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