Books

Let’s Read: Remedios Varo’s Letters, Dreams & Other Writings

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book(s) I mention. These allow me to earn a small finder’s fee from Wordery.com, at no cost to you. Thank you for helping to support writers, publishers, and this site!

varoI don’t know if I can express how much I wanted this book using actual, intelligible language words, as opposed to some kind of excited dolphin noise.

Saying “I love Remedios Varo” would be a little… not actually disingenuous, but small. I find her work inspiring. I love plumbing the depth of detail in her paintings. I’m fascinated by her life. If we had lived around the same time, in the same place, and there wasn’t a language barrier, I like to think we would have been friends (assuming she could get past my overly-eager fanning, but whatever). We could’ve had sleepovers, written letters to people we picked out of the phone book, and rearranged crocodile skulls, pipes, and armchairs together.

Incidentally, she was absolutely weird and I could not be more here for it.

See, what excited me about this book is that my Spanish is execrable, and her letters, notes, and other private writings aren’t widely translated. And by “not widely,” I mean that I’m pretty sure this is the only time they have been.

Letters, Dreams & Other Writings is short, but understandably so — it’s not as if she set out to have her notes compiled into a full-length book. It’s also extremely intimate, including details from several of her dreams. The first section comprises her letters to others (Gerald Gardner, who popularized Wicca, among them). Some of the recipients were complete strangers, and the letters were signed with fake names.

Anyway, this is pretty much all just preamble to my favorite bit: “The Observers of the Interdependence of Household Objects and of Their Influence Over Everyday Life.” I’ll let her describe it:

“This group, active for quite a long time now, has already made important verifications that make life easier from a practical point of view. For instance: I move a can of green paint some five centimeters to the right, I stick in a thumbtack next to a comb and, if Mr. A… (an adept who works in tandem with me) at that same moment places his book on beekeeping next to the pattern for cutting out a vest, I’m sure there will come about, on Avenida Madero, the encounter with a woman who interests me and whose origin I’ve been unable to determine[.]”

There are more descriptions of the private “solar systems” of the members of this esteemed (and, as far as I’ve been able to determine, imaginary) group. Armchairs, velvet shoes, skulls, a pipe inlaid with fake diamonds… All of them are described as laid out in a ritualistic arrangement, though it’s never explained exactly why each particular object has significance.

The Surrealist movement has some very strong ties to witchcraft and the occult (a topic I’d like to get into more deeply with a book focused on the subject). So, it’s unsurprising that Varo had her witchy tendencies, as well. The aspect of the practices of T.O.o.t.I.o.H.O.a.o.T.I.O.E.L. that surprised and intrigued me the most was their interdependence. Varo explains that new members of the group are limited in the objects they may use, and the manner in which they may move them. She goes on to describe committing an infraction:

“I permitted myself to add […] a dried hummingbird stuffed with magnetic dust, all of it well tied with cord, just as mummies are wrapped, using red silk thread. I did so without warning my colleagues, a very serious transgression according to the regulations of the group. Only our leader, with his long experience and his high degree of knowledge, can do something like that without bringing on grave consequences. What’s more, I intentionally put the can of green paint under a beam of red light that was coming through the stained glass pane of my window[.]”

She blames this course of action for a change in her paintings (the sudden, irrepressible desire to paint otherwise placid sheep with staircases coming out of their backs, for one), the ruining of a shirt, and the sudden appearance of a large deposit of salt in her bedroom.

Despite existing in discrete systems of their own, under the care of each member, the objects are all interrelated. Moving one affects things in the homes of other members, and doing so without warning is a serious thing. It put me in mind of crystal grids, and the way they (like all magic) can be used to influence something very far away — you don’t need the patient in front of you to work a healing spell, for example. Only, in Varo’s case, the movement and placement of ritual objects in other homes influences the ritual objects in hers, which, in turn, influences her everyday life.

Only two of her letters discuss this practice at all, which is a shame, because I find it fascinating. Even if she made it up entirely, even if there never was a group of Observers, the description of these magical tableaux conjure up a captivating mental image. The rest of the book is a collection of dreams, a pretend archaeological resource on Homo rodans, a few recipes for inducing specific types of dreams (erotic dreams require, among other things, “1 kilo horseradish, 4 kilos honey, and hats to taste”), and notes on her paintings. It’s a short read, like I said, but was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon that’s left my imagination invigorated.

 

 

life, Neodruidry

Spring is Springing!

Not everyone celebrates the spring equinox. I do, because you can never have too many reasons to eat food and party about stuff.

Spring weather has had a lot of false starts around here — we’d go from days in the 60s, to days in the 30s, from warm sun, to snow. My plants are all confused. But soon, with the sun passing over the equator next week, it will finally, officially be spring.

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(Also officially time for me to start up my antihistamines again, but that’s neither here nor there.)

It’s been interesting to see how the color and shape of spring has changed as I’ve moved around the country. In New York, I was young enough that it was basically the year’s equivalent to Wednesday — a hump season on the way to summer vacation (and pow-wow season). In Delaware, I met it with dread, knowing I probably had about three weeks before my doctor put me back on Prednisone. In California, I watched the landscape change as the farmers tilled and planted. Now, I mostly experience the season through trips to the arboretum or aquatic gardens to see the trees with their buds and new, green leaves, still bright and fresh and soft as silk.

I like to perform a ritual on the spring equinox. It generally isn’t a long or complicated one, just a bit of giving thanks that the long, cold winter is at an end, and sowing the metaphorical seeds of all of the things I want to reap in the upcoming months. This year, I have a ton to set up. There are creative projects I want to see come to fruition, we’re planning a move, there’re a lot of professional growth opportunities… All of them need hard work to make happen, but a little magical help never hurt anything.

The rituals I do all follow the ADF structure, but there are a couple of things I do that are specific to the season, like:

  • Put fresh flowers and ferns on my altar.
  • Create a list of all of the “seeds” that need planting, charging it, and releasing it to be fulfilled.
  • Light green and yellow candles, for growth and creativity.
  • Make seed bombs for a neglected spot. (Local wildflowers only!)
  • Open all of the windows and doors, to let the air blow through.

Also, there’s food. Back when I was vegan, I used to make lemon cake pretty often. It was easy — substitute soy milk for dairy milk, and use lemon juice, baking soda, and baking powder to make it rise. Many varieties of lemons are in season now, so these lemon cupcakes are a perfect addition to a spring equinox menu.

I also love mixing up a salad of spring greens, soft goat cheese, strawberries, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. The sweetness of the berries, tartness of the vinegar, and smooth creaminess of the goat cheese are really nice together, and it’s a great, light side dish.

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A green salad with a little goat cheese and fruit: good stuff.

Also, since I would eat my weight in goat cheese if science would let me, I like to make lemon, asparagus, and goat cheese pasta. I usually wing it (it’s really simple!), but this recipe from Smitten Kitchen outlines exactly what to do. I prefer to omit the tarragon, use lots of black pepper, and sometimes add some white beans for protein, but this recipe is very easy to remix according to your preferences.

Even if you don’t perform a ritual to mark the equinox, get outside, if weather and circumstances let you. Chow down on the fruits and vegetables coming into season. Bring the outdoors into your space, and let yourself experience the warmth and promise of a new season.🌹

 

 

life, Witchcraft

5-Minute Energy Cleanses

Ever have a day when you just feel off? You’re not getting sick, nothing really caused it, you just have a sort of wrong feeling. Maybe you’ve been around someone who left you feeling drained, overheard something that made you uncomfortable, or even just had to listen to an annoying, insipid muzak soundtrack in line at the grocery store. You’re left feeling bogged down, maybe even annoyed.

You need a five minute pick-me-up.

A landscape emerging from a very large book.
This picture has nothing to do with anything, I just thought it was cool.

These short rituals are designed to be able to be done whenever you have the time for them — there’s not a lot of ceremony involved, just simple, effective rituals to help get you back on an even keel.

1. Use a Sponge

For this, you’ll need:

  • A clean sponge
  • A bowl (preferably glass or china)
  • Water
  • Sliced lemons, or a few drops of your favorite essential oil

Add the lemons or oil to the water, and stir in a clockwise direction with your dominant hand. As you stir, picture the bowl filling with warm, bright, effervescent energy.

Take the bowl somewhere peaceful — maybe in your garden, or your favorite chair. Hold it on your lap, and inhale the uplifting scent of the water.

Hold the dry sponge in your hand, and visualize all of the stress, tension, and negativity in you pouring into it. Dip the sponge in the water, hold it over the bowl, and squeeze it as hard as you can. Let the sponge soak up your negative energy, and let the clean, empowered water wash it away.

Repeat this as many times as necessary — really crush that sponge like a soggy stress ball, and let your tension fall away. When you are through, pour the water on the earth with thanks.

2. Try the Cloud Meditation

Find somewhere where you can sit quietly and comfortably. If you have trouble focusing on your breath or meditating with your eyes closed (me too!), don’t worry. Just imagine a soft, fluffy cloud directly over your head. It glows with a bright light, the color of a sunset, and smells like fresh rain.

Sunset cloud over a calm field.
Tree’s about to get cleansed like whoa.

When you have a solid mental image of the cloud, visualize it beginning to rain down on you. The rain is bright, just like the cloud, tinged with golden light. Everywhere it touches, it washes away the stress, tension, and negativity in your energy field. Imagine the gentle caress of the gleaming water trailing down your skin, carrying away all of the negative energy with it. Keep this up for as long as you need to, then allow the cloud to dissipate.

3. Use a Selenite Wand

I love selenite. Not only is it helpful for pain (for me, anyway), it’s widely used to help cleanse energy fields. If you have access to a selenite wand, no matter how small or unpolished it may be, you can use it to quickly sweep negative energy away from you.

Hold one end in your dominant hand, the way you’d hold a lint roller, or the handle of a portable vacuum. Sweep the wand over yourself, about 3-4″ from your skin, from head to toe. At the end of each stroke, give the wand a shake. If you prefer, you can also point the end of the wand at yourself, and twirl it the way you’d twirl a cotton candy stick. Visualize the negative, stagnant energy catching on the end of the wand, then shake it off, move the wand to a new area, and repeat.

4. Hold a Stone

For this, you’ll need:

  • Stone
  • A body of water

To do this, take a stone in your dominant hand. Hold it tightly, as you visualize all of your stress and negative energy filling it. Let the stone take your tension and worries from you. when you are ready, toss it into a moving body of water with your thanks. The water will rinse away the negativity, and return the stone to a place where it can help someone else.

5. Feel the Sun and Wind

The weather can be a powerful ally when it comes to energy cleansing. If it’s a windy day, stand in the wind and feel it carrying the negative energy away from you. If it’s a warm, sunny day, close your eyes, turn your face up to the sun, and feel the warmth and brightness burning away whatever negativity clings to you. Say your thanks, and continue your day feeling lighter, safer, and more relaxed.

Sun rising over mountains.
Picturesque mountains optional.

It’s hard to avoid negative energy entirely. Depending on what you do, it may not be a good idea to try — it’d be hard to be a trauma counselor or ER doctor if you consciously distance yourself from negativity! If you’re feeling bogged down by the people, places, and things you’ve come in contact with, taking a few minute for an energy cleansing ritual can help you relax and return to normal.

 

Books

Let’s Read: Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Poison Path.

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book(s) I mention. These allow me to earn a small finder’s fee from Wordery.com, at no cost to you. Thank you for helping to support writers, publishers, and this site!

veneficiumEven if I don’t currently include entheogens in my practice, the ideas and practices of the poison path fascinate me. It takes a tremendous amount of bravery, considerable knowledge, and a firm devotion to the idea of expanding consciousness over bodily safety. It relies on the concept that the dose makes the poison, and growth lies on the thin line between curative and deadly.

The concepts of the poisoner and the witch are inextricable. Just look at the reasons people fear “evil” witches: they were said to cause sickness in people and cattle, wither crops, and bewitch others into nonordinary states of consciousness. Just look at the Evil Queen who sends Snow White into a deep slumber with a poisoned apple, or the Sea Witch who glamours herself and tricks the Prince into falling in love with her. (And what is desire, if not an altered state of consciousness?)

Even in the Bible, the lines between magic and poison are blurred, at best. The words “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”  (Exodus 22:18) appear, but may not mean what  they seem to mean. The original Hebrew word, mekhashepha, is of uncertain meaning. Does its root, kashaph, mean “to cut” or “herb using”? A prohibition against magic in its entirety seems unlikely, given the historical context. Other sources later translated the word to mean those who used magic for evil — in other words, witches who “poisoned” by magical means. Could the Bible be warning its readers against poisoners here, instead?

Daniel A. Schulke’s Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Poison Path explores the use of mind-altering substances, but it’s emphatically not a “how to” guide. A History of Pagan Europe followed the development and spread of Pagan practices across Europe, and this is in a similar vein — a resource for the history and cultural spread of the spiritual use of entheogens.

One bit I found particularly interesting was the chapter on The Spirit Meadow, particularly the description of bread made of black millet. There’s a sort of folkloric figure called the Black Miller. He’s a powerful, fearsome, shape-changing sorcerer, who makes an appearance in a song by Faun (Die Wilde Jagd), and in “The Black Mill” by Jurij Brezan. It’s unclear exactly where the moniker “Black Miller” came from. In context, it’s unlikely to refer to his appearance or ethnicity — much like the “black” in “blacksmith” refers to the material, not the smith themselves. In Veneficium, some of the information presented by Schulke adds an interesting dimension here, in a section about darnel (Lolium temulentum):

Darnel may well have been present in the notorious ‘black breads’ served at the Sabbat, as documented by DeLancre*, either as a deliberate inclusion or in the bread for its deliriant qualities, or simply as a by-product of the agricultural practices of the time. It is plausible that a toxic stew of deliriant grains, serving as the component basis of the Sabbat-bread, had synergetic effects operating between psychoactive components, if indeed darnel formed a part of witchcraft rites. This idea has been proposed in relation to the everyday bread eaten in medieval Europe[.]

*According to DeLancre, “… their bread is some horrible black cake made of black millet and some other drug…” which ‘confuses the senses’ of those who eat it, and likewise binds them to Satan.

Die Wilde Jadg tells the story of a pair of shapeshifters: one pursuer, one pursued. Based on the connotations of black millet, bread, and hallucinogenic fungi, it’s pretty easy to picture the eponymous “Black Miller” grinding away at the psychoactive raw materials of the “speculative ‘Black Bread of the Sabbat'” — a pretty spot-on occupation for a shapeshifting sorceror.

It would be easy for a book like Veneficium to fall into the trap of being dry and tedious, but it never does. The language is as poetic and striking as it is informative, and the subject matter is absolutely fascinating. If you have any interest in the spiritual use of entheogens and aren’t looking for a guide book, I highly recommend it.

Plants and Herbs

Rooting Spider Plant Pups

Let me preface this by saying that I love my cat.

He’s a huge, sweet, orange doofus, albeit a surprisingly bright doofus. He’s learned a number of verbal commands, like “sit,” “up,” and “off” (even if he thinks “off” means “stop what you’re doing and run over to flop your gigantic butt on me”). There is one thing he hasn’t learned, and, at this point, I’m not sure he’s ever going to.

Don’t eat plants.

I don’t have poisonous plants. The only toxic ones I have are those that contain calcium oxalate crystals, and are more accurately described as “really irritating.” I also keep my plants well out of his way.

… Or so I thought, until I walked into the bathroom and spotted one of my lovely spider plant pups laying in the bathtub. Fortunately, they’re neither toxic nor irritating, because this pup was also very chewed.

This spider plant has a ton of offsets, so one isn’t really a great loss. Still, I managed to find it soon enough, and the roots were more or less unscathed, so I figured I’d see if I could save it. Luckily, spider plants are like goldfish plants, ghost plants, and pothos in that they’ll root with a snap of your fingers.

Close-up of spider plant pup root nodes.
These little nubs at the base of the offset will develop into roots.

Continue reading “Rooting Spider Plant Pups”

Environment

Deepening Resilience: The shape of ecological resilience.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here.

Resilience is toughness. It’s the ability to spring back after a blow, to have the capacity to return to a healthy state after going through hard times. It’s elasticity.

But, above all, it’s about breathing space.

Picture a mattress. In your mind’s eye, push your fist into the middle of that mattress, as hard as you can. Feel it give under your hand. Feel the foam squish or the springs creak. If you keep pushing, you can hold it like that. It’s only after you let go that the mattress is able to return to its own shape.

In an ecological sense, resilience is the capacity for an environment to return to a state that, while it might not be identical to its beginning state, is still capable of supporting the life that originally depended on it. Let a field go to seed, and the birds, deer, and insects will return. Let a warehouse in the middle of the city begin to crumble, and the moss and vines will creep in through the cracks while pigeons nest in the rafters. Over time, more of the original flora and fauna will return — so long as they aren’t extinct.

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But even the earth needs breathing space. It isn’t possible to take and take, and expect the environment to continue to be able to give. Taking anything, whether it’s food, water, wood, or stone, requires some kind of reciprocal relationship, and part of that reciprocal relationship is knowing when to stop and rest. The environment isn’t the only thing that needs that pause, though — the constant push to produce is no more natural or healthy for people than it is for the land or water. Profit is not a natural motive.

Ecological resilience looks like reciprocity, and feels like rest.

There’s another aspect to resilience at play here. To wit, have you ever experienced choice fatigue?

It’s a funny thing. You’d think that having more options is objectively better, but, unfortunately, there’s a point where our brains become overwhelmed. What seems like it should be freedom instead becomes stifling. Choices become harder to make. We may even end up seeking out a similar scenario that offers fewer choices instead, or not choosing anything at all. If we do make a choice, we’re less satisfied with it. There’s only so much we can process, even when it’s something “good.”

The reason I bring this up is that it doesn’t just apply to jelly, or cars, or any other consumer good. It applies to everything. Reading the news is a nightmare in part because it’s almost never good news, but also because there’s an overwhelming number of situations that demand our attention. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and succumb to fatigue. When it comes to taking action effectively, that overwhelmed, mentally exhausted feeling is a surefire way to tank it.

If you read the comment section of pretty much any news story posted on social media, there will always be at least one person who shows up just to go, “Well, what about [some other horrific situation happening right now]?” The quick, sensible response here is that it’s possible to care about more than one thing at a time. It’s possible to be upset about more than one thing at a time.
I just also think it’s only possible for one person to really act on a limited number of things at a time.

Resilience is flexibility. It’s the ability to take a blow and recover quickly. One of the biggest impediments to this is a lack of breathing room — when you’re hit, over and over, by tragedy after tragedy, there is no space to bounce back. It’s something that political figures count on: Throw too many bad headlines and worse decisions at the public, they won’t be able to fight back indefinitely. Monopolize the breathing room, and you can keep people from being able to act. The healing never begins if there is no space between fresh hell.

The EPA granted “emergency” approvals for dumping bee-killing pesticides. Oil and gas pipelines leak with disturbing frequency. Environmental protections are eroded more day by day. Then there’s the border wall. How do you focus? What do you act on? How do you act?

The key to developing and maintaining resilience in the face of this fatigue is to prioritize. Choose what is the most important to you (or what needs you the most), whether it’s on a local, national, or global level, and pour your energy into it. It’s okay to feel anger and frustration when things are brought to our attention, but not everything needs immediate and direct action on an individual level. It’s okay to read a news story or see a problem somewhere, find out who is already acting on it, offer whatever support we can offer without overextending ourselves, and release that anger with gratitude to the people who are already working on it. Chances are, they know what they need to do.

Outrage is not finite, but energy is (particularly for those of us whose energy is limited by disabilities). Don’t let politics and the news grind you down, because that’s exactly what the end goal is. Find your breathing space, and support those who are not yet in their breathing space. Bounce back, then react. Maintain your resilience.