A Beltane Tale Podcast

Twas a time of dancing and daring and drinking of elderflower wine;
of bewitchings and hauntings and faeries and all things divine.”

With the feast of Beltane nearly upon us, I am thrilled to announce that my story “A Beltane Tale” has been featured in Housecraft – The Witching Hour’s podcast!

TUNE IN ANYWHERE YOU GET PODCASTS OR HERE:

Many thanks to the ladies of Housecraft for choosing my story, and much gratitude to producer Kate for your oh-so beautiful reading of the tale.

Beltane is an ancient Celtic fire festival, celebrated on or around May 1st. For those of you who are not familiar — fear not! The Mothers of Mayhem will take you through every aspect. (Warning: adult content. Not for kids.) This festival is all about sex and the Witchy Ladies get a bit spicy. So listen at your own risk! 🙂

Robin Hood and Maid Marian: What happens in the forest, STAYS in the forest.

Tune in anywhere you get podcasts or HERE:

Have a Blessed Beltane!

“The Maypole” 1899 by Clarence H. White

Wings & Fire, Our New Horror Anthology, Hits Number One!

Wings & Fire: A horror anthology with 23 stories from 15 authors (The Box Under The Bed Book 5) by [Dan Alatorre, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, MD Walker, Frank Parker, Dabney Farmer, Allison Maruska, Jessica Bakkers, Heather Kindt, Susan Lamb, Geoff LePard, Marjorie Mallon, Adele Marie Park, Alana Turner, Betty Valentine, Christine Valentor]

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you may know that I write for the BOX UNDER THE BED horror series. We have, to date, released five books, all of which I am very proud. Our latest release, WINGS & FIRE came out on December 31. I am ecstatic to announce that this week, our book hit the Number 1 slot on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” page!!

WINGS & FIRE features 24 all-new, creepy, scary stories by 16 authors. (Two by me!) Other contributors include best-selling authors Dan Alatorre, Roberta Cheadle, MD Walker, Frank Parker, Dabney Farmer, Alison Maruska, Jessica Bakkers, Geoff LePard, and more!

“From the creators of the #1 bestselling horror anthology THE BOX UNDER THE BED and its #1 bestselling sequels DARK VISIONS, NIGHTMARELAND and SPELLBOUND comes WINGS & FIRE, a horror anthology with 24 stories from 16 authors.”

Two high school girls discover an old book with strange powers that causes strange things to happen. As they learn more, they realize the book may be a link to a mystical world and the people who “reside” there.

What follows is a trip into eerie places full of madness and murder, where readers encounter all things horrifying, hellish and haunting. Expect blood drinking, strange spells, love obsessions with the dead, battles of good vs. evil, and some dark, inexplicable events of real life history.

If you like my blog, you will love my horror stories! Copies available on Amazon.

And for those that can’t get enough of the macabre, please check out our previous release, SPELLBOUND, full of all-new, weird and wonderful witchy tales…

Winter Solstice: The Mystery of Newgrange

Imagine an ancient monument, built 1000 years before the Egyptian Pyramids and a few hundred years before Stonehenge, by prehistoric peoples who had not yet invented paper or measuring tools.

Imagine further, that this monument was engineered with such precision that the light of the sun can only enter its inner chamber on one specific day of the year — that is, the Winter Solstice.

Strange but true. This is the phenomenon of Newgrange.

Happy Winter Solstice!

Today, December 21, marks the longest night and also the return of the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere. Apparently, our ancestors knew the patterns of the sun very well, and had them in mind when they built this fantastic structure.

A Site for Sore Eyes

Newgrange is a Neolithic tomb, located in Bru na Boinne, County Meath, Ireland. It consists of a large mound, built of alternating layers of earth and stones. Grass grows on top of it. Some historians have suggested it resembles a womb. The mound measures 76 meters (249 feet) across and 12 meters (39 feet) high. It covers 4,500 square meters (1.1 acres) of ground. Within the mound is a chambered passage, that stretches for 19 meters (60 feet), about a third of the way into the center. At the end of the passage are three small chambers and a larger central chamber with an arched roof.

It is huge! To get some perspective, take a look at this photo, with tourists.

The stones used for its construction were not just any old stones. Rather, they came from places far off, and it seems a great deal of thought and effort went into the choice of them. Some boulders were brought from the Wicklow Mountains — approximately 70 miles (113.9 km) south of the site. Others were brought from the Slieve Croob Mountains — 67 miles (107 km) to the north. Still others were brought from the Mourne Mountains, 59 miles (94 km) away. Whoever built the monument would have needed to locate and choose the specific rocks, then move them from the far off mountains, most likely via the Irish Sea, and then transport them inland to Bru na Boinne. Not an easy task.

And these boulders were not lightweight!

According to Professor Michael J. O’Kelly, who began excavation of Newgrange in 1962, “there are 97 kerb stones, none weighing less than a ton, and some weighing considerably more”. The whole of Newgrange contains “about 200,000 tons of stone” total. Gigantic boulders were placed at the entranceways and at the curbs. Interestingly, they were carved and decorated with spirals and various art, which are interpreted as ancient Druidic symbols.

The House of the Rising Sun

The innermost burial chamber of Newgrange was engineered so that no light can reach it, except on Winter Solstice. On that day alone, a single sunbeam penetrates the passageway thru a special “roof box”, constructed specifically for this event. It was Professor O’Kelly who discovered this in 1967.

Back in the 1960’s, the phenomenon of the Winter Solstice at Newgrange was not widely known. In fact, it had been reduced to gossip by some of the locals.

During the early excavation, these locals would tell Professor O’Kelly of a tradition, that the rising sun, at some “unspecified time”, would light up the triple spiral stone in the end recess of the chamber. No one had actually witnessed this, but it continued to be a strong legend, and one that greatly interested the Professor. In 1967 he decided to find out for himself if it was true.

The Professor reasoned that, due to a southeast orientation of the sun at Winter Solstice, and the positioning of the sun in relation to a special “roof portal” in the monument, the “unspecified time” of light just might be on this day.

Some minutes before sunrise on the 21st of December, 1967, Professor O’Kelly stood alone in the darkness of the chamber at Newgrange, wondering what would happen. To his amazement, minute by minute, the chamber grew steadily brighter and a beam of sunlight began to enter the passage. O’ Kelly wrote of this beam “lighting up everything as it came until the whole chamber – side recesses, floor and roof six meters above the floor – were all clearly illuminated”.

Needless to say, the Professor was in awe. According to ancient legends, Dagda, the sun god, had actually built the tomb.

Upon witnessing the beautiful passing of the sunbeams, O’Kelly began to wonder if this was true. He stood rigid and transfixed. Professor O’Kelly continued his excavation and observations. At Winter Solstice, 1969, he wrote:

“Between the bright sky and the long glittering silver ribbon of the Boyne the land looks black and featureless. Great flocks of starlings are flying across the sky from their night time roosts to their day time feeding places. The effect is very dramatic as the direct light of the sun brightens and casts a glow of light all over the chamber. I can even see parts of the roof and a reflected light shines right back in to the back of the end chamber.”

History and Mystery

The whole phenomenon is really amazing, when you consider the circumstances. As I stated before, Newgrange was built in 3200 BCE. It predates the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge. They were not writing on paper, they were not planning things architecturally. As far as we know, they had no telescopes of space rockets. If you look at the size and precision of the monument, you will see that even today, with U-haul trucks and modern tools, it would be hard to build! Plus they would need to have a sophisticated understanding of the earth’s movement, which, even today, is difficult for NASA!

So this begs the question: Who built Newgrange?

I don’t believe for one minute that ordinary humans built this thing, not to mention rubes running around in loincloths who had no way to measure the galaxy. (Doesn’t it seem seriously IMPOSSIBLE?)

So who?

Were they some sort of alien race? Were they gods, goddesses, or the faeries? Were they super-humans? (Even the Bible speaks of giants, and men who lived to be hundreds of years old.) And if so, what happened to our human race? Was it somehow diminished?

Well, the history of Newgrange has always remained strong within Irish mythology. The place is steeped in magic and legend. The Tuatha de Danaan (tribe of the goddess Dana), were said to have built it. This ancient faerie race had supernatural powers, and we assume they’d have little trouble moving 200,000 tons of stone down from mountains.

Newgrange is believed to be a burial site, and indeed, human bones have been discovered within it. But it was not an ordinary mausoleum. It is thought to be the tomb of the chieftains and Irish kings, the great Dagda Mor, his son Oengus of the Brugh, and the great god Lugh of the long arm, father of the hero Cuchulain. One myth claims that Cuchulainn was conceived at Newgrange, when Lugh astro-traveled and “visited” the maiden Dechtine in a dream while she slept there.

(The god Lugh was quite a character. It would not surprise me if he had a hand in the construction. He was very powerful and popular. For more about Lugh, read https://witchlike.wordpress.com/category/lugh/)

Newgrange was imbued with magical properties. It was said the site could produce endless quantities of food and drink, especially ale and pork. One legend states that two pigs would come forth from the chambers, one living and the other already dressed, cooked, and ready to be eaten.

Suppression and Repression

You might be wondering, as I did, why it took so long to excavate this monument. The thing was built some 5200 years ago, yet they waited until the 20th century to explore it.

It seems the site was forgotten and nearly abandoned through suppression, repression, and prejudice. Irish language, literature and mythology were nearly lost under English rule. The Norman Invasion of 1169 CE brought the English to Ireland, and their control over the people became increasingly oppressive. The great mound of Newgrange, along with other ancient monuments, stone circles, myths, legends and Irish culture in general, were neglected. The people of Ireland suffered greatly, and in fact, did not begin to liberate themselves until the 20th century, with the rise of the Irish Republic.

However, in 1699, a Welsh scholar by the name of Edward Lhwyd was making a tour of Ireland. He heard of the tomb and became interested. Other scholars followed. Throughout the 18th century the site was visited by a number of explorers who speculated about its origin and purposes. In 1882 the monument was taken under care of the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland through the Ancient Monuments Protection Act and conservation efforts were initiated.

Professor O’Kelly’s work began in 1962 and lasted until 1973. In 1993, Newgrange was designated a “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO. Before Covid, people could visit Newgrange through the Bru na Boinne Visitor’s Center. It attracted approximately 200,000 tourists each year. Because so many folks wanted to see the Solstice sunrise, a lottery was held. Each year they had thousands of applicants.

Fortunately (for us, anyway) because Covid prevented anyone from attending Winter Solstice this year, the stewards decided to give the world a live stream! If you are curious about the miracle of Newgrange, watch below. And if you have any ideas about who built Newgrange, let me know in the comments!

Appreciating Black Cats

 

Cat, Domestic, Black, Animal, Pet, Cute, Cat Eyes, Eyes

“This was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree.”
― Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat

Have you hugged your black cat today? If not, you should. Today, August 17, is National Black Cat Appreciation Day!

And why (you may ask) do we need an appreciation day for black cats?

Well, they deserve it!  Look at the bad rap they have gotten over the ages. Lots of superstition has grown around them and left a dent in the collective consciousness. Some people are afraid of them to this day. People may, for example, avoid getting in the way of a black cat, believing them to be bad luck if they cross your path.

Black cats, however, were not always considered bad. In fact, in some cultures they were quite revered.

Spirits of Ancient Egypt

The Ancient Egyptians loved and worshiped black cats. This love came from a belief that black cats were associated with the gods. The Egyptian goddess Bast was known as the “cat goddess” and used black cats as symbols to represent her. She was often depicted as a goddess with a human body and the head of a cat.

Early Egyptians also prized cats because of  their great ability to eliminate rats, mice, and other unhealthy pests.  Having a cat meant a cleaner house, cleaner food, and all around better health. The Egyptians took their love of black cats seriously.  Killing a black cat in Ancient Egypt was a capital offense and the murderer would be put to death! (Sounds like a good law to me. Maybe we should bring it back..)

Egyptians were obsessed with the afterlife, but they also believed their cats would come with them. When the Egyptian family cat died, he would be mummified and buried within the family tomb. The family would also take time to mourn his death.

Ah but this veneration of the black cat would not last! Egyptian civilization fell and so did the status of the beloved kitties. By the Middle Ages, our feline friends were acquiring their evil reputation. Many myths and legends contributed to this.

Black Magic Woman

One story that circulated around Europe told of a black cat running into the house of a witch. According to this legend, a father and son were walking across the road when they noticed the cat. Apparently, the two were not animal lovers, because they began pelting stones at the cat. Scared and defenseless, the kitty ran into a house that — according to the local gossips — was the home of a woman who did spell casting.

I’d say the cat was pretty smart, running away from two attackers.

According to the legend, the next day the father and son encountered the woman who lived in the house, and she was limping. Thus it was assumed that the witch had shape shifted to a black cat and received an injury from the rocks that were thrown at her.

The story spread and the long association of black cats and witchcraft became ingrained in folklore. Black cats were believed to be witches in disguise, witches’ pets, or even demons sent by witches to spy on humans.

This folklore actually took on a legal ramifications when the Catholic Church took issue with cats!

In 1233, Pope Gregory IX drew up a decree to condemn black cats as evil, satanic creatures. This led to a widespread extermination of black cats. They were killed in droves, drowned, burnt, fed poison and hung.

A Plague Upon Their Houses

Exterminating black cats was a really dumb thing to do, as later realized, because cats were a major force in killing off diseased rats that brought in the Black Plague. The great outbreak of the Black Death in the 14th century may have been in part due to this mass extermination of back cats. The Pope would have done much better to just leave the kitties to their work of killing vermin!

Because they were considered to be witches’ familiars, black cats  were often burned at the stake or hung, along with an accused witch. This practice remained in effect between the 13th-17th centuries when witch hunts were rampant.

Luckily, as witches, women and animals earned more rights, these superstitions faded as well. Most witchcraft laws were repealed by the 20th century, and animal rights groups have come to the rescue of cats.

To this day, black cats remain associated with Halloween, which can be a particular time of cruelty for them.  For this reason, many shelters prohibit the adoption of black cats in the month of October. (Please note, they are available all other months and make excellent pets!)

Lucky Charms

Black cats are known to be among the most affectionate and entertaining of felines. Besides that, there are plenty of good superstitions about black cats.

  • In England a black cat on a ship was considered lucky. Many sailors believed that a black cat could ensure a safe voyage and keep the ship from storms.

  • Pirates believed black cats could portend the future of their ship. For example, if the cat walked on and stayed on the ship, it meant good luck. But if the cat walked on and then off again, this was a bad sign that the ship would sink. (Hopefully the pirates baited the kitties with some tasty treats, like fresh fish, to make them stay!)

  • Wives of fishermen often kept black cats, as they were considered good luck charms to help the fishermen make a safe return home.
  • In Japan, black cats were symbols of financial fortune and prosperity.
  • In Scotland it was believed that women who owned black cats would have lots of male suitors.

So, you see, these clever felines really do deserve a day all to themselves, to help their human friends realize how great they are.

Jasper says, “Have a lovely Black Cat Appreciation Day! And be kind to a black cat.”

Image may contain: cat

 

 

 

The Mysterious Melody of Taurus

 

April 20 through May 20 marks the astrological sun sign of Taurus.

I have always loved Taurus. Represented by the bull, individuals born under this sign bring in the best of both worlds. They have a powerful (and stubborn!) earth sign ruled by the beautiful and feminine planet Venus. These people are go-getters, manifesters, and serious goal setters. But they do it all with such a lovely artistic flair you will scarcely notice how driven they actually are.

Prone to sensual pleasures, they are experts in culinary delights. Some of the best chefs are Taureans. They are great artists, animal lovers and fashion trend setters. They often have musical ability. Taureans are great with designs, decorating and fabrics.

They are also sexy! Although Scorpio (the polar opposite, or inverted Taurus) usually gets credit for being the “most sexual” of all the signs, it is the horned men and women who really stand out in compelling ways. The bull is a spellbinding presence, full of quiet charisma and unusual traits.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at a few famous Taureans.

Michelle Pfeiffer, born April 29, 1958.

She was Madame Marie de Tourvel of Dangerous Liaisons. Also Catwoman, among other things. She claimed playing the cat was natural for her, as she was very athletic.

Film Critic Roger Ebert said of her: “She is not just a beautiful woman, but an actress with the ability to make you care about her, to make you feel what she feels.”

In her film The Fabulous Baker Boys, Michelle performed the song “Makin’ Whoopie” while strewn on top of a piano. Ebert said of it: “Whatever she’s doing while she performs that song isn’t merely singing; it’s whatever Rita Hayworth did in Gilda and Marilyn Monroe did in Some Like It Hot, and I didn’t want her to stop.”

Audrey Hepburn, born May 4, 1929.

Audiences fell in love with her sweet, unassuming presence and her sense of style. To this day she is a fashion icon. She is best known for her performance as the street wise but vulnerable Holly Golighty in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

She sang and played a ukulele too!

Jessica Lange, born April 29, 1949.

This Minnesota native has been wowing audiences ever since King Kong swept her off her feet in 1976.  She received two Academy Awards and several Emmys. Her roles include Frances Farmer, Blanche DuBois and Joan Crawford. Most recently she played several notorious femme fatales on the series American Horror Story, including a psychotic nun, a freak show emcee and a New Orleans witch.

Elusive and wispy, yet strong, Jessica seems forever young.

Henry Cavill, born May 5, 1983.

He was the Man of Steel, the Man From U.N.C.L.E, and King Henry VIII’s bestie, Charles Brandon. Entertainment Weekly named him the “Most Dashing Duke” and praised his work on The Tudors for displaying “charm, depth and a killer bod”.  In December 2013, Cavill was named “World’s Sexiest Man” by British Glamour magazine. The same year, Empire magazine placed him third on their list of “The 100 Sexiest Movie Stars 2013”.

I can see why.

Jack Nicholson, born April 22, 1937.

He played a werewolf, a Joker, a madman, a serial killer and a concert pianist.  No one can deny the sinister power of Jack “you can’t handle the truth” Nicholson. He is the recipient of several awards including Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe. He has had one marriage, several affairs, and five children.

Film critic David Thompson said of him: “Nicholson is the Hollywood celebrity who is almost like a character in some ongoing novel of our times. He is also the most beloved of stars—not even his huge wealth, his reckless aging, and the public disasters of his private life can detract from this … For he is still a touchstone, someone we value for the way he helps us see ourselves.”

But remember when he asked the waitress to hold the chicken? And he clarified, “I want you to hold it between your knees.” She threw him out of the restaurant.

Cher, born May 20, 1946.

She was once half of Sonny and Cher, but she quickly surpassed Sonny and carved a solo career for herself.  She is a singer, an Academy Award winning actress and of course — a fashion icon! Cher is quick witted, multidimensional, and a beautiful chameleon.

And don’t forget, she basically put dress designer Bob Mackie on the map.

James MacAvoy, born April 21, 1979.

This Scottish lad first captured hearts as the faun known as Mr. Tumnus, in The Chronicles of Narnia.  Before fame and fortune came his way, he considered becoming a priest and worked in a Glasgow bakery. With a brogue to die for and his intense blue eyes, he quickly caught the attention of critics. James starred in several movies including The Last King of Scotland, Atonement and Macbeth. He has won several prestigious awards including a Golden Globe.

But I like James best as Mr. Tumnus. The horns are a natural.

William Shakespeare, born April 23, 1564.

In addition to being a great writer, the Bard must have been a pretty great lover as well. At the tender age of 17 he impregnated 26 year old Anne Hathaway. He married her and fathered two more children before making his way to London where he wrote and acted in plays.

Some historians believe he had numerous affairs with numerous people, including the elusive “dark lady” and “fair youth” of his sonnets. The Dark Lady (who may or may not have been Venetian poet Emilia Bassano) is portrayed as an older and temperamental woman.

The Fair Youth (who may or may not have been Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton) is portrayed as a handsome younger man.

No one will ever know the truth. But the Bard had an intimate knowledge of human relationships, a penchant for crossdressers, and a real knack for tales of forbidden love.

Fred Astaire, born May 10, 1899.

He was possibly the most influential dancer in history. Astaire had a career in Broadway, television and the Silver Screen that spanned over 70 years. Michael Jackson claimed to emulate him and copied several of his dance steps, including the flexibility that led to the “Moon Walk”. He is best known for his partnership with fellow dancer Ginger Rogers and movies they made in the 1930’s and 40’s.

What is sexier than knowing all the right moves? And Fred could really pull off a top hat!

Bettie Page, born April 22, 1923.

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Bettie was an actress, model and Playboy centerfold. She gained a significant profile in the 1950s for her pin-up photos which often portrayed BDSM. (Bettie claimed she had to pose for at least one hour of BDSM or the photographer would not pay her.) Paradoxically, she was also an evangelical Christian, and worked for the Reverend Billy Graham.

Historians say she was best known for her bangs and vivid blue eyes. (I suspect folks were looking at other things as well…)

Apparently, Bettie played the ukulele too!

Moon Magic

Tonight, April 22, at approximately 10 pm Eastern Standard Time, the new moon will enter Taurus. Any new moon is a good time to set intentions, but this particular new moon is rife with meaning.

In the northern hemisphere we are celebrating spring and it is a great time for planting. In the southern hemisphere they are celebrating the autumn harvest. Whether we are planting or harvesting, it is a day closely related to the Earth. April 22nd is also International Earth Day. With Taurus as an Earth sign, we should set intentions for manifesting things to benefit the Earth.

The past few weeks have been stressful for all of us. The Covid virus has brought our planet to her knees.  We have been locked up, hospitalized, laid off from our jobs, quarantined and kept from our loved ones. Many have suffered illness and even death. It is an unprecedented tragedy in human history.

But somethings gotta give. And soon.

Regardless of where anyone stands politically on the matters, we can all agree on one thing. We want the Earth and her people to be happy, healthy and prosperous.

Let’s set that intention today! Imagine how powerful it will be if we all do it.

Have a blessed New Moon Day. And Happy Birthday to Taureans everywhere!

 

 

 

Frau Perchta, Witch of Twelfth Night

And so. Another Yuletide ends. But not so fast! Before we take down the mistletoe and finish off the sugar plums, there is one more celebration which should be recognized. This is the legend of Frau Perchta, Witch of Twelfth Night.

Perhaps you have never heard of this obscure character. But if you happened to be living in Bavaria or Austria during the Middle Ages, you might have been quite troubled as the Christmas season came to an end. During this time Frau Perchta would be on the loose, doling out punishments and rewards for the naughty and nice, respectively.

The “official end” of Yuletide in many traditions is January 6th, also known as Twelfth Night or Feast of the Epiphany. It was on this night that Frau Perchta would drop in for a visit. If you had been good over the past year, you would be rewarded with a piece of silver. But if you had been bad – watch out! Frau Perchta was a stern distributor of justice. In fact, she was also called “the belly slitter” because punishment for bad behavior consisted of Frau Perchta cutting open the offender’s stomach, removing the inner organs, and replacing them with straw and pebbles. Ouch!

In Christian traditions, January 6th is  Feast of the Epiphany. It commemorates the visit of the Magi to the manger where Christ was born. According to the Bible, three mages from Persia, following a bright star, made their way to Bethlehem to greet and bestow gifts upon the baby Jesus. Webster defines “epiphany” as an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being.”

The Twelfth Night is a time of great wonder and revelation. So why all the terror and judgement associated with Perchta? I wondered how Frau Perchta got such a bad rap.

The True Goddess

I did some sleuthing and found out that Perchta has a very interesting story. She wasn’t always an evil witch. In fact, she was at one time a greatly loved Germanic goddess. She is also called Berchta or Bertha.  The name Bertha literally means “bright” or “shining one”.  In ancient, pre-Christian times, Berchta was a powerful figure, worshiped by both Celtic and Germanic tribes. It was her job to protect babies, women and children. She was associated with birch trees (in Old High German birch is birka which also means “bright”.) She was a protector of forests and wildlife. She was also a “psychopomp” – that is, a spirit who guides the dead into the Afterlife.

Pretty impressive stuff.

Berchta was associated with the cycle of life, death and rebirth. She was depicted as a beautiful woman with long hair. She wore a white gown and was often called the White Woman or the Lady in White.  She was considered a triple goddess (perhaps because of her association with life’s cycles) and was able to take on forms of the maiden, mother and crone.

As a guide into the Afterlife, Berchta was a tender and caring figure that helped souls in their transition. There is one tale in which a grieving mother sees an apparition of her recently deceased little son. He is with a group of children along a hillside. The children are following a woman in a white gown. The little boy breaks away to speak to his sorrowful mother. The boy tells his mother not to weep, for he is safe and under the watch of the White Lady.

Berchta also had shapeshifting abilities. She was described as sometimes having the feet of a goose, and she also took on the form of a swan. As the protector of animals, she was  called “Guardian of Beasts”.

A Tainted Image

In the later, scary tales of Perchta, she is represented exclusively as a crone – more specifically, a scary old hag. She wears a disheveled dress, has a face made of iron and a nose like a beak.

She carries a knife beneath her cloak (in case she needs to slice open someone’s belly!) And of course, she has those strange looking goose feet.

So how did Berchta become Perchta? How did this benevolent goddess get demonized and transformed into an evil witch? Three words: The Medieval Church.

Christianity became powerful in Bavaria in around the 6th century. The Pagan cults that had evolved around Berchta were pretty strong and set in their ways. Worshippers of Berchta refused to be absorbed into the new Christian traditions. And so, for conversion purposes, the Church resorted to fear.

Her name was changed, among other things.  The word “perchten” means scary monsters, so Berchta became “Perchta, leader of the Perchten.”  Berchta, the wise white lady, was thereafter known as Perchta, a crooked-nosed, belly-stabbing hag.

As centuries went on, the worshippers of Berchta proved a stubborn lot. They were not willing to give up their goddess. The Church took further action. According to a religious document known as the Thesaurus Pauperum, the cult of Berchta was outlawed in 1468.  This document specifically condemned the practice of leaving food and drink offerings for Berchta during the Christmas season.

You might be wondering, as I did, what the heck is a Thesaurus Paupernaum?

Well, it had nothing to do with a thesaurus as we know it. Rather, it was a collection of recipes and natural medicinal cures, presumably for the benefit of poor people (paupers/ paupernaum) who could not afford expensive doctors. Interestingly, this document is cited as containing such information as: medicinal values of precious stones, herbal medicines for childbirth, astrological charts and a table for the uses of precious metals.

Hmmm. Magical crystals, herbal medicines and astrology. Sounds kinda Pagany to me…

The Thesaurus Paupernaum was written by prominent church officials such as Pope John XXI and Saint Albertus Magnus, with contributions from mineralogist George Frederick Kunz. Its recordings span a period of about seven centuries, and it is included in the Library of Congress Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts Collection.

So, for Medieval folks it was a big deal. Something they had to pay attention to.

Yuletide was her special time and Frau Perchta became a figure akin to Krampus, the evil counterpart of Saint Nicholas.

Propaganda and the Burning Times

There were tales of Frau Perchta capturing children and eating them. There were tales of Frau Perchta as the Christmas hag, who would stuff the bad kids into her giant sack. She would visit on Twelfth Night expecting food as an offering, but if she was displeased with what someone left, she would slit the person’s belly open and stuff him or her with garbage. She was also a stickler for clean homes, and the completion of spinning. So if women had neglected their housework or their flax, they could expect the belly slitting as well.

The repression of Berchta and subsequent scary tales of Perchta took place during an interesting period. In Europe, the years between 1450 and 1700 are known as The Burning Times. During these years, Protestant Reformations began, splitting the Christian Church into various factions. Instability caused even more paranoia. It is estimated that around 100,000 men and women were put to death for witchcraft, many of them burned at the stake.

Germany, a major proponent of the Reformations, was one of the worst offenders. Historians report that entire populations of women in towns and villages were sometimes eliminated.

Keeping Berchta Alive

Despite the church’s attempts to get rid of Berchta, she lives on. A Halloween like celebration in which children would dress as demons (Perchten) during Yuletide was observed in some parts of Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some families would prepare a porridge called “Perchtenmilch.” Part of the porridge would be consumed by the family, with a portion set aside as an offering for Perchta and her Perchten.

In the 19th century, even the Brothers Grimm had their say about Perchta. According to Jacob Grimm, who translated texts from Old High German, she was spoken of as Frau Berchta, a white-robed goddess who oversaw spinning and weaving and was sometimes the leader of the Wild Hunt.

By honoring her as a scary witch, we keep the name of Perchta alive. She, along with Krampus and other monsters have enjoyed a rejuvenation in recent years. Some folks prefer a bit of  horror in their Christmas.

(The above photo was taken by Sean Gordon. Lookin’ good, ladies!)

The goddess Berchta will never be forgotten. Her bright beauty is evident in Yule’s return of the sun, in the new fallen snow, in white swans and in the magnificence of the Alpine Mountains she hails from.

This Twelfth Night, you may want to take some time out to honor Berchta/ Perchta. An altar could include white candles, birch branches, or white feathers. You can meditate on loved ones who have crossed over and ask Berchta for a safe passage.  You may want to leave her an offering of cake or porridge. And – it might be wise to keep the house clean – just in case!

Halloween Horror! The Titillating, the Terrifying, the Campy and the Creepy

 

The spooky season is upon us, and you greatly deprive yourself if you do not take the time to watch some scary movies! I love horror, and here are some of my favorites — the fun, the freaky and the forgotten.  In no particular order.

Crow Haven Farm – When a distant relative dies and leaves a generous will, New Yorker Maggie (played by Hope Lange) inherits a farm in Massachusetts. She and her husband are delighted to leave the big city and move into their new digs. However, upon entering the new house, Maggie has the strangest feeling she has lived there before. Is reincarnation possible?

Of course it is! But matters get complicated when Maggie and her husband adopt a witchy ten year old girl. Through the child, Maggie discovers her previous life involved the betrayal of a 17th century coven. They now plan to exact their revenge…

The Howling II “Your sister is a werewolf.” – Ben’s sister is transformed into a werewolf and killed. Determined to find answers and justice, Ben and his girlfriend Jenny travel to Transylvania with werewolf hunter Stefan (played by Christopher Lee) to investigate. There they find themselves in the midst of the Wolf Festival. A strange tribe of werewolves are led by immortal Queen Stirba who, as it turns out, is Stefan’s sister.  There are plenty of chills and thrills (plus a great Goth wardrobe!) in this borderline erotic story.

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death – After suffering a nervous breakdown, Jessica has just been released from treatment in a mental institution.  What she needs most is fresh air and a fresh start. Jessica and her husband decide to purchase a country house in upstate New York where they can get some peace and quiet to help Jessica’s recovery.  Or so they think. When they discover a young hippy squatter on the premises, Jessica decides to invite the girl to move in rather than banish her.  Bad decision!  

This woman strangely resembles old photographs left in the house…  Is the young woman really an immortal vampire? Or is Jessica simply going insane?

An American Werewolf in London – American college students David and Jack are backpacking through northern England.

They stop at a pub for some hot food, but unfortunately, the locals are none too friendly.  In fact they are downright rude, except for their simple advice. “Stay to the road and beware the moon.” 

Realizing they are unwanted, the boys head out to the moors, amidst fog and cries of a howling wolf.  They are, of course, attacked.  Jack  is killed, but David is merely wounded — and therefore left to carry on the curse of the werewolf. This truly classic film  manages to be funny, likable and shocking all at the same time.

The Witches of Eastwick – Three dissatisfied women (played by Cher, Michelle Pheifer and Susan Sarandon) live in a sleepy New England town. There, they bide their time with hobbies and gossip, not really fitting in with the locals, and longing for excitement.  One night they fantasize their perfect man and invite him to the neighborhood.  When Darryl Van Horn (played by Jack Nicholson) arrives on the scene, he is intriguing, a bit repugnant, and weirdly irresistible. Van Horn trains the women for a witchy life — including teaching them to fly, all the while keeping them under his seductive power. Then one day, the ladies become more powerful than Darryl…

Practical Magic – The Owens women, witches by birth, suffer a curse. No man should ever fall in love with them or he is fated to die — young and way before his time.  When sisters Jill and Sally (played by Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock) both fall in love, fate takes its toll.  Can the curse be broken? While it is not really “scary” this movie is great fun and perfect for Halloween, when the Owens women fly off the roof!

The Witch: A New England Folk Tale – Journey back to 17th century New England for some spine tingling dealings with real witches and a goat named Black Phillip. A family of English settlers are banished from Plymouth Colony for being “too devout.” In other words, they out-Puritan the Puritans, and the community sends them away.

The family’s luck gets worse as crops spoil and their baby is kidnapped. To make matters worse, something strange is going on in the woods… This involves unction oils, naked witches, and signing of the book in blood. Plus Black Phillip is more than a mere goat…

Kudos to director Robert Eggers for keeping it Puritanical. Eggers went to great efforts to replicate the speech and costumes of the era. He also claimed he wanted to make his “childhood witch terrors” come to life.  I know people who are so scared of this movie, they will not watch it alone!

Interview With The Vampire – I have mentioned this gem before, but no Halloween would be complete without a visit to New Orleans with the infamous Lestat, and the innocent Louis, the vampire he created to keep him company. When Louis can no longer live with the existential crises of having to kill to stay undead, all hell breaks loose. Anne Rice’s masterpiece brought to the big screen.

The Salem Witch Trials – Originally filmed as a made for TV mini series, this six hour presentation is a must see. Most folks take Arthur Miller’s Crucible as fact – it was, however, heavily fabricated to meet Miller’s dramatic goals. This mini series offers a more historic (and scary!) view of the witch trials, with great performances by Kirstie Alley and Shirley Maclaine.

Doctor Faustus – Based on Christopher Marlowe’s play. Richard Burton stars as Faustus, the occult dabbling doctor who wonders if it would be possible to summon the Devil and strike a bargain with him – a soul in exchange for worldly goods. Yes. It is possible. The movie also stars Elizabeth Taylor (Burton’s then wife) as temptress Helen of Troy.

Although it is a bit campy and the acting is over the top, I still say,  Burton, Taylor and Marlowe — What’s not to love?

The Exorcist – Some folks think this is the scariest film ever made. Although it shows it’s age, there are still plenty terrors to be had in this story of Reagan, an innocent twelve year old who inexplicably finds herself possessed by the Devil. When all cures prove futile, an exorcist is called in. Not for the faint of heart, but if you have a strong stomach, it is a must see.

Hope that gives you some viewing ideas!

Have an Happy and Horrifying Halloween!

 

 

 

Friday the 13th, Harvest Full Moon and Notorious Events!

 

Happy Friday the 13th!

As some of you may know, today is no ordinary Friday the 13th. We are also blessed with a full moon, known as the Harvest Moon (so christened by Native Americans and coinciding with the September harvest.) The Harvest Moon is said to be so bright, farmers could actually go out at night and reap their summer harvests beneath it.

A full moon occurring on a Friday the 13th is a bit of a phenomenon in itself. We haven’t experienced this since October 13, 2000, and there will not be another one until August 13, 2049. So be sure to celebrate this rare occasion, harness this full moon power and perform whatever festivities you so choose.

September 13th is no ordinary day either. Some pretty rare and phenomenal events have happened on this day, and some significant characters share this birthday. For example:

On this day in 1224, Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have been affected with a stigmata. Forty year old Francesco went off to pray at the lonely mountain of Alvernia. He planned on undertaking a 40 day fast in order to prepare himself for the Feast of Archangel Michael, the most powerful of angels.  It was during this time that Francesco received the condition known as “stigmata” — the Sacred Wounds of Christ appearing in his hands, feet and side.

According to Catholicism.org “The wounds Jesus gave him stayed in his hands, feet and side, and continually bled for two more years.” When the bleeding finally ceased, Francsco died, at the age of 42.

Speaking of famous Italians, Cesare Borgia, Italian nobleman, politician and spy, was born September 13, 1475. Cesare was the bastard son of  Pope Alexander VI, child of the Pope’s long term mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei. (It was pretty common back then for popes to have children.)

Cesare grew up to be unscrupulous and terrifying in his quest for power. He was groomed by the Church and originally held a position as Cardinal of Valencia at the tender age of 18, but he abdicated to become a war strategist. He is said to have murdered his own brother Giovanni. The two men shared the same mistress, Sancha of Aragon. (Sancha was actually married to their other brother, Gioffre Borgia! You can’t make this stuff up!) It was rumored that Cesare may have been jealous Giovanni’s involvement with her, and also his military position.

Interestingly, Sancha, also known as the “Jezebel of Naples” was thought to be a witch. After being imprisoned in 1503 she somehow charmed her way out of an execution and went on to live a productive life as the guardian of her young nephew Rodrigo, son of Cesare’s sister Lucretzia.

Cesare was promoted in the military and given the title Duke of Valentinois, which led to his nickname “Valentino”. He ruthlessly commanded mercenaries and Papal armies, bloodthirsty and horrendous in his ambitions.  He was the  inspiration for Niccollo Macchiavelli’s novel The Prince, which has been a toolbox for power mongers ever since (including King Henry VIII!)

For his notorious spying activities, Cesare is often called James Bond of the 15th century.

Who doesn’t love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach and The Witches? The author of these children’s classics, Roald Dahl, also entered our world on this day, September 13, 1916. Born in Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegian parents, young Roald was educated at the Cathedral and Repton schools. He was no stranger to the barbaric practices of canings and hazings, often receiving punishments for his pranks, or subject to bullying by upperclassmen. After graduation, he worked for the Shell Petroleum Company, and during WWII served in the Royal Air Force.

Dahl’s books are known for their unsentimental outlook, use of the macabre, and their dark comedy. They often feature villainous adults and sweet underdog children who are victorious in the end. Perhaps they are a bit reminiscent of his caning and hazing days at Repton, where he was often the victim of cruelty.

Beware the Weird Sisters and their book of spells!

Speaking of chocolate factories, today is also the birthday of Milton Hershey, the chocolate tycoon and founder of the Hershey Company. Milton was born on September 13, 1945 in Derby Pennsylvania.

Gotta love Hershey!

And don’t forget the music! Also born on this day in New Orleans, 1953, was Larry Shields, an American jazz clarinetist. Larry was one of the players in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

So there you have it! Today is no ordinary Friday the 13th. Tonight would be a great time to do some moon gazing, eat some chocolate, listen to jazz and read a copy of The Witches.  Braver souls may want to channel the spirits of Cesare Borgia or Saint Francis. Whatever you do, have a safe, healthy and happy Friday the 13th.

 

Happy Fourth of July!

 

“In a chariot of light,

from the region of the day,

the Goddess of Liberty came.

She brought in her hand,

as a gift of her love,

the plant she named Liberty Tree.”

— Thomas Paine, American patriot and Founding Father of the United States

“Give me liberty,

or give me death.” — Thomas Paine

Have a  safe, happy, healthy and blessed Fourth of July! 🙂