A Beltane for Bram

Bram Stoker was born on the 8th of November 1847 making this Tuesday his 175th birthday!

This year Bram will share his birthday with a Full Moon in Taurus, a total lunar eclipse and Blood Moon. If that isn’t enough, the astronomical date for Beltane in the southern hemisphere, and Samhain in the northern hemisphere, will be celebrated on the eve of his birthday. Stoker’s most famous novel, Dracula, is a symphony of oppositions exploring life, death and rebirth. I think it is very fitting that Stoker’s 175th birthday falls on the eve of these most appropriate festivals.

To celebrate this very special birthday I decided to pay tribute to Bram’s Irish heritage by making an Irish milk punch called Scáiltín. It’s basically a spiced milk hot toddy. Milk and dairy are traditional foods/drinks used in both Beltane and Full Moon festivities which makes this a perfect drink for Bram’s birthday this year.

For the spices, I used pumpkin spice instead of the traditional ginger and cinnamon to add a bit of Halloween to the drink. If you don’t have pumpkin spice you can replace it with a 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and a 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. I’ve also added an optional toasted marshmallow as a reminder of the bonfires that will be burning on both sides of the globe.

Happy Birthday Bram Stoker!

Irish Milk Punch (Scáiltín)

Ingredients
(Makes one generous cup)
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
1 cup full fat milk
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice
freshly grated or ground nutmeg for serving
1 marshmallow for serving (optional)

Instructions
Warm the whisky and milk in a small saucepan over low heat. (Do not let the mixture boil).
Add the honey and pumpkin spice and whisk until bubbly and combined.
Pour into a heatproof mug.
Sprinkle with nutmeg.
Top with a toasted marshmallow if desired.
If you don’t have access to a bonfire, you can toast the marshmallow by spearing it on a fork and slowly turning it over a low heat on a gas fire until it is toasted to your liking. (Be careful not to drop it as it softens).

A Tricky Halloween

Once upon a time, Australia didn’t really celebrate Halloween. There were no ghoulish goodies to buy, no spooky houses to visit, and no trick-or-treaters visiting on All Hallows Eve. Thank goodness times have changed!

Halloween is an Autumnal festival celebrating the beginning of Winter, so being a Pagan who lives in the southern hemisphere, I celebrate Halloween on April 30th. But I’m also a Goth so I celebrate northern hemisphere Halloween on October 31st because one Halloween just isn’t enough!

The corresponding festival to Halloween is Beltane, a festival celebrating the beginning of Summer. I’ve always felt I’m cheating Beltane by sharing it with Halloween and I’ve tried to work out ways of dealing with this tricky issue. Happily this year I have found a perfect compromise! I’m going to celebrate Halloween on the usual date and Beltane on an astronomical date. However, understanding astronomical dates can be a bit tricky too. 🙂

Halloween and Beltane (and Imbolc and Lammas) are cross-quarter festivals that mark the approximate mid points between the Solstices and Equinoxes. Like Xmas they are fixed date festivals which means they are celebrated on the same date every year. The Solstices and Equinoxes, like Easter, are moveable festivals meaning they are celebrated on different dates each year. The fixed date festivals mark the approximate midpoint between Solstices and Equinoxes but you can actually work out the exact astronomical date too. If you do this, you’ll find that the dates of the fixed festivals will now change every year as well.

This year the exact astronomical date of Beltane in the southern hemisphere falls on November 7th. I’m really excited about this date, as it is the eve of the Taurus Full Moon, a perfect symbol for Beltane. On November 8th there will be a total lunar eclipse which also happens to be Bram Stoker’s birthday. A lunar eclipse on the birthday of the author of Dracula brings me right back where I want to be – Halloween!

A Caped Crusader

October 20th is Bela Lugosi’s birthday. To celebrate, I’ve listed some interesting facts about the fascinating actor.

The Young Lugosi:
Bela was born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20th, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary which is now Lugoj in Romania.

Bela chose Lugosi as his stage name to honour his place of birth.

Lugosi left home when he was 12 years old and did odd jobs before debuting on the Hungarian stage in 1902.

Lugosi played small roles in plays and operettas, performed in Shakespeare plays and also acted in silent films. Critics called him “the Laurence Olivier of Hungary”.

Lugosi eventually emigrated to the United States where he became famous for his portrayals of the vampire Count Dracula on both stage and screen.

Lugosi and Politics:
Lugosi fought in World War I in the 43rd Hungarian Infantry. Lugosi was wounded while serving at the Russian Front and awarded the Wound Medal.

Lugosi was a proud unionist and was interested in helping actors and theatre workers fight for better wages and conditions. Lugosi helped found the Free Organisation of Theatrical Employees. This organisation eventually expanded into the National Trade Union of Actors, one of the first film actors’ unions in the world.

Due to his union activities, Lugosi was forced to flee Hungary. He eventually made his way to America. Lugosi arrived in New Orleans as a crewman on a merchant ship. He then made his way to Ellis Island and became a naturalized U.S. citizen a few years later.

In America, Lugosi continued to fight for the rights of actors. Lugosi and fellow horror actor Boris Karloff, fought to improve working conditions and safety standards on film sets. They were both union organisers and charter members of the Screen Actors Guild.

Happy 140th Birthday Bela!

I hope these brief facts about a very complex person have inspired you to read more about Bela Lugosi. Here are some links:

Bela Lugosi Biography by Bela Lugosi Jr
Béla Lugosi: actor, union leader, anti-fascist
Anti-Fascist Role Models: Bela Lugosi
Dracula Goes to War – Bela Lugosi, WW1 and the Making of a Macabre Hollywood Legend
How Frankenstein and Dracula created a union
The Monsters Organize!

Spring Crumble

The Spring Equinox is here again! This year it falls on Friday the 23rd of September. The Equinox symbolises balance as the hours of day and night are roughly equal on this night. After the Spring Equinox, our hours of daylight will slowly increase and the days will become longer than the nights as we head towards the Summer Solstice.

The Spring Equinox usually makes me feel like doing a spring clean. Sometimes it’s house cleaning, sometimes it’s cleaning up my emotional and spiritual state. This year I’m spring cleaning my living space! A collapsing clothes cupboard has forced me to take a look at my storage and has inspired me to do a big clothing purge.

Seeing my crumbling wardrobe made think of a fruit crumble, but rather than a sweet one I decided to make a savoury zucchini crumble. Vibrant green zucchini, combined with a light filling and topping, is a refreshing way to celebrate the Equinox and prepare for upcoming spring cleaning.

Zucchini Crumble

Ingredients
for the filling
500g zucchini, finely grated
1 tablespoon semolina
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
125g feta

for the topping
1 cup wholemeal flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
80g unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Lightly oil a 24cm x 18cm baking dish.
To make the filling:
Squeeze zucchini, making sure all liquid is extracted, then place in a bowl.
Add the semolina, rosemary, salt and feta and stir until just combined.
Spread the mixture into prepared dish.
To make the topping:
Add the flour and salt to a separate bowl.
Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips.
Add the nuts and continue mixing until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Sprinkle the topping over the zucchini mix.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the topping is lightly browned.

An Encounter With Red Pandas

International Red Panda Day (IRPD) is celebrated on the third Saturday in September which this year falls on Saturday the 17th. IRPD was created by the Red Panda Network (RPN) to highlight the issues endangered red pandas face in the wild such as habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is observed around the world with special events and red panda themed events. Some zoos celebrate on different days, so check with your local zoo to see if they are doing anything and on what day. If you’re lucky enough to have a zoo that does red panda encounters, IRPD would be a perfect day to treat yourself to one of these special experiences.

In preparation for IRPD, I visited Billabong Zoo to have an encounter with not one, but two red pandas! Rato and Tito, two elderly red panda sisters, were very keen to have breakfast, so when they saw me enter their enclosure with a bowl, they didn’t waste any time and quickly climbed down the tree for treats. They were very polite as they waited while I fed each of them tasty bits of fruit in turn.

During the encounter I made eye contact with the beautiful elder girls and my heart swelled at how gentle they were. As I looked into their stunning red panda faces millimetres from my from own, I felt a connection with these very special creatures. They seemed to know that I needed healing as it has been a very difficult couple of years. I was feeling rubbed raw emotionally and spiritually.

Being in the presence of two seemingly old and wise red panda ladies, I felt a huge burden lift from my shoulders. As I stared into their happy little faces, an overwhelming sense of calm and balance coursed through me. For the first time in a long time I felt happy, positive and ready to face the challenges ahead of me. The road forward is uncertain, but with the promise of more red panda encounters in the future, I’m ready to start journeying again.

(from the world animal dreaming oracle by Scott Alexander King)

Sweet Tea For A Bloody Countess

August 21st is Elizabeth Bathory’s deathiversary. It’s also National Sweet Tea Day. When I realised this, I couldn’t help picturing Elizabeth sipping a sweet tea. Seeing as two of her epithets are the “Blood Countess” and “Countess Dracula”, maybe it isn’t sweet tea she is sipping.

Countess Elizabeth Bathory (born 7 August 1560 – died 21 August 1614) was a Hungarian noblewoman who was accused of torturing and murdering young girls. Bathory was eventually tried and convicted as a serial killer. She was imprisoned in her castle until her death. There is ongoing debate as to whether Elizabeth Bathory was a blood thirsty murderer or the victim of a witch hunt.

As a wealthy and influential landowner, there were many reasons to discredit her and take her land and power. This has led to questioning how the evidence brought against Bathory was gathered. Some testified that they had not seen her commit crimes but had heard stories about her while the eyewitness accounts from Bathory’s servants were mostly gained through torture. The enduring tales of her drinking and bathing in the blood of virgins to retain her youth appear to have been written after her death. Whether guilty or innocent of these crimes, Elizabeth Bathory has lived on in folklore, especially in vampire mythology.

And now onto something sweeter than blood – Sweet Tea!
National Sweet Tea Day is a day to enjoy the pleasures of a refreshing glass of iced sweet tea. The difference between sweet tea and iced tea is that sweetener is added to the tea at the time of brewing. National Iced Tea Day is celebrated on June 10.

To celebrate National Sweet Tea Day, I’ll be enjoying a sweetened Earl Grey tea. To pay tribute to the contribution Elizabeth Bathory has made to vampire mythology, I’ll be adding a slice of blood orange. It won’t be chilled either as I believe that tea, like blood, should be served warm.

Happy Drinking!

Imbolc Delight

As the wheel slowly turns toward Spring in the southern hemisphere, many are getting ready to celebrate Imbolc on August 1st.

Imbolc is the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It brings the promise of Spring in the midst of cold Winter weather. Nights are still cold but the days are warming as nature begins to slowly awaken from a Winter slumber. It’s a beautiful time of year and one of my favourites.

One of the things I like to start thinking about at Imbolc is spring cleaning. This year I began with my pantry and found a bottle of rose syrup that I had forgotten I had. I decided to use some of it to make a rose syrup jelly (jello) that reminds me of Turkish delight. Rose syrup is a syrup made from rose water with sugar added. If you don’t have rose syrup you can use rose water but you may have to add extra sugar to get that sweet flavour of Turkish delight.

I added hibiscus tea to my jelly as I wanted to get a nice pink colour. I also find the tartness of hibiscus balances out the sweetness of the rose syrup. If you don’t have hibiscus tea, you can add food colouring or just enjoy the almost pink blush of the jelly.

Rose Syrup Jelly

Ingredients
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 titanium strength gelatine leaf*
1 tablespoon rose syrup
1 tablespoon hibiscus flower tea leaves
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Soak gelatine sheet in cold water for 5 minutes.
While the gelatine is soaking, place the water and sugar in a small saucepan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Squeeze out gelatine sheet and add to the saucepan.
Remove from heat.
Stir once or twice until the gelatine has melted.
Stir in the rose syrup and hibiscus tea.
Steep for 3-5 minutes.
Strain into a heatproof jug.
Allow to cool then pour into serving bowls or glasses.
Cover and refrigerate until set.
Serve with cream if desired.

*check the strength of your gelatine leaves and use as many as you need to set 1 cup of liquid.

Some Assembly Required

National Cream Tea Day is a British food day that is celebrated on the last Friday in June. This year it was celebrated on June 24th. I didn’t get to celebrate on Friday, but any day is a great day to celebrate the delight that is a cream tea!

National Cream Tea Day was created by two companies, one that specialises in cream – Rodda’s Clotted Cream and one that specialise in jams and preserves – Wilkin and Sons Tiptree. National Cream Tea Day is a fun day that encourages people to get together over a cream tea and raise money for charities. Both companies donate cream and jam for events through their joint organisation, The Cream Tea Society.

Apart from cream and jam, a cream tea needs scones to dollop the cream and jam onto, and lots of tea to wash them down with. The scone recipe I’ve chosen is not a classic British recipe but one from an Ikea cookbook called Hey Flavours! Children’s First Cookbook. Luckily you won’t need an Allen key to assemble these scones! If you’d like to know more about cream teas, and what order you should put the cream and jam on your scone, you can go to my previous post, The Battle Of The Cream Tea.

Scones
I was drawn to these scones as they are made with yoghurt instead of milk, which sounds delicious! I’ve tested them thoroughly and they do also taste delicious.

Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
50g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup yoghurt

for serving
jam
cream
tea

Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
Add the butter and, using your fingers, rub it into the flour.
Add the yoghurt and mix into a dough.
Place dough onto a floured surface and flatten until approximately 2cm thick.
Use a glass or cookie cutter to cut into round shapes.
Place onto prepared tray and sprinkle with a little flour.
Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.

A Winter Solstice Star

In preparation for the June 21st Winter Solstice, I spent a weekend away at an eco-friendly sky pod in Victoria’s stunning Otways. Perched on a hill in a wildlife refuge property, the pod I chose featured floor to ceiling windows which look out onto the Southern Ocean.

During the day I watched as the changeable weather treated me to scenes of sunshine imbued surf, rain and storm clouds, and stunning rainbows. At night, with the lights turned off, the night sky was bewitching. I fell asleep with the gentle caress of starlight on my face.

Deep in the night I woke up and was amazed at the amount of starlight in the room. When I looked around I saw that it was the Southern Cross shining through the south facing window. I have seen this star pattern many times before but never so close. I felt as though I could reach out and touch the bright stars as they filled the room with translucent light. It was magical. I felt an immediate connection to the Southern Cross, something I have never felt before.

The Southern Cross star pattern is composed of four bright stars and one fainter star which form the shape of a cross, or more accurately, a kite. The Southern Cross is not a constellation but an asterism which is a group of stars that can be part of a constellation or span across multiple constellations. The Southern Cross is the brightest star pattern in the Crux constellation, the smallest constellation in the sky.

photo from Wikipedia

The Southern Cross asterism was once a feature of the northern skies and was an important celestial symbol for ancient cultures. The ancient Greeks considered it part of the Centaurus constellation. By Roman times it had sunk below the horizon and out of view for most of the Northern Hemisphere, although it is still visible in some southern parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern Cross was virtually forgotten in the Northern Hemisphere until it became an important asterism in navel navigations.

The Southern Cross has always been a powerful celestial symbol in the southern skies and features prominently in the mythology and stories of Southern Hemisphere cultures. The Southern Cross configuration is featured on the flags of Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Samoa. It is also mentioned in the national anthems of Australia and Brazil.

In my home country of Australia, the Southern Cross is an important part of indigenous and non-indigenous Australian culture. Australian indigenous culture is wide and diverse, and while there are many stories about the Southern Cross, it is regarded as one of many star patterns that grace the southern skies. However, for many non-indigenous Australians, this celestial symbol has almost mythic status and is considered one of the most important star patterns in the southern skies. Unfortunately, the Southern Cross has also been used as a symbol of nationalism, bigotry and rebellion, often in nasty ways. This association with the uglier parts of Australian culture has made me uncomfortable about getting to know the Southern Cross asterism. However, after seeing how beautiful it truly is, I’m now keen to form a relationship.

Happy Solstice!

When Shall We Three Meet Again

May 26 is World Dracula Day which celebrates the day that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published. Dracula was published in 1897 making this year the 125th anniversary!

The Dracula Tarot

Dracula is an epistolary novel as it is written as a series of documents. The narrative beautifully unfolds through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, ship logs, telegrams and phonograph recordings. Dracula therefore has an exhaustive list of the places, times and dates that events occur. To celebrate World Dracula Day, I decided to see if there was an entry for May 26 – and happily there was!

Telegram from Arthur Holmwood to Quincey P. Morris.
“26 May.
“Count me in every time. I bear messages which will make both your ears tingle.
“ART.”

Doesn’t that sound intriguing? Here is the previous correspondence which explains what invitation Arthur is accepting.

Letter, Quincey P. Morris to Hon. Arthur Holmwood.
“25 May.
“My dear Art,—
“We’ve told yarns by the camp-fire in the prairies; and dressed one another’s wounds after trying a landing at the Marquesas; and drunk healths on the shore of Titicaca. There are more yarns to be told, and other wounds to be healed, and another health to be drunk. Won’t you let this be at my camp-fire to-morrow night? I have no hesitation in asking you, as I know a certain lady is engaged to a certain dinner-party, and that you are free. There will only be one other, our old pal at the Korea, Jack Seward. He’s coming, too, and we both want to mingle our weeps over the wine-cup, and to drink a health with all our hearts to the happiest man in all the wide world, who has won the noblest heart that God has made and the best worth winning. We promise you a hearty welcome, and a loving greeting, and a health as true as your own right hand. We shall both swear to leave you at home if you drink too deep to a certain pair of eyes. Come!
“Yours, as ever and always,“Quincey P. Morris.”

I can just picture Quincey, Dr Seward and Arthur sitting around a campfire discussing Arthur’s “ear tingling” news. Arthur can’t wait to tell them that he is engaged to Lucy Westenra. What Arthur doesn’t know is that his proposal to Lucy on 24 May is the third she received that day. Dr Seward was the first to propose followed shortly after by Quincey. Both men are refused and they realise that Arthur is the man Lucy loves. This get-together is to congratulate Arthur for winning Lucy’s heart. Arthur is never told about the proposals and never realises how deep Dr Seward’s and Quincey’s love for Lucy is. There is also another secret that Quincey and Dr Seward keep from Arthur involving an “intimate” episode with Lucy. If you don’t already know, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Happy World Dracula Day!

The Dracula Tarot