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 llewellyn.com.

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.