Hole’s Softer, Softest

Softer, Softest

(Courtney Love, Eric T. Erlandson)

the-witch-525958_640[1]

I tell you everything
And I hope that you won’t tell on me.
And I’d give you anything
I know that you won’t tell on me.

The pee girl gets the belt
It only makes me blind,
Your milk is sour
And I can only cry,

And I can only cower,
And I can only cry,
You have all the power.

I’ve got a blister from
Touching everything I see.
The abyss opens up
It steals everything from me.

The pee girl gets the belt
It only makes me blind,
Your milk is so sick,
Your milk has a dye,

Your milk has a dick,
Your milk has a dye,
Your milk has a dick.

Burn the witch, the witch is dead –
Burn the witch, burn the witch,
Just bring me back her head!

The pee girl gets the belt
The old milk makes me blind,
Your milk is so mean,
Your milk turns to mine,

Your milk turns to cream,
Your milk turns to crime,
Your milk turns to cream,
Your milk turns to crime,

Your milk turns to cream,
Your milk turns to crime,
Your milk turns to cream.

Listen to Softer, Softest here:

Olde English Jam Roly-poly

A favorite pudding from childhood! Jam Roly-poly is a warm winter treat, best served with hot custard.

cake 1

Ingredients

8oz self-raising flour

4oz shredded vegetable suet

2oz caster sugar

Knob of butter

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg, mixed with 1 tablespoon of milk

6oz raspberry jam

 4 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon icing sugar

Method

  1. Heat the oven 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.  Grease a flat baking sheet with the knob of butter.
  2. Sift the flour into a large bowl.  Add the suet, sugar, salt, and cinnamon.  Stir.
  3. Add most of the egg mix and stir (saving two teaspoons for brushing later).
  4. Gradually mix in the milk to form a soft dough.  Kneed lightly.  Leave to rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.
  5. Roll out the dough into a thin rectangle on a floured surface.  Spread with jam, leaving a 1″ border on all sides.  Wet the edges lightly with the egg mix.
  6. Roll up into a cartwheel shape from one long end to the other.  Place the seam on the underside, flat on the baking sheet.
  7. Brush on the remainder of the egg mix.
  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
  9. Dust with icing sugar.
  10. Serve piping hot.

Kit’s Crit: The Witch of Eye (Mari Griffith)

The Witch of Eye

Mari Griffith

witch-of-eye

Set in the mid-Fifteenth Century, The Witch of Eye is a historical fiction based on the true story of Margery Jourdemayne, a wise woman from Eye Next Westminster, who was eventually burned at the stake.  The infamous Witch of Eye acts on behalf of the Duchess of Gloucester, Eleanor Cobham, who is desperate to give Duke Humphrey a son.  Into these known facts Mari Griffith skillfully weaves an invented love story between a dairymaid called Jenna Harding, and Margery Jourdemayne’s yeoman farmer husband, William.

Griffith draws a convincing scene of life in medieval England and her attention to detail is very impressive.  She portrays that ambiguous time when people of all ranks looked to supernatural forces to help them achieve their desires, sometimes even assisted by members of the clergy.  Jenna Harding is the most modern – and appealing – character who is drawn into dangerous circumstances over which she has little control.  Fortunately, things work out well for her in the end.

I enjoyed this well-paced book.  Highly recommended if you like a touch of romance in your historical fiction!

What’s Your Poison? Mushrooms!

Did you know:

  • Mushroom poisoning is called mycetism.
  • About 100 types of fungi are toxic to humans.
  • Most deaths occur from eating the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides):

Death Cap Death Caps

  • Death Caps are a sticky pale yellow or olive green color and their cap measures 3-6 inches.
  • They are easily peeled and often mistaken for edible varieties like the Button or Caesar mushrooms.
  • Found during the Fall, this fungus grows in woods near the bases of trees.  It likes hardwoods, preferably oaks and pines.
  • Death Caps are pretty and taste pleasant.  The effects of poisoning do not appear until 2-3 days after ingestion.  Death occurs 6 – 16 days later.
  • Toxicity is not reduced by cooking, baking, drying or freezing.
  • Poisoning produces diarrhea, vomiting, delirium, seizures, coma, and eventually results in fatal organ failure.
  • Victims of mushroom poisoning may have included Emperor Claudius (AD 54), Pope Clement VIII (1554) and Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI (1740).
  • The Death Cap is closely associated with The Destroying Angel.  This all-white mushroom is just as deadly as its cousin.

DCF 1.0 Destroying Angel

Sources:

Adams, Cat. “Most Dangerous Mushroom” at slate.com

Fischer, David. “The Death Cap Mushroom” at americanmushrooms.com

Wikipedia. “Amanita phalloides” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanita_phalloides

 

 

 

What’s Your Poison? Mandrake!

Did you know:

Mandrake

  • Mandrake – Mandragora officinarum –  was historically known as Satan’s Apple.
  • The roots and leaves are highly toxic.  They result in coma and asphyxiation.
  • If ingested in large doses, mandrake causes delirium, madness, and death.
  • Its thin tuberous roots look like parsnips.  Ancient Greek and Roman physicians offered patients pieces of root to chew on before surgery because it acted as an early anesthetic.
  • This plant grows best on poor, sandy soil in full sunlight.
  • The greenish-yellow (sometimes purple) flowers are followed by round, orange seed pods.
  • Because mandrake has a narcotic, hallucinogenic, hypnotic effect, it has been aligned with Black Magic and mystical rites since the Dark Ages.
  • Also, the roots often resemble human figures.
  • Anyone who digs up a mandrake root is supposedly condemned to Hell, so animals were usually used to harvest it instead.
  • Legend claims that the mandrake root screams when it is pulled from the soil, and that anyone hearing this cry will instantly die.  This explains Shakespeare’s reference in King Henry VI, Part 1: “Would curses kill, as doth the Mandrake’s groan.”

 

Sources:

Grieve, M.  “Mandrake” at https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mandra10.html

Medieval Bestiary, “Mandrake” at http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast1098.htm

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

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

 

 

 

 

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

‘Cause 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?

Chris De Burgh’s Spanish Train

Spanish Train

(Chris De Burgh)

There’s a Spanish train that runs between
Guadalquivir and old Saville,
And at dead of night the whistle blows,
and people hear she’s running still…

And then they hush their children back to sleep,
Lock the doors, upstairs they creep,
For it is said that the souls of the dead
Fill that train ten thousand deep.

Well, a railwayman lay dying with his people by his side,
His family were crying, knelt in prayer before he died,
But above his bed just a-waiting for the dead,
Was the Devil with a twinkle in his eye,
“Well God’s not around and look what I’ve found,
this one’s mine!”

Just then the Lord himself appeared in a blinding flash of light,
And shouted at the Devil, “Get thee hence to endless night!”
But the Devil just grinned and said “I may have sinned,
But there’s no need to push me around,
I got him first so you can do your worst,
He’s going underground.

But I think I’ll give you one more chance”
said the Devil with a smile,
“So throw away that stupid lance,
It’s really not your style –
Joker is the name, Poker is the game,
we’ll play right here on this bed,
And then we’ll bet for the biggest stakes yet,
the souls of the dead!”

And I said “Look out, Lord! He’s going to win,
The sun is down and the night is riding in,
That train is dead on time, many souls are on the line,
Oh Lord, He’s going to win.”

Well, the railwayman he cut the cards
And he dealt them each a hand of five,
And for the Lord he was praying hard
Or that train he’d have to drive.
Well, the Devil he had three aces and a king,
And the Lord, he was running for a straight,
He had the queen and the knave, and nine and ten of spades,
All he needed was the eight.

And then the Lord he called for one more card,
But he drew the diamond eight,
And the Devil said to the son of God,
“I believe you’ve got it straight,
So deal me one for the time has come
To see who’ll be the king of this place.”
But as he spoke, from beneath his cloak,
He slipped another ace.

Ten thousand souls was the opening bid,
And it soon went up to fifty-nine,
But the Lord didn’t see what the Devil did,
And he said “That suits me fine.
“I’ll raise you high to a hundred and five,
And forever put an end to your sins”,
But the Devil let out a mighty shout, “My hand wins!”

And I said “Lord, oh Lord, you let him win,
The sun is down and the night is riding in,
That train is dead on time, many souls are on the line,
Oh Lord, don’t let him win.”

the-chess-players[1] (Moirts Retzch)

Well that Spanish train still runs between,
Guadalquivir and old Saville,
And at dead of night the whistle blows,
And people fear she’s running still.
And far away in some recess
The Lord and the Devil are now playing chess,
The Devil still cheats and wins more souls,
And as for the Lord, well, he’s just doing his best.

And I said “Lord, oh Lord, you’ve got to win,
The sun is down and the night is riding in,
That train is still on time, oh my soul is on the line,
Oh Lord, you’ve got to win!”

 

Check out this creative slideshow version below!

 

Olde English Spotted Dick

Spotted Dick is an amusing name for a delicious suet-based fruit pudding that is best serve with custard!

Spotted Dick

Ingredients

40z fresh white breadcrumbs

3oz shredded vegetable suet

3oz plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2oz sugar

4oz dried currants, raisins, or sultanas

1 lemon – grated rind and juice

1 orange – grated rind and juice

4oz milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Method

1. Grease a heat-proof pudding bowl.

2. Place the breadcrumbs, suet, flour, salt, sugar, and dried fruit in a large bowl.

3. Add the lemon rind and juice, orange rind and juice, vanilla, and milk.

4. Stir well with a wooden spoon until thoroughly mixed.

5. Place in the pudding bowl.  Cover with pleated greaseproof paper and tie off with string.

6. Steam in a metal culinder or sieve over a large pan of boiling water for 1 – 2 hours, checking the water regularly, and topping up the pan so it does not boil dry.

7. Serve hot.

What’s Your Poison? Aconite!

Did you know:

Aconitum_napellus_JPG1a[1]

  • Aconite – Aconitum napellus – was used by the Ancient Chinese to poison the tips of their arrows.
  • All parts of the plant are extremely toxic.  Death occurs in 2 – 6 hours and is caused by the paralysis of the heart.
  • Poisoning produces symptoms similar to rabies – frothy saliva, poor vision, disorientation, and coma.
  • The helmet-shaped flowers are usually a violet- blue color, but they can also be white, yellow, or pink.
  • This plant grows in moist mountain meadows and has glossy, dark green leaves.  The root looks like small turnips.
  • Aconite was historically used to kill wild predators – hence the nicknames Wolf’s Bane and Leopard’s Bane.
  • It is also commonly known as Monkshood, Devil’s Helmet, and The Queen of All Poisons.
  • Cleopatra used Aconite to kill her brother Ptolemy XIV, in order to place her own son on the throne.

 

Sources:

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

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

 

What’s Your Poison? Ergot!

Did you know:

Ergot

  • Ergot is a toxic fungus that grows mainly on rye plants.
  • Claviceps purpurea can also infect barley, oats, and wheat.
  • It reduces the crop yield and causes a disease called ergotism, commonly known as St. Anthony’s Fire because it affects the blood circulation and creates a terrible burning sensation.
  • There are two forms of ergot poisoning: one type causes gangrene, and the other form manifests in hallucinations, convulsions, and seizures.
  • Because it causes the symptoms of madness, ergot may have been responsible for the large-scale outbreaks of mass hysteria the swept across Medieval Europe in the Middle Ages.
  • This fungus often triggered the symptoms of demonic possession that led to accusations of witchcraft.
  • Ergot occurs in high humidity, especially at the edges of a crop field.
  • It emerges in autumn, usually after an extremely cold winter and rainy summer.
  • The fungus manifests on rye seeds as a dark violet or black stain.
  • Severe epidemics seem to follow a 5 -10 year cycle.
  • The fungus also creates contractions of the womb and was traditionally used to induce abortions, or to help stop post-natal maternal bleeding.
  • Ergot is the natural form of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide).

 

Sources:

“Ergot of Rye” at http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/faculty/wong/BOT135/LECT12.HTM

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

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

 

 

What’s Your Poison? Hemlock!

Did you know:

Hemlock

  • Hemlock has several names including Conium maculatum, Poison Parsley, Devil’s Bread, and Poison Hemlock.
  • Conium comes from the Greek word konas – “to whirl” – because vertigo is one of the symptoms from eating this plant.
  • Hemlock is a highly poisonous member of the carrot family.  It also affects animals and can cause birth defects in pregnant mammals.
  • All parts of this invasive plant are toxic, especially the seeds, but it is thought to be less harmful when grown in colder climates or when dried out.
  • It grows small white flowers on a speckled stem that turns purple at the base.  All parts are hairless.
  • A flowering bush smells of mice, but the crushed leaves and roots are pungent like parsnip.
  • Hemlock prefers warm, moist soil so it often flourishes alongside streams, ditches, and the edges of fields.
  • The Ancient Greeks used hemlock to execute condemned prisoners, the most famous being the philosopher Socrates.
  • In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the three Weird Sisters add “Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark” to their magic cauldron – a sure sign they were up to no good!

Sources:

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. David Bevington (Fourth Ed.) (Worldwide: Longman, 1997) 

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

Wikipedia, “Conium maculatum” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conium_maculatum

 

What’s Your Poison? Belladonna!

Did you know:

  • Atropa belladonna is the strangest and deadliest member of the tomato family.
  • The name Atropa comes from the Greek goddess Atropa – one of the three fates who determine human life and death.
  • Belladonna is Italian for “beautiful lady.”  This poison has historically been used by women as a cosmetic eye drop to dilate the pupils, making the user appear more desirable.
  • Its common name is Deadly Nightshade.

Bella Donna

  • Belladonna has dull green leaves, purple bell-shaped flowers, and shiny black berries that are sweet to the taste.
  • All parts of the plant are highly toxic to people, though cattle and rabbits seem to have a natural immunity.
  • Deadly Nightshade grows in woods, hedgerows, and wastelands.
  • Before the Middle Ages it was used as an anesthetic in surgery.
  • Witches were said to mix Deadly Nightshade with other poisons to create a flying ointment (which may have triggered the hallucination of flight).
  • According to local folklore, the Lancashire Witches sometimes mixed belladonna berries into blackcurrant or blueberry pies as toxic “gifts” for their enemies!

 

Sources:

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

WebMD: “Belladonna” at http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-531-belladonna.aspx?activeingredientid=531&activeingredientname=belladonna

Wikipedia: “Atropa belladonna” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atropa_belladonna

 

 

Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down To Georgia

dancing_devil_2[1]                 The Devil Went Down To Georgia

                                                                                                                    (Charlie Daniels)

 

The Devil went down to Georgia. He was looking for a soul to steal.
He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind. He was willing to make a deal
When he came across this young man sawing on a fiddle and playing it hot.
And the Devil jumped upon a hickory stump and said “Boy, let me tell you what.

I guess you didn’t know it, but I’m a fiddle player, too.
And if you’d care to take a dare I’ll make a bet with you.
Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy, but give the Devil his due.
I’ll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul ’cause I think I’m better than you.”

The boy said, “My name’s Johnny, and it might be a sin,
But I’ll take your bet; and you’re gonna regret ’cause I’m the best there’s ever been.”

Johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard.
‘Cause Hell’s broke loose in Georgia and the Devil deals it hard.
And if you win you get this shiny fiddle made of gold,
But if you lose the devil gets your soul.

The Devil opened up his case and he said, “I’ll start this show.”
And fire flew from his fingertips as he rosined up his bow.
And he pulled the bow across the strings and it made an evil hiss.
And a band of demons joined in and it sounded something like this.

When the Devil finished, Johnny said, “Well, you’re pretty good old son,
But sit down in that chair right there and let me show you how it’s done.”

Fire on the Mountain. Run, boys, run!
The Devil’s in the house of the rising sun;
Chicken’s in the bread pan picking out dough.
Granny, does your dog bite? No, child, no.

The Devil bowed his head because he knew that he’d been beat.
And he laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny’s feet.
Johnny said, “Devil, just come on back if you ever wanna try again,
I done told you once—you son of a bitch—I’m the best that’s ever been.”
And he played:

Fire on the Mountain. Run, boys, run!
The Devil’s in the house of the rising sun;
The chicken’s in the bread pan picking out dough.
Granny, will your dog bite? No, child, no.

 

Kit’s Crit: The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)

Historian

Elizabeth Kostova’s epic novel The Historian is a rich and unusual retelling of the Dracula myth.  The narrator is an unnamed professor’s daughter who embarks on a quest to uncover the secrets of her family’s history, only to find herself drawn into the dark world of vampires descending from Vlad the Impaler.

The entire book is a historical mystery, spanning several continents and many generations.  Its central premise – that Dracula is still alive and stalking the European academics who are hunting him – leads both the narrator and her father on the well-trodden trail  in search of Vlad’s tomb.

But The Historian is also a serious and scholarly investigation of Transylvanian mythology, blending the known facts about the real Vlad the Impaler with Bram Stoker’s fictional Count Dracula.  Its examination of good and evil, quest and obsession, religion, superstition, and  family ties, at first appears quaint, but ends up quite thought-provoking.

Kostova’s version is original and well-told, full of beautiful descriptions that evoke the terror and suspense of the supernatural theme.  And while Dracula’s central motivation is rather banal – there are a lot of convenient co-incidences – and the letter format is too lengthy in parts – I still found this book a captivating and enjoyable read.

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:

Kit’s Crit: HEIR TO A PROPHECY (Mercedes Rochelle)

Any one fascinated by Shakespeare’s Macbeth will love the question behind Mercedes Rochelle’s debut book: How do the sons of Banquo come to rule Scotland?  The three weird sisters tell Macbeth’s companion that “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none” – a promise that sets in motion the deadly events of the famous play.

Heir To A Prophecy (Hampshire: Top Hat Books, 2014) follows a fragmented trail through Scottish history –  tracing the line from Banquo’s son Fleance to King James Ist of England – with a similar mix of fact, fiction, and supernatural interference as found in the original tale.  We know that Banquo is murdered on Macbeth’s orders, but that his son Fleance escapes.  In Rochelle’s version he goes into exile in Wales at the court of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, where he woos and impregnates the king’s daughter, Nesta.
Nesta bears an illegitimate son called Walter, who enlists in Harold Goodwineson’s service and ends up fighting at Dunsinane and Hastings.  Along the way he befriends Prince Malcolm, King Duncan’s heir to the Scottish throne.  Years later, Walter settles in Malcolm’s court and is rewarded for his services, becoming the first Steward of Scotland.  This legitimizes his position, and prepares the way for future descendants of the royal house of Stuart.

Rochelle’s portrayal of the three witches is particularly interesting.  They appear at various points in her story to advance their original prophecy, but rather than being the weird old hags of Shakespeare’s era they are associated with the Norns of Scandinavian mythology – fates who control mankind’s destiny.  But aside from this nod to the bard, Rochell wisely does not attempt to imitate one of the great literary masterpieces with a sophisticated, high-brow response.  Instead she writes a plain, rollicking tale that should have broad appeal for those readers who like a fast-paced romp through history.

This novel is nicely edited and presented.  The setting, however, is too broad a time-period to examine and explore the various situations in any great depth.  Heir[s] To A Prophecy could well have been a whole series, with each book focusing on one central character – Fleance, Walter, and so on!