Becoming

It’s almost Yule time once again. While I love Yule, this time of year is rough for many reasons and this year seems to be more depressing than most. I’ll also be turning 30 in less than two weeks and life has certainly not gone the way I expected it to the last few years.

Yule magic, Christmas magic, Hanukkah magic, Hogmanay magic, Nickanan magic, Jul magic, Saturnalia magic, or whatever you want to call it, this time of year has the power to bring people together and to allow us to acknowledge the possibility of magic in ways that usually we easily ignore or forget to believe in. Everything is possible this time of year. We ask for magic constantly and expect miracles to happen. This is the time of year that even the most prosaic can secretly believe.

This is the time of year that I love to turn to an old childhood favorite, The Velveteen Rabbit. I give this book to all my friends having children, because if you have read The Velveteen Rabbit and have loved it as a child, you are already prepared a little bit more for the world .

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There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.

Like all of us, the Velveteen Rabbit starts out perfect, shiny and new, ready to be loved and to enjoy the life he is given. But soon, he is forgotten and becomes depressed and disillusioned. The Velveteen rabbit has to go through a painful transformation before he can truly become a part of the world around him. He has to suffer pain and sorrow before he can become real.

The Skin Horse, an old nursery toy, gives him advice, as all, old wise elders do. The Skin Horse has been worn down by the life he was given, but he is more powerful because of it. The horse is representative of sovereignty over yourself and having control of the world around you, and the Skin Horse is no different. He has mastered himself and is willing to share that knowledge with the Velveteen Rabbit.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

the skin horse

There are a lot of people who don’t understand, who forget, who allow hatred and fear blind them to everything else. We are all constantly worn down and broken. It is those of us who can flex and bend and accept that make it through. Becoming real is hard. It hurts. But once it happens, like an initiation, it can’t be taken away from you.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

As a witch, I see one of the things I am actively doing is seeking that realness. I look for the magic around me and work to make it happen. I don’t ignore the process, I assist it. It might be painful, but it is necessary. It is not an easy path, but it is a path that leads to truth and light and even more importantly love. Love truly is the greatest power in the world and while it might seem old and cliched, the power of love can do things nothing else can. I wonder, if we loved more, what would the world around us be?

I’m not a White Lighter. I believe in the power and the need for the dark, for death, for all those things the end and close cycles. I believe in balance and the need for pain and struggle. I embrace the shadows, because they give us insight that we can’t find in the light. But this time of year is the one time of year that I actively seek that light, because I know that the darkness is about to give way to new things.

These past two years have worn away at me. I have become shabby, just like that old rabbit. But I still have love and in the end, that is more important than anything else that has happened. It is also my best defiance to all of those that have enjoyed my pain and sorrow, who have denied aid or rational thought and who have actively worked to harm me and mine without greater understanding.

I still have love. I still have happiness. The dark has not swallowed me yet. I stand here despite all of it.

I will accept the sacrifices and the suffering, because in the end I can take it in ways that most others cannot. And from it, something better will come.

I may have gotten older, shabbier and lost much of the light I started out with, but that darkness that has creeped in is what allows the light to shine even brighter.

You may laugh at me and tell me that its just a children’s book and ask what truth there can possibly be in a story about a stuffed rabbit that becomes real through the power of love?

But if I have learned nothing else as a witch, it is that those old stories have truths and wisdoms and teachings about power that nothing else can provide. We learn magic from these stories and begin to understand how to hope. I love that this is a fairly new story, but that it captures the heart of all the old ones.

Neil Gaiman wrote: “A world in which there are monsters, and ghosts, and things that want to steal your heart is a world in which there are angels, and dreams and a world in which there is hope.”

My family may have become some of those monsters, but The Velveteen Rabbit reminds me that everything has a reason and that this too shall pass. Even the monster plays a role and helps transform the hero into something better. I can accept being cast in the role of the monster, because I know where it will bring me. And in the end, the Goddess is always waiting to carry me elsewhere.

I may not be real yet, but someday I will be.

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If you have not read The Velveteen Rabbit, you can find it here for free.

When I wrote this, this morning, I didn’t realize that it had published today in 1922. Happy Birthday to The Velveteen Rabbit!

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A Ritual for Baba Yaga

A friend of mine posted an article that made me laugh last night: Russian Witch Baba Yaga’s Guide To Feminism:

“Free women from the shackles of domesticity by abducting their children. You can then indoctrinate these children in the ways of feminism and/or use them as free labour. Or just eat them. Whatever. It’s hard to find good sources of protein deep in the Siberian forest.”

The article pokes fun at this mythological figure, but it really isn’t all that far off with nailing this scary witch’s essence.

While we were discussing psychological tests the other week (see blog here), my student didn’t get my reference to the witch’s house on chicken legs. She had never heard of Baba Yaga!

Zouravliov-Baba_YagaBaba Yaga – Vania Zouravliov

Baba Yaga has always been one of my favorite witches. She’s a terrifying figure that lurks just outside the boundaries of civilization. But I think the thing I like about her the most is that she’s willing to help you if you’re willing to help yourself. She recognizes that death is sometimes the only option and her cruel nature might just be saving you from something much worse. (Would you rather have a clean death over a horrible, tortured, messy one?)

Baba Yaga might eat you, but she also might save you. You just have to prove yourself first: “As ambiguous as she is hideous, Baba Yaga has been described by scholars as an anomaly, both a maternal, mother-nature figure and an evil villain who enjoys eating those who fail to complete her tasks” (Stone 2015). In the story of Vasilissa the Beautiful, she helps Vasilissa not once, but twice! The first time she aids Vasilissa by giving her the burning skull, which kills Vasilissa’s cruel stepmother and stepsisters. The second time, Baba Yaga appears as the kindly old grandmother who has the knowledge every young woman needs to get the boy!

Baba Yaga embodies the wild woman archetype. The feral, crone figure who does not finesse her lessons to make them easier for you to bear: “She is thought by some to be a dark goddess who symbolizes the death of the ego which is needed to achieve wisdom and, through this death, rebirth to a new life” (Chambers 2007). Her demesne is the forest far beyond mortal boundaries, an Underworld figure who lurks in the darkest part of ourselves. Of course, as the witch in the woods, her true role is as initiator and priestess. She is able to judge character instantly and has no patience for those who don’t deserve aid. She shows us how our darkest nature can be helpful in our fight against our greatest obstacles. Her aid won’t be pretty, it will change you forever, but it will also empower you and allow you to triumph and ensure your rightful place. Her power is our gut instinct and first impressions. She is that thing in us that lashes out at those that would hurt us. She is our most basic, primal response to dire threat.

And unlike other dark figures, Baba Yaga is trustworthy: “Though it appears she never goes after anyone unprovoked—that is to say, without the person at least coming to the door of her hut—she appears to follow little or few morals.  Nevertheless, whatever promise she makes to the hero after his completion of her tasks, she keeps” (Stone 2015). She doesn’t try to trick you. She tells you what she needs you to do and if you accomplish the task she sets, she will aid you. She is not a trickster at all.

Baba Yaga proves to us that just because terrible things happen to us, we are not without agency. Baba Yaga gives us aid in our darkest moments. She may not have nice, pretty, happy solutions, but she will clear the path for you and at least bring you bloody satisfaction. She proves that we are only victims if we let ourselves be and that there is always a way out: “The truths She tells are often bitter; Her healing can be as painful as the illness it cures. But we disregard what She has to teach us at our peril: if we are not strong enough to look without flinching at the truth She shows us, we face passing up Her many gifts of wisdom and healing as well” (Vassy 2000). Baba Yaga is the old grandmother that gets things done and doesn’t flinch at the terrible things that life hands us. She has seen it all, done it all, and she’s not afraid of the blood and yuck that we wade through constantly in our battle with life.

babayaga

 

A ritual to call upon Baba Yaga for Self Healing:

(Do not do this ritual if you don’t want sudden and possibly drastic results).

To prepare –

This can be done inside or outside as one prefers, though preferably during the new moon.

Be prepared to spend time on this ritual. Don’t rush through this.

Set an altar in the center of your space with:

A single unlit candle in the middle of your altar – make sure to have a taper candle sitting there as well.

A lit candle in the east.

A jar of 3 kinds of mixed, dried beans set in the south and 3 sorting bowls

A mortar and pestle set in the west with some dirt in it.

A bottle of vodka, an empty glass, and a steak that has been cooked rare on a dinner plate with a fork and knife. (Its better to take the time to cook the steak yourself before hand). Set these items like you’re setting a table on the northern side of the altar.

A freshly baked loaf of bread (also better if you’ve baked it yourself. Here is a Russian black bread recipe if you need one!).

Its better to do this on the new moon. Start by working in a room with no lights except for one lit candle in the east.

The Ritual –

To begin, carry in the fresh loaf of bread and lay it in the east, by the lit candle, chant: “Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I come to thee of my own free will! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I ask for your hospitality and bear no charms or blessings! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I am willing to work for you and share my energy with you for your aid!

Cast your circle by sweeping with a traditional besom.

To call the Quarters:

Start in the East, say: “White Rider, I beseech thee to bring me the light of the dawn!”

Move to the South, say: “Red Rider, I beseech thee to bring me the light of the noon-tide sun!”

Move to the West, say: “Black Rider, I beseech thee to bless me with the light of the night-time Moon!”

Move to the North, say: “Baba Yaga, Mother of Death, allow me access to the Underworld!”

Return to the East and say: “Turn your front! Turn your back! Round to me! I enter the hut of Baba Yaga willingly!”

Turn toward the center of your altar and state your purpose for asking Baba Yaga’s aid – “Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I ask that you help to bring the light back into my life! To make me strong so that I can overcome the obstacles and people that stand in my way. Baba Yaga! I ask that you remove the obstacles that hinder me from having control over my own life!”

Move to the southern part of the altar with the jar of mixed beans. Hold the jar and think of all the things that are causing you mental pain. Think of all the bad things you want to get rid of from your life. Meditate on the visceral emotions these things cause. Focus it all on the jar and into the beans. When you’ve carefully poured out all your hurt and anguish, slowly pour the jar of mixed beans across the southern portion of the altar. Say: “Baba Yaga! As you asked the maiden Vasilisa, I will sort these kernals to aid you in righting the wrongs of your own enemies.” Carefully sort each of the beans into the separate bowls, by their type, meditating the whole time on driving the problems you previously focused on from your life. When the 3 different kinds of beans have been separated and sorted. Line the three bowls up in the South and say: “Baba Yaga, thank you for this honest, hard work that helps me repay your hospitality.”

Move to the Western side of the altar. Pick up the mortar and pestle and start grinding the dirt. Say: “Baba Yaga, just as I grind this dirt in the mortar with the pestle, do you grind the bones of the dead. The dead have no need for their bones and for those of us still living, our bones are constantly pounded and ground into the earth by the world around us. My body has taken a beating from the living world! Please put me through your mortar and pestle to heal me of my sorrows!” Continue to grind the dirt until your hands and arms are weak. Set the mortar and pestle down and say: “Baba Yaga! An honest days toiling in the dirt cleanses me of my sorrow and helps you keep your house in order!”

Move to the North. Pour a glass of vodka from your bottle. Take the bread from the east and slice it, laying a piece by the plate. Present the steak and say: “Baba Yaga, I made this meal for you! Through my hard work and pure intentions, I ask that you eat this food that I have made you and partake of my energy to aid and restore your work!” Stand and give her time to “eat.” Understand that you have built up energy throughout the ritual and that this is part of what you’re offering her. When you feel drained again, move back to the east.

In the East, say: “Baba Yaga! I have sorted your grains, I have toiled in the earth for thee, I have baked you a fine dinner. Please give me your fire to carry back into the world of the living!” Pick up the taper candle and light it from your Eastern candle. Light the center candle. Gently blow out your taper. Say: “Baba Yaga, I know when to stop asking. I do not have to understand all of your ways. Please send me back to he land of the living!” Pick up the center candle and walk out of your circle.

When you’re well away from your circle (if I was doing this indoors, I would walk outside), hold your candle up and say “Baba Yaga! Thank you for the fire and your blessings! I am prepared for what they will bring to my life!” Blow out your candle.

Leave your circle and altar set until dawn breaks. Let the East candle burn through the night. In the morning, go back and say thank you to the three riders for their light and wish them well on their constant journey. Take the meal you prepared and leave it outside somewhere for Baba Yaga to do with it what she will. Scatter the dried beans in the forest. Take the earth in the mortar and pestle and gently work it into your garden or house plant. Remember that you carry Baba Yaga’s fire in you now and that anything can happen.

Baba_Yaga's_Hut

References:

“Baba Yaga”. 2007. In Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained, edited by Una McGovern. London: Chambers Harrap. https://libproxy.tulane.edu/login?url=http://literati.credoreference.com/content/entry/chambun/baba_yaga/0
Ryan Stone. “Baba Yaga, The Confounding Crone of Slavic Folklore,” Ancient Origins, March 29, 2015, accessed November 19, 2015, http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/baba-yaga-confounding-crone-slavic-folklore-002836.
Rebecca Vassy. (2000). “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues Or My Adventures with Baba Yaga.” Sagewoman, Oct 31, 11. http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.tulane.edu:2048/docview/221846152?accountid=14437.

A Friday the 13th Playlist

Bansidhe says…

B“Happy Friday the 13th!”

And what better day to listen to some witchy music from the more mainstream media…

First up, that old Sinatra classic, “Witchcraft”:

One of my all time favorites by The Incredible String Band:

Their invocation is pretty haunting as well…

And if we’re doing The Incredible Band, we have to add in a little Fairport as well:

I’ve talked about Martin Carthy’s “Willie’s Lady” before, but I love it so much:

Allison Gross is also always a classic:

Or Steeleye’s “King Henry”:

Or their “Two Magicians”

Steeleye Span just has so many…

Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Calvary Cross”

Crosby, Stills and Nash – “Guinevere”

The Witch of the Westmoreland:

Creedence Clearwater’s “Walk on the Water” –

That old classic…”I Put a Spell on You” –

“Spooky” –

A little Bow Wow Wow (who knew they did more than “I Want Candy”?)…”Prince of Darkness” –

And while we’re on about the devil…the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” can’t be forgotten:

And a little Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads:

(A kind hearted woman is a bruja or a Voodoo woman…)

Muddy Waters:

Maybe a little less witchy, but I’m always about the fairy tales…

Some Beatles for you…

Or The Who…

Tarantula…

Some “Black Magic Woman”…

Can’t forget old Marie…

Witchy Woman:

Or Abacadrabra…

Everyone know’s Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” but what about “The Enchanted Gypsy”?:

Can’t forget The Grateful Dead:

And now for some slightly modern fare…

Roger Clyne and the Peacemaker’s “Persephone”:

Or a modern retelling of Eurydice by Sleepthief:

The Moulettes “Devil of Mine”:

Rasputina has a plethora of witchy songs…but we’ll stick with “Gingerbread Coffin” for now:

Loreena McKennitt has so many as well…

One of my all time favorites…Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting”:

And who could forget Siouxsie…

I think I’ll go ahead and end it there, but I would love to hear what your favorites are!

May your Friday the 13th be luckier than mine!

Pysch Test or “Oh, The Bear!”

One of my students is taking a psych class. Tonight she decided to try one of her classes’ psychological tests on us, to somewhat hilarious results.

Proving perhaps that when you ask witches these type of questions, our inner mythology comes to the forefront and can’t be ignored.

The Test

You are walking in the woods:

1.Who are you walking with?

My answer – By myself.

My partner’s answer – With a bear… and Lauren (me).

2. You come to a clearing in the woods and there is an animal. What animal do you see?

My answer – A deer.

My partner’s answer – An elk.

3. How do you interact with that animal?

My answer – I observe and nothing else.

My partner’s answer – Lauren and I watch with glee as the bear eats the elk.

4. You see a dream house in front of you, how big is the house?

My answer – A witches’ cottage

My partner’s answer – A one story house made of candy

5. What do you see around the house? Is there a fence?

My answer – The house is on chicken legs and there is a fence of flaming skulls.

My partner’s answer – There are candy canes and a fence of ginger bread men

linnunjalka-talo6. You walk inside the house and you see a dining table. What’s on the table?

My answer – Nothing

My partner’s answer – Pie

7. You walk outside, there is a cup on the ground. What is the cup made of?

My answer – A golden, jeweled chalice

My partner’s answer – Wood

8. What do you do with the cup?

My answer – I leave it alone.

My partner’s answer – Give it to the bear.

9. You walk further away from the house and you come to a body of water. What body of water do you see?

My answer – A clogged (with vegetation) pond

My partner’s answer – The Western Ocean

10. How do you get across the body of water to get to the other side.

My answer – A rowboat

My partner’s answer – A magical, white horse

The explanation for all of these are:

The answer to question number 1 is the most important person in your life. The size of the animal is representative of the size of your problems. How aggressively you interact with the animal is how you deal with your problems. How large the house is, is how big your ambition is to solve your problems. How enclosed your house is shows how protective of yourself you are and how welcoming you are of others. The amount of things on the table is proportionate to how happy you are. The durability of the material that makes up the cup you see is your perceived durability of your relationship with the person from question number 1. Who you give the cup to is how you treat the person from question number 1. The size of the body of water shows how passionate your desires are and how wet you get while you cross the body of water shows how engulfed you are in those desires.

So for a normal person, my answers would reflect that I am the most important person in my life (selfish bitch that I am!), my problems are normal sized and I have no desire to solve them. According to the size of my house, I have few problems, but am super protective of myself. The clear table symbolizes that I am not happy and with the cup, I am very invested in the durability of myself and obviously care only for myself. My body of water is a clogged pond (my student is now very worried about my clogged pond!) means that I am not passionate and I didn’t get wet, so obviously I am not engulfed in any desires. In normal society, I am a weird, unkind, freak of nature, devoid of desire.

My partner on the other hand loves the bear more than he loves me (though he did include me and while we can get into who I think the bear represents, I will leave that to your imagination). His problems are a little larger than mine, but he attacks them viciously with another person (again, that bear!). His candy cottage is one story, so again, fewer problems (HAHAHA) and his table has a pie on it, showing that he is welcoming and willing to share his bounty. My partner’s cup was made of wood, a natural and organic material that is warm and inviting. He gave his cup to the bear, showing that he cares for the bear’s role in his life (oh that bear!). He approached an ocean, showing that he is vastly passionate, though he didn’t get wet either, riding his magical horse across the waves, so obviously, from the normal perspective, is not engulfed in those desires.

But for me, these questions were more of a walk through my astral temple. The same for my partner. We are both active, practicing, witches.

As soon as you tell me that I am walking through a forest, I enter a ritual mindset. This is immediately no random mental exercise.

My astral temple is a forest path, I walk that path alone until I meet deity (in my case, usually my patron god who appears to me as a deer). The house is obviously the house of the witch and when I think about the witches’ house in the woods, I am always happy when I think of Baba Yaga’s house on chicken legs. And if the house belongs to Baba Yaga, obviously there is a fence of flaming skulls around it! The table is clear, because the witch doesn’t want to scare away her visitors and you are never sure what you might find there. Obviously the cup, just left carelessly outside of the witches’ house is magical in nature and should be left alone. A clogged pond is something that you might find in the forest and  is the type of pond I grew up in (full of turtles and muskrats and other small creatures). Rowboats are again, something I grew up with.

I won’t take you through my partner’s magical thinking, it might make your head hurt. (But Oh the Bear…!)

The Bear Wife by my partner...Oh the Bear!

The Bear Wife by my partner, acrylic on canvas…Oh the Bear! (Once again a painting based on Sami folklore. In the mythology of the Sami and other members of their language group, such as the Mansi and Khanty peoples of Russia, there is a creation myth of a human woman who marries a bear. The bear is usually a cosmic creature, or is born of the Goddess Mielikki as the earth is created. This union of human and cosmic bear creates a specific tribe, or in some tellings, all people. )

For those of us who have been in Circle and who have done astral temple work, the answers to these become very different. To many “normal” people, the forest is a scary place. For me, as a witch, the forest is liminal space where initiation and other magical moments happen. The witch lives in the cottage in the woods and mythology comes alive. When I walk through the forest and interact with animals and objects, fairy tales and the lessons they teach take precedence. I don’t think tests like these are meant for people like me. I view the world very differently.

Being a witch is more than simply cackling and potions and spells…it is a completely different world view from everyone around you. There is an old Witch saying: “Witches may live among people, but they are never one of them.”

Personally I’ll take my weird, twisted world view. My clogged pond is very comforting and not representative of my desires and passions. I have immense passion and I dearly love both my partner and other people in my life (including, perhaps, the bear). I have huge problems, but I will always take a practical approach and won’t let them overwhelm me. The witch lurks in the woods and she might eat you, but she might also invite you in and help you. The gods walk with me and I commune with them. The woods are the Underworld and I feel comfortable there. In my astral temple, things appear with purpose and sometimes need to be left alone. I know my lore and mythology and, unlike many others, I know better than to touch and taste.

And while you contemplate these heavy issues, eat some delicious Cuban White Chili (which my student made for us!)

Cuban White Chili

Ingredients:

1 package, boneless, skinless chicken breasts

few pinches of salt

olive oil

2 onions

4 cloves of garlic

2 pablano peppers

3-4 tomatillos

3 cans Northern White Beans

Chicken Stock

1 Jalapeno

lots of cilantro

2 cans Rotel tomatoes and green chiles

cumin (enough)

1 lime

1 avocado

1 Bag of Shredded Mild Cheddar

Sour Cream

Recipe:

Dice garlic finely and dust lightly with salt. Dice onions. Add onions and salted garlic to skillet with 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Brown onions and garlic.

While onions and garlic are cooking, cube chicken and brown in a large pot, also in olive oil.

To onions and garlic, add all cans of rotel. Dice tomatillos and jalapenos, add to onion and rotel mixture.

To chicken, add chicken stock (as much as you like, though definitely enough for it to be a soup).

Once onion mixture is bubbling, add to chicken. Add all cans of beans to pot. Toast pablano peppers directly on flame of stove and then peel (to properly roast and peel pablanos, see this video). Dice, add to pot. Add handful of cilantro and enough cumin to taste, simmer for 30 minutes. Add another handful of cilantro and add more cumin if desired.

Simmer for at least another hour, serve on top of shredded cheese, with sour cream, uncooked cilantro, sliced avocado and lime juice as desired.

Enjoy!

Peppers roasting merrily on my stove top!

Peppers roasting merrily on my stove top!

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.

apple

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

Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic

She neither prays to Gods Above nor begs divine

aid with suppliant hymn, nor does she know prophetic

entrails. Decking altars with flames funereal gives her

joy — so does incense filched from pyres already kindled.

The Gods Above grant her every evil the moment

she invokes Them — They fear to hear her second prayer.

~ description of Erichtho from Lucan’s Pharsalia, Book 6, lines 523-528 from Jane Wilson Joyce’s translation

The last few months I haven’t put a great deal into writing here because I have been so focused on finishing my thesis for my M.A.

It focuses on the classical witch Erichtho and her appearance in one of John Marston’s plays. I fell in love with the witch Erichtho in an independent study on the witch in literature last year.

It is finally officially done and published! If you’re curious, you can find it here: http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020/

I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope I can keep working on this fascinating, powerful witch figure.

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia - From the British Museum Online Collection

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia – From the British Museum Online Collection

Abstract:

Since classical times, the witch has remained an eerie, powerful and foreboding figure in literature and drama. Often beautiful and alluring, like Circe, and just as often terrifying and aged, like Shakespeare’s Wyrd Sisters, the witch lives ever just outside the margins of polite society. In John Marston’s Sophonisba, or The Wonder of Women the witch’s ability to persuade through the use of language is Marston’s commentary on the power of poetry, theater and women’s speech in early modern Britain. Erichtho is the ultimate example of a terrifying woman who uses linguistic persuasion to change the course of nations. Throughout the play, the use of speech draws reader’s attention to the role of the mouth as an orifice of persuasion and to the power of speech. It is through Erichtho’s mouth that Marston truly highlights the power of subversive speech and the effects it has on its intended audience.

DeVoe, Lauren E., “Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic” (2015). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2020. http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020