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!
Jimsonweed - Dratura Strimonium
© Mikell Y. Worley, Jimsonweed, Watercolor, 5" x 7"
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
"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."
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!