Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Fennel Folklore and Magical Properties

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a Mediterranean herb related to carrots. The type you see in supermarkets is bred for its large bulb, which is eaten as a vegetable. You can also find the dried leaves in teas and herb blends. It has a flavor very reminiscent of anise or licorice that becomes mild and sweet during cooking. It’s also related to silphium, a plant that was both considered a delicacy and included in formulas to cause miscarriage.

Flowering fennel tops.

One of the most interesting things about fennel is its action on the endocrine and reproductive systems. While it isn’t true that the ancient Romans harvested a relative of fennel to extinction for to use for herbal abortions, alcohol extracts of a relative of giant fennel (the source of the spice asafoetida) have been found to prevent egg fertilization and induce miscarriages in rats.

Fennel Magical Uses and Folklore

While fennel isn’t exactly the same plant as asafoetida, fennel seeds do act as a uterine stimulant. Part of this is due to an estrogenic effect, possibly courtesy of the compounds anethole, dianethole and photoanethole. Fennel also contains an enzyme that effects the body’s ability to process certain drugs. In the 3rd century, a doctor named Metrodora included a species of fennel in a compound of herbs to cause miscarriage.

Fennel is one of the plants in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm. To wit:

[C]hervil and fennel

very mighty these two plants created the wise leader holy in heaven

when he hung set and sent into the 7 worlds

for wretched and rich all to remedy

stands she against pain

stands she against poison.

Who is mighty against 3 and against 30

against fiends hand

against spells

against enchantment by wicked wights.

An excerpt from the Nine Herbs Charm, from the Lacnunga

Interestingly, Pliny the Elder claimed that silphium (the much-desired fennel of ancient Greece and Rome) had a powerful purgative effect when initially consumed. It was said that the plant purged the body of undesirable “humors,” effectively causing a kind of physical purification. However, Pliny also thought that snakes ate fennel to improve their eyesight, so maybe don’t take everything he says at face value.

A trio of fennel bulbs.

When planted around the home, fennel acts as a magical ward. This may be based in part on its use as an insect repellant — the idea being that it repels evil just as well as it does bugs. As an extension of this idea, medieval households would hang fennel above the door and fill their locks with fennel seeds to keep wandering, unsettled ghosts away.

Fennel seeds are burned to purify spaces. You can also dress a candle with fennel seeds to break streaks of bad luck and crossed conditions in your life.

Fennel’s estrogenic effects were sometimes relied on to improve libido. By extension, the flowers and seeds are often used in sachets and charms to enhance one’s love life.

Planting fennel and dill together can result in hybrid plants that look like a cross between the two and taste like neither.

Followers of Dionysus carried wands made of fennel stalks.

Fennel is used for courage. Chew the seeds or drink fennel tea before you have to do something scary or difficult.

Using Fennel

Consume the seeds or drink the tea to help trigger a late menstrual period. The maximum dosage of fennel seeds for an adult human is about 6 grams. More than that may cause unwanted effects.

You can use pretty much any part of the fennel plant — chew the seeds, put them in tea, eat the bulb and stalk as a vegetable, you name it. This means that you’re pretty much free to choose whichever part of the plant resonates best with you, and use it however it suits your purposes. If you plan to consume it, be sure to do your research to make sure it won’t interact with any other herbs or medications you’re currently using. It’s generally safe in food amounts, but the risk of adverse side effects increases with the dose.

Fennel seeds are great additions to sachets, powders, and potions.

Growing fennel is fairly easy. It can grow in zones 5-10, and is a perennial in zones 6 and up. Nonetheless, it’s usually treated as an annual — it self-sows prolifically, and you’re likely to harvest and use the whole plant once its mature anyhow.

Sow fennel in early spring, about 16-18″ apart in an area that receives full sun and has enough headroom for the plant to reach its full 5′ adult height. (It’s best to direct sow, because fennel isn’t very receptive to transplanting.) Avoid planting it near other plants, since it secretes a compound that prevents competition. Coupled with its sun-blocking height, and you may find that its neighbors really struggle. Fennel also hybridizes readily with some other plants, so you may find that the seeds you get from it aren’t true to the parent plant at all.

A swallowtail caterpillar crawling on a fennel flower.

Water fennel regularly until its well established. The plant generally doesn’t experience many problems, though you might find swallowtail butterfly caterpillars chewing on the leaves!

Harvest fennel after about two months, once its mature. Cut off the flowers as they appear, unless you want to gather the seeds (or would like the plant to self-sow).

Burn the seeds or stalks for purification or protection. Blend with rose petals, cinnamon, and other love and lust herbs for use in aphrodisiac formulas.

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Strawberry Folklore and Magical Properties

Ever since my strawberry buying and planting misadventure, I figured it’d be worthwhile to write a bit about the historical and potential magical uses for them. (Especially since, having done the math, I may need to find uses for up to 140 pounds of ’em.)

Strawberries come from various species of the genus Fragaria. Like so many other popular fruiting plants, they’re actually related to roses. The typical strawberries that you grow in the garden or buy in the store are varieties of a hybrid cultivar called Fragaria × ananassa, but there are over 20 species that appear all over the world. Another popular species is Fragaria vesca, the Alpine strawberry. These plants produce small fruits with a flavor reminiscent of pineapple.

A cream-filled strawberry cake roll, decorated with fresh berries.

I remember playing in a patch of wild strawberries when I was very small. We had a ton of volunteer Fragaria virginiana in our back yard, which returned every year with pretty much no effort on anyone’s part. The birds usually got to the fruits long before we could, so finding the tiny, jewel-like berries hidden under the leaves was like finding treasure.

Strawberry Magical Uses and Folklore

The term “strawberry” comes from the Old English streawberige. This may refer to the tiny seeds on the outside of strawberries (the actual fruits — what we generally think of as the “berry” part, isn’t!) which resemble wheat chaff. A cognate name was eorðberge, for “earth-berry.” This can still be seen in the modern German word for the fruit, Erdbeere.  

The deep red color and heart shape of strawberries makes them sacred to Venus and Aphrodite. One may extend this to other goddesses of love and beauty, as well.

This connection to love goddesses may be the source of one legend about the berries. It’s said that double strawberries are potent love charms. If you find one, break it in half and give one half to your intended partner. If you both eat the halves of the double strawberry, you’ll fall in love with each other.

In some parts of Bavaria, strawberries are used to ensure healthy cattle and abundant milk. Farmers hang small baskets of wild strawberries on the horns of their cows, as an offering to local faeries. These faeries are said to love strawberries, and will protect the cattle in return.

A small wild strawberry.

Strawberry plants are potent emblems of fertility. They reproduce via seed, largely by attracting birds to their bright red fruit. The birds eat the flesh, and the seeds (actually achenes, or ovaries containing a single seed) pass through their digestive systems. Strawberry seeds only require light and moisture to germinate, so they grow easily pretty much wherever they’re dropped. The plants also reproduce via runners, or specialized shoots that grow out from the mother plant and produce full plants of their own. In other words, it’s almost harder not to grow strawberries!

Using Strawberries

I mean… You can just eat them. Strawberries are kind of neat that way. Convenient. This advice is probably not what you’re here for, however.

It should be noted that, while it’s highly likely you have wild strawberries in your area, you may also stumble across the mock strawberry. This is Potentilla indica, and not a variety of true strawberries (though, like true strawberries, they’re also a member of the Rosaceae family). They very closely resemble wild strawberries, but have yellow flowers and less flavor. Fortunately, they aren’t toxic.

Medicinally, the leaves and roots can be brewed into a tea. This tea is believed to help get rid of “toxins,” which means that it acts as a diuretic. That helps flush compounds like uric acid, so strawberry may be prescribed as a treatment for gout. The astringent properties of this tea is also said to help with gastritis, intestinal bleeding, heartburn, and other digestive complaints.

When used topically, an infusion of the leaves and roots may help clear up acne by acting as an astringent. The fruits, too, are also rumored to be beneficial here — eat a strawberry, then rub the leftover bit of flesh at the top on your face. The natural acids present in the fruit can help with cell turnover and unclog pores.

Magically, you can offer strawberry fruit and flowers to deities of love and beauty. You may also want to use the fruit in kitchen witchery for beauty or attraction spells. If love spells are your bag, you may even wish to include these fruits in brews or desserts to share with your desired partner.

A brew of mint and lime, with fresh strawberries.

Strawberries are a beautiful part of the transition into spring. Their medicinal properties are helpful for shaking off the effects of winter, and their vibrant taste and color are a treat after months of gray weather.

Blog, life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Back into the woods.

it’s a rly good deal tho, I texted.

My phone buzzed a second later.
I’m literally about to get on a plane right now, he’d sent back.

This back and forth happened a few more times, before he finally agreed that a couple hundred dollars off a four-day vacation was, in fact, a very good deal.

This all started when my partner realized how much vacation time he had left over at the end of last year. It doesn’t roll over and he can’t cash it in, so it was pretty much just kind of wasted. Ever the supportive devil on his shoulder, I urged him to make sure he takes all of the paid time off he could this year, especially if it was just going to evaporate if he didn’t.

“Your job’s able to offer you this because of the value created by your labor. It’s not a free perk or a fun bonus, it’s literally something you’ve earned. If you can’t get the equivalent value in your paycheck, you should take whatever you’re offered. You’re basically giving up part of your salary otherwise.”

(I also have the same attitude toward expensed meals, fitness equipment, and other benefits. Just because it isn’t money doesn’t mean it isn’t compensation, friends!)

And this is how, on a shuttle immediately before boarding a plane, my partner prayed that his phone’s battery and internet would hold out long enough for him to book a four day stay in a Getaway cabin. It was a scramble to schedule everything before the sale ended or his phone gave out, and he succeeded with almost no time to spare.

A sign on a cabin that says "Getaway Shirley."

We’ve stayed in a Getaway tiny cabin before, so I knew this’d be a good deal for us. Last time was during winter, so I was pretty excited to experience the area when it was a bit warmer and greener. That part of Virginia isn’t exactly in full bloom just yet, but was still beautiful — especially if you’re a weirdo like me who experiences aesthetic arrest from the sight of, like, an extremely good mossy log.

Interior of an apothecary shop, with shelves full of incense, candles, herbs, and remedies.
Image from Visit Waynesboro.

When we weren’t walking in the woods, taking pictures, trying to identify plants, or “catch and release” mushroom hunting, we were reading or writing. One day was a bit too chilly and rainy to do much outside, so we went for a drive down Skyline to Waynesboro, VA. There’s a fantastic apothecary there called PYRAMID, with some really wonderful locally made candles, incense, artwork, jewelry, herbs, teas, remedies, and curios.

A close-up of violet flowers.

The environment of the cabin was just as relaxing as last time. There was a very beautiful patch of violets right near our fire pit (I picked a few for pressing), and we were tucked far enough away in the trees to have privacy but just close enough to other cabins to not feel completely isolated. Along the stream in the woods, Christmas ferns were sending up tons of spiraling fiddleheads. The moss was verdant and bright green, and the lack of leaves on the trees was more than made up for by the abundance of lichen and mushrooms on the ground. The weather was cool, alternating between sun and a light, silky drizzle that made everything seem fresher and brighter. Though the trail we took was relatively short, it took us a while as we kept stopping to get down, snap pictures, sketch, or identify something.

We packed well this time around, though we brought way too much food for the two of us. Pasta, salmon, shrimp, steak, cinnamon rolls, ingredients for s’mores… He cooked the meat and fish over the fire, and made some of the most amazing, crispy salmon I’d ever had. It was simple — just fish cooked in the cabin-provided olive oil, salt, and pepper — but the texture and subtly smoky flavor were perfect. We had it with lentil pasta all’arrabiata, and I’ve been craving campfire cooked salmon and pasta ever since.

A close-up view of the inside of a violet flower.

(We did run out of salad greens at one point, which got me wondering how I’d scrape together some from the surrounding landscape if I had to — there were violets, dandelion greens, and the pink flowers of redbud trees… Christmas ferns can be eaten the same as ostrich ferns, so fiddleheads too. Fortunately, I did not become responsible for foraging for our vegetables, because I did not want to play “Fuck Around and Find Out: Salad Edition.”)

Coming back took a bit, mostly because we’d scheduled things so we still had a day or so between going home and going back to work. It meant that we were able to visit all of the pottery shops, antique stores, and farm stands that we passed along the way. We ended up coming home with coffee beans, copper sculptures, and a cypress knee(!!!) that we hadn’t originally intended to, so I’d say our sidequesting was a success.

Here ’til the crow flies and the flies crow,

J.

Environment, life, Neodruidry

Silvering the Well

One practice that’s part of my tradition involves “silvering the well.” This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — making an offering of silver to the well.

The well, in this case, is a vessel of water (taken from three different natural sources). Outside of a ritual, it’s just a bowl. During a ritual, it becomes something more. It’s a representation of the primordial waters. It’s the healing cauldron, the sacred spring, and the sea of Manannán mac Lir. It’s representative of Water as an element, and the past from which we all spring.

The thing is, silvering the well is more complex than it seems. To people who’re used to ceremonial magic, it probably looks pretty simple. You have a vessel to serve as your well, and you make an offering to it. Silver goes in, boom.

There are also multiple different approaches to making this offering. One involves purchasing (or upcycling) small silver or silver-plated beads, which are then offered to the Earth once the ritual is concluded. Another uses a dedicated silver object which is designated as the offering anew each time, then taken out, dried off, and saved for the next ritual.

I spent a lot of time teasing out what this part of the process means for me. I’ve always understood the word “offering” to be a kind of euphemism for “sacrifice.” When you offer something, you no longer have it. Even if you don’t necessarily get rid of it (like dedicating an altar sculpture to a deity), it isn’t for you to use anymore. In this context, it makes sense to use small offerings of pieces of silver, requiring you to sacrifice the time, money, and energy it takes for you to get more when you run out.

On the other hand, international supply chains make the ethics of buying literally anything incredibly dubious. (I mean, a hobby store got caught trafficking antiquities, for crying out loud.) Even if it wasn’t, making an offering of small pieces of new silver involves mining silver (and possibly other base metals, for silver-plated objects) and then offering them to a place they didn’t come from. In less confusing words, you’re taking valuable material from one part of the Earth, and putting it somewhere else. Sure, silver isn’t exactly blood diamonds, but it’s still something that stuck in my mind like a fishhook. How do I know that the material for these “disposable” pieces of silver didn’t come from child labor, or a mine that dumps poison into the waters of the very people who have to work there? Could I justify offering something to the primordial waters, knowing that it might be poisoning the water?

(The environmental chemistry nerd in me isn’t even going to get into rainwater, leachates, and their effect on the soil, or I will be here all night.)

Eventually, I managed a compromise. I found a coin collector who had a stash of silver Mercury dimes. They weren’t suitable for collecting, since they’d been heavily circulated and were worn nearly smooth by time. I bought one, and this is my offering. I give it to the well, and the letter of the ritual has been fulfilled. The well is silvered.

Fulfilling the spirit of offering comes afterward. The coin itself is almost collateral — it’s a token of a promise, the symbol of an offering rather than the offering itself. Once the coin has been removed from the well and dried off, I make the sacrifice. Each ritual costs a monetary donation to a water charity — from the Water Protector Legal Collective, to Ocean Conservancy, to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, to one of the many other organizations working to protect people’s access to clean drinking water, remediate water pollution, or preserve vital wetlands. Failing that, it costs an afternoon of cleaning a beach or the banks of one of the smaller local waterways.

What does this mean for other people? Probably nothing. It’s just something that sat in my mind for a while, and a practice that I put in place years ago. Maybe it’ll have value for others, maybe not. Either way, I thought it might be worth writing down.

life, Neodruidry

Imbolc, and einkorn banana bread

Baking is part of my Imbolc ritual. I don’t consume much butter or milk, so baked goods and flowers are my offerings. This is around the time when I first start noticing new growth and buds on many of my houseplants, so I do some spring cleaning, give everyone a healthy dunk and dose of fertilizer, and bake before my more formalized ritual later in the day.

Yesterday, I offered part of a loaf of banana bread. If you’re egg-free, dairy-free, or just looking for some extremely good banana bread, I’ve got you. It might not be a traditional springtime recipe, but it’s comforting, tasty, and I’ve never had any complaints from anyone — mortal or otherwise.

A slice of banana bread with chocolate chunks.

Egg-free, Dairy-free Banana Bread

  • 2 C einkorn flour
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 3/4 C dairy-free dark chocolate chips or chunks
  • 2 very ripe bananas, peeled (about 1 C of mashed banana)
  • 1/2 C maple syrup
  • 1/2 C avocado oil
  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, and chocolate chips. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together bananas, maple syrup, and avocado oil.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix together until there are no lumps, but don’t over-mix.
  5. Butter a 9″x5″ loaf plan.
  6. Pour batter into pan, and gently tap the bottom against the counter to free any air bubbles.
  7. Bake banana bread for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Notes:

  • As with any ingredients that aren’t produced domestically, go for chocolate and bananas that are ethically sourced and fair trade.
  • No einkorn? No problem! You can substitute regular flour if you want, just remember that einkorn doesn’t absorb water the same way regular wheat flour does. If you substitute regular wheat flour, you’ll probably need to add another banana or so to the batter for extra moisture.
  • For best results, freeze the bananas first. This will crystallize the water in their cells, rupturing them and giving them a softer, wetter consistency.
  • You can substitute canola, grapeseed, or another neutral-tasting oil for avocado oil, if necessary.

Enjoy, and blessed Imbolc!

life, Neodruidry

The Wheel of… Kind of Whatever at This Point

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. Honestly, there’re few things more disheartening to me than making big plans, anticipating changes, trying to improve myself and my life, then waking up to… the rest of January. Bleh.

This year is especially weird, because it’s less, “What do I want to do to improve my life this year?” than, “What will my desire to stay out of the ICU let me do?” (I’ve been in one before. I ain’t going back.)

Usually, I make summer resolutions instead. A lot of Wiccans, Neodruids, and other Pagans try to live following the “Wheel of the Year” — that is, living alongside the rhythms of rest, sowing, growth, harvesting, and so forth. My particular rhythms have always precluded that. Summer is my downtime, because I don’t do well in heat, summer storms worsen my intracranial hypertension, and I’m allergic to grass pollen. No thanks. Winter is when I have more energy, though the rest of the hemisphere doesn’t seem to want to follow suit.

So, I’ve been using this New Year energy to time a psychological exercise that my therapist showed to me. It’s fairly simple, and I won’t go too far into details, but the Wheel of Life has been tremendously helpful for visualizing changes I want to make, prioritizing them, and turning vague hopes into actionable plans.

You take a wheel, divided up in the manner of pie. Each slice is part of your life: Finances, Health, Social life, and so forth. You rank your level of satisfaction with each area. You then note where the biggest gaps in your current level of satisfaction, and ideal level of satisfaction lie, and choose areas to prioritize. You figure out where you can conceivably raise your level of satisfaction in one month, three months, six months, and a year. Lastly, you come up with three actions you can take to measurably increase your satisfaction, and set a deadline for them.

Honestly, life is pretty good right now. My creativity’s flowing like a dingdang fire hydrant and, while I haven’t been able to write for myself much, I’ve been getting lots of paid writing assignments (as well as working on a book proposal with my partner, but that’s another story). My home life is harmonious, and I’m surrounded by love. I’ve even managed to socialize more, both online and off, since I’ve increased my physical endurance to the point where I can do more stuff. I’m not wealthy, but I have enough money for what I need, extra for helping people, and enough discretionary income to pay my friends to create the things they love making. It’s pretty rad.

I’d still like to make improvements, because who wouldn’t? I want to sell some of my original art, because I can’t hold onto it forever. I want to resume my language studies. I want to learn how to write poetry that doesn’t make me cringe so hard that I swallow my own face. I want to learn more about regenerative agriculture and landscaping, so I can put it into practice once my partner and I are in a place where we can do so. I want to continue down the path of the Neodruid.

(I also want to set up a way to recycle Styrofoam into usable carbon dioxide for a grow cabinet. I’d like to turn my partner’s old coffee grounds into a useful mushroom substrate, but, so far, all of the mushrooms that seem to do well on coffee grounds are also the ones that make me feel like I’m being beaten up internally by a horde of drunken fairies, so more research is needed.)

Of course, pretty much everything is hijacked by COVID, but there’re ways around that. A lot of the things I want to do don’t involve contact with other people. Even socializing can be done remotely, to an extent, and this distanced socializing helps forge bonds and build anticipation for when we’re all actually able to hang out in person.

Here’s hoping the New Year’s energy helps us all get better at the things that are important to us.

Books, life, Neodruidry

Sacred Actions: Yule

This past Sunday, one of my Meetup groups had a meeting to discuss Dana O’Driscoll‘s Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Sustainable Practices. Luckily for me, I’d picked up a copy several months ago from Three Witches’ Tea Shop. It’d been in my “to read” pile for a bit, so I was very happy to have the extra encouragement to get into it.

We went over the first high day, Yule. For this time of year, Sacred Actions emphasizes learning one’s place in the consumption web of life — observing your consumption patterns, seeing how you can live in a way that’s more regenerative and nurturing for the Earth and other people, and learning to discern between a need and a want so that there are enough resources for everyone to live comfortably.

This chapter also encourages the reader to take a look at their ecological impact using the Footprint Calculator quiz. Mine came out at a 1.8 — meaning that, if everyone in the world lived like I do, it would take 1.8 Earths to sustain us all. Unfortunately, this number is actually at the lower end of the spectrum, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The discussion was lively and fruitful. It was nice to know that we were all in a similar place — aware of tactics like “greenwashing” and propaganda that emphasizes individual responsibility over corporate abuses, and knowing exactly how difficult it is to engage in ethical consumption within our economic system.

One thing I particularly liked was O’Driscoll’s emphasis on regeneration and nurturing over sustainability. Sustainability is nice, but comes with a pretty heavy subtext. The implication is that we should find a way to do things that allows us to continue to live, consume, and behave in the way to which we’ve become accustomed. This isn’t just impossible, it’s not exactly a noble goal. Instead, we should work toward regeneration — giving back to the planet and exploited people to replace what has already been depleted.

(I could go into a super long and weird discussion about extinct megafauna, human cities, and the importance of poo here, but I will spare you this. Instead, here is a giant gorilla fighting a t-rex:)

The idea that we have a responsibility to more than just the planet was refreshing, too. My ecological footprint is low for someone living in a wealthy, developed nation. I’m not bragging here — the reason it’s low is that disability (and, let’s be real, an at times paralytically rigid sense of ethics) keeps me from engaging much in many aspects of society. The things that make my footprint as large as it is aren’t even things I can control. It’s almost all the snowball effect of having a long, multinational supply chain.

With that in mind, there’s only so much else I can trim. It’s frustrating to look for ways to make your lifestyle more sustainable (read: regenerative), and just get the same bits of advice over and over and over again. Use reusable paper products. (Check.) Use metal straws. (Check.) Compost. (Check.) Instead of this, O’Driscoll’s work provides some other lenses through which to consider sustainability. Even if I can’t change the supply chain that delivers the things I need, I can focus my energy on supporting, regenerating, and nurturing the people involved.

(Incidentally, I think I’ve begun to hate the word “nurturing.” I’ve seen it co-opted so many times by new-agey wellness articles about consumerist self-care strategies, I think they’ve ruined it for me. I will, however, continue to use it here for lack of a better term.)

(The phrase “nurturing the people involved” also gives me mental images of someone breastfeeding a forklift operator, but I’m not sure how else to say it. Your mileage will hopefully vary.)

The next step is to engage with the exercises. This means placing one of three ideas at the forefront of my mind for a week at a time. First, emphasizing care for the Earth and all of its inhabitants. Next, will be emphasizing people. After that, ensuring that there is enough for all.

As I write this, news stations are broadcasting about the deaths of workers in an Amazon warehouse that was hit by a tornado. The tornado wasn’t a surprise. People, driven by desperation, went to work. The company higher-ups didn’t see fit to let them stay home. Jeff Bezos says he’s heartbroken about the tragedy, but has yet to commit any actual money to providing for the families of the dead.

In the meantime, Bezos’ Earth Fund has also committed another $443M (USD) to conservation efforts, or roughly 1/500th of his net worth. A net worth that comprises assets gained through exploiting people and the planet.

His attitude and position is not unique. Remember, while you make adjustments to your lifestyle, that the people serving as conduits for environmental and human exploitation are not gods. They have names and addresses. When living sustainably as an individual only goes so far, there is always direct action.

For more information, I recommend episode 320 of The Dollop, The Wobblies Go to Everett.

Blog, divination, Environment, life, Neodruidry

Friday: Black. Hike: Taken. Hams: Strung.

I don’t like Black Friday. Part of it comes from several years of retail work, part of it comes from reading way too many stories of people getting shanked over Elmo dolls and discount TVs. It sucks for workers, it sucks for shoppers, it just sucks all around.

So, when a Meetup group I’m in posted a late afternoon hike this past Friday, I was more than happy to do that. The weather didn’t look promising, but there’s no such thing as bad weather — just the wrong clothes. As long as it kept me from being bombarded with reminders of Black Friday, I would’ve hiked in a storm.

This came right after a Zoom session about the role of walking as a spiritual practice. It was a really enjoyable discussion, and I was intrigued by the number of different roles it seems to occupy for people. I never really gave walking much thought — it’s part of my spiritual practice, but not one I really had to devote brainspace to, if that makes sense. Some talked about entering a kind of flow state, where the walk itself was a way to disconnect from the body. For others, walking was the opposite — a chance to focus on mindful movement, and quiet the mind. It all depends on what you need from it. Will walking be an external practice, or an internal one?

For me, it’s always been a weird form of augury. I don’t want to use the phrase “connect with nature,” because I feel like the wellness movement has worn it pretty thin. Really, it’s a way to make friends, as long as your definition of “friends” is flexible enough to include fungi and holes in the ground. If I meet a lot of new friends, it’s a pleasant walk and a good omen. If I don’t, it isn’t.

It can be a more specific divinatory practice, too. I know it’s not uncommon for people experiencing a lot of synchronicities (angel numbers, and the like) to ask for a sign or some kind of answer. Asking for one, then going out for a walk to see what you get is a useful form of divination. It’s definitely easier than trying to find a haruspex in this day and age.

It’s also a gratitude practice for me. I’m not about to get all gratitude journal on you, but, after spending several years too sick and deconditioned to do much of anything, I feel like the best way to express thanks for still having a mostly-functioning body is to use it for stuff.

We started out by meeting up in a parking area near one of the picnic groves. (There are trails all over this area, so you can pretty much start walking in any direction and end up on one.) It was really good to finally meet some of the people I’d only be able to speak to on Zoom calls, and the hike itself wasn’t too tough — three miles start to finish, through trees that helped cut some of the blustery wind and whose leaves lit up like lanterns once the sun sank below the lead-colored clouds. The air was scented with the vaguely spicy smell of gently decaying leaves, and so cold that I could feel it like a razor every time I reached the top of a hill.

Which is exactly how I ended up having to stop and catch my breath a bunch of times, wrestling with my jacket to pull out the carton of warmish coconut water I’d kept snuggled against my chest like a newborn. Fortunately, I brought a bandana-style mask with me. It helped warm the air before I breathed it in, which made things a bit easier, and also allowed me to pretend to be normal while actually gasping like a malfunctioning Billy Bass.

The entire forest is slowed down for the cold seasons, so it wasn’t like hiking earlier in the year. While the moss was still green, it was confined to neat, short little mats without their long, almost eerie-looking spore capsules. There were no eyelash cups or jack-o-lantern mushrooms. I did spot some neat-looking shelf fungi, and scrambled down into a space under a fallen tree for a picture. Another branch held some tiny specimens that were so fine and woody, they almost looked like ruffled feathers.

We all made it to the end, just before sunset. The light had that “golden hour” magic going on, which turned the treetops and patches of sky into a stained-glass canopy and the fallen leaves into a blanket of gold and copper. There was a peaceful moment where we paused before leaving, to make offerings of water and close out the experience. My partner and I picked up tea and dinner, then headed home.

It was the longest uninterrupted hike I’d been able to do in years. It gave me a chance to push my limits a bit more, and feel the edge of where my endurance is now. I get winded and dizzy easier than I did before IH, but I did it, and I’m intensely happy and grateful.

A good walk, and a good sign.

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Spruce Folklore and Magical Properties

I’m finally moved, and luckily settled in to a place that my partner and I absolutely love. Seriously — we decided against buying a house right now (it’s very much a seller’s market), and it’s going to take a very special house to get me out of here once we are ready to buy. There are lots of very lovely trees around, from neighborhoods full of crape myrtle and magnolias, to a Kousa dogwood whose fruits tempt me every time I walk past it. (I always have to tell myself no, it’s part of the landscaping, not really owned by anyone in particular, and there’s no way to tell what it’s been treated with.)

My favorite, however, is a big blue spruce.

It has a weeping growth habit, so its massive branches of smoky blue needles hang dramatically. It has a really cool energy, too — not necessarily the “loving, supportive, enlightened” feeling a lot of herbal energy guides point to, more like a very old and wise thing who is also very curious about the tiny things around it. I get a gentle amusement from it. It even has a natural face in the bark. I love it.

How to Tell a Spruce vs. Pine vs. Fir

First, the big question: What kind of tree are you looking at? All of these species fall under the general category of conifers, meaning that they are cone-bearing seed plants. Spruce, pine, and fir all produce needles, too, which can make identification tricky from afar. Fortunately, there’s a pretty easy way to tell.

Pine

Are the needles long, thin, and sprout from a single spot in groups? You’re looking at a pine.

Fir

Are the needles short and flat? Pick one up (there’ll probably be plenty shed on the ground) and pinch it between your index finger and thumb. Does it roll easily? If the answer’s no, then you’ve got yourself a fir.

Spruce

Are the needles similar to fir needles, but have a square cross-section instead of a flat one? Try rolling them between your index finger and thumb. If they roll, that’s a spruce.

Spruce Magical Uses and Folklore

In western Sweden, researchers have found a spruce that may be the world’s oldest living tree. It’s nearly ten thousand years old, and has survived by cloning itself via layering.

According to the Hopi people, the spruce was once a medicine man who turned himself into a tree. It’s a sacred plant.

To the A’â’tam, the father and mother of humanity escaped a flood by floating in a ball of spruce pitch.

Northern Algonquian people used it to prevent illness.

One source indicates that blue spruce is a symbol of pure intentions, while, in a more general sense, spruces represent generosity, enlightenment, protection, healing, and intuition.

Using Spruce

Just befriend one. It’s both easier and more difficult than it sounds.

Trees are individuals, so the easiest way to tell if you’re barking up the wrong tree (ha ha) is by sitting near one. They have natural ways to mount a defense against creatures they don’t want around them, so see if you end up covered in ants, breaking out in a rash, or otherwise having a bad time. That’s a sign that this tree doesn’t want to be friends — at least not yet.

On the other hand, if you’re sitting by a tree and smell a sweet fragrance, maybe feel a gentle breeze and the sun on your face, hear the birds singing, get a sense of comfort and acceptance, and otherwise generally feel good, this tree might want to get to know you.

Once you’ve found a tree to be friends with, look at it. Look at it from afar, and examine the bark close up. Let your pareidolia take over, and see what features you can see in the bark. The tree might choose to show you its face to make it easier for the two of you to connect. After all, it’s easier to converse when you can see the other party’s face, right?

Talk to the tree. It doesn’t have to be out loud. Hang out. Make it little offerings, like fresh water or an interesting (and plant-safe) rock. Remember, this is a friendship — do small things to show you’re thinking of it, and don’t forget that, sometimes, the best gift you can give is your time.

The relationships you forge in the natural world are part of the foundation of magic. You’ve gotta learn to speak the language if you’re going to try to ask for help.

You can also consume spruce buds, as long as you’re sure the tree hasn’t been exposed to a systemic pesticide, industrial runoff, or car exhaust. Spruce buds are high in vitamin C, and have been used for tea, in syrup, and even to make a beer to sustain sailors over long voyages. You can also eat the young buds directly, if you’re into that.

Spruce trees are beautiful things native to the northern regions of the world. I can’t speak for all of them, but the ones I’ve known have been very nice to work with, even if that “work” is just sitting and exchanging energy for a time. If you don’t live in an area with native spruce trees, and you’d like to work with them, consider using spruce bud tea or syrup to experience some of their power.

art, life, Neodruidry

Double it.

We’re at the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, when things often paradoxically feel even colder and grayer than they did in the middle of winter. So why not have a holiday?

Celebrating Imbolc in a city doesn’t really have much of a resemblance to how it’s done traditionally, especially now. There is no lambing season here, and nobody’s gathering. There’s no well here to pray around, nowhere to offer coins or clooties.

I had a small ADF-style ritual, with a glass prep bowl for the well, a small cauldron for a hearth, and my cypress knee for a tree. I offered a bit of blackberry cobbler, fresh from the oven. to Brigid. I put on some Ani DiFranco and read aloud from Jarod K. Anderson’s Field Guide to the Haunted Forest.

When you were born, your enthusiasm was a red flame atop a mountain of fuel. As you age, the fuel burns low. No one warns you. Yet, with intention, you can learn to feed that warming fire long after the fuel you were born with is ash on the wind. Be kind to yourself. Learn this.

They say cut all the wood you think you will need for the night, then double it. Cut it during the daylight when fuel seems irrelevant. Dead limbs hanging low, sun-dried, hungry for fire. The night can be longer than we expect. The wind can be colder than we predict. The dark beneath the trees is absolute. Gather the fuel. Double it.

“The Wood,” Jarod K. Anderson

I’ve never been much for poetry — writing it, I mean. I recently read an article on creativity whose title I forget. (I was one of the ones that calls everything a “hack” and measures it in terms of boosting productivity.) It was mostly forgettable, but there was one bit that stood out: the idea of creating within limits.

Humans build at right angles. We have a sense of geometry, of corners, walls, inside, and outside. If we have rules to play within, we can create amazing things. Strangely, this gets harder when those limits are removed.

I know poetry has rules, I remember spending days on iambic pentameter, sonnets, and rhyming couplets in school. I remember cutting pieces of construction paper into diamonds, to enforce the structure of a diamante poem, lines meant to swell and taper from top, to middle, to bottom. I think I have a harder time with it, though.

Visual art is easy. I can grasp the limits of color mixing, knowing how to blend things so they don’t become muddy, to work wet-on-dry or wet-on-wet, to layer fat and lean. I can see the underpinning geometric shapes. It’s simpler to perceive. I don’t really get poetry the same way.

So, I offered my baking, played someone else’s songs, and read someone else’s poems.

My offerings were accepted. In exchange, the spirits of nature offered me the things symbolized by The Magician (confidence, creativity, manifestation). My ancestors offered my the things symbolized by Justice (cause and effect, balance, fairness). The Shining Ones offered me… also Justice. It looks like I need a lot of it.

Sometimes, they know me better than I know myself. I know my life hasn’t been balanced lately. I let this lack of balance serve as an excuse for not creating things, largely because I find the prospect intimidating. I haven’t been writing as much. I haven’t been painting as much. I haven’t even been taking as many pictures.

I cracked open a root beer and hallowed the waters of life. I asked the Kindred to bless and imbue it with their blessings and advice, so I might be able to internalize and benefit from it as much as possible.

It’s hard to really find the impetus to kick myself in the ass. To tip the scales and rebalance things. To tap into the confidence to keep from making excuses for myself. Hopefully this helps.

Gather fuel. Double it.