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.

life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

A Soggy Samhain

It was cold and rainy here over the weekend, though that was fine by me — we weren’t exactly spoiled for choice when it came to bonfires and dumb suppers this year. Besides, though rainy weather does my brainmeat up all wretched, it does make me want to clean and air everything out.

So cleaning, cleansing, and refreshing all of my wards is exactly what I did. I would have refreshed my altar too, but I did that on the last new moon — dusting it, wiping it down with a special blend of oils, herbs, and flower water, burning more herbs in my hearth-cauldron, lighting candles, the whole bit.

I often like to take all of the herbs that are getting to be past their peak, ones that I’ve had lingering in my herb jars, drawers, and cabinets for a bit too long, and burn them on Samhain. It just feels right to burn the old herbs, thank them for their usefulness, and either save the ashes (depending on the herbs) for black salt or return them to the soil. I didn’t get to do that this year, but that’s okay — I don’t really have a big stash of old herbs anyhow.

I also filtered the oil I’d started on October’s first full moon, which gave me an inexplicable craving for pizza (courtesy of all of the dittany of Crete. That stuff smells delicious). Now I’ve got a neat little bottle of fresh raven oil chilling in my secret stash, which makes me pretty happy. I’d love to be able to work this combination of herbs into another form — incense, maybe — but many of them are the type that just tends to be throat-pluggingly smoky and bitter when they’re burned. They might work alright if they’re in small amounts and sufficiently worked into a sweeter-smelling base, but that’ll take a little experimentation.

This month came with its usual compliment of especially vivid dreams and messages, but I won’t bore you with those details. I hope the feeling lasts, though. I’m always at least a little sad to see them go once the veil’s no longer as thin.

So how was everyone else’s holiday?

crystals, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

7 Ways to Set Up a Pet-Proof Altar

Let me preface this by saying that I love my cats. I do. But one of them has an odd obsession with getting into any plant that’s within reach (and several that aren’t), and the other will hurl things and scream if one of us fails to sit on the kitchen floor with him in the morning. I don’t know why this is, but it’s the reality of the situation.

Anyway, as you can probably tell, this makes setting up and maintaining a home altar somewhat… challenging, shall we say. Not only do I not want my altar disturbed, I also don’t want to have to worry about someone eating something they shouldn’t. So, here’s how I keep everyone (and everything) safe:

Train Your Cats to- hahahahahaha

Sorry, couldn’t resist. Couldn’t finish that thought with a straight face, either.

She might be your familiar, but that doesn’t mean she cares about your stuff.

Choose Portable Altar Decor (But a Permanent Space)

In my opinion, part of an altar’s power is in its presence even when it isn’t being used. Some of that is lost when you have to set up and take down your altar every time you need it, but that doesn’t make a portable altar any less beautiful or meaningful.

If you do have to go the portable route, however, I’d recommend keeping a dedicated altar space. Even if you can’t have food offerings out without your dog getting into them, or your cat tries to knock over all of your statuary, you can still have a specific space that’s only used for your temporary altar. Get a nice accent table and cover it with a cloth. Set it with a good-sized crystal or a vase of flowers (if your animal companions will allow for it). Save the other altar tools and decorations for when you’re actually performing a working, but keep that space as a designated altar even when it isn’t in use.

Use a Drawer

One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid my felines’ penchant for destruction is to choose a table with a nice, deep drawer, and set up an altar in that. You can still have a permanent space, and all you have to do is pull the drawer open to get to work.

Remember to close it gently, though — you’ll keep your altar tools and decorations from rattling and knocking around that way.

Use the Floor

If having things knocked over is your primary concern, why not just put them on the floor to begin with? The fact is, having chairs and tables so far from the floor isn’t a universal thing — plenty of cultures around the world use low tables, floor cushions, or nothing at all.

Designate a space for a floor altar. Set it with a small accent rug and your altar supplies. Place a comfy floor pillow in front of it, and you’re golden.

Use the Outdoors

If your interior space is too thoroughly dominated by your four-legged roommates, consider working outside. It’s a bit less convenient if the weather’s bad, but outdoor altars are beautiful, functional, and, if you work closely with your local nature spirits, immensely powerful.

The only tip I’d offer here is to choose altar decorations that are resistant to walking away. Expensive statues might disappear on you, and shiny crystals may prove irresistible to the local bird population. Materials that aren’t durable enough might end up a bit worse for wear after a few rainstorms and a couple of rounds of sun bleaching, too. Largish stones, garden statuary, candles, and — of course — plants are inconspicuous, not likely to disappear, and can handle being outside.

Watch the Center of Gravity

Few things are as nerve-wracking as a tall, lit candle. This is especially true when that candle is in the same room as a cat. If candles are part of your practice, make sure to invest in some good, heavy candle holders. If you can make sure your candles are sufficiently bottom-heavy, they’ll be less likely to tip over easily. For this reason, I also recommend tealights and jar candles over, say, long, fancy tapers.

The same is true of any statuary or other decorations. Avoid choosing items that have a high center of gravity, because they’re much more likely to tip over if, for example, a very zealous boxer puppy wags his tail too close to your altar.

Invest in Some Museum Wax

Museum wax is what helps keep museum displays in place. It comes in several types, from an opaque, gummy material to one more like clear dental wax, and can help things stay stationary if they get bumped. The only caveat here is that it doesn’t work on an altar cloth — museum wax provides a tacky surface between two smooth finishes, so it won’t really help to keep your statues in place on top of fabric.

Know Your Poisons (They May Not Be What You Think)

So, we probably all know not to let our pets get into toxic herbs or houseplants. The ASPCA has a good list of plants that can trigger adverse reactions.

I remember watching a video by a crystal worker a few years ago. In it, they mentioned being guided by their intuition to charge a piece of cinnabar(!) using fire(!!). The reason I mention this is that, sometimes, the list of things we know we should keep away from our pets isn’t as long as it ought to be.

For example, cinnabar is an ore of mercury. Some specimens even have droplets of mercury on or in them. Metallic mercury is, itself, not that toxic — organic mercury compounds are far more dangerous — but inhaling heated mercury vapor is a super bad idea. Honestly, you shouldn’t even really handle cinnabar or wear it next to your skin. If you want to work with it, use gloves, keep it in a glass container, and definitely don’t let your pets touch, lick, or play with it. Definitely definitely don’t heat it up.

Some other gemstones contain toxic materials, like lead, arsenic, or antimony.

Plants and mineral specimens aren’t the only sources of a potential poisoning, either. Some pottery — particularly very old or inexpensive stuff — may not be food safe. This means that its paint or glaze can contain toxic minerals that might leach out if you use it to cook with or eat from. While this isn’t usually a super serious concern for altar tools, it can be if you have a pet who tries to sneak a drink out of your altar’s water vessel or steal your food offerings!

The bottom line is, it’s important to know what goes on your altar. If you have pets, it’s equally important to assume that everything is going to end up on the floor or in someone’s mouth eventually.

life, Neodruidry

Honoring Balance at Mabon

It’s the Autumnal Equinox, and we’re heading into Libra season. All of the articles, posts, books, and assorted other things I’ve read say that this is a time of balance, of honoring one of only two days when day and night are of equal length. For some of us, it’s a time to prepare — to acknowledge that the dark, cold months are coming, and, while we may not like them, their quiet and rest is what gives us the brighter, warmer seasons ahead.

Mabon is also the second harvest. It’s enjoying the fruits of your labors, and gathering the seeds that will yield next year’s bounty.

It’s party time over here, though.

Sometimes, balance doesn’t look like you’d expect. If you’ve been going through a period of darkness or inactivity, balance can look more like a rush. Achieving balance and experiencing balance aren’t always the same thing — what it takes to reach equilibrium is not always what maintains that equilibrium.

That’s my balance right now. I’ve had an incredible, dramatic upswing over the past week or so — physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m physically stronger than I’ve been since I was a teenager, I’ve reconnected with someone who was very important to me as a child. My mental health is stable enough for me to identify areas that need healing, and work to help them. I feel vital, creative, and validated.

All of which are pretty weird things to associate with the day that marks the Earth’s gradual descent into winter darkness, but I’m not going to knock it.

Even my plants don’t seem to have gotten the message. With this uptick in my own energy, it seems like everything else in my home is being swept along with it. My violets are blooming. My nepenthes is packed with tiny new pitchers. The asst. fern $4.99 is apparently a staghorn that is putting out new fronds faster than I can keep up with — including a very formidable set of shield fronds. My parlor palm is outgrowing everything. My calathea has taken over an entire shelf with leaves like salad plates. My cats are shiny, sassy, and extra playful.

(Kiko found a tomato somewhere, and decided this was her New Favorite Toy. I had very mixed feelings about her smacking an entire-ass tomato around my living room most of the evening, but I also didn’t have the heart to take it from her. This is how badly she has me wrapped around her little pink toebeans.)

Today, I’ll make offerings of honey, tea, flowers, and incense. I’ll play music, and let the autumnal sunlight in. I’ll give thanks to all of the things that have contributed to this feeling, this harvest, and I’ll find the seeds and hold them safely for next year.

Blessed Mabon, everybody.
(Unless it’s Ostara where you are, then have a blessed that instead.)

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Jewelweed Folklore and Magical Properties

Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, is one of the most beautiful parts of watery places out here. Though the plant has bright yellow-orange flowers, they aren’t what give it its name — rather, it’s the curious property of the leaves. Since it grows near water, and excess moisture has a nasty tendency to support the growth of all kinds of pathogens, the leaves repel it. If you take one and drop water on it, it will bead up and glisten like jewels. If you take a leaf and hold it underwater, it looks like it’s covered in pavé-set diamonds.

They have a very clever reproductive strategy, too. Their showy flowers encourage sexual reproduction by attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators. They also have much smaller, more discreet flowers, which don’t open up the way their other blossoms do — they self-pollinate. This gives jewelweed the ability to produce two different sets of seeds: one that costs more energy and has a wider gene pool, and one that’s much cheaper, but lacks genetic diversity.

The seed capsules are pretty cool, too. One of the plant’s other common names is touch-me-not, because of the way it disperses its seeds. Plant jewelweed once, and it’ll keep self-seeding and coming back. After pollination, the seed capsules hang out and wait for something — anything — to touch them. Brush up against one, and the valves on the pods will quickly coil back and fire the seeds in a tiny explosion. (This all sounds perfectly normal, until you picture what it would look like if every pregnant person was also basically a baby confetti cannon.)

Jewelweed Magical Uses and Folklore

These plants are well known to people indigenous to where they grow. Their virtues are largely medicinal, so I didn’t have very much luck finding explicitly-stated magical properties or associations. Peer-reviewed research supports its use for itchy skin conditions, including tinea (the fungus responsible for ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch).

Jewelweed contains compounds that act as antagonists to the urushiol found in poison ivy. Most people are sensitive to urushiol, and end up with a telltale itchy, blistered rash from it. Applying jewelweed sap immediately after coming in contact with poison ivy can help stop the rash in its tracks.

I’m reminded of a rhyming couplet I read once, though I fail to remember where:

Jewelweed, starve ivy’s greed

Touch-me-not, stay ivy’s rot

(I have no idea. If you know the origin, let me know!)

The elemental and planetary associations for jewelweed are pretty much what you’d expect: water and Venus.

The flowers are a bright yellow-orange. Following the elemental correspondences, color attributes, and medicinal uses, I would use jewelweed in workings to bring joy and prevent or alleviate suffering. Water is the element of the emotions. Orange is for joy and positivity. It can keep you from spending a long, miserable time dealing with poison ivy blisters. The leaves repel what they don’t want on them. It makes sense to me!

Orange is also a color of creativity, and I did find a source who talks about using jewelweed in a flower essence to bring the flow of awen into your life. This also makes sense when you think of the plant’s seeds — whether it has pollinators to help it out or not, jewelweed will create new life!

Using Jewelweed

As mentioned above, jewelweed makes a nice flower essence. It also appears to be provisionally edible, but you need to cook it thoroughly to denature its toxic compounds.

Most uses of jewelweed involve either applying the crushed, raw plant to the skin, or adding it to salves, washes, or witch hazel.

Magically, I would dry some of the flowers and add them to sachets or witch’s bottles for creativity, joy, and the prevention of sorrow. Use the seeds in spells to increase the flow of inspiration. Since the plant depends on its flowers for genetic diversity, avoid taking more than a third of them. (Unless you’re in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s considered invasive. In that case, go to town.)

Jewelweed is a really unique plant. Sew it once, and it’ll keep coming back. It has an admirable tenacity, and can be a real friend to anyone who’s ever touched poison ivy on the trail. While traditional magical lore seems to be a bit thin on the ground, it has enough special qualities that it’s easy to extrapolate. Work with jewelweed, and see what it tells you.

Sunset cloud over a calm field.
life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

A Weather Eye

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a Pagan is the fact that my mind and body’s internal cycles don’t really do the whole “seasons” thing.

It isn’t a question of living in a city, or using air conditioning, or things of that nature — the personal rhythms of creation, growth, harvest, and rest are there, just mismatched. Summer is when I’m at my least active, it’s really closer to what should be winter. Heat basically makes me one of those flattened blob people from the old Zoloft commercials.

All of this is to say that I can’t wait for it to be fall. I know pumpkin spice season has apparently officially started, but I’m not even in it for the nutmeg. I can’t wait for cool weather and orange trees. I crave the smell of gently rotting leaves like a lab monkey craves amphetamines. There’s just something in the dirt and the moss and the wind that lights my soul up.

It’s supposed to be below 80°F next Saturday, and I almost don’t know what to do with myself. Should I go looking for the Sykesville monster? Hunt for an outdoor ritual space? Go mushroom spotting? There are so many options. Like a border collie who’s just heard the words, “Want to go for a w-,” I am pawing at the door and wiggling like my life depends on it.

This highlights what I mean, though. Akin to some kind of bizarro-realm iguana, I get more active as things cool off. It throws off my whole jam when it comes to the High Days. I feel like I should be feeling things in spring and summer that my biology doesn’t really get around to until October. Coupled with living in a city, it’s pushed me to find new meanings in holidays and the rhythm of the seasons — not only changing how I celebrate, but pushing things to other days, or even building new celebrations entirely.

Lately, it’s given me a lot to think about the days of the week, and the way each is attributed to a celestial force or deity. Sunday’s the day of the Sun, and best for workings involving success and happiness. Tuesday is Mars’ day, and best for workings for strength, battle, and so forth. It’s something that pops up a lot in various forms of witchcraft, but it’s also something that, in my opinion, it’s okay to dispense with in a lot of cases.

One thing I’ve learned is that, while it’s said that “purely mental magic yields purely mental results,” a solid 80% of it is setting up the right mental space for raising and releasing energy. Herbs, stones, and other materials have their own properties, but much of that can be overshadowed by what they do for you, the worker, on a personal level. (This is where unverified personal gnosis and personal associations come in, and why it’s so important to label them as such — the relationship between you and your materials is deeply subjective, and passing a subjective interpretation off as traditional is confusing, at best, and irresponsible, at worst.)

What all of this means is that, if a specific day, month, or season isn’t drawing the right feeling out of you, listen to yourself. Thursday is supposed to be the day of abundance and increase, but if your payday’s Monday and Thursday is when your bills come due, don’t let a stack of old books tell you how to feel about it. Maybe your prosperity spells will work better for you on a day when you actually feel prosperous. Maybe they’ll work better on a day that traditionally corresponds to them.

I’m old enough now to know that the only thing I can know for certain is that the world is a big, weird place, and it doesn’t like telling anyone the whole story. Old grimoires are the map, but they aren’t the territory. At some point, you have to figure out how to engage with the weird on your — and its — own terms

Here’s to autumn, my dudes.

life, Neodruidry

Lughnasadh, Pandemic Style

Lughnasadh is one of the High Days that falls between the solstice and the equinox. It’s an ancient celebration of the first harvest, but I’m probably not alone in feeling less than enthusiastic about this year. To be honest, I can’t honestly say I “celebrated” it.

The harvest is when you reap what you sow, and we’re reaping a whole lot of bad right now. Unable to get the message, police forces respond to protests against police brutality with increased brutality. Told that we need to wear masks and avoid indoor gatherings to slow the spread of a virus, people vocally rebel by not wearing masks and having rallies indoors. Other countries ostracize the U.S. as if it were a mass of plague rats, and I can’t really blame them. This is what we’ve collectively sown, and what are we harvesting in return?

I made a small offering (some beans I sprouted in a jar), but this Lughnasadh was less about celebration and enjoying the fruits of the first harvest than it was about understanding cause and effect. What we sow, we reap. You can’t meet challenges with brutality and callousness and expect to harvest success.

While I have plenty of growth and cause for celebration in my own life, it pales in comparison to what’s happening outside. Even so, that serves as its own reminder to find joy where we can. Even when the world’s on fire, there are small triumphs worth recognizing. There are still new bean sprouts in the jar.

Thanks for indulging my melancholy today. Promise I’ll be less of a buzzkill tomorrow 🧡

life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

How Antidepressants Made Me Better at Witchcraft

Have you ever seen that meme about psychiatric medication? The one that’s all, “pills are trash, forests are medicine!” (Which, by the way, is a toxic, steaming load of horse puckey.)

It’s not an uncommon attitude in some new age and Pagan-adjacent circles. I could digress into a discussion of the destructive power of the naturalistic fallacy, but it’d take at least eleven posts just to contain it. Instead, I want to point out one thing:

Medication made me way better at everything, including witchcraft and Druidry.

A lot of people express reluctance at trying psychiatric medication, and I can’t blame them. It can take awhile to find the right one, and, after that, to work out the right dose. That’s frustrating, even scary. Some worry that medication will “dope them up,” reduce their creativity, or subdue the traits that make them them. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. Without the constant high-pitched background buzz of anxiety and panic disorder, I’m much freer. I have some side effects, but they’ve been a small price to pay.

I do occasionally feel stabs of resentment that I’m reliant on something “unnatural” — but that’s a me problem. If there were a “natural” equivalent to what I need, believe me, I would have found it. I didn’t, despite years of experimentation. I came close a few times, but there was no herbal remedy for my panic that didn’t also knock me unconscious, make me throw up, or worse.

The fact is, the idea of “perfect” physical or mental health is a construct. It’s not a birthright, it’s not even a natural concept. In Sick Woman Theory, Johanna Hedva explains,

“Sickness” as we speak of it today is a capitalist construct, as is its perceived binary opposite, “wellness.” The “well” person is the person well enough to go to work. The “sick” person is the one who can’t. What is so destructive about conceiving of wellness as the default, as the standard mode of existence, is that it invents illness as temporary. When being sick is an abhorrence to the norm, it allows us to conceive of care and support in the same way.

By contrast, in nature, an organism that is “well” is one that’s able to meet the challenges of its environment. That isn’t a super high bar to clear — it also very often doesn’t look like the human conception of wellness. In reality, few creatures would meet the definition of “well” to which humans aspire. Animals live with parasites. Crows steal lit matches and bow over ant hills, seeking relief from mites when they need to. One crow with an injured beak needed the help of his mate to eat, and she gave it. We find deer that have lived for years with teeth or bullets embedded in them, muscle and bone growing gnarls over what biology apparently considered an impolite intrusion. We find creatures that have existed, eaten, and fucked for a lifetime, tumors and abscesses locked away behind walls of thickened bone. As salmon amply demonstrate, as long as you can survive to adulthood and pass on your genes, nature doesn’t much care what state you’re in. If you end up truly unwell, you don’t survive. If you’re surviving, even if it takes an anthill, a patchwork of scars, or an understanding mate to keep you there, you’re doing well.

“Perfect wellness” is not a natural standard, and the kind of health sold by the wellness industry is not only unnatural, it is deeply damaging.

Natural perfect health is rare enough to be nearly mythical, because there is no real binary opposite to sickness. Everyone will experience a significant amount of pain and disability at some point in their life. Some are fortunate enough not to experience that until they are very old. For others, that point just comes earlier and lasts a bit longer.

We are pushed to consider caring for ourselves as temporary, which perpetuates the myth of being “well” as a default, natural state. As long as the aspirational standard of natural perfect health exists, we’ll keep working ourselves to death trying to reach it. So, the idea that you must be naturally, perfectly clear-headed in order to commune with the Divine or perform magic? It’s kind of crap.

It’s an idea that’s also used to delegitimize practices that use entheogens — practices where altered mental states are valuable, if not necessary. It derides rituals that use substances in favor of quiet, whitewashed sensibilities.

In my case, it’s just a lot easier for me to get things done when my brain isn’t dysfunctionally revved up on a constant stream of high-test adrenaline, neurons struggling to swap about four serotonin molecules between them. It doesn’t matter if the “things” I’m trying to do are dishes or divination.

It’s not wrong to prefer natural tools in ritual, but the standards that apply to a wand or an herb don’t work when you try to apply them to the self. Medication — the help that gets us closer to the functional, animalistic concept of “wellness” — isn’t an enemy or a detraction from spiritual experiences.

If you’re hanging in there, even if you need medication to keep you here, you’re doing well. Nature and the divine won’t reject you for that.