Halloween

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!

The Halloween “Pom” Queen

Sunday the 30th of April is southern hemisphere Halloween! There are so many ways to celebrate this most auspicious of nights. This year I’ll be celebrating the seasonal coronation of Persephone as she once again embraces her role as the Queen of the Underworld.

Persephone spends Spring and Summer in the land of the living and Autumn and Winter in the land of the dead. During the Autumn Equinox, Persephone makes her descent into the Underworld. On Halloween, we celebrate the seasonal coronation of Persephone as she regains her crown and guides us through the remaining dark half of the year.

To celebrate Persephone’s Halloween Coronation, I’m making hot chocolate. Chocolate is linked to death – and not just by the dessert Death By Chocolate! Cacao has been used in celebrations and rituals symbolising both death and rebirth for millennia. You can even buy Ceremonial Grade Cacao if you’re really keen. I’m adding mint and pomegranate to my hot chocolate which also have links to death and rebirth, so they are perfect ingredients for a Halloween drink dedicated to Persephone.

Mint is a key herb herb used in funerary rites, and also an ingredient in kykeon, a fermented barley drink used in the Eleusinian Mysteries dedicated to Demeter and Persephone. Interestingly, Minthe is the name of a nymph who was the lover of Hades. Minthe said some unflattering things about Persephone and was trampled on by either Persephone, or her mother Demeter. The herb mint sprang from the earth where Minthe was squashed. That’s a pretty powerful allegory for death and rebirth!

Pomegranate is a red fruit filled with seeds that oozes blood red juice when opened. Not surprisingly they are a fruit abundant in symbology. During her first trip to the Underworld, Persephone eats some pomegranate seeds which tie her forever to the realm of the dead. For each seed she has eaten, she must spend a month in the Underworld. There is no consensus on how many seeds she ate. As her journey represents a seasonal cycle of light and darkness, six seems to be an appropriate number. Pomegranate seeds bring Persephone back to the Underworld and on Halloween she reclaims her throne as Queen of the Dead. It is this for reason I call her my Halloween Pom (Pomegranate) Queen.

Mint Hot Chocolate with Pomegranate Whipped Cream

Ingredients (1 serving)
for the whipped cream
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon powdered (icing) sugar
1 teaspoon fresh pomegranate juice
pomegranate seeds for decorating
mint leaves for decorating

for the hot chocolate
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
20g finely chopped dark chocolate buds
2 tablespoons (or to taste) peppermint cordial

Instructions
Whisk the cream until slightly thickened.
Add the powdered sugar and whisk until soft peaks form.
Stir in the pomegranate juice until fluffy and combined. Set aside while you make the hot chocolate.
Heat the milk until hot, but not boiling.
Whisk in the cocoa powder until combined.
Add the chocolate and whisk until melted and combined.
Add the peppermint cordial and whisk until combined.
Pour into a heat-proof mug.
Top with whipped cream.
Decorate with mint leaves and pomegranate seeds.

A Duality Of Holidays

Halloween is my favourite time of the year – especially now that Australia has finally gotten into the spirit of things. Halloween candy and decorations compete for shelf space with xmas paraphernalia in stores, making it one of the rare times that I love to go shopping. As I go for walks around my neighbourhood, I’m rapt to see so many houses proudly showcasing ghoulish displays. The signs of Halloween are all around me, but so too are the signs of Beltane, the Spring festival that many southern hemisphere Pagans will be celebrating on October 31st.

On one of my morning walks, I was reminded that Spring is here when I saw an adorable tiger snake on the footpath. I watched, spellbound, and then took photos and video, from a very safe distance! I kept watch as the graceful creature slithered onto the road, making sure it made it safely across. The little snake found a nice place to rest and sun-bake while I continued on my walk. While a snake is a perfect symbol for Halloween, it’s also a perfect symbol for Beltane.

To celebrate northern hemisphere Halloween and southern hemisphere Beltane, I’d like to share a recipe that utilises apples, a fruit appropriate for both festivals. I found this recipe in a cozy mystery novel, appropriately called The Uninvited Corpse, from the Food Blogger Mystery series by Debra Sennefelder. All the recipes included in the book sounded divine, but it was the Cinnamon Apple Bread that had me heading to the kitchen.

The first time I made it I used a sweet red apple. The cake was very sweet and very delicious. The second time I used a green granny smith apple and it was perfect. To add a touch of Halloween to the recipe, I substituted pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon. Pumpkin pie spice mix is a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and sometimes allspice. I’ve made a few pumpkin pie spice mixes, but my favourite combination is:
4 parts ground cinnamon
2 parts ground ginger
1 part ground cloves
1 part ground nutmeg

Spiced Apple Bread

Ingredients
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1 + 1/2 cups flour
1 + 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a loaf pan with baking paper. (I used a 22cmx12cm / 9x5inch pan).
Mix together the brown sugar and spice. Set aside.
Sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and white sugar until smooth.
Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined.
Add the vanilla extract and mix until combined.
Mix in half of the flour mix followed by half of the milk and mix until combined.
Repeat with the other half.
Pour half the mixture into prepared pan.
Add half the apple and half the brown sugar. Press lightly into the batter.
Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Bake for 55-65 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to sit in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Happy Beltane and Happy Halloween!

Halloween on Easter

One of the quirks of celebrating Halloween on April 30th in the southern hemisphere is that it sometimes coincides with Eastern Orthodox Easter. Due to the differences between the way Orthodox and Western churches calculate Easter, they are often on different days. Halloween and Western Easter cannot fall on the same day, but that’s not so for Orthodox Easter. You can read about the complicated reasons for the differences in Easter dates in my previous post Moon Over Easter.

This year Orthodox Good Friday falls on Southern Hemisphere Halloween, which got me thinking about the similarities between those two special days. Naturally I thought about Halloween’s focus on ghosts and spirits and Easter’s focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. How much more Halloween can you get than a story of a man dying and then returning from the dead? It doesn’t even matter if he returns as a man, zombie or ghost – it all fits with the spirit of Halloween!

Another Halloween/Easter theme is blood. Gory and scary looking food is a feature of Halloween celebrations, while the Easter tradition of colouring eggs red is meant to represent the blood of Christ that is shed on Good Friday. The hard eggshell represents the tomb Jesus is sealed in, and when you crack the eggshell, it symbolises Jesus’ release from the tomb and his resurrection from the dead. This connection of the egg with blood, death and rebirth, makes eggs perfect symbols for Halloween too.

A tasty egg dish that is traditionally served for both Easter and Halloween is Devilled Eggs. I’ve already shared a recipe for Devilled Eggs in my Dracula’s Journey post. I’ve added a Halloween tweak to the recipe, which now features pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice. I also decorated the eggs with pumpkin seed flour, pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds to really pump up the pumpkin flavours. You can also drizzle with pomegranate molasses or another red sauce to give them a ghoulish look. 🙂 The great thing about Halloween food is that you can go all out with the decorating!

Pumpkin Devilled Eggs

Ingredients
6 boiled eggs
2/3 cups pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon sour cream
sea salt to taste
pumpkin spice to taste*

for decorating
pumpkin seed oil
pumpkin seed flour
pumpkin seeds

Instructions
Cut eggs in half lengthways and scoop out the yolk into a bowl.
Mash the egg yolk then add the sour cream and pumpkin puree. Mix until combined.
Add salt and pumpkin spice to taste.
Spoon or pipe mixture back into the eggs.
Decorate your eggs your way!

*you can use store-bought pumpkin spice mix or make your own. This is my version:
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
Mix the spices together in a small bowl.

Happy Halloween!

Scrying Times

On October 31st, many around the world will be celebrating Halloween, but if you’re a Pagan in the Southern Hemisphere, you may be celebrating Beltane instead.

Both Halloween and Beltane are seasonal festivals. Halloween is a harvest festival signifying the beginning of winter, while Beltane is a spring celebration and heralds the coming summer. I’m usually partial to celebrating Halloween in April and October, but this year I am really feeling the Beltane spirit. 

My home state of Victorian is coming out of a very long, dark winter. It wasn’t our weather, but the global pandemic. Victoria experienced a deadly second wave but after a series of restrictions, lockdowns and an overnight curfew, we managed to beat the virus down to manageable levels. We are now opening up in sensible stages and celebrating our victories. Our joyous return to the world of light and life is the essence of Beltane. As always, my Beltane festivities will include a touch of Halloween.

At Beltane, like Halloween, the veil between the worlds is thin. Communication with the spirit world is easier on these nights. 

One way of connecting wth the spirit realm is through the ancient art of divination. There are many forms of divination, but scrying is one of the most popular for Halloween. Scrying is the art of looking into a reflective surface for messages. There is no consensus or restriction on what these reflective surfaces should be. Gazing into water, mirrors, glass, crystals, stones, clouds, smoke and fire are common forms of scrying. Staring into black surfaces, darkness or the night sky are also perfect ways to scry on Halloween in particular. 

This Beltane/Halloween falls on a Full Moon in Taurus. The luminescent Full Moon is a great scrying tool and one that I love. As a child I would often gaze at the Full Moon, delighting in its beauty and seeing images reflected on its silvery surface. I am looking forward to doing some serious moon gazing this weekend. 🙂

For my Beltane recipe I have chosen a bowl of soup. Not only is it a soulful bowl of comfort and contentment, it’s also a great scrying tool. A bowl filled with water is a classic divination vessel but replacing the water with a flavoursome soup is a tasty tweak I could’t resist. For an added divination twist I’ve used alphabet pasta. Not only can you scry for images in the soup but you can look for messages scribed in pasta!

Alphabet Soup For The Scrying Soul

Ingredients
1 cup chicken stock*
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup alphabet pasta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon chopped chives

Instructions
Bring the chicken stock and water to a boil.
Add the pasta and cook following the instructions on the packet.
Remove pasta from the heat and stir in the butter.
Pour into a bowl or bowls and top with cheese and chives.

*for a vegetarian version replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock

A Tale Of A Felted Koala

Since discovering the Pagan wheel of the year over thirty years ago, I’ve celebrated the harvest festival of Halloween (Samhain) on April 30th. I still remember that first, long ago Halloween held in a Victorian forest on a bitterly cold night. After the ritual we warmed ourselves by an open fire. We watched the smoke rise in waves and patterns, trying to scry for messages in the fiery air. As the logs burned, the bright red embers turned to charcoal, making strange shapes as they transformed. We drank, laughed and talked through the night. We told jokes and shared stories until the sun rose and May Day dawned.

This Halloween I would like to share a story of a tiny felted koala, an idea forged during the horrifying Australian bushfires, and created by my dear artist friend Anne Belov as a symbol of comfort, hope and rebirth – perfect symbols for a Halloween tale.

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Many of you know Anne Belov as the creator of The Panda Chronicles. Anne is also a multi-talented professional artist (an incredible painter) who has recently branched out into the field of felted creations. Most of her creations are, not surprisingly, pandas, but in the mix there is a very special critter, Kevin the Koala, or as he is now affectionately known – Kevin the Scorched Koala. Before Kevin was born in felt he was introduced to the world in ink in a very special cartoon in The Panda Chronicles.

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Kevin was a huge hit and when Anne toyed with the idea of making a felted version of him we all said “Yes!” When she suggested adding scorch marks to her creation the more diabolical among us said “Hell Yes!” It wasn’t long before Kevin, complete with scorch marks, moved from the world of ink into the world of felt. I’m happy to say that I am the proud caretaker of the very first Kevin the Scorched Koala.

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To honour Kevin’s arrival to his ancestral homeland I created a special recipe that blends some Aussie ingredients (eucalyptus honey and macadamia nuts) with an imaginary cookie bar – the Binky Bar! If you’re a fan of The Panda Chronicles you’ll know that the pandas love eating and drinking and Binky Bars are one of their favourite treats. But what are they? No-one knows as it’s been left to our imaginations to visualise these tasty treats. When a Kevin fan suggested a Kevin Binky Bar would be fun I naturally volunteered to create one. Kevin’s Binky Bars feature a shortbread base topped with a sweet and chocolatey filling.

In honour of Kevin’s adorable scorch marks, I’ve served my Binky Bars with scorched macadamias. Scorched nuts are an Australian and New Zealand name for roasted nuts that are covered in layers of chocolate. Don’t worry if you can’t get them, or any other ingredients, just experiment and have fun. After all, nobody really knows what a Binky Bar looks like – or tastes like. 🙂

Kevin The Scorched Koala’s Honey & Macadamia Binky Bars

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Special Note:
These bars need to set overnight.

Ingredients
for the shortbread base
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
125g unsalted butter, cut into pieces

for the chocolate topping
50g unsalted butter
1/3 cup double cream
1 tablespoon eucalyptus honey*
50g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100g Anzac biscuits (cookies), broken into various small and medium sized pieces**
1/3 cup macadamia nuts, chopped into various small and medium sized pieces

Instructions
For the shortbread base:
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a baking pan (approximately 23cm x 17cm / 9” x 7”) with baking paper.
Place the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor.
Process until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Spread mixture into the prepared pan, pressing it down with fingers or the back of a spoon to compress it slightly.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before adding the topping.

For the chocolate topping:
Heat the butter and cream in a medium sized saucepan over low heat.
Stir in the honey.
Add the chocolate pieces and stir until the chocolate melts.
Allow to cool for a few minutes. (You have to allow it to cool long enough so that the biscuits don’t turn to mush when added, but not too long or the chocolate will set.)
Add the broken biscuits and chopped macadamias to the chocolate mixture and stir until combined.
Spread over the shortbread base.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Cut into bars.
Serve with scorched macadamias.

*koalas love eucalyptus but you can use any honey you like or any other syrup such as agave, maple or golden.
**if you can’t find Anzac biscuits you can make your own or use my recipe here!

A Haunting Beltane

It has taken a long time for Australians to embrace Halloween and there are still many Aussies who loathe what they believe is an American holiday. Those of us who understand the history of Halloween, or Samhain, know that the tendrils of this ghostly and haunting night are rooted in the deep, dark past of many cultures. A night when the veils between the world of the living and the dead are thin, and the dead may walk amongst us again, is an ancient belief as old as time. It’s my favourite night of the year but, unfortunately for me, Halloween is six months away!

In the upside down world of the southern hemisphere, many Australian Pagans have chosen to celebrate seasonal festivals during the appropriate season. As Halloween is an autumnal festival, we celebrate it in April. But don’t worry, I won’t be missing out. I’ll be honouring Beltane, the spring festival that is the companion to Halloween. While Halloween focusses on death, Beltane celebrates life, fertility and regeneration. Life down under has started to wake. Plants are blooming, magpies are swooping and snakes are becoming (a lot) more active. Yet, amidst this noisy and colourful cacophony of life, I still see dead things, as the spectre of Halloween has finally arrived in Australia. I can think of no better way to celebrate life than with Halloween iconography and ghoulish children trick-or-treating.

Only one thing can make this night even better and that’s a drink featuring a Pagan favourite – mead. I added cloudy apple to the drink in tribute to The Wicker Man, my favourite Beltane/May Day film. The dash of ginger is a nod to the end of the film which does get very heated. 😉 With lines like “killing me won’t bring back your apples!” The Wicker Man is a great film suited to both Halloween and Beltane.

Wicker Man Mead

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Ingredients
1 teaspoon ginger cordial
1/4 cup cloudy apple juice
1 cup spiced mead
soda water
slices of cucumber
slices of lime

Instructions
Add the ginger cordial, apple juice and mead to a glass.
Pour in as much soda water as you like.
Top with cucumber and lime slices.

This makes enough for one drink but you can scale up the amounts to make a punch for a large crowd or if you are particularly thirsty. 🙂

Halloween Down Under

A burst of fallen bamboo leaves decorate my backyard in a swirl of autumn colours. Their dry brittleness holds a promise of the winter to come. This is my favourite time of the year. There are still sunny days and warm patches of sun during the day but the long, hot Australian summer is finally over. The coolness of autumn has arrived and with it Halloween, my favourite Sabbat.

April 30th is Halloween Down Under. It is a night when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. Halloween is the night when the dead wait between the worlds, ready to visit their loved ones. 

There are many ways to welcome and honour the dead on Halloween. I wait until the sun begins to set and shadows of darkness shroud the coming night. I set an empty plate for the dead at my table. Late in the evening I light a black candle and do a tarot reading. I end the evening with food and drink. I leave a small offering on the table for any lingering spirits to enjoy before blowing out the candle and going to bed. Sometimes I have strange dreams. In the morning I pack everything up and try and do something fun and life affirming. 

So what will I be serving this Halloween? We don’t get trick or treaters in April as most people celebrate Halloween on October 31st. So in honour of these absent door knockers, I thought I would make Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies. Half of them have a savoury filling and the other half are sweet. You won’t know what you are getting until you bite them!

Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies

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Ingredients
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten

for the rosemary pies
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried rosemary

for the pumpkin spice pies
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Divide the pumpkin into two bowls.
Mix the salt and rosemary into one portion of pumpkin and the sugar and spices into the other. 
Using a 6cm (2.25 inch) cookie cutter* cut pastry into 16 rounds.
Place half the pastry rounds on the prepared trays.
Place 2 teaspoons of pumpkin filling on each round.
Cut eyes and mouths out of remaining rounds.
Cover filling with these rounds.
Gently press the edges together to seal the pies.
Press edges together with a fork to create a decorative edge.
Brush tops with beaten egg. 
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pastry becomes golden and is cooked on the bottom.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

*I used a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter

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.