Friday, June 27, 2014

New Blog Series: Walking the Minoan Path

I'm delighted to announce that I have just begun a new, monthly blog series on the PaganSquare/Witches & Pagans website. I'll be blogging about Minoan spirituality in the modern world. My first post, about how I stumbled onto this particular path, is here:

Walking the Minoan Path: Easier Said than Done

I will offer a new post at the end of each month. If you have particular topics you'd like to see me address (related to Minoan paganism, of course) please let me know.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: Pagan Portals Fairy Witchcraft

I have to admit, I haven’t been particularly intrigued by any of the books I’ve come across about Fairy Witchcraft. That is, until now.  This is not a fluffy, New Age, everything-is-goodness-and-light book, and for that I am grateful. Pagan Portals Fairy Witchcraft is a concise introduction to making a connection with the Fairy world and working with those energies in your personal magical practice.

Pagan Portals Fairy Witchcraft by Morgan Daimler

Like the other books in the Pagan Portals series, Fairy Witchcraft is a slim volume, but it is packed full of information. Ms. Daimler provides a great deal of background about folk belief in Fairies, particularly in the Celtic world, so the reader will understand that they are not the delicate, sweet, gossamer-winged creatures of Victorian fantasy. They are, in fact, ancient beings with a great deal of power who are not always friendly to humans. Working with them has its dangers, and Ms. Daimler makes that very clear.

Ms. Daimler shares her own experiences with the Fairies as well as providing information about traditional ways of approaching them, including how to properly prepare yourself, how to create altars and rituals and, most important, how to listen to them and learn to hear what they have to say to us. This is a very practical book, an excellent introduction to Fairy Witchcraft that provides a strong foundation for a lifetime of connection with the Good Folk.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: Divorcing a Real Witch

I’ve just read an unusual book, but it’s one we need. Divorcing a Real Witch by Diana Rajchel addresses a real need not just in the Pagan community but in the world at large. As progressive and modern as we think we are, many people still find divorce to be an awkward, uncomfortable subject, whether they’re the ones experiencing it themselves or whether they’re trying to deal with the event in a friend or family member. This book helps the reader work their way through the issues divorce brings up, both practical and spiritual.

Divorcing a Real Witch by Diana Rajchel

Nowhere does Ms. Rajchel condescend or preach. This is a book about making it through a difficult time and healing from it. She is very right to point out that people, especially women, feel a great deal of pressure to get married and provide their parents with grandchildren, among other requirements. To this end, many people view divorce as a failure. It is not. It is often the best solution to a bad situation.

Ms. Rajchel walks the reader through several different approaches to dealing with divorce, from handling the inevitable feelings of shame and failure, to finding a life for yourself outside a relationship. I am especially impressed by her handparting ritual. I included such a ritual in my recent book Ariadne’s Thread and I honestly felt a little awkward doing so. We are so well trained to believe that the breakup of a marriage is a failure that acknowledging it with a ritual seems almost inappropriate. Well, it’s not. We need to recognize the changes in our lives, the shifts from one stage of existence to another. We also need to admit that no one is perfect and that people change over time, two facts that often lead to the end of a relationship.

I wish I had read this book twenty years ago, when I went through a divorce. It probably wouldn’t have lessened my pain, but it would have given me the tools to deal with it and move forward in my life more easily. If you or someone you know is dealing with the collapse of a marriage, this book is definitely worth your time.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Witch's Brew or Two

In addition to brewing mead and wine, a couple times a year I mix up some cordials and liqueurs, just because I can. I invite you to try these recipes as well - they're easy and delicious, and way cheaper than the store-bought versions.

In the past I’ve made Balm Water, Parfait d’Amour, coconut liqueur and k├╝mmel. Given that the elder bushes are blooming right now and I need to use up the rest of last year’s blackberries from the freezer, this time I’m brewing up some Blackberry Liqueur and a lovely Elderflower Cordial.

Even if you’ve never concocted a steeped or brewed beverage before, these are easy to make. There’s no long-term, large-scale brewing like with wine or beer. Just mix these up and they do their thing with little to no help. They don’t require any special equipment or hard-to-find ingredients.

First, the cordial. I picked the elderflowers (traditionally termed ‘elder blow’) late in the morning, after the dew had dried but before the sun had shone on them long enough to evaporate too much of their scent.

Elder flowers in basket - Laura Perry author editor artist

My cat even stopped to have a sniff – it’s a lovely, if unusual, fragrance.

Cat sniffing elder flowers - Laura Perry author editor artist

I gather my elderflowers from the bush at the edge of my garden (OK, it’s tall enough to be a tree, but it’s still technically a shrub). If you’re wildcrafting, be very careful. Pick blossoms only after you, or someone with the appropriate knowledge, has firmly identified the plant. The blossoms of the very poisonous water hemlock plant look an awful lot like elderflowers (though the actual plants don’t look terribly similar).

I adapted my recipe for Elderflower Cordial from two similar-but-not-same recipes in The Country Store by Stephanie Donaldson and Country Ways and Wisdom by Rosamond Richardson. It makes close to a gallon of finished cordial. And I apologize to my non-U.S. readers; my measurements are all in cups, which I realize is positively primitive compared to the rest of the world! On to the recipe…

HOMEMADE ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL

7 cups granulated (caster) sugar
6 cups water
¼ cup citric acid powder **
25 fresh elderflower heads
1 lemon, thinly sliced (if waxed, scrub it well first)

** Citric acid can be found in the canning section of large supermarkets; it’s often labeled ‘fruit fresh’ or something similar. I buy it at the Indian market, where it’s really cheap and comes in large packets.

In a large pot, heat the sugar and water together, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves completely and the mixture is clear. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Pour the sugar-water mixture into a clean container (I use the ceramic insert from my slow cooker) and stir in the citric acid until it dissolves. Snip the flowers from the bloom heads and discard as much of the stem as you reasonably can – removing the stem gives the cordial a more delicate flavor. Stir the blooms and the lemon slices into the liquid until the flowers are well saturated. It will look like this:

Elderflower cordial ingredients steeping - Laura Perry

Cover the container loosely (I use the lid that goes with the slow cooker insert and tilt it slightly) and let sit for two to three days, away from heat and light. I like to give the mixture a gentle stir once a day. The longer you leave it to sit, the stronger the elderflower flavor will be, but don’t go longer than three days or the cordial will start to get bitter.

When it has sat long enough for your taste, strain the mixture into clean bottles or jars. Now you have two choices:

1. Cover the tops of the bottles or jars with cheesecloth and let them stand at warmish room temperature for up to a week so a little natural fermentation can take place.

Or

2. Seal the bottles with lids or corks and store in the refrigerator to prevent fermentation.

Your choice. Even with the fermentation, it’s not going to be a very strong drink, just a teeny bit fizzy. I like to store it in the fridge and mix with sparkling water (or champagne!) for a delightful summer refresher.

Now on to the berry brew…

BLACKBERRY LIQUEUR

2 cups water
1 cup granulated (caster) sugar
1 pound blackberries (if frozen, thaw them first)
2 cups good quality vodka (if your vodka isn’t drinkable, the liqueur won’t be, either)

In a saucepan, heat the water and sugar together, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Crush the berries with a potato masher or give them a quick spin in the food processor (you want to chop them up, not puree them) and pour them into your brewing container. I like to use a gallon glass jug that apple cider came in, but any large jar or crock will work. Add the vodka and sugar-water mixture and stir well to combine. It will look like this:

Blackberry liqueur steeping - Laura Perry

Cover the container in a way that lets air in and out but keeps out bugs, dust and so on. A thin piece of cloth secured over the top with string or rubber bands is sufficient. In addition to just steeping so the flavors mix, the concoction is liable to actually ferment a little, so you don’t want to seal it tightly.

Put it somewhere away from heat and light and let it stand for about six weeks. I like to give it a good stir/shake at least once a week to make sure the flavors are blending well.

At the end of the six weeks, strain the mixture into bottles or jars and seal. This one stores at room temperature nicely and, due to the alcohol content, will keep for ages (though it’s not likely to last that long at my house). If you like Chambord, you’ll like this stuff and can substitute it in drinks and recipes.

Enjoy!