Olde English Rabbit Stew

Rabbit Stew is a traditional Old English dish that has always been popular with country folk.

stew

Ingredients

3lb chopped rabbit

1/2lb chopped bacon

2 chopped onions

1lb sliced mushrooms

1lb sliced carrots

2lb diced potatoes

 1 chopped garlic clove

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons ground black pepper

2oz flour

1/2 pint red wine

1/2 pint chicken stock

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon rosemary

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon parsley

1 lemon – juice and grated rind

1/4 pint fresh cream

2 tablespoons corn starch

Method

1.  Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

2.  Brown the bacon on high in a large pan on the stove.  Remove and drain on kitchen paper.  Keep the fat.

3.  Place the rabbit meat in the hot bacon fat and stir until evenly brown. Remove and place on kitchen paper.  Keep the fat.

  4.  Lightly brown the potatoes and carrots in the hot fat.  Add mushrooms, onions, and garlic clove.  Stir continuously for five minutes.

5.  Add the wine, chicken stock, bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme.  Bring to the boil.

6.  Return the bacon and rabbit to the pan.  Reduce to a low heat.  Cover and simmer until the rabbit is tender (1 – 2 hours).

7. Remove the bay leaf.  Mix the cornstarch with a little water to form a smooth paste and stir in slowly to thicken the stew.  Add the parsley, lemon juice, and rind.  Blend in the cream just before serving.

* For a sweeter tangy stew, add 2 tablespoons of jam or marmalade with the wine and chicken stock.

Countess Dracula: In League With Witches?

As long as there have been stories, tales of female vampires have captured the popular imagination.  Hebrew scriptures claim Lilith and her daughters lived on the blood of babies, and in the Greco-Roman mythology the followers of Hecate were also said to feast on children.  But the Guinness World Record for a woman serial killer is held by a documented historical figure – the wealthy Hungarian noble, Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614).  She is said to have tortured and killed around 600 peasant girls in order to bathe in their virgin blood, believing this was the fountain of youth that would keep her beautiful. The maidens were lured to her castle with promises of well-paid work, only to be beaten, burned, mutilated, frozen, starved, or stabbed to death.

Countess

Bathory is also known as Countess Dracula, partly because her atrocities are often compared with Vlad the Impaler’s reign of terror – a fellow Transylvanian murderer.  Bram Stoker used Bathory’s royal Hungarian connection for his Count, and made Dracula appear younger each time he feasted on human blood.

According to some sources Bathory, betrothed at age 10, married a lesser nobleman when she reached 15 years old.  In the meantime, however, she was impregnated by a castle servant and secretly gave birth to a daughter.  The child was never heard of again – and the lover was castrated before being fed to a pack of dogs.  She was married for 29 years, and during that time had several other children.

Bathory is thought to have suffered from violent seizures in early childhood, which may have aroused the first suspicions that she was “possessed by demons.”  Her husband spent a lot of time at war.  During his absence a manservant called Thorko apparently introduced her to the occult and several of her companions were rumored to be witches, sorcerers, seers, wizards, and cunning folk.  Four of these people were accomplices in her bloody crimes and when she was finally brought to justice, two were burned at the stake, one was beheaded and burned, and a last was imprisoned.  Because of her royal status Bathory could not be executed, so she was incarcerated in her castle for the remaining few years of her life.

Legend has likely embellished the horrors of Countess Dracula.  And whether she was dangerously vain, mentally unstable, or killed maidens simply for sadistic pleasure, we will never know.  But this was the era of witch hunting — and Bathory was a rich, powerful widow who triggered a lot of political envy and resentment — so she was a natural target for the ambitious men around her.  We cannot deny the fact that royal ladies have been known to torture and kill.  But when one of the charges against this noblewoman claims she cast a magic spell to summon ninety cats to torment her enemies . . . perhaps she is not quite as guilty as we have been led to believe!

Kate Bush’s Waking the Witch

Waking The Witch (Kate Bush)

Goddess

Wake Up
A good morning ma’am, your early morning call
You must wake up
Wake up
Wake up, man
Wake up child, pay attention
C’mon, wake up
Wake up, love
You shouldn’t make the night, but see your little lights alive
Stop your lying and sleeping in bed! Get up!
(C’mon! Your ma needs a shower)
Little light
Can you not see that little light up there?
Where?
There?
Where?
Over here…
You still in bed?
Wake up you sleepy head
We are of the going water and gone, we are of the water, and the holy land of water…
Don’t you know you’ve got to wake up?
Look whose hear to see you…

Listen to me…help me baby…talk to me, baby…tell them…listen to me…help me

You won’t burn
Red red roses
You won’t bleed
Pinks and posies
Confess to me girl
Red red roses
Go down

Spiritus sanctus in nomine…
Spiritus sanctus in nomine…
Spiritus sanctus in nomine…
Spiritus sanctus in nomine…

Poor little thing
Red red roses
The blackbird
Pinks and posies
Wings in the water
Red red roses
Go down
Pinks and posies

Deus et dei domino…
Deus et dei domino…
Deus et dei domino…
Deus et dei domino…

What is it child?

Bless me father, bless me father, for I have sinned…ugh
Red red roses
Help me baby, listen to me, listen to me, tell them baby
Red whole rose
Help me baby
Don’t you know?
I question your innocence

This black bird…
Is a stone around my neck
Ha! Damn you woman … Ah! Ugh!
This black bird…
Is a stone around my neck
What say you good people?
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
This black bird….
I am responsible for your actions!
Whoa….
Not guilty!
Help this black bird.
Wake of the Witch

Get out of the waves.

Get out of the water.

Vampires: The Devil’s Minions

Eve

The vampire is one of the archetypal embodiments of evil.  These cursed, damned creatures are claimed by Satan, and act as his followers to lure human souls away from God.  For that reason they cannot tolerate any reminders of what they have lost – crucifixes, holy water, rosaries, consecrated ground – and are forced to wander in the dark realm of night alongside the dead and undead.  Traditionally thought to be the reanimated evil souls of witches, suicides, and malevolent spirits, these corpses prey on the living in search of gratification and blood.  So how did this weird form of demonic possession becomes so sexy in the popular imagination?

Our literary fascination goes back the nineteenth century when Gothic horror writers began exploring the vampire myth.  Perhaps the most influential book was Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), which has since defined the legend for many generations.  Having spent seven years exploring Transylvanian folklore, Stoker based his demonic character on Vlad the Impaler (Vlad II, Dracula of Wallachia) who killed 40,000 – 100,000 enemies by impaling them on wooden poles – providing us with the method of ending a vampire’s reign by driving a wooden stake through the heart.  Vlad’s other atrocities included roasting children and serving them to their mothers, burning entire villages to the ground, and making men eat the severed breasts of their women.  Interestingly, the name Dracul can mean both dragon and devil.  But Stoker’s villain is much more attractive and sophisticated.  His Dracula is a worldly aristocratic count who skillfully stalks and seduces his prey.

During the twentieth century, the TV show Dark Shadows featured a sympathetic monster called Barnabas (1967).  In Interview With A Vampire Anne Rice introduced the sensual character, Lestat (1976).  And before long the disgusting blood-sucking creature of nightmares turned into a metaphor for redemption.  If the sad, lost vampire can be saved – by love or compassion – surely there is hope for everyone!   This also seems to be the  hook in books like the Twilight series.

Today the vampire has become a sex symbol, the hero of YA fiction and cable TV.  But this is not a modern phenomenon.  Ever since Eve was tricked in the Garden of Eden, the devil has been portrayed as being both attractive and seductive.  He does not lure Eve into temptation in human form – he chooses to appear as the phallic snake, a reminder that woman is lustful and open to the sins of the flesh.

When Eve eats from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil she dooms the human race to mortality, and in aligning herself with Satan she becomes the prototype witch.  But as European mythology made evil the polar opposite to good, it seems the devil came up with an intriguing alternative.  Instead of God’s promise of eternal life, Satan offers immortality on earth through becoming one of his minions.  Vampirism is an attractive solution to the Christian rigors of heaven or the painful tortures of hell.  And so, I would argue, the Dracula myth was born.

Who does not want to overcome death and live forever?  Most of us have a secret craving for love, immortality, power, and freedom.    The vampire realm requires an initial sacrifice of blood to the master, but thereafter there are no punishments or rules, no aging and pain, no guilt or taboos.  Surrendering to the darkness is erotic, exciting, mysterious, and adventurous.  The vampire remains suspended in time and the lustful soul is free to roam at will.

As modern day religion and morality changes with the times, so does our perception of good and evil.  It is only natural that our mythology alters too.  Few people would have found Bela Lugosi’s demonic Dracula very attractive:

Bela

But True Blood’s Eric Northman is a whole different beast!

Vampire

Sources:

Wikipedia: “Dracula” – “Vampire” – “Vlad the Impaler”

Dawidziak, David.  “When Did Vampires Turn From Monsters To Sex Symbols?”

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Penguin, 1990.


Rasputin: Devil or Saint?

Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916) was a complex Russian cunning man, sometimes called a monk, yet also described as a demon.  Why is he still such a fascinating figure?

Rasputin

Born a Siberian peasant, Rasputin rose to fame as a mystical faith healer to Tsar Nicholas II and his family.  His name, however, is often associated with trickery, debauchery, and the lust for power.

Following the death of his two young sons, Rasputin claimed to see a holy vision that led him to become a religious wanderer.  In 1907 he was summoned to the royal palace to attend Alexei – heir to the throne – who secretly suffered from hemophilia.  Although traditional medicine could do nothing for him,  Rasputin healed the young man with special prayers (and possibly his own herbal remedy), offering the Tsar and his wife their first glimpse of hope for their son’s future.

At a time when most of educated Europe was interested in mysticism Rasputin claimed to have access to the spirit world.  This – and his sway over the royal family – earned him many critics, some of whom claimed he was the Tsarina’s lover.  The newspapers of the day continually hounded him, yet by 1914 he was a firm influential force in Russian politics.

Multiple assassination attempts were made on the cunning man’s life.  One the first occasion he was stabbed.  But the night his enemies finally murdered him, Rasputin was poisoned with cyanide, shot three times at close range, bludgeoned with a shoe, and dumped in an icy river.

Scholarship suggests Rasputin was not a saint – he was never ordained in any religious order.  Rather, he was a charismatic personality with hypnotic eyes, who clarified the scriptures and made them accessible to everyone.  Most likely he was a herbalist and a gifted faith healer.  But his strong male appetite for power, fame, sex, and entertainment ultimately led to his downfall.

At the end of the day Rasputin was human, and like all of us he had both good and bad qualities.  Yet the widespread public fascination he evoked (and continues to evoke) suggests he may have been one of the first modern pop-culture icons.

Perhaps that is why his fame has stood the test of time.  Rasputin was the undisputed paparazzi star of his era!

Kit’s Crit: God Help The Child (Toni Morrison)

Morrison

Photo: Kit Perriman

I have long suspected that Toni Morrison’s novels can be paired, each one offering a different insight into a familiar (often harrowing) situation.  Her latest book, God Help the Child (New York: Knopf, 2015) is no exception.  Indeed, it makes a splendid companion to her first publication The Bluest Eye, as both stories focus on the aftereffects of childhood trauma, using a variety of narrative devices and a sprinkling of magical realism.

The Bluest Eye (1970) shows a young black girl’s descent into madness as a result of her ethnic inferiority complex and her father’s sexual abuse.  Pecola is destroyed by her circumstances.  In God Help the Child, however, the blue-black Bride is rejected by her high-yellow parents, and harshly treated by a mother trying to prepare her for the skin privileges in racist America.  But instead of being crushed, Bride not only survives with great dignity, she turns her blackness into a hot commodity and becomes a successful cosmetics mogul.

But Bride feels guilty about a lie she told as an eight-year-old child that sent an innocent woman to jail.  When the woman is released she tries to make amends, and at that point her carefully-shaped life begins to melt away.  She confesses her perjury to her lover, a jazz musician called Booker, who promptly declares, “You not the woman I want”(8).  This sends Bride into a form of arrested development where her body slowly shrinks back to its childhood state, still craving forgiveness and acceptance.  And only when she has gone on a quest — been reunited with Booker — and he cries, “I love you! Love you!”(164) does she start to become whole again.

Bride has “something witchy” about her eyes (6), a clue to the fact this is a modern fairy tale.  Like The Ugly Duckling, she grows from being a unattractive reject into a stunning success, and the dark child who lied and ruined an innocent life transforms into a beautiful goddess from the warmth of human love.

Like all of Morrison’s books, God Help the Child is full of poetic language, though in this sparse novella there is transcendence and a positive resolution. While not as complex as Paradise, or as poignant as Beloved, I enjoyed the story and the resilience it portrays.  Childhood trauma warps and shapes the adult life – but it can be overcome!

Pure magic.

Medea

One of Hecate’s most famous priestesses is the Greek princess, witch, and enchantress called Medea.

XIR182676 Jason and Medea, 1759 (oil on canvas) by Loo, Carle van (1705-65); 63x79 cm; Musee des Beaux-Arts, Pau, France; (add.info.: murdered her own children when Jason left her;); Giraudon; French, out of copyright  Medea – the daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis – was born divine, with the gift of prophecy.  Her aunt was the same Circe who turned Odysseus’ men into swine.  Unlike other deities, however, she is not portrayed as a benevolent mother figure.  Rather, Medea seems to have always glowed in the popular imagination as a jealous wife who avenged herself on the man who betrayed her.  She is a murderess – but not without cause.  And even when portrayed as a vicious scorned woman, Medea retains her celestial strength and dignity.

Medea helps the hero Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece because she falls in love with him at first sight.  She pledges her magical assistance on the condition that he takes her away from her father’s tight grip and agrees to marry her.  To aid their escape from Colchis, Medea kills her brother and scatters his body parts into the sea, a ruse that buys time because the father has to locate all the parts for a proper burial.  The couple live happily together for ten years and have several children, possibly five sons and a daughter.

According to Euripides’ Medea, Jason finally leaves his enchanting wife for a young maid called Glauce, King Creon’s daughter.  Medea’s anguish turns to spite, and using her herbal lore the witch sends a poisoned gift to the palace that murders both the new bride-to-be and her father.  Not content with this, however, the distraught mother butchers two of her own sons – Mermeros and Pheres – to ensure that Jason feels the same hurt and loss that was inflicted on her.  Calling on supernatural aid, she then escapes from Corinth in a cart drawn by dragons, sent from her grandfather Helios.

Some time later Medea remarries the aging King Aegeus, promising to restore his vitality so that she can give him another child to accompany his lone son Theseus.  They do have a baby together, but Aegeus catches Medea in the act of trying to poison Theseus in order to assure her own son’s place on the throne.  She is driven away, leaving behind only her reputation as an evil sorceress.

Sources:

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Medea” at http://www.britannica.com/topic/Medea-Greek-mythology

Euripides, Medea and Other Plays (New York: Penguin, 1963)

Greek Mythology Link, “Medea” at http://www.maicar.com/GML/Medea.html

Theatrehistory.com, “Medea” at http://www.theatrehistory.com/ancient/bates018.html

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

Witchcraftandwitches.com, “Medea” at http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/witches_medea.html

Picture: Jason and Medea by Carle van Loo (1705-65)

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.

The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil

Sympathy For The Devil

(Mick Jagger and Keith Richards)

DmC: Devil May Cry

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and fate.
I was around when Jesus Christ
Had his moments of doubt and pain,
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate.

Pleased to meet you –
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah.
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game.

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change.
Killed the Czar and his ministers,
Anastasia screamed in vain.
I rode a tank
Held a General’s rank,
When the Blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank.

Pleased to meet you –
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah.
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah.

I watched the glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the Gods they made.

I shouted out,
“Who killed the Kennedys?”
Well, after all,
It was you and me!

Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste.
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay.

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah.
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah.

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah.
But what’s confusing you
Is just the nature of my game, oh yeah.

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints –
As heads is tails, just call me Lucifer
I’m in need of some restraint.

So if you meet me, have some courtesy
Have some sympathy and some taste.
Use all your well learned politics
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, mmm yeah.

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, mmm yeah.
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, get down
Woo hoo, ah yeah, get on down, oh yeah.

Tell me, baby, what’s my name?
Tell me, honey, baby, guess my name!
Tell me, baby, what’s my name?
Or this one time, you’re to blame.

What’s my name?
Tell me, baby, what’s my name?
Tell me, sweetie, what’s my name?

Check out the live version here:

Kali

Kali is the Hindu goddess of death.  Her name comes from Kalam and means black or dark in color.  She is associated with time, change, power, war, blackness, destruction, evil, and violence. In mythology, she is the consort of Shiva, and a ferocious slayer of demons.  But Kali is also a most ambiguous deity.

Kali Many followers perceive this goddess as the Supreme Mistress of the Universe because she was created first – out of the blackness – before the rest of time began.  Therefore she is the highest reality and the greatest force.  And because Kali brings death, she serves as the vehicle to human salvation.

Others view Kali as the benevolent Mother.  She is the Ultimate Being and those who worship at her feet become her children.  Yet she is a fearsome sight to behold.  The goddess is usually portrayed as a naked blue woman with four arms, a sword, skull jewelry, matted hair, blood-shot eyes and a drooping tongue.  She feeds off human flesh and blood, holds a severed head, and has Shiva laid flat at her feet.  She is often accompanied by snakes and jackals.  Kali is a far-remove from the Christian image of the beautiful, meek Holy Mother!

Perhaps because of these ambiguities, some Hindus fear Kali as the Dark Goddess and have turned her into a witch.  Her followers are called Daayans – and many unfortunate women are currently being actively persecuted in certain regions of India today.  You can read some of their harrowing stories here:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/06/magazine-meet-indian-women-hunted-witches-150603092941061.html

“The infinite is always mysteriously dark”  (Sri Ramakrishna).

 

Sources:

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

“Kali: The Dark Mother” at http://hinduism.about.com/od/hindugoddesses/a/makali.htm

“Mother Goddess As Kali” at http://www.exoticindiaart.com/kali.htm

Magic Words: Five

 

Placid 5

“If you compare yourself with others,

you may become vain or bitter, for always

there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

                                                                                                                  Desiderata (Max Ehrmann)

Photo: George Hodan

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!

 

Kit’s Crit: Daughters of the Witching Hill (Mary Sharratt)

Sarratt

It is impossible to know what really happened before and during the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 when the only extant document is the blatantly biased trial record, written by a clerk called Thomas Potts to gain favor with King James 1st.  Mary Sharratt, however, makes an excellent attempt at fleshing out a plausible tale around the two central characters — a local cunning woman known as Mother Demdike (Bess Southerns), and her pretty teenage granddaughter (Alizon Device).  Sharratt’s cunning folk are Catholic herbalists and fortune-tellers, doing whatever they can to survive in remote, harsh Lancashire.

Daughters of the Witching Hill (Mariner Books, 2011) is more a historical fiction than a thriller.  It offers a sympathetic portrayal of marginalized females battling against the patriarchy.  Sharratt has a good grasp of the local superstitions, traditions, religious conflict, and public ignorance of the period, and the Demdike clan emerge as a group of strong women, bonded by circumstance and sustained with love.  Most interesting is Sharratt’s invented seventeenth-century Lancashire dialect: “I bide with my daughter, Liza of the squint-eye, and with my granddaughter, Alizon . . . .”

 As is necessary in any saga as complex as the Lancashire Witches, Sharratt takes some “fictional liberties” by combining several real people into one composite character, and changing some of the repetitive historical names for the sake of clarity.  She also suggests that Demdike taught another rival cunning woman her craft (Mother Chattox); that Mistress Alice Nutter was a secret practicing Catholic; and that Justice Roger Nowell derived some personal (perhaps sexual) satisfaction from his dealing with the so-called witches.  These are all credible assumptions.

Less likely, is her portrayal of Demdike’s daughter Elizabeth Device (known locally as “Squinting Lizzie”).  In Daughters of the Witching Hill Lizzie has no interest in her mother’s magic.  She appears as a chaste lonely widow who follows the new religion because she is infatuated with a Church Warden called Richard Baldwin.  He impregnates her with a third child, Jennet Device.  Yet while this provides a romantic interlude in the harrowing proceedings, I strongly suspect the Demdike home was called Malkin Tower because malkin meant “sluttish woman” (OED) and  Squinting Lizzie may well have been one of the local prostitutes!

Sharratt, however, has every right to fill in the gaps of this ambiguous story with her own interpretation, and her sympathetic version of events certainly makes an intriguing read.  A highly-recommended novel.

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

Power

“Is it not glorious to ride on the wind –

to mount the stars –

to kiss the moon through the dark rolling clouds . . .

Witch

She loathed her own form and her own species –

earth was too narrow for her desires.”

(John Roby: Lancashire Myths and Legends)

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!

Cy Coleman’s Witchcraft

Coleman

WITCHCRAFT

(Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh)

 

Those fingers in my hair,

That sly come-hither stare,

That strips my conscience bare,

It’s witchcraft.

And I’ve got no defense for it,

The heat is too intense for it,

What good would common sense for it do?

‘Cause it’s witchcraft, wicked witchcraft,

And although I know it’s strictly taboo,

When you arouse the need in me

My heart says “Yes indeed” in me

Proceed with what you’re leading me to.

It’s such an ancient pitch,

But one that I wouldn’t switch,

‘Cause there’s no nicer witch than you. 

‘Cause it’s witchcraft, that crazy witchcraft,

And although I know it’s strictly taboo,

When you arouse the need in me

My heart says “Yes indeed” in me

Proceed with what you’re leading me to.

It’s such an ancient pitch,

But one that I’d never switch,

‘Cause there’s no nicer witch than you.

 

Summer Solstice

Solstice

June 20th / 21st : Summer Solstice, 2017.

1. What is the Summer Solstice?

– The longest day of the year

– The start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere

2. What does “solstice” mean?

– It is Latin for “sun-stopping”

– The sun appears to stop and reverse direction in the sky after this day

3. What actually happens to the sun on this day?

– It is at its annual highest point in the sky

– The sun’s zenith is furthest away from the equator

4. Why is the solstice important?

– It was a visible calendar sign to help ancient agricultural societies

– People often used the passage of the sun to keep time

5. Why is Stonehenge associated with the Solstice?

– Many people believe Stonehenge was created as a sun temple

– The stones are lined up to capture the sun at specific points on certain times of the year (the Solstice being the most important)

6. What else happens on this day?

– Your shadow at noon is the shortest it will be all year

– You are most likely to get sunburn on this particular day

Enjoy your summer!

Santana’s Black Magic Woman

Black Magic Woman

Got a black magic woman
Got a black magic woman

I’ve got a black magic woman
Got me so blind I can’t see
That she’s a black magic woman
She’s tryin’ to make a devil out of me

Turn your back on me, baby
Turn your back on me, baby

Yes, don’t turn your back on me baby
Stop messin’ ’round with your tricks
Don’t turn your back on me baby
You just might pick up my magic sticks

Got your spell on me baby
Got your spell on me baby

Yes, you got your spell on me baby
Turning my heart into stone
I need you so bad, magic woman
I can’t leave you alone

Watch the live version:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95kCv10duFw

(Picture: Alfons Maria Mucha)

 

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?

Kit’s Crit: Interregnum (Geraldine Monk)

Monk

Geraldine Monk’s Interregnum is a collection of experimental poems based on the Lancashire Witch Trials of 1612.  The title refers to a gap or pause in history where the social order shifts.  In this collection, nine-year-old Jennet Device represents such a metamorphosis on several different levels.  She is the downtrodden, exploited child – a female in the lowest patriarchal position – and is closely aligned with the animal kingdom.  But she also becomes an instrument of change.

 As the folklorist John Roby shrewdly observed, “Witchcraft and kingcraft both came in with the Stuarts and went out with them.”  Twenty-two years after the first Lancashire Witch Trials, another group of Pendle folk were sent to the assizes, found guilty, but eventually received a royal pardon from Charles 1st who was not as superstitious as his father, King James.  Jennet Device is thought to have been among the accused – “Babyface on the chopping block” (Monk) – but the times were finally changing.

This anthology is strange and penetrating.  It pushes against traditional language, exploring a stark landscape where everything struggles to survive against poverty, prejudice, and oppression.  Resistance is inscribed on the body in scabs and scars.  But there is a freedom in the natural world that can liberate even the weariest spirit.

Monk explores the importance of what happened on the slopes of Pendle Hill – past and present – questioning to what extent history can impact the future.  She ultimately concludes that although we cannot live the lives of others – nor escape “Words birthed.  Made flesh.  Took wing.  Horrids and / enormaties” – we can strive to be less ignorant and more compassionate.

If you like challenging poetry that is felt and processed in gut before being savored in the mind, you will probably enjoy Interregnum.

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.

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.

Rose

black-rose[1]

You gave me a rose

in the bandaged wraps

of winter.  Plucked of

the heart.  Pulsating,

dripping with love and

valued more than blood

rubies.

Just a small

gesture.  Rich spiral

of life juxtaposed

on frosted snow sheets –

but oh! so poignant.

 

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’d come 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
Tryin’ 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

 

 

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)