The Enigmatic Pentagram

In the beginning, the pentagram (pentagon) was a holy symbol for The Divine.  How did it come to represent evil?  And why is it now the most popular image of modern Wiccans and witchcraft?

pentagon

The pentagram is a five-pointed star within a circle.  Originally, the single peak was on top and pointed towards God.  It was first recorded around 3500 BC.  The Ancient Mesopotamians used it represent their power extending into the four corners of the world.

The Hebrews chose the pentagram to signify Truth, and Pythagoras’ followers considered it to be the emblem of Perfection.  Celtic Druids also associated it with the Godhead, because five was their sacred number.

The Early Christians connected the pentagram with the Five Wounds of Christ, but eventually decided to use the symbol of the Cross as their banner instead.  Yet the religious connection to the “Endless Knot” of the star endured, and it soon became a personal talisman to ward off demons.  In Medieval times it was used as an amulet over windows and doors to stop evil from entering the home.

According to Arthurian legend, Sir Gawain adopted the pentagram for the coat-of-arms on his shield, claiming the five points represented Generosity, Courtesy, Chastity, Chivalry, and Piety.

It was also used by the Knights Templar, who believed the pentagram contained certain mystical powers.  Later, when they were persecuted by King Louis IX’s Inquisition, this symbol became associated with heresy.

Before long, the five-pointed star was linked with the Horned God, Pan.  It was renamed the “Witch’s Foot” and entered in the mythology of witches and  pagans.  No longer did the pentagram represent the Divine.  For many years it was the public symbol of Satan and his devils.

In private, however, the power of the pentagram lived on. Western Occultists and Freemasons believed that mankind was a smaller part of a greater universe and they decided that this symbol – the “Star of the Microcosm” – was the best representation of human insignificance.

During the Nineteenth Century certain Metaphysical Societies – particularly those based on the ancient Holy Kabbalah – established the pentagram as part of the Tarot Card system of divination.  They renamed the Suit of Coins as the Suit of Pentacles.

Twentieth Century Satanists adopted inverted pentagrams (and inverted crucifixes) as symbols of evil – an unfortunate association that has stuck in public consciousness.

Meanwhile, the upright pentagram has been reclaimed by Wiccans and Witches.  They see it as a representation of the five elements – Earth, Fire, Wind, Air, and Spirit.   It remains the most recognized symbol of their beliefs, and has once again become associated with the Divine!

Sources:

Cyber Witchcraft. “Witchcraft Symbols,” at http://www.cyberwitchcraft.com/witchcraft-symbols.html

Pagan’s Path. “History of the Pentagram”: at http://www.paganspath.com/magik/pentacle1.htm

Wikipedia. “Pentagram,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagram

Kit’s Crit: THE KING’S WITCH (Cecilia Holland)

Cecelia Holland’s The King’s Witch (New York: Berkley, 2011) is a historical novel set during the Third Crusade to take Jerusalem, around 1191.  Edythe – a young Jewish woman pretending to be Christian – is dispatched by Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to inform on her children, Richard the Lionheart and his sister Johanna.  Edythe has inherited a little folk-healing skill from her physician father, and using her knowledge of herbs and potions she manages to save the king’s life when he contracts a dangerous fever, a feat than earns her the nickname of witch.  Fortunately, this is the era before the Burning Times swept across Europe.

King Richard embarks on his holy campaign to atone for the homosexuality he believes makes him a monster in the eyes of God.  On the same journey, Edythe begins her own religious pilgrimage to discover and reclaim her Jewish heritage.  She develops a bond with another outsider, the king’s bastard relative called Rouquin, who tells her that Richard’s crusade “isn’t about God” but rather “about power.”  This ironically proves true at the end – with the suggestion that the strongest power on earth is love.

Although a lot of political background informs the start of the novel, Holland’s crisp style cuts cleanly through to the center of this original, inventive tale.  It is well-researched and nicely executed, especially the early medicinal knowledge which includes a particularly harrowing head-trauma surgery.  The King’s Witch can be classified as both a romance and a fiction.  And while the relationship between Edythe and Rouquin is not entirely convincing, the action scenes and excellent details prove sufficient to make this a satisfying historical novel.

Ella Fitzgerald’s / Frank Sinatra’s “That Old Black Magic”

That Old Black Magic

(Johnny Mercer, Dub Allbritten, Harold Arlen, and Ronnie Self)

witchy woman

That old black magic has me in its spell,
That old black magic that you weave so well,
Those icy fingers up and down my spine,
The same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine.

The same old tingle that I feel inside
And then that elevator starts its ride,
And down and down I go, round and round I go,
Like a leaf that’s caught in the tide.

I should stay away, but what can I do?
I hear your name and I’m aflame,
Aflame with such a burning desire
That only your kiss can put out the fire.

Because you are the lover I have waited for,
The mate that fate had me created for,
And every time your lips meet mine,

Darling, down and down I go, round and round I go,
In a spin, loving the spin that I’m in,
Under that old black magic called love.

Ella Fitzgerald version:

Frank Sinatra version:

Who sings it best?

Olde English Jam

Jam is the English version of American jelly or fruit preserves.  It can be made from a variety of fruit.

jam

Ingredients:

1lb fresh fruit (apricots, cherries, blackcurrants, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, etc)

3/4 pint water

1lb granulated sugar

Method:

  1. Wash (peel and stone) the fresh produce.  If the fruit is larger than a berry, cut into smaller pieces.
  2. Put the fruit and water in a large boiling pan over a low heat.
  3. Simmer gently until the fruit turns soft.
  4. Stir in the sugar.  Allow it to thoroughly dissolve.
  5. Boil rapidly until the fruit mix reaches the setting point.  Check by holding a wooden spoon horizontally over the pan – if a drop of jam holds firm at the tip it is ready to test on a cold saucer.  Add the drop to the saucer.  Push with your finger tip.  If the jam has reached setting point it will wrinkle.
  6. Spoon into warm jam jars and cover.

Tips:

  • Over-ripe fruit can prevent the jam from setting.
  • Sweeter fruits (like cherries) need less sugar than tart fruits (like blackcurrants).
  • Over-boiling the fruit takes away the flavor.
  • Burnt jam tastes disgusting!

Kit’s Crit: Tell My Horse (Zora Neale Hurston)

Hurston

Do you believe in Zombies?  Having studied Voodoo in Jamaica and Haiti, Zora Neale Hurston’s book Tell My Horse (1938) claims that the undead really do exist and she has seen proof with her own eyes!

As a member of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston was interested in recovering authentic black feminine power.  But she did not look for it in the guise of the New Woman, she wanted to reconnect with the wily, wild conjure woman from the African Ur-cultures, the pagan witches of antiquity.

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica is divided into three parts.  The first two are a little disorganized as she describes the history and politics of Jamaica and Haiti.  Legend has it that while Hurston was doing “under cover” research in Jamaica, the natives found out she was going to publish their secrets and she had to flee the island in fear of her life.

The third section about Voodoo is both disturbing and compelling.  Hurston respectfully introduces this practice as “a religion of creation and life,” but then describes at length the “people who have been called back from the dead,” in particular “this case of Felicia Felix-Mentor . . . So I know there are Zombies in Haiti.”  But these are not the flesh-eating TV characters that appear in The Walking Dead.  Haitian Zombies are generally called back for one of three reasons: to work as free manual labor toiling in the fields; as the revenge of an enemy who wants to deny them eternal rest and peace; or as a sacrifice to another spirit.  It is the Haitian version of giving-a-soul-to-the-devil.

ZombieThe dead person’s spirit is stolen by the Bocor  who turns the body into a mindless slave.  Bocors are the “bad witches” of Voodo, as opposed to the “good witch” leaders called the Houngan. 

Tell My Horse is a strange and fascinating attempt to explain the West Indian Obeah practices.  It is weird – and at times disgusting – and definitely an acquired taste.  Scholars will find it useful, but I do not think its antiquated style holds much appeal for the general reader.

Fortunately, it is a very different book from Hurston’s other stellar work!

Gris-Gris: A Voodoo Charm

Voodoo 12

A gris-gris is a voodoo fetish that was originally designed as a doll to protect the owner from evil or bad luck.  Over time, the doll was replaced by a cloth bag that could be worn on the person.  Gris-gris today are usually small pouches inscribed with verses from the Qur’an.  They contain either 1,3,5,7,9, or 13 ritual objects such as animal bones, herbs, stones, hair, nail, or pieces of clothing.

Gris-gris are made on an altar containing the four elements: fire (candle flame), earth (salt), air (incense), and water.  These charms are used to attract money or love, to prevent malicious gossip, to protect the home, and to bring good health and fortune.

Historians believe that the gris-gris tradition originated in Muslim Ghana.  The slaves who arrived in Louisiana carried these amulets with them.  They were quickly adapted to bring ill-fortune and bad-luck curses on their white masters.  As they became part of the New Orleans voodoo culture, gris-gris were amalgamated into black magic rites to conjure up death and disaster.  In this way they changed from being a protective charm into a vengeful curse.

Some African communities still use gris-gris as a form of contraception.

The Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau marketed a particularly nasty version she called wangas.  Made from the shroud of a person who had been dead for 9 days, they contained a witch-brew made from toad, lizard, bat, cat, owl, rooster – and a suicide’s little finger!

Sources

New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.

Wikipedia, “Gris-gris,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gris-gris_(talisman).

“Voodoo Hoodoo Spell Book,” at http://voodoohoodoospellbook.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_19.html.

Dr. John’s Marie Laveau

Marie Laveau

(Dr. John)

Now there lived a conjure-lady, not long ago,
In New Orleans, Louisiana – named Marie Laveau.
Believe it or not, strange as it seem,
She made her fortune selling voodoo and interpreting dreams.

She was known throughout the nation as the Voodoo Queen.
Folks come to her from miles and miles around,
She sure know how to put that, that voodoo down.

To the voodoo lady they all would go,
The rich, the educated, the ignorant, and the poor.
She’d snap her fingers and shake her head,
She’d tell them about their lovers – living or dead.

Now an old, old lady named widow Brown,
Asked why her lover stopped coming around,
The voodoo gazed at her and squawked
I seen him kissing a young girl up at Shakespeare’s Park
Hanging on an oak tree in the dark.

Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – yaaaaa

Now old, old lady, she lost her speech,
Tears start to rolling down her checks,
Voodoo say, “Hush my darling, don’t you cry,”
I make him come back, by and by.
Just sprinkle this snake dust all over your floor,
I’ll make him come back Friday morning when the rooster crow.”

Now Marie Laveau she held them in her hand,
New Orleans, Louisiana was her promised land.
Quality folk, come from far and near,
This wonder woman for to hear.
They was afraid to be seen at her gate,
They’d creep through the dark just to hear their fate.
Holding dark veils over their head,
They would tremble to hear what Maria would say.

Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – yaaaaa

And she made gris-gris with an old ram horn,
Stuffed with feathers, shuck from a corn.
A big black candle and a catfish fin,
She make a man get religion and give up his sin.

Voodoo 9

Sad news got out one morning at the break of day,
Marie Laveau had done pass away.
St. Louis cemetery she lay in her tomb,
She was buried one night on the wake of the moon.

Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
The folks still believe in the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Marie, Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen.

 

Check out this version: