Death is Smiling

We were walking in Carrollton Cemetery yesterday. This is one of the very few cemeteries in New Orleans that has an in-ground portion of the cemetery. This was lying casually on top of a grave.

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There’s more than one reason that we use the raised tombs found here in our famous cities of the dead. Our water table is so high that remains often come back up. It’s hard to keep the dead down in this watery place.

Of course we left it alone, but it was a very visceral reminder of what time of year it is. Blessed Samhain and remember, when death smiles at you today and tomorrow, it’s probably not a good idea to smile back.

That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once…

If you want to help the cemeteries here in New Orleans, you can donate or volunteer for Save Our Cemeteries, an organization “dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and protection of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries through restoration, education, and advocacy.”

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Don’t Look Back

Dead things…dead things everywhere! It is that time of the year when the veil is thin and it is so much easier to walk back and forth between the worlds. Lately, on our walks through New Orleans, we have been finding many dead things.

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Found dead, Acadian Flycatcher, photo by my S.O.

The weather is finally cooling off here in New Orleans and Fall is upon us. My mother sent me this beautiful picture from her garden in Ohio.

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Fate is weaving her web for the new year and it’s time to get ready for the winter.

This is of course the time of year when the Goddess is making her way to the Underworld and it’s hard not to think about Persephone and Inanna and all the other various Underworld Goddess tales we know. The Hades and Persephone myth is probably one of the most well known tales in any tradition or culture and at least here in the US, one that most of us find fairly early on. I grew up loving this story and it has been interesting for me over the years to see how my understanding of the tale changes over time and through aging.

I stumbled across this favorite tumblr meme recently and it always makes me laugh a little.

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The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is of course an excellent example Hades allowing a soul to leave. Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies and Orpheus, who loves his wife so much, goes to the Underworld to ask Hades to allow her to come back to life.

(You can find a beautiful reading of Virgil’s Orpheus and Eurydice in Latin here).

I’ve always disliked Orpheus. His inability to not follow Hades’ directions to not look back bothers me. How can you go through so much to give up at the last minute?

Orpheus is impatient and this is his downfall.

Looking at the dead or the divine or the sacred is a taboo in many cultures.

Semele looks at Zeus and is completely destroyed.

Those who look at the Gorgon are turned to stone.

Pysche looks upon Eros and is cast out of her home and away from her husband and she must venture to the Underworld to win her right to her divine husband back.

Lot’s wife looks back at Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt.

Peeping Tom peeps at Lady Godiva as she rides by and is blinded for his lack of respect.

But why this rule in the case of Orpheus and Eurydice?

It is often believed that if Orpheus had looked back at Eurydice while she was still technically dead, he would have seen secrets that he, a mere mortal, literally couldn’t stand to see and would, like Semele, be obliterated by the sight of such immortal things.

In the mortal world, we find it important to look someone “in the eye.” Anyone who can’t do so, is generally considered to be deceitful or up to no good. So it’s interesting that not looking is such an important part of myth and fairy tale.

There are many recipes for salves to put on one’s eyes to allow you to see fairy. Of course, if the fey figure out that you can see them, there are also many stories of those who use the salves being blinded by the fey who know what they are doing.

It is never good to attract the attention of the divine or magical.

I stumbled across a short video series by Gia Coppola and Gucci for Vogue, the series is a retelling of the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice using fashion and NY to express the familiar tale.

It’s beautifully done and I love this video series, because Coppola manages to make you understand why Orpheus looks back. In this scenario, I might have looked back too!

 

 

 

 

Aristaeus plays a big role here. In some versions of the tale, Aristaeus fell in love with Eurydice, chasing her so that she is caught unawares by the snake that bites her. Here it’s interesting that Aristaeus is a woman in red, which symbolizes things like love and lust and vanity. She cannot quit watching Eurydice, inadvertently killing the very thing she wants, which is later echoed by Orpheus himself: “Orpheus’s bomber is stitched with the words “L’Aveugle Par Amour”– blind for love. In the film’s last scenes, we hope Orpheus will heed the phrase and keep his eyes off Eurydice, even as we—and he—know that he won’t” (Studeman, 2016). Orpheus is so distraught over losing Eurydice a second time, that he disdains women for all time. Later, the Maenads tear him apart for this hubris.

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I think that one of the things these videos proves is that the old myths are never actually old. They are still relevant to us today and still have many things to teach us, even though things have changed so much between their origins and now.

Don’t look back at the things the gods give us. They bring us only heartache and ruin. The gifts of the divine, especially when we transverse the Underworld, should never be taken for granted.

Don’t eat the fruit of the gods or fairy, unless you’re willing to be entrapped and don’t look at the divine unless you want to lose everything.

During this time of year, when the veil is thin, this is an important lesson to remember.

 

References:

Bonaparte, M. (1954). The fault of orpheus in reverse. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 35, 109. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1298189715?accountid=14437

Studeman, K.T. (2016). Gia Coppola’s New Film Takes Downtown Cool to Mythic Levels: A cast of Gucci-clad scenesters animate the director’s Orpheus series. W. Retrieved from http://www.wmagazine.com/culture/2016/06/gucci-orpheus-gia-coppola-lou-doillon/photos/

Blessed Samhain!

Today of course starts one of my busiest weekends of the year!

It might be a little cliche, but Samhain is my favorite sabbat and I go out and participate in numerous Halloween activities around the city.

This year, for our costume day at work, I decided to go with Miss Argentina from the movie Beetlejuice. Miss Argentina is literally on screen for about 10 seconds, but she has always been one of my favorites.

Miss Argentina is the receptionist in the Underworld. I think that would be an amazing job to have!

Hades…Arawn…any Underworld Gods/Goddesses out there…I have excellent filing and customer service skills! (Or maybe I shouldn’t tempt that one…?)

Blessed Samhain All!

Miss Argentina

Miss Argentina

Magical Apples

Fall and is definitely a season of apples! At least in North America. The apple dominates many seasonal activities, foods and symbolism. I asked my students to research Samhain traditions throughout Europe (Samhain is of course inherently Celtic, but many other European cultures see the Fall as a time to celebrate the reaping of the harvest and death as Fall fades into Winter) and one of my students found a tradition in which people bury apples to feed their ancestors, which inspired this post.

The tale of  the serpent and the apple is one that probably almost every person in Western culture is familiar with. The apple, the forbidden fruit, is the symbol of Eve’s disobedience and in many ways, women’s power over themselves, their bodies and their choices. It is also a reminder that Eve was not Adam’s first wife. Lilith, the snake, she who would not be ignored, is one woman that Western culture often conveniently likes to overlook. The apple represents knowledge and the ability to reason, and therefore make our own choices and not simply follow the instructions of an uncaring deity, the way that Lilith did before she was cast from the Garden.

William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, 1808 (illustration of Milton's Paradise Lost)

William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, 1808 (illustration of Milton’s Paradise Lost)

Of course, Lilith is a much older deity than the one dimensional character she plays in the Old Testament. Lilith is remembered originally from the Epic of Gilgamesh, a text that was written probably around 1800 years before Genesis. Lilith sits in the Huluppu tree that Inanna has planted in order to use to build a new throne. Inanna is the goddess of creation and she is afraid of Lilith, who represents the chaos of the primordial world. Inanna asks Gilgamesh to rid the tree of Lilith’s presence, in order for Inanna to establish her order over Lilith’s chaos. Of course the tree, just like the tree in Genesis, is the World Tree or the Tree of Knowledge, and Lilith is the feminine spirit that inhabits the tree. In Genesis, Jehovah wants an inherently masculine world and Adam promises not to eat the fruit of the tree, which is feminine in nature. Eve never makes that promise and when the serpent tells her to eat the fruit, she has no qualms about doing so. Of course, Jehovah cannot stand to have female energy dominate his new world and casts both Adam and Eve out in order to contain Eve’s possible knowledge.

Lilith is known as the mother of demons; motherhood here seems to be the ultimate evil. When Eve was cast from the Garden, she is forced to endure pain in childbirth. To this day, menstruation is seen as unclean throughout many cultures and in those cultures, being male is the only way to be truly pure.

Another story of the apple representing knowledge and discord is the infamous Apple of Discord thrown by Eris, eventually causing the Trojan War, a war that transitioned the world from the age of myth and heroes to the age of history and reason. Again, women are seen as being at the cause of the issue of the apple and of the war itself. Where did this apple come from? It was the apple that Hippomenes used to distract Atalanta from beating him, apples he got from Golden Aphrodite, the goddess of love, thus forcing Atalanta to marry and become a mother.

Do we see a common theme in all of these apple stories?

In North mythology, Idunn guarded the golden apples which kept the Aesir young. When she was kidnapped for her golden apples by a frost giant, Loki had to rescue her to ensure that the Aesir wouldn’t age. The apple is a symbol of rebirth and beauty, just as in the other myths already discussed.

Arthur Rackham's

Arthur Rackham’s “Freya”

Of course, there is also Avalon, the Isle of Apples, the place where Excalibur is forged and that is famous for mystical, magical practices. Both Morgana Le Fey and Nimue are associated with Avalon and apples. Arthur is taken to Avalon in order to recover from wounds received during the Battle of Camlann, the battle where he fought Mordred and lost.

In later fairy tales, the apple shows up over and over as well. The most famous instance is perhaps the apple in the story of Snow White. Unlike the Disneyfied version of Snow White, the Witch Queen disguised as an old beggar woman first tempts Snow White with golden combs and a beautiful corset. The combs are poisoned and when they are removed from her scalp, Snow White wakes up. When the Dwarves cut the corset off Snow White, she is able to breathe again and is once more OK. But with the apple…the apple is stuck in her throat and this time the Dwarves can’t understand what is wrong and can do nothing but put her in the famous glass coffin. Unlike in most modern versions, it is not a kiss from the Prince that awakes Snow White, it is because when the Prince comes and sees Snow White, he demand that the Dwarves allow him to take the beautiful woman in the glass coffin home with him. In the course of carrying it, the coffin is dropped, jolting the apple out of Snow White’s throat. It is only through the Witch Queen’s careful initiation that Snow White gains the knowledge she needs to claim her rightful place in the adult world and become a wife and mother.

Apples are inherently important throughout western myth. And the apple and the witch figure often go hand in hand.

In Gardnerian Wicca, its a sacred act to slice an apple down the center in order to see the pentacle inside.

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Photo by Lauren DeVoe

Apples are often used in divination and love spells. If you can peel an apple without breaking the peel and then toss the full peel over your shoulder, the peel should form the initials of your true love’s name.

CIder is of course the base of Wassail and is found as a part of ritual throughout the year.

The wood is used for many different magical purposes as well. Many shipbuilders traditionally wouldn’t use apple wood to build ships, because apple wood was used to build coffins, again helping people transition to the Underworld.

The apple is the foundation of so much of our myth and ritual; take the time this Samhain to enjoy the apple season. Go to an orchard and pick apples with your friends and loved ones. Cut an apple open on the full moon and thank the Goddess for another year. Bury apples so that the dead have something to eat. We often take the apple for granted and forget its many magical uses. When you eat an apple, you are eating the fruit of knowledge and are acknowledging the power of the sacred feminine and at the end of the day, just like the sexuality of women, the apple is simply a delicious fruit that should always be savored.

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Photo by KK at Brushwood, 2012

Stuffed Pumpkins for Mabon and Samhain

We celebrated Mabon late this year. I stumbled across a recipe for stuffed pumpkins that was an absolute hit. This would also be a great Samhain recipe.

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Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good

Ingredients

  • 1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds (I tripled this recipe, as you can see from the picture above. This fed seven people with big appetites!)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (I used a round of sourdough)
  • 1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks (I used shredded Velveeta. One of the complaints I heard about the original recipe is that the chunks of cheese didn’t melt all the way. The shredded Velveeta was perfect).
  • 2-4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped (my addition) (I used a lot more bacon than 4 slices…)
  • About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • About 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (I put my pumpkins on a cookie sheet and stuck them in the oven first to make sure that they would fit and that I wouldn’t have to move my racks around after I had already heated my oven).

Line a cookie sheet with foil and set aside.

Take your pumpkin and remove the cap, just like you would do when you are carving pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns. Make sure you cut a big enough cap that you can work in the pumpkin. Clean out the seeds and strings from both the cap and the pumpkin. (You can get rid of the guts, but I set mine aside to roast pumpkin seeds for later).

Liberally coat the inside of your pumpkin with salt and pepper and then set the pumpkin with cap on your cookie sheet for later.

Take the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs and toss them all together in a big bowl.The original recipe called for the cream to be poured over the mix after the pumpkins are stuffed, but I went ahead and poured the cream in with the stuffing before stuffing the pumpkins and this worked really well for me. Season with more salt and pepper. When everything was mixed together, I took a taste and adjusted my spices as needed. It was good even before cooking!

Spoon the stuffing into your pumpkins. I packed mine pretty full, but make sure you can put the pumpkin cap back on when you’re done. I had a little stuffing left over, I set it aside to bake in something later.

Cook your pumpkins at 350 for 2 hours. The original recipe suggested checking after 90 minutes. I cooked mine in total for about an hour and forty five minutes and they turned out perfectly. The pumpkins will overflow, so make sure your baking sheet is covered.

Be careful when you pull your cookie sheet out of the oven. The pumpkins will be very full and very wobbly. You can cook them in a casserole dish, but I liked how pretty they looked standing free on the table later.

You can either serve it by scooping the pumpkins out, or do what I did and slice them into quarters and serve the quarters.

Enjoy!

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Children’s Henwen Ritual for Samhain

This is a column from the Pagan Household from October 28th, 2013. I think I’ve linked to it before, but never actually posted it and since Samhain is essentially here…

 

Henwen is one of my favorite Celtic Goddesses. The Great White Sow wandered from Annwn, the Underworld, into this world, giving birth to wheat, barley and bees, as well as wolf cubs, ferocious cats and eagles wherever she went.  And this is how she brought life to the world.

Other stories tell that it was prophesied that whatever Henwen birthed would bring harm to Britain and so King Arthur tried to catch her. Her swineherd was Coll Ap Collfrewi, one of the great swine herders of Britain, and he hung onto her bristles wherever she went. She escaped into the sea, but returned to the land and gave birth to her strange litters there. Arthur never did catch her and it is assumed that the Great Sow still wanders Britain, bringing fertility and prosperity wherever she goes. In this version , Henwen will also read your fortune for you with rods and runes.

Pigs often symbolize our relationship with the Underworld. This is the time of the year where the veil thins between the worlds because of the harvest. This is when the final harvest is brought in and the last animals are slaughtered for winter. All of the spirits passing from our world to the Underworld open the boundaries and allow us easier access to those who have gone before. It also makes it easier for those who are making their transition from this world to the next more to slip away, which is often a blessing. It can be a time of great grief and blood, it can also be a time of joyous celebration and gratefulness for another bountiful year.

Henwen is an excellent goddess to honor for this turning of the Wheel! She is also a goddess you can easily share with your children.

If you have a group of kids, you can do a really easy children’s ritual from the story of Henwen.

Sit all the children down and have them braid wheat straw. (You can find a tutorial here). If your children are too small for this, you can do this beforehand; just make sure there is a wheat braid for every child. Take everyone somewhere outside where there is plenty of room to run around.

Have everyone stand in a Circle. If you want to call Quarters at this point and cast a Circle you can, but you might simply want to acknowledge each direction. Tell the children the story of Henwen and explain that she brought a good harvest to the world. Have them hold their wheat braids and go around the Circle having everyone ask for something for the upcoming year. Have them focus their energy for their wish onto the wheat braid. (This would also be a good time to talk about the Harvest and why it’s important to how we live and what we are celebrating. Let them know that they things they should be wishing for should not be material, but things to help their community).

Since Henwen is a goddess of prophecy, put all the children’s names in a bag (this should probably be done beforehand) and randomly choose names to assign parts to. You will need a Henwen, a Coll Ap Collfrewi, an Arthur and several knights.  (If you want to have clothing props like a pig nose and capes, that could be fun as well!)

Give the children picked to be Henwen and Coll Ap Collfrewi the bags with the wheat braids in them. The rest of the children will be chasing them. The other children are It and the goal of the game is that each child must catch Henwen and Coll, who have to stay together the whole time. (This is a giant game of tag in reverse). When Arthur or one of his knights “catches” Henwen and Coll, Henwen or Coll should give them one of the wheat braids and give them their blessing for the year. That child can now return to the starting point. When everyone has caught Henwen and Coll, Henwen and Coll can return together to the rest of the group. When everyone is together again, have Henwen and Coll announce that their wanderings are done for the year and that they are ready to enjoy the bounty of the Harvest. At this point, have everyone celebrate together with a snack, after closing whatever Circle you started with. A good snack would be wheat toast with butter and honey. Each child can take their wheat braid home with them.

If you’re having an adult ritual later, you could also have the children “visit” all together with their wheat braids to offer the luck of the wheat braids for that ritual. Have them present their wheat braids with well wishes for the blessing of the Priest and Priestess.

Blessed Samhain all! Have fun!