Tales of a Southern Pagan Mom

Incense

Simple Full Mon Esbat & Update

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.

 

Brightest Blessings,

 

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Pagan Pride Day – Houston 2015

I am happy to say that I made it out to Houston’s PPD this year! I missed last year, so it was nice to be back around ‘my people’ again. Several of the members of my local Circle group went together, so it was really a great day. I don’t think I mentioned it before, but we recently ‘rekindled’ our Circle group, which has been just lovely. I’ll probably write about that separately though.

In addition to spending time with my Circle, I got to see quite a few people that I haven’t seen in a long time – probably since 2013’s PPD. I know just ‘through the grapevine’ that the Pagan community in the Houston area has suffered divisions in the past, but I don’t live there and so am thankfully spared much of the drama; it was nice to see that those tensions didn’t spill over into the general vibe of the day.

Donations from the event went towards Spiral Scouts and SNAP – the local Spiral Scouts troop had homemade cookies and candies for sale. I picked up one of the Pinterest creations – a Rollo candy heated and pressed between two square salted pretzels – so yummy! Perfectly salty and sweet; that’s definitely something that we’ll be trying this holiday season.

As always, there were a variety of vendors there; my favorite being ElvenKeep Creations. I snagged a new crystal point necklace and a bunch of incense (best. incense. EVER!!) and have been burning it daily – my house smells amazing. I also picked up a few other knick-knacks, including a lovely and ornate hanging brass censer. I haven’t ever had one that was on a chain, which is nice because it doesn’t have to take up space on my altar. It will also be nice to use during Ritual.

The guest speaker was Ellen Dugan; she apparently lost her voice during the day, so she wasn’t able to give the lecture she’d planned, but I had the opportunity to chat with her for a bit and picked up Cottage Witchery, which she autographed for me.

Till next year, Happy Pagan Pride Day!

Brightest Blessings,
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Little Rituals Every Day

little ritualsAs Pagans, it’s fairly safe to say that most of us are somewhat familiar with rituals. Those of us who are heavily involved in the local Pagan community either attend, take part in, or lead at least eight Sabbat rituals, and often many Esbat rituals as well. Even if you’re a solitary practitioner, you likely celebrate the Sabbats, Esbats and other marks of the passing year with some sort ceremony. Even in other religions, there are rituals. I’ve been watching The Borgias on TV, which showcases many of the rituals associated with the Catholic Papacy (many of which are oddly reminiscent of Pagan rituals, as many know and recognize), and have always been fascinated and drawn to the ritualistic aspects of ancient religions.

Most would say that it is these rituals define the practitioner, and indeed, you can usually identify a person’s beliefs often by the rituals that one takes part in. A priest wears ritual garb, a teacher leads the class in the Pledge of Allegiance, a nurse checks your vital signs… all of these rituals tell you something about the person who leads or initiates them, or takes part in performing them.

Wikipedia says that:

A ritual may be performed on specific occasions, or at the discretion of individuals or communities. It may be performed by a single individual, by a group, or by the entire community; in arbitrary places, or in places especially reserved for it; either in public, in private, or before specific people. A ritual may be restricted to a certain subset of the community, and may enable or underscore the passage between religious or social states.

Ritual is defined as a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. In a religious sense, for both Pagans and Catholics (and some other forms of Christianity as well), the rituals of bread and wine have heavy significance for us because of the meaning behind them – the body and blood of Christ; the union of the Lord and Lady.

As moving and meaningful as these rituals are, I thought I would discuss some of the small rituals that I perform daily that identify me as a Pagan practitioner, and some of the little rituals that I’ve helped my kids develop as they’ve grown and taken on more of a personally active role in their spirituality.

 

4594485-bowl-of-pure-water-and-lavender-petals-on-the-old-wooden-surface-spa-treatments-compositionLike many Pagans, I keep a bowl of water on my altar. Sometimes it is moon-blessed water, sometimes it is sun-charged water, sometimes it is salt water, sometimes it’s Holy Water made during a Sabbat or Esbat observance. I usually press the tips of my fingers into the water, then to my forehead every time I pass it, but I often start my day standing before my altar, taking a few moments to connect with the quiet inside before going about the start of my day. I will go back again to my altar when I need to think, or chill out or meditate, sometimes with incense or chakra music or meditation music, as needed. I’ve mentioned before that we made meditation jars to help the kids learn how to focus and find their inner calm. They keep their jars in their rooms now, to use when they feel the need.

In addition to the water, incense also plays a big part in my persona practice. I make my own, but am not adverse to buying it; my particular favorites are from sandalrose and bergamot from ElvenKeep and the Hari incense from RamaKrishnaNandaStore.com. I love the way that the scents of incense permeate my house, and how the scent lingers long after the ember is gone. The I often use incense for meditation, and just to have that subtle scent that is ‘other’ to keep me grounded and focused.

My youngest child has found quite a desire for incense in his room. A year or so ago, we deemed him old enough to have access to incense, a burner and lighter in his room. He’s 11 now, and that was a responsibility that he’s taken well to. When we go shopping for incense, he’s always on the lookout for something that calls to him now.

Tea time is another big ritual for me, and for the kids. We started having ‘tea time’ when we started homeschooling – a time to relax and connect between lunch and dinner. We have the chance to talk and re-connect in the middle of the afternoon over a nice hot cuppa. This isn’t a ‘pagan’ ritual per se, but it certainly can be depending on the discussion.

Tea time can also tie into tasseography, or the art of fortune-telling through tea leaf reading. It’s a practice that I am not terribly experienced in, but enjoy immensely. I’ve been learning more and more about it over the past couple of years, and it’s been a fun journey.

Candle magic is another ritual that I engage in almost daily. From lighting my altar candles, my devotional candles (even if for only a few minutes), to lighting spell candles (what some might view as ‘prayers’), candles play a central role in my daily practice. Fire in my element, so connecting with primal elementals helps me keep my focus, even when things are hectic and life gets chaotic. Oddly, this is one of the first things that I tend to stop doing when things get busy, and one of the things I most enjoy picking back up when I realize how much I am neglecting my spiritual path.

One of the amazing things about rituals is the calm and comfort that comes from the performing of them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stressed or scattered, and been able to fall back on established habits and rituals to find myself again. Whether big or small, rituals help me be the best that I can be as a practitioner.

I was poking around WitchVox the other day and came across an article called ‘Living Your Religion Every Day‘ by James Bulls. In it, he writes about moderation:

 As it concerns living your religion everyday, the loud dramatists advocate set rules and habits for life: meditate for an hour every day; read cards every day; exercise every day; never eat this; never drink that; always perform the quarter, cross-quarter, full-Moon, and dark-Moon rituals; and so on. And so the misguided accept one absolute after another into their spiritual devotions until all their time and energy is devoted to planning for the next event.

The trouble with living your religion in terms of absolutes is that each of us is fallible and will fail to satisfy an artificial schedule and arbitrary definition of “spiritual perfection.” Absolutes invite failure, failure invites discouragement, discouragement invites dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction invites mediocrity. This “mediocrity” of which I speak is the ball-and-chain, which prohibits daily expression of one’s religion…

The article is wonderful, and I highly recommend reading all of it, but I especially agree with the last big. Holding unrealistic precepts for yourself is a sure way to burn out. Instead, I choose to focus on what I am able to do, and enjoy each thing fully. The more I appreciate and find joy in what I can do, the more I want to do. The more I want to do, the more I make time for. And when I start expecting too much of myself, then I find joy in re-establishing  communion with my deities in more simple ways.

I’d love to see how you make and re-make those connections if you’d like to share!

Brightest Blessings,

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Flamekeeping, Cycle 6

This post is part of my Flamekeeping Diary for 2012. I started printing these posts out and keeping them in my Shadow Book to reflect on and to have a written record of my time with Brighid.

This cycle is the sixth; I am amazed that it’s already my shift again. After my last shift, I wanted to make a devotional candle to burn during my shift – one that was specifically for Brighid. This is what I ended up with – I love how it turned out!

I used a white glass 7-day candle that I found at the dollar store, some craft necklace chain, wire and beads from my jewelry-making supplies. Then I found a picture of Brighid that I liked, and printed it, then ran it through a sticker-maker so that I could attach it to the candle.

This particular candle is one that came without any pre-printed decoration. The glass was clear, so I only had to remove the price sticker and clean the glass before putting the sticker on. I also created a sticker for the back with the history of Cill Willow and my upcoming shift dates. Upon reflection, I should have checked my dates more carefully; I made a mistake in the counting of days and was off, so I had to fix the dates. I’m going to end up re-printing the back sticker.

For this shift, I started the day off in a sour mood. I woke up late, my phone was acting up (I could hear people, but they couldn’t hear me), my modem was acting up (randomly turning itself off and refusing to re-load correctly), the kids were acting obnoxious – it just wasn’t a good day. As the evening crept closer though, things started to get better – in tiny, almost immeasurable increments, but they did start getting better.

My dad called and invited us all to dinner and the boys to watch the football game, so that eliminated the need to cook dinner. I also got to spend some time with my dad, which was nice. Then I left the kids at his house for a while and went back home. I had a couple of hours to myself; I got out my jewelry-making supplies and played with my beads for a bit while listening to the ever-soothing Lord of the Rings soundtrack. I’m a huge geek, and LotR just pushes all of my buttons, so that was utterly enjoyable!

The the men-folk came back home, so I retired to my bedroom to re-decorate my altar for Samhain (it was still decorated for Lughnasadh – I seem to have skipped Mabon altogether, which is unusual for me, but I just wasn’t feeling it). I lit some amber/sandalwood incense that I found at The Witchery in Galveston (that stuff has become my new favorite incense – I burn it all the time!) and just took my time cleaning my altar and putting the old decorations away. I cleared off some of the things I’ve been keeping on it for a while, and pulled out some things that I haven’t used in a long time; it’s nice to see those things again. I used a purple silk altar cloth and brand new purple candles, which is different; I usually use more neutral colored candles. I also cleaned out my ‘magic trunk’ and organized my herb jars under my altar in neat rows. I’m really happy with how it looks, and am breathing easier now that my trunk is all clean and organized. There’s definitely truth to the old saying about physical clutter being linked to mental clutter.

At bedtime, I put the flame out (my LED candle needs batteries), and re-lit it this morning for a few minutes before I extinguished it so that the kids and I could meet up with some friends. When we got back home this afternoon, I re-lit my flame and went to take a nap before we had to leave again, and had the flame next to my bed. I fell alseep quickly, and dreamed, but can’t remember what about now; something about my sister and I in an SUV going somewhere, I think.

This shift was odd in a way; while I was focused on making a connection, I didn’t feel particularly connected to Brighid. I feel like her influence was there, as both the inspirer of creative pursuits was there, as well as her role as a Goddess of the Hearth, but I didn’t feel like She was as attuned as I have in the past. Not that I expect her to be all in my face or anything, but I feel more like I was reaching out more and in the past She was reaching for me.

In any case, it was a lovely shift. It was just the thing I needed after a very chaotic day yesterday, and a busy day today.

Brightest Blessings,


Incense Ritual

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
  • cinnamon
  • clove
  • comfrey
  • oak leaves
  • Echinacea
  • lavender
  • pine
  • sage
  • yarrow
  • 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!

Brightest Blessings,

Pagan


Handmade Tools

 “…with these hands, and with this heart, and with this mind, I can do anything!” ― Derek VitatoeWith These Hands

That’s how I feel about tools. Obviously, some things are better bought – an athame (since I am not a silversmith), a mortar & pestle, a chalice – but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t make a blade, or that I wouldn’t treasure a large flat stone and rock like Native Americans used to grind maize, or that a red solo cup wouldn’t work well in a pinch… but there is a certain joy in making your own tools.

One of the main reasons I tend to make my own things is price. The other main reason is energy. I mention price first simply because I have seen some breathtaking tools and supplies that I would love to have in my cabinet. But the second reason plays just as much of a role. When I buy something, I can’t use it until it is cleansed, and sometimes the cleansing process is lengthy. I bought a deck of tarot cards once and couldn’t use them for over a month (they still don’t read well for me). On the other hand, things that I have made usually work very well, sometimes even before they’re finished.

I also seem to have more success making things from scratch rather than re-purposing things. That, I feel pretty strongly, is about energy and vibrations – the reluctance sometimes of things to function in a new capacity. But with time and practice, my handmade items usually cooperate fully and work well.

Some things I have made are pendulum boards (for myself and for friends), pendulums, scrying mirror, pendants and other spiritual jewelry, and other decorations for my altar and home.

You might wonder – do I think that handmade tools are superior to store-bought tools? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I believe that anything I make myself (whether for myself or not) carries my will and energy and intent with it. Since magic is all about energy and will and intent, I believe that my handmade tools – or those made by someone else’s hand and gifted to me – work better than those that are commercially produced. That’s not to say that superior results cannot be found with commercial products; I love my crystal pendulum! But they lack a certain feel to them.

One area that I stray from the ‘handmade is better’ camp in is with my Shadow Book. Though I love the idea of a fully handwritten book, and have not removed that goal from my list of Things I would Like to Do One Day, I am not a fan of my handwriting – I tend to write things, then go back and edit, make notes and changes and the page ends up looking like a jumbled mess. Some might find that appealing – I’d rather everything stay neat and legible. So, I usually type and print. I do have an art-Book of Shadows that has a lot of drawing in it, but that’s not a ‘working’ book – more of a journal. More on the virtues of handwritten vs. printed later {wink}.

How about you? What’s your take on handmade vs. store-bought tools? Do you work with tools you created yourself?

Brightest Blessings,


 


Beltane 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Pagan Blog Prompts post, so I wanted to jump back in. This week is asking about Beltane and I wanted to share my Beltane celebration with you.

Our local group hosted our Beltane Ritual last weekend. It was *amazing*, and I am not just saying that because I was one of the hostesses. It truly was beautiful and joyous and just full of energy and love.

We have a lovely outdoor ritual space that we use for our rituals. It’s been home to several pagan groups in this area over the years, but for the past 5 years or so has been largely neglected. One of the areas just outside of the main ritual circle was a 15′ tall Maypole circle. The area around the maypole was completely grown up and over the last year or so, we’ve gradually cleared the space. We had a goal of Beltane in mind and I am so happy we reached it!

 My friend and co-hostess, Bridey from Forge and Flame (who also wrote about this ritual here) and I spent weeks on the prep and planning for this ritual. We both dressed in solid white and decided to use lots of ribbons and flowers for decorating. The entire circle was so alive and welcoming by the time we started – we greeted everyone with a kiss and symbolic ‘ritual bath’ with magnolia/jasmine/sweetgum leaf water and orange/Calendula blessing oil.

We had beautiful music and a couple of awesome drummers to accompany the tune as we danced around both circle spaces to raise energy, then used some non-traditional methods for calling the quarters and casting the circle. Bridey found several interesting alternatives to the quarter call that most people think of. We used a meditation call from The Path of Druidry, and used a suggestion from Ritualcraft on invoking the elements with sound rather than words.

It was interesting – and effective. I lovelovelove that this group is that we are not afraid to try new things. The energy in our circle is vivid and alive with ingenuity and inspiration. Since we don;t have a coven structure, no one feels inhibited or shys away from stepping outside of their comfort zone. Not everything goes exactly according to plan, but it’s always fun and fresh. None of us are so ‘snooty’ that we lose sight of why we’re in ritual together. It’s serious, yes, but it’s also a joyful occasion. That’s a two-way street, I think – those who have prepared ritual take time to make sure that it’s representative of the occasion (with all appropriate seriousness and solemnity when appropriate), but we’re all fallible, and so technological flubs, tongue-ties or losing your place in reading is looked at with an indulgent smile rather than a sneer. As one who frequently loses her place when reading aloud, I appreciate that.

We also did a couple of crafts – we made witch’s ladders; we provided a triple cord and a basket of beads in many colors and asked everyone to choose beads that represent the things they’re looking for or working towards this Beltane. I chose blue in a gradient  – from white to dark blue.

One of my favorite aspects from this ritual was our incense-making. We’ve done this at a couple of different rituals. We decide what blend to use, then put the ingredients into a mortar and pass it around the circle several times. Everyone present takes a turn grinding the pestle into the herbs and resins and oils, infusing the mixture with their intentions and love. This time, we made two blends; a Beltane blend (rose, rosemary, frankincense, cinnamon & sandalwood oil)  and a fertility blend (Dragons Blood resin, rose, holly, pine, & crushed (dried) Juniper berries).

We also performed the Chalice and the Blade ceremony. I’ve never gotten to do participate in that before, and it was a very powerful experience! Bridey was the Maiden and I played the role of the Young Lord; it was truly awesome.

All in all, this was such a great experience! Beltane is one of my favorite times of year, and so being privileged to host this ritual was very special to me. We also decorated the house for Beltane; I have a bouquet of the nine sacred woods on the front door, and fresh flowers on my altar. We ‘shook out the house’ (used a besom sprinkled with peppermint oil to dispel negative energy and freshen up the house) and have incense burning… it’s perfect for warm summery nights!

I hope that your Beltane celebration has also been full of love and prosperity!

Brightest Blessings!