Gothic Women

Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality.

“The Chariot” by Emily Dickinson

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I left school when I was young but returned six years later to finish high school. I was delighted when the first poem we studied in English Literature was “The Chariot” by Emily Dickinson. Those opening lines haunted my mind and wound their way into my soul. When it came time for me to tell the class what I thought, the only person surprised at how much I loved the poem was our teacher. With scorn in her eyes she looked at me and said “I hope you are not one of those people who romanticises death?” Ummm …

My mouth dropped open as my classmates looked at me, looked at our teacher, then looked back at me. I was dressed in my “uniform” of long black dress and pointy witch shoes. My film noir tones of long black hair, black shadowed eyes and unnaturally white face were broken by the slash of bright red lipstick. The only thing brighter was my blood red Dracula medallion. I thought the answer to her question was pretty obvious. But as I looked at my classmates and then back to my teacher, the words that came out of mouth were “No, no I’m not.”

My classmates smirked, knowing it for the lie it was, but understanding the reason. I felt like Peter denying Jesus but I needed to pass the class. I was afraid that if I answered truthfully, she would think I was silly and mark me down. Her relieved sigh made me think I was right. When she then launched into a brutal attack on “people who romanticise death,” I knew I was right. I passed the class and went on to university where I continued my gothic pursuits. It was a lonely path in 1980’s Australia. Happily the world has changed!

I was going to continue this post by talking about a gothic art exhibition I went to, but I’m taking a different path. Thanks to the awesome Christine at witchlike, I found out that February is Women in Horror Month. I can’t believe I didn’t know this! One of the goals of WiHM is to celebrate women in the horror genre. As part of this celebration I thought I would share some of the beautiful paintings Anna Gerraty did for our Dracula Tarot. I began work on the tarot deck when I finished university. I was so lucky to find Anna, an artist more at home in the world of fairy than vampires and horror. Happily she was seduced by Dracula as so many of us are. Her paintings combine her whimsical fairy roots with the romance of the Victorian era and the horror and blood of the vampire.

Lady of Knives

Lucy Westenra as the “Bloofer Lady” – 
a newly turned vampire who drinks the blood of children

 

Countess of Goblets

Mina Harker becoming a vampire

 

Eight of Goblets

Mina Harker being marked as unclean by Van Helsing while the Weird Sisters implore her to 
“Come, sister. Come to us. Come! Come!”

 

Can you resist the siren call of our sisters in horror? I know I won’t!

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Lammas Down Under

February 1st is Lammas or Lughnasadh in the Southern Hemisphere. In the pagan calendar it marks the halfway point between the Midsummer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the first of the harvest festivals and the first autumn festival of the year. It is a time of thanksgiving and sacrifice. The name Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass” while Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh.

Back in my coven days we followed a Celtic calendar so we celebrated Lughnasadh. When I left the coven I tried to continue embracing this ritual but found it difficult. Using the name Lammas rather than Lughnasadh helped as I could focus on bread and the harvest rather than a male Celtic God. Unfortunately Lammas is celebrated in Australia during the hottest time of the year. Temperatures soar, days are hot and sticky and nights are warm and muggy. It’s hard to get into the spirit of a festival focussing on baked goods when you yourself are baking as long and hot as a Lammas loaf. So instead of baking bread, I thought I would concentrate on the thanksgiving part of Lammas and make a sandwich I had on a recent trip to the USA. 

One of the things I am really grateful for is being able to visit my dear friend Anne on Whidbey Island in Washington State. She was a great host and tour guide and took us to some fantastic places to eat. For our last meal on the island we had lunch at Pickles Deli. There was so much on offer so I took my time devising the perfect sandwich. For the fillings I chose turkey with cranberry sauce and mayonnaise. This combination always makes me think of a thanksgiving dinner. Feeling adventurous, I did something I have never done before, I chose lettuce leaves instead of bread as my wrapping. My bread-free sandwich was a light and fresh taste sensation!

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The great thing about this sandwich wrap is that you can make it with homemade ingredients or store-bought ones and you can also substitute chicken for the turkey. I’ve made it many ways and they have all been delicious.

You can read more about my travels and recipes from Whidbey Island and other parts of the USA in my book Bites and Pieces of America. 🙂

When Life Gives You Peaches

Make peachade!

Some friends of ours went strawberry and peach picking and were kind enough to drop off some of their fruit for us to enjoy too. We ate the sweet and succulent strawberries with lashings of cream. We then ate a couple of the ripe and juicy peaches and made the rest into lemonade. The weather is heating up in Australia so I’ll be keeping cool with this sweet, refreshing and hydrating drink.

Peach Lemonade

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Ingredients
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
4 peaches, pitted and cut into segments
3/4 cup lemon juice

Instructions
Bring the water, sugar and peaches to a boil in a medium saucepan.
Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until the peaches are tender.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Place in a blender and blend until smooth.
Strain into a jug using the back of a spoon to squeeze as much juice as possible from the peaches.
Stir in the lemon juice.
Place in the refrigerator to chill.
Use as a cordial, adding as much juice as you like and topping it up with soda or mineral water.

A Piggy New Year

I’ve seen a few unusual Xmas decorations in Australia before, but this season I noticed a new character on the block – a Xmas pig! Seeing pink inflatable Xmas pigs in gardens and in stores put a big smile on my face. 

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I had never heard of a Xmas pig so I had to get investigating. What I discovered is that the pig is a popular character in European Xmas traditions.

The role of the pig as a Xmas character is related to their role as sacrificial animals and symbols of luck and prosperity. Roast pork and baked ham are traditional Xmas fare, but happily there are also symbolic foods that don’t require the death of the pig, such as pig shaped gingerbread cookies and marzipan pigs. Giving someone a marzipan pig as a gift means that you are wishing them good luck for the new year.

Similar to a marzipan pig is the Peppermint Pig™, a hard candy created in Saratoga Springs, New York, by the Saratoga Candy Co. The Peppermint Pig™ comes with its own little pouch and a small metal hammer. After Xmas dinner, the candy pig is placed in the pouch and passed around the table. Everyone takes a turn tapping the pouch whilst recounting the good things that have happened to them in the last year. The broken pieces of candy are then shared with the diners.

Why am I telling you about Xmas pig traditions when Xmas is over? Because pigs aren’t just for Xmas – they are also for Chinese New Year!

This year Chinese New Year falls on February 5th and we will be saying goodbye to The Year of the Yang Earth Dog and hello to The Year of the Yin Earth Pig. The pig is the last animal in the zodiac so a pig year symbolises the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. A pig year is also associated with Luck, Health, Prosperity and a whole lot more!

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Happy Year of the Pig!

Grand Xmas Traditions

Over the last few years I’ve become the proud Grand Aunt to three wonderful Grand Nieces. I was dubbed a Grand rather than a Great Aunt because my family think of me as the Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl’s The Witches – and I love it! My three Grand Nieces’ birthdays each have a gothic connection, making them very Grand indeed!

To celebrate the coming holidays, I’ll be reblogging posts from Xmases past and introducing my Grand Nieces to the darker sides of Midwinter. Their first lesson begins with La Befana the Xmas Witch. 

The Legend Of La Befana

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Birthday Gifts From Bram Stoker

Thursday the 8th of November is Bram Stoker’s 171st birthday. As I thought about Bram’s birthday, I began to reminisce about my own birthdays, in particular my 21st and 22nd birthdays. Both these days have a special connection to Bram and his famous character Dracula, or in this case, Nosferatu.

I didn’t have a party for my 21st birthday. Instead I visited my mum during the day and was delighted when she surprised me with a stunning birthday cake decorated with an image of Dracula. In the evening I celebrated with a couple of close friends who came to my place with platters of Middle Eastern snacks and chunks of Turkish bread. We ate ourselves into a stupor. We then eyed off my birthday cake. Dracula looked so cute that I didn’t want to eat him. I sliced around him that night but eventually I devoured all the cake including my iced Dracula.

After dinner we sat down to watch a newly released video of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. This 1922 black and white silent movie is a classic from the German Expressionist period. Nosferatu was an unauthorised adaptation of Stoker’s novel Dracula. Hoping to avoid paying royalties to Stoker’s widow, the makers changed locations and character names so that they were different to the novel. Notably Count Dracula became Count Orlok and the word vampire was replaced by Nosferatu. These changes weren’t enough to stop Stoker’s heirs from successfully suing. A court ruled that all copies of the film be destroyed. Luckily a few prints survived.  

More than half a century after Nosferatu was released and almost destroyed, I finally got to see the film for the first time. I was mesmerised. The cinematography was haunting, the soundtrack unnerving and I loved watching snippets of dialogue appear in quaint, written form. I found the ending beautifully tragic. Love lured the vampire to his death and a part of me felt sad when he died. For a vampire fan like me, this was a truly magical way to celebrate my special birthday.

A year later I invited a small group of friends to celebrate my 22nd birthday at the Valhalla Cinema in Richmond. They were screening Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, a 1979 remake of Murnau’s film. There are two versions of the film. In one the actors speak English and in the other they speak German. There are other differences between the two films including different scenes and scenes shot with different camera angles. I had seen the English version many times but never the German one. Happily the Valhalla was screening the German version. 

Watching Herzog’s Nosferatu is like watching paintings come to life. It is a sumptuous and hypnotic visual treat accompanied by a bewitching soundtrack. What I love most is the twist at the end. You can view it as a sad or happy ending, depending on how you feel about vampires. I was so happy that I finally got to watch the German version and it was even more awesome that it was on my birthday. I couldn’t have wished for better birthday presents from Bram Stoker than being able to celebrate my birthdays with Nosferatu.

This year I will be celebrating Bram Stoker’s birthday with a special bottle of gin. I recently discovered that there is a gin distillery right here in Melbourne called Nosferatu. Their signature gin is not surprisingly made with blood oranges. I’m not sure what I will be concocting with this gin but I’m sure it will be bloody and sticky 🙂

Some interesting facts related to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu:
– Count Orlok is destroyed by sunlight in the film whereas sunlight is harmless to Count Dracula in the novel.
– The Blue Oyster Cult wrote a song about the film called Nosferatu for their 1977 album Spectres.
– In Stephen King’s 1979 miniseries Salem’s Lot, the appearance of master vampire Kurt Barlow is inspired by Max Schreck’s Count Orlok.
– E. Elias Merhige’s 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire is a fictionalised account of the making of Murnau’s film. The surprise premise of the film is that the actor playing Count Orlok, is a real vampire.
– Most deliciously, the film is the inspiration for the Nosferatu Distillery and their Blood Orange Gin.

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Gothic Meditations

It’s been a long time since I’ve knocked on a stranger’s door for an esoteric experience. The first time was over 30 years ago when I was invited to a witches coven meeting. There were so many reasons why my hand was shaking when I knocked on that door. As an introvert, walking into a room filled with strangers had its own set of terrors. The fact they were witches was only one of them! Three decades later I was knocking on another stranger’s door. This time it wasn’t witches I was meeting. I was here to participate in a “Meditations on Death” workshop. I couldn’t wait to get inside!

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked into a room where a diverse group of people were sitting on cushions. I found a cushion with a cupboard behind me so I could sit in a comfortable position. As expected, we all had different backgrounds and different reasons for being there. Some had friends or family members who were dying, others had been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and a few just wanted to be comfortable with the concept of death. I was there continuing my life long journey of exploring death in all its forms. The only thing we all had in common was that one day we would die. But the point of the workshop was not to see that truth as morbid, but rather to use it to empower our lives.

The workshop explored the different ways we have viewed death historically and from different cultural perspectives. I found my head was nodding in agreement with many of the things our host was saying. As a Goth, I am comfortable in the world of the dead. But as the workshop continued, I found myself reflecting on how I was brought up. Coming from an Eastern European background, death was no stranger to me. I grew up on stories about the horror of war, pain, loss and death. I was taught from a young age how precarious life is and how easily it can be taken away. These lessons weren’t meant to instil fear, but rather to highlight how precious life is. Understanding the fragility of life and how close we are to death at any moment, can be liberating. It can help you live your life more fully because you don’t know how long you have left. At least that’s the way I have always viewed it.

Another lesson I learned growing up was that accepting death as a natural part of life doesn’t stop you from feeling pain and loss when loved ones die. Quite the opposite actually. As the workshop wound its way to a conclusion, my thoughts roamed to the elaborate death rites and rituals I grew up with. Some of them were challenging, like kissing a dead body in a coffin, others were less extreme. All of them were ways of dealing with the loss of a departed loved one, the need to say goodbye and the importance of moving on. It was during these reminiscences that I had the most disturbing thought of all – I was raised by Goths! I had always thought my love of vampires had turned me into a Goth but I realised I had been born into a culture where being a Goth was a way of life and death. As I pondered on these revelations, the workshop moved on to the next stage and the one I was really looking forward to – a death bed meditation!

We were first asked to stretch out on the floor if we were comfortable to do so. I pushed away from the cupboard and stretched out. With my eyes closed, I listened as our guide asked us to feel what it would be like to die. We began by releasing from our bodies each of the four elements in turn. It was an extraordinary experience. When it came time to release the element of air, I had a minor panic attack. Being claustrophobic, I hate being in situations where I feel like I can’t breathe. Being asked to feel like all the air was pushed out of my body had me almost physically clawing at the air. I really did feel like I was dying and I was surprised at how panicked I felt.

Calming myself, I continued with the meditation and was rewarded with some extraordinary insights and a feeling of peace. But there was pain and sadness too. I don’t want to die, but one day I will. All I can do is live my life as best I can. Experiencing this symbolic death was more powerful than I thought it would be. I left the meditation will many things to ponder. But the one thing I was truly grateful for was that I was born and raised a Goth.

Black Tahini Cookies
To ground myself after esoteric explorations I always have something to eat and drink. I thought a plate of black cookies and a pot of black tea would be most appropriate. I used black tahini as a natural food colour and because I love tahini. These biscuits are really strong in flavour so you can try substituting the tahini with peanut butter or another nut butter and adding a few drops of black food colouring if you like.

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Ingredients
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup black tahini
1+1/2 cups plain flour

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 320F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix together the sugars, butter, beaten egg and vanilla in a large bowl until combined.
Add the tahini and mix until combined.
Add the flour and mix until combined.
Place tablespoons of batter on prepared trays, flattening slightly with a fork.
Bake for 10 – 15 minutes. The shorter they cook the softer they will be. 
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.