snake

Nothing To Fear Here

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

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

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

Moon

the dracula tarot

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

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snake on a beach

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

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

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

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Come For The Snakes, Stay For The Pastry

At a romantic beachside restaurant in Fiji, my partner said the words I never thought I would hear, but so wanted to: 

“Vicky, don’t panic, but there is a snake behind you.” 

Shivering with excitement, I turned around. Three feet behind me was a stunning venomous sea snake. We slowly stood up and, with a brave few guests, followed and photographed the sea snake as it wound its way to the beach. We watched, mesmerised, as it slithered in and out of the rocky crevices. When it found the water we gasped as it picked up speed and swam away, making shimmering shapes in the water.

 

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We were in Fiji to celebrate the destination wedding of my lovely nephew to his equally lovely partner. Having a banded sea krait turn up for dinner was a real bonus for me. What I loved most about this snake was how slow and calm it was on land. It gave me a great opportunity to admire its luminescent bands and its sinuous body. In the water it transformed into a sea serpent, swiftly but gracefully swimming in “s” patterns as it disappeared into the ocean. It was quite a privilege to be so close to such a wild, exotic animal.

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In honour of this unexpected but much appreciated encounter I have created a recipe that combines my culinary Macedonian heritage with that of Morocco. M’hanncha, meaning snake, is a traditional Moroccan dessert made of almond paste filled rolls of filo pastry coiled to look like a snake. It is similar to Maznik, a traditional coiled Macedonian pastry. Maznik is usually filled with feta cheese but can contain many different fillings. A favourite of mine when I was young was a sweet apple and sultana filled one. I don’t have the recipe that my relatives used so I created my own version from memory. I don’t know what Maznik means so I’m calling my pastry M’hanncha as I know that means snake. As a wise playwright once said “a pastry by any other name would taste as sweet” – or something like that 🙂

M’hanncha

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Ingredients

for the filling
4 large granny smith apples, peeled cored and chopped
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons water
1 + 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
1/4 cup sultanas

for the pastry
50g unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled.
8 sheets of filo pastry, prepared according to the instructions on the packet
1/4 cup ground almonds

Method
Bring the apples, orange juice and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the apples have softened. Lightly mash the apples. Stir in the sugar and sultanas. Allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Lightly grease a 25cm round baking tray.
Work with one sheet of pastry at a time, keeping the remaining sheets covered with a damp tea towel.
Place one sheet of filo pastry on a board with the longest side facing you.
Lightly butter the pastry sheet.
Sprinkle with 1/8th of the almond meal.
Spread 1/8th of the apple mix along the bottom side of the pastry.
Loosely roll up the pastry into a long cigar shape.
Carefully roll into a coil shape and place in the centre of the prepared baking tray.
For each of the remaining sheets roll as above and continue the coil from where the previous sheet finished.
Brush with melted butter.
Bake for 25 – 35 minutes or until browned.

You need approximately 2 cups of apple sauce.
This is a rustic pastry so don’t worry if it cracks in sections.

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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Animal Crackers

I love animals. I always have. From my earliest years all I ever wanted was animals. I loved visiting zoos, wildlife parks, petting zoos and seeing animals in their natural state was an absolute pleasure. I loved coming home to my pets. I loved playing with my stuffed animals and my animal models. My favourite board game growing up was the 1960’s Wild Life game; a game recommended by the World Wildlife Fund. When I left home I took that game with me. During my many moves I lost it and was devastated. But, thanks to the internet, 25 years after I lost the game I managed to find one in England. The day it arrived in Australia was one of the happiest. So many of my childhood memories were there in that one box. And yes I have played it again and again!

Although I loved all animals, one thing I didn’t have was a favourite. I wanted to have one so I tried ways of picking an animal that would be my favourite.

The Children of the Night

As a vampire fan from a young age I formed a bond with Dracula’s animals – the wolf and the bat. We are lucky to have fruit bats in Melbourne that fly through the night sky, just like bats in a Dracula movie. One of the local parks has colonies of bats that you can visit during the day. If you go there at dusk you can see them wake up and get ready for their nightly flights. Many an evening has been spent watching these magical creatures. It was a colony of bats living in the trees of a caravan park I was staying at in Sydney that inspired me to create the Dracula Tarot!

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hanging around

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daytime flight

 

While we don’t have wild wolves in Australia, we have their domesticated brethren; the dog. It is through these pack animals that I have bonded with the wolf archetype. While I will one day write at length about my special pack of dogs, for now I need only say that I call them my WolfChildren from the WolfChild pack. My first two dogs – Batty and Wolfy – were named after Dracula’s bat and wolf 🙂

Astrological Symbols

In Western Astrology I’m a Taurus and my animal is the bull. I researched bull and cow mythology which is quite fascinating. But while I liked them as animals, I just couldn’t bond with cows or bulls on a spiritual level.

I had a bit more luck with my Chinese animal sign which is the snake. Snakes are extraordinary animals mythologically. They are so extraordinary that I’ll be doing a separate post on their mythologies 🙂 But I will mention that snakes are linked to vampires – especially Dracula – which makes them very special to me!!

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is that a python on your shoulder?

The main problem for me with snakes is that they are also creatures of fear when you live in Australia. We have 9 of the world’s Top 10 venomous snakes here so they are always in the back of your mind when you go outdoors in Spring and Summer. I’ve seen a few in the wild and they are magnificent creatures. But your heart always goes into overdrive as you wait to see what they will do. Usually they will leave you alone if you leave them alone – which is what I do! I’ve always said that I don’t fear them but I do respect them. That fear and respect was tested this year when a large, venomous tiger snake came into my yard!! While I waited for the snake catcher to come, I stayed in the yard with the snake – at a not so safe distance. I had plenty of time to reflect on this creature of myth, legend and fear. And I realised they really are scary! But I still love them – just not as a favourite 🙂

A Very Special Pair

While I couldn’t find a favourite animal I found two that are very special to me; the red panda and the puffin.

I first encountered the red panda at Melbourne Zoo and it soon became one of my favourites. Whenever I went to the zoo I would go see the red panda first and visit it again before I left. I loved its red fur and adorable face. I thought it looked like a fox in a tree. There is even an International Red Panda Day which is celebrated on the third Saturday in September.

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feeding the panda

I became fascinated with puffins when I was lucky enough to go to Iceland for a holiday. Before the trip I researched the local fauna and thought they sounded interesting. When I first saw them on Grimsey Island I fell in love with their precious, serious little faces. They won my heart when I saw them fly. Their wings are so tiny that when they take off you think they are going to fall out of the sky. But they flap and flap those tiny wings and off they go!

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puffin road trip – iceland

Two important animal organisations for me are The Red Panda Network and Project Puffin. Through them I sponsor a red panda and an Atlantic puffin. It is a lovely way to give back to these animals that have given me so much pleasure.

I tried hard to find a favourite animal but I never did. And then a most peculiar animal chose me. It took a long time but I finally have a favourite animal. I’ll be telling this “tail” very soon 🙂