Devotional cooking: Koresh Fesenjan for Hekate

Suffering chronic fatigue, I usually don’t have the energy for big, flashy ritual. Once a month on the day of the new moon, I clean my house as best I can in service to Hekate, and we share the evening meal. If I’m able, I try to incorporate relevant foods such as egg, garlic, leek, honey, and pomegranate.

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Last month I made Koresh Fesenjan-a Persian chicken, walnut, and pomegranate stew.

Ingredients:
(I don’t measure things when I cook; it’s why I’m terrible at baking)
2 spoonfuls of honey
Sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper
Salt-I don’t normally add salt to my food but Hekate requested extra after I’d plated it up
Chicken tenders, cut into small strips
Cup of chopped walnuts
Liquid chicken stock
White rice
Olive oil
Pomegranate molasses

Process:
1. Toast the walnuts in a pan for a few minutes until golden brown and fragrant.
Lightly crush with a mortar and pestle. When cooking for two, using a food processor isn’t worth the effort it takes to clean.
2. Cook the rice.
3. Lightly brown the chicken in a pan and toss in the spring onions with a dash of oil.
4. Add chicken stock, and bring to a boil.
5. Add spices, honey, walnuts, and pomegranate molasses.
6. Simmer until the stew is no longer watery.
7. Serve with rice, garnish with walnut, parsley or pomegranate arils.

It’s a very sweet and sour, rich tasting dish.
I lit a candle and served it with a cup of fruit tea. Hekate seems to have a penchant for dark chocolate as well, which we had for dessert, although she seems insistent on sharing whatever I’m eating. Afterwards, I take her portion to my three-way crossroads altar, as well as a customary offering to the restless dead which I do not eat from.

Some months I’m not able to cook the food myself or make anything quite as elaborate as this, but it is my duty to share this meal and to remember the dead.

Necromancy and the Queens of Death

Red Death is for the living. Green Death is for the already gone. White Death is for us all.

Death is a heady subject among pagans. It’s large. It’s divisive. It’s inevitable.
As a necromancer, how do I approach death, my own mortality and that of my loved ones?

This is my framework for conceptualizing death.These aren’t gods or regents but anthropomorphic personifications of natural phenomena. A symbolic representation, but powerful forces nonetheless. 

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Death as depicted in the Rider-Waite tarot.

The Three Monarchs of Death:

The Red Queen of Death is for the living.
She’s sexy, provocative, reckless and impatient. She tastes like the blood in your mouth from a kick in the teeth.
If you get too close to her she’ll burn your fingertips. The wounds will either cauterize and make you numb, or hurt worse than anything you’ve ever felt. They always scar, but sometimes the scars fade with time-time you have because you’re still alive. She’s a gushing, ragged wound; roses and rotting meat. You can hear her laughing when a speeding car misses you by an inch. She claws into your chest and squeezes your heart when you watch a loved one slip away in their sleep. She’s pain and violence, fear and finality.

The Red Queen is always with me. Sometimes she steps behind me and out of my field of immediate focus, but she is always there-trauma, mental illness and chronic ill health see to that.
My relationship with her is intimate and deeply personal; my perpetual dance partner in a tango.

The Green Queen of Death is for the already dead.
She’s motherly, patient and persistent. She tastes like forest mushrooms. She’s the roots of a tree cracking open a skull with slow but inexorable force. She’s a bountiful feast for smaller animals, insects and organisms. She’s silence carrying an ellipses into a promise…of something more. She’s the softness of rotting wood and the hardness of fossilized bone. She’s the serene marble statue of a saint in the vaulted halls of the church of nature.
The Green Death is where I do most of my necromancy work.

I love all of my specimens. However, I knew none of the numerous preserved animals in my collection before they died.
To love them as they were once alive would be to grieve for them in passing. Sadness is too sticky; I can’t flush it out effectively and it lingers. I’ve opted out of preserving anything I’ve had the misfortune of needing to help ease from this world. If I knew them in life, I couldn’t sever their connection to the Red Queen. If possible, I bury them, so they may rest and heal.

It is better for me to love my specimens as I first met them; already dead, belonging to the Queen of the Green Death. In my necromancy practices, I do my best to serve their modest demands. They require a pauper’s supper.
The Red Queen on the other hand, is ravenous for blood. Like fire, she’ll consume everything you let her.

“…Man’s heart is a ditch full of blood. The loved ones who have died throw themselves down on the bank of this ditch to drink the blood and so come to life again; the dearer they are to you, the more of your blood they drink.”

―Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis

What to do then, when a beloved, close family member dies? In most instances in my life, it has not been my decision to make.
When it is, due to their connection with the Red Death, my regular preservation techniques would be too personally traumatizing.

Skulls are spiritually weighty objects which require no context. The spirits which inhabit dead remains have also been irrevocably transformed from their living selves.
Cremains themselves are only as meaningful as that which is ascribed to them by the living; given to a stranger, ashes may as well be a box of dirt.
For this reason, I had my cat-grandmother and cat-son cremated. This process creates a symbolic abstraction of their whole physical bodies without the removal of soft tissue usually associated with preservation.
This way I can continue to carry them with me in my life and in my heart-at least until my own death-as I remember them, as they were. The two boxes of ashes sit upon the mantel at the heart of our home. Their spirits are part of the household itself; friendly shadows slinking around corners just out of sight.

 

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It was much harder to take selfies 15 years ago

 

There is also a third monarch, The White Death, the Grim Reaper. This psychopomp has a single appointment to keep with every living thing and serves as a reminder not to take it all too seriously; because it’ll all be over soon enough.

I’m scared of zombies because I’m queer

Living as ‘other’ and striving towards authenticity, no matter how transgressive is an intrinsic part of my pagan path.

At least that’s how I’m shoe-horning in this week’s theme. I defy easy classification; or, It’s my blog and I’ll go off-topic if I want to. I’m going to be very blunt about queerphobia. Beware.

I’ve always been terrified of zombies; I can’t sit through Romero movies. I have bad anxiety and need to read plot spoilers. Jump scares cause me physical pain.
This is a bit of a paradox. I love horror movies. I’ve been elbow deep in gore. I’m a necromancer. I make distasteful jokes about cannibalism.
I’m terrified of zombies…because I’m queer.

Zombies can be read as various kinds of zeitgeistic metaphors. Debt, unchecked consumerism, unemployment, the failure of the social order.
So why do zombies scare me so much? In their natural environment they are ubiquitous and beyond reason.

Small bands of survivors huddle together in a hostile, resource scarce world against an unending hoard wishing them death. Am I describing my friends on a Saturday night, or The Walking Dead?

I strive to be understanding, logical and compassionate. All the people slinging death threats at me aren’t. They can’t be reasoned with. There is an unending parade of them. They howl and beat on my metaphorical door through the internet. I don’t have enough ammo (resources, time, energy) keep them all at bay. They get through and they wound me. They claim I owe it to them to change their minds.
You can’t cure zombies. Meaningful change must come from within.

Just like a survivor in the zombie apocalypse I cannot ever feel safe. I was born into a social order that was built from the ground up to exclude people like myself. This world was never meant for me. The zombies have inherited the earth.

Like the characters in The Walking Dead, I can try disguises, slathering myself in zombie guts to walk among them. Not living my authentic self is just as unpleasant.

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Gross. Image credit: AMC, The Walking Dead.

However I can only hide so much of myself, no matter how hard I try. Violent straight people can smell your fear. The disguise inevitably slips. Is this it? I ask myself during every confrontation, and there are many. Is this the day I die?
Which is going to kill me first, a mishap of fate or illness, or an attacker? Or alternatively, myself, after the vigilance and battle has ground away my resolve until I can no longer fight? Death isn’t a question; it’s a promise.

I catch a snippet of television. A politician is claiming Australia doesn’t have a homophobia problem. My friends can’t get legally married and word is passed around about someone local being near-fatally bashed for being gender nonconforming.

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What being ‘straight passing’ feels like. Image credit: AMC, The Walking Dead.

I like to fantasize that humans are rational. I’m often proven wrong. Zombies cannot be reasoned with. If a zombie has broken into my compound and displayed bigotry I try to educate them, but they are too many and too stubborn. It’s often fruitless because zombies don’t want to listen, they want to argue, to gorge themselves on my vulnerability. To feel victimized by my defenses.
I am strong but scarred. My strength costs me dearly. They are relentless. Their self-sanctified opinions do me active harm. For every one I block ten more shuffle forward chanting ‘you don’t exist’. Zombies lack the higher brain function to appreciate the irony. I exist, but if I cease to do so it’s because they have killed me.

Friends and allies mute the groaning from just beyond the wall. But I can still hear it. Queer spaces aren’t perfect safe havens either due to lateral violence; just like in the zombie apocalypse, survivors turn on each other due to the scarcity of resources. Gatekeeping and respectability politics abound. Nonetheless my social justice is intersectional because those survivors in the boarded up building next door? I feel for them, too. I’m not going to use them as bait just so I can temporarily get ahead. Because it’s not a real victory until the war is over.

Zombie media isn’t prone to happy endings. Nor is media in general kind to queers, when we can get them, which is rare. Gays get buried. Women are refrigerated.
I enjoy apocalyptic fiction because it represents a game board hurriedly and messily wiped clear. A chance to start over, and for some lawless, anarchic fun.
The best apocalyptic fiction is queer. Why reinforce heteronormativity when you can have the Gayboy Berserkers and the Vulvalini?

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This is not the visage of a straight man. Image credit: Warner Bros, Mad Max 2.

Mainstream zombie media on the other hand is an endless grind with no hope of closure. Awash with an ambient anxiety that is already the background radiation of my life, it’s littered with the same regurgitated heterosexual romances reinforcing current social mores with the flavor, colour and excitement of mashed potato. It’s not meant for me, and never was.

The zombie contagion has spread too far. There is no hope but for homogeneity. In the real world, people say ‘gay gene’ and my friends and I hear ‘eugenics’. We fight to survive and live but sometimes it feels Sisyphean and pointless.

But to conform and join the hoard is to die, so fight we must.

The surprising truth about counterfeit Dragon’s blood

The truth is you haven’t been buying Dracaena draco, and the surprise is; that’s a good thing.
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Dracaena cinnabari in it’s native habitat on the Socotra archipelago. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons.

Part one in a series on Dragon’s blood resin.

The other Dragon’s blood; latex, dye and poison

In a modern magical context, Dragon’s blood is often erroneously assumed to simply be the resin sap produced by the Dragon tree, but as with most things in this world, the truth is more nuanced.

The Calamus, Pterocarpus and Croton genera contain plants which produce gums, latexes and resins which have been labelled as Dragon’s blood; these have been used medicinally and as dyes. One example, the latex of the Sangre de drago , Croton lechleri, native to South America, can be used as a natural adhesive bandage.
As for their use as pigments, due to the nature of vegetable dyes, kino gums may resemble blood when oozing from wounds on a tree but often do not produce a red colour pigment.

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The familiar kino of the Eucalyptus, Corymbis calophylla. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Outside of ethnomedical studies and natural remedies, these forms of Dragon’s blood are of less prevalent concern to modern paganism.

Next up we have the brilliant but deadly vermilion, also known as Dragon’s blood, or China red. This was traditionally produced from powdered mineral cinnabar. Cinnabar is a highly toxic form of mercury sulphide which was used in antiquity as a dye, cosmetic and in jewelry. Unsurprisingly you’re not likely to encounter this stuff on the market in its natural form, although vintage Chinese cinnabar lacquered artifacts are attractive to collectors. While cinnabar is very dangerous, with careful handling the lacquer renders it relatively inert.

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A wooden plate lacquered with cinnabar. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Finally, the form that most of us are more familiar with; Dragon’s blood incense. This is usually derived from either the Daemonorops or Dracaena genera; only the latter of which is also used as a dye.

The true Dragon’s blood tree

The Dragon’s blood resin you see for sale is very unlikely to be from the true dragon’s blood tree. It’s also worth noting that any form of genuine Dragon’s blood essential oil does not exist.

The popular houseplant known as Lucky bamboo, or Chinese water bamboo, Dracaena braunii, is actually a much closer relative to the genuine Dragon’s blood trees. Continuing the theme of misattribution, it is not Chinese nor a bamboo; it’s native to Cameroon in West Africa.

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Some lucky bamboo growing on my altar.

The family it belongs to, Asparagaceae, gives us the Agave used in the production of tequila and, as one could guess from the name, the vegetable asparagus.

When people talk about the Dragon’s blood tree, they are usually referring to Dracaena draco or Dracaena cinnabari. Although there are other Dracaena species harvested for their resin, I’ll be focusing on these two as they’re the most widely known and referred to. Due to its distinctive long trunk with leafy branches extending from the crown, these trees are sometimes called a Dragon’s blood palm. This is unfortunate because it is not a palm, while its impostor is.

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Not a palm. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Dracaena draco is a popular ornamental garden tree in Australia, whereas D. cinnabari is much less sought after due to its extremely slow growth rate and similar appearance. Given favorable conditions, the average Dragon’s blood tree takes 10 years to reach a height of just over one meter.

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My child. I picked up this D. Draco at Bunnings when it was only 20cm tall. It’s now 3 years of age.

Unfortunately both D. Draco and D. Cinnabari are threatened species; vulnerable to extinction in their native habitats. Both trees have an incredibly slow growth cycle, taking over a decade to reach their first state of reproductive maturity. Habitat loss, over harvesting, desertification, climate change and modern agriculture techniques all present hazards to their survival.

The common Dragon’s blood cane palm

Daemonorops draco, sometimes referred to as Demon cane due to its thorns, is cultivated in Southeast Asia, with much of the resin on the market coming from Indonesia and Thailand. Endemic to the tropics close to the equator, the Arecaceae family of plants also gives us raffia and coconuts.

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Not to be confused with the Araceae family like this Dieffenbachia dumb cane. Because whoever named them hated dyslexic people.

Daemonorops draco is the stuff you’ll commonly see for sale. I often see Dragon’s blood in stores labelled as Dracaena draco, but it’s increasingly rare and difficult to find genuine Dracaena resin.

Although it’s unfortunate that so many otherwise reputable outlets are mislabeling their product, the reasons I posited this as a good thing are threefold.
Firstly, Dracaena draco resin, due to its rarity is prohibitively expensive.

Secondly is the issue of the commercial exploitation of an endangered species, making the use of a plentiful alternative attractive. Harvesting Dracaena resin leaves the tree vulnerable to fungal infection which may kill it. Due to this vulnerability and their low numbers, it is favorable that the commonly available Dragon’s blood incense is derived from the plentiful and fast growing Daemonorops draco, as demand for the resin could not be satisfied otherwise.

Thirdly is a matter of personal opinion in regards to their aromatic properties. The rare D. cinnabari and D. draco are almost entirely scentless unless actively being burnt. As Dragon’s blood resin is used in all sorts of aromatic products beyond incense, such as soaps and papers, these would lose their appeal if Dracaena was used in things that aren’t intended to be set on fire.
Conversely the subtle but commanding, warm, masculine scent of Daemonorops draco is quite pleasant and apparent even when not lit.

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This red sigil chalk I made using palm Dragon’s blood should definitely not be set on fire.

Now that we’ve established the difference between these three types of Dragon’s blood resin, what about their aromas, magical uses and the mysterious Dragon’s blood ink?

In my next posts I will demonstrate the recipe for Dragon’s blood ink and explore the properties of Daemonorops draco, Dracaena draco and Dracaena cinnabari in greater detail.

Blood Magic

This article has a frank discussion of the uses of blood and photographs of dried blood on paper-all pictures of fresh blood/more graphic images are posted as links. I also refrained from making any ‘blood for the blood god’ jokes even though I really wanted to.

All experiments are valuable; here’s one that didn’t go so well-using fresh human blood as ink.

It’s a pity I didn’t have this project in mind when I was trailing surgical drains [GRAPHIC IMAGE] everywhere I went while recovering from top surgery (a double mastectomy) which would have provided a more than ample supply of human juice.

All the information I could find relating to blood painting generally assumes the blood compounds have been processed and rendered into a pigment-any cursory internet search for blood ink will only net you results about printer ink being more expensive by volume.

Once outside the body, pure blood clots very fast; rapidly turning into a goopy mess. While still in liquid form it displays good brush adhesion and is easy to use as a caligraphy medium, but the working time is a matter of mere seconds.
I experimented with diluting blood with alchohol, water and liquid gum arabic; none of these had any effect on stopping or slowing coagulation.
I wanted to find if there were any other easily available household items that could be used in such a manner.
Somewhere in the dusty attic of my memory, I had filed away a bit of heresay that food grade Tartaric and Citrid acid could be used as anti-coagulants.
At this point the supply I was willing and able to extract from myself was dwindling severly, so more conclusive results could probably be gained with samples larger than a few drops.
Between the citric acid, the tartaric acid and a combination of the two, I couldn’t discern any difference between them.
When a substantial amount of acid was added to blood, it immediately turned a rather unappealing shade of dark brown and became very sticky-remaining so without drying. Pure blood, although also sticky at first, usually dries extremely rapidly.

When the tiniest amount of acid was added the blood only darkened a shade; this also reduced the stickiness-on such a small scale it was difficult to say if it was wholly eliminated.

bloodImage description: marks painted in dried blood on two squares of brown paper.

On the left is a series of marks testing the consistency of blood/acid blends, and on the right is a sigil drawn in undiluted blood.
Although the difference is subtle, the card on the right, pure blood, is a richer red colour than the browned acid/blood mix.

I could have expanded my experiments to using frozen coagulated animal blood, and I may one day revisit this topic, but beyond occasionnaly using my own blood extracted using diabetes lancets as an ad-hoc offering, blood magic is not high on my list of interests. I’ve invested a lot in making sure as much of my insides remain inside as I can, and I’m too germaphobic to want much contact with anyone else’s.

Could either of these acids, used in very tiny amounts, be effectively used to give fresh human blood a uniform texture? I don’t know; I’m no phlebotomist and my knowledge of chemistry is weak at best.
My recommendation to anyone wanting to try painting a sigil or ritual message in blood, is to simply work very fast.

Totems, tutelaries and the animal messengers of the gods

To start, what is a tutelar?

The Oxford dictionary defines a tutelary spirit or deity as ‘serving as a protector, guardian, or patron’. Wikipedia further expands this definition to include totems as a type of tutelary.

I prefer not to use the term ‘totem’-the reasons for this are elaborate enough that it would be best to keep them for another post.

In the past I have used tutelar and also totem, in the form it’s most commonly used in modern pagan circles, as almost interchangeable. As I delve further into committing my personal practice to writing, it has become apparent that an expansion of this terminology is needed.

The types of relationships one may create within a magical context vary quite significantly; tutelary alone could easily become confusing and vague.

On top of this, many deities have strong associations with non-human animals; if one works closely with both deities and animals, it can be difficult to untangle which direction the signal is coming from.

I have created a set of terms to categorize types of animal tutelars and their associations; That of Regent, Agent and Individual.

In the following explanation, I will be using the domestic cat as an example.

CAT-REGENT

Regent:

A deity-like figure that represents the gestalt of all cats, the parent of all cats, the archetypal essence of what it is to be a cat; the quintessential cat-ness. A nonphysical being, but one that in this case, currently does have living physical counterparts (Regents of extinct taxa would not, but are still relevant).

If I were to meditate with the goal of entering a trance state and communing with an archetypal being that identifies itself as Domestic Cat, this would be the Domestic Cat Regent.

Individual:

A single cat entity. May be a living cat, a spirit housed in remains of a once living cat, or the incorporeal spirit of a cat.

The feral cat skull I have on my mantle was untrusting of humans in life, and remains so in death. The spirit housed in this skull is generally uncommunicative, and is another example of a Cat Individual.

Agent:

An individual as above, that is acting on behalf of another being, such as a deity or a tutelary regent.

Once, while meditating in my bedroom, I attempted to contact Bast using a small statue of Her image, but I wasn’t able to make a connection.

My cat-son had been sprawled on my bed behind me, and we had been mutually ignoring each other as he didn’t usually involve himself in my magical practice.

This time however, Bast decided to use him as a vessel for communicating with me.

‘Why use a statue when there is a real live cat right here?’ She had chided me affectionately.

In this instance my cat-son was operating in the capacity of agent, albeit for Bast rather than Cat Regent-in this instance, the human equivalent could be deemed to be aspecting or possession.

In my previous post, I described how a living individual domestic cat had acted as a messenger for Lilith. This cat was also acting as an agent.

If I wished to communicate with Cat Regent, I may set up my feral cat skull on my altar to act as an agent.
If Eurasian Lynx Regent was keen to communicate with me, it may use this skull as an Agent. Note-I have had American Badger Regent send me messages through a raccoon skull, so the species don’t necessarily need to be closely related-however if one were attempting to make contact rather than receive, a closer connection may be more viable.

I chose these terms as they are reasonably self-explanatory with context; How would this play out in conversation for example? Someone, upon learning that I work primarily with nonhuman animal energies, may ask me ‘what is your spirit animal?’

I would answer ‘I’ve been working a lot with coyotes lately, but Ringtail Possum Regent has been looking after me for many years.’

This would be referring to the many individual coyotes I work with, but the more abstract nature of my relationship with Ringtail Possum.

If anyone has any thoughts on this method for labeling and classifying types of interactions with animistic spirits, I’d love to hear them.