Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Posts tagged “Witchcraft

Elevenses: Flower magic and a Steampunk short story

Good Morning ladies and gentlemen! I realise you are all probably feeling a little eleven o clockish at this hour but I must beg your forgiveness and delay the cake for a moment because we have a very special guest in the parlour this morning!

Our lovely Shonchavani friend Mrs Belle Sykes has kindly left her Tea Smuggling Tramper-Van in the capable hands of her husband Gord and their 20 children (whose names I seem to remember are, Yan, Tan, Arthur, Martha, Pip, Seth, Heather, Hogarth, Dorothy, Richard, Yan-Richard, Tan-Richard, Arthur-Richard, Martha-Richard, Barmcake, Yan-Barmcake, Tan-Barmcake, Arthur-Barmcake, Martha-Barmcake and Diggory.) and braved the long trek down here to the docks in order to show us some ways of productively using the fruits of our deflowering labours.

The Shonchavani are a diaspora of the Jentacular Isle but, as the Jentacular Isle is believed by most to be purely mythical (I can personally vouch for the fact that it is not!) the queen has decreed that they must have come from Bohemia. They first arrived in Ire during the reign of Henry The Eighth and the mechanical wonders they brought with them caused them to be instantly branded as witches. It wasn’t until Elizabeth came to the throne that this persecution eased up a little and a deal was struck – if the Shonchavani would abandon their nomadic lifestyle (ie – hiding and running from the witch hunters) and share their technological knowledge with the queen’s wizards they would be allowed to live peacefully in squalid little hovels just like any other peasant. Some agreed and became known as Tinkers, others did not. When Ann became queen she struck another deal, this time with the travelling clans – if they would agree to transport the queen’s tea safely from her plantations to the elite county of Devon in their mechanised Tramper-Vans and prevent it falling into the hands of land pirates, all accusations of witchcraft would be dropped. The Shonchavani are an enterprising folk and some of their very best friends and relatives are pirates… needless to say they immediately agreed to this potentially lucrative arrangement.

Sadly the recent introduction of skyway travel has meant less and less work for the ‘Tea Trampers’ and they have had to find other ingenious ways of making ends meet and so Belle has kindly agreed to pimp her heritage to us and show us how  quick silver can be made by making and selling the ancient magical herbal thingies that her people have used for centuries to survive on the road… hm? …. sorry did you say something about ethics or did you cough? Oh you were just clearing your throat, sorry, do have some tea…

1. Ye Most Olde And Ancient And Bone Fide Magikal Cure For Coughs and Colds

Take as many flowers of violet, white horehound and mullein as you can fit into a large saucepan, cover with boiling water and simmer gently until the mix has reduced by about half. Strain off the flowers and add 500g of sugar. Bring back to the boil and simmer for a further 20 mins or until the mixture coats the back of a cold spoon (you want a syrup, not jam but if you accidentally boil too long you can still use the jam it will have the same medicinal properties!) Pour the syrup (which is a soothing expectorant) into dark glass bottles, seal and keep in a cool place. Take one tsp as needed for a dry or chesty cough up to four times a day.

2. Most Magikkal And Traditional Healing Balm For Skin Irritations

Take 1kg of lard (or coconut oil or petroleum jelly if you prefer) and add to a very large saucepan with as many buttercup flowers (not the green steams or leaves) as you can manage. Melt gently over a low heat for 10 – 20 mins until the mix is liquid and bright yellow (do not boil). Strain off the flowers and add 20 – 40 drops of rose or lavender oil if desired, this will add scent and boost the soothing properties of the balm but may be too much for the most sensitive skins so use with caution. Pour into dark glass jars quickly before it sets, seal and keep in a cool dark place. Use as a healing cream for dry skin, eczema, bruises, minor cuts and grazes.

 

3. A Certain Tonic For The Quarrelsome Wife, Promotes Marital Bliss Guaranteed 

Take as many flowers of the Pink that you can gather and simmer in a large pan for one hour. Strain off the flowers, return the water to the pan with 500g sugar. Simmer gently for about 20 mins to form a syrup. Pour into glass bottles and seal. Drink one tablespoon of this syrup dissolved in a glass of wine as required. Double the dose during the most trying time of the month. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.

 

Now then, while Max rolls up his shirt sleeves, fastens his goggles and sets about t help with the brewing of flowers and and boiling of fat, I really feel we ought to step out of the way… s let’s sit down over here and enjoy some calming primrose tea and open a good book shall we?

waistcoats

 

The Brides Of Saint Michael are not your average group of Holy Sisters, when an ancient enemy leaves his calling card Agnes Broadshield and her militia of Women In Waistcoats take to the streets to prevent the evil creature and his minions from exacting their revenge but even as we close the final pages of the book, it seems this is not so much an ending as a beginning…

This is a splendidly crafted short story, a well balanced mixture of steampunk / gaslamp and mythology which we found engaging from the outset. If you are looking for a quick steampunk fix with a strong plot, well developed characters and a good mixture of familiarity and uniqueness then this little gem is the book for you.

Hm? Sorry? No music today? Oh well there isn’t really much room here to set up the radio so… oh well alright then I suppose if you could hold the areal out of the window … yes that’s it …

 

Thankyou very much… is your arm still alright there? Oh dear, well could you stay there for just a little bit longer I’m hoping to catch the news….

 


Soup of the day: With Elen Sentier

 

Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!

Helping me this morning is author and Awenydd (or Spirit-Keeper) Elen Sentier. Good morning Elen, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Can I offer you a cup of tea?

Lapsang Souchong, please, straight, no milk. Unless you happen to have Bruichladdich single malt ???

I’m afraid I don’t touch alcohol Elen, it’s my husband Albert who is the drinker. Now here is your tea  my dear…

Thankyou Mrs Baker, I wonder if we’re related? My aunt was Ida Baker who kept the sacred well in the village on the edge of Exmoor where I grew up; it was in the wall between her garden and ours, still there and still revered. She was a darling, and so was her magical gardener-husband, Uncle Perce, she gave me seedy cake and strawberries when I got in trouble at home when I was a wee kiddie J, and Uncle Perce taught me about talking with plants and bees.

They both sound marvellous Elen, you know I do think it’s possible we could be connected in some way, although I have never been to Exmore I’m afraid, it was my Mother’s job to guard Pendle before me, and I had never set foot outside it until the pirates came and kidnapped me…

BTW, I’m really sorry to hear about the treacle (and the sprats!). Just down the road from me is, I think, the only pub in the country called The Treacle Mine. Wish they could have done that with you, a much better idea z|a.

Oh we do have treacle mines at Sabden and Chobham, but you’re right it was a dreadful waste of confectionary, I do wish they had used some of the dreadful ‘standard issue tinned soup’ the government forces upon us all instead…

Oh yes, the soup for the orphans! … well, goodness me, there’s so many. When it’s the season, I just love tomato soup and it’s so simple to do. You need a good wallop of ripe tomatoes, the ones with that fabulous smell, a big bunch of fresh basil, and you can either use olive oil or good butter, butter gives it an extra sweetness. You need a good, heavy-bottomed pot to make it in.

Chop the basil really fine so all its scented oils are released. Chop the tomatoes small, and heat up the oil or butter, not boiling but good and hot. Take the pot off the heat, put half the chopped basil into it and swish it about to scent up the oil/butter, then add all the tomatoes and put back on the heat. Don’t have the heat up high or you’ll burn rather than cook. Keep stirring the mix as this helps the flavours to seep through. When the tomatoes look/taste/feel ready take the pot off the heat and allow it to sit for at at least an hour to steep further. 

When you want to eat, heat up the pot again but don’t boil, keep stirring and watching, as soon as it’s ready pour it into heated bowls and Bob’s your uncle J. I like to eat it with some fresh sourdough bread and good unsalted butter, and maybe a bit of grated cheese … Yummmm !

Oh how delicious, there is nothing better than good homemade tomato soup (it knocks the socks of the tinned variety every time!) Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat here by the fire. I hope your journey to our dimension was a good one?

Not too bad at all, got a bit bumpy flying over the M6, the turbulence there can be frightful, damned near fell off me broom and the cat got sick! But we’re all fine now, that cuppa you gave me sorted things.

Oh dear, the poor cat, I’m glad he is feeling better now though. Elen it is so lovely to meet another woman who deals in spiritual matters, here in Ire it is absolutely forbidden and I have to do all my work in secret which is a dreadful strain. Now why don’t I put the kettle on and you can tell me a little more about the work that you do ?

Another cuppa would go down grand, and the cat would love a saucer of milk now, says his stomach can handle it. We, he and me, don’t have quite the same problems you seem to have up here, not down in the Welsh Marches. It’s a lovely twilight land, between two countries and between two worlds, where the Faer folk are very happy to come and play with me and the students. I always have some students to pass on the work to, the old ways, and it’s such a lovely spot for writing too.

It sounds wonderful. I have had the very great pleasure of reading some of your books, including your newest release;  Merlin – past and future Wizard, oh is that a copy you have with you there?

Yes, indeed, would you like it? I thought you might so I brought one along. Hmm … Merlin … well he and I’ve been friends all my life. Dad it was who introduced us, Dad’d known him too, when I was nought but a baby, and I began to find out about him through the stories. Where I live now is one of the places he was born and lived, we have our own Merlin-story but here we call him Dyfrig (you say it Duvrigg) which means water-baby because of how he got born.

 

merlin.jpg

 

I had heard a little about this Merlin figure from your world and thought him to be a fascinating mythical character but your book goes beyond these myths to show us a Merlin who we can engage with within the context of our daily lives doesn’t it?

Well yes, he’s not an academic construct and certainly doesn’t fit into those boxes. He really does want to get known again, to make friends with as many people as want to know him because he really can, and will, help us through this enormous crisis the Earth is going through.

He wants to know people – when they want to know him. He comes as a friend, an older and more experienced friend who has walked the path far longer than any of us humans. But he comes as a guide not someone who expects either worship or rule-book following. He works with each of us in ways we can do best. All we need to do is ask him. I say “all” but I do know how hard that can be, because we’re no longer encouraged to believe and work with our intuition, nor are we taught how to know it from our personal wants and desires. That’s part of what we learn with Merlin.

 It seems that Merlin is a figure who can guide and influence us no matter what age we are living in but are the old stories as important as the new?

Yes, indeed. Merlin is just what the book-title says – the once and future wizard. He has been with us here on Earth since time out of mind, and he will be as long as the Earth still orbits the Sun. And, it seems to me from my lifelong experience with him, that he was around in the universe long before the Earth was formed and will be still after she’s gone. That makes him always here, always available to help … whenever we ask. And the old stories are still as important as the new. Our old ways are what I call “and/and” rather than “either/or”, they’re inclusive not exclusive. We are our personal selves and, at the same time, we are our spirit selves, the two are not exclusive, they happen at the same time – we call it walking between worlds.

Everyone’s spirit-life is always evolving. Nothing is ever set in tablets of stone, it’s always growing and adapting to where and when we are at this instant, so new stories are needed to fit with who we are now. But the old stories still fit too – if you read them properly and don’t try to dumb them down into whatever your “normal-box” is. Stories are one of the very basic ways humans learn and pass on wisdom to each other, and always have. Recent research has shown that our stories – the ones they’ve worked with – go back at least to the Bronze Age, that’s maybe 5,000 years ago! The old stories show us how to be, how to behave, how things really are, and how to relate with otherworld, as well as how to travel there. But we, and our stories, are as riddling and contrary as Zen, if not more so. To get the point, understand them, you need to spend time with the stories learning how to feel into them rather than trying to translate them into what you already know. After all, what’s the point of doing that? !!!

Throughout the book this dynamic, engaging (at times quite seductive) spirit of Merlin urges us to take up that liminal space between past and present and truly live ‘in the moment’… that is a very big challenge isn’t it, especially with all the pressures and insecurities of modern life?

Chuckle! Yes, he can be very seductive! That way of living, engaging all the time with the liminal, is very challenging for many modern folk. We’re so heavily caught up in the shibboleths of how we should be, according to the adverts on TV, politics, political correctness and all that crap! And it’s so scary for most people to dare to break out. This is the first hurdle my students have to get themselves over, and they do it too but it can be like ripping your skin off, like a snake shedding its skin. And getting used to the fact (yes, fact!) that otherworld completely permeates your everyday world is a huge step, but it does, and the students discover this for themselves with my help. That’s really important too, I do Merlin’s job in little, at my own small level, because I’ve walked the path a bit longer than my students. You always need that, someone you can really get on with who’s been doing it longer than you. That’s what being apprentice is about.

 

The Merlin I felt as I read your book, Elen, seemed to be firmly planted in the modern man-made world, but at the same time you show us his continuing rootedness in nature and the history of the land, do you think it is important that Merlin is able to straddle these, sometimes so opposing, spaces?

Oh yes, he’s the threshold, the doorway, the place between that connects us across the worlds. And he’s in the here-n-now with us just as much as in the “past”. An example – he called one of my students on her mobile phone last autumn on the workshop! LOL, it was hairy for her but she got it, worked with it and grew herself enormously as a result. And it made me smile. We too often want to get into the cutesy fantasy-stuff rather than reality, and Merlin’s all about reality. He’s in every particle of our Earth’s body as well as being with us in our everyday modern world – and/and again. Try this ancient picture of the goddess/god, it’s on a gold brooch from the La Teine culture …

lady-lord

Do you get it? The one head is the other but turned upside-down! And/and yet again J. One interpretation of this is Vivien and Merlin as lady and lord, the pairs of opposites which make the whole. We’ve forgotten that. We’re taught to think that things are “opposing” when in reality they’re two sides of one coin. We need to change this attitude and Merlin will help us with that. Being a threshold is how he does it. Come to me he says, step through me, now look back and I’m still here but different, the same but different. It’s a bit like light which is both particles and waves at the same time!

Your book was such an enlightening read, Elen, and I really feel I could pick your brains all day about this subject but I know you must be off soon, you have a talk to prepare for in London is that correct?

I do indeed. I’m doing an illustrated talk for Earthstars Sacred Space, at Steiner House in London on 24th Feb, and need to get on it J. It’s about Merlin and his relevance for us today too. If you want to come here’s the link https://www.facebook.com/events/1839244072988715/

 

Oh marvellous, I shall certainly try to come along, even if I cannot do the dimension hop in person I will try to tune in with Max and Collin’s Spirit Radio, it picks up most things from your world. Well thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Elen, it’s been wonderful to chat with you and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?

Yummm! Let me give you a hand …

Wonderful, thankyou. I hope you will all join me in the kitchen next week when Steampunk author Liz Hennessy will be dropping in to give me a hand and talk about her book Grogory’s Gadget. Until then,

Blessings on your brew my dears!