Monday, June 17, 2013

On Being Pagan

We live in a constantly evolving Universe.  Change goes on within and all around us all the time. We are forever in a state of flux. Our personal beliefs and cosmologies change. I don't see  things in exactly the same way that I did 20 years ago because I'm a different person today than I was then. Things change, and that's okay. Because really? In the larger scheme of things  we don't have a choice in the matter. Acceptance of that tiny fact is the first step to integration and growth.
Depending on whatever new I learn, my opinion about people, situations and how things are  re-formulated. My thoughts about things evolves as I incorporate new knowledge into my understanding.  I am not the same person I was even five minutes ago on a molecular level. The world is not the same as it was yesterday. This is factual and born out by the saying" The Truth is not what you see, but what you believe about what you see." Your  viewpoint isn't the truth, but it is your truth. Belief is merely an assumption.

Pagans (for the most part) are particularly analytical people. We are experts at deconstruction. What it seems we aren't very good at is knowing the difference between authentic examination and tearing things apart-including and especially, each other. This, in my humble opinion, is why we have the same conversations over and over about defining who is Pagan and who gets to play in our sandbox. And I have to admit, I often wonder why this is so important to know in order to determine what we stand for morally and ethically. I suppose there is an argument about knowing who you are before undertaking an action, but personally,  I believe right action should take place no matter who you are.

Talking about whether we engage in right action because we are human or because we are spiritual is a chicken versus egg argument. To quote Buckminister Fuller, " We're all passengers on Spaceship Earth." [ ]. The compassion we have for one another, especially for the suffering of others, and the way in which we respond in helping them to come out of that suffering is something that stems from empathy. We relate to how it feels because we can put ourselves in that place. In that instance, what we call ourselves doesn't matter. By nature, humans are helpers at our most basic level; that's the way we are wired. We have a need to serve in the most beneficial and satisfying way for others and ourselves. While that may be influenced by our spiritual beliefs, for the most part it comes out of a concern for the welfare of others and the way we would like to be treated. Altruism is two sided and not entirely selfless: yes, we do want to help others, but in turn, should the need arise,we hope to be helped ourselves. The majority of us ascribe to the moral and societal rules of common decency, regardless of whether or not we believe in the existence of a deity.

In other words, it's not who you are, it's what you do that makes a difference in the world. To be perfectly blunt, the only person who should care about who you worship, or how you go about it is YOU.    It's not my place to tell you whether or not you are a Pagan. It's none of my business, because, you see...I don't care. Truly, I don't. I don't care if you venerate Wonder Woman as the Goddess, or believe the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz are angelic messengers, or see Imminent Divinity in the Titans.

If you do, then that's fine with me. You don't have to fit my personal definition of what is and isn't  Deity, and you don't have to buy into mine. As it's so often said,we can agree to disagree. I have enough on my plate dealing with defining and forming my own personal theology. I practice as I choose, when I am lead to do so by Spirit. I really don't owe any explanation of who or what I see as Divine, and I certainly have no need to justify my spiritual practice. I don't seek or need  the validation of others [].  Take it and accept me for who I am or leave it and walk away. ( The only time I will call bullshit is if I see someone irrefutably  ripping someone else off).

You would  think  that as often  as  we have this conversation in our living rooms or  in the pub, the subject of "Who-is-and-isn't-a-Pagan" would  be a non-issue to the majority of  us by now.   I recognize that our community has exploded in numbers in recent years and there are a lot of new-comers at the table who may need to sort things out, but what I'm seeing isn't limited to that kind of spiritual formation. What I'm seeing is not only a lack of tolerance for diversity, it's exclusivity. It's widely understood that the word 'Pagan' is an umbrella term covering the many traditions and varieties of serving the gods. [ttp://] There are no membership  rules for who gets to join the 'club'.  So frankly, when I see someone appoint themselves as a gatekeeper for the community, I do think we need to react and disabuse the individual of that notion swiftly...Kudos to those who have done this respectably, such as  Jason Mankey [ ] and the collective at Pagan Activist  []. You can ask questions about someone's spirituality without questioning their practice.

Because, you see, as I've said before, it's my path, and I'll travel it my way, thank you very much.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Making Medicine

Bighorn Medicine Wheel, Wyoming
Originally posted as Week M of the Pagan Blog Project 2013
In the general culture of the First People (aka Native Americans), medicine is defined as the spiritual and magical power of persons, items, and activities. Medicine is recognized as a gift of Spirit; Medicine Makers are imbued with this power through their totem animals, empowered objects, or a vision. Often the power is passed by a shaman or healer to their student, or a familial or tribal elder. The power and use of making medicine is usually demonstrated through the link to its source, that is, its origin. There are specific forms of medicine for events ( such as False Face Medicine for the Iroquois Longhouse Ceremony); or connected to totems (Bear Medicine,etc.); activities (healing,divination,hunting); rites of passage (Corn Maiden,vision quests) and myth and lore according to culture (kachinas,emergence myths). Medicine, when understood this way is more of a concept than a word.

Directly connected to these things are the creation of medicine societies, their purpose usually reflected by a specific type of esoteric knowledge held by its members for protection, healing or some other contribution to the tribal community. Membership in these societies is gained through linage, clan, election, or by one who has received healing in some manner [].

The act of making medicine is as diverse as there are methods. A particular  ritual which comes to mind immediately in pop culture involves the use of the hallucinogenic peyote cactus, a polemic ceremony practiced as a sacrament in the Native American Church. []. Though peyote ceremonies vary from group to group, the goal of connecting with deity and the rite of spiritual communion is always the same. It should be noted here that when this fairly new rite was first being practiced, it was viewed with disfavor among many traditional medicine men, as a possible detraction to their indigenous spiritual practice. A generation later, many of those same practitioners had themselves become "Roadmen", and the peyote ceremony was seen as just another form of road-opening ritual[,%20reduced.pdf].  Other forms of making medicine involves bundles or bags filled with stones,herbs,fur, hair and nail trimmings,feathers-nearly anything relative to the magick desired to be activated.  Medicine bundles can be fore any purpose: petition, offering, or to simply show supplication. A unique application of this tool is the despacho medicine bundle which originated in the Andean culture, but has been adapted by North American tribes and even Pagans []. The Navajo Blessingway is a creation story, illustrated by the making of mountain soil bundles (soil from the four sacred mountain placed upright in a basket []. Another common name for a medicine bundle is a jish.

Activation of the medicine being made is at times a rite unto itself. The secretive Green Corn Dance of the Seminole in Florida is an instance of this [].
Another is the famous Medicine Wheel, an arrangement of stones where meditation, song and dance are performed in a designated place of power throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn mountains of Wyoming has been maintained by one tribe or another since it was built 300-800 years ago. It is the keystone of a complex of archaeological areas, each designated to a specific form of spiritual/magickal practice. It is also an astrological calendar in the same form as Stonehenge
[]. Medicine Wheels can be reflective of various energies. They can be used as a magickal circle, or as a sacred space to honor the powers of Creation. Like a labyrinth, each direction of a medicine wheel can be "walked", it's stones asked to lend their animistic power to your question.  They can be used as a type of shrine where offerings of tobacco or cornmeal are made. It is an excellent place for meditation on life's uncertainties, or can be a conduit between the worlds. The grounding energies of the stones will allow you to gather your discoveries and reflections, giving clarity to any problem you may bring into the circle. Every successive visit to the Medicine Wheel will provide you with insight and a new perspective of your thoughts.

Each of us have the gift of personal medicine; it is the spiritual quality that which makes us who we are. e
Medicine, as viewed by the First Nations, is the embodiment of animism. Every thing in the Universe  has it's own particular form of life, and therefor its own special medicine. When the individual discovers his or her spiritual gift of medicine, they become more integrated beings. Looked upon this way, this integration is wholesome and therapeutic. The individual begins to understand and accept all parts of themselves-including the ones they'd rather not claim. Jungian psychology calls this the shadow self, that which sits just below the level of consciousness. This process of integration can be achieved on ones own, or with the help of a Medicine Maker, usually a shaman.

One of the features of personal medicine is discovering your True Name. As in other magickal traditions, this form of identification describes the person's character and gifts and is not just a convenient label. The characteristics attributed to the individual through this naming may reflect those of a particular animal, or a talent. Grasping the deeper meaning of the name means a particular synergy has been achieved within the understand of the individual.

Making Medicine is not something that can be exhaustively covered in a single blog entry, so I would encourage you to further explore the subject on your own. There are many good books on the subject, and one I would personally recommend is Voices from the Earth by Nicholas Wood ( ISBN 0-8069-6609-2, Godsfield Press). It's a great springboard to deeper learning on the subject and pleasurable to read. Be Well and Be Blessed!

copyright 2013, AmethJera

Lucky Bone

I have this pin. I love it.
Originally posted as the "L" week for the pagan Blog Project 2013

It's no secret that I love a good challenge, especially when it pertains to the Craft or the practice of Magick. Many times when I know I have to write an entry for the Pagan Blog Project about something that begins with a specific letter, I will grab one of my occult encyclopedia's off the shelf and find an entry as a starting point for that post. This week it's  the letter L, and what  caught my eye was a two sentence paragraph about Lucky Bones.

I will be the first to admit that my knowledge about using bones in magick is limited to divination and necromancy. I only have an imprecise notion about using bones as talismans, and what I do know is specific to Native American fetish work. So writing this post is going to be a learning experience for both of us, and I'm excited about that. I will begin with this disclaimer: I do not advocate the harming or killing of any animal simply for the procurement of these items. I do realize that some spiritual traditions engage in animal sacrifice, and I respect this when it is done in a humane manner with the least amount of suffering to the creature. This is not a judgement about other religious traditions or their beliefs, and I do not mean to be disrespectful of those spiritual practices. My own personal policy is that I would only seek out these items from roadkill or animals taken for food. There are many forms of "Lucky Bones" used as charms; a few examples follow.

Most of us are familiar with the wishbone which has become a pop culture icon. It's represented in jewelry as pins, pendants, earrings, rings and charms, used in graphic art to illustrate advertising for things considered "lucky".

The humble wishbone is actually a fused clavicle  in birds known as a furcula, ( literally, "little fork" in Latin).  The folk lore surrounding the wishbone being used as a type of magical fetish can be traced to Medieval times, where the wishbone was more than likely that of a goose. Geese were commonly available before the introduction of turkeys to Europe, and were frequently eaten at holiday feasts [Edward A. Armstrong in "The Folklore of Birds" (Dover Publications, 1970)]. The wishbone was a much sought-after prize, and it's association with being lucky stems from a tradition with superstitious overtones, where the long ends of the bone were pulled in opposite directions until the "Y" broke just short of the joint. The individual who ended up with the largest piece would, in theory, be awarded a "lucky break", their wish would come true. On the other hand, the person with the smaller piece would have earned a "bad break", where chances of their wish coming true would be slim []. As time went by, the bones of other fowl would be used in this fun pastime which echoed tidings of good luck and wish fulfillment.

In the areas of the countryside where raccoons are known to be indigenous, there is a " lucky bone" tradition in folk medicine/magick that involves the penile bone of the creature. ( Most carnivores, with the exception of humans, have a retractable bone in their penis that help with extended periods of mating. Ever hear the phrase "having a boner"? Now you know where it originated!) These bones, as you can well imagine, go by many names in differing areas, not all of them repeatable in polite company. Especially in Appalachia, the baculum (Latin for " little rod") of  a raccoon is regarded as a talisman. They are believed to be especially useful in favoring romantic relationships, where a young man wishing to be lucky in love, gave a raccoon dong to his lady to tie a string around and wear as a necklace. ( I admit that  the bone from a raccoon's sex organs doesn't immediately spring to mind as a Valentine's Day gift to me. I'm just sayin'.) They are also precious to gamblers, to be used as a "lucky charm" while engaging in games if chance. They may be fashioned into jewelry, such as necklaces or pins (much like this golden beauty by Finch and Company in the UK:'.

In hoodoo and some forms of voodoo, a black cat bone is a used for luck. Most of the descriptions of this fetish don't specify an specific bone from a particular location in the animal's body; there are various methods of determination. Suggested methods of obtaining such an item is horribly cruel, in my opinion, because it always involves the suffering and death of the animal in an unaccaptably inhumane manner. "Black cat bones" are available commercially from several online occult suppliers, but many are a sham- they are usually chicken bones, or even chicken bones that have been painted black.

Another form of "lucky bone" originates from the head of a sheep (or a pig in some areas). The description of a triangular or "T" shaped bone is vague at best. After hours of research (and even consulting with my favorite go-to guy  the notable hoodoo practitioner, root doctor and contributor to the Hoodoo Quarterly, Carolina Dean ) I was no closer to solving the mystery of what this "lucky bone" actually was. Frankly, we were both stymied and intrigued . The Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions (pg. 234) only describes it as " a T shaped bone from a sheep's head, used as a lucky charm and protective device against (malevolent) witchcraft", with the notation of Northamptonshire, 1851. Farther along in the entry it states that it is a "T shaped bone used as a talisman, the shape of (Tau) cross, used on Drudical monuments or worn around the neck, or in a shoe by children" (Denham, North England). The same source refers to it as a charm carried by fishermen on the Yorkshire coast ( to ward off storms and drowning at sea), reminiscent of the Hammer of Thor known as Mjölnir. The Prose Edda mentions that the Mjölnir, despite it's qualities as a fearsome weapon of power, was also a charm that could be " so small that it  could be carried inside his (Thor's) tunic". ( The word used in the translation is feitico, meaning "sorcery" or "charm" in Portuguese.)

Finally, The Hand of Destiny, by C.J.S. Thompson (1932), also mentions the "lucky bone" as coming from a sheep or pig's head, with no other description. My personal hypothesis, after comparing the anatomy of both animals, is this bone could quite possibly be the Os nasale, a small, thin, flat, roughly triangular bone on the top of the nose. Because of the location, it would be easy to access and remove after the animal was butchered and during the preparation of the head for cooking. It seems to be the only bone common to both animals of that shape and small enough to carry in a pocket or worn as a pendant. I could be totally wrong, but I strongly suspect that I'm not.

copyright 2013, Amethjera

For a wealth of information on hoodoo and rootwork, please visit Carolina Dean's website at, or his fan page on Facebook.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

From My Personal Grimorie: Binding Jar

I am not malicious by nature...but I am not afraid to protect myself, either. We have knowledge of magick to use to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. There's a rather worn-out saying that "A witch who cannot hex cannot heal". I look upon this type of magick as doing both.

Making magick is not something I take for granted because it's a gift. I try to only use that gift to be beneficial- and never to be malevolent.

But there are times you need to defend yourself against emotional/physical abuse or psychic attack. If you have the knowledge, then you have the power. As a practitioner, you have a duty to use the power in a way that will bring about the best solution for everyone involved in a situation...Sometimes, as a last resort, when the conflict has not and cannot be resolved any other way, you draw upon your knowledge to summon the powers of the Universe to assist you.

Creating a binding jar is not something I do lightly; I can only recall two times in the last 20 years that I've made one. The one pictured above was made the other night because, frankly, I was at a loss as to what else to do with a situation where someone I love and care about has been enduring continual harassment from a group of individuals who are posting negative, damaging, outright lies on a social media site concerning a situation. We've attempted to apply logic and reason, but the main perpetrator of this deed is especially out of control. None of us can spend endless hours policing his vicious lies and having them removed. Two weeks of this extraordinary situation, where everyone's  patience has just been tried over and over has called for extraordinary measures. I will not "blast" or banish another human being, but I will use whatever means necessary up to that to protect myself and those I love if I am in the right beyond the shadow of a doubt. This kind of magick is not for the faint-hearted, or the quick-tempered. I always use a cooling off period and examine my motivation and intention deeply before acting, and I believe you should, too.

To make a binding jar, you will need a small clean jar, a candle to seal it; a piece of paper and a pen to write your petition on; black thread; some sort of herbal hexing or binding mixture, and sea salt. In his book The Witch's Shield [pg. 166], Christoper Penczak describes the method he uses to make a binding bottle and gives an excellent over-view of the technique. I have my own which is similar but uses a few variations.

I compound my own hexing powder, which is a combination of crushed cloves, garlic, hot red pepper , frankincense, myrrh, vervain, dragon's blood  and sea salt, all in equal amounts. Depending on what it will be used for, I add other herbs with the appropriate correspondences, and if I don't have the herbs, I use the essential oils. Once I assemble all the ingredients, they are added  into my mortar, three ingredients at a time, making certain they are well ground while focusing my intention and /or reciting words of empowerment. The intention of the spell, with the names of all the parties, is written on a small piece of paper which I carefully fold away from me nine times, tying it at least  three times around with a black thread. I also seal the edge of the paper with a few drops of wax. I fill the jar a bit less than half full with sea salt, drop in the paper, and nine whole cloves, then top it off with more salt. After screwing on the lid, I charge the jar, including words of binding, and seal it shut around the edge by dripping wax from the candle. The candle can be any color you deep appropriate for the work, or white. After that you can either place the jar in the freezer to 'freeze' the actions you wish to bind, or bury it in the earth to 'ground' the binding.

Usually, before I conjure the work, I write out the binding on a separate sheet of paper so I can create the very best wording possible, and re-copy them as part of the ritual onto the actual piece of paper I will be putting into the jar of salt and herbs. I like to take my time performing the spell, because if it's worth doing, it should be done thoughtfully and in a respectful manner. I usually do the conjuration as a part of a larger ritual inside a cast circle, but, as always, I urge you to follow your own inclination to imbue the work with as much of your own personal energy as possible. You may wish to call upon a particular deity to assist you with the work ( I suggest Hecate, but you may prefer another). I do not recommend the inclusion of any demons or lower entities, because the purest form of intention for this work is to merely bind the actions of the individuals, not to cause them harm. Remember, maleficence begets maleficence, and if you send out evil, it will return to you.

copyright 2013, AmethJera

Monday, June 3, 2013

Witchin' In The Kitchen

cookie jar by
Original to the Pagan Blog Project, week K
My name is AmethJera, and I am a Kitchen Witch. I'll admit it. I love being in the kitchen. Occasionally, I'll share a recipe on this blog, or something from my personal grimorie.

A little historical context: The traditional Kitchen Witch looks like this amazing cookie jar from Storybook Ceramics
[ ] with a few variations depending on the source. She represents the Russian Arch Crone Baba Yaga, also known as the Bone Mother. Although often depicted as sweet faced old woman with a rather large nose, she is far from the average grandma, and numerous wild stories about are pepper cultural legends. Here's one of the most over the top I've found on the Web: [ ].

All I have to say out for those little old ladies, no matter how cute they look! Things aren't always what they seem.

Somewhere along the line, the marketing geniuses (heavy sarcasm here) replaced the European peasant version of the Kitchen Witch with the western version of the witch-on-a-broom. I suspect the agenda behind this was to reinforce the familiar stereotype... and because most publicists and those in marketing believe that consumers/the public is a bit sub-par in the imagination department and we must be told and shown what is meant, because, you know...We just can't figure things out on our own. The ornamental wicked crone in the pointy hat riding a broom was introduced to the modern day kitchen as a decorative accent...and as a subliminal talisman. Many are deliberately cute. Not all of them ride brooms...I have seen variations on wooden spoons, egg beaters, and forks.

However the Kitchen Witch is portrayed, her presence in the  kitchen-ancient or modern- is a reminder of the days when the kitchen was not only used for meal preparation, but as a social center and classroom.
Family and friends gathered in the comfort of an intimate kitchen not far from the warm hearth, for bodily nourishment and to sustain the spirit and soul as countless hours of story-telling (mythical and historical) took place. Genealogies were handed down, stories of the famous and infamous people and places in the area, all in the cozy kitchen in front of the stove or the fire while being renewed by a bowl of soup. Because it was more than likely the warmest part of the house and they would not mold, herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes were dried in the kitchen. A primitive form of herbalism took place as people not only learned to cook food, but to compound medicines for various common ailments. There is a thin line between folk medicine and folk magic, and in some parts of the world the two are inseparable. A Kitchen Witch doll- which is actually a magickal poppet- is wholly appropriate to be hung in the modern kitchen as a reminded of our historical roots.

Blessing for a Kitchen Witch

Little Witchling I adore
Keep us safe from harm and more-
Bless the food we need each day,
Guide us in the Mystical way.
Bless my hands and heart and hearth,
Watch over all with sacred mirth.

copyright 2013, AmethJera

Sunday, June 2, 2013

On a Lazy Afternoon

The first five months of the year have gone by amazingly fast; I have no idea where May actually went, except that it is irretrievably gone. Gone. And I have no flippin' idea where it went or what I was really doing during that time. other than putting order to my life...a big task in itself, but nothing that should have let an entire month slip by practically unnoticed on this blog.

So here I am today, as the late afternoon slips into early evening, enjoying the stillness of an empty house and the sun shooting golden streaks across the floor of the room where the computer is located, buffeted by a gently rotating fan to hold back the sudden surge of heat. This is, of course, The South. Heat is a notoriously Southern characteristic this time of year, one which adds to the charm of the region.

Only two days into June, and I want to spread myself out on a lounge chair with a large glass of iced (not
too) sweet tea, enjoying the chirping tree frogs, the magnolias and watching for the occasional fox  meandering across the back yard. I want to sit beneath the low moon in the sky and watch fireflies, and do read. Summer is three weeks away, but already I can feel the urgent pull of the season of plenty.
I have stated before on this blog that I am not a "Summer" person; living in humid The South has certainly not changed that. I am not thrilled by heat, humidity, baking myself in the sun, or sweating. My
Scot-Irish/German/Italian complexion and red hair bear testimony to that. I burn too easily, and I am allergic to many sun blocks on the I am a reluctant participant, continuously seeking shade and a cooler spot in the yard. I am content to watch the flowers reach up to the sunlight at mid-day between chapters of a not too serious 'Summertime' novel. This summer, if everything goes smoothly and I have moved to the Virginia mountains as I am planning on doing, I will attempt to tackle the Deryni Series by Katherine Kurtz, volumes of which have sat on the upper most shelf in my bedroom collecting dust.


One thing in particular I will continue working on is my personal solitary practice. It feeds me spiritually and emotionally and I think the introspection makes me a better person. I know for a fact that it makes me a better writer, because I make the time to be alone with my thoughts. I love the spiritual head-space the Irish call The Place of Deep In-Dwelling. It's my 'happy place', although it's not always comfortable to be there. More than just "thinking just good thoughts", it's where I work through my thoughts and wrestle my personal demons. Sometimes it gets crowded down there, and even though I'm by myself, I am rarely alone.

A tool that I've found particularly useful is Teo Bishop's liturgy from the Solitary Druid Fellowship. Perhaps it's because we both share the same background in the Episcopal Church, but the language and form he uses is comforting and familiar. His most current blog from Bishop in the Grove centers around using contemplation as a devotional technique I have to admit that this is something I've done most of my life and haven't had to think very deeply about, because it came naturally. In the early days of my spiritual practice, before I ever attempted to name it, I would go somewhere comfortable and settle into an attitude of meditation (usually in nature, but there are numerous indoor spots I favor, also). After a period of mindfully being in my head, the prayers, or devotions would simply flow through me; that this happens spontaneously still amazes me. Even though I say it happens spontaneously, I'd like to think there is some input from the Imminent Divine in all of this so it's a conversation rather than a monologue. I think that Teo has nailed that in this post, and so I'm recommending it as a starting point if anyone is interested in incorporating it into their practice.


As I am writing this-laptop on the table in the screen porch- there is a fat grey rabbit happily munching on the plants about three feet from the tree in this above photo. It is voracious and determined, totally ignoring the human at the table and the tapping of the keyboard. It is a wondrous and serene moment in the dimming light of late afternoon, one of those small gifts of the natural world that is only dispensed in small doses.

copyright 2013, AmethJera