Just as we used to do in the old newsletters, our lovely and bookish committee will be posting here on our new blog a monthly roundup of what we’re reading (or re-reading!)
A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones & Nigel Pennick
This book takes you on a fascinating journey through European history and how different cultures and religions affected each other and the influences and practices that carried through and the role they played.
A Suggestive Inquiry Into The Hermetic Mystery by Mary Anne Atwood
After re-reading Lyndsay Clark’s wonderful novel, “The Chymical Wedding” recently, I finally picked up the work which inspired it. Published in 1850, “A Suggestive Inquiry” is notable not only for being a seminal work on alchemical philosophy, and for being written by a woman in the 19thC, but also for its back-story; it was written as an introductory companion volume to the intended magnum opus of Atwood’s father, and he published it without reading the manuscript first. When he finally read the published book, he claimed that it revealed too many Hermetic secrets, and withdrew or purchased back every copy of the book, and burnt them all, along with his unfinished great work. Only a handful of copies survived, and it is from these that the book was finally reissued, nearly 70 years later. Not just a fascinating book but also a marvellous piece of alchemical history.
Pagan Portals: Australian Druidry by Julie Brett
A succinct look at adapting our craft to the Australian seasons and how. It looks at the wheel of the year, cycles and ways to be more in touch with the Australian landscape in our practice. It proposes new ideas for Australian practitioners and explores issues that I’ve seen posed in many an online forum.
Pagan Portals: The Morrigan – Meeting the Great Queens by Morgan Daimler
Morgan examines the aspects of Morrigan drawing upon academic texts (providing plenty of references) and historical sources and discusses the aspects of the Morrigan, the mythology and symbology behind them in a modern context using accessible language.
Her book is aimed at providing clear information for readers of all levels, and providing a source of information that is readily available.
At just on one hundred pages, it is not a long read by any stretch of the imagination but Daimler crams an awful lot into those pages and I feel that I got value from the $4 I paid for it on the Kindle store.
Someplace to be Flying by Charles De Lint
Urban fantasy mixing Celtic and native American mythology; taxi driver Hank is drawn into the world of the Animal People from the dawn of time, after rescuing photographer Lily from a mugging one evening – they are both rescued in turn by ‘The Crow Girls’, and their reality will never be the same.
I have a love-hate relationship with De Lint; so much irks me about his writing, but I still somehow really enjoy his stories. This is probably the best-written, in my opinion, of the ten or so of his that I have read, and the story, cast of characters, and the world in which it is set (it’s one of his Newford books) are engaging and involving. A lovely, relaxing, escapist holiday read.
The Virgin in the Garden by A.S.Byatt
I’m less than 100 pages into this, but I’m enjoying it. I loved Possession and liked Angels and Insects and this is classic Byatt; filled with sly asides, literary allusions and metafictional devices. A little drier and more domestic (so far) than the other two mentioned above, but clever and a pleasure to read. It’s the first of Byatt’s “Frederica” quartet, and centres around a play written about Queen Elizabeth I, in the same year Queen Elizabeth II is crowned; those involved orbit each other with a mixture of tensions, both personal and aspirational.
The Wise Man’s Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle Day Two by Patrick Rothfuss
In the sequel to the acclaimed Name of the Wind the reader continues to follow the tale of Kvothe on his adventures, learning more of his past and how he came to be an innkeeper in a small village in the middle of nowhere after being such a famous adventurer.
Lughnasadh or as it can be known to Heathens Loaf-fest, Freyfaxi or Hlafmaest is a time of bounty, summer bearing crops are ready to harvest, the first loaves since grain stores ran empty are baked and ale and mead is brewed.
During this time it is only right that we share our bounty with the Aesir and the Wights as thanks for a good season, free of storms, vermin or disease to ruin the crops. It is also a forward payment on the next harvest too.
For modern heathens there are many interpretations of how to celebrate this time, however grain, bread, and ale are all good suggestions for things to offer at Loaf-fest, although if you are looking for more to offer consider using some of your harvest from your garden (or for those without a garden an offering of something that is in season where you are currently). Some of the more commonly praised gods and goddesses at this time are Thor, Freyr, and Sif.
It is also thought that this is a good time to make a corn dolly to sacrifice to the fire as part of your celebrations, the dolly is though to aid in warding of storms and vermin.
Some heathen scholars also argue that this is a good time of the year to bless wells and waterways, to keep the waters clean and pure, as well as warn of floods. They suggest giving the corn dolly to the waterway instead of the fire, however, there is nothing stopping you from making two and offering one to each. Just remember that anything you are offering to the waterway needs to be completely natural and biodegradable, you don’t want to pollute your local creek or river (or add to the pollution).
In my mind I’m doing my best Nigella Lawson impression as I sit here and write out the recipe to use cherry plums to make jam that I used to make with my mother and grandmother. A note on playing out this impersonating Nigella – don’t stick your finger in the hot jam, there is nothing sensual or fun about scalding oneself fiercely on molten fruit and sugar.
So if you have a cherry plum in your backyard you will know they produce a tart fruit that isn’t much chop to eat as is. However, there are options available to using them, my favourite being to make jam. For the new jam makers, there are some notes at the end of the recipe you should read before making the jam, although if you are experienced at jam making you probably know these notes already.
Cooking time for this should be about 20 – 30 minutes.
For this recipe you will need:
- 550g of Ripe Cherry Plums (not overripe/rotting because they will make your jam go off too quickly)
- 450g of Sugar
- Up to 4 Tablespoons of Water
- 1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice
- Sterilized Jars for Storage
- A Large Pot or Saucepan
- Wooden Spoon
- Slotted Spoon
To start, gently wash and drain your cherry plums, discarding any that are turning/going to rot or have any damage from birds or insects.
Put the cherry plums in the pot on the stove and add the water, if your fruit is really firm you may need to add a 5th tablespoon of water. Then bring the water and fruit to a gentle simmer, cooking until the fruit goes to a pulp and the skins separate.
With the masher, gently squish the fruit to help loosen the stones. Then making sure the jam doesn’t run dry (it is ok to add another tablespoon of water at this point if it looks too dry) simmer the mixture and with the slotted spoon fetch out the stones as they float to the surface. Gently agitating the mixture during this process helps them come to the surface.
Once all the stones are removed add the sugar and lemon juice to the pot and bring the mixture to a rapid boil. Keep it at this heat until it reaches the setting point (thickens nicely and passes the wrinkle test).
Wrinkle Test (Testing if the jam is ready to set)
Once you think the jam has gotten to setting point spoon a little on a cold saucer or plate, allowing to cool (you can cheat by putting it in the freezer for a few minutes to bring the temperature down). Then gently push the edge of the jam and see if the surface wrinkles when you push it into itself.
If it doesn’t wrinkle or only sort of wrinkles heat the jam further and repeat this process until it wrinkles. Often it will only take another minute or two of boiling to achieve the desired result.
Sterilising the Jam Jars
Any good cookbook that deals with jam or a Google search should show you a number of options for sterilising your jars.
I used a microwave method, after washing the glass jars I intended to use in hot soapy water and rinsing all traces of soap off I put them in the microwave (still wet and without the lids which were metal) and baked them on high for three minutes. They were then ready to use (but very hot! make sure to use an oven mitt, tea towel or something else to protect your hands from burns).