new year

Season Of The Witch

New Year’s Eve 1999 was not spent partying like it was 1999. It was spent extracting metaphorical knives from my back and wondering if there were any more to come. I was happy to see the end of a year, century and millennia. I had a lot to put behind me. I also had so many good memories and great achievements to take with me into the new millennia. I was excited for the journey ahead. I thought I knew where my paths would lead me. I was wrong. I really had no idea. It’s ended up being a wild and bumpy ride. But I wouldn’t change it for the world!

2016 was one of those years that makes you think about the past, present and future. So many strange things happened. So many deaths. It made me think about my past and the decisions I made in 2000, the things and people I lost when I removed those metaphorical knives all those years ago. I’m happy to say I don’t miss much from those times but the one thing I do miss is witchcraft.

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I decided to take a sabbatical from witchcraft in 2000, mainly because some of the knives had been wielded by my coven and those knives hurt a lot. A sabbatical usually refers to a leave of absence from a job, usually an academic position. The term comes from sabbath which represents a day of rest. More broadly, a sabbath highlights the importance of making time for periods of rest and rejuvenation throughout your life. This was just what I needed in 2000, a time to rest, nurture and restore myself. As the years rolled by, I yearned for a return to ritual and witchy magic. I often remembered the fun times I had with various covens. The nights spent outdoors with a fire burning. The singing, chanting and dancing followed by cookies and wine.

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As an homage to my past, I decided to make my old coven recipe for crescent cookies. I was going to use them for my new year post on Mari Lwyd. My mouth watered as I remembered the golden, buttery taste of the delicately flavoured almond cookies. I was so eager to taste them that I ate a hot one straight from the oven. It wasn’t very nice. It was bland and dry. I waited until they cooled. They were worse. What had gone wrong? I’m not sure. I’ve certainly become a much better cook than I was back then. Could that be it? Again, I’m not sure, but the failure of my cookies reminded me of both the good and bad coven times. It wasn’t all cookies and wine. So for now I’ll put the cookies and thoughts of covens on the back burner. There is a new path ahead for me. There are many reasons why I think 2017 will be my season of the witch. I’ll share those reasons soon, but for now I’d love to share a recipe for a Strega Sunrise – my witchy tweak to a Tequila Sunrise, one of my favourite cocktails 🙂

Strega is a saffron based Italian herbal liqueur. I first saw a bottle of this golden elixir many years ago at my Italian brother in law’s home. When he told me that strega was Italian for witch, I had to take a good look at the label. It features witches dancing with half goat, half man creatures. There’s also an old witch holding a broomstick. She has snakes in her hair! I couldn’t believe it. Medusa, Pan, Witches and Saffron – what’s not to love about Strega!

Strega Sunrise

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Ingredients
ice cubes
30ml Strega
3/4 cup orange juice
15ml grenadine

Method
Place a few ice cubes in a tall glass.
Pour the Strega over the ice.
Pour in the orange juice.
Gently pour in the grenadine so it slips down and then rises again, creating a sunrise effect.

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Horsey New Year!

What if I told you you could ring in the New Year with a Zombie Horse! For those of us of a gothic persuasion, the spirit of the New Year cannot be embodied in a better form than that of the Welsh Mari Lwyd. Mari Lwyd, or Y Fari Lwyd in Welsh, translates as Grey Mare or Grey Mary. Mari Lwyd is a horse that comes back from the dead in the guise of a horse’s skull decorated in ribbons and mounted on a pole. A white sheet is attached to the pole hiding both the pole and the person carrying the Spooky Hobby Horse.

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Mari Lwyd and her gang of followers engage in Hobby Horse Hijinks by travelling from house to house trying to gain entry. They do this by singing and engaging in a battle of riddles. The occupants refuse entry in song and riddles. The banter continues until the occupants relent and allow Mari Lywd inside, where she is rewarded with food and drink. It is lucky to allow the Grey Mare entry as she brings good luck to the occupants for the New Year.

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If Mari Lywd comes knocking on your door New Year’s Eve, you can try offering the Zombie Horse some horsey based food and drink. Devils on Horseback sound like an appropriate treat. My two versions of the popular canapé feature dates and prunes stuffed with blue cheese wrapped in prosciutto and dates and prunes stuffed with dark chocolate wrapped in bacon.

Devils On Horseback

Ingredients
12 dates, pitted
12 prunes, pitted

for the blue cheese devils
100g blue cheese
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
12 thin slices of prosciutto

for the chocolate devils
12 squares of 70% dark chocolate,
6 strips of bacon, halved crosswise

Instructions
Preheat oven to 230C / 450F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Place the blue cheese in a small bowl. Add the pepper and mash until combined.
Fill 6 dates and 6 prunes with an equal amount of cheese.
Wrap each one tightly with a slice of prosciutto.
Secure with a toothpick.
Fill remaining dates and prunes with a piece of chocolate.
Wrap each one tightly with a slice of bacon.
Secure with a toothpick.
Place on prepared trays and bake for about 10 minutes or until the prosciutto and bacon are crispy. Turn over once, halfway through cooking time.
Serve warm.

What better way to wash done these tasty snacks than with a horsey cocktail 🙂 I thought of making a Moscow Mule, but chose a less known drink called a Horse’s Neck. I think it is the perfect drink for a horse whose head is balanced on a stick!

Horse’s Neck Cocktail

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Ingredients
Ice
25ml whisky
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Spiral of lemon peel
Ginger ale

Instructions
Fill a highball glass with ice.
Pour the whisky over the ice.
Add the bitters and lemon peel.
Top up with ginger ale.

Omit the lemon peel and you have a variation on the Horse’s Neck cocktail called a Horse Feather cocktail.

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A Daughter Of Eve

Like the biblical Eve I have a time before the Fall. I have a time when I wasn’t plagued by fear and panic attacks; a time when I believed in friendship and family; a time when I felt the world was a fun place to be. But that was a long time ago. August 1999 to be precise.

I had just submitted my thesis. It was the end of an eight year journey that had been exhilarating and exhausting. I remember walking down my driveway with a huge smile on my face. I was so happy; I was so free. But a visit to someone would change that. By the end of 1999 I would discover that I had been betrayed and hurt by those closest to me. I would ring in the new millennia with only my long term partner and a couple of close friends. I have talked about the time after the Fall and how I came through it – which I did! – in A Personality of Pandas.

Moving forward, by August 2013 I had fought many personal battles and won many victories. I was again in a great place. But another challenge was on the way, and it would be followed by more. I was about to be tested again!

On the first of August my partner Paul was unexpectedly retrenched from work. As the main breadwinner this threw all our financial security into disarray. It was one of my greatest fears. I’ve never worried about myself as I have lived with little money but supporting four high maintenance dogs was my deepest concern. Sadly, by the end of August we only had to worry about three dogs as our beloved Pug Wolfy was euthanised after a long battle with cancer. August 2013 is not a month I want to live through again.

But in October 2013 we were lucky enough to travel to China (the trip was paid for one week before Paul was retrenched!) I think this trip was one of the defining moments of my life and gave me the strength to face the challenges that just kept coming. I have written about this extraordinary journey in A Glimpse Of China. 2013 ended and we were doing okay but “slightly” stressed by the lack of work and lack of income.

Early in 2014 we were visited by another of my greatest fears – a venomous snake in our backyard! Again I’m not bothered by snakes but I am bothered by them being near my dogs. This three foot beauty was right near my babes but luckily we enacted our snake plan and we all survived the visit alive – even the snake 🙂 After it was all over, my first thought was “we have to sell the house!” My second thought was “I won’t be run out of my home by a snake!” The second thought won.

alchemy 03Being a former Christian, and now Vampirologist and a Pagan Witch, snakes aren’t just snakes, they are mythological creatures of supreme power and magic. I wanted this visit by the snake to be more than just “better fix the snake proof fencing” and more a lesson from an archetypal creature. My desire to project an esoteric meaning to the encounter was influenced by the nightmare I had the night before the snake visited. I had a dream that one of my dogs was bitten by a snake and was dying as I drove her to hospital. I woke up shaking and couldn’t get the dream out of my mind. Did the snake send a forewarning of its intended visit? I don’t know, but it was very polite and didn’t bite my dogs or us and for that I am grateful.

After a few tarot readings and taking a long, hard look at where I was, I began to think that the snake was warning me of enemies in my midst – enemies very close to home. Was I about to experience similar betrayals to the Fall of 1999? In a way I was, but it would be in no way as devastating as it was the first time. In fact, realising that I meant much less to some of my closest allies was liberating and healing. It allowed me to shed some dead skin I was carrying and for the first time in a long time I felt lighter.

After the Fall I closed myself off from friends, wary of being used and abused again. In August 2007 (what is it with August!) I welcomed two of my eventual four WolfChildren into my home and with them came new adventures and new friends. Some of these friends remain close and dear while some were not the friends I thought and they are no longer a part of my life. But what I kept focussing on was the bad friendships, the mistakes, and what I kept failing to see was that even during the Fall I had friends who had stood by me and they are still with me now!

Unlike Eve’s snake, this snake didn’t help cast me out of Paradise but showed me that I had returned to Eden. I had what I had before the Fall, what had sustained me through my childhood, guided me through my adolescence and stood by me through my twenties, thirties and forties – friends – great friends! It was this realisation that helped heal some of the last of the wounds from the Fall.

There is one wound left to heal – perhaps the biggest of them all and it’s one I keep avoiding. I wish I had addressed it earlier because I think it precipitated another visitor to come and push me onto the right path. Yep, we had another venomous snake come into our yard and on a very special night – the eve of the Southern Hemisphere Summer Solstice. This time the dogs were safe inside so it was much less stressful. While waiting for the snake catcher I went outside to keep an eye on the snake. I was mesmerised by its beauty, its grace, its power and its deadliness. I wanted to reach my hand out and touch it – but naturally I didn’t!

As with the last visit I also had a nightmare about a snake the night before. Again I woke in a sweat and couldn’t shake the dream. Again I wonder was it a warning of a snakey visit? And again I don’t know. What I do know is the next path of my journey. I’d had an inkling of what I was missing before the snake visit but bizarrely enough the snake catcher said something that reinforced my suspicions. I have a new path to travel in 2015 and I am very excited!

As the year winds to a close I am happy about so many things. Paul finally got a job in October 2014, the day before Northern Hemisphere Halloween! I have made so many fabulous new friends through the Panda Chronicles blog and have strengthened the friendships I already had. A few friendships and relationships have ended, but I have let them go without remorse or pain. I am happy for what they have taught me and the way they have shaped my life.

IMG_3346For me, 2014 started and ended with a visit by a snake. These visits had many things to teach me, and I am grateful. I feel like I have finally left the Fall behind and that I am back in Eden, ready for another journey. The time of fear and panic attacks is hopefully over. I know the world is a fun place to live in and I not only believe in friendships I celebrate them! There is one more lesson that I learned from my snakes – but I’m keeping the snake’s final message a ssssecret – for now 🙂

Happy New Year to my wonderful Friends!
Looking forward to continuing our wild ride together in 2015 🙂

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