Welcome to my blog!

Merry Meet & Thank you for visiting!
This blog is all about all the things that make me up. I am a Mother, I am a Pagan Witch, I am a Wife, I am a homemaker, I am a student, I am Spiritual, I am a Teacher, I am Liberal Hippie, I am a Voter, and I am extremely opinionated! Plan to see it all! If you don't like what you see, feel free to leave! However, chances are, if you stick around, you'll find more to love than hate!


Friday, October 31, 2014

GIVEAWAY: Win one of TWO Signed Copies of Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing

Blessed Samhain! 
The Wheel Turns! Another year ended, another beginning. 

This has been a wonderful year!  And to celebrate all the blessings which have come into our lives my dear friend and colleague, Eva and I have decided it would be the perfect time for a giveaway! But hosting just any giveaway simply wouldn't be enough to celebrate Samhain with, we had to go BIG!

And what's bigger than SIGNED BOOKS!  For people like us - nothing!  But what book to offer?

As it turns out, one of those beautiful blessings that came into my world this year was Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing, which I reviewed in a previous post. It is extremely rare that I read fiction of any kind, this one however, I will read over and over again.  Eye opening and life changing, this book will push you to get out, get involved and work every day to make the world a better place.  It's a must read!

So in my mind, there wasn't a better title to share with my readers, fans and customers than this one...  I talked to Starhawk and asked her to sign a couple of copies for me...  And she was kind enough to do so.  And as a result... I have them to give to you!

But of course we couldn't stop there...  We also decided to add a "Runner Up" Prize for a third lucky person which includes numerous items from My, Eva's and our friend Rebekah's shops!  Scroll down, check everything out and then make sure to enter!  Winners will be chosen on November 14th!



Included in the Runner Up Goody Bag are:

  • 2 Handmade bars of Peppermint Soap
  • 1 Tin of Plantain & Wild Yarrow Salve

From CellDara:
  • 1oz Organic Dried Lavender Flower
  • 8 Mini Wax Melts - "Hope Scent" 
  • Come Fly With Me Earrings
  • Herbal Dream Sachet with Instructions

  • 1/2 Cup of Mugwort in a Decorative Jar
  • Cats Claw & Clay Handmade Wand
    w/ Citrine and Tigers Eye Inlay (made by The New Age Girl)

Giveaway Ends on November 14th, so get your entries in now, and remember, you can come back daily and get more entries by tweeting & sharing!

Greatest of Luck to ALL entrants! 

Monday, October 27, 2014

First steps of a long journey...

Last week I announced that there were going to be some changes here, as well as to my FB pages. The largest of course being that I closed my "SabrinaMBowen" FB Page altogether.  For those who had been following me there you'll know that I began working really hard on moving forward with my goals of getting healthy.  In this past week or so I've taken a small backslide, but I expected this would happen once or twice. No one ever makes changes to their life without a few slip-ups.

Part of why I started my personal FB page was in an effort to get some support, which wasn't quite what I got.  And for all the time it took away from healthy aspects of my life, it needed deleted. But that has left me, once again, completely unsupported on this journey.

So here I am, turning to all of you.  For the past few years I've tried to use the time from Sabbat to Sabbat for making changes.  However, like most people make resolutions and within a week or three, they fall away.  I vowed to myself that this time I was going to do better.  I would take on small resolutions, rather than vowing to change my entire life.  And every six weeks I would revisit and revise where needed, creating changes or moving forward where possible.

Over the last 5 weeks I've primarily focused on eating better and working out more.  Both of which I've been doing okay in, not perfect, but not horrid either, certainly not as poorly as I had been.  But with Samhain approaching I'm coming to the end of my first 6 week I feel like I have accomplished much of what I meant to. Still though, I have room for improvement.

I have just 5 days left before it's time to move to the next step.  So it's time to make a plan.  And the first step of that plan is making the choice to switch from using FB to my blog for all my updates, recipes and so on...

I will continue to move forward with changing my diet and workouts.  But I will be adding as well, although I'm unsure as to what my next steps will be.  I do know that I will be working on blogging about my journey and achievements as well as things like my meal plans, workout routines, recipes, and weekly updates on how I'm doing.

My goals are not simply physical health related, although that's where I chose to start.  My reason for beginning to start with my physical health is not out of vanity, but because that's the area I feel I need the MOST help in.  While my business, spiritual and mental goals are just as important to me as my physical health, I know that I can not achieve them unless I am physically in a place to do so.  No amount of meditation can produce a healthy mind if the body is full of negativity and chemicals.  And No amount of crafting can create a strong bond between the physical and spiritual without first having a healthy body.  This is why, as you will notice, my physical struggle seems to be a "main feature" in the beginning of this journey, but I assure you my waste-line is not my driving factor - health is - TRUE HEALTH! You won't see any "diet food" or pills or fads here!  And you will NOT see me cutting out sugar, wheat, meat or any other food in an effort to find quick results.  Instead, you'll see me working to build a healthy diet, healthy workout routines, and a constant forward movement...  With the closure of each 6 week period - from Sabbat to Sabbat - I will reevaluate and "tweak" as needed.  All the while keeping you in "the loop."

Show your support by sharing your own recipes, experiences, tips and struggles in the comments, or feel free to email me directly at  OneWitchsWonderland@gmail.com.  My hope is that by making my struggle public and by gaining the support of my readers I can not just find success, but help all of you do the same!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Metaphisical Monsters: Vampires: Part 3 Elizabeth Bathory

While the name Dracula was most likely inspired by the deeds of Vlad (Dracula) Tepes. It's more likely that it was the deeds of the Countess Erz'ebet (Elizabeth in English) Bathory that inspired the horror. She also holds a place in history as one of the first recorded female serial killers and sexual predators. Even in today's society the female serial killer is rare, so rare in fact that there is generally no psychological profile for them, and little to no understanding of what drives them. Even less is understood about female sexual predators. Which makes the case of Elizabeth Bathory overly rare indeed!

Today we continue to hear stories about Dracula, more and more research is always being done and the remains of his castle have been explored and excavated multiple times. However, it's rare that we so much as hear a mention of Bathory. Why is that? Well, there are a few obvious reasons. For one, Dracula was in fact working to aid his country, from his perspective and the perspective of his people, what he did was a great deed. Then there is the simple fact that Dracula is a man. As most of us today know, women in history simply didn't matter. While men litterally ruled the world, women were seen as little more than property. And just like you do not make large note of what your pets do from day to day, as a whole history tends not to record major actions of women either. The third, and most obvious reason, is simply that Bram Stoker used Dracula's name and not Bathory's. BUT, Bram Stoker was nice enough to hang on to his notes after publishing his novel. His notes have enlightened scholars as to just what he was drawing from for inspiration. MANY of these notes were research on the life and actions of a Translvanian Countess, Elizabeth Bathory. Today, she is even referred to as "Lady Dracula" as well as other things.

If ever there was a person who fit the description of vampire, it was Bathory! Among her horrid titles we can list rapist, torturer, child molester, kidnapper and most notably cannibal and blood drinker. And like many of today's more horrible offenders Bathory had a troubled childhood, adult life and marriage.

Born in to a noble family in Hungary in August 1560, Elizabeth spent her childhood with her family in Nagy-Ecsed, near the Romanian border. Her mother was sister of Stephen Bathory, King of Poland, Prince of Transylvania and counterpart of Vlad Tepes. She had a rather cruel older brother and two sisters who survived in to adulthood. In 1566 the German Emperor and the Ottomans came to a temporary truce. So while Vlad Tepe's life was ruled by the wars going on around him, Bathory's childhood would have been relatively peaceful - at least on a governmental level.

She was greatly educated, as would any young woman of nobility have been. But she was a woman, and it's fair to say abuse was a daily activity in the Bathory home. Her older brother would become known for his drunkenness and rape of young women. She would also spend a great amount of her young life with her Aunt Klara, an overly sexual woman who greatly enjoyed torturing servants, presumably for fun. When Elizabeth was a child, she had even witnessed the torture and execution of a Gypsy woman who was sewn up inside a horse carcass and left to die there.

In 1570 she was engaged to a wealthy Count Ferencz Nadasdy de Nadasd of Fogarasfold. As was customary in this time, it's acceptable to assume that Elizabeth would have had little to no say over who she would marry, instead it was most likely a political move for her father. Elizabeth was to be come a very young woman of the house as she was sent to reside with her mother-in-law to be, who would die within a year. Elizabeth even at this very young age was already known for her beauty. And in 1574 she became pregnant and gave birth to an illegitimate daughter. History says the baby was smuggled away to protect her, and most likely to save her life.

Artist Depiction of Bathory's Castle Home
On May 8th, 1575, at just age 14, Elizabeth Bathory was married to her fiance, Count Ferenc Nadasdy. The wedding celebration is said to have lasted weeks! However, unlike their celebratory wedding, their marriage was to be lonely and quite boring for young Elizabeth. Being a military man, Nadasdy was often away for weeks or months at a time, leaving Elizabeth alone in her castle high atop the Carpathian Mountains. In his absence she would amuse herself with sex toys imported from Italy. She also started to experiment with herbal brews, potions, powders and drugs. It would also have been her job to ensure the castle ran smoothly, that would include the responsibility of disciplining the servants.

While her husband was away she would also "vacation" at her aunt Klara's home. Who is credited with teaching Bathory many of the "techniques" she would use to carry out her disciplinary position in the castle. While with her aunt her sexual experimentation would become quite extensive.

Nadasy had an inflammable temper and servants would be severely punished and beaten for the tiniest mistakes at his order. This was a tradition his wife happily kept upon his leave. Elizabeth used branding irons, razors, pincers, torches and pins & needles quite consistently in her punishments. A servant girl who talked to much had her mouth sewn shut. A girl suspected of stealing money was stripped and burned repeatedly with white hot coins. And she would freeze servants who displeased her by having them striped, thrown in the snow and dumping water over them.

Three loyal female servants, Helena Jo, Dorthea Szentes (also called Dorka) and Katarina, and manservant, Ficzko, who was most likely Autistic (history records him as being "retarded") would help Elizabeth carry out her cruelties through her rein of terror.  Also, between the years of 1604 and 1610 a mysterious woman named Anna Darvulia, who was probably a lover of Elizabeth's, who taught her many new torturing techniques and was "one of the most active sadists in Elizabeth's entourage". After a severe stroke that left her blind, Darvulia left her work to Elizabeth, Helena Jo, and Dorka, content that she had taught them well. With Darvulia's death, Elizabeth only grew in cruelty. However, here downfall would be her growing recklessness.

Elizabeth was a very vain woman, and sometime around her 40th birthday she started to become obsessed with the idea of youthful beauty. However, unlike so many forty-somethings today Elizabeth wasn't content with simply lotions and potions. One day while her team of young servant girls groomed her, she struck one of them in a fit of rage so hard that the young girl's nose began to bleed. Some of this blood splashed on to Elizabeth's face and it's said that when she wiped it away she believed the skin beneath it to have a more youthful, fresher appearance. This single act of violence would lead her down the path that would eventually lead her to earn the name "Blood Countess."

Elizabeth began to bathe regularly in the blood of virgins. It's said that when she wanted to bathe she would have a servant girl fetched and held upside down over a tub with her throat slashed until all of her blood was drained. From approximately 1600 onwards, the death rates among her servants greatly increased. Her trusted help would recruit new girls from neighboring towns. They would offer poverty stricken families a small sum of money in effort to persuade them to send their daughters off to "a life of security in the service of the mighty House of Bathory." Once in the castle, they would simply never be heard from again, becoming prey either to Elizabeths never-ending quest for youth or her lust for the pain of others. The girls' bodies, bruised, cut and burned, would be buried unceremoniously outside the castle walls upon their death.

Prior to Darculia's death, Elizabeth had used young peasant women to fill her needs. But she turned to a widow of a farmer from a nearby town whom she knew to fill the void left by the loss of her love. It was apparently this woman, named Erszi Majorova, who "encouraged Elizabeth to go after girls of noble birth as well as peasants." And in 1609, she decided to listen. She started taking in aristocratic girls to "teach them social graces" but of course, they usually died as well. And rumors of the horrors going on inside the castle became more prevalent.

Elizabeth's Death Tower
In October 1610 Erzsébet took her daughter Anna, to Piestány for a bath in the warm mud. Afterwards she traveled to castle Sárvár, where her young son was living with his tutor. She took her jewels and other valueables with her, when she returned home. Meanwhile, a priest of a nearby village notified the already alarmed authorities of his suspicions.

On December 10, Elizabeth and her accomplices were arrested by Count Thurzó. The trial started in January 1611 but because of her rank, it was held in secret and the Countess never attended it. At that time in history however, servants and pesants were considered to be serfs, and the nobility of the day had the right to do with them whatever they pleased. So even though her victims most likely number in the THOUSANDS, she could only be tried on what she had done to the girls of noble birth.

Under torture her accomplices described between 36 and 50 death as a result of mistreatment. Then there were additional witnesses heard, each of which had a more horrifying story than the last. One mentioned 80 girls, another said 175, then the number 200 came out and so on. Some of these witnesses were testifying purely on what they had heard, others had more "hands on knowledge." It's said that the Countess kept journals which chronicled the torture and death of more than 650 girls. However, this was never shown in the court.

ALL of those accused were found guilty. While Darvulia had died years prior Helena Jo, Dorka and Ficzko were not so lucky. While Ficzko's fate is a little hard to track down. Helena Jo and Dorka were to be burned at the stake after having their fingers removed with hot pincers. Bathory herself, being nobility, could not be punished equally, instead she was to live out the remainder of her life walled up in a small tower room in her own castle. Three and a half years later, on August 21, 1614, Elizabeth was found dead in her room. Since there were several plates of food untouched, her actual date of death is unknown. She was buried in the church of Csejte, but due to the villagers' uproar over having "The Tigress of Csejte" buried in their cemetery, her body was moved to her birth home at Ecsed, where it is interred at the Báthory family crypt.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Time for Change Has Come...

The time has come, the walrus said...
          Ahem... Sorry, wrong intro.  :)

All kidding aside, the time has come... What time you ask? Well, the time for some changes to be made here and there in my life.  For the past few years I have been attempting to keep up with two over filled plates, and as a result those things which mean the most to me have taken a hit.  For this reason it's time that I once again, revise my life.  I will be closing my personal (SabrinaMBowen) Facebook page and cutting WAY back on the amount which I post on One Witch's Wonderland.  I am currently searching for additional staff to help me there, which will hopefully allow me to keep the page open.  However, as much as I love my page, if I can not find the right people for our team, I will have to take my leave from there as well.  I am, however, going to continue as if that is not the case at least until the end of the year.

I will continue to post and run Pagan's Together, and I will continue to post Free Kindle Books here most mornings.  However, blogs will most likely be dropping from a few times a week, to just twice a week or less.  As much as I loved blogging over the years, I simply can't keep up with it any more. I will not be continuing to post "opinion" blogs at this point simply because I no longer have the time needed to do so.  Instead I will be focusing on creating posts about things I'm doing to progress my life in the right direction, research I'm doing or classes I'm taking or projects that I'm working on.

I will continue to build my business, slowly though it may be growing.  And I will continue to work toward my other goals of becoming a Holistic practitioner, an accomplished witch, a published author and so much more.  Although it may appear that I am stepping down, away from my dreams, I am in fact simply trying to make room for my dreams to blossom!

I want to thank each and every one of you for continuing to stand by me through each of my reincarnations and changes and for supporting me even though the rough times. Without all of you, I couldn't even dream as big as I do!

Friday, October 17, 2014

My 50-ish Must Watch Movies for the Halloween Season

A few days back I posted this list of Halloween Movies to watch on my facebook page. The list was made by someone else (http://www.amylorrainephotography.com) and over all isn't a bad list. But there are definitely some changes I would make to it.  And I thought, why not make my own...

So here are my picks for the 50-ish Must Watch Movies for the Halloween Season...

  1. Hocus Pocus
  2. Halloweentown (1 and 2)
  3. Practical Magic
  4. Casper
  5. Tower of Terror
  6. The Worst Witch
  7. It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown
  8. Adventures of Icabod and Mr. Toad
  9. Twitches (and Twitches Too)
  10. Beetlejuice
  11. The Addams Family
  12. The Good Witch (Entire Series)
  13. Coraline
  14. Paranorman 
  15. Matilda
  16. Hotel Transylvania 
  17. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  18. Sweeny Todd
  19. Frankenweenie
  20. The Raven
  21. Poltergeist
  22. Sleepy Hollow
  23. The Craft
  24. The Exorcist
  25. Child's Play
  26. Friday the 13th
  27. The Omen
  28. Halloween
  29. The House on Haunted Hill (original & 90's versions)
  30. Insidious (and Insidious 2)
  31. Evil Dead
  32. Idle Hands
  33. Final Destination
  34. Night of the Living Dead
  35. Nightmare on Elm Street
  36. Trick 'r Treat
  37. Darkness Falls
  38. Ghost Ship
  39. Thirteen Ghosts 
  40. The Gift
  41. The Island of Dr. Moreau
  42. Rose Red
  43. Wrong Turn
  44. Creepshow
  45. The Amityville Horror
  46. Snow White: A Tale of Terror
  47. The Witches of Eastwick
  48. The Wolfman
  49. Frankenstein
  50. Nasfuratu
  51. Dracula
  52. Sinister
  53. The Conjuring 
  54. Jeepers Creepers
  55. The Others
  56. Pet Sematary  

Okay, so it's not exactly 50... In fact when you start adding in series films and squeals, there's probably closer to 100... But as hard as I tried I couldn't pair it down any more than that. In fact even now there are a few I'm thinking "Wow, this should be on there too."  But I was trying to keep it near 50...  So, what would you add? What would you delete? 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Metaphisical Monsters: Vampires: Part 2 Vlad Tepes

 While most identify Vlad "Dracula" Tepes as the historical inspiration for the fictional Dracula, his actual life was just as fascinating. There is an old saying that "truth is stranger than fiction" and no one ever lived that more than Vlad Tepes.

Familial Background
Wallachia, a province of Romania, was located along the Southern border of Transylvania, and was founded in 1290 by a Transylvanian named Rudolph the Black (Rudolph Negru). However it wasn't until the fall of the East Roman Empire that it established it's own rulership. The first Prince of Wallachia was a name named Basarab the Great. Following Basarab's lineage we find Dracula's Grandfather, Prince Mircea the Old, who reigned from 1386 - 1418. However, by the late 15th century the House of Basarab had split in to two rival clans; in one the decedents of the Prince Dan and the other, the decendands of Prince Mircea the Old. Mircea had an illegitimate son, Vlad (Dracul), who was born sometime around 1390. He was educated in Hungary and Germany and served as a page for King Sigismund of Hungary (who in 1410, became the Holy Roman Emperor).

As a young man Vlad joined the Order of the Dragon, founded to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Vlad would take an oath, as all members did, that his family would be dedicated to fighting the Turks who had already begun to attack Europe. The Romanian archaic word for Dragon is "Drac," so Vlad thus became Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Dragon. His son, would take the name Draculea or "Son of the Dragon" as "-ulea" meant "son of" in that same Romanian tongue.
Young Dracula
Birth records from Romania in the 1400s simply don't exist! So while I wish I could give you a date and time for Dracula's birth, it's simply not do-able! We do know he was born in a small Transylvanian town called Schassburgh sometime around 1430-31. And it's fair to guess that is poor mother didn't have pain pills, lol.

Dracula was taught the skills of war and peace that were deemed necessary for a Christian Knight. His first teacher was an elderly boyar whom had fought against the Turks under the banner of Enguerrand de Courcy at the battle of Niclopolis.

In 1431, King Sigismund made Vlad Dracul the military governor of Transylvania. However, Vlad was not content to serve as a governor forever, and so he began gathering supporters for his plan to seize Wallachia from it's current occupant, Alexandru I, a prince of the Danesti Line. In late 1436, Vlad Dracul killed Alexandru and became Prince Vlad II, ruler of Walachia.

In 1442 Turkey invaded Transylvania. Vlad tried to stay neutral, but Hungary's rulers blamed him and drove him and his family out of Walachia. A Hungarian general, Janos Hunyadi (who may have been the illegitimate son of Emperor Sigismund) made a Danesti named Basarab II the prince of Walachia.

The following year, Vlad regained the Wallachian throne with Turkish support, but on the condition that Vlad send a yearly contingent of Wallachian boys to join the Sultan’s Janissaries. In 1444, to further assure to the Sultan his good faith, Vlad sent his two younger sons --Vlad III and Radu the Handsome--to Adrianople as hostages. Vlad (about age 13) was to spend his next four years there. It is unknown exactly what took place in his life while in Turkey, but it is known that his brother Radu was a clear favorite.

That same year the King of Hungary, Ladislas Posthumous, broke the peace and launched the Varna Campaign under the command of John Hunyadi, in an effort to drive the Turks out of Eruope. Vlad having had the help of the Turks to regain his thrown, and having two of his sons in their custody attempted to stay neutral. Hunyadi demanded that Vlad II fulfill his oath as a member of the Order of the Dragon and as a vassal of Hungary and join the crusade. Attempting to say loyal to both sides Vlad decided that rather than go and join the Christian forces against the Turks himself, he would send his oldest son Mircea.

The Varna Crusade was an utter failure! And the Christian army was completely destroyed during the Battle of Varna. John Hunyadi managed to escape the battle under inglorious conditions. Vlad and Mircea seem to have blamed Hunydi for the entire ordeal, and Hunydi seem to have blamed Vlad & Mircea for the loss because from here on Hunyadi was bitterly hostile towards the two. And in 1447 both Vlad and his son were killed according to the wishes of Hunyadi. Apparently, poor Mircea was buried alive by the boyars and merchants of Tirgoviste. Once the competition was gone, Hunyadi placed his own man, Vladislav II, a member of the Danesti clan, on the throne of Wallachia.

Dracula's Rise To Power
When the Turks learned of the death of Vlad and his son (who would have been next in line for the throne) it was decided not only to allow Dracula to return home, but to support him as their candidate for the seat of Prince. With this support Dracula was able to dethrone the current Prince and assumed the seat for himself. Unfortunately less than two months later, Dracula was forced to surrender to Vladislav II, and flee to the home of his cousin, the Prince of Moldavia.

He would remain in Moldavia for the next three years. However, Prince Bogdan of Moldavia was assassinated in 1451 and Dracula was forced to flee yet again! This time he would go to Transylvania and seek the protection from the family of the vary man who had been responsible for so much pain in his life, Hunyadi. However, it seems as if the timing was perfect. Vladislav II, who was still serving as the Puppet Prince of Wallachia had addopted Pro-Turkish policy. Thus, Hunyadi needed a more reliable man to take his place. Because of this he was willing to accept the allegiance of his enemy and aid him in returning to the thrown that he previously removed him from...

Dracula became Hunyadi's vassel and received the Transylvanian duchies formerly governed by his father. He remained there, under the protection of Hunyadi, awaiting the opportunity to retake Wallachia from his rival.

In 1453 Christian Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. And the Christian world was shaken and shocked!  The East Roman Empire which had existed since the time of Constantine the Great and which for a thousand years had shielded the rest of Christendom from Islam was no more. Hunyadi immediately began planning another campaign against the Turks.

In 1456 Hunyadi invaded Turkish Serbia while Dracula invaded Wallachia. In the Battle of Belgrade, Hunyadi was killed and his army defeated. Dracula, however, succeeded in killing Vladislav II and taking the Wallachian throne but Hunaydi's defeat made his long term tenure questionable. For a time at least, Dracula was forced to attempt to placate the Turks while he solidified his own position.

Vlad The Impaler
Of course while is struggle for power is interesting, it's far from the inspiration for the legend which has been born of his name. And I simply wouldn't be doing his justice to skip through the blood, nasty and horrid violence which earned him his place in the history books. However, I will warn you that in doing so, I will be discussing some actions which may bother those of weaker constitutions, so if you're someone who may wish to skip over the gore, here's where you'll want to stop reading!

Impalement, of course was Dracula’s preferred method of torture and execution. Impalement was and is one of the most gruesome ways of dying imaginable, slow and extremely painful. He usually had a horse attached to each of the victim’s legs and a sharpened stake was gradually forced into the body. The end of the stake was usually greased with pig fat and care was taken that the stake not be too sharp, else the victim might die too rapidly from shock. Normally the stake was inserted into the body through the anus and was often forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. However, there were many instances where victims were impaled through other body orifices or through the abdomen or chest. Infants were sometimes impaled on the stake forced through their mother’s chests. The records indicate that victims were sometimes impaled so that they hung upside down on the stake.

Vlad Tepes (previously Dracula) often had the stakes arranged in various geometric patterns. The most common pattern was a ring of concentric circles in the outskirts of a city that was his target. The height of the spear indicated the rank of the victim. The decaying corpses were often left up for months. It was once reported that an invading Turkish army turned back in fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses impaled on the banks of the Danube. In 1461 Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man not noted for his squeamishness, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of twenty thousand impaled Turkish prisoners outside of the city of Tirgoviste. This gruesome sight is remembered in history as "the Forest of the Impaled."

Thousands were often impaled at a single time. Ten thousand were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu in 1460. In 1459, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, Vlad III had thirty thousand of the merchants and boyars of the Transylvanian city of Brasov impaled. One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Vlad Dracula feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brasov while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims.

Although impalement was Vlad Dracula’s favorite method of torture, it was by no means his only method. The list of tortures employed by this cruel prince reads like an inventory of hell’s tools: nails in heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially in the case of women), scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or to wild animals, and burning alive.

No one was immune to Vlad’s attentions. His victims included women and children, peasants and great lords, ambassadors from foreign powers and merchants. However, the vast majority of his victims came from the merchants and boyars of Transylvania and his own Wallachia.

Many have attempted to justify Vlad Dracula’s actions on the basis of nascent nationalism and political necessity. Many of the merchants in Transylvania and Wallachia were German Saxons who were seen as parasites, preying upon Romanian natives of Wallachia. The wealthy land owning boyars exerted their own often capricious and unfaithful influence over the reigning princes. Vlad’s own father and older brother were murdered by unfaithful boyars. However, many of Vlad Dracula’s victims were also Wallachians, and few deny that he derived a perverted pleasure from his actions.

Vlad Dracula began his reign of terror almost as soon as he came to power. His first significant act of cruelty may have been motivated by a desire for revenge as well as a need to solidify his power. Early in his main reign he gave a feast for his boyars and their families to celebrate Easter, 1459. Being well aware that many of these same nobles were part of the conspiracy that led to his father’s assassination and the burying alive of his elder brother, Mircea. Many had also played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their lifetimes. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes. None had seen less then seven reigns. Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older boyars and their families were impaled on the spot. The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north from Tirgoviste to the ruins of his castle in the mountains above the Arges River. The enslaved boyars and their families were forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from a nearby ruin. According to the reports they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Very few survived this ordeal.

Throughout his reign Vlad continued to systematically eradicate the old boyar class of Wallachia. Apparently Vlad was determined that his own power be on a modern and thoroughly secure footing. In the place of the executed boyars Vlad promoted new men from among the free peasantry and middle class; men who would be loyal only to their prince.

Vlad Tepes’ atrocities against the people of Wallachia were usually attempts to enforce his own moral code upon his country. He appears to have been particularly concerned with female chastity. Maidens who lost their virginity, adulterous wives and unchaste widows were all targets of Vlad’s cruelty. Such women often had their sexual organs cut out or their breasts cut off, and were often impaled through the vagina on red-hot stakes. One report tells of the execution of an unfaithful wife. Vlad had the woman’s breasts cut off, then she was skinned and impaled in a square in Tirgoviste with her skin lying on a nearby table. Vlad also insisted that his people be honest and hard working. Merchants who cheated their customers were likely to find themselves mounted on a stake beside common thieves.

The End Of Vlad Tepes
Throughout his rule Vlad Tepes spared no expense to defend his land, his country and his people against the Turks. Yet, his successes were short lived! The King of Hungary did little to aid him and his own resources were simply to limited to create any lasting defense system. So, in 1462, Vlad would be forced to flee, once again, to Transylvania.

His first wife committed suicide by leaping from the towers of "Castle Dracula" rather than risk capture or death at the hands of the Turks. However, with the help of some tricky country folk Vlad was able to escape. The story goes that the peasants removed the shoes from their horses and reversed them before sending help to the Castle. When they lead Vlad away from the castle on horseback the tracks seemed to lead toward the Castle rather than away from it and they were able to get away without being tracked.

After his escape, Vlad reached out to King Matthius Corvinus, the King of Hungary and son of John Hunyadi, for help. The king's reaction to this plea was to have Vlad arrested and thrown in a royal tower. While we aren't completely positive how long Vlad was locked away, most historians agree that he remained a prisoner from 1462 until 1474. During this 12 years, Vlad Tepes was able to reconnect with and even marry in to the Royal family. Little is known about this wife and his relationship with her, but it is known that he fathered two sons with her.

However, here's the deal. It's impossible to believe that ANY prisoner, royalty or not, would have been permitted to marry or sleep with any member of the Hungarian royal family! And seeing how his oldest son was around 10 when he reclaimed his thrown in 1476, it only makes sense that he was in fact only a "PRISONER" until about 1466 or maybe even earlier than that. But he would have stayed on to gain both power and strengthen ties prior to "getting back."

It is also apparent that he didn't give up his hobbies of torture mutilation. Fortunately for the people of Hungary though, it seems as if he limited himself to small animals during this time. Capturing mice, rats, birds and other animals to torture and mutilate them. Some were beheaded or tarred-and-feathered and released. Most were impaled on tiny spears.

There is also a more likely reason for Vlad's rehabilitation. Vlad's brother, Radu the Handsome, had succeeded to the Wallachian throne and instituted very Pro-Turkish policies. Because of this, the Hungarian king may have viewed Vlad as a possible candidate to reclaim the seat as Prince. Surely the fact that Vlad renounced his faith as an Orthodox and adopted Catholicism most likely played a part as well.

Vlad decided to once again take his thrown in 1476 and with the Transylvanian Prince (Stephen Bathory) he invaded Wallachia. By this time Radu, Vlad's brother, had died and been replaced by Basarab the Old. As the forces of Prince Bathory and Vlad approached, Basarab fled. Problem was when the Prince and most of the forces which had aided him in retaking his country returned to Transylvania, Vlad was left vulnerable. The Turks had a large army and didn't delay their aproach long enough for Vlad to gain the support he needed to properly face them. So within months of retaking his thrown he was forced to march and meet the Turks with less than four thousand men at his side.

Vlad Dracula was killed in battle against the Turks near the town of Bucharest in December of 1476. Some reports indicate that he was assassinated by disloyal Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks from the field. Other accounts have him falling in defeat, surrounded by the ranks of his loyal Moldavian bodyguard. Still other reports claim that Vlad, at the moment of victory, was accidentally struck down by one of his own men. The one undisputed fact is that ultimately his body was decapitated by the Turks and his head sent to Constantinople where the sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that the horrible Impaler was finally dead.

The monks of the Snagov Monastery, near where Vlad was reportedly killed, took it upon themselves to inter him. Perhaps the monks felt indebted to Vlad for the additions he insisted be added to their abode—most bizarrely, a prison and a torture chamber. Whatever the reasons, the monks dressed the body richly and put it to rest in front of the church alter. However, while Vlad did request to be buried at the monastery, some say that it was another nobleman who was placed in this tomb.

But there is some question to whether or not anyone was actually buried there. In 1931, the tomb was opened by a group of explorers. While it was expected that they would find the skull-less remains of Vlad Tepes, all that was discovered was animal bones. Whether or not Vlad, another nobleman or anyone else was ever actually buried there is up for debate. But more curious than why only animal bones were found is the question of WHERE the actual burial plot of Vlad is, or was, or if a later ruler destroyed them...

Present Day
Today most people only know the mythical Dracula. But the people of Romania continue to see him as a "freedom fighter" and a great leader for defending their land from the Turks. Although the Turks did retake control after his death, his efforts have forever won him a place in history and in the hearts of his people!  So in the end I guess it's true that every story has two sides, or in the case of Vlad Tepes, three - Vlad the Myth, Vlad the Impaler and Vlad the Hero!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Metaphisical Monsters: Vampires: Part 1 Dracula

Prior to the Twilight takeover, when someone mentioned the word Vampire most people pictured an aristocrat with a cape named Dracula. A top selling Novel, countless film retellings and believe it or not a couple of Musical Theater productions have made both Dracula and the Vampire a permanent part of our day to day life. It's nothing to see an entire shelf devoted to the subject amongst many a movie or book collections. In my home, we have both. Without doubt, Dracula is among our modern day's favorite undead celebrities!

But where did Dracula come from? Who was he? Did Bram Stoker make up the whole thing, or did he know something that others didn't?

Well, I'm sorry to tell you this, BUT, while Bram Stoker did have a number of real life influences for his Novel, he neither based the book on a real life Vampire nor created the genre.  Vampire myths date back to Ancient times, many of which were recorded in both historical and religious texts of the day. However the first recognized Vampire Fiction Novel was The Vampyre written in 1919 by John Polidori.

But unlike Polidori's novel, Stoker did have some real life historical influences to base his writings on. While early literary scholars quickly jumped to claim that the book was based on stories of a 15th century Wallachian Price named Vlad III Dracula who was also given the name Tepes. The two have very little in common. In fact it wasn't until the final revision did Stoker's vampire assume the name Dracula, before that he was Count Wompyr.

Vlad II "Tepes" Dracula
So what was it about Vlad Dracula that made Stoker decide to change the name of his creation? Well, the story of Vlad III Dracula is one which takes more than a few paragraphs to write, and one which I will cover at length in a future post. The short version is simply that after the murder of both his father (Vlad II Dracul) and his older brother Mircea, who was in line for the thrown, Dracula became prince of Wallachia (in present day Romania). His control only lasted a matter of two months before he was driven out of his country and to neighboring Transylvania. After 7 years in exile and with the support of the Turks, Dracula was able to reclaim his thrown and take revenge on those who had killed his father and brother and driven him from his home.

Hungary's Governor had just died, leaving the the boyers to be dealt with. He held a Easter celebration and invited 500 boyers and the area's 5 Bishops. At the end of his day of celebration Vlad Dracula ordered that all of his guests, their families and their attendants be impaled. He would from here on be known as Vlad Tepes, which translates to Vlad The Impaler, a name he would live up to. He was a formidable opponent for anyone whom crossed him and would end many thousands of lives both innocent and guilty in the name of justice and freedom for his land. He has become most well known for his habit of sitting down amongst the freshly impaled to eat his meal. Historical myth states that he would have the blood gathered in bowls so that he could dip his bread in it. However, there isn't much proof to back this up, and it seems to be something which was added to his story after his death to sensationalize - an addition I don't believe he needed.

His death is shrouded in mystery. While many historians believe he died in battle against the Turks, many others believe it was murder. Either way he died while attempting to protect his Christian Country from a Muslim takeover. For this, he is still seen as a freedom fighter and a hero amongst the people of Romania.

One last interesting point is that of his burial. While tradition holds that his buried at the base of the Alter in the Snagov Monastery near Bucharest, his head was said to have been removed and delivered to the Turkish Sultan as proof of his death.  However, in recent years it's been discovered that his body is in fact NOT buried in the Monastery, instead the tomb remains empty. Which begs the question "Where is Dracula's body?"

So, as you can see there are SOME similarities, the most obvious is the name Dracula. The name Dracula, in actuality means "son of Dracul." Depending on the translation Dracul is said to mean either Dragon or Devil. Most likely it means Dragon, as his father, Vlad Dracul, was a member of the order of the Dragon.

Beyond the name Stoker made Castle Dracula in Transylvania in to the home of Dracula, while in reality it was more of a fort he used during war and was not his home or even in his own country. Of course he was nobility, but rather than a Count, he was a Prince. And of course the cruelty and supposed blood thirst make for great inspiration for horror novels.

As if that weren't all enough the addition of the idea that he had been beheaded matching pre-existing vampire lore stating beheading was a sure fire end to a vampire's existence fit just perfectly. As did the fact that his body is in fact missing, this however is a fact which was not known at the time of Stoker's research.

Erzsebet (aka Elizabeth) Bathory
It's more likely that Stoker took more inspiration from the sixteenth century Countess Bathory than he did from Dracula. A great deal of information on Bathory has been found amongst Stoker's note books and research. Although Erzebet was actually a woman she and the fictional Count Dracula have a greater deal in common.

Again, there is much more to the story than can be put here, so look for future postings. However, it's a fairly simply story with many parallels to that of Dracula. Bathory is often sited as being Hungarian, but was more likely to have been born in to Slovakian Nobility. Although at the point when she lived land overturned ownership so much it would have been hard to really make such a distinction.

Her first cousin Prince Steven Bathory of Transylvania actually participated in an expedition lead by Vlad Dracula. And Castle Fagras, also known as "Castle Dracula" in Romania, actually became a possession of Prince Bathory during Erzebet's lifetime, she may have even spent time there, but it's doubtful.

Erzabet married her Count in 1575, but kept her own surname, which in that day was not only unheard of but that stuff of scandals! Her husband was very often away on military campaigns against the Turks. At one point Erzebet went to stay with her Aunt, Countess Karla Bathory. Who today would not only be considered a nymphomaniac, but would be imprisoned for her pension for murder and rape. Married and widowed four times, at least two of her husbands died at her hands. It's believed that her aunt is the one who taught Erzbet most of what she knew of torture, a past time which Erzbet came to greatly enjoy and even involved her husband in when he was at home.

A beautiful woman, she became incredibly vane and was greatly bothered by the aging process. She was known to spend days at a time in front of her mirror. She even had a mirror designed just for her that had supports where she could lean on her arms in an effort not to feel tired after hours of admiring herself.

It's the combination of her love of herself and her love of putting others in great pain that lead her to brutally kill hundreds of young girls. The story goes that one day as her servant girls were attending to her one girl accidentally pulled her hair, and she slapped the girl. Erzbet's ring sliced in to the girl's face and blood splattered on to Erzbet's face. As she wiped the blood away she thought the skin under it looked younger and more supple. From then on she would recruit, or even kidnap young girls from the surrounding towns where she would torture and murder them in ever more horrendous ways. Always draining their blood to use for her baths or "skin treatments" which she believed made her more beautiful. She was also known to consume blood on occasion.

Once she started to target nobility her antics were no longer to be tolerated. Her castle was stormed and she was arrested. Upon entering the castle the arresting army-men were appalled to find the evidence of the previous nights festivities in the basement - two mangled corpses and two more bloody girls who were in the last moments of life.

Because of her status Erzbeth was never heald to a trial. Instead she was simply dealt with "in house" by the ruling Count, who had taken over once her husband passed away.  The Countess never once denied the accusations. Instead she stated that her activities were within her rights as a Nobel Woman. She was sentenced to death, but managed to delay her sentence indefinitely and she lived out her final days locked away in a tower of her own castle.

Now, it's easy to see the parallels and inspirations here. In fact it was most likely his research in to Bathory with lead him to find the information on Dracula and ultimately change his character's name. Like the fictional Dracula, Bathory was blood thirsty, bathing and drinking blood. She was known to be involved in the Occult and what today would amount to Devil Worship (although in that day was simply called Witchcraft). She killed hundreds of innocents, mostly all young girls, from neighboring towns which she had kidnapped through the night. And of course, she was a Countess. There is even a story of her having a relationship with a mysterious man in black who had filed his teeth in to points (although there isn't much information on who he could have been).  With all of these similarities it's more likely that Bathory served as a greater inspiration than Vlad Dracula actually did.

Mythical Inspirations
Of course Vlad "Tepes" Dracula and Countess Erzbet Bathory weren't the only inspirations for Stoker. In addition to his research in to "historical vampires" Stoker also did a great deal of research in to Vampire Myth. Many of today's best known Vampire lore was birthed from Stoker's Novel. But Stoker himself simply retold it from thousands of years of myth. A steak through the heart, beheading and even holy water were all a part of vampire myths which dated back to the earliest known civilizations. However, as we will explore further in my Mythological Vampire's post, he still made quite a good bit up without any historical or mythological basis.

Of course, at it's core Dracula is a work of fiction. It's a horror novel full of adventure and intrigue and a now classic story line which has been rewritten and recreated over and over again to feed every hungry horror fans.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Should Pagans Trick or Treat?

Should Pagans Trick-or-Treat? It's a strange question, right? I mean, we all hear how Pagan and "evil" Halloween is and why "good Christians" don't participate. What about Pagans participating in the Christian traditions though? As Pagans, we're usually all to willing to claim the roots of the celebration and enjoy the one day a year when everyone openly enjoys their Pagan side. What about the Christian side of Halloween or "All Hallows Eve"?

And, there are quite a few, both Pagan and Non-Pagan, who happily scream "Halloween is Pagan, and should be kept for Pagans. Christians need not attend." While I find this thinking rather black and white as well as incredibly immature, I understand the emotions behind it. I was raised being told that "true Christians" did not revel in Pagan celebrations and should not allow their life to include Pagan traditions, mythologies or influences. So for me growing up, there was no Halloween, no Christmas, no Easter and no anything else that could have been Pagan in origin. Of course, now I understand just how ridiculous an idea that is giving the Pagan origins of Christian mythology... But none the less, I tend to agree with it. IF you are going to belong to and pledge your allegiance to a religion, and a God, which teach that all others are false, you should be willing to completely immerse yourself in that religion and it's teachings and reject all others, right?

So at least on face value, I understand the belief that Halloween (as well as other disguised Pagan holidays) shouldn't be Christianized...  That said, I also understand that religion is about rules and teachings, faith is about interpretation! So please don't take this to mean that I am angered by the celebration of Halloween by the majority of Non-Pagan faiths, although honestly there are a few with anger me, but that's for another post.

So lets get back to the original question here... Should Pagans, trick-or-treat? It is true that a great many of today's Halloween traditions have their roots deep in Pagan beliefs of old. And for modern day Pagans these roots are all to visable, even if the population at large does their best to deny them. All to often though we Pagans happily forget about the Christian roots which Halloween has as well!

Halloween, as it is known today, is NOT in fact a Pagan Holiday, nor is it Christian though. It is a mash-up, a mosaic of sorts of Ancient Celtic & Roman pagan traditions and of much younger Christian celebrations. For the Celts, this was the time of year when the veil of the underworld lifted and all sorts of spirits, fae and mythical beings roamed freely. This was the time of the Wild Hunt, a time for divination and honoring the past & the Gods. This was a time to be thankful for all the harvest had brought and a time to prepare for the long winter to come!

For the Romans it was a time to celebrate fertility and their Goddess Pomona, who presided over fruits, orchards & gardens. It was a time of ritual, prayer & celebration to honor and thank this goddess for the fertility of their lands. However, this is not the Roman Holiday which most influenced Halloween, that honor is reserved for Feralia, or the last day of the year (Feb 21 by the Roman Calendar). The main purpose of this day was to give rest and peace to those who had departed in the previous year. Again, we see rituals, prayer and gifts for the dead. It was the day when the souls of those who passed were finally able to travel to the underworld.

In many ways we can simply point to these, and similar clearly Pagan celebrations around the world as a clear Pagan basis for Halloween, but that's not where the story ends!

In the fourth century A.D. the then emperor of Rome, Constantine, declared Christianity the only lawful religion, and basically declared war on any and all other beliefs, religions & traditions at the same time. At the time, most Celtic lands were under the rule of Rome as well, so Christianity was not only enforced on Roman peoples, but the Celts and Gauls (now known as French) as well. Overtime, many once Pagan traditions and customs were altered and "Christianized." For the most part this came out of the new Church's need to keep one pagan communities from falling back on their old ways, but it is also generally understood that law or not, Christianity was not able to completely erase the old ways as it had been hoped! And in the seventh century, the then Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day (Hallow meaning Holy). This day, celebrated on November first, was set aside to honor God and the Christians who had died for their beliefs. And just as we Christmas Eve has become nearly as important as Christmas Day, All Hallows Day had All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe'en.

Regardless of why the Church supported new holidays the fact is that the Church in fact did contribute to today's celebrations of Halloween. One of their major contributions was the tradition of "Souling" or "Guising." To understand Souling, it's important to understand that at the time there was a strong teaching that when one died they would go in to Limbo to "earn" their way in to heaven. The prayers of others were one way for someone to earn their way to heaven, so families would have a "mourning" period where they would say extra prayers to speed their loved ones to their destination. Souling was a tradition which could not have existed without this highly Christian belief. Soulers or Guisers (depending on where they lived) would go from house to house and beg for food (oatcakes or current bread) called Soul-cakes. In exchange for these cakes the poor would offer prayers for the loved ones of the family who had passed - thus speeding their way to heaven. In areas of Scotland it was customary for guisers - as they are called in that area, to preform a "trick" before receiving their threat. This "trick" could be in the form of a joke or a dance or something similar. In areas of Ireland on the other hand it was more customary for soulers to "trick" those who should refuse them a treat by smashing glass or stopping up their chimneys.

While many of the customs such as costumes & masks, carving gourds & pumpkins, and divining are without a doubt a throw back to more pagan of days, it's very clear that the main origins for our trick-or-treat traditions are, in fact, Christian. Taking all this in to consideration really begs the question... If Halloween is a Pagan holiday, and not appropriate for Christians, is Trick or Treat really appropriate for Pagans?

My answer? Of course it is! Pagan, Christian, or whatever else, if you enjoy Halloween, celebrate it! Halloween as we celebrate it today is NOT Pagan! It's NOT Christian! It's Cultural! It's a mish-mash of altered traditions, practices, stories & beliefs meant to do one thing - Entertain! Simple as that! So enjoy!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Should, and Could, the US Follow Germany's Example of Free University Education?

Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany
Germany has recently taken the steps needed to ensure that all of it's students have the ability to access a quality higher education by removing all tuition fees.  While private colleges are still available and do require tuition, ALL public universities in the country will be tuition free as of the end of this year.  Many see this as a goal which the US should be aiming for, many others though seem to have some reservations.

After posting the story on my Facebook page quite a few comments were made on both sides of this issue.  Many believe that this is the way the US should be moving. Many others were concerned about what it would do to taxes, or if it would discourage students to work to their highest potential if they didn't have to worry about paying their way.  Personally, I feel there is an answer to ALL of these questions while still moving towards a better education system for those of us in the US. I think that rather than worrying about "what's that going to do to taxes" we should be worried about "what happens to the next generation when no one has a degree?"

The debt that most students incur while seeking a degree in this country is mindblowing.  Many end up paying on their education for 30 or more years.  Many others simply don't have the option of higher learning because they have no way to pay for it.  Because of this we are left with a large number of individuals, sometimes some of our brightest minds, living in poverty, barely surviving on minimum wage and dreading the day it all falls apart.

When I graduated Highschool it would have cost me $45,000 to get the degree I was considering at a two-year technical school, or around $40,000 at a 4 year community college.  Making minimum wage and not knowing how to make ends meet as it was I couldn't afford either of these options.  Now, I am 31 and continue to have no degree. Although I've altered my path as to which degrees I am seeking, the question of how I am going to afford tuition is in no way an easier one to answer. I now have three children who need to be considered, and although my income is slightly higher today than it was at 18, my financial situation isn't much better. Of course, had I been able to afford an education then, chances are I wouldn't be in the financial position I am today - and neither would my children.

As I've said in previous posts, I am working hard to find a way to pay for college.  I'm counting every penny and I'm working hard at my business hoping to put enough money aside to pay for tuition.  I am not willing to give up on my dream of having a degree. But I fear that my children will face the same issues that I have when it comes to education.

We all grow up hearing about "the American Dream"  but in today's world that dream requires a solid education.  Once upon a time, when my grandparents were young, you could easily graduate highschool, get a decent paying job, buy a house and afford the things your family needed - plus put away enough for retirement someday...  In fact, that's exactly what my grandfather did.  My grandparents were not "rich" by any standards. But they had everything they needed, made enough to take family vacations, and thanks to some great financial planning, when my grandfather died in 1994, leaving behind his wife and 4 year old daughter, my grandmother didn't have to struggle to pay her bills or look for work.  In fact, there was enough money that, had she been smart about things, she never would have had to work at all.  THAT, my friends, is the American dream!

BUT, it doesn't work that way any more.  Today, you can not simply graduate highschool and go get a decent paying job. Yeah, sure, there are those one in a million cases where it works that way, but they are certainly not the norm.  No, the "norm" is that those who don't go on to gain a higher education struggle to survive on minimal pay for hard work - minimum wage jobs with no benefits and long hours...  A great many of these people find themselves living on welfare struggling to get through each month without completely drowning in bills.  And with the average tuition hanging at around $20K a year and a minimum wage income around $15,200 a year, it's simply not possible for these people to make the required changes to better their situation. So they are stuck, and so are we, we're stuck (as a nation) paying extremely high welfare bills so that these individuals can try to survive on Ramen Noodles.

The people of this country talk often about how much we need to cut welfare.  Well, the best way to that is to create citizens who don't need it.  Of course, many will argue that "this is why we need to raise the minimum wage."  And on paper they are right.  But like I've said before, what's on paper and what happens in reality are two very different things. In this case simply raising the wage isn't going to be the answer people are looking for, because greedy companies are not going to be willing to make less money, they're simply going to raise the cost of everything to match the new wage, and the cycle continues.

No, this is a bigger issue. This is one that requires major changes in our country, but one that CAN be fixed if people would be willing to make those changes.  Our government could, and should, without question be covering tuition for those in Public Universes!  They pay for those in public elementary, middle and highschools, so why does the buck stop with graduation? In NO WAY do I feel we should be forcing private schools to lower tuition or do I feel the government should be paying those fees.  If you make the CHOICE to attend a private college, you make the CHOICE to pay the bill. But the fact is as things are right now, many young people don't have the option to choose ANY school. And THAT is the issue here.

Many pointed out that there isn't enough tax money to pay for the things we have now, where are we going to find the money to pay for college too?  And that's a valid question.  But the answer is actually quite simple.  First, it needs to be realized that if we do not educate this generation, when they are adults we are, as a country, going to be much worse off financially than we are today.  Second, we DO have enough tax money to pay for the things we have and additional things like this, but currently that money is being funneled into one war after another.  If we stopped attempting to fix the worlds problems and focused more on our own, we wouldn't be having the issues we are having.

Don't get me wrong, the things that happen over sees are terrifying and awful.  But you can't help others until you take care of your own!  Our government's FIRST goal should be to take care of US. It should be working to ensure that each and every citizen of this country has access to a quality education through college, has access to quality healthcare, not sick care, has access to quality food, clean water and air and decent housing.  And until they've done that, they have NO BUSINESS funneling our money into other countries.  Now, I believe IF our politicians were to get their shit together, we could be at that point within the next decade... THEN, and ONLY THEN, should we be attempting to aid others.  And that's what it should be - aid.  Not the US shows up and takes over and calls all the shots for the rest of the world...

What things are we supposedly stepping in to stop?  Violence, rape, homelessness, hunger, disease, lack of access to clean water and education...  These are the things our military is supposedly trying to stop all over the world (although mostly in the Middle East).  We say it's the "war on terror" but do you know what terrifies me?  The idea that I won't be able to feed my children. The idea that if my husband gets hurt or sick and can't work, that we will be homeless.  The idea that even in my sleepy little town, crime and violence are creeping in.  I'm all for fighting terror, but it's time we start fighting it here at home. And that's a fight that can't be won by force, it has to be won by creating a better society.  And THAT requires education!

Of course then there is that question of whether or not individuals who are simply "handed" an education would appreciate it enough to work hard.  Would we simply be paying for a bunch of "C" students to party their way through college and end up with a bunch of "liberal arts" degrees?  Well, again, I have an answer here.  Rather than simply removing all tuition fees for public colleges, I think we need to create a system similar to our current scholarship programs.  Tuition would be paid, by the government, under the condition that grade averages, attendance and behavior all remained in good standing.  Those students who missed to many classes, were arrested while on campus or for violent offenses, or who failed to keep their grades (on average) on an acceptable academic level would have "fines" levied against them which would go towards their education fees, or they would have the option to drop out.  The worse the student, the higher their "fines." This would encourage students to remain at the top of their game, while giving them access to a higher education.

In general, I don't think this is rocket science.  People in this country NEED higher education, but can't afford it.  The government has the choice between paying for today's citizens to have that education or paying for them to live on welfare.  Americans don't want their taxes going to pay for welfare, so education should be the obvious answer.  And if we need the money, we should start funding our own people and stop pumping cash over seas.  This should be politics 101.  Take care of your own, create systems that encourage people to be responsible and self sufficient and reap the benefits...

It's not about giving people a "hand out" - it's about giving them a "hand up" so they can do for themselves.  Contrary to popular belief, most people living in poverty would happily take steps to change, but they don't have the ability.  If we don't want to have a society in poverty, it's time we start changing that!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Halloween Costume Choices & Pagans

Without a doubt Halloween is our families favorite holiday in this house. Having a Christian husband and Christian community Halloween is the one time a year where everyone embraces having a Witch around and enjoys themselves. So I do my best to go BIG! Decorations, Costumes, The BEST Candy on the block, even treat bags for mom with special offers, coupons, gift cards and more adult candy...  Seriously all out means ALL OUT for me!  This week I've been focusing on finding the perfect costumes for my kids and for myself. We all love to dress up and my oldest son is super excited that he will be able to wear his costume to school for Hallween! Of course now I also have to send in treats for his party as well - but being a Public School, they don't allow anything edible, so I'm going to have to find something "small toyish" to serve as a treat...

Because of all this and the simple need for me to find affordable options I have been searching through a number of websites, stores and whatever to find everything we will need and our last minute add on's and additions to our Halloween decor, and whatever else...

This year my oldest asked to be a Skeleton, my youngest wants to be a dragon and I am going to be a Greek Goddess... I think... My daughter is only 10 months old, so she isn't going to get to pick her costume this year, but I'm leaning towards witch maybe? This morning I was watching Good Morning America and they were talking about costumes for children and what is and isn't okay... I thought, "If your child is old enough to pick their own costume, let them!" It's not like a child is going to pick out a costume which is to scary for them, they are going to pick something they like... Problem solved...

But then one of the reporters had her 2 year old daughter on set and they were talking about her costume. She was dressed as a devil girl - tiny corset, horns, tail... It was SOOO cute! And for a second I though, hmm, maybe Madie could be a devil this year... That costume is just adorable. Then I thought again - "Is that really the image I want to project?"

Now, some people see the costumes people choose for Halloween as just that - costumes - clothing - nothing more. But is that really it? Are they simply clothes? Or do they show at least a small part of who we are on the inside? I would not ever dress as a monkey, an angel, a hooker or a nurse... Why not? Well, cause it's just not WHO I AM... A Greek Goddess on the other hand is completely me! As is a Witch, a "dark angel," a Pirate and a Vampire - all costumes I've worn. So doesn't that tend to connect the idea that we (or at the very least I) dress according to who we are internally? Halloween is said to be the day when we become outwardly who we are internally... I, and my choice in costumes, does seem to reflect that. People with crazy funny scenes of humor tend to wear funny costumes, people with a sense of beauty or holiness towards life tend to dress in costumes of that nature, people who have a darker sense of humor or a darker outlook on life tend to wear those costumes... I mean think for a second about who you are, and then consider the costumes you have worn... Chances are, unless you were wearing them for a play or something where you had no control over what they are, you picked your costumes soully because they spoke to you, they reflected you, at least on some level.

So then I thought as a Pagan, am I comfortable with my child being a devil? I don't believe in a devil, so should is it any different than a child dressing as any other mythical creature? Why then did the idea of my daughter as a devil - a cute devil no less - bother me so much?

Well, I have considered it a bit, and I posted a few questions online to see if other parents felt there were costume themes which were off limits. While none of the answers I got related to devil costumes or anything, many of the responses did refer to racist or "Nazi" type costumes as big "No-No's" for their kids. So although it wasn't quite the same thing, it is similar enough for me to think that my aversion to a costume theme isn't wrong, it's just on a different level. AKA, I'm not crazy! lol

But then I started to think, WHY am I so bothered by this devil? Should it bother me?

I obviously would never tell anyone else what they can or can't or should or shouldn't wear for Halloween, but I started to wonder if we wear costumes which reflect who we are, are devils really something we, as Pagans, should gravitate towards? Most Pagans, Witches and the like have, at least at some point in their practice, had to explain to someone (friend, family, neighbor, co-worker, etc) that Paganism, Witchcraft, Wicca, Druidism, whatever, has NOTHING to do with the Devil. We do nor worship the devil, we do not believe in the devil and we don't have any other supposed connection with the Devil or anything demonic... Why then would we want to walk around in a costume which would only reinforce such misconceptions?

I'll be honest, until today it was something I never thought about. I, like so many others, simply thought, you dress up as something different, not as yourself... But again, do we? Would someone who is not racist dress up like a KKK member? Then why would someone who is working (even passively) to reduce the level of connection between the Devil and their own faith then turn around and wear a devil costume - or put one on their child?

I've always been careful to ensure that there were no devils in my decorations and treats. Mostly because I don't like them, I feel they are cheesy and in some cases they even make people uncomfortable. So I've never seen a need for them. Plus, I do my best to make sure that all of our Halloween decor and activities can or do double as Samhain decor and activities... Again, having a Christian husband it's the easiest way for us to compromise... I don't hand pentacles because they make my husband uncomfortable, and I would never think of hanging demons or devils on the wall, much for the same reason. But also because I wouldn't want someone to walk in to my home, see a Satan statue and think "Oh, yeah, she's a witch, of course she loves Satan." Which makes me wonder why I never thought of this kind of thing before... Maybe just because it's never come up, or maybe because on some level I wanted to believe that our costumes and who we are are two different things (especially after some of the costumes I've worn) or maybe it's just because until now, I didn't reach a point in my life where I was working so hard to promote understanding and tolerance between faiths - so I didn't need to think about this stuff...

Whatever the reason, I'm glad it came up. Just like those other mother's I would never allow my children to dress as a KKK member, a Nazi or even a Confederate Soldier, but now I realize there are a few other additions that need to go on that list! And I'm thinking some rules need to be put in place before my children get old enough to remember they weren't always there.
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