Friday, September 30, 2016

Magickal Fall Food

Porchetta Sandwich
Image via Google
One of the many reasons I love this time of year is the food, which is often savory and substantial. There is nothing like a big pot of soup, chili, or a casserole on a cool Fall day!

Of my favorites in particular is Porketta (various spellings, according to region),a rich, fragrant version of pulled pork cooked in it's own juices with the addition of garlic, onion, black pepper,dill and rosemary. It can be slow roasted or cooked in a crock pot (my choice) Because it's  the au jus is heavenly when done in a crock pot, I skim the fat(put it in the fridge overnight and just lift the fatty layer off) and use the broth for soup later. If there is any left, it can be changed up by the addition of BBQ sauce, vinegar and spices, or made into chili- and of course, there is the aforementioned soup: add tomatoes and other vegetables, and noodles for a hearty Autumn treat. Serving pork around Samhain takes on the quality of abundance and agriculture of the pig. Pigs were associated with Ceridwen and Phaedra, who were both moon goddesses. The pig is also representative of the Mother Goddess. The addition of onions, garlic and herbs imparts the corresponding vibrations of these to the dish.

And speaking of can tailor your magickal intentions through the adjustment of  whatever vegetables, herbs and spices are put into the pot. It's important to make your intention as specific as possible when making soup as part of a spell. Speak your intention as you add ingredients to the soup, and when it is done your can 'take in' the energies of the ingredients. As an added bonus, the aroma of the open kettle sends the intention to the gods you are petitioning for assistance. Soup is magick at it's finest,which can also be said of stews.

I also a lot of apples during the season. They are delicious when baked with cinnamon and allspice (protection and psychic awareness). A little sugar adds sweetness ( think honey jar). Apples themselves are a food of mystics: they are known as the Fruit of the Underworld, Fruit of the Gods,Fruit of Love-and when used near Samhain, they are a part of the Feast of the Dead. I love apples baked with raisins, cinnamon, butter and brown sugar, either whole or cut up.

Seasonal vegetables such as squash and pumpkins are associated with lunar magick (because of their round shapes). Squash are representative of plenty because they grow in multiples. The subtle flavors of these vegetables combine well with other ingredients and amplify their vibrations. Baked squash with sausage or cheese is delicious. I usually bake a small hollowed-out pumpkin stuffed with venison, wild rice, onions, garlic and seasonings this time of year.

Many delicious teas can be made from dried herbal ingredients and edible flowers (check to be absolutely sure they are not poisonous before using!) Sweeten with agave or honey for a lovely evening treat.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention bread at this point. Please refer to these two posts for further reading:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Death Becomes Us

I save my new, shiny pennies to take along when I visit the local cemetery. As I walk among the graves, if I happen to notice a presence or hear something, I push a penny down deep into the ground near the headstone as an acknowledgement of the communication. Some people leave coins on the headstone, some leave pebbles and it's not unusual,especially in the South, to leave small figurines,notes,pinwheels and all manner of decoration at the grave site. And of course there are always flowers and flags. There are endless superstitions and taboos concerning death and burial practices, and I'd like to share a few in this post since we're entering a season when the subject is on everyone's mind.

Often we leave tokens of our affection because we're still grieving, or as a way to show our love and how much the deceased are missed. It's a world wide phenomenon which crosses the boundaries of societies, cultures and religions. Individual graves are enhanced by the addition of memorial lights-hanging candle holders lit by candles, small solar-powered crosses or lights placed by the headstone for various reasons: to hold eternal vigil is the most popular reason.

At the approach of death, all the windows and doors of the house were thrown open so as not to impede the fleeing spirit on it journey to the afterlife. Bells were rung nine times as someone actively died, and tolled the same number of times as they lived. Family members sometimes attempted to inhale the last breath of the dying or catch it in a bottle to preserve his/her essence. Candles were lit so the deceased was not frightened by the dark, clocks were stopped at the moment of death in respect, and mirrors were turned toward the wall so the spirit would not become confused and trapped in them. Tables were set one last time to include the deceased. Their clothes were washed separately, Speaking ill of the dead was ill will. Animals are believed to have precognition; interestingly, President Lincoln's dog ran wildly around the White House howling shortly before his assassination. Animals have also been known to grieve the loss of a master or mistress, refusing to leave the grave.

Most coffins are placed with the head in an easterly direction, a tradition originating from the Christian belief that Jesus will return in the East to call his followers to him. Many cemeteries do so now out of habit. The sunny South side of any church yard is preferred over the colder North, which in bygone days was reserved for criminals and suicides. The landscaping and development of huge memorial parks has made this a moot point. There is an old belief that a newly dig grave should never be left open over a Sunday, or someone else will die to fill it. Modern day burial practices have remedied this by the grave being covered as part of the procedure of digging. Walking or stepping over a grave was unlucky (and disrespectful). Using headstones for anything other than its intended purpose, especially in building, is believed to cause the building to collapse. Roads and walkways made from purloined headstones will wash out. Accidents will happen repeatedly in that place until the stones are removed.

In an earlier time, it was believed that the most recently buried person was assigned to watch over the grave yard until another burial took place: this spirit was known as a church yard watcher. Other superstitious beliefs included one in which the soul of the first person buried in a new cemetery belonged to the Devil, and because of this often an animal was substituted to become the first burial. In other instances, fake funerals took place in the hope of curing diseases (particularly in cases of children during the 19th century). Especially in the British Isles, a death was often foretold by the appearance of a animal such as a crow, cat or dog. Spirits of the dead were seen to portend a death, and the dying often sees a deceased loved one whom they believe to be welcoming them to the afterlife. It was a matter of custom that when a death took place the person was buried with their Bible, prayer book or other sacred belongings.

There is an old German superstition that if the death of a person was mistakenly announced it added an extra 10 years were added to their life. Coal miners refuse to return to work after the death of a colleague during an accident until he has been buried. Sailors are particularly uncomfortable when a dead body is present aboard ship. As an unusual contradiction of logic, it is said that touching a corpse brings good luck and relieves nightmares. And the corpse of a murder victim will bleed if touched by the murderer at a funeral.

Bodies should be buried intact and whole,because it is believed that the dead individual would not be accepted into Heaven. Because of this, people were known to save any teeth they had pulled to add to the box when they were buried. In a previous era bodies were buried from the home by family and friends and this lead to the custom of keeping vigil with the corpse until it was laid to rest. The keeping of a 'wake' is legendary in Irish lore, and those attending usually had a final tribute drink (or more likely several) with the deceased. The body was buried feet first, the reverse of entering life, so the ghost would not return.

In my great-grandparents' time there was a belief that no farmer should plough near the edge of a graveyard, lest the crops die or the act bring bad luck. Likewise, there was no digging near a grave for fear of unleashing a vengeful spirit or disturbing the dead. Exhuming or moving a grave was also risky business.

Thanatology- the scientific study of death and practices surrounding it-is a fascinating subject. Every culture, ethnic group and religious tradition has its own customs and taboos. The transition from Life to Dead is not only a rite of passage, but a subject I feel is vitally important for everyone to explore...after all, we all depart this common life when we die.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

It's a Little Early,But Let's Talk About Halloween and Samhain...

It's a little early, but let's talk about Halloween...mainly what it is and isn't.

When I was growing up Halloween was a night of wonder and magic. For one thing,we kids were allowed to go around the neighborhood collecting treats without an adult if someone's older brother or sister was along.We felt special and the night had a slightly dangerous edge to it; the danger was all in our imaginations-at least that's how it used to be. No one dressed up like a serial killer, or politician, and if we managed to score a Collegeville costume of a nurse, police officer or G.I Joe, well...let's just say we ruled in the cool department.

Somewhere along the mid 70s things began to change. Costumes with the hard plastic mask disappeared and the characters got bloody: gore became a thing. Decorations changed, too with the introduction of vinyl severed body parts and plastic window clings. The inexpensive paper euphemial hang-up skeletons disappeared in favor of more realistic-and expensive-fare.

My childhood Halloween included homemade cookies, slices of cake, and mini cups of cider. A candy apple or popcorn ball was a major score. Much of the candy and gum we got was loose and some of it wasn't even wrapped. We went inside people's houses to see their decorations and if our parents were along, they chatted amicably with neighbors. It was all pretty much over in and hour or so and then everyone in the neighborhood went to the firehouse for a community Halloween party.  Afterward we went home, emptied our loot bags and went to bed because more than likely it was a school night even if it were Halloween.We were home snug in bed before the Witching Hour. No one was afraid of getting tainted candy or poisoned apples. There were no weird clowns lurking by the roadside or other nefarious characters up to no good. It was all good, clean fun-there were no extremist Christians bellowing about it being Satan's Day and no one got possessed by evil spirits just for dressing up and collecting candy on a day made for innocent fun and frolic.

Because I am now a practicing witch (and don't just dress up like one as I did as a kid), I celebrate Samhain as well as the half octave of days made up as Mischief Night, All Hallows, All Saints and All Souls, this time of year has a new and deeper meaning. Samhain, as Summer's end, is the final harvest of Autumn and the time when the Veil is fully open between this world and the Afterlife. I welcome my beloved friends and relatives who have made their transition at my home Dumb Supper and by meditating to bring them closer. I decorate my ancestor altar with as many photos of them as possible and a few of the things that hold their memory dear to me. This includes photos of the many pets I've had throughout my life and my much loved familiar Tinker. I write regrets from the previous year and burn them, then bury the ashes. I make a batch of Samhain oil to use for spirit communication in the year that lies ahead, and a special incense blend to use over the next few days because I also celebrate astrological Samhain on November 7th (which just happens to be my late grandparent's wedding anniversary,too). Every year is different because I always find something else to add to the ritual. At the end of the night, after I have cast a protective circle, I sit in silence and listen for the voices of my ancestor's and the Mighty Dead. I ask to communicate with them in my dreams,too, or if I can stay awake until morning, I bid those who have crossed over for a visit farewell and godspeed.

While the two holidays are intertwined and difficult to separate, each has its own distinctive character. I love them both!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What The Pagan Public Will Allow

Pagans are generally a tolerant bunch. My personal interaction within the community overall has been positive. I suspect this is because I consider myself to be a freethinker-but I have my limits.

Having said that, I draw a line just short of Gavin and Yvonne Frost and their version of Wicca, which includes ritual sex with minors. If by chance you are unaware of the fact that sex with a minor is against the law, not only is a crime, it also has corruption of a minor as an accompanying charge in most cases, and a few others as well, depending on the jurisdiction. Not only do we not need this sort of thing in Paganism from a public relations standpoint,it's legally and ethically wrong.

Minors cannot give legal consent to have sex, period. There is no valid argument in favor of this sort of activity, despite adjurations that it's just ancient history. While historical accounts of sex with minors do indeed exist, and it was considered morally acceptable in that period, it is a part of the past which is socially unacceptable in our present time. No amount of backpedaling or psychobabble paints this activity as acceptable in modern Pagan culture. More of us should be speaking out about and against it.

I personally believe placing it in the context of ritual is deplorable and heinous as well. We cannot and should not condone or tolerate this, even in a culture of freethinking or in the name of religious belief.

I disagree with those who think that Paganism means "Anything goes". There are ethical boundaries in every culture and religion. I think we should stand for something and not fall for anything that comes along without discernment. "Live and let live" stops here. Reprehensible behavior of any kind should not be tolerated in our community because what we allow defines who we are.

Gavin Frost made his transition recently, and while I wish him well in the next life, I think he may have a few things to explain about his beliefs to the God/ess of his understanding. I extend my sincere condolences to his loved ones...but I cannot and will not condone his behavior and will not support those who continue the reprehensible abuse of children and teenagers.

For further reading, I suggest you read this spot on blog post by Shauna Aura Knight at Pagan Activist which pretty much says it all for me: