Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Apple Lore

If you eat an apple on Samhain right before you go to bed, you won't have any illnesses during the next twelve months. Eat a slice from each of three apples on Samhain night and you'll have a year of good luck.

Bury an apple in your witch's garden, beneath the light of the moon on Samhain night, and it will feed the souls of those restless spirits wandering through the realm of the living that night. Living in the northeast, I wouldn't even attempt to dig into my cold hard earth at the end of October, but I do leave an offering of cakes out on the sundial in my garden to nourish the ghostly travelers who are out and about on Samhain night. It's far less back-breaking!

Photo courtesy of Aviana2 on Flickr.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Future Besom (Again)

Well, I've finally gotten around to choosing a handle for my soon-to-be besom (see "My Future Besom" August 13, 2009) and ironically enough, I didn't even need to leave my yard! I never quite found the time this summer to take a hike through the local woods to find an old oak branch and I'd been getting antsy about it. Then yesterday afternoon while out beneath my more than a century old apple tree, I happened to glance up through the branches and there it was: the perfect handle. As I said before, I've gathered all my birch twigs for the brush end of the besom over the last few seasons only from twigs my trees have dropped and I was planning on doing the same for the handle as I would never harm a tree for my own personal use. My apple tree had three good-sized sucker branches high up in a neat little row that were going to need to be removed before winter anyways and the middle of the three was exactly the right length and diameter for my besom. The ever-helpful Griffin got out a ladder and climbed up with a hand saw and moments later my handle was right there in my hands. I spent the next couple of hours cutting all the little branches off, pruning down the nubby bits and then peeling all the bark from the branch, exposing the lovely apple wood. It's now sitting in my kitchen beginning to dry out and when it's dry enough, I'll be able to make my besom. It's about four and half feet long, with a gentle curve as it thickens towards what will be the handle end. I haven't yet decided whether to sand the crap out of it when it dries or to leave just as they are all the bumpy bits from its former little branches for a more rustic look. Hopefully, despite my inability to make a firm decision on anything, I'll have decided by then which look I prefer for my handle.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Witches' Smoke

With Samhain just over a month away, I thought it might be interesting to write (here and there) about some of the lore and beliefs associated with it.

In Europe during the Middle Ages, it was believed that witches' homes could be easily identified by the smoke from their chimneys. On the morning of the first Monday after Halloween, you must climb to the top of a hill above your village, one that affords a good view of the whole town below. You must then watch the smoke rising from all the chimneys of all the houses and the smoke from a witch's fire will be seen to travel against the wind rather than with it, thus making it easy to spot her amongst the villagers.

I especially like this one as I live in a house that used to sit alone in a vast field. When we bought it, a great deal of the land had just been sold for new construction and we're the only ones in our neighborhood who not only live in a very old house, but also the only one with fireplaces and (obviously) chimneys, so our winter smoke stands out amongst all our neighbors' homes. If this belief were truly possible, then it would be a good thing that we have the only chimneys as far as the eye can see as given the fact that a witch does live in this house, I'd be in some serious trouble!

Thanks to Gerina Dunwich and The Pagan Book of Halloween.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Talisman Bottle

For my birthday last month I bought myself this little cobalt glass and sterling silver talisman bottle. Actually, I was more surprised than anyone that I had done this as I don't buy myself birthday gifts and I usually don't go for flash looking things, especially jewelry, but this spoke to me in more ways than one.

I adore cobalt and the fact that this little bottle is of cobalt glass was thrilling to me. My Native American animal totem is the wolf so the little wolf head also made me smile. And in spite of the rather gaudy, chunky sterling cap, the bottle is in fact quite tiny at only 3/4", and the entire piece measures only a little more than an inch or so in height, which makes this somewhat more palatable to me.

I'd prefer the bottle to have been much simpler with just a plain wolf head cap rather than all the doo-dads and curly-cues surrounding it. My maiden name might happen to be Irish, but the celtic knots all over this jewelry did absolutely nothing for me, nor did the horrible bit of string it came on. I have some wonderful leather that I plan to re-string it on for as you can see in the photos by its non-existence, the very first thing I did when this little guy arrived in my mailbox was to cut off that offending piece of yarn and toss it in the trash.

My only real trouble is, I don't know what to put in it. I'll know when the object is right by the visceral reaction I'll have to it, but in the meantime, I keep giving it some thought every now and again but to no avail. Funerary ashes? Small charged stones? A special talisman? A powerful charm or a potent brew? I won't wear it empty, so you won't find my little cobalt wolf bottle around my neck until I figure this out but when it does come to me, I'll be ready! And in the meantime, I can get myself used to the idea of wearing this overly ornate little bottle.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Tools and Rules of Ritual

I tend to lean towards the simple when it comes to the accoutrements of ritual. I find myself routinely skimming through catalogs, both paper and online, checking out all the wands, clothing and altar tools, but when it comes to actually putting them to use in my own life, it's just not my thing. I'd never knock another witch for their own preferences but for me less is definitely more.

I don't have an athame or a wand, nor do I own a white handled knife. When I cast a circle, I use my hand and when I need to cut herbs I use an old knife that belonged to my father who was an executive chef. My utility knife has a very worn brown wooden handle and a blade that's been sharpened countless times over many decades, but it speaks to my heart and when I use it my father is right there with me. I will admit that I have thought about finding a lovely fallen branch and crafting it into a wand but I haven't yet done this, probably because I know that I most likely wouldn't use it in ritual. Perhaps one day I'll make one anyways.

My circle altar has no fancy statues or decorations. I don't use special silver and gold goddess/god candles, but one simple fat white pillar to represent them both. I haven't a special dish or chalice so my offerings of food are served up on a plain dish and in a simple cup. I do have a nice incense burner because I grind my own incense rather than use sticks, but that's about the only thing that I've purchased from a shop. My cauldron is an antique that took me years to find, plain cast iron without any fussiness, and used for centuries by women who came before me.

And in circle I keep myself as simple as my tools. I've read about a gajillion books by witches and I have to say that while most of the authors are extraordinary in their talents and knowledge, they're also all utterly delusional. While it would be wonderful to have the time to bathe in a tub full of purifying oils by candlelight prior to circle, who actually has that kind of time? I'm lucky to have the time to cast a circle at all. I try to always wash my face and brush my teeth beforehand, but if I have to choose between the time for ritual and the time for cleansing myself in preparation for it, I'm going to choose circle every time. And given that I bathe every day, I seriously doubt that I'm so filthy as to insult the divine ones. I don't wear any special robes or clothing, but I am always barefoot. I've read in a few books that there is a "rule" about never wearing any hair adornments while in circle, but when I had long hair I always wore it pulled back and out of the way. I'd rather be breaking some silly rule than setting my head on fire. Sometimes common sense far outweighs the romantic notions set forth by those who revel in making ritual as intricate as it can possibly be.

There's something to be said for stripping it all down to the plainest way possible. Remove the glamour and you're left with what is most important, what it's all about. What so many might find boring is what speaks volumes to my soul and that's good enough for me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Blessed be to everyone who today is celebrating Mabon on this lovely (or in my case, not so lovely weatherwise, as it's about to rain) fall day. It's officially autumn! The days will now grow shorter and the nights longer, and as a night person who thrives on darkness and the moon, I'm now coming into the time of the year when I feel most energized and alive.

I've been feeling the Mabon vibe for a couple of weeks as I've been working to put my yard to bed for the colder months, cutting back the unsightly plants that have completed their life cycles for this year and marveling at those who are just beginning to come alive as the season ends. The trees haven't turned yet, but there have been a few leaves here and there that are showing their glorious colors of red, yellow and orange. And every time I leave my house I drive by farm stands selling apples, pumpkins and gourds and I itch to stop and buy a car full of everything they're selling.

I celebrated today very quietly, with a simple circle to give thanks for all I have been blessed with. I would have preferred to honor the equinox tonight, but as I won't be home I grabbed the only time I had and it was still quite sweet, if not dark. I made oat cakes last night for an offering, not only because they're made from harvest grains, but because I felt it appropriate to offer something old, something that has been feeding people for millennia. I like the idea that people were eating these when the Romans were subjugating most of the world. There's something very earthy about using a recipe that's that old. I also finally got around to consecrating my cauldron. I didn't intentionally hold onto it until now, but as this is a day with much meaning for me, it felt appropriate to ritually prepare it during this circle. It's now ready for its inaugural use on Samhain, my favorite sabbat on the wheel!

This is the recipe for the oat cakes. It's been tweaked a little by me, in the interest of making it contemporary and simple. After all, we aren't going to be pounding the grains by hand, nor will we be slaughtering our pigs for lard and then slaving over our hearths as we cook our cakes on a iron griddle in the flame. They still taste delicious and are nice and crunchy, as any self-respecting oat cake should be. They can be used, really, for any sabbat, not just the harvest ones. Enjoy!

Traditional Oat Cakes makes approximately 48 3" cakes

3 cups rolled oats (not minute or quick)
3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, slightly melted
2/3 cup cold water, approximate

Preheat oven to 350f degrees. Grease a baking sheet.
Combine the oats, flour, sugar, soda and salt. Mix well. Add butter and stir till blended. Mixture will be crumbly. Add the water a little at a time. The dough should be moist enough to form into a ball but not so moist as to be very sticky. It should hold its shape nicely, like a cookie dough used for rolling. Roll dough onto a well-floured surface to 1/4" thick. Cut into 3" circles with a cutter and place on sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden in color. Cool and store in an airtight container.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thank Goodness For Simple Herbs

"Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg and owlet's wing, For a charm of powerful, Like a hell-broth and bubble."

William Shakespeare

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Few Good Books

There seems to be a dearth of decent witch novels which sucks because every now and then I feel like reading one. I periodically read non-fictional, historical books about witches, but let's be honest, they are all pretty much the same: women living their lives the best way they knew how, usually with beliefs and behaviors that were way ahead of their time, villagers feeling threatened by them, the women are then tried, tortured and executed. I really need to be in the mood for one of those books and one can only take so much of them due to their rather depressing nature.

But on the other hand, I've found that most of the fictional books about witches aren't very good. 'Practical Magic' and the like aside, they tend to either be very bad chick lit that have very little to do with anything wiccan or more in the vein of the Middle Ages 'Excalibur' costume fantasy-type story, of which I'm not very fond. I'm just not a bodice-ripper kind of girl, even if there is a witch in there somewhere. I've also noticed that for some reason that I have yet to figure out, almost all books about witches now seem to be crime mysteries, a genre that is also not a favorite. Still, I have compiled a list of about a dozen books that may have potential and that I'll be looking into at my local library as the urge to read one presents itself, as it inevitably will.

And it was at my library that I started reading, quite by accident, a series about a group of friends who happen to be witches and all of which take place in the town I grew up in, oddly enough. I only read the first one to see if the author portrayed my hometown accurately, but ended up finding the stories appealing, despite the fact that they're mysteries.

By Delores Stewart Riccio
Circle of Five
Charmed Circle
The Divine Circle of Ladies Making Mischief
The Divine Circle of Ladies Courting Trouble
The Divine Circle of Ladies Playing With Fire

And another series that was brought to my attention by an internet acquaintance, again crime mysteries with a witch (and in this case also an empath) at their heart, are nice light reading as well.

By Madelyn Alt
The Trouble With Magic
A Charmed Death
Hex Marks the Spot
No Rest for the Wiccan
Where There's a Witch

Still, my quest continues because sometimes one just has a hankering for a good, even fun, book about witches and witchcraft. It can be a nice diversion from life for a little while.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wishing for Witches

I really enjoy being a solitary witch and thus being able to do my own thing, doing what I want when I want to do it, but there are times in my life when I wish I was part of a coven. It wouldn't even have to be a proper coven that meets regularly and has rules and regulations or follows a specific tradition. I'd happily settle for just a friend or two who are also children of the Craft that I could call on when needed and who would understand. Because there are times in our lives when we simply need someone who can be there for us in ways that those who aren't witches just can't be.

I had a nasty virus over the past weekend and by Wednesday was in dire need of some emergency (and really horrible) dental surgery on top of it. What I wanted was to spend some time in circle, hoping to generate some positive healing energy to help me make a speedier recovery, but I just didn't have enough gas in my tank to pull it off. In the past I've been ill and struggled to help me help myself and have had positive results, but what happens when you can't do it alone? That's where my much longed-for witch friends would come in. This week would have been much more tolerable with a little bit of witchy help from others who know me well.

And having some witch friends to share in my everyday healthy life would be a blessing as well: casting circle together occasionally, sharing recipes and potions, celebrating the sabbats together, and just being friends in a way that fills a void in my life that my other non-practicing friends and family sadly can never fill.

Being a solitary witch is for the most part fine with me, but every once in a while I find myself yearning for someone to share my journey with, and this week was one of those times.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Whimsy in Magic

I want to be a whimsical witch who doesn't take herself too seriously. I want to feel free-spirited and always see the joy in everything I undertake, both in circle and outside it. I want to wear high heeled witch shoes (though maybe not this high) with long red and white stripey socks and I want a magic wand that glows with a shiny star at the tip. I want to embrace all that is beautiful in the practice of magick and wear a big warm smile on my face while doing just that. Wouldn't that be just lovely?

Photo courtesy alyz on

Friday, September 4, 2009

Full Corn Moon

Today is the first full moon of just a handful of my favorite moons of the year. While it technically isn't autumn yet, with the cooler night air and the change of season imminent, the moon is taking on that lovely fall look I adore so much. Its size and color are different from any other time of the year and I simply adore the way it looks in the fall.

Tonight's moon is known as the Full Corn Moon or the Barley Moon, the Fruit Moon (courtesy of it being apple picking season), the Nut Moon, and the Mulberry Moon. The Native American name for this moon is the Harvest Moon, although the English gave that name to October's moon as it falls closer to the actual harvest. The Harvest Moon is also the neo-pagan name for tonight's moon. My personal favorite would have to be the Singing Moon, the Celtic name for September's moon.

If you hold a moonstone in your mouth at the full moon it will reveal the future, but keep in mind that it's unlucky to look at any moon over your shoulder.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Genuine Card Carrying, Cauldron Stirring Witch

During yet another sleepless night (I've given up any hope of actually sleeping ever again), I found myself watching the movie Practical Magic on some sappy female-targeted station, complete with editing and commercials. And while this may have been pretty sad, it did get me thinking. Wouldn't it be so much better if the craft were even a little bit like it is in movies and on TV? Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining at all about the spiritual path I've chosen in this life, nor am I at all dissatisfied with it, but let's be honest. If practicing magick actually had the capability that writers' fantasies give it, it really would be a total gas.

I should have known where my life was headed, not only because even as a child I was drawn to my ancestors' Native American heritage and beliefs, as well as possessing a near-psychotic respect for nature and animals, but that my favorite TV show was Bewitched. I could think of nothing more wonderful than having the abilities that Samantha Stevens had. And that thrill has never left me through the years and through countless movies and shows.

I value my knowledge of herbs and the ability to cast a circle and channel energy, but I'd simply adore being able to fly (broom or not), or to wiggle my nose and have my house instantly cleaned. To be able to travel through time or even just to teleport from one place to another in the blink of an eye would be grand. I'd find it a rush to be able to turn myself into another object or living being. How about bringing back the dead? Creepy? Perhaps. But come on, it's pretty cool too. If real life could be a Harry Potter story or like a feel-good movie such as the aforementioned Practical Magic, or even the more freaky The Witches of Eastwick or The Craft, life would be far more interesting and fun.

Don't get me wrong, I don't spend all day long wishing for the spectacular in my very quiet and simple life in the Craft, nor am I sad that I possess absolutely no supernatural abilities, but occasionally I ponder the joys of living with some real magickal talents, ones that would turn the world on its ear.