autumn

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

59320198_329653774417377_1943895167308136448_n

 

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

Advertisements

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.

IMG_2369

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!

IMG_2374

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

IMG_2185

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.

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.

IMG_1649

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.

IMG_9937

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.

IMG_9895

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.