Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Have Yourself A Merry Little..Samhain




 
 You would have had to be living in another dimension not to have realised that Halloween is almost upon us. Pumpkins decorate every supermarket and greengrocer in town. Plastic spiders, cobwebs and witches’ brooms festoon shopping arcades and toy stores. Little Lucy can dress up like a witch in her tattered black dress, pointy hat and blackened-out teeth, while Sexy Sadie dons fishnets, kitten ears and bright red lipstick (not to mention killer heels and a skirt that barely covers her necessities. Or should that be, covers her bare necessities?)

Yes, it’s all a bit of fun, isn’t it? Kids out Trick or Treating, hopefully with at least one responsible adult in tow. Back home in time for bobbing for apples (do they still do that?). Then, with the kids safely in bed, the adults can play. Halloween parties with plenty of dry ice, and hideously garish cocktails with names such as Bloodsucker and Liquefied Ghost (recipes to follow).

But for those whose spiritual side remains uppermost, Halloween – All Hallows Eve or Samhain, depending on your religion of choice – is a significant time of the year.  For Christians it is a time to honour and remember the dead. For pagans, Samhain marks endings and beginnings and is also a time to remember the ancestors. It is arguable that early Christians ‘adopted’ this festival as part of an ongoing campaign to stamp out pagan worship.

For those who celebrate Samhain, a number of celebrations are likely to occur. It is also reckoned to be the best time to conduct a séance, as this is the time of year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. This is the dark season. Samhain itself occurs on November 1st – a day the Christians adopted for All Saints Day.

At sunset on Samhain, the pagan New Year begins. The old year has ended with the final gathering in of the harvest, the leaves have fallen from the trees and the earth has begun to slumber. It is the perfect time for reflecting on the previous twelve months. What have been the high points? What have been the low ones? Does anything remain to be resolved? If so, now is the time to do it. Many will stretch out the celebrations over three days and include festivals such as:

Honouring the Ancestors.

An altar is prepared, covered with pictures and mementoes of the dead to be remembered, maybe even including grave rubbings. Candles are lit and a special chant is said.

This is the night when the gateway between
our world and the spirit world is thinnest.
Tonight is a night to call out those who came before us.
Tonight we honor our ancestors.
Spirits of our ancestors, we call to you,
and we welcome you to join us for this night.
We know you watch over us always,
protecting us and guiding us,
and tonight we thank you.
We invite you to join us and share our meal.

Food is served, with wine and cider to wash it down. A symbolic place is set for the ancestors. People share memories of their loved ones and when the meal is over, all the plates and glasses are cleared, save for one glass – the ancestors’ cup. This is then passed around all the guests. As they sip from it, they will recite their genealogy – e.g. ‘I am Margaret, daughter of Elsie, daughter of Miles, son of Malcolm…’ as far back as they can go.

The glass ends in front of the ancestors’ place and a young guest says:

This is the cup of remembrance.
We remember all of you.
You are dead but never forgotten,
and you live on within us.

There is also a Ritual for the Animals, where both wild and domestic animals are honoured and remembered, but if this hasn’t been conducted separately, people can incorporate photos and memories of their beloved departed animals as part of this ritual.

Honouring the God and Goddess

In Wiccan tradition, this is the time of year when the Goddess metamorphoses into her Crone form. This is the time when she is the Earth Mother, the wise one, the teacher. The God on the other hand, becomes the Stag – the Horned One who dies that we might all eat. He is also embodied in the grains and corn that once adorned the fields.

Ideally the ceremony is hosted by the High Priest and High Priestess, assisted by the Handmaiden (the youngest female participant), although it can be performed by a solitary Wiccan. It involves sheaves of corn, a circle, altar, symbolic red, black, brown and green candles, dark bread (enough for each participant), plus wine or cider. The ritual includes time to reflect on what the God and Goddess have bestowed on you during the past year and to make resolutions on how you can honour them in the year to come. (For a full explanation of this ritual, see Paganwiccan)

Other festivals at this time include End of the Harvest, Celebrating the Cycle of Life and Death and a fascinating one called:

A Dumb Supper

 This is basically a feast with the dead. If you want to do this yourself, you’ll need a table, decorated with a black tablecloth, black napkins, cutlery and plates. You’ll need to prepare traditional fare such as Soul Cakes (recipe later), apples and (preferably) game. You should illuminate the room only with black candles.

Now, here’s the challenge. During the supper, nobody can speak. So you would need to ensure everyone can reach any condiments they may want. This is a solemn, silent affair. Places should be set for each guest, plus a place at the head of the table for the deceased. That chair should be shrouded in black or white cloth and one tealight for each deceased person being remembered that night can be placed in front of this place. Each guest should bring a note, containing the name of the deceased friend or relative they wish to honour and a message for them. None of the contents should be revealed.

The room should be prepared in accordance with usual Wiccan tradition and, as the meal begins, each guest should link hands and silently bless the meal. No one should eat until this act has been performed.

At the end of the meal, each person in turn takes their note to the head of the table and picks up the tealight representing their loved one. They focus on the contents of the note they have brought with them and then burn it and return, still in silence, to their seat. When each person has had their turn, everyone stands and leaves, pausing at the head of the table to say one last goodbye to their loved one.

Not one word has been spoken throughout.

Of course, for those brave enough to do so, after this dinner would be a great time to hold a séance…

Now for those promised recipes (the first two come courtesy of : HGTV.com)

Bloodsucker


Ingredients:
1 1/2 oz. Bacardi "0"
1/2 oz. Cointreau
2 oz. pineapple juice
1 Tbs. strawberry or raspberry puree

Preparation:
Pour rum, Cointreau and juice into a shaker with ice. Shake mixture, then pour into a rocks glass. Dip the end of a drinking straw into the berry puree, hold the tip of your finger over the other end and use the straw to squirt puree into the bottom half-inch of the drink, where it will sink in red blobs. Do not stir.

Liquefied Ghost

Ingredients:
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. vanilla simple syrup
1 oz. cream
2 oz. soda

Preparation:
Mix vanilla simple syrup, cream, vodka and soda together in a cocktail shaker, then serve in a chilled martini glass.
 
 Soul Cakes

Ingredients
Serves: 12 
  • 375g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 185g butter, at room temperature
  • 155g caster sugar
  • 90g currants
  • 90g sultanas
  • 1 egg
  • 125ml milk
Method
Prep:15min  ›  Cook:15min  ›  Ready in:30min 
  1. Preheat oven to 220 C / Gas 7. Grease baking tray or line with parchment.
  2. Sift dry ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. Rub in the butter. Mix in the sugar, currants and sultanas.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and milk. Mix in well until you have a firm mixture. Using a dessertspoon and fork, spoon the mixture onto greased trays.
  4. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in preheated oven.

Bright Blessings to all – whatever your persuasion!


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

What Are The Grim Secrets of the Asylum?





Multi-genre author, Dana Wright proves that horror wears many hats. With her brand new story Asylum - the first in her Ghost Echoes series - she has written a novella, full of suspense, the supernatural and some serious sexual tension between her two main characters. I'm delighted she is joining me today - and she's talking about writing, research, and how to juggle life, the day job and dealing with deadlines:

1      Tell us about your newest release.


My newest release is called Asylum and it is about a young woman named Rachel who can see behind the veil and connect with spirits. When she is faced with taking another ghost hunting job after a horrible accident, she is tormented but needs the money to get her grandmother out of a terrible nursing home. She goes to Bremore Asylum with her nemesis, the psychic debunker Matt Rutledge. He thinks she’s a load of hot air and is about to learn the hard way she isn’t. (That’s one of my favorite parts of the story.)

      What was one thing you wanted to research when writing the story?


The research into old asylums and the abuse that went on in some of them. Women were placed in asylums by their families for failing to comply with the social attitudes of the time and there was a lot of pain that stuck around. I wanted to explore that.


The other thing I wanted to explore is the genuine phenomenon of connecting with the spirit world (Rachel’s point of view) and fighting the type of shyster that takes advantage of people in times of great hardship or grief. (Matt Rutledge’s character). They both have very valid points of view and it was wonderful to see them mesh. 



       Do you have anything you do before you start a project?


When I start a new story I immediately go to Pinterest and start looking at images associated with the current project and if they connect, then I make a board. I also pick out music that fits the theme if it is very pronounced. For example, one story I have under my pen name deals with a dark circus/urban fantasy type of environment. I found the most amazing album that had creepy circus music and the story came alive in my mind. The catch is to find something that doesn’t distract with lyrics or I’ll be singing (badly) instead of writing.
     
     Which authors have influenced your work?


Anne Rice
Stephen King was a biggie in my formative years. I also read a ton of Anne Rice and a wonderful anthology given to me by my sister for Christmas one year when I was a child called Tales of Horror and the Supernatural. I think the tendrils worked their way into my brain. Lol. I also read a lot of Virginia Henley, Nancy Collins, Kim Harrison and Melissa Marr. Urban fantasy, horror, romance, mystery and young adult all find their way into my stories at one point or another.

How does your family like you being an author? 


They are excited for me. I write under two names and they love that I am doing light romance now and demand I write a werewolf or shifter novel. My thinking cap is on.


My husband is my biggest cheerleader. We have worked out a system where he will go to the grocery store and throw me chicken strips or a pizza when deadlines loom and I’m freaking out trying to balance a full time job and writing under two names. It is a balancing act, but with his help I am able to get quality writing time almost every day.

When you aren’t writing what do you like to do?


I love to crochet, knit, play with my furry canine children, bake and read. But as you can imagine, writing comes first and I don’t get to do as much of my hobbies as I would like. Monster movies are also a favorite and you can often find me watching Netflix on my iPad doing my hair or glued to the set while I sit with my husband while we eat, then I dive right back into my writer cave.


      What’s next?


I am working on the next Ghost Echoes story, two YA books, a horror novella and about a dozen other different projects. I’m also working on a middle grade series and it is in the planning stages.



Seven things to know about me:

1.       I am a dog mom.
2.       In my day to day life I am a bookstore manager.
3.       I can’t drive a stick shift to save my life.
4.       Spiders are awesome but roaches make me scream like a girl. (Spiders knit-they are useful but roaches are just nasty little things.)
5.       I hate tomatoes but love spaghetti.
6.       I write under two names. Dana Wright for YA, horror and light romance. Erzabet Bishop for erotic horror and all sorts of erotic romance.
7.       Pizza and macaroni and cheese are my favorite comfort foods outside of chocolate.
The ''awesome" spider

Thanks for having me on the blog today Catherine! It was a lot of fun and I hope you will all love Asylum.



Thank you for being my guest, Dana. And, for the record, I LOVED Asylum!

Blurb:
The voices of the past are alive behind the iron gates of Bremore Asylum. Can Rachel and Matt deduce its secrets before it's too late?

When Rachel agrees to take the job investigating the disappearance of a fellow ghost hunter at Bremore Asylum, she is totally unprepared for the sexy and stubborn psychic debunker Matt Rutledge to be a part of the package. Can these two opposing forces find the answers behind the asylum's crumbling walls before they become the newest victims to the asylum's grim history?

Excerpt:
Rachel narrowed her eyes. What little hold she held on her frayed temper snapped. Self-doubt flared, but she stamped it out as quickly as it came.

"What's that supposed to mean?" She stepped forward, hands clenched into fists, her foot brushing against the luggage. Her hoodie slid off the suitcase and flopped unceremoniously into the dirt. 

"We haven't even started on the project and you're trying to displace me already?" 

Rutledge stepped back, surprise clear on his lightly parted lips. Lips she apparently still wanted to kiss, damn his eyes. God, what was wrong with her? 

"My friend almost died because of a mistake I made. But you're already aware of that, aren't you, Mr. High and Mighty? Listen to me and listen good. I'm here because my grandmother needs me. I'm a damn fine ghost hunter, which you would already know if you bothered to see beyond what happened to Jeannie." She poked her finger into his chest and had the satisfaction of seeing him wince. 

Matt stepped back and held up his hands, a ruddy flush creeping up his cheeks. "Okay. I was out of line. Truce?" He bent down and carefully picked up her hoodie, handing it to her gingerly. 

"Thank you, Mr. Rutledge." Rachel snatched the hoodie from his hands and tied it around her waist with a firm yank. She didn't want to chance it falling in the dirt again and it was going to be a long weekend. At the rate they were going, it was going to be a full-on ice storm between them. 

A flash of humor crossed his face. "Do you think maybe you could call me Matt?" 

"That depends." 

"On what?" Matt cocked his eyebrow with surprise. 

"On whether you can stop dissecting me like one of your frauds."

You can buy Asylum here:



 About the author:
Dana Wright has always had a fascination with things that go bump in the night. She is often found playing at local bookstores, trying not to maim herself with crochet hooks or knitting needles, watching monster movies with her husband and furry kids or blogging about books. More commonly, she is chained to her computers, writing like a woman possessed. She is currently working on several children's stories, young adult fiction, romantic suspense, short stories and is trying her hand at poetry. 

She is a contributing author to Ghost Sniffer’s CYOA, Siren’s Call E-zine in their “Women in Horror” issue in February 2013 and "Revenge" in October 2013, a contributing author to Potatoes!, Fossil Lake, Of Dragons and Magic: Tales of the Lost Worlds, Undead in Pictures, Potnia, Shadows and Light, Dark Corners, Wonderstruck, Shifters: A Charity Anthology, Dead Harvest, Monster Diaries (upcoming), Holiday Horrors and the Roms, Bombs and Zoms Anthology from Evil Girlfriend Media. She is the author of Asylum due out in October 2014.   Dana has also reviewed music for Muzikreviews.com specializing in New Age and alternative music and has been a contributing writer to Eternal Haunted Summer, Nightmare Illustrated, Massacre Magazine, Metaphor Magazine, The Were Traveler October 2013 edition: The Little Magazine of Magnificent Monsters, the December 2013 issue The Day the Zombies Ruled the Earth. She currently reviews music at New Age Music Reviews and Write a Music Review.

Follow Dana’s reviews:
 Twitter: @danawrite