Sunday, October 9, 2016


Pagans and witches talk a lot about power: power over self and how to bend things to our will. We use visualization and mind over matter, meditation and focusing. Some of us also talk a lot about using the power of the Elements or Nature to satisfy our desires and create change. But do we ever actually focus on seeking and accepting grace? Occultists don't talk about grace too often, but I feel it's an important part of our magickal development.

A few dictionary definitions of grace is to dignify, honor, favor, enhance, ennoble, glorify, elevate, improve. Do you have any more to add? I do.

Sitting in silence is grace. Listening to rain. Hearing crickets singing in the grass. The changing colors of Autumn, animals at home and in the wild. Laughing and mirth. Being of one accord within the Circle. Finding your tribe. Good conversation. Just being alive and being appreciative you are.

Recognizing grace is a form of gratitude, and one of the things that empowers us to speak gratitude.
From what I am seeing in the community, it seems to me that we are loosing our ability to humble ourselves. There is way too much bragging about our magickal abilities, especially when it concerns "being messed with". It sounds to me very much like a child taking a tantrum. Is it really necessary to seek retribution for every perceived slight? I don't think so. Real strength is letting most of it to slid off and not being knocked off course. There are other mundane ways of settling a score-ways that don't include magick. Running for our BOS for every little thing is being lazy. (I'm not talking about when your are actually harmed or threatened, then a working for protection is not unreasonable.) Being humble is not belittling ourselves, rather, it is knowing who we are and being open to learning more-because we don't know it all, and we never will. Knowledge of the Craft is infinite.

Being open and yearning to know the lessons of the Universe, elevating your personal vibration, connecting with the gods is a state of grace. We don't often think of it that way...but it is. Grace is not specific to one religious tradition and it is not church- speak; it is recognizing a gift and expressing thanks for that gift.

True power does not involve influencing the behavior of others or the course of events (once again, not when actually threatened with harm). It is not about control or authority. It is not an ego boost. It is not mastery over others. It is about using your abilities to benefit and heal. It's about acting with discernment. It about  self-mastery, asking for and accepting needed change in yourself....and being open to grace when it appears in our lives.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Magickal Fall Food

Porchetta Sandwich
Image via Google
One of the many reasons I love this time of year is the food, which is often savory and substantial. There is nothing like a big pot of soup, chili, or a casserole on a cool Fall day!

Of my favorites in particular is Porketta (various spellings, according to region),a rich, fragrant version of pulled pork cooked in it's own juices with the addition of garlic, onion, black pepper,dill and rosemary. It can be slow roasted or cooked in a crock pot (my choice) Because it's  the au jus is heavenly when done in a crock pot, I skim the fat(put it in the fridge overnight and just lift the fatty layer off) and use the broth for soup later. If there is any left, it can be changed up by the addition of BBQ sauce, vinegar and spices, or made into chili- and of course, there is the aforementioned soup: add tomatoes and other vegetables, and noodles for a hearty Autumn treat. Serving pork around Samhain takes on the quality of abundance and agriculture of the pig. Pigs were associated with Ceridwen and Phaedra, who were both moon goddesses. The pig is also representative of the Mother Goddess. The addition of onions, garlic and herbs imparts the corresponding vibrations of these to the dish.

And speaking of can tailor your magickal intentions through the adjustment of  whatever vegetables, herbs and spices are put into the pot. It's important to make your intention as specific as possible when making soup as part of a spell. Speak your intention as you add ingredients to the soup, and when it is done your can 'take in' the energies of the ingredients. As an added bonus, the aroma of the open kettle sends the intention to the gods you are petitioning for assistance. Soup is magick at it's finest,which can also be said of stews.

I also a lot of apples during the season. They are delicious when baked with cinnamon and allspice (protection and psychic awareness). A little sugar adds sweetness ( think honey jar). Apples themselves are a food of mystics: they are known as the Fruit of the Underworld, Fruit of the Gods,Fruit of Love-and when used near Samhain, they are a part of the Feast of the Dead. I love apples baked with raisins, cinnamon, butter and brown sugar, either whole or cut up.

Seasonal vegetables such as squash and pumpkins are associated with lunar magick (because of their round shapes). Squash are representative of plenty because they grow in multiples. The subtle flavors of these vegetables combine well with other ingredients and amplify their vibrations. Baked squash with sausage or cheese is delicious. I usually bake a small hollowed-out pumpkin stuffed with venison, wild rice, onions, garlic and seasonings this time of year.

Many delicious teas can be made from dried herbal ingredients and edible flowers (check to be absolutely sure they are not poisonous before using!) Sweeten with agave or honey for a lovely evening treat.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention bread at this point. Please refer to these two posts for further reading:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Death Becomes Us

I save my new, shiny pennies to take along when I visit the local cemetery. As I walk among the graves, if I happen to notice a presence or hear something, I push a penny down deep into the ground near the headstone as an acknowledgement of the communication. Some people leave coins on the headstone, some leave pebbles and it's not unusual,especially in the South, to leave small figurines,notes,pinwheels and all manner of decoration at the grave site. And of course there are always flowers and flags. There are endless superstitions and taboos concerning death and burial practices, and I'd like to share a few in this post since we're entering a season when the subject is on everyone's mind.

Often we leave tokens of our affection because we're still grieving, or as a way to show our love and how much the deceased are missed. It's a world wide phenomenon which crosses the boundaries of societies, cultures and religions. Individual graves are enhanced by the addition of memorial lights-hanging candle holders lit by candles, small solar-powered crosses or lights placed by the headstone for various reasons: to hold eternal vigil is the most popular reason.

At the approach of death, all the windows and doors of the house were thrown open so as not to impede the fleeing spirit on it journey to the afterlife. Bells were rung nine times as someone actively died, and tolled the same number of times as they lived. Family members sometimes attempted to inhale the last breath of the dying or catch it in a bottle to preserve his/her essence. Candles were lit so the deceased was not frightened by the dark, clocks were stopped at the moment of death in respect, and mirrors were turned toward the wall so the spirit would not become confused and trapped in them. Tables were set one last time to include the deceased. Their clothes were washed separately, Speaking ill of the dead was ill will. Animals are believed to have precognition; interestingly, President Lincoln's dog ran wildly around the White House howling shortly before his assassination. Animals have also been known to grieve the loss of a master or mistress, refusing to leave the grave.

Most coffins are placed with the head in an easterly direction, a tradition originating from the Christian belief that Jesus will return in the East to call his followers to him. Many cemeteries do so now out of habit. The sunny South side of any church yard is preferred over the colder North, which in bygone days was reserved for criminals and suicides. The landscaping and development of huge memorial parks has made this a moot point. There is an old belief that a newly dig grave should never be left open over a Sunday, or someone else will die to fill it. Modern day burial practices have remedied this by the grave being covered as part of the procedure of digging. Walking or stepping over a grave was unlucky (and disrespectful). Using headstones for anything other than its intended purpose, especially in building, is believed to cause the building to collapse. Roads and walkways made from purloined headstones will wash out. Accidents will happen repeatedly in that place until the stones are removed.

In an earlier time, it was believed that the most recently buried person was assigned to watch over the grave yard until another burial took place: this spirit was known as a church yard watcher. Other superstitious beliefs included one in which the soul of the first person buried in a new cemetery belonged to the Devil, and because of this often an animal was substituted to become the first burial. In other instances, fake funerals took place in the hope of curing diseases (particularly in cases of children during the 19th century). Especially in the British Isles, a death was often foretold by the appearance of a animal such as a crow, cat or dog. Spirits of the dead were seen to portend a death, and the dying often sees a deceased loved one whom they believe to be welcoming them to the afterlife. It was a matter of custom that when a death took place the person was buried with their Bible, prayer book or other sacred belongings.

There is an old German superstition that if the death of a person was mistakenly announced it added an extra 10 years were added to their life. Coal miners refuse to return to work after the death of a colleague during an accident until he has been buried. Sailors are particularly uncomfortable when a dead body is present aboard ship. As an unusual contradiction of logic, it is said that touching a corpse brings good luck and relieves nightmares. And the corpse of a murder victim will bleed if touched by the murderer at a funeral.

Bodies should be buried intact and whole,because it is believed that the dead individual would not be accepted into Heaven. Because of this, people were known to save any teeth they had pulled to add to the box when they were buried. In a previous era bodies were buried from the home by family and friends and this lead to the custom of keeping vigil with the corpse until it was laid to rest. The keeping of a 'wake' is legendary in Irish lore, and those attending usually had a final tribute drink (or more likely several) with the deceased. The body was buried feet first, the reverse of entering life, so the ghost would not return.

In my great-grandparents' time there was a belief that no farmer should plough near the edge of a graveyard, lest the crops die or the act bring bad luck. Likewise, there was no digging near a grave for fear of unleashing a vengeful spirit or disturbing the dead. Exhuming or moving a grave was also risky business.

Thanatology- the scientific study of death and practices surrounding it-is a fascinating subject. Every culture, ethnic group and religious tradition has its own customs and taboos. The transition from Life to Dead is not only a rite of passage, but a subject I feel is vitally important for everyone to explore...after all, we all depart this common life when we die.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

It's a Little Early,But Let's Talk About Halloween and Samhain...

It's a little early, but let's talk about Halloween...mainly what it is and isn't.

When I was growing up Halloween was a night of wonder and magic. For one thing,we kids were allowed to go around the neighborhood collecting treats without an adult if someone's older brother or sister was along.We felt special and the night had a slightly dangerous edge to it; the danger was all in our imaginations-at least that's how it used to be. No one dressed up like a serial killer, or politician, and if we managed to score a Collegeville costume of a nurse, police officer or G.I Joe, well...let's just say we ruled in the cool department.

Somewhere along the mid 70s things began to change. Costumes with the hard plastic mask disappeared and the characters got bloody: gore became a thing. Decorations changed, too with the introduction of vinyl severed body parts and plastic window clings. The inexpensive paper euphemial hang-up skeletons disappeared in favor of more realistic-and expensive-fare.

My childhood Halloween included homemade cookies, slices of cake, and mini cups of cider. A candy apple or popcorn ball was a major score. Much of the candy and gum we got was loose and some of it wasn't even wrapped. We went inside people's houses to see their decorations and if our parents were along, they chatted amicably with neighbors. It was all pretty much over in and hour or so and then everyone in the neighborhood went to the firehouse for a community Halloween party.  Afterward we went home, emptied our loot bags and went to bed because more than likely it was a school night even if it were Halloween.We were home snug in bed before the Witching Hour. No one was afraid of getting tainted candy or poisoned apples. There were no weird clowns lurking by the roadside or other nefarious characters up to no good. It was all good, clean fun-there were no extremist Christians bellowing about it being Satan's Day and no one got possessed by evil spirits just for dressing up and collecting candy on a day made for innocent fun and frolic.

Because I am now a practicing witch (and don't just dress up like one as I did as a kid), I celebrate Samhain as well as the half octave of days made up as Mischief Night, All Hallows, All Saints and All Souls, this time of year has a new and deeper meaning. Samhain, as Summer's end, is the final harvest of Autumn and the time when the Veil is fully open between this world and the Afterlife. I welcome my beloved friends and relatives who have made their transition at my home Dumb Supper and by meditating to bring them closer. I decorate my ancestor altar with as many photos of them as possible and a few of the things that hold their memory dear to me. This includes photos of the many pets I've had throughout my life and my much loved familiar Tinker. I write regrets from the previous year and burn them, then bury the ashes. I make a batch of Samhain oil to use for spirit communication in the year that lies ahead, and a special incense blend to use over the next few days because I also celebrate astrological Samhain on November 7th (which just happens to be my late grandparent's wedding anniversary,too). Every year is different because I always find something else to add to the ritual. At the end of the night, after I have cast a protective circle, I sit in silence and listen for the voices of my ancestor's and the Mighty Dead. I ask to communicate with them in my dreams,too, or if I can stay awake until morning, I bid those who have crossed over for a visit farewell and godspeed.

While the two holidays are intertwined and difficult to separate, each has its own distinctive character. I love them both!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What The Pagan Public Will Allow

Pagans are generally a tolerant bunch. My personal interaction within the community overall has been positive. I suspect this is because I consider myself to be a freethinker-but I have my limits.

Having said that, I draw a line just short of Gavin and Yvonne Frost and their version of Wicca, which includes ritual sex with minors. If by chance you are unaware of the fact that sex with a minor is against the law, not only is a crime, it also has corruption of a minor as an accompanying charge in most cases, and a few others as well, depending on the jurisdiction. Not only do we not need this sort of thing in Paganism from a public relations standpoint,it's legally and ethically wrong.

Minors cannot give legal consent to have sex, period. There is no valid argument in favor of this sort of activity, despite adjurations that it's just ancient history. While historical accounts of sex with minors do indeed exist, and it was considered morally acceptable in that period, it is a part of the past which is socially unacceptable in our present time. No amount of backpedaling or psychobabble paints this activity as acceptable in modern Pagan culture. More of us should be speaking out about and against it.

I personally believe placing it in the context of ritual is deplorable and heinous as well. We cannot and should not condone or tolerate this, even in a culture of freethinking or in the name of religious belief.

I disagree with those who think that Paganism means "Anything goes". There are ethical boundaries in every culture and religion. I think we should stand for something and not fall for anything that comes along without discernment. "Live and let live" stops here. Reprehensible behavior of any kind should not be tolerated in our community because what we allow defines who we are.

Gavin Frost made his transition recently, and while I wish him well in the next life, I think he may have a few things to explain about his beliefs to the God/ess of his understanding. I extend my sincere condolences to his loved ones...but I cannot and will not condone his behavior and will not support those who continue the reprehensible abuse of children and teenagers.

For further reading, I suggest you read this spot on blog post by Shauna Aura Knight at Pagan Activist which pretty much says it all for me:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hello Newbies!

So you want to be a Witch. Well, that's just fine...But are you sure?

Because this isn't going to be easy. It's going to take a lot of study and practice. It's going to be a lot of trial and error and things are going to go slowly at the beginning, because you're going to have to establish a personal rapport with the Natural world. It takes time and effort. Things that work for others may not work for you, and I will guarantee that they will not work for you in the same way as they work for others...because we all have different energy. We all vibrate on an individually unique level. Establishing that relationship with the forces of Nature is crucial to your success in using magick. This isn't Charmed or Practical Magic where you throw a fireball at an opponent to disable them. It doesn't work that way; being a Witch doesn't employ Hollywood special effects.

One does not simply sit down one day and decide to be a Witch. Calling yourself a Witch, plopping a pointy hat on your head, donning a flowing cape and carrying a broom doesn't make you a Witch
(although those things are all fun outward signs of such). Reading one-or fifty- books on Witchcraft doesn't make you a Witch. Knowledge and use of those things unseen is what makes you a Witch.
That's why Witchcraft is called the Craft of the Wise. .You must acquire knowledge and skill, which only comes with practice and putting what you have learned to use in everyday life. There are no shortcuts; I've been a practitioner for nearly 45 years now, and I'm still learning because Witchcraft is an art and process. I didn't learn everything I know straight away, and in fact when I began I didn't even have a name for what I was doing. I certainly never dreamed that it was Witchcraft. And because I had no mentor back in those years, I never dreamed that the little things I was doing were actually spell casting or ritual. I did things intuitively, in a place that felt safe, secluded away from others, where I felt close to Nature, and where Nature returned my efforts with the gift of powers to perfect and use. I always felt different from others in that way: not special, just different. And my inherent feeling turned out to be true: I had the ability to use the energy and forces of Nature in ways that were beyond the mundane. Nothing spectacular and flashy, mind you...but they were there. My ability grew as I studied on my own and finally with a group of like minded individuals who had their own unique set of abilities.

Finding the power in the forces of the natural world requires concentration and attunement in order to become sensitive to the vibrations around you. Some of us are better than others at this, but I believe that all humans are born with their own level of sensitivity, and that the majority of us loose this as we age due to the outside influences of society and culture. It's much like childhood imagination which simply goes away in some individuals...and thrives in others.

Back to those books...A book, any book, is not ever the 'end-all' because books should be used for a reference. I have a few books I favor because I like the author's style of writing and the way they disseminate information, but none of those books or authors are the final word or authority on any one given subject on magick or Witchcraft. And while those authors can be considered as teachers when no other is available even one-on-one teachers are merely guides. The power begins with you and comes from inside; books and teachers are vessels that help release the power within. Books are the spark of imagination that make you think; but the power has been yours all along. That's why you should never become so attached to a book ( or author) in a way that limits your practice. Like using a map or GPS when driving, you use other things when making the journey: your eyes and intuition and what is around you. Maps are used for reference. Sometimes the GPS takes you off course. It's the same with books.

While I have a deep and abiding regard for tradition, I am not a student of the "stand here and do this" school of magick. You can do things your own way (within reason), and to be honest, none of the really good authors or actual teachers I have studied with have demanded rigid compliance to instruction. Nearly all of them allow 'wiggle room' for individuality, and in fact most encourage it. Doing things rigidly 'by the book is', in my humble opinion, only a poor imitation of what someone else has done. I believe that not only does the power lie within you, I believe that the energy comes from the essence of what you are doing. I am a firm believer in putting yourself into your work and personalizing it-re-write a spell  to suit your intention, make substitutions, use tools you are comfortable with, dress comfortably. The knowledge of correspondences and herbs, etc., are all still necessary, but so is learning to use them in new and unique ways. The magick doesn't come from these things. The magick is you. ( There are many schools of thought on the subject of magick and this is only mine. You may like someone else's, or develop your own.) My own thoughts on the subject are if the information you are using has no real resonance with you, then it's essentially useless. Others believe differently. I think it goes back to that respect for tradition I spoke about earlier. For me, Witchcraft, like everything in our world, has evolved and changed over the years. What was useful back in an age when occult knowledge was hidden from the general population was like that for a reason which may still hold value, but our world is not the same, and we develop new understanding all the time.

In the beginning, Witches and cunning folk used what was available to them. They wrote their own words and conjured spells in a way that was personal and meaningful to themselves. The energies available to them came from the vibration and essence of those things. That's why their magick worked. That's how they used the Universal forces of Nature to their benefit. That's what made them who they were. And so can you!

Before I end this little pep talk, I do want to say something about negative elements. You may have heard about the Law of Return, that "whatever you put out come back to you three times". Phyllis Currot, a respected Wiccan High Priestess and author, charmingly calls it the "Boomerang Whammy Rule". It has to do more with the Hindu belief in karma than anything to do with magick. Nature is neither good nor evil. Dark and light need one another (Stars still shine in the daylight but are only seen at night). Universal energy is neither positive or negative but is receptive to the manner in which it is used. Why? Because through magick we experience immanent divinity. We literally touch God/dess and become one with the Divine and that gives us an experience of the interconnections of, well, everything. Even that nasty jackass down the street you'd like to turn into a toad. It changes your perspective. I'm not saying that witches never hex and curses are never laid-but they have their place and are used with caution because usually there is another way of handling the situation resulting in a beneficial outcome for all. No, it's not all sweetness and light, but it's too easy to get caught up by negative emotions which eat at you and will surely influence your practice in ways you'd probably regret. We don't not use negative energy because we're afraid of the repercussions, we learn ways of turning it around by finding something more effective that makes our work in tune with the holiness of the Sacred Divine. That's a lot for a beginner to think about, but everyone of us needs to do this at some point for our abilities to develop usefully.

And so...It's not about calling yourself a Witch...It's about what you want to do with the inherent birthright that is the use of personal power and the elevation of your unique vibration. Do you want to go about like the characterization of a fictional Witch, or do you want to genuinely practice the Craft of the Wise? The next move is yours... 

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Clean Sweep With A New Broom

Can you feel it? Even though we're a few weeks away from the  Equinox that designates the Autumn season, there is a vibration growing closer. It's coming from that place where the Veil is thinnest, heralding the sabbat of Samhain.

But before Samhain, there will be Fall. While most of use will be in the mindset that Fall is the end, many Pagan folk believe it's a beginning-our version of New Year according to the ancient Celtic calendar. It's true the leaves will soon be turning color and dying (actually, they have already begun to turn here), a parallel  to the mythic story of the Dying God. Either the year ends with a spectacular blaze of orange, yellow and red glory, or it begins with one...depending on your personal belief. Some traditions celebrate Pagan New Year on October 31 and some at Yule (December 21); others wait to celebrate with the rest of the world and have a Happy New Year on January 1, when Janus looks back at the old year and forward into the new. Personally, it doesn't matter- as long as I get a nice, long period of cool nights, morning frost and a million colored leaves.

For me, Autumn is the time to make a clean sweep with a new broom-literally and figuratively. I start cleaning a few days prior to the Equinox because that's when I  begin to put out the seasonal decorations. I wash windows, clean the cobwebs out of the unseen corners, and give all the floors a good solid scrubbing. There are some cleaning agents I am particularly fond of, but for magickal purposes I use either white vinegar or Florida Water. Both clear out negative vibrations. I follow that by smudging my whole living area with white sage, being sure to get the smoke into all the little nooks and crevices by gently fanning  it with a feather or blowing. Afterward I move all the furniture back into place and tidy up. Clutter blocks energy by trapping it. Cleaning and de-cluttering opens up the energy of a space.

At this time of year I try to have a few folks over for a quiet Harvest celebration consisting of finger foods and mulled wine or cider. Of course apple and pumpkin based recipes are traditional, but anything fruity or earthy will do. I love making a spread for nut bread out of creamed cheese and dates; simply blend the two together, adding a little white wine or apple juice if it's too thick. A bit of nutmeg, and it's ready to spread. I especially like to make apple cake for this kind of evening event, it's wholesome and expresses the Autumn theme ( I add black walnuts and a little rum glaze to mine).
The celebration itself is more of a gratitude circle than a harvest festival: in a cast circle we give thanks for friendship and each other and share light refreshments. We talks about our lives, and about all the new people in them....and we aren't afraid to laugh and tell stories about those who have gone across the Veil before us. In fact, we call them in as a part of the circle casting, leaving a gate for them to enter and leave at will. Sometimes we sing, or use this time as an introduction to a potluck dinner. We keep the lights low after we close the circle, drink more wine, and talk about our plans for the rest of the year. It's truly a celebration of friendship.

Because Autumn is an ending and a beginning, I try to purge my life of things that no longer serve me, especially material items I've outgrown and bad memories. I take in that which is new and different and makes me happy and incorporate it into my everyday. If this includes new items, they can be blessed and/or dedicated. I like to bless and anoint new altar tools at this time. In these days- because when I am alone I stretch this celebration out as long as I can-I do card readings for myself,skry and use my pendulum as a presage of what is to come. I write out what I get from these mediums and analyze it into what my Jungian training calls, " The best story", that is, what is the most positive outcome. This is also a good time to cast runes or bones.

I love to collect dew from the morning frost because it's a natural form of water; I use it to wash my house crystals. Afterward I take them to my personal altar and dedicate them to their specific work for the season ( I do this after every sabbat, but you can dedicate them for the year or however long you like). I also collect fallen acorns and oak leaves to decorate and use in later spellcasting. This is the time of year when I find the most feathers when out for walks in the woods around my home. I also collect seeds and pods ( even if I'm not familiar with them-I identify them later. Be careful of collecting potentially poisonous specimens and wash your hands thoroughly after handling them).

And do burn some wood! There is nothing like the smell of burning wood; pine and hardwoods are my favorite. (Again-know what you're collecting and do not include any woody parts of poisoned ivy or sumac, which can also spread their poisonous properties through smoke.) By burning wood you are combining all of the elements" earth, air, fire and water (even dry woods has some moisture in it contained in any remaining sap deposit that will liquefy in the heat). Remember to be mindful with fire tending and have some way to extinguish the flames on hand such as a bucket of fine earth or water. You may also collect the ashes and find a use for them later ( I am not a wasteful Witch!)

You may even try your hand at creating the physical representation of that 'new broom' by cutting some little twigs and binding them to a small branch with inexpensive twine. I have use the bush parts of marigold plants; the broom is temporary and can be burned in a larger fire at Samhain. Use your imagination!