Burnt Snow, my first novel, was released in 2010 by Pan MacMillan Australia. White Rain, the sequel, is due soon. As part of a trilogy about witches, earth magic, curses, love and revenge, this blog archives my research into the world of the witches - as well as my own magical saga as a new author.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

For My Birthday: Gimme a Witch God and a Pancake Supper

It’s curious how associations suggest themselves.

Yesterday was Pancake Day. Naturally, given my present obsessions with ritual and food, I celebrated the event with willingness. One of the great joys of pancakes is that you can buy the batter pre-made at Sainsbury’s for barely any money at all, and it only takes one egg, a little fat and some water per packet to whip up a batch.

(There are, of course, great vegan recipes on the internet: I like the one here best).

The Boy Next Door and I feasted on last night’s tradition with a filling of beef-and-ale stew, dollops of crème fraiche and red cabbage and haricot beans stewed in bacon. While cooking, I was reminded that the first pancake of a batch is usually “sacrificed to the pan” – the first absorbs most of the fat, cooks unevenly and is, as a result, a living nightmare to flip.

As I folded the misshapen first into absorbent paper and got on with the rest of the batch, the notion of the sacrificed pancake reminded me of something I’d read recently about sacrificial meals offered to Hecate, Greek goddess of the witches.

Hecate is a chthonic deity, a goddess “of the earth” whose worship pre-dates the Olympians. In Greek mythology, she is the only one of the old Titan gods whose province usurping Zeus left undisturbed. Along with Zeus, she is the only god given the power to grant wishes.

She is a goddess of the liminal, of intuition, a practitioner of mysteries and magic, a gatekeeper between the worlds of the living and the dead, and she is the goddess of the crossroads – most potently at the trivia (threeways – “Trivia” was the name of her Latin equivalent). In ancient times, shrines called hecataea were erected at crossroads so travellers could make offerings seeking her protection. She is particularly associated with the protection of women and children, and her assistants she selects from the ranks of the excluded, living and dead: homeless people, vagrants, witches and ghosts… And artists and writers (ahem!).

Hecate’s colour is black, her mysteries are performed at the dead of night (under moonlight, candlelight or torches), and she represents The Moon in a mythic Tarot deck. She has three heads – a maiden’s, mother’s and crone’s – and hence she is also a justice goddess, as nothing escapes her witness of it. Hecate is usually accompanied by dogs, and she’s associated with all the popular symbols of witchcraft: ravens, owls, crows, snakes, frogs and dragons, and keys, cauldrons, brooms and torches. The yew tree is sacred to her, as is the date palm, the black poplar and the willow, and she does a fine line in sacred poisons like hemlock and belladonna. Apparently, she’s also partial to dandelion tea, as it enhances psychic ability – one of her great assets.

Because of her role as a Crossroads Goddess, she is the deity to petition if you are seeking opportunity, clarity (of your path), creative unblocking or the removal of obstacles. Because she exists on the boundaries between worlds, she also hears appeals for justice or protection, the lifting of curses, recovery and healing - it is she who governs the process of admission from one world into another.

The advised way to petition Hecate is to make her a supper offering at a three-way intersection, under moonlight or candlelight. Although going alone and leaving behind any meal is a valid act of devotion, according to tradition Hecate likes a few party guests, as well as to eat eggs, fish roe, goat and sheep cheese, sprats, fish (red mullet, especially), garlic, mushrooms, cake, bread, almonds and honey.

The festive idea, then, is to prepare a picnic for the night before new moon; grab some candles, pack enough plates for yourself and your guests, plus one (Hecate) and at midnight head down to the nearest non-illuminated intersection to eat. While consuming your own portion, contemplate what help the goddess (or your own powers of intuition) can give you.

The Element Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft advises, most strongly, that even the plate you fill for Hecate must be left behind, you CANNOT go back for anything, and you must NOT look behind you as you leave. That the food may be eaten by dogs or taken by homeless people is the point; these are Hecate’s servants and they are delivering your offering to the goddess on your behalf.

Upcoming 2010 dates for a possible feast include: March 14, April 13, May 13, June 11, July 10, August 9, September 7, October 6, November 5 and December 4. It’s also acceptable to feast at midnight on the 30th of each month. Modern Wiccans also celebrate a harvest ritual for Hecate on August 13 (as a storm goddess, the appeal is made that she not destroy the crops), on November 16 (Hecate’s Night) and also November 30, which is the Day of Hecate at the Crossroads (and also my birthday – spooky).

If you’re up for chowing down with the Queen of the Witches – and you are, like her, a savoury pancake fan – this may be a suitable menu for a midnight picnic.
  • Hecate’s Honey Garlic Fish Supper with Pancakes: Mix 1/2 cup honey, 3 tbs cider vinegar, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper, 1/4 cup soy sauce and 5 minced garlic cloves and set aside. Pre-heat an oven to 190C. In a baking dish lightly oiled with olive oil, add the fresh fish fillets of your choice (or red mullet, of Hecate’s choice). Bake for 10 mins, remove the fish and add the honey mixture to the tray, returning to the oven for a further 15 minutes. Once the fish is returned to the oven, make the pancakes. You may wish to dedicate the sacrificial first pancake to Hecate’s plate. Serve the fish on top of the pancakes, garnished with toasted almonds. Dandelion tea is a good accompaniment, as is a salad of chopped boiled eggs and mushrooms.  
Do enjoy the above - I have forsaken pancakes, and all other cakes, for Lent. Sigh.


David said...

Brilliant segue.

I might be up for a meal with the Witch Queen actually, could do with a little creative unblocking. The dangers of living on campus I guess.

I was going to ask if all this info came from one place, or if you did some searching around specifically on Hecate. Clearly the Encyclopaedia you mention was a starting point.

Also, are you practicing Wiccan or dabbling in the ideology? Just pure curiosity here.

Van Badham said...

Hey David,

You could do infinitely less inspiring things than go on a midnight picnic. Staring blankly into a computer screen waiting for the spheres to start squeaking may be one of them...

This info comes from my youth misspent reading millions of books about mythology. Also, these days I have an amazing library of books on symbols and folk magic. I will promote more and more of them as the blog goes on.

As for Wicca, I'm interested in the symbols and lore of the religion as equally as I'm fascinated by the traditions of Catholicism, the Pentecostal movement, Islam, Judaism, Jainism and everything else. Jedi especially.

In fact, to paraphrase the great Yoda: "Once you have acquired your first symbol dictionary, forever will it dominate your destiny..."