witchcraft

The Love Witch

It was just by luck that I discovered The Love Witch was playing at the Lido, a funky cinema in Melbourne – and for only three nights! I wanted to be surprised, so I didn’t read the film blurb or watch the trailer until after I got home. Well, the film was unexpected! It was funny, a visual pleasure, very challenging and slightly disturbing.

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Directed by feminist film maker Anna Biller, The Love Witch is a cinematic treat. Reminiscent of a Hitchcock film, the cinematography is a joy to behold. On a visual level, the movie really works. Elaine is stunning. With her black hair, wigs, enormous false eyelashes, eye catching makeup, unbelievable wardrobe, killer body and sheer natural beauty she lives up to her reputation as the love witch. Elaine struts her stuff in a bevy of stunning scenes featuring incredible locations, beautiful architecture and rooms showcasing amazing interior design. I love Elaine’s apartment, decorated with artwork inspired by Aleister Crowley’s Thoth tarot deck. I want to live there! And the Victorian Tea Room where she visits is so adorable. It reminds me of The Austen Tea Room I recently wrote about. But for all of its visual beauty, I’m not sure if the film delivers on a theoretical or magical level.

There are many ways to approach this film theoretically. The director certainly has fun playing around with feminist film theory and the art of film making. I spent many years studying feminist film theory at university, but luckily I focussed on Jungian and archetypal theory, not Freudian. I was therefore spared the horror of having to truly understand concepts like the male gaze. Unfortunately, director Biller plays with this theory and apparently tries to subvert it. I was hoping to give you a brief synopsis of the theory but once I started writing my eyes watered and I had to have chocolate to recover from the shock! So I’ll leave the theoretical analyses to those who care and move onto what I really care about – magic and witchcraft 🙂

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The Love Witch is one of only a couple of films that focusses on non-magical human witches. Elaine joins a witches coven in San Fransisco after her husband leaves her. Here she learns about sex magic and love spells. Using herbs, spells and the power of her awesome body, Elaine seduces man after man hoping to find true love. You see Elaine loves love, she’s addicted to love and wants nothing more than to be loved. She is obsessive and narcissistic. She uses all her witchy craft to try to find a patriarchal relationship where she cooks for her man and rewards him with mind-blowing sex. Sadly her use of love magic leads to nothing but disappointment, tragedy and death. Elaine is a witch who will definitely love you to death.

I found this disappointing. I wanted her embracing of witchcraft to be something positive, not a reinforcing of stereotypical attitudes about women, men and relationships. Even worse, it seems as though the high priest of the coven is nothing but a sleaze who has sex with the female initiates while his high priestess partner looks on. When Elaine is near the slimy high priest she acts as though she is a victim of sexual abuse rather than a liberated, powerful, sexual woman and witch. One of the more cringe worthy scenes is when Elaine, the high priestess and high priest are at a burlesque show and the repulsive high priest rambles on about the power of women, the power of their sexuality, their bodies etc while a very skilled woman dances and performs on stage. I’m not sure if this was some sort of feminist subversion but for me it didn’t work. I wanted to scrub myself clean every time I saw the hideous high priest! I am so glad I trained in covens with high priestesses only 🙂

The one witchcraft scene I thought was feminist and empowering is when Elaine makes a witch bottle by urinating into a jar and then dunks a used tampon in it! Okay, that was unexpected.

I actually think it is a great movie to see if only for the cinematography. If you’re a witch you’ll also find it interesting. Plus, there’s the Aleister Crowley inspired room. Check out the trailer for a brief taste of this very unusual movie! The Love Witch

The other thing I loved about the film is cake – yes cake. There are a few delicious scenes featuring mouthwatering cakes. In homage to these lovely cakes I thought I would share a recipe for a Persian Love Cake. It is normally made as two cakes sandwiched together with a rich frosting. In honour of Elaine and her obsession with love I decided to make heart shaped mini cakes. This means there is plenty of frosting left over. You can slather it on top of the cakes or dollop it on other desserts. Or you can just eat it with a spoon.

Persian Love Cakes

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aromatic rose water, lemon and cardamon cakes sandwiched together with saffron frosting

Ingredients
for the cakes
1 cup plain flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup honey
4 tablespoons rose water
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
6 cardamon pods, seeds removed and crushed
1/2 cup caster sugar

for the frosting
1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads
1 tablespoon hot water
1/4 cup thick yoghurt
200ml pure cream, chilled
1/3 cup icing sugar
extra icing sugar for dusting

Method
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Grease two sandwich pans then line with baking paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, honey, rose water, water, olive oil, lemon peel and cardamon until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth and combined.
In a medium sized bowl whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and beat until the mixture resembles thick marshmallow.
Place a small amount of egg white mixture into the batter and gently mix until combined. Add half of the egg white mixture and gently fold through. Add remaining egg white mixture and gently fold through.
Divide batter evenly between the two cake tins.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Cool in the pans for 15 minutes before turning out onto racks and peeling off the baking paper.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.
Make the spread by steeping the saffron threads in the hot water for 20 minutes.
Place the yoghurt into a small bowl. Strain the saffron liquid into the yoghurt and mix to combine.
Place the cream and sugar into a medium sized bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Add the yoghurt mix and whip until stiff peaks form.
To assemble, cut the cakes with different sized heart shaped cookie cutters, making sure you cut them in pairs. Sandwich two hearts together with frosting.
Dust lightly with icing sugar.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.