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.
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!
Probably every person who admits to being Pagan gets this question at least once. I’ve never addressed it here, so I thought it might be a fun way to kick off the new year. The question of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is a hard one to answer, in my opinion. Not because what I do or don’t do in my practice is questionable, but because of the very nature of black and white thinking. Categorizing something as either/or leaves out a vast canvas of grey, which I think most things could be said to be. There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether something is good or bad, not the least of which are intention and perspective.
Morticia Addams said it best, ‘What is normal to the spider is chaos to the fly.’
Take healing spells, for example. Most people would say that the intent of a healing spell is to help someone who is ill or feeling poorly. Few would argue that the intent of a healing spell would be classed as ‘good’. But if the person you worked a spell for feels that anything to do with Pagan practices is ‘evil’, and you knowingly violated that person’s belief/preference, would that still be classed as ‘good’?
There are those would would argue that all witches are evil. Quoting the bible, Exodus 22:18 says, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ That’s pretty damning, most would say. But surely all witches aren’t evil? I don’t consider myself to be evil, or even mostly bad. Short of swearing and a little social drinking and smoking every now and then, that’s about the worst of my vile habits. Even in my spiritual practice, I am cautious when it comes to affecting change in a way that might be destructive.
Many people who have an inkling of familiarity with Pagans may think that all Pagans are Wiccan, and as such, follow the Wiccan Rede, which states, ‘An it harm none, do as ye will.’ That’s not so; while Wiccans are Pagan, not all Pagans are Wiccan. Wicca is a specific style/belief/practice set within Paganism, and even though it has different ‘flavors’, that’s only a small part of the larger Pagan community. I’m not actually Wiccan, so I wouldn’t follow Wiccan dictates any more than I would follow Catholic ones (though those two particular religions have practices and ‘rules’ that are remarkably similar to one another, but I digress). That doesn’t mean that I take the idea behind the Rede, or even the Christian sentiment of the Golden Rule, any less seriously. Most cultures and religious or philosophical maxims have some version of it; I think it’s because at their core, most people strive to be good – to do good and be well thought of by others in their community. Even the concept of karma, and ‘the rule of three’ emphasis that what you put out there is what comes back to you.
For myself, I choose to strive to be good. My version of ‘good’ may vary slightly from yours; for example, I enjoy firearms as a sport, and other weaponry. While my interest in them does fall towards ‘sport’ and less towards ‘protection’, if pressed, I wouldn’t have an issue protecting myself or my children with force. I believe that doing so, even should it result in injury or death, would still be ‘good’. That’s more pragmatic than many ‘fluffy goodness and light’ Pagans might like, but I believe that there is more than just black and white; good and bad.
In light of recent world goings-on, I have had many discussions with my children about how ‘good’ and ‘evil’ develop, particularly within the political realm. While current politics don’t hold my interest the way that history does, I can see alarming correlations between some of the American Presidential candidates’ positions and policies that historical figures that we almost universally categorize as ‘evil’ once held. But to truly avoid repeating those same mistakes, we can’t dehumanize the villains in those accounts. They were men; not monsters from a fictional story. They were men who, through charismatic, enigmatic and persuasive arguments and speech, appealed to fear, a need for safety and an idealized (but unattainable) ‘better’. And people flocked to them. They came running, willing to set aside their personal values and concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in order to work towards a goal that someone else imposed upon them. And there are those who would unequivocally say that those leaders were ‘good’ men. Chaos for the fly, indeed.
On the flip side, we have examples of non-violent lifestyles taken to extremes. Some might say that inaction in the fact of injustice is ‘bad’, but who could argue that refusing to harm or kill another living being is anything but ‘good’. But if my child were harmed or killed through someone else’s deliberate inaction on their behalf, I’d probably fail to see how they rationalize being a ‘good’ person after that.
My point is that black and white thinking is a form of cognitive distortion (another subject that interests me greatly). When you categorize something, and more importantly, someone as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you box them, and yourself, into a corner. You tend to put ‘good’ people up on a pedestal, unable or unwilling to see their faults, and have the potential to grossly wrong someone by judging them as ‘bad’ simply because their perspective or worldview is different from yours. We all do it to some degree; it’s natural. But being aware of it is the first step towards questioning our snap judgement and perceptions and getting to the grey.
Then again, according to the quiz, maybe I am just here to tempt you to the Dark Side of the Force.
So, are you a good witch, or a bad witch?
I was asked recently about my stones and crystals, and thought I’d make a post about them; specifically, about how they’re used. But first, some basics!
Most of the Pagans I know tend to think of their stones as ‘living’ objects, and by that, I mean that they recognize the energy and effect that stones and crystals have on their user/wearer. If you’re not familiar with stones and crystals in your personal practice, they can be a useful addition. I recommend getting a couple of books on stones, both scientific/geology-related and Pagan-related, to get an idea of what it is you’re dealing with. Knowing the geological profile of a stone can help you place it into your practice and correspondences more easily, in my opinion (especially if you use non-traditional correspondences, or follow an eclectic path). DK Press has several ‘stones and gems’ books, and I found one that is organized by color that is useful for identifying stones I find in the wild. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem and Metal Magic is another good one, and The Crystal Bible by Judy Hall is another good one.
While it’s tempting to start your stone and gem collection and pack it away, stones and crystals can’t help you if they’re tucked away in a drawer. To get the most effect, they need to be handled, loved and taken care of. It’s important to recharge your stones, too. But first, let’s talk about choosing the right stones for your collection.
Choosing Stones and Crystals
So how do you go about choosing the ‘right’ stones and crystals? Mostly, it’s by ‘feel’. Sometimes, you can be drawn to certain stones or crystals and know instantly that it’s right for you. Other times, you may need to touch and hold several in the bin before finding the ‘right’ one. It’s not uncommon for me to be walking around outside by the beach or in the woods and be drawn to something I can’t readily see, only to find a beautiful bit of sea glass or a stone that feels like it’s ‘mine’. Crystals seem to be a bit different, in that they often warm to the touch if they’re meant to go home with you! I can imagine that it has something to do with the cuts and the vibration of your personal energies, but that could be a load of hooey. In either case, crystals are easier for me to choose or recognize that it’s not meant to be mine than stones.
Can you use ‘just any’ stone or crystal? Probably, but if you don’t feel it, then chances are you won’t see the result that you were looking for.
Cleansing & Charging
I’ve read a lot of different methods for cleansing and charging. As with any magickal tool, I feel like cleansing prior to use is essential. Not only does cleansing clear whatever other psychic vibrations or energy attached to it, but it also gives you a chance to impose your energy on it, and ‘tune in’ to the stone or crystal. I use crystals and stones all the time – herbs and stones/crystals are probably the most often used in my personal practice – so I want to make sure that my stones work for me. Cleansing is a vital step for best results.
Among my favorite methods for cleansing are Sun Cleansing, Moon Cleansing, and Water Cleansing. With Water Cleansing, you can use Salted Water, Moon-Blessed Water, or Holy Water to cleanse. For Sun Cleansing, I choose a day when the sun is bright and the sky is clear. The Summer Solstice is an ideal day to cleanse stones in the sun, but any day would work. If correspondences are important to you, then you might choose a day that corresponds to the stone you’re cleansing, and use other favorable trappings as well (like color of tablecloth, or herbs on the table as well). I don’t cast a Circle for cleansing stones, but I do set a small, temporary altar, with the elements represented and the stones in the center. I leave the stones out in direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day, and bring them in afterwards. A word about Sun Cleansing for crystals – I don’t use the sun for crystals. The UV rays can discolor your crystals, and some crystals can crack or shatter if they get too hot. They’re still the same, energetically speaking, but not as pretty.
For Moon Cleansing, I recommend waiting until the Full Moon. I try to cleanse and charge my crystals by moonlight only, and every month. If I am home, it’s easy to leave them out overnight, but even just a little while under the moon can cleanse and re-charge them. You don’t have to do anything fancy; leaving them in a windowsill where the moon can touch them is perfect if you can’t get outside.
Something that is also very effective is Spirit Cleansing. Spirit Cleansing is ideal for those on a limited budget, or who practice discreetly, or just prefer to do things without a bunch of ‘stuff’. We Pagans tend to like our ‘stuff’, so sometimes it’s nice to get back to basics, and really connect with the idea that the power is in the witch. Spirit Cleansing is essentially using your own energy to cleanse and charge a stone or crystal. Using Spirit to charge is common; it’s how I charge all of my stones and crystals – but using Spirit to cleanse as well is just as effective. If you think about it, the intent is what matters. Even with other methods, you’re still drawing on your energy to set the intention. Spirit Cleansing is just a little more overt. To cleanse with Spirit, like with other methods, I don’t cast a Circle. I prefer to do Spirit Cleansing at my altar, with my altar and working candles lit. Spirit Cleansing is a little like meditation practice, in that you’re holding the stone and focusing your energy into it, and through it, and drawing your will and intent into it.
Charging your stones and crystals is something different from cleansing (though you can do both at the same time). Much like with Spirit Cleansing, charging uses either your own energy, or the energies of the elementals and things around you, combined with your will, to help the stone or crystal do the work you intend it for. One of the reasons stones and gems and crystals are effective is because you’re drawing on its own energy as well. When your intent is in alignment with the energy and purpose of the stone or gem or crystal, then it just works! Generally speaking, to charge my stones, gems and crystals, I hold it in my hands, and use visualization and focused meditation to set the intention for the stone. Some stones, I have specific goals for; others are for more general use.
One of my favorite ways to use stones is by wearing them. Lots of places have necklace pendants that you can either tuck a stone into, or open and put a stone in. I have both kinds, and they’re ideal for wearing small stones. The ones I have are large enough to put multiple stones in, which makes customization easier. Using harmonious stones or gems in one group can maximize a particular effect, or mediate the effects of one stone by using another. I wear my stones to help control anxiety and stress, and to promote compassion and harmony in my interactions with people. My son wears stones to help with gastrointestinal stress, and digestive issues. They’re also useful on the bed-side table, to help with falling asleep, staying asleep and dream-magick.
Another way to draw on the healing and/or magickal properties of crystals and stones is to make tinctures or oils with the stone or crystal inside. My jars and vials of Moon Blessed Water, for example, usually also contain a bit of moonstone, or quartz (or both). If you’re making massage oil, adding rose quartz, amethyst, tiger’s eye, or carnelian can either help with relaxation or help spice things up. For prosperity oil, gold, adventurine, unakite, goldstone, labradorite and other stones that attract wealth or luck can boost the oil’s effectiveness.
Many stones also have a deity connection; that is, a stone or crystal is associated with a particular deity. They can be used to focus on your connection and communication with a particular deity, or to establish one. In some cases, being drawn to a particular stone may be deity trying to get in touch with you! If that’s something you’re open to, a little research can go a long way towards figuring it out.
I also use stones in spellwork. Larger stone can be used as candle holders – I drip some wax onto the stone, and set the candle into it, then place it on my altar until it’s done or my work is finished. Stones are also great for long-acting spells; stones are very stable and can hold onto an intention for a long time (especially with regular care). I use them on my altar as place-holders for intention or as the visible reminder of spellwork for prosperity and protection that are either in other areas of my home or outside (like Witch Balls).
Crystal grids are another good way to maximize your intent. Laying a grid can be somewhat time-consuming, but once it’s laid, the stones use each other to stay active. The old infomercial ‘set it and forget it’ comes to mind (only don’t ‘forget it’ – you ARE the magic)…. Stone massage is another great use for your stones. Much like the very popular (and costly) ‘hot stone massage’ that many spas offer, you can achieve similar effects with your own stone collection. Certain stones are aligned with the seven chakras, and can be used to balance them, and affect your musculature and overall health. Though you can buy fancy sets of chakra stones (and there are some really nice, big flat stones that are engraved), you don’t have to go to such lengths to get the same effects that you can get from stones you find our buy in rock bins.
Crystals, stones and gems can also be used in decorating. I mentioned a while back that I was somewhat interested in Feng Shui, and found that they can be useful in bringing harmonious energies in, and helping the flow of energy in your home in general. I haven’t put this to the test, but I am fascinated by the possibilities and will probably try it and see what sticks.
Something that I’ve found to be very useful is purchasing vials of stone or crystal chips or shards. Those are very small, and can go into things like charms and spell bottles more easily than larger stones. They can also be ground in a mortar and put into things that you might not otherwise think to put them in (like sprinkling in doorways or around the foundations of your home for protection).
If you’re not currently using stones in your personal practice, I encourage you to give it a go. Start simple; your birthstone is a good place to start. Those are really easy to find and
completely inconspicuous (if discretion is important to you). From there, you can learn about the correspondences associated with it, and how you can use it to focus your energy, will, intent or spellwork. Birthstone jewelry is simple, but can be an important tool, too.
This is far from an exhaustive guide to how stones, gems and crystals can be used, nor are my methods the only ones. One of the most important facets of many Pagan paths is personalization. Trial and error are expected; ask any witch and they’ll tell you about the many mistakes and fumbles that they endured when they were new to the Craft. It’s okay to try something and if it doesn’t work for you, to scrap it. It’s also okay to try something multiple times until you get it (to a point where it feels) right, or to discard it today only to pick it up down the road.
How do you use stones in your practice?
For my ‘G’ prompt with Pagan Blog Project 2012, I wanted to write about guilt over leaving the Christian faith.
Many Christian faiths teach that the only path to salvation is through Jesus. Many Christian faiths also teach that not only through Jesus, but also by believing only in their path through Jesus, will you find your way clear of whatever bad thing is promised for not following that path.
It was into the second way of thinking that I was born and raised. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine how difficult breaking free of such unfair indoctrination was and is. I say ‘is’, because on some levels, I don’t think I will ever be free of the beliefs I was raised with. I can rationalize my way clear of them, with logic and education and research and common sense, but there is a primal fear that goes along with blatantly rejecting something that was ingrained in me throughout my entire childhood.
There is also an unspoken element to this kind of religious belief, and it’s one that I think goes unnoticed most of the time. I think there is an unconscious belief that ‘only’ people of that religion can be ‘good people’; that a fundamental quality to being a ‘good person’ is that you follow that specific religious path. I say this because it’s hard to judge someone as an equal when your religion – a primary source of guiding direction in your life – teaches you on an almost daily basis that people who do not follow that part are inherently flawed. It also sets you up to overlook gross misconduct in yourself and in others because you are ‘on the right path’ or are united in faith. I daresay that my ethical and moral standards would hold up against any religious set, and yet I am considered inferior because I have rejected that path.
In choosing something else, I did set aside those beliefs – the belief that there will be a ‘judgement day’, that there is a way through it, that Jesus is the way, that being part of that particular religion was the only path. If that religion’s doctrines are true, then I have forevermore cursed myself into something unforgivable. In ‘choosing’ to reject what is ‘true’ and ‘worship false gods’, I have committed an unforgivable sin. There is no recovery from that, according to that religion’s doctrine.
Making peace with that is hard. Impossible, even.
And yet I persevere.
It helps that I am HAPPY now. It helps tremendously that I have peace in my heart; that most my gods and goddesses don’t generally have vengeance and destruction of the world and most of the population on their hearts; that I am allowed to let people’s actions speak for them rather than relying solely on commonality of belief to deem them worthy of my time. It helps to know that my children will not endure this kind of mental anguish; to know that indoctrination will not be a part of their childhood, and that no matter what path they choose, their actions – the kids of lives they live rather than the god(s) they do or do not worship, will be the benchmark for success. It helps to have a community of people who follow somewhat similar – and yet extremely diverse – paths, and that they accept that my path is just as sacred and viable and important as their own. It helps that these people see beyond my path into me – what makes me who I am – and value that rather than a path or belief that we may or may not share wholly.
If you have left another faith, what was your experience? Do you have guilt over leaving your former path? Have you made peace with it? How did you resolve your feelings, or is it an ongoing struggle?