Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Tarot Reading

Here we are again at the new year and, come the first, I'll be doing my annual New Year's tarot reading. I do one for myself every year on New Year's Day and have found it to be a fairly reliable way to forecast what the year to come has in store for me. I use a twelve-card clock spread, substituting the months for the hours starting with January in the one o'clock position and so forth. I spend some time meditating on what the new year might hold for me and then lay out the spread. In addition to simply reading the card for each month, I try to establish any patterns or particular issues that may be in the offing. I keep all my readings in a leather-bound book that now dates back many years. Oddly enough though, I seldom remember to ever pull that book out during the year to see what the immediate months ahead have in store. I will take it down from its shelf and take a peek if things are particularly intense or I'm going through a tough time, just to see if I not only predicted this ugliness back at the beginning of the year, but also to see if there is going to be any blessed relief in the near future. And come New Year's Day, I do read through the previous year regardless of whether I ever looked at it since last New Year's or not before I settle in for this year's reading. I can't wait to see what 2011 will bring me, good or bad.

Regardless of what your plans are for the day, I wish everyone a happy, healthy, safe and blessed New Year, one and all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yule Altar

This year's Yule altar, photographed on the night of the Winter Solstice. I had a small white snow bird on it, made of delicate German glass, with real feathers for a tail. It had been a Christmas tree decoration that belonged to my mother until its clasp broke and then spent years languishing in a box of discarded ornaments until I found it a couple of weeks ago and decided it would be lovely on my altar. My joy was rather short-lived though, as I bumped the sideboard and knocked the little bird to the floor where it sadly shattered into hundreds of tiny slivers of silvery glass. Perhaps I'll find a new bird for next year's altar.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Seasonal Yule Ritual

This is a very sweet, simple, and quiet little ritual. As we wrap up the year passed and approach the beginning of the new year, take a moment to reflect on your humble life.

What you'll need:
incense (frankincense or frankincense resin, pine needles or pine resin, cedar chips, juniper berries, cinnamon)
a censer
a charcoal block on which to burn the incense
a large sheet of paper
a pen
a white candle

To make the incense:
2 parts frankincense
2 parts pine
1 part cedar
1 part juniper berries
a pinch of dried cinnamon or a small piece of fresh cinnamon stick

Grind all ingredients together until well blended. You can say a small incantation over them if you'd like, holding your power hand over them as you do so. Remember to always grind in a clockwise motion to infuse your incense with positive energy.

Place your censer and candle on a heat-proof surface and light them both. Begin to burn your fresh incense when your charcoal block is ready. Take the sheet of paper and draw a circle on it. Visualize this circle as a shield for all the good things you have or desire to have in your life. Write down within this circle everything that brings you joy: the material and mundane things of your everyday life, spiritual things you hold dear, nature, beloved animals, the people who make your heart sing, traveling you'd like to do, experiences that make you happy, anything and everything you'd like to draw closer to you. By writing all these lovely things within your circle you are setting up a boundary that will allow in only that which brings you happiness. This creates a shield, protecting who and what you are and sends this positive energy out to the world on a subconscious level. Outside this circle, write down everything you wish to remove from your life: bills, people you would prefer to have move on, bad habits and behaviors, and any other troublesome aspects of your life. Outside the boundary you can also write down those good things you'd like to draw to you only when you personally invite them into your life such as a visit from the in-laws or criticism from a friend.

Spend a few minutes meditating on all you have written and then give thanks for the many blessings in your life. Snuff your censer and when it has cooled, scatter the ashes on the earth.

Photo courtesy of stellaretriever on flickr.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What Am I?

When talk turns to religion and I'm asked what exactly I am, in all honesty, I haven't a clue how to answer. I can say I'm a witch, because I am. I write and cast spells, I work with oils and brews and herbal mixtures. I dabble in the metaphysical every day. I cast a circle and work within it. But my Native American ancestors also cast circles and used medicine wheels as tools of their faith and I use the circle in that manner too. I am a practicing pagan who honors and follows the rhythms of the earth as she spins through her calendar year. I live by the stars and the ever-changing moon. I also spent more than ten years of my life seriously studying Buddhism and today in my rituals and my daily life I try to continue to practice the teachings of The Four Noble Truths even though I would not consider myself a proper Buddhist. I meditate, I follow an ayurvedic diet and have dabbled in Hindu beliefs as well. Do I believe in God? Yes, but not in the way a Christian or Jew might. I used to attend a Buddhist Temple, but I haven't been inside an actual church in more years than I can count. So what exactly am I? Does my rather extensive patchwork of beliefs and practices go beyond even what an eclectic follower would term eclectic? Most likely. Some days I think my crazy spiritual smorgasbord is pretty cool and others I feel utterly schizophrenic.

This is the time of year when so many people ask what my plans are for the holidays and wish me a Merry Christmas. And I readily wish them one back as it's easier than explaining that I don't celebrate Christmas, but rather Yule. But then there are those people who like to question things a bit more deeply. When I say I'm not a Christian, they ask me if I'm Jewish, and try to wish me a Happy Hanukah, but I have to politely say that I'm not Jewish either. And that's where it gets tricky. No one wants to stand there and hear a long drawn out, ridiculous-sounding explanation of what I am, or what I'm not. Trying to tell them I'm a wildly eccentric mix of multiple belief systems only elicits even more questions and more than a few odd- and frequently uncomfortable- looks. I'm not interested in hiding what I am, nor in being clever in how I explain myself, but I do wish I had a quick and simple answer to the question of what I am. But since I have yet to figure out the answer to this question for myself, how on earth am I supposed to explain it to someone else?

Photo courtesy of PictureOnTheWall/Nicholas McCollum.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Trees 101: The Yew

Personally, I'm not a big fan of yews as to me their foliage smells too much like cat pee, but that doesn't mean that they aren't a magnificent tree to behold, nor hold a great deal of power within them. This is truly a tree of the Winter Solstice as the yew's spring season begins on the day after the solstice. Given that the darkest time of the year is when this tree begins its rebirth, it's considered a Goddess tree (with the Goddess in her crone form) as well as a tree of death. Ironically, this is also a tree of immortality as being an evergreen, it never seems to die in going dormant. All evergreens are considered to be trees of immortality. In ancient times, yews were traditionally planted in burial grounds as it was believed to be a gateway to the next world.

The yew has been used to make bows, arrows, spears and magic wands. The witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth used wands made of yew to work their magic. Along with the birch and oak, the yew was the third tree in the three pillars of wisdom. The yew is symbolic of stability, sovereignty, and mystery. Yew wood has also been used to make household items such as bowls, shutters, boxes, handles and hooks, and various religious and altar objects. It has been rarely used to make furniture. Yew leaves and bark, as well as the tree's seeds are all poisonous to humans and should never be ingested. However, at one time the skin of yew berries was used as a laxative and a heart medicine. Traditionally, to dream of yews is a portent of death, either one's own or that of a loved one.

The yew vibrates to both masculine and feminine energies. It is ruled by Jupiter, Mars and Saturn and is governed by the elements of air, water and fire. Yew can be used in ritual to enhance psychic abilities, to bring one closer to their ancestors at Samhain, and in protection spells. When using yew in any magickal capacity, remember to never ingest any part of the tree and to wash your hands well after handling it.

"Ancient Yew" courtesy of Giles C. Watson on flickr.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thank You

Thank you to all my readers who have stayed despite the lack of regularly published articles these last few weeks. I've been consumed with a fairly large, commissioned job that I've just now wrapped up, thus giving me the freedom to post more frequently once again. Your patience and loyalty are very much appreciated. Blessings!

December Cauldron Divination

This is such a lovely ritual and perfect for this time of year as we spend time inside our homes where it's warm and cozy, contemplating family, reminiscing, giving thanks and counting down the days to Yule.

What you'll need:
a few freshly gathered dry pinecones (preferably without a lot of pitch on them)
a handful of dried bay leaves
a few sprigs of dried lavender
a pinch of cinnamon
a black votive candle
additional candles, if desired
your cauldron

Place your cauldron on a heat-proof, safe surface and if you'd like, surround yourself with a ring of lit, wintry candles. Using the black candle, light your pinecones and let them burn down to bright red embers within your cauldron. While they're burning, meditate on your life during the past year and ponder what the coming year will bring for you. Take a moment to commune with your ancestors and those loved ones who have passed. When the pinecones have reached the hot ember stage, add the bay leaves, lavender sprigs and cinnamon to create a sweet smelling swirl of smoke. You can scry using the glowing pinecones and the curls of smoke, perhaps divining what the new year will hold for you. Ask for any message that you need to hear at this time and see what your scrying manifests. Work the fire magic until the embers die out, then discard the ashes (when they've cooled) back into the earth and give thanks for all you've been blessed with.

Photo courtesy of Peta Jade on flickr.
The original version of this spell was written by Lily Gardener and published on

Monday, November 29, 2010


Having last month accepted a very large commission for four portraits, I've had very little time for much else, blogging included, but I did manage to spend a few brief hours with friends over last week's holiday: good friends and some fairly newer acquaintances, one of whom turned out to be a practicing witch and pagan (and here I thought I'd be the only one in the room that evening). For the life of me I cannot remember how the conversation over dessert turned to the subject of hymns, but indeed it did, and from there it was a quick hopscotch to paganism. With her husband an Episcopalian, this lovely lady stated how truly beautiful the hymns are in his church, which prompted me to remark on how horrible they are in the faith in which I was raised: Lutheranism (or as I like to call it "Catholic Lite"). There has never been more plodding, heavy, dire, nor depressing music ever composed. If you're looking for a soundtrack by which to commit suicide, the Lutheran Hymnal is the book you want. My new friend laughed loudly and said, "Try growing up Jewish." And this got me thinking.

Though we come from many faiths and backgrounds, is there a common thread that draws people to a life of paganism? True, some are lucky enough to have been raised by multi-generational pagan families, but in today's world, most of us come from a place far, far removed from witchcraft, wicca or paganism. For myself, having always been drawn to the rituals and spirituality of my Native American ancestors despite my rather conservative upbringing, it wasn't a giant departure from my inner beliefs to openly practicing the earth faith I have embraced for many, many years. Still, there is something to be said for the pagan path vs the more conventional spiritual paths society (and family) has to offer.

Paganism as a general rule comes with little or no guilt and certainly with no all-powerful body of (usually) megalomaniacal, egocentric men telling us what we can and cannot do, what is right, what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is most certainly not. The freedom of paganism is not only a beautiful thing in and of itself, but it also allows the follower of this faith to make their own choices when it comes to good vs evil. And most of the gentle folk who call themselves pagans make these choices wisely, far more so than someone who thinks they can make last minute amends for their wrongdoings on their deathbeds. While not all of us follow the path of wisdom in this faith, I find that the majority of us do.

If you took away from me the endless circles I've cast, the powerful spells I've written, the library of books I've amassed, you won't have hurt me in any way because those are not where my spirituality lies. Those are mere adjuncts to a pagan and witchy life well-lived. If all that were gone today, I'd be left with what really matters to me: the four elements, the sun and the moon (especially the moon), the earth including her rocks, trees and herbs, the magnificent ocean, animals, and the gentle touch of the Divine; the Great Spirit in all I do. These are why I left the mind-numbing drudgery that was the faith of my youth and embraced wholeheartedly my free-spirited and compassionate pagan self.

"Beeches and Bluebells" courtesy of the always-brilliant Giles C. Watson.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Prayer


We return thanks to our mother, the earth,
which sustains us.
We return thanks to the rivers and streams,
which supply us with water.
We return thanks to all herbs,
which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.
We return thanks to the moon and stars,
which have given to us their light when the sun was gone.
We return thanks to the sun,
that has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye.
Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit,
in Whom is embodied all goodness,
and Who directs all things for the good of Her children.

An Iroquois Prayer of Thanksgiving

Photo courtesy of Jeff Holbrook on flickr.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Treat the Earth Well

Treat the earth well.
It was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
we borrow it from our Children.

An Ancient Native American Proverb

Photo courtesy of Giles C. Watson on flickr.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Moons and Totems 3

Everybody knows their western astrological profile and most people also know their eastern, or Chinese, astrological sign as well, but few know their moon profile from the Native American culture and the totems for each moon. As with the two more mainstream belief systems, the moon totem profiles are not only a very accurate read of an individual's personality, but they also add a rich dimension to who we are and where our weaknesses and powers come from.

Popping Trees Moon
November 11-December 10

Those born under this moon tend to prefer to periodically isolate themselves from the larger group, taking time to withdraw from society while they explore their inner selves, emerging with greater self-knowledge and understanding. The people of the Popping Trees Moon are wise, patient folks who know when to act and when to wait. These are mysterious, deep people who prefer to keep their feelings and ideas to themselves; a very spiritual people.

The element for this moon is earth and the animal totem is the owl, a wise creature who appears to hear and see all. The Popping Trees Moon's plant totem is the dandelion, a tenacious plant not easily disposed of, and its mineral totem is aquamarine. Aquamarine is a feminine, ethereal stone which brings to its user the ability to express themselves clearly. A stone that produces inspiration and inspired thoughts, it also confers upon its bearer a sense of peace and calmness, as well as the ability to know how and when to act in any given situation. Aquamarine brings courage without swagger. Lastly, the color of this moon is indigo, a color that can change appearance before your eyes. Is it blue? purple? black? Indigo is the color of one's third eye, that part of our subconscious that gives birth to intuition and our sixth sense. It is the color of spiritual understanding.

Everyone is most compatible with those people born under the moon opposite to their own and the opposite moon of the Popping Trees Moon is the Flowering Moon (May 11-June 10).

Photo courtesy of Foto Martien on flickr.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A New Moon Goddess Charm

New Moon magick is dedicated to new beginnings and projects, feeling your personal strength, gaining inspiration, and honoring your intuition. It is the moon of the Maiden Goddess. With tonight's new moon, this is the perfect time to perform a brief ritual to harness this moon's powerful magick.

What you'll need:
a sheet of white paper, ink
dried herbs for grinding: verbena, vervain, mugwort, rue, clove, hyacinth, bay leaf
rose essential oil
a white candle
a safe, heat-proof surface to work on
a small square of white cloth, big enough to hold the herbs
a small length of white ribbon

Take the sheet of paper and write down what it is your heart desires to achieve. In a small bowl grind together one teaspoon each of dried verbena, vervain, mugwort, rue, clove, hyacinth and a bay leaf. Add a few drops of essential rose oil and mix well. Place this bowl on your altar along with a white pillar candle.

Invoke the maiden goddess Diana (or any other maiden goddess that you've chosen to work with) and ask that she strengthen you and free you to live the life you want to live, to be the person you wish to be. You want to invite into your circle not only a young goddess, but one with a great deal of personal power, one who isn't at all timid about success. Place the herbs in the middle of the cloth and tie the bundle with the ribbon while chanting:

"Lady of the dark moon,
Strengthen me and free me.
Grant me the courage
To Fear not, to be me."

Hold your newly made amulet to your heart. Burn the paper in the candle. Give thanks to the goddess for aiding you in starting your new project, new life, new behavior, et al.

Photo of Diana courtesy of Bulfinch's Mythology.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Day of the Dead

Here are a few photos of this year's Samhain/Day of the Dead altar. I believe that this is my favorite sabbat of the year mostly because of the deep connection I feel with my ancestors and with those loved ones who have recently (or not so recently) passed from my life. To sit before this altar, burning sage, lighting black candles, and meditating on those I wish I had known and those I dearly, dearly miss is very moving. I practice divination in front of it during the days around the sabbat and then I take the cornmeal and tobacco I place on it to honor my Native American ancestors and spread them on the earth beneath the birches at the back of my property. A part of me wishes that this time of year lasted longer than it does, but then, if it was of a longer duration it probably wouldn't be nearly as magickal as it is. So until next year...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Tarot Blog

I have just started a brand new blog, Moon and Blackbird, where you'll find a daily tarot reading using an eclectic variety of decks, various bits and bobs about the art of reading tarot and eventually the option to contact me for a full-length private and personal reading. While being a uniquely individual blog in its own right, Moon and Blackbird can also be considered something of a companion blog to Dancing Beneath the Moon, as it's a continuation of the divination work that has been discussed and touched on here occasionally.

The new blog is still something of a work in progress as, ever the perfectionist, I continue to endlessly tweak it until I can comfortably live with it. It launched today so the first daily reading is now available and each subsequent one will be done shortly after midnight each night with the cards foretelling what that new day will hold for my readers, and thus making it available for viewing first thing each day, no matter what hour you call morning.

I hope you'll take a peek and if you find it enjoyable, are drawn to return again and again. And as always, Dancing Beneath the Moon will continue on just as it has always been. Peace!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Plans?

In the Middle Ages it was believed that witches communed with the devil on Halloween night, which was then known as the witches’ Black Sabbath, and that they did all sorts of heinous things on this night. It was believed that witches celebrated this sabbat by sacrificing and eating children, dining on bread made from human feces and urine, kissing the asses of cats, and fornicating with the devil and his consorts. They rode their broomsticks to secret locations where they held Black Masses during which they summoned the devil, entered into blood pacts with him, and ultimately sold their souls to him. They also plotted ways to destroy all the god-fearing Christians in their villages. In other words, this was one busy night for witches. History shows us that these misguided beliefs were drummed up by the early Christian church in an attempt to squelch any pagan rituals still being carried out, though obviously with none of the above activities as any part of them. But by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these beliefs were so widespread and ingrained in the people, it was only natural and certainly no surprise that witch hunts were carried out to the degree they were.

Personally, I much prefer eating chocolate to eating children or feces, but I wouldn't mind the occasional, and most likely highly exhilarating, ride on a broomstick.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Boneset Ghost Spell

Boneset: : any of several composite herbs; especially a perennial of central and eastern North America with opposite perfoliate leaves and white-rayed flower heads used in folk medicine. The first known use of boneset was in 1764.

As we all know, this is the time of the year when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest and those who practice necromancy, or just wish to contact the spirits of loved ones passed, are paying tribute to ancestors, honoring them with offerings of food, and engaging in various necromantic practices of divination. It's also the time when hungry ghosts, or those with no family or friends to remember them or feed them, restlessly wander the earth. It's traditional to place barley and milk outside as an offering to those wayward spirits, thus easing their hunger and preventing their mischief. Alternately, you can keep them away completely with a small bouquet of flowers and herbs.

Boneset will chase away the nastier spirits while drawing to your home benevolent spirits who have only the best intentions. Hang a bouquet of boneset (with sprigs of white pine and any other protective herbs you'd like to incorporate into your bundle) over your front door, as well as any other entrances that are used regularly. Tie the bouquets with black satin ribbon. Keep in mind that folk tradition believes that the most potent boneset is found growing on or near graves (though I am in no way condoning any indiscriminate picking of a person's grave). You can burn small boneset branches or twigs in a cauldron to drive away any existing ghosts, and should you be a little too involved with the practice of necromancy this Samhain season, boneset can also be used in small bundles hung over the beds of anyone deemed to have "ghost sickness," an illness believed to develop after engaging in extended contact with the dead. If your pets have been actively engaging in necromancy, this will protect them too!

Photo courtesy of gmayfield10 on flickr.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Leaf Lore

There's powerful magick in the fallen leaves on Samhain, but in order for that magick to manifest the leaves must be caught in the recipient's hands as they fall from the trees and before they hit the ground. According to folk tradition, once a leaf has touched the earth, its magick is forever lost. The tradition of catching fallen leaves began in England centuries ago and it was believed that catching a fallen leaf would not only empower the lucky grabber with great magick, but would also ensure that that person would have profound happiness for the next year and would suffer no sorrows (if only it were this easy). Upon catching a leaf, you could also make a wish and be sure by your lucky catch that it would come true. Another folk belief says that the catching of a falling leaf will bring a year of health to the recipient.

An old witch's spell states that for every leaf caught between Michaelmas on September 29th and Samhain, the lucky catcher will be granted one day of pure happiness. But once these leaves are caught, be sure to keep them outside, for an ancient belief states that you will bring very bad luck to your family and all who dwell within your walls should you bring the leaves indoors with you. Dead leaves that may blow into your house on their own through a doorway on a blustery day are perfectly safe though!

This gorgeous photo of falling leaves courtesy of Jooliree on flickr.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Broken Pendulum

My first bloodstone pendulum, before I accidentally destroyed it.

I have attachment issues with just about every one and every thing that means something to me in my life, and my divination tools are no different. So when I was holding my bloodstone pendulum earlier this week and let it slip through my fingers onto a tile floor, smashing it into several large pieces and a fair amount of bloodstone-colored dust, I was devastated. I'd only had it just shy of a year, but this was a pendulum that I had an instant connection with. I chose this stone not only because it's a very powerful stone with potent divination properties but also because this is a stone that my grandmother introduced me to when I was very young. As a result of this personal connection, bloodstone packs quite a punch for me. When I selected this particular pendulum, it was chosen from a dozen or so bloodstone ones, and this one felt electric when I first held it. No question, I knew. We were meant for one another from that first moment. I carried it with me everywhere, against my body and in my pocket, forging a deeper energy attachment with it and in that time developed a very close working bond with it. And then this: a brief moment of distraction and it was gone.

I have other pendulums I can use, though I haven't the same relationship with them as I had with my bloodstone one. And a few days ago I bought myself another bloodstone one, but it just doesn't feel "right." I know this is in part because I was so deeply attached to that first one it will be hard to recreate that bond with just any other stone, but also because I'm a fussy little thing and the new one isn't the same as my last one and I don't want anything to have to be different.

I'm trying to see the lesson inherent in this unfortunate situation and I know I have quite a challenge ahead of me: finding another pendulum, be it bloodstone or not, with which I can forge a new deeply-held bond. I just wish I hadn't lost my best pendulum friend in the first place.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Nurturing Bath

There's nothing quite so relaxing as a nice hot bath, accompanied by the gentle glow of light from a bathroom full of lit candles. In addition to bathing the body, baths can be ritually cleansing to prepare for the sacred circle, emotionally cleansing to free the mind of stress and troubles, and physically healing to free the body of toxins and negative conditions. Aromatic remedies are among the most ancient. Old herbal texts prescribed the calming scents of thyme and sage leaf to ease the terror of nightmares (known as "night ghosts") and bald men were told if they washed their heads with sage tea they could be assured that their hair would indeed grow back. While this last one may not be true, herbal bath remedies can cure much that ails us.

Basic Bath Time Herbal Tea Bags

1/2 cup fresh grated ginger root
2 tablespoons of one or more of the following herbs (or use your own favorites):
lemon verbena (dried)
rosemary sprigs (fresh or dried)
peppermint or spearmint leaves (fresh or dried)
chamomile (dried)
lavender blossoms or sprigs (dried)
lemon balm (dried)
sweet marjoram (dried)
grated goldenseal root (dried)
plaintain leaves (dried)
rose petals (fresh)

You may use a small cheesecloth bag tied with a string, or make small folded rice paper packets (in the style of a store-bought tea bag), stitched closed. Combine the ginger root with the herbs of your choice and place in the sachet style of your choice. Run a very hot bath, add a few small bags, allow them to steep while the water cools a bit, then remove the bags and climb on in. Made as small tea bags with strings, these make wonderful gifts to give to someone who loves herbal baths (just be sure to label your ingredients so your recipient knows what's in them and let them know these aren't to be consumed internally).

If you haven't the time or motivation to make yourself bath time tea bags, a simple herbal bath will also work wonders and feel great. You can add sprigs of fresh rosemary to your bath for a pine-like fragrance. Actual pine needles can be used as well which are said to relieve nervous tension. Rosemary is not only invigorating, but will ease physical aches and pains and can rejuvenate a tired, sallow complexion. Ginger root will break a fever, induce sweating, improve your circulation and will also ease sore joints and tired feet.

Native Americans took sponge baths decocted with verbena leaves to combat nervousness and tension. Calendula, comfrey and chamomile used separately or together will also calm nerves and are an excellent choice as an astringent bath for oily or blemished skin. Chamomile is also an effective cure for soothing hemorrhoids.

Elder flowers steeped in hot water will make a gently cleansing and sweetly floral scented bath that will help induce sleep and relax the nerves, as will lemon balm, which in addition to being a sleep aid can also help to relieve cramps.

To soften the skin and counteract both hard water and some of the stronger herbs, add some milk to your bath (Cleopatra bathed regularly in camel's milk and she had men falling at her feet).

Please note that if this is the first time you'll be using any of these herbs, it is best to perform a 24 hour skin test beforehand for each plant. Take a small amount of the herb to be used, pulverize it and if it's in dried form add a few drops of water to moisten it. Dab the paste onto your forearm just inside your elbow, cover with a band-aid and let it sit untouched for 24 hours. If any redness, itching or swelling occurs, do not use that herb. As always, use common sense when working with herbs. Take nothing internally without being absolutely sure it's edible and safe and use nothing that you feel you may be allergic to.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Autumn Pumpkin Prosperity Spell

This is a spell that can be done anytime within the season but is best performed close to Samhain.

What you'll need:
one glass or pottery plate
one small pumpkin
one small plastic or wax skull that will fit inside the pumpkin
a small amount of seeds from the pumpkin, dried
a teaspoon of cinnamon
small slips of paper, with the name of one ancestor you wish to honor written on each
a black cloth big enough to shroud the pumpkin
a candle in the color of your choice
sage incense

Carve out the pumpkin (saving the stem lid) so it is very clean and wash a small amount of the seeds. Place the seeds on a lightly oiled baking sheet (to prevent them from sticking) and dry in the oven at 375f degrees for about 15 minutes. Be sure to keep an eye on them as cooking times will vary from oven to oven! Let cool.

In a small bowl, mix the seeds and the cinnamon. Stir widdershins, or counter-clockwise, to banish negative energy from your home while visualizing your home being purged of everything negative. Then stir deosil, or clockwise, to honor your ancestors and to ask for their blessings. Now place your pumpkin on the plate, light your candle and fire up your incense. While gazing at the candle flame, take a moment to meditate upon your loved ones past. Pass the small skull and the slips with your ancestors' names through the incense smoke. Place the slips inside the pumpkin, arranged neatly in a circle on the bottom. Place the small skull, centered, on top of them and sprinkle the seeds and cinnamon around the skull. Hold your hands over the top of the pumpkin and request that your ancestors bring harmony and prosperity into your life. Place the stem lid back on the top, cover the pumpkin with the black cloth and put it in a safe place for seven days. On the seventh day, uncover your pumpkin and bring it outside, placing it either on an outdoor altar that you won't be using for the season, or in an inconspicuous place, allowing it to decay throughout the winter season.

Note for those who live in warmer climates where leaving a pumpkin to rot outside wouldn't smell very pleasant for either yourselves or your neighbors and for those living in apartments who'd rather not look at a rotting pumpkin sitting on your terrace: eliminate the pumpkin entirely after you cull the seeds from it and do the entire spell on the plate. Cover the plate with the black cloth and on the seventh day, tie up the black cloth with a golden string, securing the seed/spice mixture, ancestor names, and skull inside. Place in a corner of your attic, your cellar or in a room where it won't be disturbed. Keep till the following Samhain season.

Photo courtesy of StGrundy on flickr.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Trees 101: The Maple

When I think of autumn I think of maple trees and all the glorious and vivid colors their leaves turn come the cooler weather. The maple's wood is very hard and pale and very, very strong. Striped maple wood is known as "whistlewood" as its outer bark is easy to peel off and was used to make wooden whistles, musical instruments and violin cases. The tree is also known as "moosewood" as moose very much enjoy nibbling on the tree's tender young shoots in the springtime. As everyone knows, the tree's sap is used to make pure maple syrup (with sugar maples being the most prolific variety) and as the annual "sugaring off" coincides with the vernal equinox, this tree is a popular choice for Ostara celebrations. During the early settling of North America, the maple and its sap figured prominently in the settlers' diets. Surprisingly, the sugar maple was not seen in Britain prior to 1735 and in the beginning was used mainly as a hedgerow tree.

It is said that if you place a bough of maple in your home you will protect it from an infestation of bats. Also, if you pass an infant or young child through the branches of a maple tree, you will bring to the child excellent health and a long life. Maple brings success and abundance.

Maple is used in ritual and spellwork to attract love, to work with the faery realm and the wood is an excellent and powerful choice for wands. In terms of the maple's powers, it aids in communication, grounding, bringing and maintaining balance, longevity, transformation and wisdom, to name but a few of its many abilities. The maple tree's energy is masculine and it vibrates to the elements of air and earth. The maple is ruled by the planet Jupiter.

Photo courtesy of JGrana on flickr.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cranberry Apple Muffins

I was sick for Mabon so I didn't get to make my traditional oat cakes (which really bummed me out) but David and I are going to be taking a day trip to the beach and some old cemeteries next week for our anniversary and I thought I'd make the cakes then. I adore the beach when the crowds have all gone home for the year and the air is crisp, the breezes cool, the water is starting to look the color of slate and the beach is utterly empty in either direction as far as the eye can see. Follow that with some photo ops in old historic cemeteries and a picnic for two (plus my beloved dogs) and I'm feeling the bliss. I love to bake for a picnic: quiches, breads, salads, some cookies or cakes and tiny treats to be taken out and nibbled here and there throughout the day while we hike. One of my favorite fall breads is really a muffin. I make them in mini muffin cups which makes them the perfect little snack or side to a fuller meal. And they're not too heavy or sweet like a breakfast muffin can be. Tart, freshly harvested apples make these a must-bake for this time of year.

CRANBERRY APPLE MUFFINS makes 12 regular or approximately 24 mini muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup diced tart apple, peeled
3/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350f degrees. Grease and lightly flour muffin tins, or use paper liner cups. Mix the flours together with the baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. In a seperate bowl, whisk eggs with sugar until smooth. Whisk in the melted butter and the vanilla. Stir in the fruits and nuts (if using) and pour these moist ingredients over the dry ones. Fold just until all ingredients are well mixed and you don't see any dry lumps.

Scoop batter into the muffin tins and bake 20-25 minutes for regular-sized muffins, slightly less for minis, or until golden browned on top and firm to the touch. Turn out onto a rack to cool and store in an airtight container for no more than two days. These taste best served warm and please note that they cannot be frozen so eat them quickly and enjoy!

Photo courtesy of bougi on flickr.

Monday, September 20, 2010

More on Mabon

Thinking about working a little magick for Mabon? This is an especially appropriate time to work spells for protection, wealth and prosperity, security and self-confidence. For a simple ritual incense burn freshly dried and ground sage, or if you're a little more motivated, use this wonderful incense recipe which will help you become attuned with the changing of the season and the darkening of the light:

2 parts Frankincense
1 part Sandalwood
1 part Cypress
1 part Juniper
1 part Pine
a few drops Oakmoss essential oil
1 small pinch of pulverized, dried oak leaf

Grind all ingredients fairly fine, add the essential oil, mix well, and burn on a charcoal in a censer.

If you prefer to work with gemstones, there are a few that are associated with this sabbat. Use them on your altar, wear them as jewelry, or carry them in a sacred medicine bag while you walk in the golden yellow woods and honor the aging Goddess.

Carnelian. A red form of chalcedony, carnelian has been worn since ancient Egypt. Worn by those who tend to be shy, it bolsters courage and instills the wearer with self-confidence, as well as protecting them from negative outside influences.

Lapis Lazuli. Another ancient stone, lapis is an uplifting stone that promotes spirituality and enhances psychic awareness. This stone also confers protection to its wearer, keeping them safe both physically and psychically.

Sapphire. Used by those in ancient Greece, the sapphire is potent in aiding meditation, in spells for defensive magick and in attracting money. Wear a sapphire to expand your wisdom, promote a sense of peace and well-being within you, and to keep evil spirits at bay. A necklace or bracelet made of sapphires will attract money to its wearer.

Yellow Agate. Agate is a stone of quiet courage and strength, as well as protection. In ancient Rome, an agate ring was worn on the left hand to ensure the favor of those deities responsible for a bountiful harvest. Wear agate or use it on your altar in protection spells and rituals to be free of negative energy.

Incense recipe courtesy of the late, great Scott Cunningham.
Photo courtesy of Markles55 on flickr.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Bit About Mabon

Is it really Mabon again? Egads, the year flies by, doesn't it? After another summer of intense heat, which is really not to my liking, we are again at that point on the Wheel of the Year where I come alive once more. Autumn is most definitely my season, which is not surprising really as I am a deeply introverted person who spends a great deal of time inside her own head. So it makes perfect sense that I would thrive in that portion of the Earth Wheel where things are becoming quiet and resting within themselves for the dark of winter. Samhain is my favorite sabbat of the year, but Mabon can sort of be viewed as the "gateway" to Samhain, and that's good enough for me.

Mabon, a lesser sabbat, is also known as the Second Harvest Festival (after Lammas). It represents the balance between the darkness and the light; of perfect equality. The foods of Mabon are corn, potatoes, nuts, apples and onions. Bread is, of course, a must. The traditional herbs of this sabbat are thistle, tobacco, myrrh, marigold (to symbolize the last of the bright light) and sage, which should be burned at any rituals. Not surprisingly, the symbols of this sabbat are what we see on every farm stand we pass in our daily travels: gourds, pumpkins, apples, pine cones, and corn stalks. The pomegranate is an important food and decoration for feasts and altars alike, symbolizing fertility, abundance and equanimity.

This is a sabbat of the solitary and the mysterious. Not sure what to do to celebrate? Try making some homemade wine, or take a walk alone in the woods while gathering dried seeds, leaves, branches and berries. You can use these to adorn your house and your altar. Alternately, you can take some of what you have gathered and visit the graves of loved ones now passed and decorate their headstones with the pinecones, leaves and berries, honoring those who have gone before you as a prelude to Samhain. Bake a loaf of bread- even a quick bread of fruit and nuts is nice- and break a slice into pieces, scattering it outdoors (preferably in the woods or on a harvested field, if possible) as an offering to the Goddess who has now matured into the Crone, as well as to give one last thanks for this past season of abundance. In doing this, you'll also be feeding some hungry wildlife on these first few cooler days and nights.

Whatever you choose to do to celebrate this little sabbat, take a moment to reflect on your life and the passing of another season, another year. Dive into the quiet of your mind for a spell, and revel in the last of the light while welcoming the gentle darkness that is quickly coming.

Photo Courtesy of Linder Rox on flickr.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Moons and Totems 2

Everybody knows their western astrological profile and most people also know their eastern, or Chinese, astrological sign as well, but few know their moon profile from the Native American culture and the totems for each moon. As with the two more mainstream belief systems, the moon totem profiles are not only a very accurate read of an individual's personality, but they also add a rich dimension to who we are and where our weaknesses and powers come from.

Ripening Moon
September 11-October 10

Those who are born under this moon tend to be very giving and gregarious, yet ironically, are also highly solitary, introverted creatures. This craving for solitude is especially strong during the late summer, early fall months when the Ripening Moon person wishes to hide themselves away from people and busy places, preferring instead to nurture their inner selves. These are some very mysterious, dark people with emotions that run very deep.

The element for this moon is water and the animal totem is the black bear, a creature who can be friendly and playful, yet powerful, solitary and intimidating as well. The bear is greatly respected by all Native American tribes. The Ripening Moon's plant totem is bearberry, a plant that produces very tart fruits, but which are medicinally very potent. Bearberry tea is a strong curative for breaking fevers and healing upset stomachs. The mineral totem for this moon is obsidian, a powerful stone used for divination. Gaze into a piece of polished obsidian to receive desired information. This stone can take you into yourself and show you what is needed to move forward on your path. Obsidian is also a very powerful protective stone that will draw harmful energy away from you, absorbing it into itself and eliminating it. Lastly, the color of this moon is dark blue, the color of the deepest rivers and oceans where it is impossible to see completely to their depths, just as it is impossible to fathom completely those people of the Ripening Moon.

Everyone is most compatible with those people born under the moon opposite to their own and the opposite moon of the Ripening Moon is the Fast Waterflow Moon (March 11-April 10).

Photo courtesy of Roy Mac on flickr.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


I have a friend who, in the last several months, has not-so-subtly been urged both consciously and subconsciously to begin walking the path of a death midwife. This would be an extraordinary role to undertake, but sadly, not one that I would want for myself as it would require an emotional fortitude that I simply don't possess. That said, however, I have always found the role of the psychopomp to be incredibly interesting.

The psychopomp (from the Greek, pompos, meaning conductor or guide and psyche meaning breath, life, soul or mind) is literally a guide for the soul. The psychopomp's primary function is to escort the dying to their place in the afterlife. They take many forms from animals and angels to humans and mythological creatures, and most of the world's religious texts and sacred narratives, as well as the mythological tales of countless cultures, contain stories of the psychopomp at work. Previously deceased loved ones have also been known to act as psychopomps, arriving at the side of a dying person to lovingly guide them to the other side at the moment of death. A modern day death midwife is someone who helps to assist a person in dying without fear by calmly and gently facilitating their passing, while a modern day psychopomp can communicate with spirit and is able to meet with the soul of the person dying while in an altered state of consciousness and then accompany that soul on its natural journey back to its spiritual home. This is also one of the (many) traditional roles of the sacred shaman.

The shaman bridges the earthly and spiritual realms and travels effortlessly within both. They're not only psychopomps in that they guide the souls of the deceased on their final otherworldly journeys, but they also rescue trapped or fractured souls from the spirit realm. In doing this the shaman heals a human body for whom a portion of its soul has left it for one reason or another and was not able of its own accord to return intact, thus healing body, mind and spirit. The shaman also serves as the communicator between the living and the dead, rather like a sacred medium.

The psychopomp is never judgmental. Their role is simply to serve as the mediator between the conscious and unconscious realms. The Grim Reaper is a psychopomp as well, but to be honest, I think I'd much rather see my father waiting to guide me home, or even Anubis, Hecate or Freyja. And of course, there's always the belief that the Grim Reaper form of the Angel of Death can be bribed or outwitted, thus prolonging one's life. But that's another thought for another day.

Photo courtesy of Jack of Nothing on flickr.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trees 101: Mesquite

While we're still in the midst of summer and the grilling season, it's the perfect time to discuss mesquite. Known most widely for its use as a firewood to flavor barbecued meats, there is much more to mesquite than its role in creating a yummy steak. The various components of this versatile tree: the flowers, seeds, pods, and hard wood, are used in everything from food to medicine to furniture and flooring.

In spite of the fact that this tree sports very large, sharp thorns, people have successfully harvested mesquite for more than a millennia. The seeds and pods have been used to feed humans with flours, porridges, jellies and even wine. They've also been used to feed livestock as well. The toasted seeds are frequently used in coffee blends and the flowers, which produce a rich nectar that bees go wild for, are used to make honey. Mesquite gum is used in the production of sugars and thickening agents for baking. Medicinally, mesquite can be used to treat respiratory illnesses such as colds, flus and sore throats. It reduces inflammation and eliminates diarrhea.

Native Americans, especially those tribes of the American southwest, fashioned mesquite wood into arrow tips and they also used the gum to decorate their pottery. The tree figured prominently in the Aztec creation myth as well. During the second sun when the universe was being created for the second time (we are presently in the fifth sun, Nanahuatl), Quetzalcoatl, the God of the Winds, created the world and fed his people with the fruits of the mesquite tree.

In ritual and spellwork, mesquite is used to bring success, to increase the power of healing herbs, and in rites where perseverance is essential. Mesquite vibrates to elements of air, fire and water. Its energy is feminine and it's ruled by both the Moon and Saturn.

Photo courtesy of lasertrimman on flickr.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wise Words

Listen with your head, but speak with your heart.

Photo courtesy of Treescaper on flickr.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Journey

As a diehard perfectionist who can't rest till she gets done whatever it is she needs to get done, I am generally not one for lollygagging. I tend to operate solely in black and white and super straight lines with very little gray areas and even less circuitous routes. Get me from A to Z as fast as possible and let me get on to the next thing! And for heaven's sake, make sure I get exactly what I want in the process! But in all honestly, that's not really how we should be living our lives, is it? It isn't so much the reaching of our destination, but the journey we take in getting there.

I'm an artist by trade. I want to make something beautiful, finish the work and move on to the next big thing. Before I even begin to work on a new piece, I pretty much have an idea of where I'm going with it. Sometimes things go just as I had planned and it feels wonderful, but more often than not I find the work evolving into something different. Maybe not completely different, but different nevertheless. And I don't always like it. Not because it isn't necessarily "good" but because it isn't what I had intended and ultimately it changes my end result completely. In circle or when spell-casting I expect a certain outcome too, but like those paintings on my easel, that expected outcome often isn't how things turn out. Sure, sometimes a cast spell will manifest exactly how I had intended, but how often does that happen? And why not? Because it isn't about the end result. The lessons aren't there waiting for us to catch up with them. The lessons are always found in the process of getting to that end.

It isn't simply about making a beautiful painting with every detail controlled to the nth degree and it also isn't about whether or not that spell I created comes to perfect fruition. And it's the same for everybody else, too. It doesn't matter if we make mistakes or endlessly change our minds. And while it's nice to be fully satisfied with the outcome, it isn't as important as how we've reached that outcome. Granted, being truly happy with where we end up in any undertaking is wonderful, but really, that's just the icing on the cake. It's the letting go of our expectations, our preconceived notions, and really and truly experiencing whatever it is we are doing as we walk this path that matters. We can plan all we want to, but we must also be prepared to accept everything that comes our way: the good, the bad, the devastating, the remarkable and the serendipitous. In learning to let it all happen just as it is meant to, to enjoy the experience of life unfolding before us, is how we learn and grow within ourselves.

Love (or hate) the end result, but cherish every moment of the journey.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Zinnia Spell

In trying to find some interesting flower spells that are designed for this time of year, and most specifically for the month of August, I stumbled across a spell that makes use of zinnias. If you ask me, nothing says "late summer" more than a colorful riot of zinnias. And I feel that this little spell is just perfect the way it is. I did nothing to change it in any way and I present it to you in its original form, including its beautifully written introduction.

"August wouldn’t be August without zinnias. Their bright cheery colors contain the warmth of the August Sun and echo the region of their origin, Mexico and the American Southwest. When Cortez found them growing in Mexico, the Aztecs already held them in high esteem for their beauty. Use them in spells for strength, health, endurance, or abundance. This spell for health combines them with another late-summer flower, goldenrod. Cut a stem of a red or yellow zinnia and a goldenrod. Tie them together to dry in a dark, airy space. When dry, raise them toward the Sun and say:

Flowers bright as the Sun,
Protect me from winter’s grief
When summer’s done.

Crush them and place them in an envelope as a symbol of their protection. Keep them until next Midsummer, then burn them in a ritual fire. Repeat again when the zinnias and goldenrod bloom."

I am generally not in the habit of merely cutting and pasting other people's spells here, but there isn't much one can do to improve this little gem. This beautiful yet simple zinnia spell comes from a gentleman by the name of James Kambos, a writer for Llewellyn Books and is reproduced here in its entirety courtesy of

Photo courtesy of Park Seed on flickr.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I love to smudge and frequently use smoke in purifying rituals, both Native American and pagan rites alike. While using a store bought smudge stick or incense is perfectly fine, there's something much more potent, much more magickal about using your own homemade smudge stick as well as your own ground smudging incense. You can make a smudge bundle as large as you want it to be, or as small (providing you are able to control the stick and not start a fire with it). Likewise for the incense: to ensure freshness and potency, make only as much as you'll need for any given ritual: be it cleansing your home, a new ritual tool, or for a purification rite both in or out of circle.

What you'll need for the smudge bundle:
dried white sage (sagebrush), twigs with leaves attached
dried lavender, stems with flower buds attached
dried cedar, small twigs (juniper can be substituted)
cotton thread such as embroidery floss, 3-4 times the length of your bundle and in one or multiple colors that speak to you

Cut your twigs 7-10 inches in length. Grab a handful and hold them firmly together without breaking them. Grasp them from their base, upside down and wind your thread around the base a couple of times, with a few extra inches of thread left hanging loose. Begin to gently but firmly wrap the thread up the length of your smudge stick until you reach the tip, then switch direction and begin to wrap your way back down to the base of the bundle. Securely tie the end you left dangling to this end of the thread and snip any excess.

What you'll need for the ground smudging incense:
dried lavender buds and flowers
dried wormwood
dried sage leaves
a mortar and pestle
a heat proof bowl or dish (preferably earthen)
a charcoal block

You can use the herbs in equal amounts, or you can add a bit more lavender if you'd like to bring an increased sense of calm to your ritual (not to mention how lovely lavender smells), or more sage if you wish to ramp up the protective properties of this incense. Regardless of your choice of proportion, you'll want to grind the herbs somewhat. While they needn't be ground into a super fine powder, they shouldn't be left terribly coarse and twiggy. The wormwood will require a bit more effort to grind. You want your herbs to smolder nicely on your charcoal, with smoke curling gently in the air around you, and not smother the charcoal block.

Both of these incenses are wonderful. The bundle makes smudging on the move easier to manage while the ground incense is perfect for a quieter ritual in circle. Both offer powerful protection and purification.

Please note that cedar is poisonous and should not be taken internally so be sure to wash your hands well after handling it. White sage and wormwood are poisonous in large doses, should not be taken internally when pregnant and/or nursing and like cedar, care should be taken when handling them. And obviously, if you are allergic to any of these herbs or woods, please use common sense and don't use them!

Photo courtesy of tsallam on flickr.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rock Bottle Spell

I adore rocks of all shapes and sizes, so when I saw a version of this spell (that I've adapted a bit here) I was thrilled. I'm forever picking up rocks and bringing them home where they sit in dishes, are stored in little boxes, or sometimes even just sit in small piles on tables or the sideboard in the dining room. I don't think I've ever gone for even a short walk without bringing home at least a couple of rocks that have caught my eye. And for those who, like me, can't resist the lure of the rock but then find themselves living with more rocks than they know what to do with, at last we have a use for them. And because this spell is worked in a glass bottle, we can still enjoy looking at our precious finds in all their natural beauty.

What you'll need:
a glass jar of a fairly good size, with a lid
a beeswax candle in a color that symbolizes powerful positive energy and protection for you
a small amount of fresh, clean earth
rocks and stones of any size, color or shape (to be added one at a time as you acquire them)

Clean your jar thoroughly and dry it well. You can leave it out in the sun for a few hours to purify it afterwards if you'd like. Take the candle and light it. Hold it over your jar while clearly visualizing your intentions to have a home safe from negative energy or intruders, or simply to have a boost of positive powerful energy for your home and all who dwell in it. Drip the candle three or nine times (your choice) into the bottom of the jar while feeling this intention. Take the small amount of earth and place it in the bottom of the jar, over the beeswax. You should have about a half inch or so. You don't want to fill the jar with the soil, but you do want ample coverage of the bottom of the jar. This step not only brings the power of Mother Earth's energy into your spell and home, but also serves as protection from the glass breaking when you add the rocks. Place the jar near the front entrance of your home.

And now you add the rocks. You don't have to have a large amount to start this spell. You can begin it with just one rock and add more to fill your jar whenever you find one that speaks to you or that you find appealing to look at. There is no set time frame for this spell, but each time you add a new stone, you increase the strength of this spell and its power will continue to grow. In fact, there are some who believe that you shouldn't add more than one stone per day as a slow build in power is more desirable than rushing it. Whichever you choose, remember to add each stone one at a time and always speak this incantation with each addition:

Snare the evils, bring them woe,
Negative energy, out you go.
From this place you all are banned,
By my wishes, by my command.

Once the bottle has been filled and capped, you should touch the jar with your power hand once a week (or thereabouts) and repeat this incantation to reinforce the power of this spell. You may want to give it a quick touch as you come and go from your home too. This spell will not only keep your home safe, but will energize and revitalize those family members who live within the house (pets too).

Top photo courtesy of amber.hoishik on flickr.
Bottom photo courtesy of bkellya on flickr.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blueberry Muffins

There's something very childlike in picking berries on a hot summer day. Communing with nature aside, the very act of moving in and out of the underbrush searching for treasure and nibbling something sweet while doing it brings me back to my very young self growing up in the woods of Massachusetts and picking not only blueberries in the summer, but cranberries in an old abandoned bog in the autumn as well.

It's magickal to spend a couple of hours wandering through the woods, feeling the heat of the summer sun on the back of your neck, listening to the sounds of the trees as well as birds calling and insects humming, smelling the scent of a warm summer breeze in your nose and wearing berry-stained fingers from picking those berries that were just a bit past ripe. And if you don't eat all that you harvested before you get back home, there's always the kitchen magick of a pie or some muffins to enjoy and share with those you love.

BLUEBERRY MUFFINS makes 12 regular sized or 6 jumbo sized muffins

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups blueberries with 1/2 cup of these mashed with a fork (fresh wild berries are best but store bought or frozen will work just as well)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375f degrees. Grease and flour a muffin tin or use paper cups to line each cup. It's a good idea to lightly grease the areas between each cup as well so the edges of the muffin tops won't stick.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla, baking powder and salt. Mix the mashed berries into the batter. Add the flour, alternating with the milk and beat until mixed. Add whole berries and stir to mix completely.

Scoop batter into muffin cups and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown (larger muffins will take a bit longer). Let muffins cool for at least 30 minutes before you remove them from their pan.

Photo courtesy of digital-jenn on flickr.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


It is said that there is no white or black (as in magick) but only what is and that that is neither good nor evil. I, however, prefer to embrace the idea of duality: that there is both good and bad, positive and negative, black and white in all we see, think, feel and experience. It's always there, whether we're casting a spell and taking care to not overstep the bounds of kindness and respect for our fellow man and thus inadvertently send negative energy towards another, and it's there in the mundane, ordinary things we do every single day. Like when taking a simple walk on a summer's evening.

The other night I went for a walk with Griffin up the railroad tracks near my house. I hadn't been there in years so it was with some surprise that I realized I had forgotten that the wetland at the back of my property extends well into the woods and opens up into a lovely little river with lush greenery on either bank, a river that continues on under the tracks and beyond. The vines growing up the trees were a vivid green, the cat o' nine tails numbered in the hundreds and the purple loosestrife was electric in the setting sun. Catbirds called from the trees and there was a beaver dam, as well as several beavers doing their beavery things: splashing and playing in the water. It was an incredibly peaceful, potent scene and the two of us stood there quietly watching the beauty of it all from the tracks above before we continued on.

Just a few short yards beyond that idyllic eden and barely off the tracks into the woods we passed several tattered tents, garbage strewn about them in their tiny clearings, old shopping carts full of debris and several homeless people who, most unfortunately, call these shelters (that clearly barely keep out the elements) "home." And a few more yards down the tracks we passed still more makeshift homeless camps. Once again we found ourselves silenced by the scene before us.

I am a huge fan of junkyards and especially of the enormous pile of rusted, twisted metal bits that can always be found in one. And so it was with some joy that the tracks we walked passed by a junkyard that was in the process of ripping to bits (with heavy equipment) rusty old cars and then delicately placing the pieces upon the giant pyramid of metal. The noise was deafening and the metal simply fabulous to behold. And it got me thinking about the idea of dualism.

This walk was meant to be just a walk on a warm summer night. I didn't expect to see such powerful nature along the tracks nor did I expect to be rendered speechless by the evidence of the human suffering I witnessed as well. I watched rusty old metal being recycled into something new: something most people consider ugly, yet something I find beautiful. Even in the ordinary there is good and there is bad. And much of it is subjective; a personal trigger that sends us reeling in one direction or the other, and as it was in the case of my walk: both directions in quick succession. So take a moment in your day, as you do all those little insignificant things we all do every single day, and stay present. Really see what's before you and you might be surprised by just how many times you're presented with life's duality. Because that's how our wonderful universe balances itself. You can't have one without the other. Watch and see.

Photo courtesy of _SMadsen on flickr.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Rigs o' Barley

It was on a Lammas night,
When corn rigs are bonie,
Beneath the moon's unclouded light,
I held away to Annie:
The time flew by, wi' tentless heed,
Till 'tween the late and early;
Wi' sma' persuasion she agreed
To see me thro' the barley.

Corn rigs, an' barley rigs,
an' corn rigs are bonie:
I'll ne'er forget that happy night,
Among the rigs wi' Annie.

The sky was blue, the wind was still,
The moon was shining clearly;
I set her down, wi' right good will,
Amang the rigs o' barley
I ken't her heart was a' my ain;
I lov'd her most sincerely;
I kissed her owre and owre again,
Among the rigs o' barley.


I locked her in my fond embrace;
Her heart was beating rarely:
My blessings on that happy place,
Amang the rigs o' barley.
But by the moon and stars so bright,
That shone that hour so clearly!
She ay shall bless that happy night,
Amang the rigs o' barley.


I hae been blythe wi' comrades dear;
I hae been merry drinking;
I hae been joyfu' gath'rin gear;
I hae been happy thinking:
But a' the pleasures e'er I saw,
Tho three times doubl'd fairley
That happy night was worth then a'.
Amang the rigs o' barley.


-Robert Burns, May 25, 1777

Photo of a Scottish barley field courtesy of tubblesnap on flickr.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lammas Lore

Lammas is definitely not my favorite sabbat, due mostly to the fact that it's usually scorchingly hot here which leaves one with little energy to devote to a celebration. But that doesn't mean I won't be baking loaves of wheat and multi-grain breads in honor of the day (despite the torture of turning on my oven on a really hot day), though I probably won't be doing much else. That said, like any of the sabbats, if you look deep enough you'll always find some truly odd bits of lore that are much darker than our modern observances, and that makes any festival day more interesting.

We may celebrate Lammas with the baking of grain bread or the making of corn dollies but the ancients celebrated it much differently. Thinking of marrying someone but not sure you're ready to commit your life to them? Tradition holds that you may begin a "trial marriage" on Lammas that lasts but a year and a day, ending on the following Lammas, at which point you must then decide whether to stay in the marriage permanently or kick your temporary partner to the curb.

Sacrifices have always been a part of the observation of this sabbat, not only to thank the Goddess and the God for abundances past, but also to ensure that the coming harvest will be a success and thus enable ourselves and our loved ones to survive the winter. At one time it would have been the king, god incarnate to his people, who was sacrificed, but with a substitute used in place of the actual king. In the year 1100, however, King William II after having publicly declared his disdain for Christianity and declaring himself a pagan, was killed in a suspicious hunting accident on August 1. Historians believe that his was a sacrifice in disguise for the benefit of the Christian church.

And then, of course, there's the Catherine Wheel. After the day's festivities were over, a large wagon wheel would have been taken to the top of the nearest hill, covered with tar, set ablaze and ceremoniously rolled down the hill into the village. This was symbolic of the sun or the Sun God himself in decline as autumn approaches.

I plan on keeping my husband well past next week and without any sacrifices or flaming wheels, my Lammas will undoubtedly be pretty boring. I do look forward to some lovely loaves of homemade bread though. Whatever you choose to do for the sabbat, rejoice in the passing of one season and welcome the coming of the next.

Photo of wheat courtesy of k.barker on flickr.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


"That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything—every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate—is always changing, moment to moment."

And so too is this blog. To be perfectly honest, I don't handle change well. I like the familiar and the wonderfully comfortable and I'd be thrilled if a great deal of my life never changed so much as one iota from day to day or even year to year. Granted, this is odd coming from someone who finds the changing of the seasons and the cycles of the earth so beautiful to experience, but I don't need to personally fret over the details of Mother Earth because I'm not in control of her. I am however in control of my blogs, or so I thought at any rate, and as such I tend to fuss over every last little thing because I'm a perfectionist in addition to being willingly and blissfully stuck in a rut.

The other day, in a very uncharacteristic moment, I thought it might be fun to change my blog. Then I remembered what a pain in the ass I am and decided it would be far less stressful to just let it be. So, it was with great annoyance, as well as quite a bit of surprise at the timing, that I received a note today informing me that the website from which I had gotten my background templates for two of my three blogs is shutting down and I had only a few hours to either find something new or find myself with two hideously plain blogs. And after hours of test-driving templates, I have come up with nothing I truly like. I'm not terribly fond of this gray, but as I'm not a frou-frou kind of girl, finding something simple isn't easy. I miss my warm orange blog. I miss the earthy colors I had grown so used to. I find this gray rather depressing, but in trying to roll with it, I'm going to take a lesson from the Buddha: "Nothing stays the same so get over it already" (obviously, I'm paraphrasing here). And one day, hopefully soon, I'll find the template that warms my heart once more. And it might not be gray.

Many thanks to the incredible Pema Chodron for that quote.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Essential Oils

Lately I seem to be on an essential oil bender. I'm adding to my collection of them at an alarming rate and I'm enjoying reading up on the properties of the various oils and what they can do for me magickally. Frankly, I'm having more fun with this than any witch should be allowed to have.

I'm dabbling with recipes for rituals, magickal purposes and even for anointing candles that I plan to make come fall when the weather isn't nearly so scorching. Many years ago I made my own pillars and hand-dipped tapers in hand mixed colors that made my heart skip a little beat to look at them, and now with all these enchanting scents I'm collecting, I'll be able to make them smell equally as beautiful. But I digress...

Here is a very brief list of some of my current favorites, but trust me, at the speed I am going, this personal hit parade of mine is sure to change before you can even bat an eye.

Frankincense. A staple in any essential oil collection. Rich, with incredible depth, it's used for enhancing spirituality and meditative states.

Jasmine. This is the oil of the moon and the dark of the night. A sensual and heady scent used for love, peace and spirituality blends. Very expensive but worth the price when used sparingly.

Lemon. Another moon oil that smells simply delicious. This is a purifying and healing oil. Scott Cunningham suggests wearing diluted lemon oil during the full moon to attune with its energies.

Patchouli. My all-time favorite scent, and if you saw how many boxes of patchouli stick incense I go through annually, you'd probably be shocked. An incredibly earthy scent, this oil is used for physical energy blends. Oddly, I find it very calming. And I like to think that this is what heaven (or summerland, if you prefer) will smell like.

Sandalwood. Ancient and sacred, this oil raises spiritual vibrations, and is very calming and healing. Rich and woody.

Yarrow (see previous post for more on yarrow). Yarrow essential oil is a very pretty shade of blue, smells heavenly and is very expensive. Use it in love and courage spells as well as psychic-enhancing blends.

Photo courtesy of Helena Liu on flickr.