St. Patrick wasn't Irish, he wore blue, not green and there were no snakes.
But there were vampires and leprechauns and witches. Oh my!
In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, I'm using my alphabet prompts to learn more about all things Irish. I'm only doing one or two topics per letter, even though I can think of many more for some.. Even so, be warned. This will be a long post. Happy St. Patrick's Day!
A - Abhartach - the Irish Vampire
Let's start with something light and fun! Ha!
A is for Abhartach, the Irish Vampire.
Even though Dracula, the character created by Bram Stoker, is most often associated with Transylvania, in reality he may have been based on an Irish king, Abhartach. He was said to be a dwarf and considered to be evil and feared by all who knew him.
He was a very jealous man and was suspicious of his wife, convinced that she was having an affair. While spying on her from a high castle window, he fell to his death. The entire kingdom was relieved.. They buried him upright, apparently the correct burial position for royalty, and enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep. One. Just one.
Because the next day, he rose from the dead, and demanded that all of his subjects slit their wrists and drain their blood into bowls. Well, you can imagine they were upset, so they traveled to the next village seeking help from another king, Cathan, who came, killed him and buried him once more.
You guessed it. Up he came, ready for yet another snack.
This continued until Cathan decided to seek help from a saint who explained there was no way to kill someone who was already dead!
His suggestion was to bury him upside down, cover him with thorns and ash branches, and top it off with a huge boulder. As far as we know it worked, and peace returned to the kingdom. He served as inspiration for Stoker's Dracula, and all lived happily ever after!
B - Banshee
A banshee is a terrifying, wispy, floating specter with a piercing scream who warns of a coming death in the family. First reports were in Ireland in the 8th century. This alarming figure, usually female, varies in age from a young maiden to an old woman. Some families were reported to have their very own banshee, possibly having been a family member who had passed. They were known for their keening, mournful singing and wailing, as they lamented the death of loved ones.
C - Children of Lir
,King Lir, Bobd Derg, was left with four motherless children, one daughter and three sons, when his wife Aoibh, the queen, unexpectedly passed away. The king decided to marry Aoife, his wife's sister,
St. Lucy's Day is currently most often associated with Sweden, one of the celebrations of light in the midst of winter's darkness. Little Christmas, or the Feats of Saint Lucy, is a favorite advent celebration. In the early morning, the Lucia Bride, usually the youngest daughter, is dressed in a long white gown with a myrtle or bilberry crown and lighted candles. She awakens the family, often bringing coffee and tea, and braided Lucia twists, flavored with saffron and cardamon. After the family is served, she visits the barns, taking food to the animals.
In addition to the home celebration, the young girls attend services at the church dressed in their lighted crowns. St. Lucy represents the promise of the light in the darkness and the sun's return.
Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the blind and those with visual challenges. Lucy was born in Syracuse, Sicily in the 3rd century. She was born to wealthy Christian parents and at an early age she secretly vowed to remain a virgin and serve God by helping others.
Her father died when she was young. When she came of age, her mother arranged her marriage to a pagan but Lucy rejected him. It was the time of the Diocletian persecutions and when her suitor denounced her as a Christian, she seemed destined to death by burning or life in the brothels. Her fate was to be martyred by a sword through her throat.
In another story she escapes the marriage by tearing her eyes out in frightful desperation. She is often depicted carrying her eyes on a tray.
Miraculously, her sight was restored and she was able to serve God and mankind as she has intended. She is celebrated for giving sight to the blind, food to the hungry, and light to the darkness. The name Lucy comes from the root word Lux, meaning light.
Herbs associated with St. Lucy's Day
Saffron Myrtle Dill Goldenrod Bilberry
St. Lucia's Saffron Braided Bread
I teaspoon saffron, soaked in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes. Let cool
2 packages dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
4 T softened butter
3 T sugar
1 teaspoon salt
I cup slivered almonds
1 cup dried bilberries (blueberries) or raisins
5 to 6 cups unbleached flour
1. Prepare saffron.
2. Dissolve yeast in water.
3. Mix the butter with eggs, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
4. Add milk to butter and eggs.
5. Add almonds and dried fruit
6. Stir in saffron mixture.
7. Add flour gradually and stir with wooden spoon until it is is smooth and forms a ball.
8. Place on floured board or counter and knead until smooth - about 5 minutes.
9.Put into a greased bowl, turn it over and cover with a towel in a warm place until double, about an hour and a half.
10. Punch down dough, divide into 3 sections. Braid and form into a circle shape.
11. Place on cookie sheet and let rise until double - about 30 minutes.
12. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
13. Bake about 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
14. Remove from oven, cool and ice.
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Combine and gradually add water until it is the consistency of icing.
Drizzle on to bread.
Decorate with slivered toasted almonds and/or dried fruit if desired.
Top with candles
St. Nicholas was born in the 4th Century in Lycia, Asia Minor to very wealthy parents. Even as a child he was very religious. He was very young when he became a priest and he went on to become a bishop. Sadly, his parents died shortly after he was ordained. He inherited a great fortune, and he shared it generously with people in need. His giving was from the heart - he was not interested in credit or compensation. He often gave unanimously. He was dedicated to common people and emperors alike.
St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, laborers, merchants, pawn brokers, and particularly sailors and those who work near water.
There are many stories describing his generosity. A nobleman who had lost his fortune was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters so planned to sell them into slavery. St. Nicholas galloped by their castle in the dark of night and threw a bag of gold in the window. He did this three nights in a row, providing each daughter with a dowry. Eventually, it was discovered that he had been the generous benefactor. His fame as a gift giver spread through out many lands and he has been credited with the concepts of Father Christmas and Santa Claus.
The three bags of gold represent the three golden balls found on the signage outside pawn broker's shops.
In another more gruesome story, he saved three babies, often pictured beside him. During a famine, an inn keeper had no meat to feed his customers so he cut up three children and tossed them into a brine filled pickling tub. Thankfully, St. Nicholas walked in just in time to bless the boys and bring them back to life!
During that same famine, he convinced sailors on a ship filled with grain to unload some of their cargo to feed those who were starving. They were initially reluctant since the grain had been weighed and they wanted to deliver the entire shipment. He assured them that the cargo would weigh exactly the same amount when it was delivered. It did.
As you celebrate St. Nicholas Day, give a gift from the heart. It doesn't need to be expensive. It could be a kind word, a quote that would make someone feel valued, a thank you. Or is could be a poem, or a recipe! Here's my gift to you!
Golden Bishop's Tea
4 cups black or green tea
4 cups apricot nectar
Serve hot with a honey if desired and a sprig of rosemary
and a sprinkling of nutmeg
Optional: 1 Tablespoon apricot brandy per cup
Golden Apricots, Tansy and Wheat
As you celebrate St. Nicholas Day, think gold! Decorate with golden wheat and tansy! Serve apricot or orange nut bread with Golden Bishop's Tea. Create your own golden delights!
The Feast of Saint Barbara
December 4th is the day we honor St. Barbara. Barbara was born in Nikomedia, now Turkey, in the third century. She was the daughter of Dioscuros, a very wealthy pagan who imprisoned her in a tower to keep her isolated and protected from the evils of the world.
She secretly became a Christian, baptized by a priest disguised as a physician. The tower had only two windows, but while her father was away on a journey, she had a third window added to represent the Holy Trinity.
When Dioscuros returned, he asked her about the third window and she told him that she had become a Christian and would no longer practice pagan rituals. The authorities ordered her execution. She escaped from the tower but was caught, tortured and then killed by her own father. Her father was immediately struck to death by lightning.
Barbara protects against fire, storms, lightning, sudden death and is the patron saint of stone masons, firemen, artillerymen, and those working with fireworks.
Herbs Associated with Saint Barbara's Day
Barbara kept cherry branches in the tower and on the day she died, they burst into bloom. December 4th is the day to bring a cherry branch inside and begin the process of forcing the blooms.
Maria von Trapp of the Trapp Family Singers from the Sound of Music wrote in "Around the Year with the Trapp Family" (Pantheon Books, 1955) that the Austrian legend states that if a person's branch blossoms on Christmas Day, he or she will be married in the following year.
Wheat and Roses
Wheat and roses are both beautiful additions to the Feast of Saint Barbara for decorations and for your meal. Freshly baked bread with rose petal jelly is sublime!
Prepare Your Seeds
The first step in preparing the pumpkin seeds is to cut open your pumpkin! If you can find a peanut pumpkin,I think you'll be delighted! I was! They look like they are covered with peanuts and are a little sweeter than most pumpkins. And baking your own pumpkin, instead of using canned, is always worth the effort. What a difference!
Directions for baking the pumpkin are in an earlier post.
Oil and Season
Add one or two tablespoons of olive oil to thoroughly coat.
The final amount will depend on the size of your pumpkin and the amount of seeds.
(about 1 teas. oil per 1/2 cup of seeds)
Add 1 teaspoon pink Himalayan sea salt and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
(inspired by Kevin Lee Jacobs - a favorite!)
Bake and Serve
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread on a cookie sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool and serve warm!
VARIATION - If a friend shows up and she's in a rush to get to class and you want to share but they aren't quite done, you can turn the heat up to 450 degrees. Watch closely so they won't burn, stir to coat evenly and remove to a foil packet with a vent. Send her out the door!
This is on of many options. You'll find a lot of recipes for savory, as well as sweet, roasted pumpkin seeds! If you come up with your own variation, add it in the comments below! Enjoy!
Aconite - Aconitum napellus
© Mikell Y. Worley, Aconite, Watercolor sketch, 3' x 5"
Folk names for aconite - blue rocket devil's helmet, leopard's mane,
monkshood, mousebane, wolf's bane, woman's bane,
A thirty-three year old gardener, Nathan Greenaway, died of multiple organ failures after touching monkshood. If that doesn't convince you to keep your distance, there is no hope.
Wolf's bane is a member of the Ranunculus family, as is the seemingly innocent buttercup. But beware. All members of this family, over 500 varieties, are poisonous.
Aconite, from the Greek work akon, meaning dart or javelin, was used on the tips of arrows to kill wolves. Legend states that the arrows never missed their mark and death from the plant's poison was immediate. I can't help but wonder who gathered and prepared the arrows, as all parts of the plant are extremely poisonous even to the the touch.
Monkshood remind me of delphiniums - same family - and both are grown in gardens as ornamental flowers. You won't find them in mine. The story of the gardener is more than enough to deter me. The original headline was that he had merely brushed past the plant and the result was death, The reputation for the herb's toxicity is enough to convince me to keep my distance.
Atropa belladona (Poison)
Solanum dulcamara (Poison)
open their lids
for their lovers;
Maenads fall upon men
dripping with dreams;
& children die
from the sweetest
of inky fruits.
wine of the Bacchanals,
you are indeed the witch’s berry,
I look into your open eye & see
women in love with death,
dying with the widest
& brightest of eyes.
Have you no shame at all
The other herbs
pretend to be angelic,
but you freely play
the Devil’s part.
Dwaleberry, Sorcerer’s cherry,
your sweetness bursts
on the tongue,
the lungs relax,
& death comes
Jimsonweed - Dratura Strimonium
Today's herb is Jimsonweed, also called devil's trumpet, Hell's bells, thorn apple and moon flower, from the genus Datura. It belongs to the Solanacease (nightshade) family. Its toxic ingredients include tropane alkaloids, including atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine, and it is particularly dangerous because the amount needed for a high is nearly the same as the lethal over dose which greatly increases the chance of accidental fatal overdose.
There are times I simply must pause when I do herbal research. These are the kinds of things that have guided me to avoid deadly herbs for so long. I've been sharing information on haunting herbs for years and it has all been in fun, using only herbs found in the gardens of the white witches. But there can be a dark and serious side to herbal use. The lists of illness and most often death associated with this herb are readily available on the internet so I won't list them here.
That being said, I have been in awe of the gorgeous Jimsonweed for years and would not be anymore inclined to eat it than I would poison ivy. I can enjoy it at a distance and as with all the deadly herbs, I strongly advise you look but don't touch!
Bliss, M. (2001), Datura Plant Poisoning, Clinical Toxicology Review
~ Erica Jong
of the poisonous flowers--
even your smallest buds
are said to cause
madness, sleep & death,
but your spiny ″apples,″
prickly & stiff as porcupines,
are the real villains,
& were much beloved
by Kali’s worshipers,
(O kill, kill
in a goddess’ name!)
for arrow tips
& sacrificial victims’ hearts--
you were also used
in love philters!
The cynic laughs,
knowing that love
is the first poison--
that takes the soul,
& all the organs
(O kill, kill
in a goddess’ name!)
Venus, Kali, the Great Mother
the God of the Witches--
what does it matter?
Love potion or poison,
it is the same drink
that brings oblivion
in the end.
Love-will, Sorcerer’s herb,
you were used by brothel keepers
to seduce the innocent,
& witches brewed you
for their flying ointments.
The soldiers of Jamestown
made merry with your juice.
It was a new country
but the herbs were old.
The poisons link us
the poisons & the love philters.
Down through the Ages
we are joined by vines;
we wear garlands
of poisonous berries
Green as innocence,
green as love of death,
we bud, we flower, we fall--
& ancient herbs
out of our blind
Mandragora - Mandragora officinarum
© Mikell Y Worley, Mandrake, Watercolor and Pen and Ink, 5" x 7'
This year I'm featuring the Deadly Herbs of Halloween. We'll begin with Mandrake, the root of Mandragora. Legend states that the plant sprung from the dripping blood and semen of men who were hanged at the gallows.
Mandrake, translated as the dragon resembling man, (Atropa mandragora, Mandragora officinale) is one of the most powerful of the Halloween Herbs. The root, said to resemble the form of a human body, can grow to a length of three or four feet. It is most often associated with males (Man-drake, Mandragan, Mandragor, Mannkin), but other names include a feminine reference (Ladykins and Womandrake). And there are other folk names including Brain Thief, Wild Lemon, and Raccoon Berry. Do you see why I love herbs?
Another name is Herb of Circe, as it is thought to be the herb used in the brew made by the sorceress Circe (Kirke) to turn Odysseus's trespassing men into swine. And there is more than one herb of Circe. More on that later.
If that weren't enough, there are additional benefits! It can protect your home and assure affluence and abundance. Silver coins placed next to this handy root will double in amount over night. Even those of us who aren't known for our mathematical expertise can see the benefit!
Mandrake can be used to attract love if you hang the root on the headboard of your bed. Keep in mind, this is a three to four foot long hairy root that looks something like a person. I'm just wondering how I'd react if I woke up in the middle of the night and . . . .oh, never mind. Once true love is guaranteed it will ensure fertility and the scent ensures a peaceful night's sleep - at least until the baby arrives!
But there is a problem. Mandrake roots are rare and expensive, and, well they should be, considering the challenges involved with obtaining one. To ensure that the magic is intact, there are certain procedures that must be followed. You don't just go out with a shovel to your nearest mandrake patch and start digging.The root must be obtained on a moonless night, ideally yanked out just at the stroke of midnight.
There is another problem. The mandrake does not want to be removed from the ground. It shrieks in protest. The shrill screams seem to have a derogatory effect on all that hear them and drive them to insanity, so as you can imagine, people aren't lining up to be harvesters of the mandrake root.
There is a solution but Zippy, my Puggle, and I don't like it. "The safest way to secure a mandrake was to tie a dog to the plant on a moonless night. Plugging one's ears with beeswax and blowing a horn to drown out the shrieks, the dog was whipped at the stroke of midnight and the jumping animal pulled the screeching root from the ground and died."
Died. A dog, at least one or we know they wouldn't have given this example, died so that someone could tie a hairy root to their bedpost.
One more thing to keep in mind when considering the use of mandrake is that is is poisonous. It is a member of the Solanaceae family and the berries and roots contain anticholinergic alkaloids such as hyoscyamine and scopolamine.
There is good news though! If you're looking for a substitute for your spell this Halloween, you can use the root of an ash, which might be even more difficult to dig up than the Mandrake. It is a tree, after all. The root of betony or may apples have also proved to be worthy alternatives. For an even more easily obtainable solution, apples are said to work just as well. I hope you have read this far before running out to dig up a mandrake root. You may even have an apple readily available in your 'fridge!
In addition to it's many attributes, Mandrake inspired poetry from the hauntingly talented Erica Jong. Enjoy. I'm on my way to tie an apple to my bedpost.
Lehner, Ernst and Johanna (1960), Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees, Tudor Publishing Company
Stories from my grandmother
~ Erica Jong
little man dancing
with your great tap root,
small song-&-dance man
cloven-hoofed as the Devil--
no wonder you make such noise!
putting out fine root hairs…
Pythagoras & Theophrastus
sang your praises--
blessed you as aphrodisiac
blasted your resemblance
Like man you are tricky, devious,
like man you curse & bless.
Like man you are a poisoner
& a love-bringer;
like man you take
what you can.
bringer of fruitfulness & potency,
lamp in the darkness,
killer of starving dogs,
shrieker, gallowsman, dragon-doll--
you were once thought beneficent
in Biblical times,
but gradually the Devil claimed you.
You grew at the foot
of the gallows,
lapping up dead men’s sperm,
giving birth only to death.
& yet we all give birth
to only death,
& your other attributes--
O bringer of treasure, sensuality, love,
success in battle--
also lead to death.
So dance little Mandrake
in your doubleness.
Rejoice at the gallows’ foot.
You are indeed a dress rehearsal for man,
& we shall join you underground
© Erica Jong, Witches (1981)
Jong, Erica, (1997) Witches, Abradale Press
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
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Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!