Wheel of the Year

Catty Xmas Traditions

Continuing my journey through posts of Xmas past, it’s time to revisit one of my favourite characters – The Yule Cat of Iceland!

To learn more about Jólakötturinn and to hear a song about this scary cat simply click Kitty Claws Is Coming To Town! 🙂

48343460_366161910802647_6447820572243001344_n
Advertisements

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

img_3060

 

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.

IMG_6345

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.

IMG_6275

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.

Sydney Under The Stars

My home state of Victoria is famous for having a public holiday for a horse race. Now we are becoming infamous for having a public holiday for a football match. Actually, it’s a holiday for the day before the football match which makes it even stranger. I’m not complaining. I’m grateful for any public holiday we can get! And it’s on a Friday, which I think is a great day to start a long weekend.

This year we went to Sydney and stayed at the Ultimo Hotel which is purported to be the world’s first astrology hotel. Among the services they offer are astrology reading packages that you can add to your booking. We didn’t do this but there was still heaps of astrological fun to be had.

On arrival we were greeted in reception by staff eager to talk astrology. They had city guides based on your star sign and astrologically appropriate “do not disturb signs.” I told them I was a sun sign Taurus with a Moon and Rising Sign in Sagittarius so they gave me both the Taurus and Sagittarius city guides. They offered me both a Taurus and Sagittarius door sign too but I only took the Taurus one as it said all that needed saying!

IMG_6445

Shifting seamlessly from astrology to astronomy, I booked myself two tours at the Sydney Observatory. My first tour was at night. It was a full moon which isn’t great for star gazing but I loved it, especially when bats started flying around! Peering through the enormous telescope I got to see Mars and Saturn. On the day tour I got to see the Sun which is a real treat as you have to have a special filter on the telescope to view it. Many years ago I was lucky enough to see Venus (my ruling planet) transit the Sun. While this Sun viewing wasn’t as spectacular it was still amazing. Both tours ended with a visit to the planetarium which was fun and informative.

When I returned to the hotel I noticed a selection of “Astrolo-Teas” in reception. These teas are specially selected to match your star sign. I looked at the one for Taurus which was English Breakfast. Not bad! I love English and Irish Breakfast although my favourite tea is Earl Grey. I then went to the Sagittarius tea which was Lemongrass and Ginger. This was another great match as I love ginger tea. Naturally I wanted to experiment with these flavours when I got home. 

As the weather is heating up here, I wanted to make an iced tea. I decided to create a chai blend because it can be served hot or cold. I used English Breakfast for Taurus and added ginger for Sagittarius. The great thing is you can mix and match ingredients for your own personal taste or create a blend that you think reflects your astrological profile!

Astrological Iced Chai

IMG_9923a

Ingredients
3 cups milk
4 cardamon pods
4 black peppercorns
4 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
30g fresh ginger, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons black tea leaves (I used English Breakfast)
2 tablespoons honey
ice cubes for serving

Instructions
Place the milk in a saucepan.
Crack the cardamon pods open and place the seeds and shells into the milk.
Crack the peppercorns and add to the milk.
Add the cloves, cinnamon stick and ginger to the milk.
Bring very slowly to the boil (you want it to take about 10 minutes) 
Once boiling add the tea leaves and simmer for 2-5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea.
Stir in the honey.
Strain tea and refrigerate until cold.
Serve over ice cubes.

Hot & Cold Equinoxes

This Sunday is the Spring or Vernal Equinox in Melbourne. It is the midpoint between Imbolc and Beltane. After the Spring Equinox there is a shift in power between day and night. The short days and long nights will slowly be overtaken by longer days and shorter nights. On the other side of the world the opposite is happening. The Autumnal or Fall Equinox is the midpoint between Lammas and Halloween. Following the Autumn Equinox, the long days and short nights will slowly be overtaken by shorter days and longer nights.

The Equinoxes offer us a moment of balance, when day and night are relatively equal. At the end of the Equinox, one part of the world will fall into spring and the other into autumn. In six months time we will meet again for a moment of balance before continuing in our oppositional seasonal dance.

A perfect blend between hot and cold, fried ice cream is a delicious symbol of the Equinoxes. One part frozen and icy, the other piping hot. Drizzled with syrup these golden orbs are a perfect treat for spring or autumn.

Fried Ice Cream

IMG_5273a

Ingredients
6 scoops – approximately 500ml, best quality vanilla ice cream
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour, sifted
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
150g shortbread biscuits, finely crushed
2/3 cup rice crumbs
vegetable oil for deep frying (I use peanut oil)
golden or maple syrup for drizzling

Instructions
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Use a large ice-cream scoop to form 6, round scoops of ice cream.
Place on baking tray and freeze for 30 minutes or until firm.
Whisk together the eggs, flour, milk and sugar until smooth in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine biscuits and breadcrumbs.
Working quickly, dip ice-cream balls in batter then roll in crumb mix.
Return to tray and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Dip the balls in a second layer of batter and roll again in the crumb mix, making sure the balls are completely coated in crumbs.
Return to tray and freeze for at least 1 hour or overnight.
When ready to cook, heat oil in a medium sized pan to 185C / 365F.
Fry 1 – 2 balls at a time for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Serve immediately with a good drizzle of syrup.

Red Red Panda

IMG_0084

Saturday the 15th of September 2018 is International Red Panda Day!

Celebrated every year on the third Saturday in September, IRPD was created to bring awareness to the plight of the red panda. Red Pandas are endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is celebrated by zoos and individuals around the world with special events and red panda themed fun. Some zoos celebrate on a different day, so check with your local zoo to see if they are doing anything and on what day. For more information on IRPD and red pandas in general visit the Red Panda Network.

I was lucky enough to participate in the 1st International Red Panda Day at The National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra. As it was supposed to be the only zoo in Australia participating in the event that year, I planned a weekend trip to the zoo including a red panda encounter. When I rang to book the encounter, I also asked what festivities they were doing for the special day. We were both surprised when they said they had never heard of International Red Panda Day! Happily a few hours later I got a call saying they loved the idea and that they were now officially participating in the event. I had a great time celebrating IRPD at the zoo and thoroughly enjoyed my awesome red panda encounter. Each year I look forward to this special day.

IMG_2028

Happy Red Panda Day!   

Mira Mira On The Wall

Another Winter slowly comes to an end in Melbourne as the wheel spins towards Imbolc, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Even though it is still cold, I can feel the Sun slowly coming back to life. The chill days are punctuated with more and more sunny breaks and the nights are not so bitterly cold. I spotted my first lizard a few weeks ago, a sure sign that Spring is on its way.

The return of Spring heralds the return of Persephone, one of my favourite Goddesses. Persephone spends Autumn and Winter in the Underworld with her husband Hades where she rules as the Queen of the Dead. In Spring she returns to Earth where she rules as the Goddess of Spring. In celebration of Persephone’s return, her mother Demeter slowly brings the Earth back to life.

IMG_6231ahades and cerberus 

Normally I’m sad when Winter comes to an end but this year I am celebrating the return of the Sun. Surprisingly it’s due to a weekend I spent in Mira Mira, a bed and breakfast place that specialises in weird and wonderful accommodation. The property in Gippsland has a Zen Retreat, a Treehouse and a Cave. Naturally I chose to stay in the cave in the chill of Winter.

IMG_6134a

 

When I arrived at the accomodation I was greeted by Magog, the doorway through which I was to enter the cave. After stepping through Magog’s mouth, I slowly descended the winding, stones steps. Fire lanterns adoring the walls threw strange shadows on my path. As I made my way into the womb of the cave, I felt like Persephone entering the realm of Hades.

IMG_2242

 

The cave was everything I hoped it would be. Carved into the hillside, the stone look was cosy and sumptuous. Coloured lights glowed eerily in the rooms and windows revealed surprising but stunning vistas. A log fire completed the scene. As I toasted marshmallows on the fire and snuggled into the lush blankets, I thought of Persephone and Winter.

IMG_6127a

 

I had always thought that if I was Persephone I would resent having to leave the Underworld. But as much as I was enjoying my cave weekend of cold days, chill nights and warm fires, I was surprised to find a craving for the Sun take seed. As I ascended the winding stone steps, saying farewell to the realm of the Underworld cave, I finally understood why Persephone is happy to live in two domains. 

A few days ago I was sitting outside enjoying a sunny day. A sparrow flew into the yard and landed on my ram’s head skeleton. It cleaned its beak on one of the horns and then hopped about on the skull. I couldn’t help thinking “Quoth the Sparrow” – my apologies to Edgar Allan Poe. But as I watched the sparrow happily flit in and out of the skull, I thought it was a perfect symbol for the seasonal cycle of life and death. Persephone is now leaving the land of the dead and returning to the land of the living. And, for the first time in a long time, I am truly looking forward to the warm half of the year.

To celebrate the reunion of Persephone and Demeter I whipped up a classic bulgur wheat tabbouleh salad with the addition of pomegranate seeds. Wheat is sacred to Demeter and pomegranates are sacred to Persephone so I’m hoping the two Goddesses will enjoy this combination.

Pomegranate Tabbouleh

IMG_7955

 

Ingredients
1/4 cup bulgur wheat
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pomegranate seeds for sprinkling 

Instructions
Soak the bulgur wheat in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain well.
Mix together the bulgur wheat, parsley, mint, oil and lemon juice in a bowl.
Toss the pomegranate seeds through the salad and serve. 

Nothing To Fear Here

Friday the 13th is nearly here, and while some of us celebrate this day, many fear it. In Melbourne, this Friday the 13th also coincides with a Dark Moon. As some people also fear the moon, this may indeed be a very scary time for that unfortunate few.

The word phobia is derived from phobos, the Greek word for fear. Add it to the end of a word and you have a term for the fear of something.

A fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia. The word combines Frigga, the Norse Goddess of Friday, with triskaidekaphobia, the Greek word for the fear of the number 13.

Moon

the dracula tarot

A fear of the moon is called lunaphobia, derived from “luna”, the Latin word for moon. It is also called selenophobia, derived from “seleno”, the Greek word for moon. Luna and Selene are also the names of the Roman and Greek Goddesses of the Moon.

IMG_1229

snake on a beach

If you aren’t terrified yet, Monday the 16th might tip you over the edge as July 16th is World Snake Day! The day was created to help people learn about snakes, understand their role in our world, and hopefully combat some of the fears associated with them. The fear of snakes is called ophidiophobia, derived from “ophis” the Greek word for snake.

IMG_3346snuggling with pythons

I was born in the Year of the Snake and have always felt connected to them. I love touching non-venomous snakes and don’t mind having a python draped around me. When I tell people I don’t have a fear of snakes, I mean I don’t have a phobia or irrational fear of them. But having grown up in Australia, I do have a rational fear of snakes. We are home to some of the world’s most venomous snakes. Being alert around snakes is ingrained in us. Having encountered a few of these deadly creatures in the wild, and in my backyard, I can tell you the first thing that runs through me is fear! Happily the next feeling that runs through me is fascination. I love watching them from a safe distance, keeping my eye on their movements as they slither back into the wild or the snake catcher comes to collect them. So while I do have a respectful fear of snakes, I don’t have an irrational fear of them.

Do you suffer from any of these phobias or will you be celebrating Friday the 13th, the Dark Moon and World Snake Day free from fear?