Rusalka and the Titanic

 

I boarded the ship at Southampton, on England’s southern coast, a city they called Gateway to the World.  It was appropriately named. New worlds would indeed open to those that dared sail on the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

Southampton was seafaring town of busy docks, commerce and fishermen who, given half the chance may have recognized me for what I was. Yet I went ably and quietly about my business, our custom being to operate in stealth. My disguise was well put together, a simple blue dress, lace up boots and one bag of luggage that contained only my combs, mirrors, candles and an ancient grimoire. For all the crew and passengers knew, I could have been any normal woman, a widow perhaps, traveling alone with a full purse and a certain destination.

My nature necessitated a room in first class, where I could have daily baths in the salt water swimming pool. The engineers had designed it to provide diversion for wealthy passengers with plenty of leisure time. Little did they know it was my mainstay of survival. Without it I could never have attempted my feat.

I socialized moderately, took dinner with new acquaintances, but left my comments to such mundane topics as the weather and other non-committal matters.  This was my strategy, to avoid drawing attention to myself. Until of course, the very last.

The captain, one Edward John Smith of the Royal Naval Reserve, was a stately man, well-seasoned and of good capabilities.

When I inquired of the ship’s dimensions, her tonnage and resistance, Captain Smith looked at me funny. He must have thought it strange, a woman interested in such things. Still it was important I establish this knowledge. Else all my plans could go afoul.

We traveled for four days, stopping at Cherbourg Harbor in France and Queenstown in Ireland where more passengers boarded. They were a grand sight; well-heeled women in dresses of silk and gabardine, with enormous steamer trunks that held entire wardrobes. Scruffy emigrants in fisher caps and babuskas, with only hobo sacks of clothes. Excitedly they took their bunks in steerage. No matter that the class was third, for this was an ocean voyage. Poor innocents, all of them! They had no idea of their fate. Yet they sought new lands and opportunity. Those were things I could well provide.

On the night it happened the ship rounded the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The moon was new, providing no extra light to the blackened sky. I had planned it as such, the first new moon after the spring equinox, when my powers of sorcery were at their ripest.

Just before midnight I slid from my bed. I combed my hair carefully, leaving it loose over my shoulders, but untangled. I took one large hand-held mirror with trimmed decorations of pearl and abalone. I also took three candles and my book of spells.  Naked and in bare feet I tiptoed across the deserted deck. Facing starboard, I lit the candles, then dangled my mirror toward the rushing ocean below me. I recited these words:

“Raise me an iceberg, unbreakable and dense, 

Black as this night, an invisible fence!

Raise me an iceberg, impenetrable and true

Black as this night, unseen by the crew.

Raise me an iceberg, grown from the sea

Black as this night, to set them all free!”

I then shattered the mirror and flung it overboard, crystalline shards drifting in the wind and falling like glittering stars to the churning water.

It was done.

Black icebergs are a rare phenomenon that neither the captain nor crew were familiar with. When my mountain arose from the water none could see it at first.

By the time the watchful lookout man spotted the iceberg, it was too late. The great Titanic hit the dense rock, damaging her hull. The sea began to seep in. Soon all five of the ship’s watertight compartments were flooded. This meant certain disaster.

Or did it?

I was elated. As the water rose I could contain myself no longer. Rushing below deck, I shifted to my mermaid’s body. I swam through the hallways, through the ever-rising tide of the elegant and soon to be flooded rooms.

The passengers, already in a state of shock, saw me and turned a whiter shade of pale. They were helpless.  I tried to talk to them, to reassure them that all would be well. But they were so frenzied, in such throes of panic, they could not hear my words. One shipmate grabbed a pistol and attempted to shoot me, bludgeoning a bloody hole through my tail. However, the sea’s salt water, now slowly immersing every floor, quickly healed me. As a Rusalka, I was immortal.

I finally perched myself upon the rail of the deck, curling my tail beneath me. In amusement I watched. Crew and passengers scurried about, securing lifeboats. There would never be enough. The captain, in his foolishness of believing the Titanic was unsinkable, had only equipped her with half of what was necessary. This was all the better!

“Women and children first,” called the first mate. I smiled. Yes, they would save the women and children first, as was human protocol.

From flooding corridors and slippery decks the men ran. Handsome, swarthy sailors, savvy men of business, emigrants in rags. All unsuspecting. All clueless.

Finally the ship cracked in two, her bow submerged, her back end rising upright like a serpent in the water. The remaining passengers slid to their death.

I balanced on my tail, stretched my arms before me and called out in my voice, loud as any canon: “Undines! Rusalki! Sirenas! Come forth!” I then dove off the rails.

Down, down I plunged into the ocean’s depths. There, rising on the crests of waves, my Mer-sisters emerged.

“Make your choices ladies,” I shouted. “This cargo is ripe for the picking!”  It was a welcome gift.  We had heretofore been sadly lacking in male companionship.

I grabbed a young sailor, his skin gone translucent blue, his eyes open in the cold stare of the dead. I pulled him to my breast, kissed him boldly on the mouth. His eyes then flickered in a strange and frightened recognition. He was the one who had attempted to shoot me with a pistol. Blood rushed to his cheeks.

“I should not forgive you,” I chided. Yet he was handsome and able, and in that instant I determined to make him mine.

My Mer-sisters followed suit, awakening the sea’s dead with kisses of life. One by one, the drowned became conscious, still in shock, but alive.

“Take heart, gentleman,” I said.  “Although you will never return to your earthly homes, you will now have refuge in our sea, in the abode of the Rusalki. As time passes you will come to love us and the ocean shall provide you with grand adventure.”

The men were new in their surroundings, but, being sailors, most had immense love of the water. At the very least they were grateful for their renewed life.  I was confident they would be happy. And if not? Well — I had more mirrors and candles and more spells to cast,  didn’t I? Not the least of which might bring love.

My mission was complete.

 

** HISTORICAL NOTE: On this day, April 15, 1912, the real RMS Titanic, headed on her maiden voyage to New York City, sank off the coast of Newfoundland. She had hit a “black” iceberg which caused irreparable damage to her hull.

The massive ship was 882 feet long with a breadth of 92 feet. Her total height, measured from keel to bridge, was 104 feet.  She weighed 46,328 tons. Among her more novel features, available only to first-class passengers, was a 7 ft. deep saltwater swimming pool, a gymnasium, a squash court, and a Turkish bath.

Because of her gargantuan size, the Titanic was considered virtually unsinkable.

Whether out of carelessness or limited storage capacity, the ship only held enough lifeboats to carry about half the passengers. These were quickly depleted.

On the night the Titanic sank, conditions were calm, clear, dark and cold. The black sky held a new moon, the ocean lit only by the stars. The “invisible” iceberg, a rare phenomenon, seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Approximately 1500 passengers lost their lives. Due to the “women and children first” rule, most of the deceased were men.

 

 

 

 

 

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Witchy Wednesday: The Owens Sisters

 

The women of the Owens family are under a curse. A terrible, inescapable curse of the worst possible kind. It goes as follows: Any man who falls in love with one of them will, through some unexpected accident or unforeseen circumstance, end up dead.

The curse began some 300 years ago in colonial Massachusetts when ancestor Maria Owens was condemned to death for witchcraft. She was put to the hangman’s noose but escaped through magic. Maria was then banished to a small island off the coast. She was pregnant,  and although her lover had promised to come for her, he never showed up. Maria vowed to never again deal with the messy heartbreak of love. That vow, it its weird twisted way, turned into a curse against all men who dared love an Owens woman.

Now, sisters Sally and Gillian had better watch out!  Of course, as luck would have it, both of them are going to fall in love. More than once.

Practical Magic, adapted from Alice Hoffman’s 1995 novel of the same name, is one of my favorite witch movies!  It stars Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as the two sisters, who are orphaned after their parents die of curses and broken hearts. The girls are sent to live with their Aunts in the sleepy Massachusetts town where prejudice against witches still runs rampant.

Stockard Channing and Diane Weist are their wild and wacky aunts who eat chocolate cake for breakfast, cast love spells for the neighbors and dance naked in the moonlight.

As Sally and Gillian come of age in their Aunts’ glorious seaside mansion, they start to realize the true nature of their powers. Neither girl cares to practice magic.

Subdued, bookish Sally (Sandra Bullock) is the more gifted of the two, though she rarely casts a spell.  Wild child Gillian (Nicole Kidman) cares more for boys than witchery, and even runs away from her Aunts’ home to increase her opportunities with men.

The sisters are separated for a time, but, connected by blood and a psychic bond, they are never far apart.  Gillian gets involved with an abusive man named Jimmy Angelov.

One night, Sally gets a premonition that Gillian is in real trouble and immediately flies across the country to rescue her. She finds Gillian held hostage, but the forceful  Jimmy kidnaps both sisters.  An accidental overdose of belladonna, administered by Sally, sends Jimmy Angelov to sleep with the angels. Or in his case, the demons…   The sisters then find themselves in a tight spot; they are inadvertent murderers.

What to do?

Rather than let Jimmy stay dead, they decide to try their hand at necromancy.  The Aunts warn against it, believing he may come back as something “dark and unnatural”.  Gillian assures them that he always WAS something  “dark and unnatural”.  What have they got to lose?  But will the spell work?

To make matters worse, when Jimmy is reported as a missing person, detective Gary Hallet (played by Aidan Quinn) comes investigating.

The detective may have a hard time arresting Sally when he realizes he is falling in love with her.

Practical Magic, released in 1998, is a fun, sometimes spooky, romantic comedy.  The movie recently made news headlines when co stars Bullock and Kidman showed up as presenters at this year’s Academy Awards. As the women reunited, Practical Magic fans conjured up the notion of them doing a sequel to the movie.

Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock Oscars 2018

Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen, but one thing is certain; there will never be a shortage of fans hoping for it.

Throughout the movie, we find a number of spells and occult references. Here are some fun witchy facts:

It Runs in the Family

Sally and Gillian are descendants of Maria Owens who cast spells, broke hearts, and escaped the noose through magic. In reality, very few modern day witches can claim this kind of bloodline. Most witches are self made, through their own discipline and study of the Craft. There are, however, several families in  the Salem area who claim blood relations to those who were arrested for witchcraft in the 1692 witch hunts.

Bella Donna, the Beautiful Lady

Atropo Belladonna is a poisonous plant. It has been used as a sedative and antispasmotic.  Large doses can be deadly.  In medieval Italy, young women put drops extracted from the plant into their eyes. This dilated their pupils, creating an effect that was considered to be beautiful – hence the name Belladonna, which in Italian means “beautiful woman”.

Yeah. Because nothing says sexy like the pie eyed opiate induced dummy stare 🙂

J.R.R. Tolkien fans might remember the character Belladonna Took Baggins. She was the wife of Bungo Baggins, lady of Bag End, and mother of the original ring bearing hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

Blood Drinking Optional

The character Jimmy Angelov, played by Goran Visnjic, was supposed to be from Transylvania. We are not sure if he was an actual vampire, but his Romanian roots certainly lent an air of darkness and danger to him. In real life, Goran Visnjic is from Croatia. Close enough.

In the 1998 movie, a ten year old Evan Rachel Wood played Sally’s daughter Kylie.  Kylie took after her Aunt Gillian in both looks and temperament. We might wonder how she’d grow up…

Since then, Wood took on a bunch of noteworthy roles, including a vampire in True Blood.

Herbal Medicine

When a frightened Gillian returns home with a bruised face after Jimmy has assaulted her, Aunt Frances, in typical witch fashion, suggests applying mugwort.  In Medieval Europe, mugwort was believed to be a magical herb that would protect against evil spirits, diseases and misfortunes.

Don’t Know Your Past You Won’t Know Your Future

While fans may be clamoring for a sequel after seeing Sandra and Nicole on the red carpet, author Alice Hoffman has actually written a prequel. This book, called The Rules of Magic, tells the story of the Aunts, Frances and Jet, when they lived as teenage witches in 1960’s New York City.  Read more here.

And finally, no review of Practical Magic would be complete without a visit to Midnight Margaritas! Watch as the Aunts stir up a powerful brew.  Grab some limes and enjoy the show 🙂

 

 

 

 

Autumn Equinox and the Goddess

 

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Today we see an equality of day and night, yet soon the darkness will overtake us.

The earth tilts. Persephone descends to the underworld once again, leaving dead crops and barren fields. This is the time of the dark goddess. Call her Morrigan, Hekate, Hel, Mab, Cerridwen, Lilith.  She rules all things subconscious.  She is neither mother nor maiden.  She is the mighty huntress, the warrior, the crone, the sibyl, the healer, the high priestess.  Her wisdom is deep. She invites us to go  within, explore shadows, face personal darkness as the long nights scare and tempt us.

“Black were her eyes as the berry that grows on the thorn by the wayside,
Black, yet how softly they gleamed beneath the brown shade of her tresses!
Sweet was her breath as the breath of kine that feed in the meadows. When she had passed, it seemed like the ceasing of exquisite music.”

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

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Autumn’s equinox is the perfect time to begin ritual with the dark goddess.  You may find her in the stillness of the forest, in the fading summer twilight or in the harvest moon.  She is mysterious, unpredictable. She bids, she beckons, but most of all she haunts. This is the season of death, and in all death lies transformation. For those who dare to explore the dark side, magnanimous gifts await. The dark goddess helps us break through fears, anxieties, phobias.

Breathe deep. Take in the essence of autumn — ripe fruits, acorns, crackling fires, candlelight.  Meet the Morrigan on a raven’s wing or journey with Persephone across the River Styx. Energy is transformed in the scarlet  hues of falling leaves as they crumble and return to the earth.  Energy is transformed in the foods we eat at harvest. Our bodies regenerate in the long winter’s sleep. Meditate with the goddess and allow her to help transform negative energy for positive purposes. Our doubts and fears can become confidence and strength.

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Relish the golden days of autumn.

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.”

— William Shakespeare

Have a Blessed Autumn Equinox!

 

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