had remained behind to guard their boat.  On the way back to rescue his crew the hero was met by Hermes and given a magic plant called moly to protect him from the witch.  Odysseus overpowered Circe, demanded that his men be restored to their human forms, but then he stayed on the island with her for another year.  During this time he fathered a son called Telegonus, the boy who eventually killed him with a poisoned spear.  Later, Circe was slain by Telemachus – Odysseus’ legitimate son with Penelope.

Botanists suggest that enchanter’s nightshade could have been one of Circe’s magic plants because it contains an anticholinergic that produces hallucinations, and may make men believe they have been transformed into animals.  Also, moly might derive from the snowdrop, as this flower contains the anti-hallucinogenic compound called galantamine.  

Circe appears to have functioned as a symbol of luxury and wantonness, perhaps as a warning against the drunkenness, lust, and debauchery that made men act like pigs. But unlike other mythological hags who rendered men impotent, she was a beautiful, alluring witch figure who catered to their sexual fantasies instead.  Small wonder her fame lives on!

Sources:

Graves, Robert. New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology.  Worldwide: Hamlyn, 1977.

Oxford Classical Dictionary (Third Edition).  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Wikipedia: “Circe”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circe

Photo: Wright Barker

Redbone’s Witch Queen of New Orleans

voodoo queen

Marie, Marie, da voodoo veau, she’ll put a spell on you,
Marie, Marie, da voodoo veau, she’ll put a spell on you,
Marie, Marie, da voodoo veau,
She’s the witch queen of New Orleans, of New Orleans.

I’m gonna tell you a story, strange as it now seems
Of zombie, voodoo, gris gris, and the Witch Queen of New Orleans.
She lived in a world of magic, possessed by the devil’s crew
From a shack near the swamplands, made of mud-pile brick,
Marie stirred her witches brew.

Marie, Marie, da voodoo veau, she’ll put a spell on you,
Marie, Marie, da voodoo veau, she’ll put a spell on you,
Marie, Marie, da voodoo veau,
She’s the Witch Queen of New Orleans, of New Orleans.

For a dime or a nickel, anyone could buy voodoo of any kind.
She had potions and lotions, herbs, and tanna leaves
Guaranteed to blow your mind.
Early one morning into mucky swamp dew, vanished Marie with hate in her eyes
Though she’ll never return, all the Cajuns knew, a Witch Queen never dies.

Marie, Marie, da voodoo veau, she’ll put a spell on you,
Marie, Marie, da voodoo veau, she’ll put a spell on you,
Marie, Marie, da voodoo ve veau,
She’s the witch queen of New Orleans, of New Orleans.

Marie, Marie, da voodoo veau, she’ll put a spell on you,
Marie, Marie, da voodoo veau, she’ll put a spell on . . . .

Picture: Frank Schneider

Olde English Custard

Custard was used to accompany pies and puddings in the days before ice cream!  It is still very popular today, and can be served hot or cold with a variety of delectable dishes.

custard

Ingredients:

3oz butter

3 eggs

1/3 pint of milk or single cream

4oz sugar

1 tablespoon of vanilla

Method:

1. Over a low heat melt the butter.

2. Add all the remaining ingredients and whisk continually for 8 – 10 minutes until the mixture thickens.

3. Cool slightly and place in a jug.  Serve warm.

4. For cold custard place in a covered bowl in the refrigerator until set.

The Final Temptation

 

Woods

And suddenly – with a rip of flesh –

the veil gapes full wide,

excitement blankets horror – sees

the onyx gleam inside,

a blanched bone cheek is turned to toward

gained opportunity.

Does crossing this threshold

lead to spirituality?

 

Kit’s Crit: The Dovekeepers (Alice Hoffman)

Dovekeepers

The Dovekeepers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011) tells the tragic story of the Siege at Masada in 70 CE, when 900 Jews were trapped on a mountain in the Judean desert surrounded by an army of hostile Roman soldiers.  After many months of resistance the rebels chose to commit mass suicide rather than surrender into slavery.  Only 2 women and 5 children survived.  They gave their testimony to a scholar named Flavius Josephus.  Alice Hoffman then turned their extant accounts into this epic historical fiction.

The Dovekeepers follows the lives of four women: Yael, the daughter of an assassin; Revka, a baker’s wife who lost her daughter in a brutal Roman attack; Aziza, who was raised as a male warrior; and Shirah, “The Witch of Moab.”  These four women arrive at Masada on very different paths, yet they all become dove keepers at the fortress.  Shirah and Yael survive the final massacre.

Hoffman’s lengthy book is vivid and powerful, with a dramatic mix of magic and Judaism that some readers may find offensive.  And some of the supernatural elements, like the cloak of invisibility, stretch the bounds of belief.  Nevertheless, the book resonates with the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity, and is a wonderful reminder of courage, sacrifice, and fortitude.

I found Shirah the most compelling character.  She is an Alexandrian wise woman with uncanny insight, gifted in magic and medicine.  Shirah was trained by an Egyptian priestess and passes on some of her skills to Yael.  Her bravery helps the few survivors to escape through their underground cave system – the final proof of her resilience, adaptability, and cunning powers.

The Dovekeepers is a great Book Club selection, generating a lot of insightful discussion.  But its length and density makes it more demanding than some other popular choices.

Kirtles

kirtle

We are naturally fascinated by the glamorous dresses worn by medieval queens and their ladies at court.  But under those fancy gowns was the same staple garment for gentry and peasant women alike – the kirtle.

The kirtle was worn over a linen smock and acted as an early girdle, or corset, to shape and support the body in the time before modern bras.  Made from wool, linen, or silk it was usually sleeveless, often holding the under smock down to reveal much of the neck, shoulder, and chest of the wearer.

On top of their regular kirtles wealthy women wore an additional fancy frock called a cotehardie or surcoat.  This was made of fine cloth and decorated with fur, jewels, embroidery, lace, belts or buttons.  Their kirtles could lace up at the sides or back because they had maids to help them dress.

The kirtles of less-wealthy women fastened at the front.  This was a more practical choice because the laces could be easily opened to allow for pregnancy and breast feeding. Most women would roll up their smock sleeves for the everyday household chores, but  interchangeable dress sleeves could be pinned or tied to the kirtle for going out.  At a time when material was very expensive, such extravagancies were usually saved  for ‘best’ occasions such as visiting friends or attending church.  Therefore, if a lady was fortunate enough to have several sets of sleeves, she could change the look of her outfit without needing to change her kirtle!

Picture: Orazio Gentileschi

Olde English Pottage

The staple meal for most medieval folk was pottage – a stew made from whatever was available at the time.  Everything was cooked together in one large cauldron over the fire.  Pottage usually contained a mixture of meat, vegetables, herbs, pulses, and grains.  Here is a tasty modern version for you to try!

pottage Gerard Hoet

Ingredients:

1lb fully cooked meat or poultry

Good pinch of salt and pepper

2 potatoes

2 onions

2 carrots

2 sticks celery

1 leak

2 root vegetables (turnip, parsley, or swede)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pint chicken or beef stock

1 tablespoon parsley or thyme

1/2 pint red wine

2 tablespoons Worcester Sauce

2oz pearl barley

 

Method:

1. Chop all the meat and vegetables into large chunks.

2. Boil the olive oil in a pot until bubbling, then lower to a medium heat.

3. Add the onions, potatoes, carrots and root vegetables.  Brown until slightly softened.

4. Add the celery and leak.  Brown until slightly softened.

5. Stir in the cooked, chopped meat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well.

6. Pour in the beef stock.  Bring to the boil stirring well.  Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.

7. Add the red wine and Worcester Sauce.  Simmer for an additional 20 minutes.  The mixture will reduce.

8. Stir in the pearl barley and add parsley or thyme to taste.

9. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the barley softens and the pottage thickens.

Serve with rice or fresh crusty bread!

 

Kit’s Crit: The House of the Spirits (Isabel Allende)

Allende Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits is my first encounter with Latin American magical realism (New York: Random, 2005).  This epic saga follows three generations of a Chilean family – headed by the determined patriarch Esteban Truebas – as they experience joy, tragedy, struggle, rebellion, and political turmoil, in a world where the supernatural mingles alongside reality.

The House of the Spirits contains magic, ghosts, poison, and demonic possession, and it functions as an allegory of the South American world where Allende grew up.  It is a novel designed to “reclaim the past” and “overcome the terrors” of Chilean history (433).

Allende successfully employs symbolism, mysticism, and nationalism in a vivid drama of political turmoil and feminist rebellion.  And while the novel itself does not rank as great literature, it is an excellent example of lush storytelling and descriptive writing – a tale that resonates with the poetic musicality of the Latino language.

I would recommend The House of the Spirits to those readers seeking a unique, well-crafted, multi-cultural experience. 

 

The Eagles’ Witchy Woman

witch woman

Raven hair and ruby lips,
Sparks fly from her finger tips.
Echoed voices in the night,
She’s a restless spirit on an endless flight.

Woo hoo, witchy woman,
See how high she flies.
Woo hoo, witchy woman,
She got the moon in her eyes.

She held me spellbound in the night,
Dancing shadows and firelight.
Crazy laughter in another room,
And she drove herself to madness with a silver spoon.

Woo hoo, witchy woman,
See how high she flies.
Woo hoo, witchy woman,
She got the moon in her eyes.

Well, I know you want to love her,
Let me tell your brother,
She’s been sleeping
In the devil’s bed.

And there’s some rumors going around,
Someone’s underground.
She can rock you in the nighttime
Until your skin turns red.

Woo hoo, witchy woman,
See how high she flies.
Woo hoo, witchy woman,
She got the moon in her eyes.

Coifs

In most historical fiction set in the European Middle Ages, the female characters wear coifs.

4x5 original

Hans Holbein

But what exactly was a coif?

Coifs were various styles of close-fitting caps that covered the top, back, and sides of the head, holding the hair in place and away from the face.

In the Thirteenth Century coifs were worn by everyone, but they slowly fell out of fashion for men.  Women and children, however, continued using them well into the Seventeenth Century.  Not only were they a practical item for additional warmth in winter, they also provided a level of respectability for women and could be turned into a decorative status symbol for the nobility.

Up until the Tudor era, coifs were made from unadorned white linen and tied under the chin.  In Elizabethan and Jacobean times the hoods of the wealthy were made from silk.  They were often embroidered with elaborate Blackwork stitches.  Many had fancy lace edges.

Noble women’s coifs were usually wired to fit discretely under the current head fashions of the day.  They gradually became smaller to allow curls to flow down the back of the lady’s gown.

Workers and servants wore large, plain practical wraps that completely covered their hair.

 

 

 

A Biblical Puzzle: The Witch of Endor

Endor Benjamin West

The Witch of Endor (1 Samuel: 28) is one of the great puzzles of the Old Testament.  She was the medium who summoned the dead prophet Samuel’s spirit at the request of King Saul, and then comforted the king when he received the terrible news of his impending defeat and death.  Yet the one true Wise Women in the scriptures was not originally portrayed as being evil, manipulative, or sinister.

Ironically, Saul had previously driven all the magicians and cunning folk out of Israel.  But when God stopped appearing in his dreams – and the Philistine army was at his door – the desperate king went in search of a medium to help him contact Samuel’s ghost for advice.  During the 11th Century this witch (named Abner) was thought to have been the mother of Saul’s cousin – and therefore his aunt – but this seems unlikely as he commanded a servant to “seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit,” and only then heard about the medium at Endor.  They met and conversed as strangers, the king being in disguise, and she was naturally reluctant to help until he promised her “no punishment” for doing what was legally forbidden.  The witch finally conjured up the dead prophet’s spirit who predicted the end of Saul and his reign. This quickly came to pass.  The Philistines were victorious and Saul, wounded in battle, ended up taking his own life.

This episode is the Bible’s only suggestion that the spirits of the dead can be summoned by magic.  The Witch of Endor, sometimes described as a ventriloquist because other voices spoke through her, appeared to see the dead yet could not hear what they told the person who had summoned them.  She was a genuine medium – not a trickster – described as a kindly character who comforted Saul after the terrible prophecy was revealed.  She even fed him a lavish meal before he left her home.

Then at some time during the Middle Ages this wise woman was turned into a wicked witch.  No longer did she present the ghost of Samuel on demand, but instead conjured up a demon to give the illusion of the dead prophet.  Martin Luther called the apparition the “Devil’s ghost” and Calvin dismissed it as “but a spectre.”  The story then changed from being a worried king’s frantic search for supernatural help, into a morality tale about witchcraft and death.

But the puzzle remains: Was Samuel’s appearance an act of God working through a spiritualist to grant Saul’s request?  Or is this tale an example of Satan’s cunning in bringing about a good king’s defeat and suicide?  What do you think?

Sources:

Wikipedia – “Witch of Endor.”  Accessed on 5/11/2015

Holy Bible, 1 Samuel: 28.

Kit’s Crit: The Other Boleyn Girl (Philippa Gregory)

Gregory

On my first reading of The Other Boleyn Girl in 2001, I was impressed by Philippa Gregory’s bravery in writing against the popular romantic image of the Tudor queen as a much-maligned victim.  I re-read the book again this past week as part of my research into medieval witchcraft, and still maintain this is one of the finest examples of historical fiction in the genre.

Gregory plays the devil’s advocate by posing the question: What if Anne Boleyn really was guilty of the charges brought against her?  She then weaves a plausible explanation of the young woman’s dangerous rise to power, a gamble that ultimately cost her life.  The story is told through the eyes of the other Boleyn girl at court, her sister Mary.  And although British historian David Starkey claims there are only “four known facts” about Mary Boleyn, and that this therefore amounts to “one fact per seventy-five pages,” Gregory does a splendid job of recreating an authentic version of the Tudor court from numerous other sources.  There are, fortunately, many more extant facts regarding Anne and Henry!

Gregory’s Queen Anne is not an endearing character, but then everything said about her comes from the rival sister’s lips – one of the women she ousted from the king’s bed.  Anne is portrayed as ambitious, vain, single-minded, selfish, ruthless, callous, manipulative, and amoral.  Yet she is also intelligent, artistic, fashionable, and fun.  She is not a practicing witch – though she does enchant Henry and all those around her – but when placed in a desperate situation she turns to a local wise woman for help.  As the king is aging and impotent, when Anne needs a son to secure the throne her brother George steps in as a replacement.  And she may or may not have poisoned some of her enemies.

The Other Boleyn Girl strips away the traditional glamor of court, presenting a much more realistic insight into the fragile and perilous lives of the youngsters groomed as bargaining chips by their ambitious families.  It also highlights the differences between those born high and low, and how real happiness lies in the simple pleasures of life.  The characters are engaging and interesting – even as they descend into strange, dark places.  And the psychological explanations offered for Anne Boleyn’s criminal behavior are fascinating, thought-provoking, and plausible –  even if factually untrue.

A five-star read!

Cher’s Dark Lady

DARK LADY – Cher

(John Robert Durrill)

      Marie_Laveau[1]

The fortune queen of New Orleans,
Was brushing her cat in her black limousine.
On the backseat were scratches from
The marks of men whose fortune she had won.
Couldn’t see through the tinted glass,
She said, “Home James,” and he hit the gas.
I followed her to some darkened room,
She took my money, she said “I’ll be with you soon.”

Dark lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one,
Danced to her gypsy music until her brew was done.
Dark lady played back magic until the clock struck on the twelve.
She told me more about me than I knew myself.

She dealt two cards, a queen and a three,
And mumbled some words that were so strange to me.
Then she turned up a two-eyed jack,
My eyes saw red but the card still stayed black.
She said, “The man you love is secretly true
To someone else who is very close to you.
My advice is that you leave this place,
Never come back, and forget you ever saw my face!”

Dark lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one,
Danced to her gypsy music until her brew was done.
Dark lady played back magic until the clock struck on the twelve.
She told me more about me than I knew myself.

So I ran home and crawled in my bed,
I couldn’t sleep because of all the things she said.
Then I remembered her strange perfume,
And how I smelled it was in my own room!
So I sneaked back and caught her with my man,
Laughing and kissing until they saw the gun in my hand.
The next thing I knew they were dead on the floor,
Dark lady would never turn a card up anymore!

Dark lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one,
Danced to her gypsy music until her brew was done.
Dark lady played back magic until the clock struck on the twelve.
She told me more about me than I knew myself!

 

 

 

Olde English Yorkshire Pudding (Lancashire Style!)

 

 

 

Yorkshire_Pudding[1]

Here’s a Lancashire version of Yorkshire Pudding.  It was traditionally cooked in the fat drippings from a roast of beef and makes a delicious addition to Sunday Lunch.

Ingredients:

4oz plain flour

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

1/2 pint cold water

12 teaspoons of meat drippings or cooking oil or 3oz animal fat (lard)

 

Method:

1. Heat the oven to hot – 475 / Gas 9 / 240.

2. Place one teaspoon of the meat dripping (or oil or 1/4oz lard) inside the individual holes of a 12-cup muffin tray and set aside.

3. Sift the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center.  Add the eggs.  Stir.

4. Begin adding the water a little at a time, mixing with a fork to smooth out any lumps until a smooth watery batter forms.

5. Whisk with a fork for 2-5 minutes until the mixture forms large bubbles.  Place in the refrigerator.

6.  Heat the oil or fat in the muffin tray in the hot oven for 3-5 minutes until it is hot and steaming.  Carefully remove from the oven.

7. Whisk the batter again for 3 minutes. Spoon an even amount into each of the twelve holes.  Immediately return to the heat.

8. Cook for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden brown.  Serve immediately.

 

Hints for the perfect pudding!

* Puddings cooked in lard or meat dripping are the tastiest.

* Use only plain flour.

* Mixture made in advance, whisked several times, and stored in the refrigerator produces the best batter.

* Whisk with a fork – not a hand or electric mixer.

* The more air bubbles you whisk in, the more the mixture will rise.

* The oven must be piping hot.

* Do not open oven door at all while cooking.

* Fat must be smoking before the batter is added.

* Best served straight from the oven.

 

 

 

 

Elementary Magic

elements Shutterstock

The four elements are the basic substances that make up life on this planet. They were classified by the Ancient Greeks as Fire, Air, Earth and Water.  This categorization influenced European thought well into the Renaissance period, and still remains important in modern magic and astrology.  For example, the twelve horoscopes are divided into Fire Signs (Aires, Leo, Sagittarius); Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn); Air Signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius); and Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces).

FIRE (Ignis) is plasma matter that can manifest as both hot and dry.  Galen associated it with yellow bile and the choleric body.  It is a positive power – or a destructive influence – depending on how it is used.  Fire is also a transformer that can turn into heat, light, smoke, and ash, and is the energy that brings about change.  Magicians use fire spells to inspire drive and motivation, particularly in the pursuit of passion or ambition.

AIR (Aer) – a gaseous matter – contains both wet and hot properties.  Galen believed it was related to the blood and created the sanguine body.  Air is a detaching element associated with the mind.  For this reason it is used in magic to enhance human intellectual powers and inspire creativity.

EARTH (Terra) is dry and cold, a feminine solid matter.  In Galen’s philosophy it partnered black bile and the melancholic humor.  But Earth is also a binding element, and while it can freeze, liquefy, or dry into other states, it always retains the ability to return to its natural form.  Because it represents the grounded soul, earth spells are used for guilt-free material gain, and personal happiness.

WATER (Aqua) is the cold, wet element that manifests as a liquid matter.  Galen connected water with a phlegmatic  imbalance of the humors.  This substance not only nurtures and sustains all life on the planet but it also contains magnetic properties.  It is a mystical element used by practitioners for communing with divine spirits.

 Aristotle studied the heavens and decided to add a fifth element he named Aether.  His concept of ETHER sounds like stardust – the substance beyond the material world that is heavenly and unchangeable.  Some modern magicians believe this is the stuff from which all magic is made – that spells function by directing the energy in our own bodies to manipulate the flow of Ether as it swirls about the universe.

Perhaps Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock song is right in claiming:

“We are stardust

Billion year old carbon” . . . 

Sources:

Rees, Matthew. “A Metaphysical Theory of Magic” at http://www.sabledrake.com/2000a/metaphysical_magic.htm

“Fire, Water, Air, Earth” at http://www.spiritualknowledge.net

Wikipedia: “Classical Elements” and various Wiccan, Pagan, and Magic websites.

Photo: Shutterstock