Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Beltane randomness




Beltane or May Day, what can I say but "Hurray, hurray, for the first of May!"  While the  southern Hemisphere celebrates Samhain,  the beginning of the new year; and before you ask, no they don't have Trick or Treats at this time of year, those that celebrated do so on October at roughly the same time Beltane is honored.  Beltane is as joyful and forward looking as Samhain is somber and introspective.

In some parts of Germanic Europe,  Walpurgisnacht,  a day observed before Beltane came into being, and named after Walpurga, a  Christian missionary to the Franks, who later was Canonised. Often this celebration is a few days before Beltane.  The celebration of St. Walpurga's Day and the Viking and other local Spring customs combined and  large fires were lit to keep away the the fae,  mischievous and sometimes outright nasty beings, not at all like Tinkerbell, European fairys or fae have attitude.    Like Samahin the separation between world is grows thin on this night, and communication with the spirits is possible. Even though it is has it's roots in Christianity it is celebrated with a ritual bonfire, singing dancing and merriment. 


The focus of Beltane is fertility, the fertility  of livestock and abundance of crops. even the fertility of  game animals is included.   The Bale fires are lit on the hilltops and cattle and other livestock are driven through the smoke to insure their health and fertility. 

Handfasting, a type of common law marriage was common in the British Isles, a couple simply crossed hands in a figure eight shape and proclaimed themselves married, usually in the presence of witnesses.    In rural villages it could be months between the scheduled visits of a clergyman and proper weddings with bands announced and clergy presiding.   Couples might choose to commit themselves for a lifetime and other just for a year and a day, at which time they would decide if they wanted to continue or separate.    The occasion of Beltane was and still is  a time for Handfasting.  

It was also a night when young lovers stole away into the fields and couples  to their garden plot or fields, and with their ardor encourage the fields and gardens to produce abundant crops. 

Enter the romantic and slightly scary figure  known as the Greenman, a favorite subject of stonemasons, despite the edicts of the Church against representing him.
Covered with leaves, as if the grew from his body,like leaves grow from a tree. he is the very symbol of the rebirth of the woodland.
 



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In medieval times, the image of the Green Man appeared. He is typically a male face peering out from the leaves, surrounded by ivy or grapes. Tales of the Green Man have overlapped through time, so that in his many aspects he is also Puck of the midsummer forest, Herne the Hunter, Cernunnos, the Oak King, John Barleycorn, Jack in the Green, and even Robin Hood. The spirit of the Green Man is everywhere in nature at the time of the harvest -- as leaves fall down around you outside, imagine the Green Man laughing at you from his hiding place within the woods


vvGreen Man Cake

Make this cake to celebrate Beltane and the spirit of the forest.
Image © Patti Wigington 2009
vv
The Green Man is an archetype often represented at Beltane. He is the spirit of the forest, the lusty fertility god of the woodlands. He is Puck, Jack in the Green, Robin of the Woods. For your Beltane celebrations, why not put together a cake honoring him? This spice cake is easy to bake, and uses a delicious cream cheese frosting and rolled fondant to create the image of the Green Man himself. This recipe makes either one 9 x 13" sheet cake, or 2 8-inch rounds.

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 C cornstarch
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 C milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp rum-flavored extract
  • 1 C butter, softened (don't use margarine)
  • 2 C firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 C butter, softened
  • 2 C confectioner's sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 package white fondant
  • Green food coloring
  • Leaf-shaped cutters

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350, and lightly grease and flour your cake pan. Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl and blend well. In another bowl, combine milk, eggs, vanilla and rum extracts together.
Add the softened butter to the flour mixture, and beat until it forms a clumpy sort of dough. Gradually add the liquid mixture in, blending it a little at a time until all the milk mixture has been combined with the flour mixture. Beat until completely smooth, and then add the brown sugar. Mix for another thirty seconds or so. Scoop batter into the pan and spread evenly.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan. Once you have it out of the pan, you can begin frosting the cake.
To make the cream cheese frosting, combine the cream cheese and the butter in a bowl, mixing well. Add the vanilla extract. Finally, stir in the confectioner's sugar and blend it in. Spread this evenly over the cake, and allow it to sit for an hour or so to firm up.
To make the Green Man himself, you'll need green fondant. If you've never worked with fondant before, it can be a little tricky, but with some practice you'll be able to use it easily. Roll out the fondant and knead it into a ball. Add the green food coloring in very small amounts and blend it in, until you've got the shade of green you want.
Roll the fondant out until it's about 1/8" thick. Use the leaf-shaped cookie cutters to cut out different sized leaves. Score lines on them, to look live leafy veins. Place them on top of the frosted cake and press in place, layering them to form a Green Man. Roll two small pieces into balls, flatten them down, and put them in to create eyeballs in amongst the leaves. Reminder - fondant tends to dry quickly once it's rolled out, so only cut off small pieces. The cake in the photo was made using a block of fondant about the size of a package of cream cheese.
Tip: if you're in a hurry, or you're not much of a baker, you can use any boxed spice cake mix. Also, if you have dietary restrictions, you can use other spice cake recipes, such as this great Gluten-free version.
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The Green Man, Spirit of the Forest
The Green Man embodies the spirit of the fertile forest.
Image © Patti Wigington 2009
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