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)

Styx

 

 

 

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

just floated serene and lonely

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

 

I was not so much frightened as stricken with awe –

full of no earthly sensation

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

 

Then at some exact moment –  the slate horizon

cracked like a splintering egg-shell

and strange orange light bled through the fissures of dark.

 

It was not yet my time.

 

Vivien: The Lady of the Lake

Vivien and Merlin

“For Merlin, overtalked and overworn,

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

(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

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

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

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

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

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

The modern Lady of the Lake tale now suggests that mutual love is the greatest magic of all and the strongest power on earth.

Do you agree?

Sources:

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

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

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

(Picture: Julia Margaret Cameron)

Merlin: Madman or Magician?

merlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

Olde English Custard

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

custard

Ingredients:

3oz butter

3 eggs

1/3 pint of milk or single cream

4oz sugar

1 tablespoon of vanilla

Method:

1. Over a low heat melt the butter.

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

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

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

Redbone’s Witch Queen of New Orleans

voodoo queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture: Frank Schneider

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

Chocolate

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

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

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

Kirtles

kirtle

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

Worn over a linen smock, the kirtle acted as an early girdle or corset that shaped and supported the body in the time before modern bras.  They were made from wool, linen, or silk and were usually sleeveless, often holding the under smock down to reveal much of the neck, shoulder and chest of the wearer.

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

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

Picture: Orazio Gentileschi

Selene

Selene

I refuse to vanish or set

when gravity tugs me to earth

in a blaze of gore or glory –

to wane to nothingness beyond

a slice of ashen promise –

And I will not slide quietly by

a masculine smothering of power –

for the damage will already be done.

Have you seen how moonlight blazes so hard

it slips beyond any brute shadow?

(Painting: Victor Florence Pollett)

Olde English Bread Pudding

 

Bread Pud

Ingredients:

12 slices white bread

Knob of butter

3 eggs

1/2 pint milk

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

4oz sugar

nutmeg or cinnamon

 

Method:

1. Heat the oven to 325 / 170/ Gas 3.

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

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

4. Sprinkle the dried fruit on top.

5. Whisk the eggs and milk together.

6. Add the sugar.

7. Pour over the bread.

8. Sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon.

9. Cook 40 – 50 minutes until golden brown.

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

 

Coifs

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

4x5 original

Hans Holbein

But what exactly was a coif?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Eagles’ Witchy Woman

witch woman

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

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

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

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

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

And there’s some rumors going ’round
Someone’s underground
She can rock you in the nighttime
‘Til your skin turns red

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

Crone Stones

Rocks

This is the womb of the world

where two seas collide

at a hammock of land

and bony rocks arch

in the jet blood-black spray.  Three

mythical crone stones . . .

who see what sharp lips never

tell – still watch through

their ageless snake hair for the

goings of they that

once crawled from their legs in the

primeval salt-dawn of time.

Olde English Summer Pudding

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

 Summer Pudding

Ingredients:

6 slices white bread with crusts removed

Knob of butter

4oz redcurrants

4oz blackcurrants

4oz blackberries

6oz sugar

Method:

1. Grease a pudding bowl with butter.

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

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

4. Pour this mixture into the bread bowl.

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

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

7. Place in the refrigerator to set overnight.

8. Serve with fresh cream.

Kit’s Crit: Illuminations (Mary Sharratt)

Sharratt

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

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

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

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