Thursday, November 12, 2015

Feeding feathered (and furry!) friends ♥

Winter is coming (the Old Farmer's Almanac said so!), and so is Thanksgiving. Share your bounty and do some recycling with this simple project. Here’s what you’ll need: 

  • Dried cranberries 
  • Can of mixed nuts (unsalted if possible, or the salt must be rinsed off) 
  • Dried sunflower seeds 
  • Chunky peanut butter 
  • Cardboard (recycle a cereal or snack box) 
  • Scissors 
  • Colored String, cut into 7 or 9” lengths (bright colors attract birds!) 
  • Square paper 

Fold the paper in half diagonally four times to form a triangle. Cut holes on the sides to form a paper snowflake. Keep the design simple.
Trace paper snowflake on the cardboard...
...and cut it out.
Punch a hole and thread a string through. 
Knot the ends together to form a loop for hanging.
Mix the cranberries, nuts, and seeds and spread them out on a sheet of waxed paper.
Smear a good coating of peanut butter on BOTH sides of the snowflake.
Then press them into the mix. Make sure all the peanut butter is covered.
Hang your snowflakes where birds can get to them (the squirrels will find them too!).

Bon appetite feathered (and furry) friends!

by Charlotte Bennardo

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Hag schools the inquisitive witch...

For Samhain I was sent on assignment to interview...The Hag! 

Kinda scary, huh? Well, I volunteered to do these interviews so I guess it's all in a day's--or night's--work for this inquisitive Witch. I patted my pocket to be sure I had my trusty notebook and pen, put on my traveling boots and grabbed my favorite black hoodie, the one with the skulls and roses down the front (sure to impress the Hag!) and off I went. 

Over the past several years, I have made friends with the Hag, or at least gotten to know her better--it happens to us when we get older--so I had a pretty good idea of where she might be found. I hiked up the hill towards the graveyard. A cold wind suddenly chilled me and I put my hood up. A flurry of dry leaves swirled around my feet. I needed to gather some courage; sometimes the Hag can be fearsome and wicked. Along the fence of the graveyard, clusters of nightshade berries sparkled like dark beads strung on the dying vines. I stopped to admire them and to take a few deep breaths before I went on. 

"Mine! Don't touch!" 

The raspy voice nearly made me jump out of my skin. I turned around and found myself face to face with what I thought at first was an old Halloween mask. It looked so funny, I almost burst out laughing. Green face, wart on the nose, another one on the chin (with a single whisker growing out of it) stringy black hair, snaggly fangs, and to top it all off a black pointed hat, slightly crinkled. 

She cackled and pointed a bony, crooked green finger at me, while she croaked, "Yes, all mine! The poison berries!" 

"Yours?" I repeated, trying not to giggle. Was this a joke? It looked like a bad Halloween costume. This year Michael Jackson costumes and zombies are in, or so I've been told. Isn't it a little old-school to dress up as a witch? Then it dawned on me. I stood up straight and looked her in the eyes. "You're not--" 

"I am," she said before I finished asking. Her long black cape billowed in another cold gust of wind. I shivered as I thought maybe this wasn't a joke after all.

"And I have some questions for YOU," she added, tapping me with one of her claws. 

"But... but... I'm the one who's supposed to ask the questions!" I blurted out. 

She shushed me. "Don't talk back! Respect your Elders. Now, first of all, what's my name?" 

I stuttered through all the names I knew that belonged to the Hag. "Banshee? Cailleach? Old Woman? Hel? Nightmare? Black Annie? Grandmother Winter? Crone?" 

The Hag nodded and showed all three of her crusty teeth. "Keep going." 

"Darkness? Nightshade? Midnight? Frost?" I guessed, and finally whispered, "Death?" 

She frowned and shrugged. "Those are some of my names, yes. Does my disguise frighten you?" 

"Disguise? It's a disguise? To be quite honest, I didn't expect you to look like this," I admitted. 

The Hag was amused. "This is how most people think of me," she chuckled. "I suppose they have to make a joke out of what scares them the most. So you think you know what I really look like?" 

I stepped back. For a minute, I thought she was going to take off the mask and show me her true form. Instead, she just waited for me to answer. Carefully, I said, "Well, I always thought you would look like a very, very old woman and not at all beautiful. You would look like the ugliest gray day of winter. Or a pile of bones. Your face would look like an ancient stone, all craggy and mysterious. Your hands would be colder than ice and your skin as wrinkled as a thousand year old mummy." 

Her laugh was an owl-hoot. "Why do you think that?" 

"The poison berries are yours," I remind her. "Everything about you is dark and shadowy." 

This made her smile. "Trust my darkness! In darkness, everything rests," the Hag told me. "The trees and animals hibernate. Seeds sleep deep in the earth. Without the dark, there'd be no bright. Without the night, you'd know no light. Think about that!" 

And I did. Silence wrapped around us like a cloak. I looked down at my notebook and realized I was looking at a blank page, but it was too late to ask any questions now. The Hag had vanished without a sound, leaving me with her mysterious words of wisdom, and my interview that had been turned upside-down, topsy-turvy. She had asked all the questions and somehow gave me answers too. I'd been tricked! It was a good trick, though, because before the Hag vanished, her mask slipped a little and I caught a glimpse of the beautiful face of Lady Springtime hiding underneath. 

Sweet dreams and happy Samhain!

by Gillian Green

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pagan Parable ~ Jaqual

“If I work in the fields with you, will you feed me?” asked the stranger. His skin was wrinkled from long days in the sun, and his hair, white with years, billowed around his shoulders in the brisk morning breeze.

“We will share what we have, friend,” replied the farmer. “Come help us.”

So the stranger and the farmer and the villagers, young and old, worked gathering the crops. It was harvest time, and the fields, trees, and hives were bursting with vegetables, nuts, berries, fruits and honey to be collected and stored for the winter.

After their midday meal, they loaded a cart with fat, ripe pumpkins. The stranger lifted a perfect one out from the pile.

“This is the finest pumpkin I have ever seen,” he mused. The villagers gathered close.

“It’s my field, I should keep it,” said the farmer.

“We gathered the pumpkins, I say we cut it up into even pieces!” shouted one woman.

“No, I loaded it onto the cart, I should get it!” argued a young man.

“I can make delicious pies!” said a mother with three children holding tightly to her skirts.

So much arguing, thought the stranger, and over one pumpkin! But it was a splendid one, perfectly round, evenly colored, and smooth skinned. And everyone wanted it. They argued and fought till the stranger could take no more. He seemed to grow when he stood tall, and the people hushed.

“For sharing your harvest with me, I will give you a gift.” Whispering soft words over the pumpkin, it floated up, up, up onto the back of a wagon. With a gust of wind and a swirl of dust, its smooth skin transformed into the face of a woman. She had eyes of morning glory blue and a mouth shaped for kind words. Her ginger skin was like a polished copper pot. The villagers gasped.

“There are two rules," said the stranger. "At sunset you can ask Jacqual one question, and everyone must agree on that question.” He looked at them sternly. “If you fight, I will know.” He bowed low and with a rush of fog and wind, disappeared.

As the golden rays of the setting sun touched the pumpkin, she breathed with life. She stared at them, smiling.

“I am Jacqual. You may ask me one question, and only one! Be swift! My life fades with the sun.” They whispered among themselves. At last, a wrinkled woman, leathered from sun and stooped with age, stepped forward.

“Jacqual, may we have some of your magic to make sure our crops grow?”

She closed her eyes. “You have the magic of rich soil, warm summers and many friends to gather the harvest.” The villagers murmured in agreement.

A little boy, with a dirty face, blurted out, “Will we see you again?” The crowd mumbled fearfully. He broke the rule! Would Jacqual be angry? Would the stranger return and bring bad luck to them?

Jacqual turned her blue eyes and sweet smile on the boy. “Plant my seeds and when my children grow, face them towards the sunset on this same night. One day, the magic will return."

The sun fell behind the faraway mountains, but its rays filled up Jacqual. All through the night, her face glowed and the people admired her.

From that time on, children gathered pumpkins, which they called Jacqual lanterns, carved faces on them, and set a candle inside, put them on their porches and in their windows, facing the sunset while they waited for the magic to return.

Don’t forget to ask your Jacqual lantern one question, and only one!

by Charlotte Bennardo 
Art by Leeza Hernandez

Friday, October 16, 2015

...from the Pen of the Puca

Most of you have heard the term. You and your siblings, or your friends, have just gotten up a rousing game of indoor tag. As you go careening around the corner, screaming with the thrill of the chase, your mother's voice rings from the kitchen, “Stop running around shrieking like a bunch of banshees!”

OK. You get it. She wants you to stop. But banshees? Shrieking banshees? From what dark recesses of your mother's mind did she dredge up THAT insult? Well, settle in, children, there's a tale to tell of gods, mystic hills, ancient families and--yes--even death. After all, it is Samhain.

To understand the Banshee, we have to go all the way back to the time of the Irish Gods--The Tuatha De Danann (“too-A-tha day dan nan” or Children of the Goddess Danu). They came from four mystical cities in the Otherworld, bearing with them four magical tools. For generations they ruled Ireland, defending it against their deadly foes, and making the land bloom and prosper.

Then, one day, mankind came to Ireland from across the sea. They were able to land their ships, confront the Danann, and defeat them. The TDD (Tuatha De Danann) did not wish to abandon their green and beloved island, so it was decided: mankind would live in the surface world, but the gods (often referred to as “The Shining Ones” and “The Gentry”) would live underground, beneath magical hills and mounds.

There they built palaces filled with gold and every kind of feast food. Time passed differently, under the earth. A day in their world would be centuries on the surface. In this way, the Old Gods survived. They became the fairies of Ireland, and were called the Aes Sidhe (“ah-shee” or people of the hill). The gods were fir sidhe ('fir-shee”). And the ancient goddesses? A divine female was called a woman of the hill, a bean-sidhe, pronounced--yep, you guessed it--banshee!

Now, the Old Gods didn't always STAY under their sidhe. They loved the beauty of Ireland too much, and they were curious about mankind. They often interacted with humans, even falling in love and having children of mixed human/fairy heritage. This was particularly true with the ancient families--those who have names starting with “Mc” and “O”, even if these were dropped over time. (Example: O'Cassidy and Cassidy, McFeeny and simply Feeny). There were five families, in particular, said to have fairy blood: O'Neil, O'Brien, O'Connor, O'Grady and Kavanagh. When an Irish person died, it was customary for the women of the clan to do a public display of mourning. They made a wailing sound, or sang a lament. This was called a “caoineadh” from which the word “caoin” ( pronounced “keen”) is taken. “Caoin” means “to weep” or “to wail.”

If a full-blooded human was mourned by their clan women, the only suitable “keener” for someone with fairy blood would be their Danann ancestress, still living beneath her mystical mound. And so, the family's own banshee would wail for the departed spirit, and they would do so no matter where that descendant might be, in Erin or abroad. The cry would be heard both where the person expired, and in the forest and lakes of the clan's ancestral home. Several banshees may wail for the passing of a holy person or great leader.

A banshee can take several forms. She can be a maid with gray hair and a gown of silver, or a motherly figure in green dress and red cape, her flowing hair a strawberry blond. She could also be a frightening hag, with the wrinkled face of a crone, wrapped in her cloak of misty black.

The banshees have been called “fallen angels” by some, who also claim that their wails are intended to frighten and confuse the soul, so that it looses it way to its spiritual home. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Their cries not only mourn the passing of a life, but ward off any possible negative entity which might interfere with the soul's journey.

Although scary, the banshee's shriek is harmless to the living – unless you see her in the midst of her keening. Unfortunately, that would mean you would be the next to die. There is an up side: banshees cry near natural objects such as trees, ponds, and rock formations, and only at night. So, if you hear something shrieking around the house, and moving off to the woods, DON'T FOLLOW!

Well, kids, the ol' Puca has a lot to do this evening, so I have to get started on my crop blighting. Let me leave you with this though:

If your name's McManus, O'Leary, O'Toole 
McCartney, O'Casey, McMahon and O'Doole 
You may be part fairy. When you cease to be, 
Don't ask “Why the banshee?” She shrieking for thee! 
And so ends my story. It's time for “Good night." 
Sleep well, chant your prayers, don't let bedbugs bite. 
Tonight if there's howling around the back porch, 
And nobody's out there, with candle or torch, 
Your clan may be smaller, when morning comes due, 
But look at it this way... at least it's not you! 

A happy, safe Samhain to all!

by Katharine Clark
Puca by Lauren Curtis

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Worts and Warnings--Herbs That Can Harm!

Greetings, Broomstix readers! It's your Worts and All friend, Airmid, back again to visit with you at Samhain. The days are short now and the nights are long. I've just finished bringing in the last of the goodies from my garden because the pooka will spit on them if they are left out on Samhain night! As we move into the darker time of the year, we remember and honor our dead loved ones and perhaps think more about the spooky, shadowy sides of our lives. So this is a good time to talk with you about some spooky, shadowy wort-stuff, namely poison plants.

Some are not entirely evil because they are still useful to us in some ways, but these plants will make you sick or could even poison you if you eat them. Some of them can hurt you even if you just touch their leaves, like poison ivy or poison oak--so leave them be!

Monkshood (Aconitum napellus) has a long history of deathly deeds. They say that the Greek gods first got monkshood from the spit of a mad dog, then started trying to kill each other with the juice. It has been used to poison the tips of arrows. Like many poison plants, it doesn't look dangerous. It is in the same family as the cute little buttercup. Be warned by the flowers that look like fairy-sized purple hoods or helmets. Monkshood likes to grow in the darkest, dampest part of the garden. Birds love the ripe seeds and can survive eating them but this plant is poison for humans and other animals. Beware! Another poison plant is Belladonna (Atropa belladonna) also known as Deadly Nightshade, which should tell you enough just by the name. Believe it or not, it is in the same family as the tomato and huckleberry. It grows anywhere and everywhere.

Hands off belladonna and its berries! Just touching the leaves can make you sick, especially if your touch your eyes, nose or mouth afterwards. The berries look good enough to eat but are toxic to humans and animals. Small rodents especially like the berries so if you see a lot of dead mice or moles somewhere, it's probably near nightshade. Keep away! Fairies love foxglove, but we should be wary--hands off! Foxglove (Digitalis) can be planted by your door to invite the fairies in. But never, NEVER eat any parts of this plant. It is toxic to all animals, including humans. 

One of my favorite plants is a poison plant--the moonflower (Datura innoxia), also called devil's or angel's trumpet, thornapple, or jimson weed. I have several in my garden because I love the big, beautiful white flowers and the interesting prickly fruits that come after--but I would NEVER ever think of eating one! Hands off Moonflowers--they're for looking, not touching! This plant, especially the seeds, contains highly toxic alkaloids. It's so bad that even most animals will avoid it, so there's little danger they'll be poisoned. Humans should be as wise, and simply enjoy the beauty of moonflowers. 

Henbane (hyosyamus niger) is an outcast from ancient herb gardens. It is rarely found in anyone's garden anymore and grows as a weed, even if it is in the same family as tobacco, potato and tomato. As if to ward us off, it is a very ugly plant covered with prickly hairs. It stinks. And it thrives in places like ruins, graveyards and garbage dumps. In mythology, the dead in Hades were crowned with henbane as they roamed along the River Styx. Not all animals die if they eat henbane. It certainly provides a nice feast for cabbage moths. But it is toxic and can be fatal to most animals in small doses, as well as humans.

Last in our lineup of poison plants is the Hemlock (Conium maculatum) also known as devil's porridge or poison parsley. All parts are poisonous, root, stem and flower. Hemlock is harmful--hands off! It was used in ancient Greece for poisoning prisoners, the most famous of whom was Socrates. Only six leaves, or smaller amounts of seed or root, can kill an adult. This plant is good for the garden because its umbrella of flowers attracts a good kind of wasp who will hunts down nearby insect pests. 

Part of being safe and healthy is knowing what can be harmful, and avoiding it. Wishing you a safe and spirited Samhain! Till next time, Blessed Be from your fairy friend, Airmid.

by Gillian Greene 
Airmid by Morgaine du Mer

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Celebrate Dia de los Muertos!

Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead--is a holiday dear to the heart and soul of every Mexican that loves his ancestors. The Santa Muerte is the goddess connected to Dia de los Muertos. She pre-dates Christianity in that part of the world, and the Mexican people knew her as MICTECACIHUATL, Lady of the Land of the Dead. She was believed to be a protector of souls residing in the dark underworld, and she is depicted as a woman in a skull mask and traditional dress decorated with flags which were put upon corpses prepared for cremation.

Originally, this holiday fell at the end of of July and the beginning of August, and was dedicated to children and the dead. But when Spanish priests came to Mexico, the date was moved so that it coincided with All Hallows Eve, a Christian holiday. Nevertheless, Dia de los Muertos retains its ancient roots honoring the Lady of the Land of the Dead. You can celebrate Dia de los Muertos by making an Ancestral Altar. It will help you establish a real connection not only with your ancestors but, with the whole spiritual world. Once you make an altar to your ancestors, it will become like an antenna for other spirits who will take notice that you venerate and wish to work with them.

Making an ancestral altar is a simple. The first thing you will have to do is find some pictures of your deceased relatives with whom you have positive connections; aunts, uncles, grand parents or great grand parents. Although the best place for you to have an ancestral altar is your living room since the idea is for you to include your ancestors in your daily life, a closet in a separate room from your bedroom is also a good place to create your ancestor shrine.

Wash down the table top to purify it (white vinegar is good), then place a white table cloth on the altar top. Put a religious symbol at the back of the ancestral altar. This will be guided by the faith that your muertos (deceased relatives) practiced. Arrange the pictures on the altar with a clear glass of water for each relative and a vase to put an offering of fresh flowers. You will also need a white ceramic or glass plate and bowl to make food offerings. The plate and bowl do not always have to be on the altar (but keep them in a separate place from your regular eating plates and bowls). What will always be on the altar are the pictures, the clear glasses of water and the vase. You can also have a picture of La Santa Muerte on your altar, and a crystal skull to store the positive energies that grow from your prayer sessions and communication with the dead. The skull will give you strength in times of stress and great need.

Change the water weekly as well as any flowers that you have placed on the altar. Traditional flowers for the muertos are marigold (flor de muerto) chrysanthemum, jasmine flowers (for the spirit of death) and calla lily flowers. Try to designate one day of the week to devote to maintaining your altar--this way you always pray to your ancestors at least once every week. 

Approach the altar, knock three times, and tell them who you are. Offer them the fresh water and say a prayer on their behalf, ask to bless them and help them grow in spirit. Talk to them for a while, tell them how you miss them, and have not forgotten them. Ask your ancestors for their blessing in your daily life ask them to help you have good health, love, and prosperity. Then light a white candle for them dressed with blessing oil if you have it and leave it there to burn for them, offering your muertos the light, heat, and energy of the candle. Prayers to the muertos should come from heart. If they were Catholic or Christian you can say a Christian prayer for them. To close the ceremony, clap three times.

As you develop a stronger connection with your muertos, you can start to give them food offerings, such as bread, fruits and candies. Never salt the food that you offer the dead as it makes it nearly impossible for the ancestors to draw energy from the food offerings. Try to offer foods that you knew they favored in life—this will make them happy. You may find that as you develop this positive relationship with your ancestors, they will help you in your life. Look for signs that they are with you!

Dia de los Muertos is more than just one day—it lasts from October 31st to November 2nd, and you can keep your ancestor altar up all year round. On November 2nd, the last day of the festival, give each of your muertos a calaveras de azucar--a sugar skull with his or her name on it. Take it to the cemetery if you can. It is customary to take a bite from each skull so a part of your muertos lives on through you!

by Nick Sigala
Art by Ungala