Pumpkin has become a divisive topic. I can only blame its popularity for the pumpkin backlash. Anything beloved enough to be a craze is going to make some haters. And for cider purists, the idea of a pumpkin cider is blasphemy. But I refuse to participate. I like pumpkin and I love cider, so I try new pumpkin ciders every year. Some formulas work beautifully. Others don't.
Today, I'm sharing my thoughts on Harpoon Pumpkin Cider. This is my first review of a cider by Boston-based Harpoon Brewery. They've made cider since 2007 and beer since opening 1986. They are primarily a brewery, but I can see five different ciders on the website, though I've only seen two available for sale in my travels. (Full disclosure, I did receive this review sample from Harpoon.)
Aroma: Freshly pressed Northeastern Apples, traditional pumpkin pie spices and a hint of pumpkin.
Mouth feel: Light, crisp, tart, cleansing. Sprightly.
Taste: Apple forward with all the traditional Autumn flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg, and a touch of sweetness for balance.
Finish: Dry, light, refreshing.
Reading elsewhere on the website, I learned that some selective mixing of their Winter Warmer beer and their signature cider inspired making this spiced cider. It has a very low alcohol content with an ABV of 4.8%. That's really not typical.
Appearance: barely hazy, saffron, a few clinging bubbles
There's no mistaking this cider for beer as its poured! It doesn't form a head and instead just shows off a few clinging bubbles in a gentle barely hazy sea of saffron liquid.
Aromas: beer yeast, apples, spice
The smells of this cider aren't super potent, but what's there is yeasty, spicy, clean, and appley. All of these relatively low intensity aromas are pleasing and subtle. Reading about their ciders, My perception of a beer yeast is borne out. They use a proprietary ale yeast in all of the ciders.
This is a straightforward semi-dry, but if folks are not used to to flavors brought by a less fruit beer yeast, this might taste a bit less sweet (even if not exactly drier).
Flavors and drinking experience: Nutmeg, balance, yeast character
The spice blend makes up a significant part of the cider's flavor; it favors nutmeg, but includes enough cinnamon, ginger, and clove to really bring out that mulled cider, pumpkin pie, autumn feeling that any pumpkin item promises. Here's what I love about it though. This cider is really pleasantly balanced. That doesn't sound like a giant high point, but trust me it is. The beer yeast is the absolute perfect way to counter the sharpness of baking spices. We get all the notes, apple, spice, bread, and pumpkin.
This is an exceptional cider both for the format and for style. Its light bodied with medium acid and no tannins. This cider is the classic autumnal flavor experience that so many things promise.
I enjoyed mine with fresh homemade salsa, black bean and corn salad, tortilla chips and the two-part finale of Twin Peaks The Return. The show may not have offered answers(to do so would have betrayed the show entirely), but the cider and snacks certainly did.
“Read 15-year old art magazines,” she advised, because the life-cycle of a trend is 30 years, so at 15 years past the work will be in its worst light. I can’t remember the source, but anyway here are some nearly 30-year old editorial pages from a Sassy spread called “Big Bottoms” in Sept. 1988.
Gauguin was such a dick, but this account is worthwhile
“Between two such beings as he and I, the one a perfect volcano, the other boiling too, inwardly, a sort of struggle was preparing.”
Certain relationships are charged with an intensity of feeling that incinerates the walls we habitually erect between platonic friendship, romantic attraction, and intellectual-creative infatuation. One of the most dramatic of those superfriendships unfolded between the artists Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848–May 8, 1903) and Vincent van Gogh (March 30, 1853–July 29, 1890), whose relationship was animated by an acuity of emotion so lacerating that it led to the famous and infamously mythologized incident in which Van Gogh cut off his own ear — an incident that marks the extreme end of what Sir Thomas Browne contemplated, two centuries earlier, as the divine heartbreak of romantic friendship.
In February of 1888, a decade after Van Gogh found his purpose, he moved to the town of Arles in the South of France. There, he exploded into a period of immense creative fertility, completing more than two hundred paintings, one hundred watercolors and sketches, and his famous Sunflowers series. But he also lived in extreme poverty and endured incessant inner turmoil, much of which related to his preoccupation with enticing Gauguin — whom he admired with unparalleled ardor (“I find my artistic ideas extremely commonplace in comparison with yours,” Van Gogh wrote) and who at the time was living and working in Brittany — to come live and paint with him. This coveted cohabitation, Van Gogh hoped, would be the beginning of a larger art colony that would serve as “a shelter and a refuge” for Post-Impressionist painters as they pioneered an entirely novel, and therefore subject to spirited criticism, aesthetic of art. Van Gogh wrote to Gauguin in early October of 1888:
I’d like to see you taking a very large share in this belief that we’ll be relatively successful in founding something lasting.
Despite his destitution, Van Gogh spent whatever money he had on two beds, which he set up in the same small bedroom. Seeking to make his modest sleeping quarters “as nice as possible, like a woman’s boudoir, really artistic,” he resolved to paint a set of giant yellow sunflowers onto its white walls. He wrote beseeching letters to Gauguin, and when the French artist sent him a self-portrait as part of their exchange of canvases, Van Gogh excitedly showed it around town as the likeness of a beloved friend who was about to come visit.
Gauguin finally agreed and arrived in Arles in mid-October, where he was to spend about two months, culminating with the dramatic ear incident.
In Paul Gauguin’s Intimate Journals (public library), the French painter provides the only first-hand account of the strange, almost surreal circumstances that led to Van Gogh’s legendary self-mutilation — circumstances chronically mis-reported by most biographers and the many lay myth-weavers of popular culture, all removed from the facts of the incident by space, time, and many degrees of intimacy.
Gauguin recalls that he resisted Van Gogh’s insistent invitations for quite some time. “A vague instinct forewarned me of something abnormal,” he writes. But he was “finally overborne by Vincent’s sincere, friendly enthusiasm.” He arrived late into the night and, not wanting to wake Van Gogh, awaited dawn in a town café. The owner instantly recognized him as the friend whose likeness Van Gogh had been proudly introducing as the anticipated friend.
After Gauguin settled in, Van Gogh set out to show him the beauty and beauties of Arles, though Gauguin found that he “could not get up much enthusiasm” for the local women. By the following day, they had begun work. Gauguin marveled at Van Gogh’s clarity of purpose. “I don’t admire the painting but I admire the man,” he wrote. “He so confident, so calm. I so uncertain, so uneasy.” Gauguin foreshadows the tumult to come:
Between two such beings as he and I, the one a perfect volcano, the other boiling too, inwardly, a sort of struggle was preparing. In the first place, everywhere and in everything I found a disorder that shocked me. His colour-box could hardly contain all those tubes, crowded together and never closed. In spite of all this disorder, this mess, something shone out of his canvases and out of his talk, too…. He possessed the greatest tenderness, or rather the altruism of the Gospel.
Soon, the two men merged their finances, which succumbed to the same sort of disorder. They began sharing household duties — Van Gogh secured their provisions and Gauguin cooked — and lived together for what Gauguin would later recall as an eternity. (In reality, it was nine weeks.) From the distance of years, he reflects on the experience in his journal:
In spite of the swiftness with which the catastrophe approached, in spite of the fever of work that had seized me, the time seemed to me a century.
Though the public had no suspicion of it, two men were performing there a colossal work that was useful to them both. Perhaps to others? There are some things that bear fruit.
Despite the frenzied enthusiasm and work ethic with which Van Gogh approached his paintings, Gauguin saw them as “nothing but the mildest of incomplete and monotonous harmonies.” So he set out to do what Van Gogh had invited him there to do — serve as mentor and master. (Gauguin was the only person whom Van Gogh ever addressed as “Master.”) He found the younger artist hearteningly receptive to criticism:
Like all original natures that are marked with the stamp of personality, Vincent had no fear of the other man and was not stubborn.
From that day on, Gauguin recounts, Van Gogh — “my Van Gogh” — began making “astonishing progress,” found his voice as an artist and came into his own style, cultivating the singular sense of color and light for which he is now remembered. But then something shifted — having found his angels, Van Gogh had also uncovered his demons. Gauguin recounts the tempestuous emotional climates that seemed to sweep over Van Gogh unpredictably — the beginning of his descent into the mental illness that would be termed bipolar disorder a century later:
During the latter days of my stay, Vincent would become excessively rough and noisy, and then silent. On several nights I surprised him in the act of getting up and coming over to my bed. To what can I attribute my awakening just at that moment?
At all events, it was enough for me to say to him, quite sternly, “What’s the matter with you, Vincent?” for him to go back to bed without a word and fall into a heavy sleep.
Van Gogh soon completed a self-portrait he considered to be a painting of himself “gone mad.” That evening, the two men headed to the local café. Gauguin recounts the astounding scene that followed, equal parts theatrical and full of sincere human tragedy:
[Vincent] took a light absinthe. Suddenly he flung the glass and its contents at my head. I avoided the blow and, taking him boldly in my arms, went out of the café, across the Place Victor Hugo. Not many minutes later, Vincent found himself in his bed where, in a few seconds, he was asleep, not to awaken again till morning.
When he awoke, he said to me very calmly, “My dear Gauguin, I have a vague memory that I offended you last evening.”
Answer: “I forgive you gladly and with all my heart, but yesterday’s scene might occur again and if I were struck I might lose control of myself and give you a choking. So permit me to write to your brother and tell him that I am coming back.
But the previous day’s drama was only a tremor of the earthquake to come that fateful evening, two days before Christmas 1888. “My God, what a day!” Gauguin exclaims as he chronicles what happened when he decided to take a solitary walk after dinner to clear his head:
I had almost crossed the Place Victor Hugo when I heard behind me a well-known step, short, quick, irregular. I turned about on the instant as Vincent rushed toward me, an open razor in his hand. My look at the moment must have had great power in it, for he stopped and, lowering his head, set off running towards home.
Gauguin laments that in the years since, he has been frequently bedeviled by the regret that he didn’t chase Van Gogh down and disarm him. Instead, he checked into a local hotel and went to bed, but he found himself so agitated that he couldn’t fall asleep until the small hours of the morning. Upon rising at half past seven, he headed into town, where he was met with an improbable scene:
Reaching the square, I saw a great crowd collected. Near our house there were some gendarmes and a little gentleman in a melon-shaped hat who was the superintendent of police.
This is what had happened.
Van Gogh had gone back to the house and had immediately cut off his ear close to the head. He must have taken some time to stop the flow of blood, for the day after there were a lot of wet towels lying about on the flag-stones in the two lower rooms. The blood had stained the two rooms and the little stairway that led up to our bedroom.
When he was in a condition to go out, with his head enveloped in a Basque beret which he had pulled far down, he went straight to a certain house where for want of a fellow-countrywoman one can pick up an acquaintance, and gave the manager his ear, carefully washed and placed in an envelope. “Here is a souvenir of me,” he said.
That “certain house” was, of course, the brothel Van Gogh frequented, where he had found some of his models. After handing the madam his ear, he ran back home and went straight to sleep, shutting the blinds and setting a lamp on the table by the window. A crowd of townspeople gathered below within minutes, discomfited and abuzz with speculation about what had happened. Gauguin writes:
I had no faintest suspicion of all this when I presented myself at the door of our house and the gentleman in the melon-shaped hat said to me abruptly and in a tone that was more than severe, “What have you done to your comrade, Monsieur?”
“I don’t know…”
“Oh, yes… you know very well… he is dead.”
I could never wish anyone such a moment, and it took me a long time to get my wits together and control the beating of my heart.
Anger, indignation, grief, as well as shame at all these glances that were tearing my person to pieces, suffocated me, and I answered, stammeringly: “All right, Monsieur, let me go upstairs. We can explain ourselves there.”
Then in a low voice I said to the police superintendent: “Be kind enough, Monsieur, to awaken this man with great care, and if he asks for me tell him I have left for Paris; the sight of me might prove fatal to him.”
I must own that from this moment the police superintendent was as reasonable as possible and intelligently sent for a doctor and a cab.
Once awake, Vincent asked for his comrade, his pipe and his tobacco; he even thought of asking for the box that was downstairs and contained our money, — a suspicion, I dare say! But I had already been through too much suffering to be troubled by that.
Vincent was taken to a hospital where, as soon as he had arrived, his brain began to rave again.
All the rest everyone knows who has any interest in knowing it, and it would be useless to talk about it were it not for that great suffering of a man who, confined in a madhouse, at monthly intervals recovered his reason enough to understand his condition and furiously paint the admirable pictures we know.
With pressure from alarmed neighbors and local police, Van Gogh was soon committed into an insane asylum. From there, he wrote to Gauguin about the sundering tension between his desire to return to painting and his sense that his mental illness was incurable, but then added: “Aren’t we all mad?”
Seventeen months later, he took his own life — a tragedy Gauguin recounts with the tenderness of one who has loved the lost:
He sent a revolved shot into his stomach, and it was only a few hours later that he died, lying in his bed and smoking his pipe, having complete possession of his mind, full of the love of his art and without hatred for others.
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Next week, the entire Haute Macabre team will be visiting Salem, MA, and will be vending at the BloodMilk Night Market at Black Veil Tattoo on Friday, September 1 from 7-10PM.
We will be offering our printed shirts and tote bags designed by Courtney Riot and full range of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab fragrances and Black Phoenix Trading Post Hair Glosses, including two new items to be introduced at the market: “The Mummies of Mexico City”, a brand new addition to the Cemetery Collection featuring notes of church incense, ornate gold, old lace, dust, and the debut of the Burying Point Hair Gloss.
These two new additions will be available exclusively next weekend at the Night Market and will be be available for pre-order later in September for those of you unable to attend.
Haute Macabre will be sharing booth space with our very own staff writer Sonya Vatomsky, who will have copies of their liminal collection of poetry, Salt is for Curing, available for purchase and inscription. Sonya will also be reading from Salt is for Curing at The Satanic Temple on Sunday, September 3.
We hope to meet you at this market, if you are able to attend please do stop by our table and introduce yourself!
New Drag Crush: Hungry. Hailing from Berlin (is everyone amazing in Berlin these days?), Hungry bills herself as “The original ethereal slag, descended from the heavens to make you question your sexuality and force progress upon tragic oldschool drag”. Well, at the very least I’m questioning my lack of skill with an airbrush.
Hungry’s looks are otherworldly and intense. She integrates subdermal implants and colored contacts as easily as lipstick, making herself something bionic and high-tech. Yet much of her inspiration is drawn from the natural world. The end result is skeletal structures and circuit boards, eerily lit creatures from the ocean depths consorting with killer robots. Hungry is the future, terrifying and beautiful and inhuman.
If you’re in or near Berlin, catch her artist workshop next month at MUD Studio Berlin.
78s were mostly made from shellac, i.e., beetle resin, and were the brittle predecessors to the LP (microgroove) era. The format is obsolete, and just picking them up can cause them to break apart in your hands. There’s no way to predict if the digital versions of these 78s will outlast the physical items, so we are preserving both to ensure the survival of these cultural materials for future generations to study and enjoy.
“I'm wearing custom made shirt and shorts of a Marimekko fabric, Marni sandals, sunglasses by a small old Milanese brand Marchesi and a Bottega Veneta leather bracelet. I like to keep it comfortable. Clean, simple lines, interesting cuts, classics. Some days I like strong colours and prints.”
“I’m wearing Vainio.seitsonen, from our own collection, the pants are made of tencel and the top is something I have been working on for the summer collection. Shoes are Finsk by Julia Lundsten. Together with other designers I run a shop for Finnish fashion designers in Helsinki. and we often swap clothes. I like to wear my colleagues’ designs, for example Finsk or Dusty by Marjut Uotila and Marita Huurinainen. I like the combination of the outdoor materials & techniques and urban look, it is something I would like to achieve, too.”
Actually really like a bunch of the vibe here? Some slightly different ways of layering.
The reasons we love some designers more than others are many and varied. But I'm coming to the conclusion that one of the reasons I love Raf Simons so much, is that maybe he is every bit as contrary as Queen Michelle and I.
I love his attitude as much as his clothes
On a humid Tuesday night earlier this week he unveiled his spring 2018 collection under a bridge in Chinatown. I remember being in New York in July with temps soaring to well over 100 degrees every day, so that he has wellington boots and umbrellas striding through an underpass in the height of summer makes me chuckle, although the poor models must have been struggling.
The open-air venue was decorated with neon signs and symbols, as well as red and white lanterns that looked like they were hanging at the space long before Simons moved to New York City in 2016. The white lanterns, in particular, were original for the show and featured references to the band New Order.
Peter Saville, the English art director and graphic designer who designed album covers, inspired part of the collection and the show's experience, but the central theme for the spring 2018 collection and venue is the film Blade Runner. The venue referenced scenes from the film and decorations like the neon signs.
The models carried umbrellas with ripped canopies. Plaid ponchos and coats and oversized button down shirts were worn with off-shoulder knitwear and topcoats. Shirts that featured the word ‘replicant,’ a nod to Blade Runner while New Order graphics that were layered over outerwear, two-tone coats, sleeveless shirts and long high-waisted skirts on the few females in the show...
Good grief, I can feel myself overheating just looking at these shots...
David Taylor analyzed a corpus of English words to see where each letter of the alphabet fell and graphed the results.
No surprise that “q” and “j” are found mostly at the beginnings of words and “y” and “d” at the ends. More interesting are the few letters with more even distribution throughout words, like “l”, “r”, and even “o”. Note that this analysis is based on a corpus of words in use, not on a dictionary:
I used a corpus rather than a dictionary so that the visualization would be weighted towards true usage. In other words, the most common word in English, “the” influences the graphs far more than, for example, “theocratic”.
Zines are the most personal way to experience magic the way another sees it. A zine is like a journal put to print, filled with feelings and intentions other than your own but also relevant. Painstakingly illustrated, printed, and bound, here are twelve zines that will bring a bit more clarity to your life.
How to Live the Everyday Life of the Modern Witch
We don’t know about you, but sometimes it can be hard to find space for magic in our busy lives. This zine contains sweet illustrated guides on anything from tracking the moon with your cell phone to brewing potion (tea) based on herbal properties. Laurdione Designs//$7.94
Sad Girls from the Internet
You’ll identify with the girls in this zine if you’ve ever had a cool internet friend (ahem, your beloved Dear Darkling writers). They’re all bad ass and none of them are messing around. Gemma Flack//$6.36
Can I Ask You a Question?
Do you turn to your computer for answers? Your reflection in the mirror? Filled with gorgeous tri-toned illustrations, this wordless zine opens the door to a modern mystic world and dares that you step inside. Charles Bloom//$8
A Very Femme Tour of the Zodiacs for Those Who are Bitter
Are you an angry gemini? A pissed off taurus? Whatever your sign, this zine may not tell you what you want to hear but it will tell you should you need to know. And this gift set comes with a corresponding pin! WE’RE OBSESSED. Graveface//$6
Brave to the Grave
Crystal ball says: “You can’t live without this coloring book zine filled with self affirmations!” Heart and Hands Store//$6.36
This fun collaborative zine is filled with spooky ghosts and haunted houses. The 28 pages of artwork are definitely killer. Mummys Hand//$10
Superstitions, Omens, and Signs for the Modern Witch
Who knew a dropped call could hold so much meaning, that a cigarette butt could predict your future? We just couldn’t grab this zine without the deck of cards it’s focused on. resubee//$10+
Crystal Witch and Love Spells
We’re bewitched by this detail oriented set of zines. It’s filled with everything you need to wield magic as a self-love tool. Lillian Cuda//$10
All of Them Brujas
Filled with whimsical illustrations, this zine is the guide everyone needs to identify the brujas they’ll come across in the wild (or hanging out in town). Don’t forget to check out Rebecca Artemisa’s cootie catcher zines while you’re taking a peak at her world! Rebecca Artemisa//$5
This zine is the soft goth diary of your teen witch dreams. It’s filled with Victorian-style drawings and playlists for ghost girls that will make you yearn for your adolescent spell-casting days. Alice Roses//$6.72
A Self Care Spell
Short and sweet, this zine is just one self-care spell that you’ll find yourself coming back to again and again. Coupled with a straightforward guide and lovely illustrations, this is a must have for any modern darkling’s zine collection. Rayne Klar//$4
This inclusive, collaborative zine is a personal collection of essays on radical feminism, hysterectomies, and the experience of being queer, a person of color, or both. It includes media recommendations and herbal remedies making this the resource for the modern femme’s library. Dani Burlison// $10
Liah Paterson is a Queens-based freelance illustrator. She spends her days polishing up her knowledge of occult objects, destroying canvases, and trying to coax her cats into liking her. Her apartment is filled with piles of books, sculptures, and paintings of disembodied hands, and a partner who plays scary video games for her so she can watch them like movies. Find her on Instagram (@atenderwitch) or on her website (liahpaterson.com).
My new audial obsession is the podcast How I Built This, in which Guy Raz interviews entrepreneurs who built notable companies. The podcast offers incredible stories behind the making of businesses like Chuck E Cheese, Southwest Airlines, and Zuumba. I've also been reading more about social impact nonprofits that went big, like Goodwill, CASA, and YMCA.
One of the biggest questions on my mind as I listen is: why isn’t my industry scaling up the way these organizations do? I can think of many extraordinary innovators in the nonprofit cultural sector--people and organizations creating brilliant programs, site-based experiences, and products. Many of these projects seem replicable. But I can think of only a few who have scaled up and out in a meaningful way.
Why aren’t our collective best ideas growing and spreading all over the world? Why aren’t more cultural organizations franchising, scaling, and replicating like comparable businesses?
Here are a few of my hypotheses (and I’d love to hear yours in the comments). I am not suggesting that any of these factors are bad or immutable. I'm suggesting they may be reasons we aren't scaling.
Precarious business model. Even if an institution or a project is fabulous, it may not have a solid, replicable business model behind it. If the work is financially dicey on the scale of one building, it can be disastrous to scale up.
Too much emphasis on innovation. The more we tinker with and change our products, the less time we spend scaling those products. Arts institutions have beat the innovation drum for decades now. Change may be necessary... or it may distract us from opportunities to grow.
Too complex and diversified a business. Cultural organizations tend to have many programs, projects, audiences, and goals. Businesses that scale are simpler and more focused. If it would take a thousand-page manual to replicate your programs (which are always changing!), it's too hard to reproduce.
Friendly industry that encourages sharing and copying. There are no NDAs in the nonprofit culture sector. Professionals share program models, exhibitions, and design techniques across organizations, often for free. This intermixing means there's less distinctive value to scaling any one entity's offerings.
Too much emphasis on unique experience and local idiosyncrasy. Many cultural organizations put the singular, authentic experience first. Many of us are proud of how our cultural organizations reflect and respond to our local communities. This can lead to assumptions--not always true--that what works here can't be copied and won’t work somewhere else.
Skills mismatch. The skills needed to create an incredible program are different from those needed to spread that program around the world. Our industry cultivates and rewards creative dilettantes who make beautiful things. We often look with suspicion on MBAs and people who want to commodify our work.
Mission mismatch. What's the upside for cultural organizations to scale? Most don't see any benefit to spreading that program around the world. It might be nice if it happened, but it's not the goal. The goal is local engagement, authenticity, scholarship, prestige, or keeping the lights on and the art pumping. I suspect most of us would be loathe to cut programs or make hard tradeoffs in favor of scale. The argument for it isn't worth the pain.
What's missing on this list? What counter-examples have you seen? Please share your questions or comments! If you are reading this via email, you can join the conversation here.
Black bath bombs, bat-shaped soaps, and brooding oils—there are myriad darkling options for the bath. But how about bathing with real demons? For centuries, Russian bathers and witches alike have regarded the bathhouse as a ritual space where life begins and ends—a demonic space perfect for the performance of dark magic. Come with me into the steam. Their story may be your own.
To The Banya
It is summer in Russia. From Moscow and St. Petersburg to the tiny villages dotting the vast countryside, people are settling into rustic cottages called dachas to enjoy simpler and slower lives.
They build fires to roast meats and cook vegetables grown on their own land. They drink strong tea and vodka, savoring the long hours of honeyed daylight that drip into nightfall, alive with orange embers. And of course, they take banya—a Russian wood-fired steam bath that includes wearing a felt hat to keep the brain cool, flogging the body with dried birch branches, and washing the face with mint tea. Overheated, the bather runs outside to plunge into a lake or basin of cold water or—in winter—rolls in the snow. There is vodka. There is food. In good company, this process can go on for hours.
But Banya is far more than a bath that cleanses the body. It is a beloved Russian ritual bound to the spirit world—one with an occult history as dark and deep as a Siberian winter forest.
Demons in the Bathhouse
Medieval Russians imagined the bathhouse as a perilous place. Before building a communal bathhouse, they consulted with a koldunor vedma (male or female witch) who determined where and how it should be constructed. Traditionally, banyas were built on the edge of the village, often in the forest, a safe distance from home and church. A black hen was sacrificed and buried beneath the building’s threshold or under one of the benches inside. Villagers were warned not to enter the bathhouse alone or after dark, and never at midnight—itself a point of transition, a space between breaths.
Why so many precautions? What made the banya so dangerous?
The bannik, of course. According to Russian mythology—a swirl of Christian and pagan beliefs—Michael the Archangel drove Lucifer and the rebellious angels from heaven. As they fell to earth, some went straight to hell to become devils, while others landed in the forests, fields, and rivers to become nasty little goblins. One of the most powerful and mischievous of these entities was the bannik who lived in the bathhouse.
If the fickle bannik became angry, he might burn bathers with hot water, suffocate them with steam, or (in Novgorod) peel off their skins (Ivanitz, 60). In order to appease him, they brought him offerings of soap and fir branches. Villagers avoided banya in the evenings because that was when the bannik took his baths, often inviting his demon friends over for a long soak. In respect for the demons, no crucifixes or icons were ever hung in the bathhouse, and bathers were required to remove their crosses before entering. They also removed the intricately woven belts that served as a sacred boundary—proof that they were human—from their bodies. Being physically and ritually naked in a demonic space made them completely vulnerable, open to spiritual corruption and chaos.
The demonic danger of the bathhouse was intensified at ritual hours such as midnight and on witches’ feast days such as January 18. The only human who dared enter the cold bathhouse during these times was the koldun or vedma seeking the counsel of demons. It was a perfect space for chernoknizhie, or black magic. Knot tying spells for binding and loosening as well as demonic divination were most common.
Bathhouse as Womb
The bathhouse was a gateway between the demonic and the human, pagan and Christian, life and death—an ideal space for transition rituals.
Wedding rituals were conducted at the banya. On the night before the wedding, the koldun or vedma donned a fishnet belt and brought the bride into the bathhouse where she was steamed and beaten with birch branches according to custom. After an invocation, the “sweat was wiped” from the bride’s naked body “with a whole raw fish that was then to be cooked and given to the groom to eat.” (Ryan, 75) Water was likewise collected from the wedding bath and used in preparing future meals—a form of sex magic meant to bind man to woman for eternity.
The bathhouse was also a place of birthing. A gravid woman was always accompanied by a midwife who not only helped her through labor, but also protected her from the bannik who was known to bite, scratch, and steal newborn infants. Women gave birth in a banya for practical reasons—the peasant house was small and lacked privacy. But there were also ritual reasons for birthing in the bathhouse. The banya was itself a womb, hot and moist, from which one emerged vulnerable and naked. Thus the Russian saying, “The banya is your second mother.” It was a spiritual omphalos—a sacred locus where life and death became one.
In death, Russians returned one last time to their mother, the bathhouse, where their corpses were washed and prepared for burial. The water used to wash the corpse was returned to a ritual location—often the same place where water from the individual’s birth and marriage had been poured. Should it fall into the hands of an evil koldun or vedma, it might be used in spell casting. Likewise, the soap that had been used to wash the deceased—called ‘dead soap’—was guarded lest it be used in malefic magic.
Modern Witchcraft in the Bathhouse
Historian Valerie Kivelson argues that witchcraft and magic thrive at the edges of oppression. This is perhaps one reason for the persistence of witchcraft in Russia. From serfdom and the violence of revolution to Stalin and successive oppressive regimes, the Russian people have been through hell. They have survived—and so has the bannik and the demons in the bathhouse. Today, banya remains a place to heal the body and cleanse the soul. Business men, the mafia, and the KGB meet at banya to negotiate deals, tie down contracts, and contrive sinister plots—all in the buff. Modern Russian witches continue to revere the bathhouse as a locus of dark magic. They gather in the moonlight to set intentions, divine the future, practice sex magic, and conduct rituals that untie the knots of greed and violence forged by the wicked. Rather than fearing our witchy Russian brethren, perhaps we should follow their steamy footprints to the bathhouse and join them in harnessing the dark magic required to unbind the oppression that grows all around us. Together, let us be midwives for a new age, free from tyranny. There is much to be learned from Russian witchcraft and the the demons who sit soaking in the steam.
Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief (London: Routledge, 2015).
Ryan, W. F. The Bathhouse at Midnight: Magic in Russia (Philadelphia: Penn State Press, 1999).
Brenda S G Walter
By day, Brenda poisons young minds as a college professor. When she is not teaching classes such as Science and the Supernatural, she is writing about monsters, witchcraft, horror films, heavy metal, and gothic culture. She might also be drawing apocalyptic landscapes or haunted houses while watching Creature Double Feature. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram as Elderdark Nightmoth.
I feel shitty and like I've been complaining a lot so I'm going to notice tiny kindnesses instead.
The Awl’s Everything Changes newsletter gave their readers a mission this week: “to notice people doing tiny kindnesses for each other”. Here’s what they observed.
My toddler and I were waiting in a long line at Russ and Daughters this morning, and a guy gave me a much earlier number. He’d somehow ended up with an extra number right after his, and waited until he saw someone he thought needed it. I gave my number to the last couple in line, and if they did the same, it might still be going.
My husband and I were having lunch together at a deli. A woman two tables over from us was eating by herself and received a phone call on her bluetooth. She began crying from what appears to have been bad news. She was fairly quiet about it and kept it to herself, but she was obviously crying. Another patron in the restaurant stopped, patted her shoulder and mouthed “Are you OK?”. She nodded through her tears and continued with her phone call. He and a few other patrons continued to monitor her out of the corner of their eyes, but gave her her privacy. It seemed a small gesture — but I felt all of us in the restaurant sending her strength through the man’s small pat on the shoulder.
I was about to cross a side street in Brooklyn when a concerned-looking man crossing in the opposite direction stood in the middle of the street and began frantically waving a tshirt in front of the cars that were about to get a green light. I quickly realized that he was stopping traffic so that a blocked ambulance with its sirens on could make it through further down. It worked — the traffic cleared and the ambulance moved. When I got a few blocks down in the direction he’d been coming from, EMTs were on the scene, attending to an unconscious, apparently homeless person on the sidewalk. I think most people would call 911, but this guy went the extra mile. He did what a family member would do.
I think if we all “did what a family member would do” more often, the world would be a better place.
Update: From the early Christian author and philosopher Lactantius:
The whole point of justice consists precisely in our providing for others through humanity what we provide for our own family through affection.
If I were in charge of humor, which I should be, this is a rule I would have: NO SAME-DAY HUMOR PIECES. By which I mean humor pieces composed quickly about something that just happened in “the news.” Covfefe, Mr. Met giving the middle finger, etc. Of course there would be exceptions but in general that would be the rule. I know why people do same-day humor pieces and it’s because:
People click on newsy things, theoretically.
It’s easy to riff on something that just happened because then you don’t have to have an idea.
But the thing about same-day humor pieces is: they’re almost never funny. I say “almost” not knowing an exception offhand, but just to protect myself in case there’s one out there. Actually I just remembered one, and it’s this. That was funny. It was when everyone was talking about how bad that Margot Robbie profile was. Exception proves the rule, as they say. (If you’re wondering whether that funny McSweeney’s piece about the election counts as an exception it does not because it was at least a month after Galaxy Note 7s started exploding and it was 11 days after the election and the election is not a particularly “throwaway” event, even though the Galaxy Note 7 aspect maybe was.) (So instead of proving my point by being an exception it proves my point by being the rule.) (See?)
Here’s someone who’s good: Jack Handey. Jack Handey takes a long time to write funny stuff — that’s why his stuff is funny. Look at what he said about writing Deep Thoughts in a Splitsider interview:
They don’t come gradually, or out of the blue. You have to sit down — or in my case, lie down — for hours, and try to come up with some. Usually, I lie down on the floor and throw a ball against the ceiling, over and over.
A Deep Thought, that’s just a sentence or two. How long is your throwaway current event thing? Longer? What do you think your humor writing skill level is? “Better than Jack Handey?” OK. Yeah right. Here he is talking about writing Deep Thoughts and his novel in his New YorkTimes Magazine profile from 2013:
“For each one that works, I throw away 10. I find that easier than rewriting. I’d rather just scrap it and start over. That’s why the novel was so hard — I really had to rewrite things over and over.”
“Rewrite things over and over.” Are you doing that with your throwaway current event thing? Or are you just posting it online for me to get mad about right away?? So you get “clicks”??? Because no one is going to “click” on it tomorrow???? Because its “value” is not in its “content” or “execution” but solely in the fact that it is “topical”!?!?!?!?!??!!?!?
I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t do a funny blog post about something that just happened. Please for the love of god I would love if one single person on earth would produce a fucking funny blog post every once in a while, PLEASE. PLEASE IT IS SO SHITTY AND BORING ONLINE NOW. EVERYONE IS TERRIBLE AND BORING I HATE IT!!!!!!! I just mean “humor.” You know what I mean. Humor writing.
Shoehorning a topical reference into a humor format so it seems like “a joke” but is actually “just words people recognize at the moment” is bad.
I'm so bad at #6 because sharing my experiences was how I started getting comfy talking to people and I thought it would get across that I identified with the other person, but alas
Celeste Headlee is an expert in talking to people. As part of her job as a public radio host and interviewer, she talks to hundreds of people each year, teasing from her guests what makes them interesting. At a TEDx conference two years ago, Headlee shared 10 tips for having a better conversations that work for anyone:
1. Don’t multitask.
2. Don’t pontificate.
3. Use open-ended questions.
4. Go with the flow.
5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs.
7. Try not to repeat yourself.
8. Stay out of the weeds.
10. Be brief.
Watch the video for the explanations of each point. I’m pretty good on 1, 5, & 7 while I struggle with 3, 4, and sometimes 6. 9 is a constant struggle and depends on how much I’ve talked with other people recently. (via swissmiss)
Much of our day-to-day talk is a missed opportunity. The ability to draw others into meaningful conversations can determine whether people want to get to know you, or remember you at all. Failure to learn it can stall your career.
Vanessa Van Edwards had been attending networking events for several years during and after college when she realized she was having the same conversation again and again. “It went like this: So what do you do? Yeah. Where are you from. Yeah, yeah, been there. Do you live around here? Well, I’d better go get another glass of wine,” says Ms. Van Edwards, a Portland, Ore., corporate trainer and author of “Captivate,” a new book on social skills.
She started trying conversation-openers that jarred people a bit, in a pleasant way: “Have you been working on anything exciting recently?” Or, “Any exciting plans this summer?”
“If I’m feeling very brave, I ask, ‘What personal passion projects are you working on?’” Ms. Van Edwards says. She began making contacts who followed up more often.
IT IS NOT! THE AIR CONDITIONER IS ADMITTING YOUR WEAKNESSES AND MUST BE LEFT IN THE WINDOW TO REMIND YOU OF YOUR SHAME
Live a little, in my opinion.
It is very hot today, and it was very hot yesterday, and it was very hot the day before. Some of us may have put in our window unit air conditioners so we would be able to sleep at night and so our dog would be more comfortable, because we certainly love him so much and we’re just so happy he’s here. But tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day? Those days aren’t going to be so hot. In my opinion, it’s fine to take your air conditioner out and then put it back in again later.
I may be out of ideas for blog posts, but you do have to admit that this is something to say.
To some, it may sound crazy. The air conditioner is already in, you successfully installed it without breaking it or accidentally murdering anyone, and it’s going to be very hot again very soon. Why take it out and deal with the whole thing with how you have to put it on a towel because of the dripping, only to put it back in again in a handful of days and hope you don’t break it or kill anyone in the process? Well. I’ll tell you why, and it’s because: You have to enjoy your life while you have it.
The air conditioner, if it’s not doing you any good, is so bad. It’s bad even while it’s doing you good (loud, makes the air bad, energy reasons, whatever, etc.) but it’s especially bad while it’s not. It blocks the light from the window; it’s unattractive; it makes it so you can’t open the window. It makes it so you can’t look out of the window at the beautiful trees and birds. And it’s not good to look at. Mostly those two things: the window, and how it’s not good to look at.
It’s springtime, baby. I think it would be nice for you to be able to get one last week of not having that stupid air conditioner in one of your windows, blocking your light, and your air, and looking like some big ugly box, no offense to our friends the air conditioners. Take it out of there. Put it back in later. I know it sounds like a whole big to-do, but it’s actually only going to take a few minutes. And do you know how many minutes of days your going to have of nice window once you take it out? You do the math. It’s 60 times 24 times however many days you leave it out before you put it back in again.
That’s a lot!!!!!!!
Enjoy your life. Sleep with the windows open — all of the windows. Take out your air conditioner if you think you’d be happier without it for the next week. Then put it back again.
Some sweaters were worn once and then never again, like the neon blue cardigan Rogers wore in episode 1497. Others, like his harvest gold sweaters, were part of Rogers’ regular rotation and then disappeared. And then there were the unusual batch of black and olive green sweaters Rogers wore exclusively while filming the “Dress-Up” episodes in 1991.
Some things about the sweaters and Mister Rogers:
- His mother knit the sweaters. Sorry, MISTER ROGERS’ MOTHER KNIT HIS CARDIGAN SWEATERS! I have not heard a more perfect detail about anything recently. He talks about his mom and the sweaters in this video — “I guess that’s the best thing about things. They remind you of people.”
- As you can see from the visualization above, Mister Rogers’ sweaters got darker as the show progressed. I will not speculate about what that might have meant.
Also dedicated to winged creatures, this bot tweets make-believe moths of all shapes, sizes, textures and iridescent colors. It’s programmed to generate variations in several anatomical structures of real moths, including antennas, wing shapes and wing markings.
Another program, which splices and recombines real Latin and English moth names, generates monikers for the moths. You can also reply to the account with name suggestions, and it will generate a corresponding moth.