Witches

A Trio Of Celebrations

This Saturday 30th of April is a very special night. There are three celebrations happening. Two are annual events – Walpurgis Night and Beltane/Halloween. The other is Orthodox Easter Eve. As Easter is a Moveable Feast, it is not always celebrated on April 30th. The fact that it falls on this special night this year makes for a very powerful Saturday eve! As I will be celebrating Halloween, I thought I would explore Walpurgis Night as it has always had a Halloween feel for me.

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Walpurgis Night is also known as Witches’ Night. It is the night when witches are thought to fly to the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz mountain range and the highest peak in Northern Germany. There they will light a great bonfire and celebrate the coming Spring with singing, dancing and feasting. Sounds good to me! What also sounds good to me is the name Walpurgis. It has such a witchy feel to it. And it would have to, seeing as it is the name of a witchy holiday, wouldn’t it? Well, not really. Walpurgis Night is not so much witchy as it is holy.

Walpurgis Night is named after Saint Walpurga, a female, English missionary. She was born in Devonshire in 710 and spent her early years in an abbey where she was educated by the nuns. She wrote a biography about her brother and also wrote in Latin about his travels through Palestine. She is often called Germany and England’s first female writer. She was an exceptionally educated women for the times. She died on February 25th, 777 or 779 and was canonised on the 1st of May, 870. So why is she connected to a witches holiday? I’m not really sure but I can make a couple of guesses.

What is interesting about Saint Walpurga is that her offical Catholic feast day is celebrated on the day of her death, February 25th but her more popular celebration is on the day of her canonisation, May 1st. Was celebrating Walpurgis Night on the eve of her canonisation a ploy by Christians to take over the pagan holiday of Beltane? It’s not like that wasn’t done before with Xmas and Easter. It seems to make sense, as Witches’ Night and Beltane have many things in common, not the least which are their welcoming of the coming Spring. But why not chose one of the many Saints who is actually celebrated on May 1st, rather than Saint Walpurga? Again, I’m not sure. Perhaps they wanted a female Saint to represent the Goddess of Spring. But it wouldn’t be the first time a powerful and educated woman was associated with witches!

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Another reason I love Walpurgis Night is Dracula. Yes, Dracula has a connection to Witches’ Night 🙂 Dracula’s Guest, the prequel to the novel Dracula, is set on Walpurgis Night. It is on this night that Jonathan encounters a female vampire – the Countess Dolingen of Gratz. He survives the encounter, thanks to Dracula, who wants Jonathan all to himself! I could never forget this haunting description:

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.”

This brilliant prequel is the inspiration for the High Priestess card in my Dracula Tarot deck.

Priestess

The Countess Dolingen of Gratz

In honour of the pagan bonfires that will be burning in both the southern and northern hemispheres I would like to share a recipe for one of my favourites treats. It is known by many names such as honeycomb, hokey pokey, sea foam and puff candy but my favourite name for it is cinder toffee 🙂 Nothing conjures up the power and heat of a bonfire than the heady smell of almost burning sugar as it is slowly caramelises and darkens. And what could be more exciting than the alchemical change that happens when baking powder is added to that amber liquid!

Cinder Toffee

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Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 + 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Method
Line a baking pan, approximately 25cmx30cm, with baking paper.
Place sugar, water, honey and golden syrup in a deep, heavy based saucepan.
Place the saucepan on low heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a gentle boil.
Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the mixture turns golden brown. Be careful not to burn the mixture as it can heat up very quickly.
To check if it is ready, drop a small amount of syrup into a cold glass of water. If the syrup becomes brittle it is ready.
Remove the pan from the heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk vigorously, being very careful as the mixture will bubble up.
Pour mixture quickly into the prepared pan.
Allow to cool before breaking into pieces.

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A Twist in the Pie

The first day of February in the Southern Hemisphere is Lammas, an ancient harvest festival that marks the mid-point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. Even though hotter days are still to come, Lammas marks the beginning of Autumn. Traditionally, breads baked from new crops were made as offerings to the gods. Back when I celebrated Lammas in a coven, I would always offer to make the bread for our ritual. I loved coming up with ideas and shapes for the loaves. As the ritual came to a close and we made our offerings of bread and wine, I felt blessed that I could provide for my coven and the Pagan deities I once believed in. I miss these simple rituals, and the Pagan deities I am slowing coming to believe in again.

To celebrate the first of the solar Pagan sabbats for 2016, I thought I would return to my roots and make a Lammas bread. I decided to try my hand at a French Sun Pie called a Tarte Soleil. A Tarte Soleil is a filled pastry that is twisted to represent the rays of the sun. They look complicated but they are actually easy to make – especially if you use store-bought puff pastry 🙂 All you need is patience, a steady hand and great ingredients. In fact, deciding what to fill my pie with was my biggest struggle.

As I was feeling nostalgic about past friends and covenors, I filled my first Tarte Soleil with peanut butter and strawberry jam – a tribute to all the wonderful American friends I’ve made. It was quite delicious and a lovely blend of sweet and salty. Emboldened by my success, I decided make another one. I really wanted to use sun-dried tomatoes to represent the sun but I can’t eat tomatoes so I didn’t want to make a lovely tart I couldn’t eat. That’s when I came up with an idea, I would make a feta and black olive filling and put sun-dried tomatoes in the inner circle only. That way I could at least eat the sun rays. Happily it was a tasty success and something I would be proud to bring to a Lammas gathering.

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Tarte Soleil

Ingredients
2 sheets frozen ready rolled puff pastry
1 tablespoon finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/3 cup Danish feta cheese
1/3 cup whole Kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
sea salt flakes for sprinkling

Instructions
Take pastry sheets out of the freezer to thaw according to the packet.
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Cut pastry into two 23cm (9inch) rounds.
Place one round on the baking tray.
Lightly mark a 7 – 8cm (3inch) sized circle in the centre, being careful not to cut right through the pastry.
Place sun-dried tomatoes in the small circle.
Crumble a small amount of feta cheese over the sun-dried tomatoes.
Crumble remaining feta over the rest of the round, leaving a small margin around the outer edge.
Top the feta with olives.
Top with the second pastry round.
Press the edges together to seal.
Place a 7 – 8cm (3inch) sized glass face down in the centre of the circle, being careful not to cut right through the pastry.
With a sharp knife, cut the pastry into four sections, starting at the edge of the glass and working outward. Cut each section into half and then cut into half again. You will now have sixteen sections which will form the rays of the sun.
Remove the glass.
Gently twist each section, starting at the centre and working outward. You can twist one-to-two times, but be careful not to break them.
Brush pastry with beaten egg.
Sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until brown.
Allow to cool slightly before gently sliding it off the baking paper and onto a serving plate. If the tart sticks, gently prise loose with a spatula.
Can be eaten warm or cold.

If you want to try the peanut butter and strawberry jam version simply follow the instructions above but replace the filling with a 1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter and 1/4 cup strawberry jam.

The Autumn Queen

I have often wondered about the concept of the Triple Goddess and her relationship to women’s cycles. Traditionally, the Triple Goddess is envisioned as the Maiden, Mother and Crone. These three phases are supposed to correspond to the three phases of a woman’s life which are symbolically linked to three blood mysteries; menarche/menstruation, childbirth and menopause. As a number of my female friends are about to celebrate their 50th birthdays and are also experiencing the beginnings of menopause, I began to wonder whether they were indeed entering the time of the Crone or some intermediary stage. When I interact with women who are much older – say in their late 70’s and beyond – there is a depth of wisdom and solitude that I do not find in my younger friends. It appears to me that women in their late 40’s and early 50’s are being prematurely hastened into the role of the Crone way before their time.

As a woman in the middle of the “Mother” phase I always felt as though there was another phase of my life to explore before becoming the Crone. In some ways, by focussing solely on female biology, the Triple Goddess, as a metaphor for female transitions, can be limiting. Interestingly, the Triple Goddess is not only linked to the number three but also to the number four. The Triple Goddess is connected to the phases of the Moon and the Seasons which all have four aspects. The Waxing New Moon is the Maiden and associated with Spring, the Full Moon is the Mother and linked to Summer and the Dark Moon is the Crone and corresponds to Winter. However, one Season and one Moon phase are missing from this scenario; Autumn and the Waning Moon. This omission made me consider that one phase of a woman’s journey may also be missing.

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Synchronistically, it was at this time that I discovered a book called “The Women’s Wheel of Life: Thirteen Archetypes of Woman at Her Fullest Power” by Elizabeth Davis & Carol Leonard. They too discovered that one phase of a woman’s life journey may be repressed by focussing on a three-phase cycle. Significantly, this revelation came to Carol Leonard whilst painting a mural depicting the four Seasons represented by four dancing Goddesses. Although Spring, Summer and Winter Goddesses were easily visualised as Maiden, Mother and Crone, Carol found it difficult to envision an Autumn Goddess. What she eventually created was “an image of a queenly woman, draped in rich robes of deep red and gold, holding a base of harvest goods”. She named this aspect of the Seasonal Goddess the Matriarch. When Davis and Leonard offered the image of Woman as Matriarch to a workshop “all the women in their middle years unanimously said, “Yes!” and breathed a collective sigh of relief”. Is it time to expand our notion of a Triple Goddess and unveil a fourth face? I would say “Yes!”

A Four-Fold Goddess corresponds to other Spiritual Traditions that utilise four-fold concepts. Many religions invoke the four directions – South, East, North and West – or the four elements – Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Some forms of Witchcraft follow a Seasonal calendar that includes four Major Sabbats – Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas – and four Minor Sabbats – Autumn Equinox, Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. Other Witches follow a Lunar cycle celebrating the four phases of the Moon – First Quarter, Full Moon, Last Quarter and Dark Moon. Astrology utilises the four elements and Tarot also has four suits – Pentacles, Swords, Wands and Cups which also relate to the four elements. The Four-Fold Goddess can be linked to any and all of these systems.

The hidden fourth face of the Goddess is also a particularly powerful aspect of a woman’s life journey. Rather than go straight from the Summer Full Moon phase – a time dedicated to nurturing others, to the Winter Dark Moon Crone phase – a time of impending withdrawal from the world, the Autumn Waning Moon Queen allows us an intermediary time where we can not only reflect on our lives but also have some say in world affairs. The Autumn Queen phase allows us the time to enjoy our own personal power in the world. As women we have probably spent most of our time nurturing others but now the time has come to nurture ourselves. The biggest challenge for women is coming into contact with our own power. Perhaps by harnessing the power of our Autumn Queen our task may be simpler.

By focussing on a three-fold rite of passage intimately connected to our biology, we may miss one of our more powerful passages – our initiation into Autumn Queens.

I am looking forward to moving into the role of Autumn Queen, for although I love the idea of being a Crone, I do believe it is a role related to a much later stage in our lives.

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I wrote this article 15 years ago at the ripe old age of 35. So if you’re good at maths you’ll see that I’ve reached my Autumn Queen stage – I’ve turned 50! Do I still believe the words I wrote all those years ago? Do I still feel we need an Autumn Queen archetype? Yes I do!

The lead up to my 50th birthday was not what I had planned. I had envisioned massages, facials, manicures and much needed pedicures. Instead my birthday was shadowed by the illness and death of one of my beloved dogs. The Crone had come to take something away from me and I wasn’t ready. When I looked into her face through my tears I knew one thing – I was no Crone. I wasn’t ready to quietly slip into a time of self-reflection, acceptance and withdrawal. I was leaving the Mother stage behind with the death of one my children and I was fighting all the way – for him and for myself. There was no way I could transition from a Mother to a Crone without an intermediary phase. For me that phase is the Autumn Queen. As befits an Elder Goth, I took on the Autumn mantle of the Queen shrouded in death and darkness. I embraced becoming an Autumn Queen with great sadness but also with great wonder. Against the odds I had a wild 50th birthday. It was in fact the best birthday I have ever had. For one weekend I put aside all my worries about others, all my pain and all my fears for what the future held. For one weekend I really lived in the moment. I concentrated on having a fabulous time and made sure I was a pampered and well looked after Autumn Queen. It felt wonderful. And it’s only the beginning of my journey.

The Legend of La Befana

Want to add a bit of Witchiness to your Christmas festivities but you don’t want to stray too far from the traditional Christian message?

Well fear not! You can have both Jesus and a Witch in your nativity scene thanks to the Legend of La Befana.

I came across the Italian Legend of La Befana when I was doing research on the history of Santa Claus. As soon as I realised there was room for a broom riding, chimney visiting,
gift-giving Witch in Christmas stories I was hooked. But who is La Befana and how did she
become part of Christmas?

As with any folkloric tale there are many versions and variations but basically Befana is an old Witch who loves to clean and bake. The Magi (the Three Wise Men) come to her home and ask her for directions to Bethlehem as they are on their way to visit the baby Jesus. Unfortunately Befana can’t help them. In some versions the Magi stay the night and find her to be a wonderful host. The Magi invite Befana to come to Bethlehem with them but she refuses as she has a lot of housework to do. Not long after they leave she regrets her decision and packs up some gifts for the baby Jesus. She takes her broom as both a form of transportation and to clean the manger for the mother. She is after all a Witch renowned for her cooking and her cleaning! Following the Star, she sets off to find the Magi but she never finds them.

Each year on Epiphany Eve, or Twelfth Night, Befana flies on her broomstick visiting the homes of children via the chimney. Some say she is still looking for the baby Jesus, others that she sees Jesus reflected in every child. She leaves behind gifts and sweets for children who have been good, or lumps of coal for children who have been bad. Sometimes she leaves black coloured candy made from black sugar instead of coal. Although Befana is portrayed as scruffy and covered in soot, she always cleans up after herself with her trusty broom! She is also very grateful for any refreshments you may leave out for her.

I was drawn to the Legend of La Befana, and not just because it features a witch 🙂 There is something so wickedly pleasurable about a woman who has better things to do with her time than visit the home of a baby male saviour. It’s the first time I haven’t questioned the role of woman as housekeeper!

So if you do put up a Nativity scene this year, why not add a flying Witch in honour of La
Befana?

Befana’s Frozen Black Coal Candy
(adapted from Amber Shea Crawley’s recipe for “Salted Tahini Caramels” in Practically Raw Desserts)

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Ingredients
1/2 cup black tahini
1/4 cup sesame flour
1/4 cup honey
black sea salt flakes

Instructions
Line a freezer safe container with plastic wrap or baking paper. (The size container will depend on how thick you want your candy.)
Mix together the black tahini, sesame flour and honey until combined.
Pour into prepared container.
Sprinkle with black salt.
Cover and freeze.
Once frozen, slice into desired sized portions with a sharp knife.
Eat straight from the freezer!

If you can’t find black tahini use regular tahini and add food colouring if desired.
If you can’t find sesame flour you can use coconut flour instead.

Maleficent Obsession

I’m not surprised that witches rarely get to speak their own truths in popular culture. It seems when they do, they don’t have anything positive to say about men in power.

Following on from Wicked comes the movie Maleficent. Based on fairytales and the Disney Film Sleeping Beauty, the film is Maleficent’s version of what really happened in Sleeping Beauty.

There are so many ways of approaching and analysing this film. One easy way is to discuss it in three parts:

The Early Years

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Retold

The Ending

It’s a classic narrative structure – beginning, middle and end. But what happens in these sections is not necessarily classic, nor expected.

The first part sets the scene. There are two worlds that live side by side. The Fairy World, called The Moors, which is magical, rich, peaceful and free of rulers. Over the river is the Human World, which is not magical, has rich and poor people, is warlike and ruled by a tyrannical King.

Stefan, a poor, young human boy, goes to The Moors to steal some of their precious jewels. He is caught and meets the young Maleficent who is a winged and horned fairy. The two, who are both orphans, form a friendship that, over the years, turns to love. Or does it? On her 16th birthday Maleficent is given a gift of “true love’s kiss” by Stefan. However, he then goes back to the human world and pursues a life of politics and no longer visits Maleficent. Maleficent is heartbroken but grows up to become The Moors’ strongest and most powerful fairy. Scenes of her soaring through the sky on her majestic wings, towering above the land like an archangel, emphasise her power and majesty. Consequently, although they don’t really have rulers, she becomes a leader and defender of the Moors.

When the human King decides he wants to conquer The Moors and take all their wealth, he is met in battle by Maleficent. The King and his warriors are quickly overpowered by Maleficent, her magical powers and her tree army. Back in his castle the defeated, mortally wounded and humiliated King offers the throne to the man who can kill Maleficent and bring him her head. Standing by his bed is Stefan – what will he do?

Well what he does ushers in the main part of the movie – the reworked Sleeping Beauty. But before we get to Disney, we have to watch something quite traumatic and quite extraordinary. And now sadly I have to issue the inevitable SPOILER ALERT. The rest of the discussion will give away nearly everything in the film so if you don’t want to know what happens, watch the movie and then come back here 🙂

Stephan returns to Maleficent to warn her about the King. It is as though the years of separation have never been. Or that’s what Maleficent thinks. Stefan says he will stay now and offers her a drink. Those of a suspicious mind like me suspect that the minute she drinks that drink she is doomed. Sadly, we are right. Maleficent is drugged and falls asleep. Stefan grabs his knife and gets ready to kill her. But he can’t. Instead he cuts off her wings and takes them with him. When Maleficent awakes and finds out what has been done to her she screams and that scream resonates through the cinema, down our spines and into our souls. It is this scene that has been most discussed since the movie’s release, but what has actually happened?

Many have questioned why there is such a scene in a film that will be seen by children. Some reviewers point to its allegorical link to date rape. Others have drawn links to the mutilation of female bodies. Some braver reviewers, following on the theme of female mutilation, have mentioned the actor Angelina Jolie’s recent double mastectomy and drawn links there. What do I think?  All of the above. But twelve years of feminist psychoanalytic film theory can’t stop me from thinking of Freud, and with Freud comes Oedipus and castration. Although the mutilation scene in Maleficent is almost text book Freud, there is no way I will go into a discussion of oedipal/castration theory – I still sometimes wake in the middle of the night, terrified I’ll have to read Jacques Lacan again! But it is an interesting way of exploring the film, if you’re into that stuff 🙂

Stefan believes that by taking Maleficent’s wings, not only has he won his place as next in line to the throne, but that he has disarmed and nullified a powerful threat. But rather than disempowering Maleficent, all he has done is take away a form of mobility from her. Granted it is a magnificent and spectacular form, but that is all it is. She still has all her magical powers and thus remains powerful. Maleficent uses a crow, Diaval, to be her wings and bewitches him into human form when she needs information. When Diaval brings Maleficent the news that King Stefan is having a christening for his daughter Aurora, we move straight into a new version of Disney.

Maleficent arrives, uninvited to the christening. She may lack wings but her all black outfit and magnificent horns exude power. Horns were an ancient symbol of power before christianity turned them into a symbol of evil and the devil. Ironically, some of the women at the christening are wearing those medieval hats that make them look like they have horns, but they don’t. The women in the human world are powerless. The only powerful woman in the room is Maleficent. She has two real horns – double the power! And she wields that power!

Maleficent curses the baby Aurora to prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and fall into a permanent sleep on her 16th birthday. Stefan pleads with Maleficent to undo the curse. She says she likes to see him beg and makes him get down on his knees. He does. The camera pans around the room to show the disapproving faces of his subjects. He then begs her. Maleficent relents. She will allow the curse to be broken but only by “true love’s kiss”; a vicious dig at Stefan’s birthday gift to her all those years ago. She leaves and chaos ensues.

King Stefan demands the destruction of all the spinning wheels in the kingdom and sends Aurora off to live with three pixies. It’s never explained why these three pixies from The Moors are there and why they obey the impotent King Stefan. Perhaps not surprisingly, they are completely inept at their job. If left to their guidance and care, baby Aurora will never make it to her 16th birthday.

This is where the film takes a major turn. To make sure her curse will come to fruition, Maleficent, in secret and from the sidelines, steps in and helps raise the baby Aurora. During the years that follow she forms a close bond with the girl and realises that she doesn’t want her to be cursed. She tries to revoke the curse but her own words – “no power on earth can undo this” – come back to haunt her. She fails and Aurora will go on to fulfill her cursed destiny. But we all know that Aurora will be woken by “true love’s kiss”. Or will she?

As she approaches her 16th birthday, in quick succession Aurora meets a young prince, finds out the truth about Maleficent and her curse, discovers that it is her father who betrayed Maleficent and took her wings and returns to the castle in time to prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a cursed sleep. Maleficent brings the young Prince Phillip to the castle to undo the curse. He kisses the sleeping Aurora. Does she wake? Well no. Both Stefan and Maleficent believe that there is no such thing as true love – their own relationship proves that. So what happens? Aurora is awoken by “true love’s kiss” but it is Maleficent’s kiss that wakes her. After waking up, Aurora decides to live with Maleficent in The Moors and the two try to leave the castle. But one last fight remains.

The final battle between King Stefan and Maleficent is brutal. Stefan has remembered from his time in The Moors that the fairies can be burned by iron. He traps Maleficent in an iron net and prepares to kill her. Weakened and trapped she puts up a good fight but she is overwhelmed. Meanwhile upstairs, Aurora finds Maleficent’s wings in a glass case. She breaks the case and the wings find Maleficent and attach themselves to her. She is made whole again and given a means of escape. Stefan realises his daughter has helped Maleficent and he grabs Maleficent’s leg as she escapes through the window. They continue their fight. Maleficent bests him but rather than kill him she suggests they just let it go. Stefan can’t and makes a final attack which sees him plummet to his death.

We now enter the very short finale – the happy ending. Maleficent and Aurora are in The Moors. The place is beautiful and light, for it became a cold, dark place after Maleficent lost her wings. Aurora, whose name means Dawn, has brought light back to The Moors and restored Maleficent’s broken heart. Maleficent holds a gold crown in her hands and proclaims Aurora Queen of both the Moors and the human world. The two worlds are finally united. Prince Phillip watches from the sidelines. He and Aurora will possibly get married but the power structure in that relationship is vastly different to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Phillip did not awaken Aurora and is therefore not her saviour. Phillip is also a Prince whereas Aurora is now a Queen, of not one realm but two. In Maleficent, the power in both realms has been given by and taken by a woman. It would seem that in this world true power comes from women and to women.

Although the happy ending is the shortest part of the film it packs the biggest punch. From the moment Maleficent awakens Aurora, the bond between mothers and daughters and the power of female friendships takes on new meaning. In Maleficent, true love is that between a surrogate mother and her child. Maleficent, rather than fear or resent the younger Princess, as so many fairy tale step-mothers and witches do, happily passes on her position of power to the next generation. Aurora is also given one last source of power. The narrator informs us that it is she, Aurora, and not Maleficent, who has told us this tale. And that is a powerful voice to have – the voice of narration. By working together, Maleficent and Aurora achieve mighty things. Maleficent gets back her stolen wings, her broken heart is healed and her realm restored to its former glory and Aurora becomes a Queen of two realms.

Maleficent would have us believe that it is not men who wield personal, political or magical power but women. If this is what they have to say, is it any wonder powerful, magical women have been kept silent for so long?

 

waiting to brew

waiting to brew

Wickedly Wicked

I missed the musical Wicked when it first came to Melbourne so when it returned I made sure I went. I decided not to read the book the musical is based on so I had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised!

What a spectacular show! Everything about the production was brilliant. The colours, the lights, the sets, the steampunk iconography, the costumes, the characters, the acting, the songs, the story. I could go on but all I’ll say is if you get a chance, see it.

As blown away as I was by the spectacle, that small part of me that is an academic analyst was analysing everything I was seeing and hearing. Again, I wasn’t disappointed. Fourteen years ago I completed eight years of study – my topic – the image of the witch in film. I haven’t written much on witches since then. Happily, Wicked has ignited that part of me that has been waiting for a witchy spectacle worth writing about.

Warning – Spoiler Alert! If you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now 🙂

It’s Not Easy Being Green

It’s amazing what will stay with you most. For me it was the political story unfolding. While I expected Wicked to focus on the witches from The Wizard of Oz, I wasn’t expecting such a poignant analysis of politics and government. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, as witches and politics have been partners since the beginning of time.

The figure most affected by the politics of Oz is Elphaba, who is portrayed as an evil and wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. In Wicked she is wicked, but she is not evil. True evilness in this musical is left to the politicians, the rulers and their willing accomplices.

Elphaba is wicked because she won’t bow down to the power of the Wizard of Oz. She rejects his ideas for Oz and uses her magic to help the people and animals he is trying to oppress. Elphaba believes that animals are equal and is appalled at the political situation erupting in Oz that seeks to disempower animals by caging them and taking away their voice. Basically she challenges the wizard’s rule and authority and for that she is branded not just wicked but EVIL.

It is easy to scapegoat Elphaba as she is already different. Elphaba is born green and as she is the only green child in Oz, she becomes a hated and feared outcast. But the colour green has interesting connotations, not just in Oz, but in our world. Green is the colour of the environment movement and is associated with nature, animals, social justice and mother earth. What better colour for a witch who fights for these issues to be!

Green is an important colour for the wizard too. The wizard lives in the Emerald City where visitors and citizens of Oz wear emerald tinted glasses to view the world through false lenses. And that is the difference between Elphaba and the wizard. Elphaba is green on the outside and the inside. The wizard is just a fake charlatan seeking to control a world he has no real power over. His green credentials and green realm are as fake as his magical powers. And that is the true battle in Oz. The battle for power!

Ironically, Elphaba is born green because she is a melding of two worlds. Her mother is Ozian but her father is human. Elphaba’s real father is not the man who raised her but the man her mother had an affair with, a man with whom she drank a green potion. Elphaba’s father is the Wizard of Oz! But unlike her father, Elphaba has real, powerful magic.

Elphaba is feared not only because of her colour and her politics but also her magical powers. Elphaba is a very powerful witch – perhaps the most powerful in Oz. It is for this reason she is groomed by her tutor Madame Morrible and courted by the wizard. They seek to harness her power to help them continue to rule Oz. The interesting thing is the only people with any true, magical power are women – Elphaba, Madame Morrible and Glinda.

But for me the question has always been “why does Oz have a male, magicless ruler in the first place?” I don’t think it is ever really explained but perhaps it is a reflection on our world where women and power have a very uneasy relationship, particularly in politics! It would appear that the citizens of Oz would rather be ruled by a male figurehead with female power behind the throne rather than a female directly on the throne.

Regardless, at the end of the film, female power triumphs. But it is not Elphaba who ends up ruling Oz but Glinda the Good. Inspired by her best friend Elphaba, Glinda finally realises that she cannot stand the sickening, destructive and deadly machinations of Madame Morrible and the wizard. Glinda refuses to be their pawn. She draws on her own political and magical powers and casts the wizard out and imprisons Madame Morrible. We hope Glinda will be a wise and caring ruler. If she models herself on the Green Witch Elphaba, Oz will be okay.

Living In The Land Of Oz

I live in the land down under, Australia, sometimes called Oz. And while I can’t speak for other countries, there were moments in Wicked that struck home to me personally and politically.

We recently had our first female Prime Minister in Australia and to say that some parts of the country reacted badly is an understatement. For many she was a witch!

Julia Gillard took power from a man, toppling him while he was still leader and then becoming leader herself. An accusation often leveled at witches historically is that they use their evil powers to attempt to bring down rulers and leaders.

She is a redhead, unmarried and childless – attributes that have and would see many women labelled as witches. At one protest march banners were raised proclaiming “Ditch The Witch” complete with witchy caricatures.

Ironically one of the things that infuriated many Australians was that she eventually had to make an alliance with The Greens to hold power. In essence she made a deal with Elphaba. Consequently it wasn’t just the parliament that was hung but our own witchy leader was later (figuratively) hung too.

But the most chilling moment in Wicked is when Elphaba returns home after being declared a renegade. She asks her sister where their father is and is told that he died of shame because of what she has become. Unbelievably this is something that was said on radio about the death of Julia Gillard’s father. One of our more disgusting radio personalities suggested that Gillard’s father might have died of shame because of his daughter’s  political performance. The only people dying of shame were Australian people with a conscience.

Sadly, some of us are still ashamed as the way our government treats some of the most desperate people in the world is the same as the animals were treated in Wicked. We are caging them and taking away their voice. I suppose it’s no surprise that the man who led this movement in Oz originated in our world.

Wicked gave the witches in the Wizard of Oz their voice. They spoke their own truths and gave us a new way to look at them. It is rare for witches to have their own voice, to have their story told through their eyes, but amazingly there is another witch on the horizon who is about to tell her own story and who will finally have her own voice: Maleficent! I am eagerly waiting to hear what she has to say.

witchy cupcake

my wickedly witchy licorice and lime cupcakes

Inspired by my friend Anne Belov’s cat Mehitabel and star of The Panda Chronicles.

 

A Taste of Death, Chocolate & Olives

The first Wiccan ritual I ever attended was Southern Hemisphere Halloween 25 years ago.

I can still remember walking towards the circle. The night was cold and I was happy that I was wearing a cloak. A drum beat an eerie rhythm as we walked towards our destiny. I saw the drummer and realised he was naked. My first thought was one of horror “NO, don’t tell me I have to get naked!”. My second thought was “isn’t he freezing?” Thankfully we didn’t have to remove our clothes. The night passed in a cacophony of drums, chanting, invocations and prophesies by campfire. We ended, as most rituals do, with cakes and wine.

So for Halloween tonight I would like to share with you one of my latest creations – my version of Death By Chocolate. These rich and decadent dark chocolate and black olive brownies are the only way to die.

death by chocolate brownie

death by chocolate brownie

Ingredients
olive oil for greasing
170g unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup finely chopped black olives

Method
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 25cm x 25cm square baking pan with baking paper. Allow paper to drape over the sides. Lightly oil the paper.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan then add sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Vigorously whisk in the eggs one at a time and stir until the mixture looks shiny and well blended.
Add sifted flour and baking powder. Mix vigorously until well combined. Add the olives and mix until just combined.
Pour evenly into prepared pan.
Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Make sure the centre is still slightly moist.
Allow to cool before lifting out.
Cut into squares and serve.

I’m always looking for new recipes and food ideas. Let me know your favourite Halloween recipes or Autumn/Winter foods.

 

April Fool’s Day – What’s In A Name?

I don’t know if other bloggers had the same issue as me but one of my main concerns has always been “what day should I launch”!

It could be the Jungian or mythologist in me, or just a reflection of my love of symbolism, but April Fool’s Day just seemed right.

Why? Well, April Fool’s Day has a myriad of mythology behind it. Some to do with Fool’s being King’s for a day, some to do with Spring and some to do with New Year’s Day. It is this aspect that appeals to me.

My connection between April Fool’s Day and New Year’s Day is tarot. More than a quarter of a century ago I met my first tarot deck. While it wasn’t love at first sight, it quickly turned into love and we have been happy together ever since. You can read about this first meeting in my chapter “Bewitched by Tarot” which was originally published in Practising the Witch’s Craft: Real Magic Under a Southern Sky, edited by Douglas Ezzy. As the Fool begins the journey of the tarot, I chose this symbolic Fool’s Day to be my day for starting a New Year.

The first momentous decision I made on April Fool’s day was in 2003. After almost a lifetime of wanting to change my last name, I finally did it! Why didn’t I like my birth name?

  • It wasn’t an ancestral name. My family come from a part of Eastern Europe that was colonised and as part of that process they had their name changed to reflect the nationality of the colonisers. Cultural identity is a big issue for me, one I will come back to many times here. But in relation to my last name, I hated people thinking I had ties to a cultural background that wasn’t my own. I always dreamed of having a name that reflected my ancestry but could never come up with one.
  • Personal identity is an interesting thing. I’ve loved the esoteric world since I was a child. Vampires remain my first love but as I studied more I became fascinated with witchcraft, paganism, astrology, numerology and tarot. I also loved myths and legends, particularly stories about ancient Gods and Goddesses. Wanting to reflect this I often went by the name Vicky Venus, in honour of the ruler of my astrological sign Taurus. I loved the initials VV and in my punk days I adopted the last names Vodka & Valium – but they are stories for another time! But what I really wanted was a name that had a vampire connection. Vicky Vampire just wasn’t me so I waited until a name came – it was a long wait!
  • The vampire connection. A large chunk of my world came crashing down at the turn of the millennium. I didn’t deal with it well but I came through it. What I needed most to move forward was a new name, a new identity, a new me. I wanted to be free of the past, free of old connections, free of family ties. It was late in 2002 and I was working on the Dracula Tarot. I heard a voice whisper the name Vladic. The word came with an image showing me the spelling. It clicked immediately. Finally, I had my last name! It was a VV, it was Eastern European and most importantly it had a vampire connection. Vlad is the first name of Dracula. I thought it was ironic that I would be taking his first name as my last name. On April’s Fool’s Day 2003 I handed in my change of name form. When the form was stamped I felt a chill run down my spine. Vicky Vladic was born and I have been her ever since

So now, 11 years later, another first is about to be born – my very first blog.

What can you expect to find here? Lots of different things.

  • I am a writer specialising in vampirism, tarot, witchcraft and cookery – so far!
  • I have a PhD in film theory, Jungian theory and witchcraft.
  • I have published The Dracula Tarot book and deck, illustrated by Australian artist Anna Gerraty.
  • I have just finished a cookbook which I am getting ready to send to publishers and agents.
  • I am working on a second cookbook with American artist Anne Belov.
  • I love all things vampire.
  • I love all things esoteric especially tarot, astrology, numerology, paganism and witchcraft.
  • I have a keen interest in politics, the environment and social issues.
  • I am involved in animal welfare and sponsor giant pandas, red pandas, and an Atlantic puffin.
  • I have dogs.
  • I have a long term partner.
  • I am also an amateur photographer specialising in food & drink, still life, architectural, gothic and nature photography.

You can expect me to talk about all these things and more.

Photos will also be part of this blog.

So come and join the fun at vsomethingspeaks.

I’d love to hear from you!

You can also come and visit me at my website vsomethingesoterics or on RedBubble