pagan

A Touch Of Autumn

I stepped outside today and finally felt it – Autumn!

The air felt cold and crisp, the sky was covered in dark clouds and rain threatened to spit. I couldn’t wait to go for a walk. As I walked I remembered autumn days from my youth, when walking to school would entail kicking through the fallen leaves blanketing the streets; the trees happily giving up their greenery and shedding their autumnally coloured offerings.

Autumn was always my time. It was a sign I had survived another sweltering hot summer and a promise of colder weather to come. I looked forward to days of rugging up in jackets, scarfs, hats and gloves and putting on thick socks and warm shoes. Nights would be spent rugged up in front of a heater with a book and a hot drink. Today has given me hope that we may actually have an autumn this year.

We’ve just had our Autumn Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. It is a time when the hours of day and night are equal. For many Pagans it is a time of harvest, of reaping what we have sown. It is a time of reflection, particularly reflecting on what it means to be Pagan.

As I reflect on autumns past, present and future I can’t help but feel that a wise, warm and heady beverage would help these contemplations. And what could be more warm and wise than a herb infused mulled wine 🙂

Sage Mulled Wine

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Ingredients
750ml bottle white wine
1/4 cup honey
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh sage
2 sprigs fresh lemon thyme
1/4 cup gin
lemon slices for serving
extra fresh sage sprigs for serving

Instructions
Add the wine, honey and bay leaf to a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
Add the sage and lemon thyme.
Turn off the heat, cover and allow the wine to steep for 20 minutes.
Remove the lid and gently reheat the wine until it starts to steam.
Remove the bay leaf, sage and thyme.
Turn off the heat and add the gin.
Place a slice of lemon and a sprig of sage in heatproof glasses or mugs.
Ladle the wine evenly between the glasses.

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Remembering Halloween

As the Northern Hemisphere winds its way towards Halloween I cannot help but get caught up in all the excitement. As a Southern Hemisphere Witch I should be getting ready for Beltane, but I can’t. There’s just something about Halloween in October that feels so right for me – especially now that more Australians are celebrating!

flying witch - one of the houses near me has gone all out in decorations

flying witch – one of the houses near me has gone all out in decorations

When I was growing up I was one of the few Aussie kids that really loved Halloween. As a big fan of Bewitched, I looked forward to their Halloween specials. I always wished we celebrated it more here. There were some Aussies who held Halloween Parties but the spirit of the holiday just wasn’t there. You didn’t see streets filled with Trick or Treaters that I would see in the American shows.  And each year I lamented the lack of Halloween paraphernalia available in the stores. In the 80’s, a friend came back from a trip to England and surprised me by bringing back a whole heap of Halloween souvenirs for me! I was so happy 🙂

death by a thousand toothpicks - voodoo doll toothpick holder

death by a thousand toothpicks – voodoo doll toothpick holder

It’s been about 30 years since I received my coveted Halloween haul and happily things have changed. Now, when I walk into a store in October, I See Dead Things! Halloween decorations delight my eyes and Halloween candies make my mouth water. I know there will be Trick or Treaters coming to my door so I’ve stocked up on chocolate treats including an “emergency” pack of mini Turkish Delight Chocolates in case I run out. They’re really for me, as I don’t think many children actually like Turkish Delight, and I love them.

chocolate skeleton in Las Vegas, USA - where they really know how to celebrate Halloween!

chocolate skeleton in Las Vegas, USA – where they really know how to celebrate Halloween!

Some say that the acceptance and participation by Australians in Halloween festivities highlights the commercialisation of the holiday, others argue it symbolises the Americanisation of Australian culture, I just think about bloody time! While, the commercialisation of holidays to sell products is definitely a reason for Halloween gaining popularity, and Australia is also heavily influenced by American culture, it is important to remember that Halloween is not a traditionally American holiday but a Celtic one. Although America has made Halloween what it is today – and I thank them for that 🙂 It is ironic that a country so identified with Christianity has kept one of the most Pagan holidays alive and has spread its popularity throughout the world.

witchy cup and saucer - souvenir from Iceland

witchy cup and saucer – souvenir from Iceland

So when I think of Halloween becoming popular in Australia I don’t think of it as rampant commercialism, nor an Americanisation of our culture, but rather as a subtle re-Paganising of the world. Behind all the costumes and sweets is a memory of what this holiday is all about and who first started it – Pagans and Witches! We have been tortured and vilified throughout the centuries and our rituals and holidays appropriated by others. But Halloween is one holiday that has remained stubbornly Pagan.

So whatever you are doing this Halloween just remember that from the ashes of the fires we witches are returning, one cackle at a time!

witches convention? no just some broomsticks lined up at the panda reserve in Chengdu, China

witches convention? no just some broomsticks lined up at the panda reserve in Bifengxia, China

And now for a Halloween recipe 🙂

trick or treat?

trick or treat?

Coffin Bread

A variation on the aptly named Taiwanese street food filled with cauliflower soup, served with pomegranate molasses and garlic croutons.

Ingredients

for the coffin bread
1 small rectangular loaf of bread (approximately L 15cm, W 10cm, H 10cm)
olive oil

for the garlic croutons
leftover bread pieces from the coffin bread
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of sea salt

for the soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 cups chicken stock
450g cauliflower florets
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pomegranate molasses for drizzling

Method

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut a lid off the top of the bread.
Cut out most of the bread inside, creating a basket to hold the filling.
Lightly brush outside and inside the bread and lid with olive oil.
Place bread basket on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden on the inside.
While bread basket is cooking make the croutons by tearing up the leftover pieces of bread and placing in a bowl with the garlic, olive oil and salt. Toss through and place on an oven tray with the bread lid. Bake in the oven with the bread basket until golden.
The lid and croutons may cook quicker than the basket so check and remove when ready.
When bread basket is cooked, place on a serving plate. If the soup isn’t ready yet, switch off the oven but leave the bread in the oven to keep warm.
Make the soup while the bread is baking by melting the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the onion and cook until softened.
Mix in the flour and the chicken stock, stir until combined.
Add the cauliflower and salt.
Simmer for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft and cooked.
Puree the soup then return to the saucepan.
Simmer gently until the bread and croutons are cooked.
Pour the soup into the bread basket.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses.
Serve the bread lid and croutons on the side.

Friday On My Mind / Bad Moon On The Rise

This Friday is Friday the 13th. It’s a very special Friday the 13th because it falls on a Full Moon. On a mythic, spiritual and magical level, this Friday the 13th links us to three powerful archetypes:

  • The meaning of Friday
  • The number 13
  • The power of the Moon

The Romans called Friday dies veneris in honour of Venus, the Goddess of Love. The Norse then named Friday after their Goddess of Love, Frigg. So why would a day named after Goddesses of Love be considered unlucky? There is no real answer except that Friday has been considered an unlucky day by many cultures and for quite a long time. More recently, Friday has become associated with bad luck because it is the day Jesus was crucified.

The fear of the number 13 has been around since at least the time of the ancient Babylonians. Again, why is this so? 12 is seen as a number of completion whereas 13 has been seen as the number that comes along and disrupts or corrupts this. The Norse myth of Balder, a version of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale and the Last Supper are stories that feature a dinner with 13 guests – invited or uninvited, and the dire consequences of these events. 13 at a dinner is still considered unlucky. 13 was thought to be the traditional number of witches in a coven; a perversion of Jesus and his 12 disciples. There are also 13 full moons in a year which challenges the 12 months of the year system.

Of course you could look at 13 as the beginning of a new cycle like the Egyptians did. 13 was a lucky number in ancient Egypt as they believed there were 12 stages of life and the 13th stage was death and transformation in the afterlife. This wasn’t anything to be feared but was part of a natural cycle to be celebrated. Interestingly the tarot Death card is the number 13.

So what do you get when you put the fear of Friday together with the fear of the number 13? Friggatriskaidekaphobia, a word that combines the name of Friday’s Goddess Frigg with triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13. Add a full moon and this fearful day grows to mythic proportions.

The light of the silvery moon has been celebrated as a romantic emblem; a time for love to blossom and lovers to meet. A full moon on a day named after a love Goddess and on a number that symbolises rebirth and new cycles should be a romantic time. But that bright, shining orb changes monthly and goes from bright and beautiful to dark and hidden. Consequently this mysterious entity is also associated with fear, madness and lunacy. A full moon is believed to bring out the worst in everyone. And, as horror movies have shown, brings out the worst monsters – particularly werewolves and vampires.

If we put this all together we can see that Friday was named after a Roman Goddess of Love and is now named after a Norse Goddess of Love and that the number 13 is associated with the moon, women and the cycle of life, death and rebirth. So perhaps the fear being exploited on Friday the 13th is a fear of ancient pagan religions which celebrate, love, life, death, the moon and women. Rather than fear this day, maybe we should reflect upon its deeper meanings.

So go out and celebrate this Full Moon Friday the 13th. There won’t be another until August, 2049.

IMG_4189

let the madness begin

 

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 Breath of Frankincense

I found myself in a catholic church this week and no I didn’t burst into flames!

I did what I always do – fall over the kneeling rail, then sit down and take in my surroundings.

When it comes to religion and spirituality I’m a bit of a Fox Mulder – I Want To Believe. But no matter how many brushes I’ve had with deity, I’m still an agnostic bordering on atheist. Basically I’m a gothic, pagan, agnostic, witch. It’s often a hard road to travel! So I’m always stunned at how I feel when I enter the more pagan of the churches – those that still have pomp and ceremony.

As I looked around I admired the artworks, the statues, the stained glass windows, the architecture and the outfits. When the incense started burning and the smell of frankincense filled the church, I felt a deep sense of peace, of familiarity, of coming home. That smell of frankincense took me back to the churches of my youth. Not catholic ones but orthodox ones.

My earliest memory of going to church was being told that I had to kiss the portraits of the saints as I went in. I couldn’t do it. Not for religious reasons but for cleanliness. I mean how many people had kissed those saints before me? Three planets in fastidious Virgo overruled any fear. I would lean down and pretend to kiss the saints – but my lips never touched the glass!

After braving the gauntlet of glassed saints I would have to endure the boring sermons filled with fear and retribution. I rarely listened to them. I was too busy checking out the really scary elements in the church – the women – or as many of them were whispered to be – witches!! Some of them were clad in spooky all black outfits; their heads covered with black scarves. Others were dressed in normal clothes. They were feared and respected for they could do something that the male priest trying to preach to them couldn’t do. They could cast curses. Throughout the service the thurible would waft the deep, intoxicating smell of frankincense down the aisle and into my soul.

After the service we would mingle outside, trying desperately not to offend the witchy women. It’s what I remember most of those orthodox days; the powerful women and the smell of frankincense.

We stopped going to church as a family early in my youth. The orthodox days were replaced by the catholic years. For some reason many of my school friends were catholics and catholics joined our family. I happily went to all the major celebrations, enduring the sermons by closing my eyes and smelling the frankincense. The catholic years intertwined with the pagan years but those pagan celebrations are a tale for another day.

Now I find myself back in a catholic church. The scent of frankincense fills my senses. I’m dressed in black and have a red shawl draped over my shoulders. Many attending this service know what I am. They know I’m a witch. I’m now one of the women I once feared.

ethiopian coffee

a treat for the senses

coffee & frankincense

a perfect blend of worship – traditional ethiopian coffee served with a side order of frankincense