Monday, February 13, 2017

Happy... Wolf-entines?

Every year the same thing happens: the evergreens come down, the hearts go up. It's Valentine's Day--get on your wolf-suit and let's party! 

Wolf suit?


The 14th of February marked the celebration of Lupercalia, “The Day of the Wolf,” an important festival in ancient Rome. 

Most folks have heard the phrase, "Beware the ides of March." In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, this line warns of impending doom that will strike mid-month. Before Valentine's Day was a thought, the ides of February (the 14th) was a day to honor Juno Febrato for whom the month was named. She was the queen of the Roman gods, and the goddess of marriage (see some connections forming here?). The ides also marked the “Day of the Wolf.” Lupercalia celebrated the legend of Romulus and Remus—the legendary twin founders of Rome who were nursed as infants by a mother wolf.

Photo by Alois Staudacher via Flickr Creative Commons

In the ritual for Lupercalia, a goat would be sacrificed (later the meat would be cooked and served to those who were celebrating; many rituals that involved sacrifice included the use of the animal as food). Men would put on the goat skin which would transform them symbolically into the fertility god Faunus or Pan. Then they would whip the women celebrants--a playful tap, not a beating--as a blessing to encourage fertility. A shade of this ritual can be seen today in the Valentine's tradition of "Cupid," the mythical son of Venus (the Roman goddess of love). If you were struck (touched) by one of his arrows, you'd fall in love ♥ Lupercalia celebrations ended with the women writing their names on slips of parchment called “billets,” and placing them in a box. The men would pick the billets from the box; the name of the woman they drew would be their partner for the next year, although some sources say that the unions had the potential to last longer. It was also customary to give chosen partners gifts of sweets and flowers to encourage love.

Like other Pagan festivals, Lupercalia was adopted by the church, but how it was celebrated was changed thanks to a guy called Valentine. There are several legends about his identity. One has him as a Christian priest who performed forbidden marriages in secret. When he was found out, he was sentenced to death. The couples that he helped wrote him notes of encouragement while he was in prison—Valentines! Another tale makes him an imprisoned priest who fell in love with his jailer's daughter. He would write her secret love notes—more Valentines! Gift and card exchanges like what we see today got their start during the Renaissance; when a man had a sweetheart, he would wear the image of a heart on his sleeve to show his affection. It wasn't until the mid-1800's that exchanging Valentine cards became a tradition. In addition to the heart, you could expect a lovey-dovey sentimental verse, or something more fun:

I ♥ Vintage Valentines!

And speaking of hearts--where does that shape come from? The red heart that we've come to associate with love doesn't look much like a human heart, unless you squint at it the right way. Like Valentine's Day, there are several stories behind why hearts are shaped... like that. The back wings of a dove--a bird sacred to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love--form a heart when they're folded together. 

An ancient coin from Cyrene with a silphium seed.

Another origin of the heart shape comes from the ancient North African city of Cyrene. Coins from Cyrene bear the image of a silphium seed, which is heart shaped. Silphium is an extinct species of fennel, but it must have been an important plant if people put the image on their money--and it was. Silphium supposedly cured warts, fever, leprosy and indigestion. Pass the chocolate!

Happy Valentine's Day! 

♥ This post originally appeared on Broomstix at Pagan Square and GeekMom ♥

Monday, February 6, 2017

Cover Girls!

Behold the cover for Color and Conjure: Rituals and Magic Spells to Color by me and Wendy Martin! SO pretty....

It'll be available September 8, 2017, but you can pre-order it at LlewellynAmazon, or reserve your copy at your favorite indie shop. So excited!!!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Fantastic New York City Sites and Where to Find Them!

Dear Plex,

Thank you for having Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It means I can watch it over and over again and make lists of places to visit on my next jaunt across the Hudson. The movie holds a special place in my heart, not only because I grew up on trips to New York City, but the time--1926--was when my grandparents lived in Manhattan. My mom and her sisters were born right before the Great Depression. This was the New York they knew, and the New York of which they told countless stories. So seeing it on the big screen brought these memories to life. You can see some of them in the official trailer:

Of course, there are tour companies that will do the job for you (On Location Tours will take you around the city via bus to sites that inspired sites in the film). But if you look closely, there are other places you can see--they don't necessarily play the starring roles, but they're there in the film, and they carry their own special brand of magic... 

Overhead Trains 
Overhead trains are thing of the past in Manhattan. But as the camera pans over Newt Scamander's head you'll catch a glimpse of them. Most likely, these are the tracks that are now part of the High Line. The tracks were recycled into a park that runs from Midtown down to Greenwich Village, a lovely walk with wonderful views of the city. Map Some More Magic: Go underground to the Lowline Park where sunlight filters down into the former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, and fantastic plants flourish in abundance--magic!

On the High Line: photo from New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island 
Right before we get to see Newt for the first time, we see the boat that brought him to America, and of course, it passes right by the Statue of Liberty, and then Ellis Island. There’s only one way to get to the island, the same as tens of millions have—by water. And when you arrive, chances are that the Great Hall of Ellis Island will be filled with people, just as it was when immigrants started arriving in 1892--and like my Nonni did in 1921. About 40% of the people in the United States can trace their heritage back to folks who passed through Ellis Island. If you have relatives that came in through New York City, visit the research room to see ship manifests and even pictures of the boats. It doesn't seem that Newt was processed at Ellis Island, but rather, over at the Piers. He travels on the Royal Star Line... perhaps a nod to White Star, the shipping line of which the Titanic was a part (Titanic was supposed to dock at Pier 59, near 18th Street--you can still see it today!). 

Ellis Island in the 1920's. Photo from the Liberty Ellis Island Foundation

Central Park 
Newt and Jacob spend some time in Central Park--specifically, in the zoo, but Central Park was designed to be a spiritual, a magical experience. Tunnels and stairways where you can’t see your destination until you pass through or reach the top, take you from world to world. Hundreds of gates, arches, sculptures, fountains and natural areas fill the park’s 843 acres: In the walkway overlooking the Bestheda Fountain, witches watch in the intricately carved stone.

Central Park's hidden magic--photo from Forgotten New York's Southern Central Park Tour

Everyone's favorite department store has starred in a few films--and Newt and his buddies manage to trash the Christmas displays (of course they fix it all up later). Did you know you can time travel in Macy's on 34th Street? All you have to do... is go up! But you MUST take the escalators. As you move from floor to floor, you'll see that the steps are made of wood. Yep, these are the originals from the 1920's. (By the way there is an obelisk in Herald Square that lines up with the ancient Egyptian one in Central Park!)

Macy's wooden escalator, photo from the New York Times

Orchard Street 
The site of Jacob Kowalski's bakery was a vibrant Jewish community. My mom said that Orchard Street was where Nonni would take them to buy their clothes--some of the older stores are still around. Close by, and a part of the On Location Tour, is the Tenement Museum. I was happy to see that several buildings in my mom's old neighborhood (not too far away on Mulberry Street in Little Italy) still stand, and St. Patrick's Old Cathedral is still open. Sadly, Jacob's bakery is make believe, but Erin McKenna's (Babycakes!)  isn't--thank Merlin!

Fantastic Creature Cookies (and photo) from Erin McKenna's Bakery

This is a teeny tiny hint of the Fantastic Beasts workshop at Soul Journey in April--we'll be doing LOTS more. Join us on a magical journey! 

♥ This post originally appeared on GeekMom