The last few months have been pretty chaotic and upsetting, but things feel like they’re finally settling down into some semblance of normal again. Tonight was the first full moon esbast I’ve really been able to sit down and devote some time to since Yule. My mother got sick towards the end of last year, and died in January. Through the last couple of weeks of her life, we knew she was going to die, but we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. In any case, that has been the source of a lot of rumination, contemplation, questioning and general introspective inquiry for me over the last few months.
It’s also been an interesting time for talking to my children. They’re not little anymore, so discussions about in-dept spiritual concepts have a much different flavor to them now than they used to. It’s interesting to see how their ideas about death, dying, the after;life and spirituality are unfolding and what they think about those concepts. It’s also interesting to me how very different they are from each other with regard to their thought processes and general spiritual ideas.
I have been working on creating a little outdoor space in my yard lately; I repainted some old patio furniture and bought a lovely bright umbrella for the table. It’s been nice to have diner outside, and gives me a pretty, dedicated space to meditate and/or commune with nature, especially when I feel like going outside at night. This evening was one such occasion; I brought my esbat journal and affirmation cards, incense and tea to my little spot and just bathed in the moonlight. Then I took a walk around my yard and mentally mapped out some future plans I’d like to implement for outdoor living spaces. The moon was so pretty and bright – I love walking around outside under the full moon!
I have been meaning to re-plant an herb garden, but haven’t followed through with it for various reasons. After my mom crossed over, it seemed like a good time to make those plans blossom. As part of my grief self-care and healing process, I have been buying plants and herbs. I love green growing things; I’m not super great at keeping them alive past a certain point, but I really love them. It’s been healing, because my mom had quite the green thumb and also loved her plants, so it’s almost like sharing this with her. In addition to garden basics like basil, thyme, oregano, lavender and catnip, I added several variations of common varieties, like lime basil and purple basil; hot & spicy oregano; several varieties of mint (spearmint, sweet mint, peppermint and chocolate mint); and other staples like lemon balm and be balm, succulents, bell and jalapeno peppers, and quite a few greenery plants and flowers as well.
When my mom died, my aunt brought me a cabinet that belonged to my grandmother. She had been keeping it for my mom (who inherited it when my grandmother died). My grandmother collected all kinds of dolls, and the cabinet is where they lived. I re-purposed it into my herbal and apothecary cabinet, with the top housing my living room altar. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a full altar in a public space in my house; my main altar is in my bedroom. Right now, it’s just a generic altar, but I’m planing for it to become more of a family space. I’m sure that with time, it will take on a life of its own as we add to it.
I spent some time the other day making honey incense. It’s been a long time since I’ve made incense; I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the process. It’s really easy, and can basically be customized with either what you have on hand, or for specific purposes. I made a prosperity and protection blend for Beltane. This has a lovely sweet scent, and doesn’t smoke a lot; it just kinda smolders, which is nice if you have allergies.
Homemade Springtime Prosperity & Protection honey incense
1 tsp comfrey leaf
1.5 tsp lavender flowers
1 tsp orange peel
.5 tsp fenugreek seed
2 white sage leaves
.75 tsp. frankincense powder
1 tsp copal tears
honey (aprox 1.5 tsp)
Grind all dry ingredients. I put everything in a mortar and grind with a pestle until the larger bits are about evenly sized, then move to an electric finder and give everything a spin – just enough to get a rough sand-like texture. Then pour into a small bowl and add honey, sparingly. You inky need enough honey to bind the ingredients together so they’ll hold the ball shape. Roll and place on parchment paper to dry in a cool, dark place. You can use them immediately, but the are better when dried and aged. Burn by placing a ball onto a lot charcoal disc.
I’ve also been spending time with my cards. I read with the Medieval Scapini Tarot, and have been experimenting with different ways to read. This was a year forecast reading, which I’ve never attempted before. It will be interesting to see what unfolds in the coming months.
Something I’ve noticed is that when you start browsing Pagan books, the great majority of them are ‘Pagan 101’ – what is is/means to be Pagan, how Pagans practice their faith, etc. I am a researcher by nature, and tend to be drawn to books on spirituality and on Pagan paths in particular. It’s been disappointing to see the same material rehashed over and over and over again: what Sabbats are, correspondences, dedication rituals and how to ‘be’ pagan – the very basics. Oh sure, it’s a little different; re-branded or spiffed up and published under a new name or path, but so much of it is the same basic, beginner material that you can find all over the place.
I’ve been thinking about why that is; why so many books are ‘beginner’ style books for Pagan spirituality, and have come to several observations. First, I think that a lot of Pagan practice is ‘first generation’. People are dissatisfied with mainstream spirituality and they go exploring. Because there are so many different styles of Paganism, it’s hard to ‘pick one’, and so each style or path has its own interpretation of the Path. Additionally, there are different ‘branches’ of Paganism: Wiccan, Heathen, Asatru, Druidic, Dianic… the list goes on, each with their own specific way of doing things.
Secondly, as information and technology have increased access to information, the sheer volume of beginner Pagans has increased to the point that such a volume of beginner material is necessary. Since there are so many first generation Pagans, there isn’t a large population of people who have practiced long enough to move beyond basics. Although I know many who have been in practice for decades, a great many of those have switched paths or gone eclectic or solitary for lengths of time, and developed their own traditions, rituals and styles of practice and don’t feel the need to publish it publicly. Add to that the general consensus that Pagans don’t like to be told ‘what to do’ or ‘how to worship’, finding an open group to practice with can be extremely challenging, which leaves many/most new Pagans solitary.
Thirdly, of those who have practiced for extensive periods of time, they don’t feel the need to indoctrinate their children into their faith, allowing the children to find their own paths, as it were. Without that indoctrination, children who grow up Pagan may or may not feel the need to pursue their own spiritual path. I know several adults who were raised by Pagan parents and although they may be interested on the fringe, most tend not to practice actively, at least among the people I know in this situation. Obviously, that’s not true across the board, so no slight intended if you’re a third or fourth generation practicing Pagan. These are just my observations, and I’d be interested in hearing yours.
Though I understand these as logical explanations, and accept whatever other possible explanations there may be, they don’t mitigate the fact that the majority of Pagan-centered books available are beginner-level books. For those who have been practicing long enough to have personalized their faith and practice, investing in new books can be disappointing because even seemingly promising books end up containing only a little bit of new information. While I certainly do not claim any authority, I thought I would share some of the ways that I have found helped me to move beyond ‘Pagan 101’ and into a more deeply personal and meaningful practice.
One method I found to circumvent getting trapped in the newbie books has been to move outside of strictly Pagan-themed books and into history, philosophy and world religion books. (Side note: My path isn’t deity-centered, so if yours is, the same types of methods for researching and deepening your knowledge about your pantheon or deities applies.) Beyond a certain point, even the most devout reconstructionist Pagan practitioner is just making stuff up to fill in the gaps in whatever factual/historical recorded information they have managed to piece together. From that viewpoint, their opinion on how you should practice is no more authoritative than yours. Additionally, many strictly Pagan-themed books tend to be European in origin, which means that they may be making recommendations for alignments and correspondences for a different hemisphere, climate or botanical availability than where you;re practicing your path. I am a firm believer is adapting my practice to suit my environment and many nature or earth-based paths focus on that connectivity almost exclusively. It seems silly to try to find herbs or wood to work with that you wouldn’t have any personal connection with because you’ve never seen, touched or smelled it!
If your path is earth-based; hedge-witches, kitchen-witches, and the like, and herb-crafting is a big part of your practice, then you’ll only find a handful of information in your typical Pagan-themed herbal companions. Look into books on gardening – learn native flora and what grows best when. Growing your own herbs, flowers and plants can make them so much more effective when you need them to work and the connection that you have to your garden and materials is a big part of making your path come alive. Continue your education; learn about using plants as medicine, how to distill essential oils, and anything else that strikes your fancy from sources that aren’t strictly Pagan-oriented. If the only information you;re lacking is the magical correspondence, those are easy to find online. If food is your bag, then the same applies; research cooking and recipes; experiment with flavors and use herbs and ingredients that you grow yourself.
I’d also suggest researching folk magic – hoo-doo and root-work, Santeria, Native American religions and other types of old, earthy magic. Many of those types of religions can be hard to find information on, but it’s worth it when you do. If your ancestors come from those religions, then even more so. My personal task over the last year or so is considering how ancient holidays could be modernized. I have posts about Lupercalia and Matronalia, and will be doing similar posts this year. I may not get them ‘right’, but it’s been a fun experiment, and adds value to my practice.
Another way to find more meaning in your practice is just that – practice. If you are a new practitioner, especially if you’re coming out of a religion where Pagan things are taboo, then you may be reluctant to actually do the things that you’re reading about. Even if you’ve ‘been Pagan’ for a long time, but don’t practice, moving beyond the basics means getting your feet wet – sometimes literally (if ritual cleansing is part of your practice). If you haven’t found anything in what you’ve read that appeals to you, make something up! There’s no right or wrong way to do an Esbat or Sabbat Ritual; there’s no right of wrong way to perform a candle spell, or sage your house, or create an altar. Don’t be afraid to try something, whether it’s all written out for you or you make it up yourself. If it has meaning for you, then it works. I view my path as an ever-winding road, with new things to learn and try around every corner, and I’ve been practicing for twenty five years. Some things I’ve tried flopped entirely, some things worked for a time or were interesting to try out, but ultimately didn’t stick, while others have become a regular, essential part of my practice. our spiritual practice should add meaning and value to your life, even if it’s a simple ritual like lighting a candle and incense with your morning coffee.
My final tip for moving into a more mature practice is to connect with the Pagan Community. Not just online, but in person. If your local community hosts Pagan Pride Day, or has a ‘Pagans Night Out’ or other meet-up, make an effort to go. If you have children, look for (or organize!) a Pagan Playdate or Pagan Game Night. There’s a group in the Houston area of TX that hosts an Interfaith Tea & Game Night, and there are organizations like Celebration of Womanhood and Women Of Magic And Nature (WOMAN) that host retreats for Pagan women each year. Meeting the incredibly varied group of women at WOMAN for the last 2 years has been such a great way for me to learn and explore different paths and practice dynamics and has added to deepening the meaning and value in my own practice. Plus, it’s just plain nice to be around other people who have similar (even if very different) beliefs.
How have you moved beyond Pagan 101?
I really enjoy herbal-crafting. Making teas, tinctures, salves and other herbal concoctions is relaxing, and it makes me feel good to know that I can create things that help my family feel better. There’s something comforting and empowering about knowing exactly what it is that’s going into the medicines and cures I am using to treat myself and my family. Additionally, there’s a connectivity between Man and The Earth that I appreciate in a very visceral way when learning about herbs and choosing herbal allies to help protect my health.
If you’re new to herbal medicine, there’s a lot to be learned, and it can be overwhelming when you realize how much there is to know. But even a beginner can feel confident using herbal medicines, and just a few things can create a good foundation upon which to build. Let’s talk about a few herbal allies that almost anyone can use with ease and confidence. [STANDARD WARNING: As with all medicines, treat herbal remedies with respect. Use caution and care when using herbs as medicine. Start small, with single-herb remedies and gradually work your way towards more complex recipes as you gain knowledge, experience and confidence. Always document well so that you can pinpoint any potential issues to a particular herb in the event of an allergic reaction or emergency!] Because there are so many articles out there that focus on the more common ‘beginner’ herbs (lavender, chamomile, raspberry leaf, peppermint leaf, etc.), I’m going to focus on some of the herbal allies that are less common but still extremely easy to use.
YARROW – Yarrow is really an unsung hero. It’s something that I’ve kept in my medicine cabinet for years now, and if you’re a mom, it’s great for kids. One of my favorite preparations is a yarrow tincture, combined with olive leaf, ginger, slippery elm and catnip. Yarrow is also helpful for relieving fevers, promoting relaxation, and can be used during your menstrual cycle to help alleviate cramps. We also have used it in salves, along with calendula, arnica, chamomile and other herbs in a beeswax base to apply to minor cuts, scrapes and mosquito bites. It can also be used with elderberry to shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms. If you’re into the spiritual aspects of herbs, there’s a connection to Greek Mythology, in that it’s said that yarrow is one of the herbs used to treat wounds on the battleground of Troy, and in ancient Britain, a yarrow leaf pressed to the eye is said to bring on second sight. Traditionally, yarrow has been called a variety of names, including bloodwort, woundwort, devil’s nettle, and knight’s milefoil, to name a few.
ELDERBERRY – Elderberry is another staple for us. I make a new tincture every year, and combine it with honey to make elderberry syrup. It’s a great preventative medicine for flu season – just a spoonful in our normal cup of tea is how we normally take it. I’ve been planning to make either elderberry and marshmallow root lozenges or gummies for a while now, and just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe later this summer, I’ll finally make time to do that! Elderberry is incredibly easy to use though, especially for tinctures – just fill your vessel with dried elderberries to about an inch of the top, then fill with the highest proof vodka you can find (cheap vodka is fine). I’ve also made tinctures with Everclear, moonshine and apple cider vinegar, and all worked just fine; the vodka is my personal favorite method though. Put the vessel in cool, dark place for a minimum of 4 weeks, but you can leave them for up to 3 months, then strain through cheesecloth and coffee filters into a clean vessel and voila! Ready to use tincture! Elderberry has some connections to the Teutonic goddess Hulda, with parallels drawn to Persephone, Frigga and Aradia.
CATNIP – Catnip is another great herb for families. In addition to helping with digestion, it also promotes relaxation and calms restlessness. It’s great for ‘growing pains’ and RLS (restless leg syndrome) when brewed in tea, and can be a really good addition to a sleepy-time tea blend or tincture. My youngest has trouble sleeping every now and again, and so we use a catnip tincture combined with honey and a smidge of valerian. Catnip is super easy to grow and if growing it isn’t your thing, it’s usually sold in the garden department of home stores if you want to keep it fresh. Obviously, as catnip is beloved of cats everywhere, there’s an obvious connection to Bast, and to Frejya and even Hecate.
HONEY – Even though honey isn’t an ‘herb’, I’m including it here because it’s SO GREAT to keep on hand as an extension of your medicine cabinet (and beauty cabinet as well). I use honey to make incense, to make herbal remedies go down a little easier, as the base for some of my herbal remedies, as an ingredient in salves, lip balms, beauty treatments (masks), and just in and of itself to go on cuts and scrapes and nicks to the skin (though of course you would not use honey on a child less than one year of age).
In addition to teas, tinctures, syrups, and salves, I also encapsulate herbs and herbal blends for specific purposes. I take a fertility/menstrual health blend that is biphasic (meaning one recipe is used during the first half of my fertility cycle, and another blend is used during the last half). I also take several amino acid supplements, and with all the media attention that commercial supplement companies are experiencing for using fillers in their capsules, it’s very comforting to know that what is going into my capsules is actually the herbs I have chosen and not fillers. It also gives me control over how much of each herb to put into my blend, making my dosages consistent and easier to keep track of their effects.
I hope you’ve found some information here useful, and inspiring! Please comment and let me know what your ‘unsung’ herbal allies are!
Over the past few years, I’ve come to recognize the importance and value in creating my own care products. Some things, like soap, I’ve tried and found that I don’t have the patience for, so I buy handmade soaps from reputable artisans, but other things I’ve dabbled in to try it out and found that I prefer making them myself.
Of late, herbal supplements have come under fire for not actually containing the herb that the label says, which can cause effects ranging from ‘nothing’ to ‘severe allergic reaction’, depending on what the supplement capsule actually contained and the user’s health history is. Some of the fillers used were rice flour and soy-based. If you were on a gluten-free or ketogenic diet, that could be enough to affect the user.
Of particular interest to me was that saw palmetto berry was one of the supplements they tested. I have PCOS, and have been taking a bi-phasic herbal blend to help regulate my symptoms, and SPB is one of the ingredients. I’ve been creating my own, because there isn’t a version of this particular blend available commercially, and I like to tweak things to my own use rather than use a recipe I find somewhere else, but I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to ‘think’ that something is helping, or worse – rule it out as helpful because you were really taking a capsule full of fillers.
This has further application as well. For Pagans on a shoestring budget, buying commercially packaged encapsulated herbs might be an easy way to access more expensive and/or uncommon herbs in small, inexpensive amounts for spellcrafting. While not the best quality, sometimes that might be the best option available. But if you’re counting on those herbal energies to aid your spellcraft, what’s the effect of using an entirely different set of energies (based on the fillers or actual product in the capsule)?
For my own purposes, both for personal/healing use and for spellcrafting, I’ve found it less expensive and a way to ensure the quality of the herbs I use, to slowly build up my apothecary cabinet with herbs and oils. I usually buy herbs in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs, essential oils and carrier oils our local health food store or from a company like Young Living, Eden’s Garden or DoTerra, and sometimes even from the grocery store (for tea-tree and avocado oils). I like Wyndmere’s blends (Clearer Skin is awesome!!), and have tried other brands as well. It’s definitely expensive, but when you plan out your purchases over a length of time, you can build a quality apothecary cabinet that you can depend on.
At this point, I’ve built my supplies to the point where I feel the need for cohesive storage, and have started buying containers (when they’re on sale, making them $1 each) and making labels for my herb jars. I’ve recently discovered the KonMari method of simplification, and have been taking strides to make her stance of ‘have nothing in your life that doesn’t bring you joy‘ my own. My herbs and oils, which are essential to my daily practice and family’s health, bring me joy because I know their value, and I want them to be more easily accessed and beautiful. I just created new labels:
I found a couple of old spice racks at Goodwill, and use that to store my oils in (and on – they’re creeping out of the spaces as my collection grows). Eventually, I will get around to re-painting them, but for now, they’re plain wood-grain and lovely in their simplicity.
My goal in writing this post is two-fold. One, if you’re a new Pagan, a new-to-herbcraft Pagan, or a Pagan who is under financial constraints, to let you know that ‘slow and steady’ is the way to go. It takes time, but eventually, you get to the point where you have the tools you want at your disposal. It’s absolutely worth the time and effort (and delay) that it takes to build your cabinet to ensure that the quality of the products you’re using is as good as you can make it. Secondly, to encourage those of you who haven’t taken the leap into herbcrafting for health use to give it a try. Start with something simple and easy, like tinctures (which only require herbs and alcohol or vinegar), or something honey-based, like elderberry syrup or ‘throat coat’ (made with honey, lemon and ginger – just add slices of lemon and ginger to a honey jar and let sit. Add a tablespoon to hot tea. Re-fill with honey when it gets low; add new lemon and ginger occasionally). Once you get some of those basics under your belt to build confidence, you can branch out into creating your own supplements. It feels good to take charge of your health, and to know exactly what you’re putting into your body.
This week, I am combining my Pagan Blog Project post with Pagan Blog Prompts. It works, because the letter I am on is ‘O’, and the topic at blog prompts is ‘offerings’… I was struggling with finding a topic for ‘O’, so that worked out well.
We were asked:
For those who perform rituals, do you give offerings? If so, what kind?
What is the meaning/purpose of offerings?
Leaving offerings is something I do pretty often, both in ritual, and just in general. Our Lughnasadh ritual was last week and during it we made sacrifice dolls (decorated corn dollies) to burn at Mabon. In the meantime, mine rests on my altar, collecting bits of things I will offer at Mabon in the fire. This is fairly common in my group’s rituals; at Yule, we each decorate Yule Logs to burn – the idea is that the effort that goes into making a beautiful Yule Log is the offering to the Gods. We also generally leave flowers, bits of cakes and ale or wine, pretty things (seashells, nuts, and other Nature goodies) on the Circle Altar when we leave for the evening.
In my personal practice, I leave offerings as well, especially when hiking or walking in the woods. A couple of years ago, I came across a video featuring offering stones made from cornmeal. The kids and I have made several batches and we keep them in a bag in the van. When we go walking or hiking, we grab the bags, and choose a place to say a prayer and leave a stone. The stones are all natural, so they dissolve and nourish the ground and animals around the area we leave them in.
I also keep an offering bowl on my altar. I have made several goddess bowls, and have a few in my etsy shop, Exoptable Thaumaturgy. I have them all over – in my bedroom on my main altar, in the kitchen window, on my desk… they collect coins, feathers, shells, bits of paper (fortunes from fortune cookies), beads – all kinds of small, pretty things.
The idea of leaving something for those unseen appeals to me. Deities, faeries, guardian spirits – each of them traditionally ‘require’ something different and paying homage to their preferences is usually a matter of minutes in terms of real time, but the effort to take the time can be monumental. It’s a small token of thanks, appreciation, acknowledgement… it’s hard to define, but all of those things, and more. The practice of making offering stones, of decorating an item to throw into the fire, of finding something pretty and leaving it in a special place all keep my mind focused on deity. It keeps me in constant connection by providing a tangible way to interact with Them.
Offerings also help me teach my kids about being thankful, and about mindfully going about their day. It’s easy to take a walk or go on a hike without really appreciating the cycles of Nature and the Seasons that make each moment so. By intentionally taking the time and making that connection, the practice of making and leaving offerings provides me with a ready-made teaching tool.
I have been a fan of incense in my daily practice for years – even when I didn’t consider myself a practicing Pagan, I had incense and candles at the ready for meditation and the creation of sacred space to ground and center myself. The ‘ritual’ of lighting candles and incense, then breathing the sweet smoke has always played a role in my personal practice. Even now, it is the first thing I do when beginning ritual or meditation.
Incense has been used in religious ceremonies, for ritual purification, in aromatherapy, for meditation, and for creating a spiritual atmosphere for centuries. The term ‘incense’ comes from the Latin word incendere, which means “to burn”.
Incense in religious practice is by no means new. Even in the Bible, offerings of incense are made to the Lord, and it’s common for Catholic Churches around the world to use incense during religious ceremonies. Use of incense is not limited to Judeo-Christian religions; Buddhist temples have incense glowing and burning at all hours, Hindu-permeated cultures (such as Japan) use incense not only in religious rites, but also in cultural settings (such as the formal Japanese Tea Ceremony).
So what is it about incense that is so special?
For me, I think it has to do with several factors. The process of preparing to burn incense is a ritual in and of itself, especially when you’re using something other than commercially produced stick or cone incense.
I usually make my own incense (thought sticks and cones will work in a pinch), and to burn them, I use a censor, ash and charcoal. It’s not something that can just be lit and walked away from – the process of setting up the burner, lighting the coal takes a few minutes to accomplish. So that means that I must be in the proper headspace – patient and open – to begin the ritual.
Another aspect is the smell – which means the ingredients of the incense. Making my own, I can control what goes into the air. The herbs I choose for a blend are harmonious and complementary to my mood or need. Commercial incense can be chosen for similar reasons, but in making my own, there is much more than just the compliment – there is intent – magick – as well. This aspect gives Incense Ritual much more meaning in my personal practice than it might otherwise have.
It is fairly common in my local group’s Ritual Circle to make incense as a group during Sabbat Rituals. We’ve made blends for prosperity, home blessing, fertility/creativity, and protection. One of our incense blends was even crafted into a Ritual Soap by one of our group members and gifted to us at the next class (who makes *ah-maz-ing* soaps and lotions, BTW – check them out if you’re in need of natural and magical products Goddess Divine Creations). The benefit to having group incense is that not only is my intent put into the creation of the incense, but also the love and will of my entire Circle. This only works, of course, provided you fully trust your Circle-mates (and I am so blessed to be able to trust without hesitation in my local group).
When I first started making incense, I found a video on YouTube by KrazyBoyTX on making incense pellets and gave it a try. I used honey and dried fruit to bind my powdered herbs and resins, and the result was a fantastic, light, airy scent. He has other videos on using charcoal discs and using makko powder to make cones. I haven’t tried using makko powder yet; the honey and fruit mixture is my favorite at the moment.
One of my favorite blends is as follows. Mix equal parts:
- chamomile flowers
- oak leaves
- uva ursa
and blend with amber resin, honey & golden raisins to form pellets. Burn on charcoal discs or mica plates.
I use a mortar and pestle to blend things while I am ‘creating’. Then, once I am done, I put everything in an electric blender to pulverize and fully blend the ingredients. I bought a coffee bean grinder for my herbs and store them in a combination of glass containers and plastic bags (until I have a container for them). My incense is kept in a wooden box that I got from the craft store. Eventually, I will post a picture of it!
With Beltane on the horizon, I have been thinking about my local group’s upcoming ritual. I have the honor of co-leading this ritual, and have been researching some of the various traditions. Of late, Driudry-based traditions have become fascinating for me, so several elements that I have read about have been worked into my personal practice.
For Beltane, one of the traditions I liked was that the bonfire was traditionally lit with a bundle of the nine sacred woods. The bundle was decorated with ribbon and herbs, then set ablaze. At the end of the ritual, those present would take an ember from the bel-fire home to light their hearth fires to ensure summer blessings.
As much as I’d love to head out into the woods to make this happen, I don’t live in Europe. Only a handful of those trees are local to me, and many would only be ‘cousins’, not the actual tree. Though the old traditions and old associations carry weight, I believe that ‘sacred’, at times, can be open to interpretation. In this case, since my path is nature-based, it makes as much (if not more) sense to draw from what is around me rather than trying to transplant ancient associations from a distant land.
With that in mind, I have been thinking about the nine traditional sacred woods, and how those might be adapted to my local area. If you’re not familiar with them, the nine sacred woods and their traditional associations are as follows:
- Birch – The Goddess, or Female Energy
- Oak – The God, or Male Energy
- Hazel – Knowledge and Wisdom
- Rowan (Mountain Ash) – Life
- Hawthorne – Purity and Faery magic
- Willow – Death, sacred to Hecate
- Fir – Birth and Rebirth
- Apple-Love and Family
- Vine – Joy and Happiness
First, my task was to decide how to go about locating what the nine sacred woods in my location might be. I can either take the wood out of the equation, and fit a new wood to each property, or I could consider and list the most important/common woods in my life and try to match them with the properties above. I chose to go with the second method. Magic is personal, and as such, it makes more sense for me to consider what woods are most significant in my life rather than trying to play mix-and-match.
As a Native Texan, one of the most obvious woods is pecan. The Pecan tree is our state tree, and it’s one of those ‘state pride’ factoids that small wee Texans are drilled in (along with all the other Texas state symbols) from a young age. Paying homage to that connection feels natural to me, and so I chose Pecan as one of my sacred woods.
Magically speaking, there isn’t a lot of information on the magical properties of trees that are native to North America. Since most Pagan traditions are based in Europe, their associations are limited to what they were familiar with and had at their disposal. There are associations made for pecans (the fruit); mainly involving increasing money or prosperity, but none for pecan wood, itself. The Pecan tree is a type of hickory tree, and magically speaking, hickory wood has connections to the Celtic God Lugh. Hickory is also closely related to the oak tree, and shares many of the same associations. The hickory nut is linked to the solar plexus chakra. It is especially suited to magic of abundance, wholeness, power, presence, command, discipline, acquisition, giving of gifts, and the finding of direction. Because of the connection to Lugh (by extension), for my own correspondence, I would link the Pecan Tree to Masculine Energy & The God.
The second wood I would consider is the magnolia. Being a Southern Woman (with all of the imagery that such a label calls to mind), the magnolia is such a staple and symbol of femininity that it feels right and natural for Magnolia to represent the Goddess. The properties that are associated with magnolia: fidelity, meditation, peace, spirituality, tranquility – all remind me of ‘mother’ energy, and so it seems right that magnolia would be linked to Female Energy and The Goddess.
The third wood that I would add to my list is the live oak. Being a variety of oak tree, which is one of the traditional sacred woods, my only change would be what it is associated with. The Druids associated the oak with the wren the Irish God Dagda, and oak was considered to be the most powerful and the most sacred of the woods. Oak is traditionally linked to Masculine Energy and The God. It’s more well-known properties; Protection, Health, Money, Healing, Potency, Fertility, & Luck, seem to leave one out. As a child, I can recall stories about the ‘wise old oak’, or about Wise Owl who lives in the grand old oak tree. Even the very nature of the live oak – its longevity, the wide, far-reaching branches and year-round shade seem to offer both protection and shelter even as it sends out new ‘feelers’ in a quest to cover more ground. Other magical associations for the oak include truth, steadfast knowledge, protection. Oak wands are thought to bring vitality and long life to the wielder. To the ancient Celtic people, oak was the protector, provider, benevolent king of the trees. Oak was utilized as a healing wood, and very grounded considering its strong connection to the earth. This wood helps center the mind, allowing it to focus on the task at hand and ignore distractions, which would promote both observation and intuition. Oak magic inspires bravery, presence, leadership skills, prosperity, and strength. Taking those traits into consideration, I feel that oak wood is more closely aligned with Knowledge and Wisdom.
The fourth wood that I consider sacred is the pine tree. Living in the ‘Piney Woods’ of Southeast Texas, this is another wood that cannot be ignored by the Native Texan. Pine is traditionally associated with healing, fertility, protection, exorcism, and prosperity. It can be used to help clear negative energy, to ‘cast out’ unwanted influences (and can also be used medicinally as an expectorant).Pine is a symbol of the elevated mind and the birth of the spiritual warrior, and as such can be associated with ‘birth’. Like the other evergreens in this list, pine is also associated with longevity and strength, of heartiness and protection. Because of pine’s reputation as ‘rich lighter’ – sap-heavy heartwood that is used to kindle fires – I associate pine with south, fire, masculine energies, Aries and Mars. Even though I associate pine with masculine energies, I also feel like pine is related to transitions, birth; the ‘fires of creation’, which traditionally feel feminine to me. Pine was harder to fit into the spectrum of already established associations. There are also a couple of woods that have similar associations, so I chose Birth, Fertility & Home for pine.
The fifth wood that I felt was important to have on this list is sweetgum (also called: redgum, star-leaved gum, alligator-wood, and gumtree). Sweetgum trees are plentiful here, providing shade in the spring and summer, and lovely foliage changes during the fall. It’s main traditional association is protection, but like many North American native woods, there is little to be found on sweetgum wood, magically speaking. There are several non-traditional spells that use the prickly fruit of sweetgum trees (called ‘sweetgum balls’ or ‘pokeys’ at our house) in protection magic due to their prickly shape. I did find some information linking ‘sweetgum resin’ to storax/styrax, which is a resin that can be added to the efficacy of any spell, “binding” the act to the outcome. I also found some associations between sweetgum wood/trees and sky and fairy magic, owing to its star-shaped leaves and its attraction to luna moths. For my purposes, I associate sweetgum wood with Faery Magic.
The sixth wood I include is sycamore (also called: Scottish maple, lacewood, platan, great maple, plane tree, sycamore, sycamore fig, mulberry fig). Sycamore is apparently more correctly called the Great Maple. I’ve lived my whole life around sycamore trees and have never heard that, but far be it from me to argue with the internet! Traditionally, sycamore is believed to promote relaxation and harmony, at the same time raising energy levels and banishing lethargy. It is good for any magic to do with prosperity, love or longevity. It is said to bring success and abundance, but also to teach humility. Aside from live oaks, sycamores are probably among the largest trees that I am familiar with. The bark of the sycamore is constantly shedding and growing, giving the appearance of ‘shedding the old’ and continued growth. It is for these properties that I associate sycamore with Life and Longevity.
The seventh wood that I consider sacred is the Texas Cedar. Cedar is traditionally associated with the Greek Goddess Persephone during her detainment in the Underworld, and with Celt Goddess Sezh, who watches over the realm of fertility, herbs, and trees. Cedar was also used by King Solomon, considered one of the greatest mystics of all time, in the building of the temple in Jerusalem. Cedar wands are used to cleanse negative atmospheres and in the creation of sacred spaces. Cedar is related to longevity, protection, and preservation, purification and is often used to summon helpful spirits during rituals and invocations. Evergreen Cedar is sacred, like Juniper, for the promise of eternal life. Cedar is sacred especially during Imbolc (Oimelc) which is the time of the lambing when the milk of the ewes comes, thus the linkage of the festival to milk, as well as to light. Chakris symbolizes and embodies the light in the darkness, and the brilliance of the Star Goddess in the inky blackness of the interstellar void, and so is similarly connected to the Dark. The tree is also called Arbor Vitae, Tree of Life and is especially suited to preservation of sacred places, forests, and groves, dedication of sacred space for worship and magic, bringing of light out of darkness, star magic of all kinds, and summoning of helpful spirits. For these qualities, I feel like cedar is connected to Death and Rebirth.
The eighth wood that I consider valuable is the bald cypress. Around here, our lakes and rivers are lined with cypress trees. As young children, we walk riverbanks by jumping from cypress knee to cypress knee. Their close association to the feminine properties of water and alignment with the moon make cypress feel overwhelmingly feminine to me. Some of the traditional magical associations of cypress are also more feminine in nature, including healing, prosperity and luck. Cypress is also said to have a calming affect that aide those overcoming losses. For the followers of Hekate, cypress trees planted on the property provide a blessing and protection. Scrying mirror frames made of cypress wood is said to aid the diviner in past life recall. The arrows of Cupid are also supposed to have been made from cypress wood. Cypress wood has been long associated with the everlasting nature of the soul; thus spirit boards made from cypress wood provide a stronger connection to those who have passed. It is for these connections to past lives and ancestors that I choose to link cypress with Love and Family.
The ninth and final wood that I choose to work with is the flowering dogwood. The dogwood is also called the osier or zallis tree. Osier is a tree most sacred to Agni, the primordial Fire. Zallis is held by the Elves to be sacred to the spring fire festival of Beltane (or Agnianna as they also name it). Agni may be equated to the Celtic god Belinos (for whom Beltane is named). He is called “Grandfather of Tulkas,” who is the fire of passion, desire, and will. The red-barked Osier is associated with fertility and sexual attraction. For Agni is not only the sacrificial fire, but also the fire of loins and procreation, the energy of bud and flower. By association with the Futhark rune Gifu, it also bears a sense of happiness and warmth, or comfort. The wood’s name “dogwood” also carries associations with the Irish hero Cuchullain, whose name meant “the dog of Chullain” refering to his loyalty. This gives the wood magical links to the warrior heroism and superhuman physical prowess of the hero, and links to domesticated dogs, their healing and protection and their loyalty and affection too. Especially considering the association between the name ‘dog’-wood and man’s best friend, I associate dogwood with Joy & Happiness.
To re-cap, a non-traditional association of ‘sacred’ woods for the Native Texan could be:
- Pecan Tree – Masculine Energy & The God
- Magnolia – Feminine Energy – The Goddess
- Oak – Knowledge & Wisdom
- Pine – Birth, Fertility & Home
- Sweetgum – Faery Magic
- Sycamore – Life & Longevity
- Cedar – Death & Rebirth
- Bald Cypress – Love and Family
- Dogwood – Joy & Happiness
Using these associations, I am considering bundling the woods to kindle our Beltane bonfire, and (since transporting hot embers isn’t practical), making small bundles for each of our circle-mates to take home to start their own fires with.
I hope you enjoyed this post! I am very interested in hearing about your non-traditional associations, and how you make adaptations to your practice to reflect your location or heritage. If you blog, please feel free to link to your blog, or post about non-traditional associations.