Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Feast

In 2006, my Mother-in-Law gave us a recipe book compiled by the Greek Orthodox community in Detroit, Michigan. It is the same recipe book that she has always used and has been published unchanged since 1957. Even though the Greek Orthodox community put this book together, I use the recipes for many of our traditional Hellenic festivals. Good food is just good food, regardless of the philosophy.

At the beginning of the book, there is a suggestion for a Greek New Year's Eve feast:

The Greek New Year's feast is symbolic of prosperity and good fortune - one to be shared by families and friends in open house fashion.

The Typical New Year's Eve table is adorned with fine linen and silver, and bears as a centerpiece a cornucopia (horn of plenty) overflowing with assorted fruits and nuts of the traditional Vasilopita or New Year's Cake. The Vasilopita, which is customarily prepared for New Year's Eve and in which is inserted a gold or silver coin, is cut at midnight into as many pieces as there are members of the family. The one who finds the lucky coin is said to have good fortune in the New Year.

New Year's Dinner

Shrimp Cocktail
Celery hearts, green onions, cucumber slices
Roast Suckling Pig
Pork Pie with Coin
Mavrodaphne Wine
New Year's Bread

As I have learned in reading the Hellenic Cookbook, very rarely do the suggestions match the recipes included in the book. Those quirky Greeks! Therefore, I have no idea how to make most of these items but they sure sound like a great New Year's Feast. And with the addition of Pork, this menu would be appropriate to honor Persephone. If you set a table with the cornucopia, that would symbolize the bounty of Demeter to help usher in the prosperity of the New Year.

There is one recipe, however, that I do have. It is my mother-in-law's recipe for Pastitsio. It is probably my favorite Greek dish and I make it frequently. Family recipes like this do tend to evolve so as my Mother-in-law learned it from her mother-in-law and made her own modifications, I have done the same.

Baked Macaroni with Meat Filling - Pastitsio Me Crema

1 lb Macaroni (by this they mean traditional Makaronia, a long noodle with a hole in the middle. If you can't find this, I have found that some Ziti works just fine.)

2 lbs Ground Meat (it really does just say Meat - doesn't specify what kind. I use ground sirloin. My MIL uses both beef and pork)

2 cups grated cheese (I mix 1 cup each Parmesan and Romano)

Several cloves of chopped garlic. I like a lot of garlic, so I use probably about 8 or 10 cloves.

1/2 of a "Large" can of Tomato Paste. I have never quite been able to figure out what this means - so I just use a small can.

3 eggs
1/4 lb melted butter
1/2 cup wine (Red. Tasty)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Nutmeg to taste

Boil the macaroni in salted water, drain and return to pan. Prepare meat sauce by frying the garlic in a little butter, adding the meat, tomato paste, small glass of wine and seasoning. I like the flavor of Nutmeg, so I use a fair amount. Cook until the meat is done, adding a little water or wine of necessary to thin out the mixture a little bit if it is too dry.

Pour half the melted butter and most of the grated cheese over the cooked macaroni. Add three eggs, lightly beaten. Season the macaroni and place in bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Cover the noodles with meat mixture.

Now make the cream sauce:

1 quart of milk
2 eggs, beaten
5 tablespoons of wondra flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 lb melted butter

Place melted butter in a saucepan and add the wondra, stirring until mixed thoroughly. Add the milk, stirring all the while. Cook over low flame until thickened. Add salt and remove from flame. When cooled slightly, add the beaten eggs and mix well. Spread cream sauce over the assembled noodles and meat sauce. Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.

Bake in "Moderate" oven for 40 minutes. I have translated "moderate" to mean 350 degrees.

Eat and Enjoy.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter's Daughter

Sitting on the highway
I75 North,
Through Ohio, just thinking
The naked trees and the silvery snow
Make everything twilight
Leaving eternal summer
For the gray
Seeing family, I have missed them
But leaving Home. 

Each year, Persephone journeys
The underworld
Is not a prison, but a castle
And the guilded beauty of Olympos
Is cold and lonely

I long to see Atlanta
She longs to see the Underworld
It is the same path.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thinking of Dionysos

At the very least, he is Persephone's brother.  Some traditions say he is her son.  For some reason I have always linked the feeling of Chrsitmastime to the energy of Dionysos.  And even though this is a blog about Persephone, I wanted to take this little detour into his mythology.

Sure, might say it is all about the wine.  But that isn't exactly it.  I think it is that feeling of perpetual celebration.  About giving yourself over to feeling good. 

I have a habit of feeling "stressy" during the holidays.  I do it to myself.  I have a problem with not knowing how to react when too many things are coming at me all at once.  The Holidays tend to do that to you.  We travel during the holidays, so I always feel like I need to get things done super early to allow myself enough time to be prepared.  I am a planner by nature anyway.  When it starts to feel like I can't finish all of these things on time, I start to freak out.  Truth is, they always work out in the end.  The energy of Dionysos is like that - give yourself over to him 100 % and things will work out in the end.  It might be a wild and out of control ride, but it'll work out. 

One of my favorite Christmas movies is The Muppet Christmas Carol.  I love the way they handled the Ghost of Christmas Present.  I think there is something about his image - the giant, jolly ghost sitting among all the symbols of a great and prosporous feast - that is very Dionysian.  "Come and know me better, Man!" he says to Michael Cain's Scrooge.  That is exactly what everyone should do with a god like Dionysos.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Winter Solstice

As I have mentioned recently, I love this time of year. I love listening to Christmas music. I love decorating the house and trimming the tree. I love the crisp winter air and the crunch of new fallen snow under my boots. For me, this holiday season is about family and love and all the great things about life. And, of course, it is another turn on the Season Cycle that continues to connect me to the myth of Persephone.

Since moving to Atlanta, Matt and I travel for the holidays. This has spawned a tradition for us. When we exchange gifts with each other we don't like to pack them up and haul them up to Michigan just to open them and haul them back. So for the last 6 years we have celebrated Yule, or the Winter Solstice. On or around December 21st we will have a nice dinner at home, some wine and open our gifts to each other, including stockings filled with fun toys and candy. We really enjoy that tradition in our little family of two.

The winter solstice is a magical time of year. As I think of it in terms of Persephone's story, we see her descend into the Underworld each Autumn Equinox to spend the winter with her husband and ascend back to her Mother with the coming of the Spring. But the winter solstice marks the very middle of her time with her husband. From this point on, she knows that the time they have to part is getting closer and closer.
I imagine on the solstice, Persephone and Hades sit down to a lovely dinner and exchange gifts with one another. Maybe they even go for a walk in the night hand in hand in the snow beneath the twinkling stars and a canopy of leafless trees caused by Persepone's very absence in the world.

"Over the ground lies a mantle of white
A heaven of Diamonds shines down throught the night
Two hearts are thrillin' in spite of the chill in the weather

Love knows no season, love knows no clime
Romance can blossom any ol' time here in the open
We're walkin' and hopin' together."

Just like the young lovers in "Winter Winderland", composed by Felix Bernard with lyrics by Richard B Smith in 1934 (one of my perrenial favorites indeed), Persephone and Hades spend every waking moment with one another. They know spring is an inevidibility that will pull them apart again.

So, In the words of Blues Traveler in their song "Christmas",

"If it's Chanukah or Kwanza, Solstice Harvest or December twenty-fifth
Peace on earth to everyone And abundance to everyone."

Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, spend some time to show the people you care about most how much they mean to you. Our time is not infinite and you just never know what the future brings. It doesn't have to be with fancy gifts or a lot of money, everyone loves the gift of time well spent. During this long winter, just love one another.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Pomegranate Cocktail

When I did a search for "Christmas Pomegranate", this video appeared everywhere.  Enjoy the Christmas Pomegranate Cocktail from Jamie Oliver. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Persephone Crafts: The Olympian Yule Tree

It is that festive time of year.  The house is decorated, the presents are wrapped and the only thing missing in Atlanta is several feet of snow.  I love Christmastime! 

I began a tradition several years ago with our household holiday decorations: the Olympian tree. I love holiday decorations and I wanted something meaningful to me and my devotional Hellenic path. I selected blown glass ornaments that represented each of the Olympian gods.

I placed them all on a small tinsel tree that we bought several years ago. Even though she isn't an Olympian specifically, I included an ornament for Persephone as my patron - a beautiful blown glass pomegranate. I hang it next to the Rooster, a symbol sacred to her husband, Hades.

While I chose specifically to purchase ornaments for this tree, mainly because I really love the look of blown glass ornaments, I thought that an excellent craft for the holidays might be to make ornaments for your own Yule tree.  This gives each person the freedom to craft any symbol that is important to them. 
When I was little, we had a lot of hand made ornaments that we made out of dough.  I believe it was my sister who spearheaded the project.  This link provides a recipe and directions for the project.  Be creative and be meaningful and I believe in the end you will have a tradition that can last a lifetime. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Persephone Unveiled by Charles Stein

I frequently read the blog of my dear friend, Carl McColman.  One of the things I enjoy about his writing is his sheer devotion to the mystical life and how to live it, though his path is a Christian one.  He frequently shares recommendations for books on the subject, including one of his own due out next year

Sometimes I wish there were more books about Hellenic Spirituality that are more mystical in nature and not strictly scholarly.  Then I remember Persephone Unveiled: Seeing the Goddess and Freeing Your Soul by Charles Stein. 

Just like the book by Roberto Calasso that I recommended a few weeks ago, Stein takes the subject of Persephone or Goddess spirituality and breathes passion into it.  The book is a deep mix of scholarship and devotional speculation that made me really think differently about my relationship to Persephone.
One source Stein uses is a series of poem fragments by Greek poet Parmenides.   He connects the language of this poem to a way of better understanding, or experiencing, the Goddess. He also includes a translation of the poem fragments as an appendix.  A stunningly modern philosophy appears to be present in Parmenides words.  A message from the Goddess that transcends time and place. 
There is only one path left
and that is
"Is."  (page 216)

For anyone interested in the mystical contemplation of the Goddess, this book is a great start.  It can set your mind on paths you never knew existed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter, a Poem

The following poem was written sometime when I was in college, around 1995.  It was for a college poetry class, I believe the subject was to write something about our childhood.  This poem was the result.  To give a little additional background, it was written about, and for, my Grandmother.  When I was 7 years old, in 1982, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.  At the time, the diagnosis was rare even though it is hard to believe that today.  My grandmother was 73 years old.  She passed away about 8 years later, when I was 15.  As you might imagine, this was a difficult time for me, being so young. 

I realize this poem is not Persephone-centric.  However, I wanted to share it here.  Dealing with the loss of a loved one is certainly part of her domain. I imagine that deep in her Queendom, in the coldness of winter, she was listening. 


My cheeks burned as tears froze,
I huddled deep in my snowsuit shell.
The winter hardly comforted then.
She was sick,
I didn't understand.
The sickness had a name,
but I couldn't pronounce it.
They said it was the forgetting disease.
No wonder she couldn't remember my name.
She was my only Grandma.
She wasn't allowed to be sick.

So I left.  The house frightened me.
The snow seemed safe,
But everything just hurt.  I wished
it would all go away.
I could go nowhere. 

From the yard,
in the window, I saw my Mother.
Why couldn't she make it stop?

I saw her, too.  Blue eyes distant.
She didn't know me,
who knew how long it would last.
I had a million questions,
no vocabulary to voice them,
that must be how she felt. 

The winter yielded no hope.
And I stood, seven years old,
watching my Grandmother
through a window.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


There are a lot of songs that make me think of Persephone and her journey.  This song is probably my all time favorite. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Maid to Queen

A childfree reimagining of the myth of Persephone
A childfree pagan’s journey to claiming her mythology

At what point did I decide to remain childfree? As a little girl, like all little girls, I had thought I wanted a family. Sometime in college something changed for me. I realized that I didn’t personally feel a need to bear and raise a child. I didn’t have a desire to be pregnant or to give birth. In college, I began to date the person who has become my life partner. At the start of the relationship, I contemplated what we would do with our futures. Would that future involve children? Because of social pressure, I didn’t have the confidence to tell right away that I wasn’t interested in kids. Occasionally the subject would come up and we would both politely say, “one day we’ll have kids.” Then one day, the discussion changed. He said “I only said I wanted kids because I thought you wanted kids.” And I said, “I only said I wanted kids because I thought you wanted them.” And we laughed and cried and for the first time we realized that we were both on the same path and that really felt good. We could be comfortable being partners to one another because neither of us felt we were holding the other back from something they wanted. That was many years ago, and now in my thirties the choice to remain childfree has never been so public. Once you reach the age where most if not all of your friends have children of their own, the lack of such offspring becomes a topic of conversation. “So when are you having kids?” It is times like these when you politely smile and nod and say something like, “I love kids. I just like them better when the belong to someone else.”

So when did the Goddess decide not to have children? Okay, I understand the stunned silence. The Goddess did not make such a decision. She is, in fact, the eternal mother of all. She is the earth and all it encompasses. She is the very cycle of life, death and rebirth. But the Goddess also chose to make me as well as all the other childfree people and couples on this earth and our decision are not one that goes against Her. It is one that embraces everything she stands for; most importantly, the right to chose for us. She gave us each free will.

Many forms of Paganism are fertility-based religions. The Charge of the Goddess even instructs, “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” Paganism honors the circle of birth and death and many of us celebrate that throughout the year. Beltane celebrates the fertility of the land, the animals and each other while Samhain counters with the honoring of those who have passes and the “death” of the harvest. Birth is all around us all the time in the pagan tradition. The Goddess is our Mother.

But what does this mean to the person, particularly the woman, who has chosen not to procreate? Who specifically chose to remain “child free”? What is the role of a woman in a fertility cult who chooses not to bear children?

As I crossed the threshold of my 30s, all of my friends and women my age, seemed to be having children. I was part of an outside circle. Friends didn’t want to go out at night any given Friday. People had to find a sitter and there was a loss of spontaneity, at least through my perception. However, I noticed something in myself – I didn’t have the desire to lead that kind of life. Many people believe that “child free” is inherently “anti-child” but that couldn’t be further from the truth either. For myself, especially being a part of a fertility religion, Children make up an incredibly important part of the cycle. But I wanted on opt-out for that cycle myself. The question remains, am I missing out on something? Am I losing perspective as a pagan woman? What place does this carve for myself in the pagan tradition?

So this brings me back to the question, “When did the Goddess choose not to have children?” The mythologies of this sort are few and far between. In fact, they seem pretty limited to the Greek and the Roman Mythologies. There is Hestia or Vesta the sacred virgin. There is Artemis, the hunting goddess that is the moon to her twin brother’s sun. And there is Athena, the armor clad goddess of wisdom and war. There is one other goddess who also chose to remain childfree – but this aspect of her myth seems to be glossed over by the rest of her sensational story. Her story sets her apart from the other goddesses as well because she is the only childfree goddess who also has a life long partner. This goddess is Persephone.

Ancient Mythology is an ingrained part of our culture. Even as children, we are taught the stories of Greece and Rome, no matter what our religious upbringing might be. Everyone is familiar with the Odyssey and the adventures of Ulysses. These stories and the stories of all ancient cultures are important to the history of civilization. As pagans, we are able to interpret these mythologies and apply them in our every day practices. We find the moral message or seasonal symbolism and live them on a day-to-day basis. And that is exactly how the story of Persephone speaks to me as an adult, childfree pagan with a life partner.

With so many versions of this myth we are certainly unable to determine just how they began and which aspects are original. Just as most people only regard these stories as myths – ways to explain what was otherwise unexplainable, we can look deeper into the archetypes and determine why our ancestors used these specific symbols to explain the world around them. Thus I discovered my own mythology of the Goddess Persephone as I studied her stories and honored her in ritual. Much of it is creative interpretation and I don’t begin to claim that it is the only or the best Persephone mythology out there, but it was through developing this story that I connected with Persephone on a deeper level. In fact, Greek mythology even contradicts itself at one point or another and there are even some stories that tell of Persephone’s children with one god or another. For me, the core of her myth is more about her story as a daughter and a wife (a Maid and a Queen) than about motherhood in any way.

As I began my path through Paganism, I found myself drawn to Persephone’s story, and yet I always felt there was something missing within it. The stories as I learned them were filled with violence and male domination. These themes are apparent in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter where Persephone is violently abducted by her husband/uncle and spirited away to the underworld and forced to live with him. Other more modern pagan versions eliminated the male aspect of her story all together bringing out the Maiden Mother and Crone aspect of modern Wicca out in the stories focusing on Persephone, her mother, Demeter, and Hekate the wise old crone (which is a discrepancy for another time and place). I found myself wanting to relate to Persephone’s character, but unable to connect to the other players in her story. After studying all of these interpretations I was able to piece together a mythology that spoke to me. As I said, I acknowledge this as my own interpretation with scholarship to back it up. I wanted a myth that justified the actions of the gods and created strong female roll models and positive male characters. Persephone’s journey from Maiden to Queen was my way of understanding my place in this pagan world. Following in her footsteps and living her mythology helps me grow as Pagan, particularly as a childfree pagan woman within a fertility religion paradigm. Eventually, I pledged myself to work for and with Persephone. Her path is one that can empower those who have chosen to remain childfree and honor the Goddess tradition.

Many female oriented pagan traditions follow the pattern of the moon from month to month, but I have always been more oriented to the solar cycle. As an Aries it isn’t hard to imagine that I tend to reflect more on the fiery aspects of the sun’s cycle than that of the moon. The moon’s cycle is a beautiful and essential key to some forms of pagan spirituality, but the solar aspects are often reserved for the male Gods. But that was not true for Persephone and her underworld journey. Seeing her myth as an explanation of the season cycle, it can be interpreted as more of a solar tradition.

What happens when a pagan does moved through the standard cycle of woman hood as laid out in typical Wicca tradition? I was once told by someone with the best of intentions that it didn’t matter whether or not I ever had natural children, that the “mother” represented the Universal Mother and that all women are part of her. While intentions were pure, the truth is that I do not connect with the Mother archetype, whether literal or part of the Universal Mother theme. I accept and honor the Universal Mother, but I do not relate to her. That being said, Carl Jung tells me that there must be an archetype out there for me to embrace. Some childfree pagans or women between maiden and mother often chose to honor the Warrior – often symbolized at the wise Pallas Athena or the great Huntress Artemis.

Not every pagan woman connects with the Warrior archetype either, including myself. And once again I was left empty without a mythology of my very own. That was when Persephone herself smacked me over the head and reminded me that while she begins her journey as the Maiden, she ends it as a proud and powerful Queen. And that was when it struck me – the archetype I was looking for was the Queen. Queen, of course, does not rule out the presence of children in one’s lives – a child-full archetype of a powerful queen is represented as Hera, Queen of Olympos. However, the other side of the coin is Persephone, Queen of the Underworld who rules along side her husband and remains a daughter forever, but never a mother.