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.

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.

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.

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.

divination, life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

The Accidental Journey

When I was little, I loved to sleep. I still do, to be honest.

At least, the adults around me thought it was sleep. I wasn’t really sure what it was. While hypersomnia has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, sleeping was never really just a means to an end.

I didn’t really have any privacy growing up, I didn’t have my own bedroom until I moved out — if I didn’t have to share it with my brother, I had to share it with my mother. You couldn’t even get five minutes in the bathroom without someone either banging on the door or just barging in. But the time and space behind my eyelids was mine.

When I was little, I learned the patterns my brain followed when it started its spiral into sleep. As soon as my thoughts turned into free-association nonsense, I learned to tweak them just enough to influence my dreams. If I timed it just right, I could dream lucidly, or, if nothing else, have dreams that were vividly beautiful and meaningful to me.

Sometimes, I wouldn’t be tired enough to descend into sleep. I experimented with ways to make myself dream — slowing my breathing, blinking my eyes in certain patterns, listening to certain songs, repeating phrases or disembodied snippets of poetry under my breath.

The first “awake dream” I had shocked and confused me as much as it delighted me. It was brighter and more vivid than the most memorable lucid dream I had, and I still retained a sense of the “real” world around me — I had a sense of awareness in two places at once, and gently ignored the walls around me for the impossibly lush, green gateway ahead. Unlike a dream, I could control my body. Unlike a fantasy, I couldn’t control anything else.

I didn’t know hedge riding, shamanism, or path-walking was a thing yet, I was only eight or nine years old. I kept it to myself, knowing that my experiences would either be dismissed as childish make-believe or decried as somehow demonic.

It was a long time before I learned what it was, and how lucky I’d been. I learned that doing this could be useful for more than just me. I’d spent a lot of time journeying as a scared, angry kid, and was fortunate to find things that (for the most part) were helpful at soothing my hurts and teaching me to avoid the destructive patterns I was being taught. It was because I was able to accidentally find my way there that I was able to find my way into a better life.

I know I was extraordinarily lucky, and things could have gone very wrong if I hadn’t been. Waking, sleeping, or journeying, I’m grateful every day for the way they turned out.

Three white candles in the middle of dried vines.
life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

Walking the Talk

I had a dream the other night. It was about someone I haven’t seen in years, and virtually never dream about. We were close at one point, but time and circumstance eventually decided otherwise.

In this dream, I was faced with a decision: I wanted to try to take on some of a soul debt that they’d incurred, to make things right again. I kept being told that I couldn’t. It wasn’t mine to take, and nothing I did was actually going to “fix” things.

It’s a bad habit I have. I spent a lot of my childhood trying to manage people’s moods, to keep mommy from getting screamy, or my younger siblings from getting in trouble. I’ve always been sensitive to noises as it is, especially a raised voice or the sound of a slap. Even now, as an adult, the thought drives nails into my brain and twists my stomach into hard, acidic snarls. Like Kiko, who immediately searches for the source of the sound any time she hears a video of a kitten meowing, I tie myself in knots to make all of the bad things stop. While “trying to fix things” seems to be helpful on its face, it’s not a good habit to have. The ability to sit with discomfort and know when not to interfere is a skill worth cultivating.

This is all some very roundabout exposition to justify asking one question: Why do we do what we do?

The person in my dream once called themselves a shaman. There’s a lot of stuff tied up in that one word, many even hesitate to use it because it often comes with a heaping side of appropriated cultural practices. It’s one of those words, like “tattoo,” that is a loan word for a widespread thing. In some cultures shamanism was just called “journeying” or “hedge riding” (much as tattooing was called “pricking” or even “embroidering”) so using a distinct loan word from another culture had appeal. For most people curious about communicating with spirits through altered states of consciousness, it isn’t necessary to turn to appropriated cultural teachings. Your elders know the ways.

This person called themselves a shaman in a tradition where they were an outsider. But why?

Was it the appeal of gaining secret knowledge?
Was it an attempt to adopt something new and “exotic,” like a hermit crab coiling into a painted shell?
Or was it a genuine desire to use these skills to help their community?

Unfortunately, it didn’t end well. They lost friends and loved ones. They were pushed away. In the end, they weren’t any better off than when they started, and neither was their community. Whatever it was that they had sought, they didn’t obtain it.

I know another person who called themselves a green Druid witch. They were a powerful witch, too. But working within the framework they chose came with rules, so they found sly ways to work around them. So why adhere to a tradition to begin with?

Was it to position themselves as an expert?
Was it out of genuine belief and respect?
Was it because they thought it would fill a personal need?

In the end, that didn’t work out so well either.

I’ve also known doctors who seemed to practice more “eminence-based medicine” than anything else, so this isn’t restricted to people in the metaphysical/religious/esoteric community. There is no shortage of people with ulterior motives, even if they don’t realize it themselves.

In the pursuit of any knowledge, self-interrogation is important. Do we seek titles? Recognition? The uncovering of hidden talents? A broader set of skills for interacting with the world? Why do you do what you do?

Know yourself. Know your motivation. Self-deception always leads to loss.

 

Books, Neodruidry

The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker

Recently, I had enough free time to finally finish reading Joanna van der Hoeven’s The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker. While not completely solitary myself (I’m a solo practitioner, but still part of a group), I still wanted to see what new information and perspective I could gain from van der Hoeven’s work.

It’s an impressively comprehensive guide, split into four sections: theory, practice, study, and technique. The book begins by delving into what the Druids were, their history, and what became of them. After that comes a breakdown of the cosmology in van der Hoeven’s (and, from my experience, most) Druidry. She follows this with practice: meditation, spellcraft, prayer, ritual, and so on. There are rites and rituals geared specifically for hedge Druids, herblore, the Ogham, and even ethics.

I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of all of the information presented here, but that’s something I’ve kind of come to expect from most books about witchcraft and paganism. Van der Hoeven does appear to have done her homework, as each reference has a citation. At this point, I don’t even really try to point out historical inaccuracies unless they’re particularly glaring (like one book’s claims about an “ancient Irish potato Goddess”). One thing I liked was the acknowledgement of the divide between the Druids and modern Druidry — no one can really, factually claim to follow the same faith and practices as the ancient Celtic peoples, we’re all working from what’s more-or-less a reproduction. That doesn’t mean modern Druidry has any less poignancy or value, it’s just the truth.

Books like this tend to hold the most appeal for beginners, since they tend to go over well-trodden ground. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed it — particularly the section on rites and rituals. Ever since I began to use the ADF ritual structure, I haven’t really been doing as much as I used to outside of that, since most everything I do follows that structure. I took a lot of inspiration from The Book of Hedge Druidry, both for practices to incorporate into my ADF-structured solo rituals, and as small workings on their own.

The book concludes with a section on ethics and acting within one’s community as a teacher and leader. Rather than the (in my opinion) rigid and often misinterpreted Threefold Law, van der Hoeven gives a thorough description of what it means to be centered, know yourself, and be able to act with honor for the good of everyone and everything around you. There’s no judgment, no finger-wagging, and no westernized idea of karma, just an explanation of what it means to act for the highest good.

Had I come at this book from a different perspective, there’s one specific area that would’ve disappointed me: The lack of real information on hedge riding. The bit of information provided about the Other worlds is enough to pique curiosity, but not really enough to prepare a solitary practitioner for journeying or spirit work.

All told, I found this book to be an accessible introduction to Druidry for the solitary (or just solo) practitioner. While I’ve definitely benefited from the study programs and ritual structure ADF provides, if I was completely on my own, van der Hoeven’s work would serve as a great jumping off point. I definitely recommend it to anyone curious about modern Druidry, or even just looking to expand their magical or religious bookshelf.

A sitting meerkat.
life, Neodruidry

I’m either coming out of this a genius, or with library paste for a brain.

I started isolation (okay, maybe not “started” — I don’t exactly keep an explosive social calendar) with the idea that I could take this time to do things. Clean my house! Meditate a lot! Start a new journal! Do a bunch of work!

Instead, I’m on my couch in my bathrobe and eating most of an apple pie for breakfast.

That’s okay, though. From the sound of things, so are a lot of other people.

That said, I was approved to study the ADF Initiate Path! It took two weeks of deliberation, and another two of voting, but I can start.
I just need the mental bandwidth to do it. Like the Dedicant Path, it’s a lot of reading, a lot of skill-building, and a lot of writing.

I have signed up for basically every web summit, webinar, and video course that’d have me, though. Three classes on Udemy. Something called a “Breathwork Summit” that I’m not entirely clear on. Another web series on astro-herbalism. If I can do it from bed, and lets me experience some semblance of human contact without the threat of someone coughing directly into my mouth, I’m on it like a hen on an egg.

On the other hand, I’m beginning to think that cramming so much into my head is detrimental to all of the stuff that’s already there. Knowing how to tie my shoes, for example.

Intracranial hypertension is pretty hinge on your memory-meat. That much I know. I did not, however, anticipate losing a skill that I’ve had since I was four. Like, I made a pair of ribbon ties for the curtains in my living room — just two bits of recycled sari silk in a very pretty turquoise blue. Nothing fancy, but they get the job done and it’s a lovely color. The bows kept coming untied.

I couldn’t figure out why. Baffled, I tried again and again. Finally, I sat on the floor with one of my shoes, and tried tying it.

Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. Loop, swoop, pull, right? But there was some step that I was missing. Some piece of knowledge that was just gone.

And that’s the story of how my partner walked into the living room to find me in tears and trying to learn how to tie my shoes.

(As it turns out, it was the bit at the beginning, where you make an X with the laces and pull. Completely gone. Unfortunately, tying much of anything doesn’t go terrible well without that part.)

I’m either going to come out of social isolation with all of the knowledge on the internet, or completely unable to navigate life. Not sure which yet.

I hope everyone else’s isolation is going as well as can be expected. If you’re looking for ways to help, here’s a place you can donate to to get needed supplies to the Hopi and Diné people. Your local food bank will also need donations (preferably of money, but food is important too). Meals on Wheels could also use some help keeping seniors in need fed and checked on. In-home workers are also being hit hard by COVID-19, and there’s a care fund set up to help them, too.

More people than this are being hurt by the pandemic, and I’m sure I’ve missed some ways to help ease the burden on them. If you know of any, please feel free to include them in the comments.