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.
Litha, or Midsummer, is the mid-point of the year – the Summer Solstice – a time of balance and transition from the light half of the year to the dark. One of my favorite myths is that of the Oak King and the Holly King, and Midsummer is the counterpart to Yule (or Midwinter). At Litha, the Oak King is slain and the Holly King rises up to lay claim to the latter half of the year. That’s not really relevant to this post, because although I love the retelling of that story at the vital points during the year, this Litha is all about housekeeping.
I have been remiss in my home-blessing duties; however much I try to re-frame ‘chores’ into ‘home blessings’ or ‘creating sacred space’, the fact is that I am just not a great housekeeper. There are always more interesting things to do than scrub the cabinet fronts or clean the ceiling fans… and so every once in a while it gets so bad that to not take the time to do some deep cleaning is just… well it’s just time to clean. And so this is where I have found myself now,coming up on Litha.
I really felt the need to ‘brighten’ things up – it felt dark and gloomy, and I know it’s my lack of attention to the space that’s allowing those energies to pile up, so I started in our living room. I went through an intense decluttering phase a few months ago, and though I did very well with cleaning the stuff out of the places it was cluttering up, I never got so far as to actually take the things out of my house. So they’ve been sitting in a corner, sucking up space and energy. Much of that’s actually, truly gone now, either out into the proper closet/storage spaces or tossed out into the rubbish bins. A few things made their way into the car to be taken to new homes, but the end result is amazing – so much brighter and cleaner and ‘light’ feeling! Sadly, even knowing how amazing ‘clean’ feels doesn’t help motivate me to be a better housekeeper much of the time… but I digress.
I also spent some time in the kitchen, enlisting the kids’ help in deep cleaning everything from the ceiling (and fan) down; cabinets, appliances, counters, organizing drawers, floors… all of it. Our table sits in a corner, and the actual corner tends to be a catch-all spot (for my things, especially) but even that’s now clean and tidy. There’s a little left to do; we’re supposed to clear out the living room and get a new sofa and coffee table soon, and I have a feeling paint will soon follow, depending on the colors of the new furniture, but even just those few changes have really shifted the feel of the space.
Litha and the Full Strawberry Moon both fell on Monday, so I did a simple ritual with the kids. I bought new Goddess and God candles and a new working candle for my altar, and changed the decor to reflect the warmer colors of summer. We also did something new; we set up a family altar in the living room. We have had a shelf with a smaller, less conspicuous altar space in there, and directional candles have always been at the cardinal points of the room, but now there’s an actual, dedicated altar there too, and set for Litha with deity candles and a family offering bowl. After our morning routine, we tidied things up, then smudged the house inside and out and laid new salt barriers on the windows and doors, walked the boundaries and left offerings for the border spirits. Afterwards, we spent a little time on Intentions and spellwork for the waning half of the year, celebrated the Moon, and had strawberry shortcake with sweet red wine.
How are you celebrating Midsummer this year?
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!
This week’s Pagan Blog Prompt is ‘Magical Herbs’. With the insanely mild winter we’ve had here, gardening has been the topic of choice for quite a few of my freinds, Pagan and otherwise. The questions for this week’s prompt are:
Do you use herbs in your practice?
Do you grow them or purchase them from someone else?
What are your favorite herbs to work with?
I actually do use herbs in my practice. I tend to use herbs in one of a few ways: to make incense, to burn whole (like in a smudge stick) or in powdered form over charcoal (for meditation/setting a mood for ritual), or in things like dream pillows, dollies, and the like. I have also used them in oils and other ‘potions’, tinctures and for medicinal purposes.
Our teaching circle hosted an incense-making workshop last year and since then, I have discovered the unparalleled superiority of using handcrafted incense over store-bought incense. There is no comparison, both in flavor and result – handcrafted is better in every way. I use honey and dried fruit to bind my herbs and resins; depending on how fine I need my herbs, I either crush them in mortar or use an electric grinder to powder them. Slipping resins into the freezer for a bit before grinding makes them less ‘gummy’ and easier to work with to make incense. My current favorite incense is a lavender and orange peel blended with myrrh. I add the powdered herbs to a bit of honey and sometimes dried fruit to make pellets. Then I burn them on charcoal bricks in white oak ash. The combination is light, smokeless and very rich.
I don’t do a lot of spellwork; generally speaking, most the herbs I burn are in incense form. But occasionally I do burn whole dried herbs, or use them in other things. I have cedar, pine and magnolia in my yard and have made smudge sticks from them. The smell is so reminiscent of autumn and campfires – it’s very peaceful to me. I have used herbs to made dream pillows for my children, though, and made witch balls for my circle mates at Yule last year. I also tend to lump resins in with my herbcraft; I use dragon’s blood, amber, frankincense and myrrh fairly often. Dragon’s Blood and Juniper berry makes a lovely scent when burned, and amber resin melted in coconut oil makes an amazing perfume oil.
Depending on which deity I am communing with, I burn herbs that are associated with him/her to foster the connection. I am partial to Sekhmet, and found a recipe for Kyphi incense that I am collecting ingredients to make.
As for obtaining herbs, I tend to purchase them. As much as I would like to grow them myself, I lack talent for making things grow.. I do gather them when I can; I have some things growing wild in my yard and attempt each year to create a garden – but those endeavors have fallen flat so far. I am putting a little bit more planning into my garden this year; hopefully with better results. We’ll be starting an herb garden indoors soon!
If you enjoyed reading this post, consider clicking through to the PGP post and reading what some of the other bloggers have said about their use of herbs.