All posts by juliettegodot

The Legend of the Baptism of Angels

The Feast of the Holy Innocents yesterday reminded me of this ancient Vosges legend.

The legend of the Baptism of the Angels, as told by Monique Marie François, was relayed to me by my cousin, Françoise Cordier and is woven into the backbone of the novel, FROM THE DROP OF HEAVEN.

The Legend of the Baptism of the Angels

“When the land of Salm was not yet called Salm, Good Stones of Bethlehem gave a wonderful gift to a virgin named Mary. She could not find a room and was about to give birth. The Good Stones opened as only they could and formed a cave where the child was born.

The Savage King of the country heard the news and feared this child of God wished to become king in his place. He called his soldiers and ordered them to kill all the little boys in the country.

Poor Mary thought only to save her baby. She was lost and came round Vipucelle, which was not yet called Vipucelle. The beautiful forests of the Vosges frightened her and at the same time reassured her. What soldier would come looking for her here in the dense forest? During this period, the great empire did not even know this country existed. Thanking the Good Stones, she decided to live there.

The England of the Plantagenets (1189–1377) which honed the royal forest system was a typically medieval land.
medievalists.net

Then she heard music in the distance. The music was nice, but she knew it often announced a lord on the move, soldiers threatening all sorts of things that frightened her. The music of the horns redoubled in intensity, getting closer and closer, accompanied by barking dogs. It was the hunting party of the Savage King, and she knew very well what he hunted. Her baby, Jesus.

The poor woman ran as fast as she could, despite the hills and brush, but she was not as fast as men on horses and dogs who constantly gained on her. The chase led her to the edge of Grandfontaine. The Cornerstones still speak of it today, especially the one called Marie Roche Bois, or the Rock of Mary of the Woods.

‘Sit down a moment,’ said the Good Stone of the Lake as it transformed itself into a small stone seat.

Our Lady of Grace Garden Statue Blessed Virgin Mary Miraculous Medal

After she had rested, Mary escaped her pursuers, but the soldiers killed all the other baby boys in the area, some without having received Baptism.

The abbot, meaner than the soldiers of the Savage King, decided these babies could not go to Heaven. No Baptism, No Salvation! He did not care that innocent children would be punished, never to be in the presence of God. No exception of the law was possible as only Baptized children could go to heaven.

Of course, the High Stones would not tolerate such injustice and met to deliberate the issue at the Lake de la Maix. The Elder of the Stones decided to allow the innocent children to lie on top of them at night so they could receive the Baptism of the Angels, and the stones of the Lake de la Maix became a place of respite.

In the deep of the night, the Virgin Mother casts her gaze on the Lake de la Maix, and if she sees a baby lying there in its deathly slumber, she kisses the child on the forehead. The baby immediately opens its eyes and smiles at the lovely lady. The angels then baptize it with water from the lake and carry it’s soul to heaven.”

Lake de la Maix
Lake de la Maix

Excerpt: FROM THE DROP OF HEAVEN

Reference: LES DEMONS DU PAYS DE SALM by Françoise Cordier

Vosges Christmas Legend

The Wild Hunt of the Hellequin
The Wild Hunt of the Hellequin. Åsgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo (accessed from Wikipedia)

 

Between Yule and Twelfth Night, whilst the dead still walk among the living as they usually do during these thinly veiled times; beware the deep of the night. Be sure to leave the final sheaf of wheat in the field and do not remove the feast from the table to allow the ancestral spirits to come and collect their portion, else, the household of Hellequin will collect their share of souls.

The Legend of the Wild Hunt of the Hellequin

 

Before the land of Salm was called the Salm, there was a prince named Hellequin. From the time he learned to walk, he loved to chase. He chased his siblings, his nurse, the footman and the valet. At Mass, instead of lowering his head in prayer, he chased the altar boys and other members of the congregation. The King never corrected the spoiled prince and no one dared to say anything. Soon the prince’s love of the chase had become an obsession.

The prince grew into a handsome young man with dark flowing hair and amber eyes that glinted with mischief. One day at Mass, a rabbit wandered onto the altar and Prince Hellequin could not contain himself. He jumped after the rabbit, chasing it around the altar, knocking over the chalice and ciborium, spilling their consecrated contents. The priest raised his eyes to heaven and asked God for help.

God heard the priest.

Suddenly the floor of the altar crumbled below Prince Hellequin. He grabbed for the linens in a desperate attempt to keep from falling. A cloud of smoke roared from the abyss as three hounds leaped onto the altar, their tails afire, their yellow fangs dripping with blood.

Hellhound. League of Angels Fire Raiders wikia.com

They grabbed the prince and ripped his limbs, spewing blood on the tabernacle and the horrified priest who backed into the corner as the floor crashed before him.

The prince stood. His severed limbs hanging by the threads of his tattered, blood-soaked cloak. His amber eyes glowed as if on fire while light shone through gaping holes in his body. A horrifying smile spread across his face. He pointed toward the congregation and immediately the hellhounds jumped toward the crowd. As quickly as their shredded victims fell, they rose and joined the pack of wild dogs, attacking other members of the household.

The price then turned toward his father who watched helplessly, frozen by the horror of the spectacle before him. The king came to his senses and shouted at his son to stop the carnage, but instead of minding his father, the prince attacked him. Within moments, the king’s eyes glowed and he turned on his wife. Soon the entire household of Hellequin had joined the hunt.

The Wild Hunt – A darker shade of Yule. Image from seventreesfarm.wordpress.com

They rushed toward the stable, mounted the royal horses, and charged into the countryside, so fast that the horses’ feet left the ground. The whirl of hooves, blowing horns of doom, and screams of the damned filled the air and with furious winds, lightning, thunder, and a terrifying whirl, the specter disappeared into the clouds.

 

Pity the traveler who dares to wander by himself as he may hear the sound of whispering leaves. The whispering may be the wind, but assuredly, it is the Hellequin, roaming the skies, scanning the countryside with his band of demons. As fire flashes from the eyes of the prince, his black hellhounds, and the hooves of black horses, the wild souls of the damned sweep down and grab their prey that have no choice but join in the hunt.

The Wild Hunt of the Hellequin.

Wild Hunt. Myths, Lore and Legends. Facebook: Women of Asatru

More Cold Remedies

Here in Western Pennsylvania, spring is just around the corner, but like this seemingly unending winter, the common cold will not go away. I thought I would add to my list of home cold remedies. Most of these items are already in your kitchen.

More Cold Remedies

Oregano
More Cold Remedies, Oregano
Cold Remedies, Oregano

Francisca used oregano in her snakebite remedy. It is also good for many other ailments, including the common cold. Oregano tea is helpful in loosening phlegm and soothing coughs and asthma. Make oregano tea from either dried or fresh leaves. If you don’t have any oregano plants hanging from your rafters as they did in Le Petit-Courty, you probably have a jar in the spice cupboard. Place a teaspoon of dried leaves in a mug and add boiling water. If you can find fresh oregano at the supermarket, be sure to buy organic. Tea made out of insecticide-laced oregano will not make anyone feel better. Use three teaspoons of fresh bruised leaves. Allow the leaves steep for 5 – 10 minutes. Breathe in the vapors as it steeps, then add a little honey (also adding additional antioxidant properties) and lemon juice, and enjoy your natural remedy.

Apple Cider Vinegar
More Cold Remedies, Vinegar
Pittsburgh’s own Heinz Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar, especially unfiltered vinegar with the mother, is a powerful cold remedy. A few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with a tablespoon honey mixed in a cup of water will knock out a cold. Enjoy this sweet-tart concoction several times a day. Some add a teaspoon of cayenne pepper for additional anti-inflammatory benefits and an added kick.

Ginger
More Cold Remedies, Ginger
Ginger Root.
Image courtesy of wikipedia

People have used ginger for thousands of years to expel toxins in the body. Ginger’s natural anti-inflammatory properties will soothe your throat and warm your body to chase colds away. You need about a two-inch piece of ginger root. Peel and thinly slice and add to about four cups of water. Allow to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, and then strain into mug. Ginger is naturally sweet, so taste before adding anything additional, but a squeeze of lemon, cinnamon, and honey also add flavor and benefits.

Sources:

Weiner, Michael A., Earth Medicine, Earth Food. MacMillan Publishing Co, Inc. (1980) Print
http://www.naturalnews.com/042226_common_cold_natural_remedies_apple_cider_vinegar.html

Dry Skin

This time of year, those of us who live in cold winter climates deal with dry itchy skin as an unpleasant fact. The residents of Le Petit-Courty did not enjoy a forced air heated environment, nor did they bathe every day, or even every week for that matter. As a result, they probably did not suffer with dry skin.

The combination of heated dry air plus the drying effects of bathing wreaks havoc on our skin. There are many ways to help with these dry skin issues.

Oils
Oils

Turn down the heat. Heat makes your blood vessels dilate, so keeping your house cooler has an anesthetic effect. For the same reason, when you bathe, use warm, not hot water, and follow each bath with moisture to hold the water, not the oil, into your skin. To maximize the effects, apply the moisturizer while your skin is still damp.

Expensive moisturizers and creams are not necessary to keep skin supple. Petroleum jelly or baby oil is just as effective. Actually, any kitchen oil, sunflower, peanut, or canola oil will help with dry skin. Keep it in the shower and apply before drying. If your skin is overly sensitive, get rid of that soap, go to your pantry, and get the oatmeal. Tie some steel cut oats in a cloth, dunk it in water, and use like a scrunchy.

Add moisture to your air. If you have a wood burner, place a pan of water on the top, just be sure to keep children away to avoid accidents. A small humidifier by the bed will also help.

On rare occasions, dry skin may result from a vitamin deficiency, and boosting intake of Vitamin A and C, the group B vitamins, and Zinc may help. Severely dry skin may be a signal of thyroid disorder or lymphoma, however, and a doctor should evaluate any scaling, or wrinkling.

Sources:
Tkac, Debora. The Doctors Book of Home Remedies: Thousands of Tips and Techniques Anyone Can Use to Heal Everyday Health Problems. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 1990. Print.

Reader’s Digest Foods That Harm Foods That Heal. Surry Hills, NSW Reader’s Digest, 1997 Print.

Natural Cold Remedies

This time of year, everyone seems to have the sniffles. Francisca surely had a list of natural cold remedies to treat the symptoms. Here are just a few she may have prescribed. This year, why not try a few home remedies before putting more chemicals into your body?

salt
Salt for gargle

 

For a sore throat, mix a few tablespoons of salt to a glass of warm water and gargle for thirty seconds, up to eight times a day. Why does this work? Did you ever notice that your throat feels raw and swollen when it is sore? The salt naturally dries the excessive fluid and reduces swelling. The bacteria that cause a sore throat cannot grow as easily in the drier environment. The salt may not kill the bacteria, but it will make your throat less hospitable for it to take up residence there.

hot peppers
hot peppers to clear congestion

 

Eat spicy foods. Spicy enough to make your eyes and nose run, which will help clear congestion. Hot peppers also have an expectorant effect that helps loosen mucus and clear your lungs. If you like garlic, try cooking it to soften and then crush and spread on a sandwich or use to make a tea.

 

Catmint
Catmint tea for sore throat
Catnip or catmint – You won’t find any outside this time of year, but if you can find a plant from a greenhouse, catmint is easy to grown indoors. Place it on a sunny windowsill, as lack of light will prohibit the leaf growth. Pinching off the flowers as soon as they appear will also help the plant fill out. Make sure to water it enough in the dry winter environment. As soon as the plant grows to about six to eight inches, you can start using the leaves. Plant outside after the last frost and replace your indoor catmint plant in the fall with a fresh plant.

A tea made from catnip may soothe a sore throat and help loosen phlegm, but catnip also works as an antacid, for diarrhea and stomach upset. It may reduce anxiety and insomnia as well. The anti-inflammatory properties of catnip also make it an effective treatment for arthritis and help with the swelling of insect bites. Catnip works as a sedative, so do not mix with other sedatives. It also may act as a diuretic so use it in moderation. To make the tea, remove the water from the heat for a minute or two before pouring over the catnip flowering tops and steep.

Sources:
Weiner, Michael A., Earth Medicine, Earth Food. MacMillan Publishing Co, Inc. (1980) Print
Ward, Bernie, 650 Home Remedies, An Essential Companion for Every Home. Globe Communications Corp (1996) Print

Marie’s Pantry

Marie Cathillon raised five children on the farm in Le Petit-Courty. Her pantry was stocked with wild and cultivated herbs used for cleaning, healing, and seasoning, all without the use of chemicals.

Marie’s Pantry

Making Apple Butter
My mother making apple butter on her farm in rural Western Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy of Teri Meier

Soapwort (Wild Sweet William)

Soapwort (Wild Sweet William)
Soapwort (Wild Sweet William) growing in my backyard

This plant grew for years along the edge of the woods behind my house, and though I always loved the burst of color and sweet smell, I never knew its practical value.

While Marie did not know how phosphates suspend oil and dirt in water to be rinsed away, she knew that boiling soapwort created foam that would accomplish the same task.

Soapwort, wild sweet William, grows in early summer in the rich, well-drained soil along the edge of the meadow where it is shaded from the strong afternoon sun. The leaves are slightly hairy with flowers forming atop the smooth stem. Little fingers appear to reach out from the stem and grab weeds near it in order to reach its full height of three feet. Left undisturbed, it can be invasive. The prolific pink, sometimes white, flowers burst forth from June to October attracting butterflies and honeybees with its sweet, spicy aroma.

This natural soap is gentle enough for use on wool sweaters or silk blouses without stripping their natural oils. Cleanser made from soapwort makes a nice alternative for sensitive skin or for an herbal bath. Leftovers keep better in the refrigerator. If you cannot use it within the week, freeze it to avoid bacterial growth.

To verify soapwort, pick a handful of leaves and flowers, dunk them in a bucket of water, and rub them vigorously between your palms. A cool green lather will form with a fresh outdoorsy scent.

The entire plant is useful in making soap.

In the spring, harvest the shallow woody rhizomes, scrub, and cut into small chunks. Place two handfuls into a quart of boiling water. Return to a boil, and then lower the heat and let simmer for about twenty minutes. Once the mixture cools, run it through the blender, a little at a time. This will create a lot of foam, so allow to dissolve overnight. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the bits of roots. Dry and store these bits to toss in the pot the next time.

In the summer, harvest leaves and flowers. Gather about a handful of leaves and flowers and simply pour a cup of boiling water over them. Let steep about fifteen minutes, strain, and whisk the liquid until foamy.

To use all year long, dry the leaves, flowers, and roots, making sure to turn frequently to avoid mold growth.

As with any soap, do not eat soapwort.

Source: Hitchcock, Susan Tyler. Gather Ye Wild Things: A Forager’s Year. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. Print

Francisca’s Herbal Remedies

Fireplace drying herbs
Fireplace drying herbs in the farmhouse at Le Petit-Courty

And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. (Genesis 1:29)

 

Hanging from the rafters of Le Petit-Courty, like an upside down garden, Francisca dried plants, roots, and bark, ready for immediate use to treat whatever ailed the Cathillon family or the people of Vacquenoux.

Hemp-Agrimony

Hemp-Agrimony
Francisca’s Favorite Herb, Hemp-Agrimony

Of the myriad of species collected, she relied on Hemp-Agrimony above all others, collecting the leaves and flowering tops in August, before they opened and dried. Vitamin C in plants such as Hemp-Agrimony staved off scurvy and colds during the long Vosges winter without fresh fruits.

A tea made from Hemp-Agrimony leaves or dried flowers treated colds and sore throats, reduced fever, and relieved stomachaches. The bruised leaves applied directly to the skin healed wounds or infections, or rubbed on domestic animals repelled insects. Placing the leaves in a bath relieved aching muscles and joints and a compress of the leaves relieved headaches. Even the roots from the plant were used as a laxative.

Commonly found in wet soil near swamps and thickets or along freshwater streams, Hemp-Agrimony is a tall woody plant, growing between two and five feet high with long, toothy leaflets. The leaves grow in familiar tiered hemp-style in pairs of three lobes. Reddish stems covered in downy hair with clusters of tiny pink or white flowers that burst forth from July to September.

Hemp-Agrimony is no relation to Agrimony, a plant with yellow flowers, nor is it related to Cannabis Hemp, though the shape of the leaf is similar. All parts of the this is poisonous if eaten and should only be ingested as a tea.

Source: Weiner, Michael A., Earth Medicine, Earth Food. MacMillan Publishing Co, Inc. (1980) Print

Catherine’s Foraging Journal

Wild Spinach or Lambsquarters

Prolific, abundant, and delicious, the top edible “weed” is Wild Spinach. It grows with little effort in almost any disturbed soil, and is one of the most nutrient dense plants ever analyzed. It is rich in potassium and magnesium, and has more vitamins A and C, riboflavin, and calcium than domesticated spinach.

Wild Spinach
Wild Spinach

Identification: The leaves of the Wild Spinach are arranged in a starburst pattern, and vary in shape from narrow and pointed, to rounded and triangular. They may grow up to four feet tall, though they lose flavor as they age. The waxy coating on the leaves makes water bead and deters insects.

Poisonous look alike: The Hairy Nightshade. The leaves on these two plants are similar, but the nightshade is hairy, while the wild spinach is not. They are also easily discernable by their flowers. Hairy nightshade flowers are white, while wild spinach flowers are green and inconspicuous. Another way to identify Wild Spinach is to spray the leaves with water and look for droplets.

Harvesting: Thin the patch by pinching shoots close to the ground and placing the baby shoots in a bowl of water to keep them from drying out. Harvest larger plants by pinching the upper stem. If the stem pinches off easily, it is tender enough to eat. If the stem is old and woody, pluck only the leaves, though pruning the woody stem will stimulate new growth. If the leaves are too old, they may become bitter, but are still usable cooked with onion, garlic, or in a stew.

Source: Kallas, John. Edible Wild Plants, Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. Gibbs Smith Publishing (2010) Print