The Watchers in the Woods

The Watchers in the Woods
-By Debbi Decker

It was not always like this. She has traveled through many woods in many countries. They always held a sense of magic for her, a sacred place to wander and to worship. Not these woods. The forests behind her new home hides something she cannot identify.
It isn’t that the forest is a fear-filled place. Rather it is the feelings it gives her as she wanders amongst the trees.

Tall trees they are too, with a high canopy that lets in just enough light to allow her to see her surroundings. The light never brings detail to anything to give her a real sense of safety. Covered in leaves and moss, the forest floor offers no bracken or shrubbery to hide within. So, why is there this sense of being watched, being weighed, and always being found wanting?

The paths through the woods are barely there, trodden only by beasts of habit. She is never sure what beasts these are. There are watchers in the woods. The eyes she feels on her sometimes feel like the eyes of something “other”, something elemental and only found deep within the forest. Babbling brooks and moss filled nooks take on a different meaning here. It is a dare to drink from the streams, knowing the stories told of enchantments placed upon the flowing waters and the fates that befell those who took those dares and drank.

Blame it on all those fairy tales she thinks. Red Riding Hood’s wolf and that gingerbread cottage in the depths of the woods. Funny how both of those tales speak of cannibalism. Death by a supposedly trusted or respected person. Both stories feature women who are not as they seem. Makes one wonder if the Gods of the woods require such sacrifices. Surely not, she thinks, but one never really knows when it comes to the Gods and their needs.

How is it that she did not sense this when she first viewed the house and the land? Had she known, she would have continued her search for a new home. She must have been dazzled by whatever lives in the shadows there. It must want something from her.

She feels compelled at times to pass through the forest as though some force or lost soul calls to her, luring her into the deepest, shadiest, darkest parts. The forest uncovers her darker side and throws it mirror-like back in her face, forcing her to embrace those secret bits of her soul. The bits that recognize the demons hidden within those fairy tales that tell of old women wearing wolf’s clothing and homes with deep ovens. Whose big eyes see everything you do and whose appetites can devour you right down to the tiniest crumb of your very essence. These woods feed on those bits.

No, this particular forest is not her friend, no matter how Pagan her soul and no matter that the Gods she worships revere this place. This forest is not for her and she passes through it only when called and only as a last resort. She wants to keep her soul. This is not her place. The Gods will understand after all. She hopes. Because no none ever really knows when it comes to the Gods and their needs.

Photographs “Watching”, “Green Man”, “Forest Moon and “Portal” provided by Crazed Poppet Creations and are copyrighted images. To contact Debbi Decker for purchase of these prints visit her website.

Debbi Decker is proprietor of Crazed Poppet Creations Art & Assemblage Emporium. Check out her artist page to find links to her shop and blog to read more of her writings. Visit again next month for the telling of hauntings and ghostly tales by Debbi Decker.


-By Debbi Decker

It was June 23, 1860, St. John’s Eve, and midsummer was upon them. They could hear the drums in the distance. A secret conversation, a statement and response, the meaning of which was known only to the anointed ones. People came to the Bayou St. John, whether by foot or by train to the end of the line. It was risky to attend, though people from all walks of life would at least attempt to come. Many who came to the dance would attend in anonymity, hoping to be ridden by the spirits. Some would be baptized in the water, all would share in the sanctity of the event. The smoke of the bonfires would obscure and maintain the secrecy. If the fog rolled in off the bayou, all the better. The dark of the night, the songs, the offerings, and the dancing were all for the benefit of the Loas. If the participants were lucky, their Queen, Marie Laveau, would attend and dance amongst them, perform the rituals, and preside over the feasts.

St. John’s Eve is a Christian celebration that roughly correlates with the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Celebrated on evening of June 23, it precedes the Saint’s day, which celebrates the birth of John the Baptist on June 24, a Catholic Holy Day. The roots of this celebration date back to the early pagan summer solstice traditions. Bonfires were lit to drive away the witches that pass by during the night, and sometimes effigies were burned. Young men and women would jump the fires holding hands. Music and feasting and divination were part of the festivities. Ashes from the fires would be placed in the corners of the fields where the crops were growing to ensure further growth and plenty. Magical herbs such as St. John’s Wort were gathered, though I have yet to discover what the name of that particular herb would have been in those times (since John the Baptist is a Catholic saint). The celebration of St. John’s Eve continues today. One has only to Google the holiday to see the various ways many countries did, and still do, observe the holiday.

The brief description in the first paragraph concerns the St. John’s Eve celebration the way it would have been observed by the slaves and free people of color who held Voodoo beliefs and lived in New Orleans and surrounding areas during the 1800s. The practice of the Voodoo religion was outlawed. Voodoo, an Afro-centric religion, has always been a somewhat malleable religion. The practices were as varied as the tribes whose members were uprooted and brought to New Orleans from the different regions of Africa, and later on, from Haiti. Because the religion itself was outlawed, believers used the Catholic saints, rituals, and observances as a “cover” for their religion. Many Saints had characteristics of the Loas (the deities and ancestors) they revered, so those Saints were borrowed to stand in for the Loas. Using Catholic practices, the believers could continue to honor their ancestors, beseech the Loas for their help, and continue to use their varied knowledge of the plants, animals, and elements in their day to day life.

Voodoo in New Orleans is still practiced, and St. John’s Eve continues to be observed. Over time, Voodoo has lost much of its secrecy and has survived the horrors attributed to it by Hollywood’s depictions in the movies so many of us have watched. Baptism and head washing are two of the important elements of the observance. This ritual cleansing is to bring about renewal, good fortune, and prosperity to the person participating.

If you are interested in observing St. John’s Eve in your home, you can take a simple ritual bath using Florida water, white candles and white flowers. Play music that soothes you. Light the candles and pour of few drops of the Florida water (I can actually buy this in my local drugstore!) in your bathwater. You can either float the flowers in the water or you can set them around the bath. You may either pour the bathwater over you 7 times or you may rest in the water for a short period of time. Ask the deities to aid you in whatever path you wish to follow. Once you are done, dress all in white and go to bed for rest and rejuvenation, and hopefully, to receive the messages the ancestors have for you.

Another interesting use of water on this day is to create a protection bottle to drive away bill collectors, enemies, and the law. Assuming my readers need this. Go to a river or other body of water on St. John’s Eve and fill a small clean glass bottle with the water. I have read some versions of this spell that instructs the reader to recite the “Lord’s Prayer” while gathering the water. Personally, I don’t think that particular prayer is necessary; you could recite a prayer concerning protections that has a personal meaning to you. Seal the bottle and place it near your front door with the top of the bottle pointing towards the door. Ask the deities to aid you in keeping the undesirables away from you and your home. This bottle should never be emptied, though if contents evaporate over time you can refill it.

The bottle spell is an old spell, handed down through many generations of Voodoo practitioners. Notice the references to bill collectors, enemies, and the law. Think about how the slaves and free people of color would have lived in New Orleans during the 1800s. They were surrounded by those who would cause them harm, and the officers of law could at any time could arrest them for anything at all. Those who were free lived hand to mouth in many cases and were always on the lookout for the bill collectors that could take their money and livelihoods from them. Lastly, the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which is a Catholic prayer, is evidence of the use of the Catholic religion to pray to their Loas for protection and help.

So, what the heck does “danse Calinda” (the title of this article) mean? The original Calinda was a martial arts practice of stick fighting which came to the Caribbean islands in the 1700s out of the country of Kongo in Africa. Because stick fighting was not allowed by the planters of the islands, the movements were appropriated and adapted by the slaves into a type of dance. As many of the planters and their slaves came to New Orleans, the Calinda came with them, and the dance was a feature of many of the Voodoo gatherings.

St. John’s Eve is coming soon. Celebrate this day, dance like “nobody is watching”, and take that ritual bath. By the way, that “nobody is watching” part? That ain’t true. The deities and ancestors are always watching. Dance for them. Dance for you.

Photographs “Voodoo Window”, “Voodoo Shrine” and “Saint” provided by twistedpixelstudio and are copyrighted images. To contact Debbi Decker for purchase of these prints visit her website.

Debbi Decker is proprietor of Crazed Poppet Creations Art & Assemblage Emporium. Check out her artist page to find links to her shop and blog to read more of her writings. Visit again next month for the telling of hauntings and ghostly tales by Debbi Decker.

Hazmat Suit Not Required

Hazmat Suit Not Required
-By Debbi Decker

It all started out innocently. While writing last month’s article about creating a moon garden, I ran across references to this or that plant being poisonous. I read fascinating articles referencing some very famous supposed poisoners. Lucretia Borgia, Agrippina (Nero’s mother), and the goddess, Circe, to name but three. The lovely scented Oleander, which grows almost like a weed in parts of the south, is a deadly plant and one featured in a legend told about the Magnolia Plantation in Louisiana. Ricin, which comes from the castor plant, is one of the most lethal poisons out there and is used to this day. We all love Mistletoe and Poinsettias at Christmas. Intrigued, I decided to do a little research about poisonous plants in our garden. And then I took a look around my own yard and plant choices.

Rhododendron. Check.
Hydrangea. Check.
Hellebores. Check.
Stargazer Lily. Check.

OMG! I’m going to die. I feel itchy, nauseous, dizzy…. Call the doctor! Order the coffin!

Well, that was my first reaction. But, seriously, we can take a step back and look at this realistically. There are numerous popular toxic plants throughout the world that adorn gardens everywhere and yet we see no news reports of masses of people dying after spending time in their gardens. Some people even cultivate these plants on purpose. Alnwick Garden in Northumberland, England comes to mind. There was the famous Medici garden in Padua Italy, and another garden lies behind Blarney Castle in Ireland. In some cases, these were planted specifically as a collection of poisonous plants. In other cases, the gardens gained reputations as being poison gardens simply by association with the legend and lore of the particular gardener or owner. And as a rule, those of us who plant gardens for medicinal uses are always going to have a plant or two that doubles for both healing and harm. Stories abound regarding the Witch or Sorceress who used a common plant found in her garden for healing or for nefarious means.

It was a huge surprise to me, however, just how many plants I own that are truly poisonous, not only to humans but to the various wildlife around me. For instance, I adore Hydrangeas and have one that was given to me many years ago and which has survived several re-plantings as I dug it up to take with me as I moved. The plants contains cyanide. In Japan, one species of the plant is used for tea! Rhododendron, a very popular landscaping bush, is highly toxic to horses and there have been historical reports of people becoming ill after eating honey from bees feeding on the pollen of the flowers. My neighborhood contains hundreds of these bushes. Yikes!!

Another favorite is Hellebore or Lenten Rose. I have masses of these around my home and love them because they bloom in late winter and bring a smile because when they do bloom I know spring is just around the corner. But prolonged skin contact with the seeds can cause rashes and the roots can cause vomiting and diarrhea. In the past, parents would use this plant to help treat worms in their children. Which, according to some of my research, may well have caused death in some of those children. One as to wonder if all of those deaths were innocent.

And what about that gorgeous Star Gazer Lily that I have nursed and coddled for years for its exquisite scent and bloom? Yep. Also referred to as “death lily”. Many species of lilies are toxic, such as Lily of the Valley, Rain Lily, and more.

So, what’s a gardener to do? There are even more plants such as Monkshood, Foxglove, and even the lovely Daisy, that can be harmful. Do we don hazmat suits, gloves, and full-face masks whenever we want to do a bit of weeding?

Common sense prevails. While the feel of dirt on bare hands can be therapeutic to some, gardening gloves were probably invented for a reason other than to protect milady’s delicate hands. If you have children or pets, reading up on and identifying the plants in your area is of the utmost importance. I recall our local park gardeners planting the most beautiful lilies I had ever seen and I was anxiously waiting for seeds to form. I had no idea what type of lily it was (though I later found out) but it smelled heavenly and I wanted one. It did not take long for all of those plants to disappear. It seems someone more knowledgeable reported to the authorities that this particular lily was highly poisonous to both humans and animals and therefore not suitable for a public park. What was that lily? Trumpet Lily. I still covet them although I am not in a suitable planting zone to grow them. Research is key. We should all know what is around us to protect ourselves, family and pets. Even those who own no pets and live alone should be aware, because little children are known to wander and the local wildlife can suffer from introduction of a plant not commonly found in their feeding locations.

Common sense also tells us that if we do have these kinds of plants in our gardens, they need to be located far away from any plants or herbs that we harvest for consumption. Imagine the embarrassment (never mind the frownie face the Judge will have) over the passing of Auntie Ludmilla after consumption of that meal you garnished with herbs from your very own garden. We know you did not intend this result. But still….

Debbi Decker is proprietor of Crazed Poppet Creations Art & Assemblage Emporium. Check out her artist page to find links to her shop and blog to read more of her writings. Visit again next month for the telling of hauntings and ghostly tales by Debbi Decker.

Along a Moonlit Path

Along a Moonlit Path
-By Debbi Decker

April brings thoughts of gardening. Spring has finally arrived and although there are still chances of cool nights, the days are longer and the sun is warmer. We spend time in the local nurseries picking out plants to put in our gardens and yards. After a long gray winter, we want color and we want it now.

Or do we? Some of us are not day people. We travel the nights and find our beds just after sunrise. While we are not vampires (at least most of us are not), we just prefer the darkness. Trouble is, that those of us night people who love flowers and plants miss the beauty of the gardens during the day. The vibrant floral colors fade away as the night falls.

We can fix that, however. By planting a moon garden. Imagine walking through a garden of highly scented flowers that glow in the moonlight. Intrigued?

All you need is an area that gets full sun to part shade, plants that are mostly white or silvery in nature, and also plants whose blossoms open as the sun goes down releasing their fragrance. If some illumination is necessary for walking safety, use lighting that is subtle and low key. White gravel will glow on pathways. Sketch out a plan so that you have an idea of the finished garden. Choose plants that will do well in your planting zone and know which ones will need to come indoors when the weather turns cold. Some plants are actually bushy while others hug the ground. You will want plants of various heights, as well as non-blooming leafy plants such as hostas and ferns, to create visual interest for both day and night. Colorful flowers that open at night to release their fragrance can be used at the ends of your moon garden or planted on their own in another area. Be sure to create a spot where you can simply sit and enjoy the fragrances on the night air.

Choose one or two of the below plants, fill in with flowers such as white candytuft, white or pale pink impatiens, lamb’s ears, white lilies and other plants that bloom white or in pale colors. Be sure to have plants with staggered bloom times so that you have something in your garden blooming from late spring through fall. Add some subtle lighting, a scattering of statues or other ornamentation, and you are on your way to magical nights full of moon-lit beauty and intoxicating scents.

Night Jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) Narrow tubular blossoms open at night and release fragrance.
Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia) Large white trumpet shaped blossoms also open at night and release fragrance.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis L.) While this flower is yellow, it opens in the evening and stays open until late morning.
Four O’Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) Colorful flowers that open in the late afternoon and release their fragrance in the evening.
Moonflowers (Datura) Large white blossoms that resemble their sister morning glories but which open at night and release their fragrance.

A word of caution. All of the above plants are toxic and/or poisonous if ingested, and some can cause skin irritation. Always do your research and know what you are planting. Monitor children and pets in the garden, and warn your guests of the nature of your plants. It’s never a good idea for someone to accidentally ingest a berry or touch a noxious plant and then expire in the middle of all that glowing beauty . Unless, that is, your name is Lucrezia Borgia.

Debbi Decker is proprietor of Crazed Poppet Creations Art & Assemblage Emporium. Check out her artist page to find links to her shop and blog to read more of her writings. Visit again next month for the telling of hauntings and ghostly tales by Debbi Decker.

The Wearing of the Green

The Wearing of the Green
(or Irish/Celtic Symbolism Found Among the Green Cemetery Lawns) -By Debbi Decker

Lately, I have been continuing my research on one of my favorite subjects, iconography in cemeteries. And with St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching, I thought to look into Irish/Celtic symbolism and icons that you might run across in many of the older cemeteries. Two of the most popular that I run across in my wanderings are the lyre or harp, and Celtic crosses. Others not so often found are ones such as stags, shamrocks, trefoils, the Claddagh and Celtic knots.

The Lyre or Harp. A strong symbol of Ireland, often called the national symbol, finding one carved upon a tombstone or on a crypt could mean that the person buried there was of Irish heritage. It is a magical symbol, and the traditional meanings associated with it are hopes of attaining heaven, as well as divine music.

Shamrocks. These are common three-leafed plants of the clover family and they are not to be confused with their four-leafed counterparts. Shamrocks represent the idea of three, a sacred number in Celtic lore, or the holy trinity in the Christian faith, i.e., the father, son, and Holy Ghost. It is also a popular motif on tombstones found in Australia. The Druids revered the plant and it was incorporated by the Christians as a symbol used in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations since, as the legend goes, St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the ideas behind the holy trinity.

Stags. A stag is an adult male deer and is usually depicted with an impressive rack of antlers. The Celts believed that stags could lead souls out of darkness, and also thought that the antlers represented the tree of life and of regeneration. When depicted with a cross between its antlers, it becomes a more Christian motif that means purity and renunciation of Satan.

The Claddagh. Usually depicted as two hands holding a heart, it is a symbol of undying love and friendship. Often used for engagement and wedding rings, it can also be seen carved onto a loved one’s memorial stone or combined with the Celtic cross in the cemeteries.

Trefoils. I do not often run across trefoils, but when I do they are in a triangular form, with three spirals carved inside the triangle shape. Again, they mimic the shamrock symbols and have somewhat of the same meanings, such as representing the holy trinity with the addition of the meaning of wisdom.

Celtic Cross. This is an extremely popular monument found in cemeteries across the world. The cross, originally of pagan origin, has been married to a circle. Legend tells us that St. Patrick took the Christian cross and placed the circle upon it to represent the sun in order to convert the sun-worshipping pagans. The idea was presented as the Christian god being stronger than their sun god. These crosses can range from a simple cross and circle to elaborately carved memorials, incorporating other images, most notably Celtic knots or images of Christian saints. The most beautiful Celtic cross I have come across to-date is located in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. This particular cross is covered in biblical images.

Cemetery symbolism and iconography is a wonderful and enlightening subject. Try looking for unusual motifs the next time you wander through one, and then learn about what they mean. These symbols speak to the history of the person buried as well as to possible religious beliefs and family heritage. Although we can never be absolutely sure what a particular icon or symbol truly means (since we have no idea what was in the minds of the survivors who erected these stones and monuments), we can still appreciate the general meanings behind them and the beauty represented in their artistic representation.

Photographs “Lyre” and “Cross of Many Colors” copyrighted and provided by Crazed Poppet Creations.

Debbi Decker is proprietor of Crazed Poppet Creations Art & Assemblage Emporium. Check out her artist page to find links to her shop and blog to read more of her writings. Visit again next month for the telling of hauntings and ghostly tales by Debbi Decker.

A Very Fragrant Letter

A Very Fragrant Letter
-By Debbi Decker

Valentine’s Day is close at hand. And while I normally write about the dark and spooky side of life, I thought I would take a small detour from the norm.

Did you know you can send a love letter using flowers? The younger Victorians did. Because of the many restrictions, rules and regs passed onto them by their elders, a young Victorian of courting age had to become pretty creative in order to get his or her message across. From the use of fans to flowers, they came up with various codes to express sentiments and to send messages.

I can just imagine the practice of fluttering a fan in modern times. Woman waves fan at man. Man gets excited and quickly tells his friend “Dude, she totally wants me”. Friend replies “No dude, its 90 degrees out. She’s probably having a heat stroke!”

Sadly, a woman using a fan to send a message has gone by the wayside. But, another practice is still alive and well, and that is the Tussie Mussie, or small groups of flowers wrapped in a doily and given to a loved one. A fragrant message of love and hope. For the most part. Some flowers were used solely for sending a message of rejection.

The Victorians assigned meanings to various flowers as well as gestures pertaining to the giving or receiving of those flowers. Passing a flower to another using a right hand signified “yes”, while using the left hand signified “no”. Tussie Mussies were given by young men to young girls they were interested in. If the flowers were held close to the heart, the feeling of affection was returned. If held downward, it meant rejection. I can only imagine how carefully a bouquet was constructed and with what high hopes and baited breath it was given.

Want to send a different sort of Valentine this year? Why not create a Tussie Mussie using the Victorian language of flowers. Have someone you want to give your heart to? Give them red Chrysanthemums and yellow Zinnias which mean daily remembrance and I love you. A gathering of Ferns, Forget Me Not and Gardenia mean fascination, true love, faithfulness and purity. A pot of Gardenias alone means purity, sweet love and you are lovely. You are only limited by your imagination and the availability of flowers at your local florist. Tell the recipient of your flowers that there is a special hidden meaning in the bouquet. Tell them the names of the flowers and what they mean or write them meaning of a card to give with your gift.

Googling the meaning of flowers will give you lots of information to work with. Be creative. Roses are wonderful but there’s a whole world of flowers out there. It will take a bit of planning and perhaps calling your local florists for the kinds of flowers available but worth the effort. And ladies, guys love to get flowers just as much as we do. They just don’t want that little secret out in the open!

Oh, and if you have someone in your life that you want to break away from, believe it or not, there are florists out there that specialize in sending dead flowers. Or you can always ask your florist for any flowers “past their prime”. They might look at you strangely, but I am sure they would accommodate you!

Debbi Decker is proprietor of Crazed Poppet Creations Art & Assemblage Emporium. Check out her artist page to find links to her shop and blog to read more of her writings. Visit again next month for the telling of hauntings and ghostly tales by Debbi Decker.


-By Debbi Decker

The crows were calling. One, two, three in a row in the tree. “Go away, we are not ready”. Selfish, really, when it is not us who has to be ready but rather the one they come for. We are never ready to let our loved ones leave.

The old ones tell you that three crows is a harbinger of death. The Morrigan has come. The Goddess of death and rebirth.

He stopped breathing several times and so the priest was called. Last rites spoken, holy water sprinkled. The rosary was placed around his neck. Some in the room believed, others did not. Still, we all hoped it would bring him peace.

They came the next night. Three shades passing through the room, invisible to our eyes but solid enough to block the glow of the small lights that were lit for his comfort. Three beings now standing guard and waiting. Sometimes they touched you. A sense of ice on your elbow. A gentle nudge against your leg. No way to tell who or what they were. Only that they were present and that he knew they were there. You could watch him whisper to them in his delirium and watch him listen to them as they spoke back.

I held his hand through most of his fight, not wanting him to ever feel alone. His was not an easy passing. He had much on his mind, worries for the rest of us, and things he wanted to say. Time laid heavy on us all as we watched him fight. No longer with us but not really gone from us either.

And at the end, I watched as he took his last breath and held him close as I said goodbye. The three crows calling in the early morning sun, while the three watchers stood around him to guide him on his way. I swear that on that morning I could feel him fly.

His journey here has ended but mine is just beginning. Because I now have to make sense of it all. Three crow calling, three shades passing. Who came to guide him on and who will come for me when my time comes? I trust that the essence of his soul has gone on to live in another life. My hope is that our souls will cross paths once again.

The meaning of three is that “all is given”, the past, present, and future. Birth, life, and death. The cycle has finished. And must begin again.

Debbi Decker is proprietor of Crazed Poppet Creations Art & Assemblage Emporium. Check out her artist page to find links to her shop and blog to read more of her writings. Visit again next month for the telling of hauntings and ghostly tales by Debbi Decker.

The Magic of Christmas

The Magic of Christmas
-By Debbi Decker

The Christmas season is officially here. Though you would have thought it had actually arrived back in September. It seems that the stores are filling their shelves with holiday cheer earlier and earlier each year. Halloween and Thanksgiving seem to have taken a back seat to this day of all days. In my town, Halloween and Thanksgiving are given a shelf or two, while Christmas takes over the entirety of the rest of the space.

Christmas is a hard season at times for those who walk the Pagan road. Though I was raised in a religious home, Christmas does not resonate with me. The modern version of it anyway. Oh, don’t get me wrong. As a child, I did indeed embrace the belief in the Child born on this day. But I also embraced the magic of the season. Waiting for those hoof beats on the roof, hoping to get a glimpse of Santa. We had no chimney so I knew he had to use the door. And every year, we would gather round and listen to the reading of “The Night Before Christmas”. My head was full of babes in mangers, angels, elves, flying deer, sparkling snow, and Ho Ho Ho’s. Then, I grew up. And learned that there is no “real” Santa. That the Child was probably not really born on this day but rather in a warmer month earlier in the year. Christmas lost its magic for me and that is the most important word here. Magic. I lost the magic. And it made me sad. Without the magic it was just another day, though for some it is the highest of all holy days. To be honest, there were times I did envy others for the beliefs that I just could not wrap my soul around.

Years went by and as I became more grounded in my beliefs, I realized that I could indeed still find the magic of the season. So many traditions that we all follow are of ancient origin, created to honor the divinity in all of us. I began to light the candles for my ancestors. Burn a Yule log for protection and warmth. When I decorate a tree, adorn the house in greenery, and hang the new mistletoe (and burn the bunch from the prior year), it is to honor Mother Earth for gifts she gives us through all of the seasons. The ornaments are full of symbolism, creating a magical space. Stars, moons, suns, fruits and musical instruments. Just to name a few. A tiny elf or Santa will peek out among the branches to remind me of the magic of my childhood but also to symbolize the idea that we can all give something (no matter how big or small) to others. I can sign a carol and feel the joy of releasing those notes to the universe and let my voice be carried upon the wind.

I cook food for my loved ones, making sure that I stir clockwise rather than widdershins, while chanting the word “love” in whispery breaths. Make gifts to give to others, each one of a theme chosen to honor that person. I take the early darkness of the days into myself and use this energy to plant the seeds of what I want for the year to come. When my family gathers, we share our food, our memories, and our hopes and dreams. Sometimes we still read “The Night Before Christmas” to our little ones. We will nurture the idea of Santa and the magic of it all for as long as possible. And when the little ones grow up, we give them the ability to grasp the magic of another “age” and our hopes that our traditions will be carried forward.

My ways are not your ways perhaps. They may not resonate with you. We do, however, all of us have a common theme that we can all recognize and hope for…. Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Mankind.

Bright blessings on you and yours on this day and all of the days of the year.

Debbi Decker is proprietor of Crazed Poppet Creations Art & Assemblage Emporium. Check out her artist page to find links to her shop and blog to read more of her writings. Visit again next month for the telling of hauntings and ghostly tales by Debbi Decker.

Archived Featured Artist: twistedpixelstudio

Crazed Poppet Creations

Featured Artist:

twistedpixelstudio: Elegant yet creepy Gothic cemetery photography and vintage inspired Halloween assemblage and ornaments form the twisted world of Deborah Decker and her Crazed Poppet Creations.

The Sin-Eater

The Sin-Eater?
-By Debbi Decker

A chapel room with walls of stone. It is an open room, with no doors and no glass in the windows. The night breeze flows, causing candles to gutter in the wall niches. Their flames cast odd moving shadows across the room.

In the center of the chapel room lies a body of a man on a raised stone bier. His clothing reflects his position in life, the gleam of gems in the scabbard that holds his sword speaks to his wealth.

There is nothing odd about this setting. Death has come to the village and the village mourns its own. Its inhabitants are no strangers to death. We all die. We all make our last confessions, are shriven, and laid out to rest in various poses according to our position in life. The poorest straight to the grave, the wealthiest given a last moment of glory in a chapel room.

But look closely at this man. There is a meal of roasted fowl and bread, and the last fruits of the season, resting on platters upon his chest. His hands hold a pewter goblet containing the best ale that his household can provide.

A movement at the door draws our eyes to a black cloaked figure, the face hidden deep within a hood. The figure sidles up behind the dead man. Raises his cloaked arms to the heavens. By the cadence and intonation of the mumbled words, we know he is praying. His arms slowly lower. He settles in. To eat. The meal laid upon the dead man’s chest. The fowl and bread disappear into the darkness of his hood. He drinks the ale. And once done, slowly creeps out the door. His face still hidden. You have no idea who he is.

The above scenario is a loosely written memory of a television show I saw as a young woman, and which was my fist introduction to what is known as a “Sin-Eater”. The idea caught my interest enough to research the facts behind story. Would this really have happened? Are there such things as Sin-Eaters? Turns out the answer is yes. There have been and, if the rumors are correct, still are in remote areas of the eastern U.S.

The origin of the practice of the ritual of eating sins remains unclear. It is possibly Germanic in origin, first coming to light in the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church denies such practices existed. And while the story above was a television episode and suspect in the details, there are, however, stories about the practice in England during the 17th and 18th centuries. An individual, for whatever reason, would take on the duties of a Sin-Eater. This person would partake of bread, salt, and wine (or some other beverage) which was left either on the deceased’s grave, or placed near the deceased, or even placed on the deceased’s chest. It was believed that the food would absorb the misdeeds of the dead and by eating that food, the Sin-Eater would absolve the soul of deceased and allow the individual to enter heaven. The Sin-Eater was always reviled and outcast in society. He (or she) would be considered unclean and shunned. In some cases, perhaps the identity of the Sin-Eater was not known. The cloak and hood would hide the identity, similar to the cloaking and masking of the plague doctors so that the public would not know who they were. They could practice their craft safely in anonymity.

It is interesting to note that there are later references in British history to the practice of passing bread and ale over the body of a loved one and given to a funeral attendant to eat. In Bavaria, the custom still exists of placing a corpse cake upon the chest of the deceased which is then eaten by the deceased’s closest relative. The Dutch practice of making dead cakes with the initials of the deceased was carried over to the United States during Colonial times. Each of these practices could be considered to have evolved from the practice of sin-eating.

During the 1800s, funeral biscuits were presented to mourners and bakeries competed against one another for orders of same. Lady Fingers (a type of sponge cake) were wrapped in papers that were printed with texts, poetry, and musings upon life and death. Special bowls, called “Mazer Bowls” were commissioned by the wealthy to hold the wine or ale that was given to mourners during the wake. The growth of the funeral industry stemmed these practices, and over time they have all but disappeared. Perhaps replaced in our present era by the family gatherings after the funeral. Almost all of these gatherings offer a meal or some kind of finger food to be served to the families and their guests.

Though few and far between, I have partaken at these latter day funeral “feasts”. It is not a custom that sits well with me. Sometimes knowledge can be an unsettling thing. Especially in my case. Because each time I allow myself a bite of the food presented I am, in the back of my mind, wondering just what sins or misdeeds I am taking on. And that is never a comforting thought.

Debbi Decker is proprietor of twistedpixelstudio Art & Assemblage Emporium. Check out her artist page to find links to her shop and blog to read more of her writings. Visit again next month for the telling of hauntings and ghostly tales by Debbi Decker.