crystals, Witchcraft

“Fake” Crystals — Opalite, Goldstone, and More.

So, fake crystals.

Some materials that make it into the gem trade pretend to be something they aren’t. They might even come complete with a list of healing and metaphysical properties, leaving buyers none the wiser.

Wait, fake crystals?

There’s a whole spectrum of things covered by the term “fake crystal.” On one hand, it can mean a gem where the trade name doesn’t reflect the mineral itself (e.g. various types of crackled or dyed quartz). It can also mean a material that’s treated like a gem when it isn’t. It might be made into towers, molded into points, tumbled into nuggets, or even shaped into palm stones and spheres.

How can you tell if a gem is actually a crystal vs a man-made material?

Honestly, the best way I’ve found is to know the various types of art glass that end up in the gem trade. If you’re trying to suss out a man-made crystal masquerading as a natural one, there are certain tells you can look for. That’s a better subject for another post, however, so let’s look at art glass that’s frequently sold as and mistaken for natural gemstones.

Opalite

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Photo from Albion Fire and Ice. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Opalite is a type of opalescent glass, sometimes sold as sea opal or opal moonstone. There¬†is a natural stone called “opalite,” but you’re more likely to come across it under the name “common opal” since synthetic opalite is much more prevalent.

Some unscrupulous sellers will try to pass off opalite glass as natural opal or moonstone. Fortunately, opalite is pretty recognizable — it’s smooth, evenly colored, doesn’t exhibit any cracks or inclusions, and may occasionally contain air bubbles.

Crystal healers sometimes credit opalite with the ability to shift energy blockages, improve one’s ability to communicate, and stimulate creativity.

Goldstone

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Goldstone photo by GDK. CC BY-SA 3.0. No changes were made.

Goldstone, or aventurine glass (no relation to aventurine), is a stunningly sparkly type of glass made in a low-oxygen environment. It has to be produced in a specific type of environment to allow the copper ions in the mixture to reduce to pure, elemental copper, and within a very narrow temperature range to allow the glass to stay liquid while the copper precipitates out, creating the evenly-distributed gold glitter throughout the glass.

I have seen goldstone marketed as sunstone, as well as sold in ways that obscure the fact that it’s a man-made glass. Goldstone doesn’t really look like natural sunstone, however — the color and distribution of metallic crystals is too even.

Some crystal healers say goldstone promotes energy, confidence, vitality, and ambition.

Blue Goldstone

Blue goldstone looks very similar to regular goldstone, the only difference is the color. Blue or purple goldstones use different metallic elements in their formulations, giving the stones a deep blue or purple color (hence the name) with silver glitter.

Blue goldstone doesn’t really resemble any natural stone, but I have seen it sold as “blue sunstone.”

Like goldstone, blue goldstone is said to help with vitality. It’s also credited with the ability to soothe anxiety and communication.

Fake Quartz

With a cursory visual inspection, molded glass can pass for quartz. There are a few key things to look for to be able to tell regular glass from the real McCoy:

  • Quartz is probably going to be cold to the touch, colder than glass.
  • Quartz will probably be slightly heavier — it generally (not accounting for differences in composition of the matrix, inclusions, etc) has a density of 2.65 g/cm3 while borosilicate glass is about 2.2 g/cm3.
  • Glass is likely to contain air bubbles, and probably won’t have the natural imperfections of quartz.
  • Glass is softer than quartz — it won’t be able to scratch a glass plate, but quartz will.

Some low-quality quartz crystals are ground up, melted down, and used to create reconstituted quartz. This is frequently used for scrying spheres, since it offers perfect clarity along with the other properties of quartz. The best way to tell reconstituted quartz from naturally-formed quartz is its lack of imperfections, and its price tag. A reconstituted crystal sphere of a given size and clarity is much less expensive than its natural counterpart.

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Reconstituted quartz spheres can be as transparent and flawless as glass, but natural quartz very rarely is.

Does it matter?

Eh, maybe.

If you have a piece of opalite, goldstone, or even resin or glass that you get something out of, I’m definitely not going to tell you you’re wrong. I’ll be the first to tell you that something’s origins or how natural it is don’t necessarily dictate its usefulness; I’ve used literal, actual garbage in spellwork before.

That said, it¬†royally sucks to get mislead by an unscrupulous seller. If you enjoy opalite and find that it’s useful for you on your spiritual path, that’s awesome! Just please make sure you know what you’re buying, and don’t let someone overcharge you for their “super rare sea opal.”

It can also be important when you’re looking into making things like gem elixirs. While glass is pretty much inert, you really, really want to make absolutely certain that you’re not working with something that’s going to leach harmful compounds into your elixir. For that reason alone, you absolutely want to make sure that you know exactly what kind of minerals — natural or man-made — you’ve got.

Of course, no man-made material is going to have the exact same physical or metaphysical properties as the gemstone it’s imitating. But (as I mentioned in my post about identifying natural citrine) goldstone, blue goldstone, and opalite can have a legitimate use, even in a very traditional magical system. Color magic is a viable aspect of witchcraft, and goldstone being made in a factory instead of underground doesn’t make it any less orange and sparkly.

 

If you try to use nature-derived material in your spellwork, you might want to familiarize yourself with the man-made stones that occasionally make their way into the crystal and gemstone market. If you don’t really care, or feel drawn to these stones for their own sake, there’s no reason to avoid them. Opalite, goldstone, blue goldstone, and reconstituted quartz are all beautiful and useful in their own ways. If you find a piece that resonates with you, enjoy it and treasure it — no matter whether it came from the earth, or from a laboratory.

Burning incense.
life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

I passed! … Now what?

It took me some time, but I submitted my ADF Dedicant Path work, received some feedback, elaborated where I was asked to elaborate, and… I passed!

It’s an enormous relief — perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the feedback I received involved me being “too hard on [myself]” when rituals didn’t go perfectly to plan. I don’t consider myself a type A personality, I don’t really think I’m a perfectionist (well,¬†most of the time), but I can see it. Completing this path work was very important to me. Upholding the virtues and things I’ve learned in the course of doing it is¬†still¬†important to me.

There’s only one problem: where do I go from here?

I’ve considered trying to pursue ordainment. There are also other paths of study within each of the Druidry guilds. With how long it took me to finish my Dedicant Path work to my satisfaction, I’m a little hesitant to jump into another round of studying and writing so soon. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t calling to me, though.

Do I explore other Druid groups alongside ADF, and see what knowledge they have to offer? Do I choose a guild or two to concentrate on?

I’m giving myself until February 8th. By then, I will have looked at my options and picked a course of action.

Fingers crossed that it’s a good one!

life, Neodruidry

The Return of Spring

Imbolc was this past Saturday.

I celebrated alone, as I often do — as much as I like having other Pagans to share with, i still really enjoy the headspace of a solitary ritual. It can get much more improvisational. If it feels right to do a ritual in the alley next to the dumpster and pour out my nature offerings right where the birds can get them, I can do that. If I want to honor my ancestors by making and offering of some of the really awesome BBQ pizza I reheated from the night before, I can do that. If the spirits move me and I want to cover my floor in newspaper, smear my body with paint, and express myself by doing the worm across a piece of unstretched canvas, I can do that.

Not that I did, or anything. But I could!

Oddly, being able to get out and about more now has given me more of an appreciation for solo rituals. The difference between having to celebrate alone and choosing to do so is much bigger than I thought.

I don’t generally get much opportunity to decorate for the High Days. Kiko would eat whatever I put out, and Pye would throw it on the floor in a fit of pique if he thought his food bowl didn’t contain the right ratio of freeze dried bits to crunchy bits. I love my cats dearly, but they are kind of jerks.

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And so, I had a small Imbolc celebration sitting in the big, comfy chair in my living room, with my coffee table as an altar and a very fancy candle I choose specifically as an offering for Brigid. The Nature Spirits received mung beans, my Ancestors received candy, the Shining Ones received bourbon and incense, and the waters of life were the tail end of a bottle of very excellent cucumber, mint, and geranium lemonade. (I’m a sucker for cucumber and herbal flavors.)

It was peaceful. It was low-key. It was just what it needed to be, in a place where the pavement often keeps me from being able to see the first early flowers make an appearance, on a day when the overcast sky seemed to blanket everything in downy gray and the brightness of spring still feels far away.

It was nice.

Blog, life

Two Bards.

Tuesday night, I had the chance to see Richard Thompson perform live. It’s a show I’ve had on my bucket list ever since I was introduced to him a few years ago — he’s an incredible guitarist, and watching him play is really an amazing experience. When I stopped being able to go out much for awhile, I was legitimately afraid that I wouldn’t get well enough to be able to see him play. I only learned about Coco Robicheaux on the day of his death, and I missed the chance to see Tom Waits (who doesn’t tour very often) perform when I lived in California; two things I consider some of the biggest missed opportunities of my life.

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I think my S.O. and I were the youngest people in the audience by close to twenty or thirty years, which made me a little self-conscious when we were finding seats. (‘Scuse me, sir and/or ma’am, biker punk and tattooed millennial with a shaved head coming through.) As soon as I sat down, though, I didn’t care. I still whooped it up and applauded hard enough to jam one of my fingers.

He’d just started playing “Valerie” when we got in, which is, bar none, my favorite of his songs. It was honestly a little overwhelming — I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my heart skipped a beat and I thought I was going to have a panic attack for a few. I teared up at “Beeswing” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” just like I knew I would. (Lucky for me, I’d had the foresight to forego eye makeup for this exact reason.)

The songs were moving, tragic, and hilarious by turns. His voice and guitar playing were superb. His banter made the venue feel small, with the kind of warmth and humor that turns a show into an intimate gathering.

I loved every minute of it.

And then, the next day, I found out that Terry Jones had died.

He wanted to be remembered as a comedian, but I knew him best as an author long, long before I knew anything about Monty Python’s Flying Circus. When I was a kid, we had a copy of Fairy Tales. It was my favorite children’s book — as a kid, I think I learned more important morals there than almost anywhere else. Like Three Raindrops, which taught me that everyone’s grave is the same size, and there’s no point in wasting your life on comparisons. Or Jack One-Step, which taught me the value of collective bargaining. Or The Glass Cupboard, which, I’m fairly certain, is what turned me into a tiny environmentalist.

monster
And then there’s this guy, which I’m pretty sure figured prominently in my nightmares until I was ten. Artwork by Michael Foreman.

I loved Michael Foreman’s illustrations, too. To be honest, I can’t really overstate the impact they had on my imagination as a kid, or even on my artwork now. His watercolors were at once bright and soft and dreamlike, surreal and strange, occasionally with a subtly unsettling edge. They were the perfect accompaniment to stories like The Fly-By-Night and The Wonderful Cake-Horse.

cakehorse
Illustration for Terry Jones’ The Wonderful Cake-Horse, by Michael Foreman.

I’m much older now, but the stories and illustrations still mean just as much to me.

Jones’ passed after a battle with dementia. As much as we like to think that “where there’s life, there’s hope,” there’s still a very particular kind of mourning that happens when someone passes from a brain disease. There’s the loss you experience when someone is no longer who they once were, and the final loss that comes with death. Sometimes, the hardest thing to deal with is that we might not think we feel “sad enough” when someone actually dies, because we’ve spent so long mourning the person they used to be. It’s something I experienced with my grandmother, as she declined from brain cancer. As hard as it was to handle her passing, I felt guilty for feeling relief. Not for myself — I felt relief that she was beyond the pain, confusion, and anxiety that her illness had caused her.

It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with, too. Intracranial hypertension causes brain damage, and it’s very likely that I will suffer a stroke at some point and either die, or have to fight my way back from that. Sometimes, you have to mourn for yourself. The important thing is to process this grief, then get on with the hard work of living. For Jones, that was raising awareness. For my grandparents, it was my grandfather feeding, dressing, and bathing my grandmother. For me, it’s working a little more every day to try to regain some ground before I lose more of it.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re part of an artist’s primary audience. Life’s too short to miss the concert you want to go to, or to overlook a book just because it’s intended for children. Eventually, like the Three Raindrops, we all become part of the same big, muddy puddle. Draw inspiration and spiritual nourishment anywhere you can.

divination, life

A Free, Simple Card Reading for You

This week, I wanted to start trying something different. I picked up three of my divination decks, and decided to put together a small reading for anyone reading this post right now. It’s simple: just pick a stack of cards, scroll to the one you chose, and see what they have in store!

Not everyone agrees with doing “general” tarot readings, but I find that they can be very helpful — synchronicity is a thing. If you’re drawn to pick a card today, tomorrow, or any time in the future, there’s likely a reason why. So, even if a free tarot reading is a general one sent to nobody in particular, it can still hold a lot of insight.

So, shall we? Pick a stack of cards. From left to right, they are marked by a moonstone, an amethyst, and a rose quartz.

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Now, when you’re ready, scroll down to the cards you chose. Each stack comprises a tarot card from the Deviant Moon tarot deck, an animal spirit card from The Wild Unknown deck, and a plant card from The Illustrated Herbiary deck.

Moonstone

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Here, we have The Empress, Hummingbird, and Plantain.

The Empress is the embodiment of a loving, nurturing spirit, surrounded by abundance. She is regarded as a very feminine figure and, in some contexts, can even signify marriage or childbirth. You are in a period of growth right now, and are surrounded by the energy of abundance. If that is difficult to recognize against the background noise of your life, take some time to connect to the world with your senses — go into nature, bring a picnic of your favorite foods, and give yourself the gift of time to experience the earth beneath you, the fragrance on the breeze, and the taste of good food. Remind yourself of all that you have to be grateful for, and help cultivate the feelings of contentment and prosperity in your life.

Hummingbirds have really fun energy, I love them. With Hummingbird, there is a feeling of enthusiasm, creativity, and positivity — though this can turn into overbearing pushiness if this energy is out of balance. Since Hummingbird represents an open, curious, and creative mind, one way to bring this energy into balance is to learn something new.

Plantain’s advice is to rewild. This simple herb, often treated as a weed when it pops up in lawns, is a versatile and abundant source of medicine. Mash the leaves and place them on a bruise or bee sting. This is what Plantain asks you to do: connect with simplicity and the open-hearted, childlike side of your authentic self.

Overall, the advice here is to connect with nature and feelings of gratitude, simplicity, and the fresh curiosity you had as a child. Take time to enjoy the simple pleasures in your life, you are surrounded by them and much more prosperous than you might feel right now.

Amethyst

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Here is The Star, Firefly, and Vervain.

The Star is a very hopeful card. It is the promise of a new day that comes after a period of strife. It’s the feeling of new possibilities after experiencing untold hardships. It is hope, wishes, dreams, and a desire to connect with the energy of spirituality and inspiration. Be assured that you’re moving into a fresh period of your life, full of possibilities for growth and happiness.

Oh man, Firefly! Firefly is a burst of inspiration — bright and radiant, but brief. It is the energy of the creative breakthrough, but, when out of balance, it can feel like the creative burnout that turns into a block. Firefly’s advice is, “Creator, create!” Bring its energy into balance by stretching your creative muscles and making something.

Vervain is one of the most sacred herbs of many European magical traditions. It is the herb of between-places, harvested at dawn and dusk, and it encourages you to explore the liminal. Let magic into your life by opening yourself to the possibilities around you. After all, it is in the in-between places where possibilities overlap and we are presented with nearly infinite outcomes. If you had every door open to you, what weight would you be willing to drop in order to pass through?

Overall, the advice here is to embrace the new possibilities open to you. You seem to have come out of a difficult period, and you’re entering a new one that is giving you the chance to experience an incredible burst of inspiration, creativity, and growth. Are you willing to take it, or is the fear of what you have gone through going to hold you back?

Rose Quartz

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Here is The Chariot, Cobra, and Rose.

The Chariot is strength. It is girding your loins for battle. It is determination, action, and decisiveness in the face of a challenge. It tells you that now is the time to make a choice and take a stand. If you’re afraid that you lack the strength to do so, don’t worry — with focus and determination, you have what you need to be successful. Assert yourself, and don’t back down on matters that are important to you.

Cobra is a spiritual guardian. They are not ostentatious, they do not command the attention of a room, but they are patient, watchful, wise, and strong. When out of balance, this strength can turn into egotism. Balance cobra energy by remaining humble — give yourself the opportunity to learn something new from someone else, and recognize that there is still much that life has to teach you.

Rose is an herb of duality. It is the soft, silken petals and the blood-drawing thorns, the nourishing rose hips and the choking seeds. As such, it reminds you to embrace duality within yourself. You can be beautiful and fierce, soft and strong. Look at the things within yourself that you perceive as flaws, and recognize that they do not define you — you can still have a whole, open heart that is worthy of love.

Overall, it looks like you are in a period that demands a lot of strength from you. The Chariot assures you that you can succeed, if you are willing to stand up and assert yourself. Cobra tells you to remain humble — you have strength, but should not let your assertiveness turn into an ego-shield of narcissism. Rose says to embrace the contradictions within you. You can be assertive and soft. You can be successful and humble. You can push yourself to succeed without losing the tender, gentle aspects of you.

 

I had a lot of fun putting this together. To be honest, I was very surprised at how well the cards interrelated with each other. I’d like to do this again (maybe next week?) and I hope you’ll join me.

 

divination, life

The Six of Swords

Fffffffuuuuh… It’s swords again. Not even a court card, either.

I mean, I don’t have anything¬†against¬†¬†swords, but I haven’t had a lot of positive experiences with them lately, either. At least this one isn’t so bad.

They (though I’m not exactly sure who “they” are) say that you change every seven to ten years. Depending on who you ask, this comes from either a physical place, or a metaphysical one. Some hold that our body cells are effectively replaced every seven or so years — not all at once, mind, but every seven years you can be reasonably confident that you no longer contain the same cells you did on that day seven years ago. Some hold that our luck or our spiritual growth move in seven-year cycles.

All of this is to say that this is a Six of Swords kind of week.

The Six of Swords doesn’t really look like a happy card — if anything, it’s bittersweet. Three people, presumably a family, load up a bunch of swords in their rowboat and shove off. Their backs are to the viewer, indicating that they are leaving, not arriving. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the two seated figures almost appear huddled. It is abundantly clear that this is not a pleasure trip.

Still, that aside it’s not all bad. Interpretations vary, but all of them have one element in common: letting go and moving on. As unhappy as these people might look right now, they’re headed away from the source of their unhappiness and moving toward something better.

Trouble is, they don’t look happy to be leaving.

The Six of Swords is about cutting your losses. It’s letting go of something you might want to keep holding onto, but which is ultimately not actually helping you. Whether it’s a situation, an idea, a feeling, or a habit, it needs to be dropped for growth and progress to take place.

In some interpretations, the Six of Swords stands for healing. I can understand why — these people are leaving a bad situation. Things are looking up, but they can’t see that yet because they are still in the midst of the pain of leaving.

When I was younger, I was fortunate to learn something in the midst of a very frustrating job search. I was underemployed, in a bad relationship, annoyed at my lack of progress, and fed up with the dearth of opportunities in front of me. A set of circumstances — far too long to delve into here — taught me that every chance I was denied was a sign that something better was close by. When I didn’t get the job I was hoping for, it was because the opportunity I stumbled upon a week later was waiting for me. When my relationship finally ended its interminable death throes, it was because there was an incredible set of experiences that I never would’ve gotten to have if it hadn’t.

I wanted to know more, though. The Six of Swords isn’t a bad card to pull, though it’s a bit thorny. But what am I supposed to be leaving?

I pulled Justice.

I have to admit, I’ve been holding on to a very particular idea of fairness. They say the best revenge is living well, but it can be very difficult to enjoy if your enemies don’t¬†know you are, you know? People often talk about a very westernized idea of karma. Rather than the sum of one’s actions deciding their fate in a future life, it’s regarded as a kind of manifestation of “the golden rule.” You do unto others, and life does unto you. If only things were so simple!

I get what the cards mean, though. In this cycle of life, I have to let go of the last nagging part of me that wants things to be fair. Life isn’t fair. I left my enemies behind so they wouldn’t have a negative impact on my life anymore, but, but continuing to live in hope of justice and some kind of fairness, I’m still allowing them to affect me. It’s only when I can rid myself of their influence entirely that I’ll really be free.

We’ll see where this week goes.

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

Of Brown Moths and Synchronicities

Literally minutes after I finished writing the previous, I hit “Schedule” and got up to do my usual nighttime ablutions. I’m standing there, trying to rinse the soap out of my eyes because I am a fool who couldn’t properly use a facial brush if my life depended on it, when something suddenly flies into my field of vision.

“Holy crap,” I responded, followed by a, “WHO told you?!”
(NB: “Who told you” is how I react to pretty much anything that surprises or displeases me, and also many things that don’t. They are good words for when you don’t have any better ones, like when a moth pings off of the side of your face, lands on your mirror, and acts all huffy about it.)¬†

It was a little brown moth. Not the sort of pantry moth I might’ve expected, though it was equally small and nondescript. If I had to guess, I would peg it as a¬†Macaria aemulataria,¬†though I didn’t really stick around to check its license or anything. I said goodnight, and got into bed.

That’s when I noticed that I had a new email alert on my phone. The Bloggess put up a new post: The silver moth. Her post is beautiful — full of love, kindness to a wayward moth that found its way into a pool, and memories of her grandfather. She talks about moths as representations of faith, and sphinx moths, specifically, as omens of death. It made me curious about my little brown moth. It wasn’t a sphinx, but it might be a good idea to find out if Common Angle Moths are omens of anything unpleasant. The timing struck me, and life doesn’t have many coincidences.

In dreams, brown moths are said to represent love and attraction. Moths, in general, are symbols of faith, transformation, psychic awareness, vulnerability, and adaptation, among other things. To some, they are omens of good luck. To others, bad luck. Coming on the heels of the cards I drew, I was at least happy to see that small brown moths seem to be a sign of more good things than bad… The kind of things I need to hear right now.

I’m grateful to the little brown moth that wandered its way into my bathroom. I’m grateful that The Bloggess rescued that silver moth, and I wish peace and good things for her and her family. I’m happy that I have another little message of hope, even if it did startle the everloving crap out of me and then sit on my mirror and look at me like it was my fault.

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

The Wild Unknown called me an oyster and I don’t know how to feel about that.

Part of being Pagan, for me, is seeing the sacred in everything. I’ve seen some people arrive there because they were raised that way. Others arrive there after a crisis. From the unsprouted embryonic leaves in a seed (tiny, but strong enough to split a rock), to the chaotic force of a tornado, there is a majesty and a power in everything.

I am reminding myself of this because I do not want to be an oyster.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing¬†wrong with oysters. Farmed oysters are the most sustainable, least ethically objectionable source of animal protein. They turn bits of sand into pearls. Their shells are neat. They’re not exactly great judges of character, but they could be worse. They are basically questionably sentient water nuts filled with goo. It’s fine.

Still, as I was shuffling my new copy of The Wild Unknown oracle deck the other day, I had my hopes up. What energy would it help me connect with? A wolf? Lion? Maybe a snake?

An oyster.
“Surprise, nerd.”

Nah.

(I’ll level with you, this feels like a bit of hypocrisy considering my inward criticism of certain sectors of new age spirituality — like that nobody ever seems to have a dung beetle or a pantry moth as an animal guide.)

I don’t necessarily not want to be an oyster because I think they’re gross or boring, mind. They remind me of a sinus infection and aren’t exactly the kind of thing I’d want to hear Sir David Attenborough discuss at length, but still.

The Wild Unknown describes oysters as patient and persistent, but likely to hide things. They can be shy and withdrawn, and suffer from self-doubt. “When the oyster card appears, it’s important to reveal your inner treasures.” When in balance, oysters are generous and masterful. When they’re not, they are reluctant and silence themselves. To bring things back into balance, making yourself share something helps.

So, tomorrow, I’m gonna share you a thing.

 

 

Witchcraft

4 Great Alternatives to Incense

Note: This post contains affiliate links to some of the products I mention. These allow me to earn a small commission on each item sold, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for helping to support independent artists and artisans, as well as this site!

Incense is pretty magical. Not only does it give a place that certain mystical je ne sais quoi, it works for sympathetic magic, carries prayers and petitions away on its smoke, and clears away stagnant energy. It’s pretty awesome stuff.

… Unless you’re asthmatic. Or have migraines triggered by smells. Or live in a dorm. Or aren’t yet “out” as a witch. Or are one of any of the millions of other people who, for various reasons, can’t light up.

What do you do then?

Burning incense.

I can get away with using incense sometimes. For other occasions, I’ve found a bunch of very effective incense alternatives that work in both a magical and a mundane sense.

1. Hydrosols

Hydrosols are a “byproduct” of essential oil distillation. I put “byproduct” in quotes because, while they¬†are certainly considered a byproduct if the oil is what you’re after (in much the same way that a rosebush would be considered a weed in a wheat field), they’re very useful on their own. I originally started using them as part of my skincare regimen — putting a couple of sprays on a cotton ball and using it as toner, or stashing a bottle in my bag to cool and freshen my skin throughout the day. After that, I began expanding my use to more metaphysical purposes.

Since hydrosols are derived from the same herbs used to make incense and essential oil, they carry the same properties. The only difference here is that they are closer to water, rather than the airy qualities of incense smoke. So, if you’re using incense to represent the air element on an altar or in a ritual, you may want to choose a hydrosol made of an air-aligned herb (like yarrow or peppermint), or add a feather or other airy representation to your work.

To use them, treat the spray like incense smoke. If you’d use incense to fume an object, space, or person, for example, give a spray of the hydrosol instead. I’m a big fan of those¬† produced by Wildroot Botanicals.

2. Essential Oil Sprays

These are very similar to hydrosols, but a bit different in composition. While hydrosols are made up of the water-soluble portions of a plant, essential oil sprays are made up of water, a blend of oils, and something to keep the oils in solution (usually witch hazel or ethanol). Hydrosols are usually sold as the product of a single herb, while essential oil sprays are often a proprietary mix of oils, sometimes with crystals, gem elixirs, or flower essences added.

This makes essential oil sprays great for ritual purposes, because you can easily customize them to meet your needs. Need a fire elemental spray? Use oils from fire-aligned herbs, and add some water-safe red or orange crystals. Since a lot of the ready-made sprays have proprietary oil blends, however, they may not be the best choice for skincare applications like beauty magic.

To use them in a spell, treat them just like you would a hydrosol. Enchanted Botanicals has some really nice sprays — their Clearing spray is powerful stuff! I’ve used it for everything from cleansing spaces and tools, to helping to lift a bad mood.

Fresh herbs.

3. Loose Herbs

You don’t always have to burn herbs to get the benefit of them. Burning has its place, but you can also add a dish of loose herbs to your spell, then release them to the wind when you’re done. Rather than waft incense smoke over an object, lay it on or cover it with the herbs. (If you add a few drops of essential oil, you can also pass the herbs off as potpourri.)

Harmony Hills Boutique has a very good selection of hard-to-find herbs at reasonable prices, and they ship quickly.

4. Tincture Paper

Tincture paper is fun if you absolutely need to be able to burn something, but incense still isn’t an option. It’s made by creating or taking a tincture of the herbs you’re working with, and adding a few drops to a piece of blotting paper. The paper will readily absorb the tincture, the alcohol will evaporate, and, once the paper’s dry, it’s ready for use.

These papers are nice because you can write petitions on them, create your own blend of tinctures to add to them, and they’ll burn quite a bit faster than incense. So, if you can handle limited amounts of smoke, or just don’t want to wait for incense to finish burning, try them.

 

Incense is treated as de rigueur in a lot of spells, but isn’t always an option for everyone. If you’re one of the many people who can’t use incense, try hydrosols, essential oil sprays, loose herbs, or tincture paper instead — you may find that you actually prefer them to dealing with smoke!

life

6 Signs Your Spiritual Advisor Might Be Full of It

Once, I mentioned to someone that I was interested in visiting a Reiki massage therapist. Immediately after I said it, I received a very baffling piece of advice: “Don’t join a cult.”

I say baffling, because:

  1. What do either of those things have to do with each other?
  2. Cults have a very definite set of characteristics that make them destructive to the people they trap. People don’t join a cult because they’re foolish or don’t know any better. They join them because they are desperate, and cults have a highly evolved set of strategies for preying on this desperation. Saying “don’t join a cult” is an extremely reductive treatment of a set of very complex psychological and social problems.
  3. Cults work because¬†people don’t realize they’re about to join one.¬†Saying “don’t join a cult” is a bit like saying “don’t choke to death on a potato” or “don’t get malaria.”

In Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America, Margot Adler points out that Pagan groups don’t share the characteristics of cults. I can’t reasonably say that no Pagan group leader has ever used their influence the way a cult leader does, but the motivations for being Pagan, or even being a secular witch, are not rooted in the desperation and desire to belong that are the hallmarks of someone vulnerable to a cult. (Given the number of solitary Pagans and witches, it would really odd way to go about obtaining a sense of belonging.)

A fangy-toothed cat sleeping upside down.
I have no idea what image would be appropriate for this sort of post, but all of the blogging guides say I need to have one. So, here’s Pye’s enormous, doofy face, because the rest of this post is heavy.

That said, sometimes spiritual advisors and Pagan group leaders take a hard left into toxicity. I mean, there’s a whole range of behavior between garden-variety low functioning manipulators and Shoko Asahara¬†(and none of it is good).

So, how do you tell if your spiritual advisor may not have your best interests at heart?

1. “You’re cursed, but I can save you.”

I can’t tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard from people who went to a psychic or other advisor only to be told that they were suffering from a terrible curse, and only the advisor could help them.

By the way, that help will run you into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Dealing with curse-breaking, like other forms of witchcraft, requires practice, learning, and dedication, but there is nothing so special about it that¬†only one person in the world can help you… and it definitely shouldn’t cost you four easy payments of $10k each. But, while most people know to get a second opinion if their doctor delivers some bad news, they often don’t necessarily feel the same about spiritual advisors.

I hate to be all “not all psychics,” but it’s true. Just like with any other bad news, get a second (or third) opinion, and learn what you can do to help yourself first. Curses also aren’t nearly as common as many people think, so the odds of you¬†actually having a curse that needs removing are not very high.

2. Nudity is not optional.

“Going skyclad” is a thing that I think a lot of people have weird ideas about. It’s a way to remove the trappings of rank from people, to place all of the participants on equal footing. It’s also a way to delineate the ritual setting, since most people don’t go about their daily lives in the nude, and to celebrate the body without shame — if you’re uninhibited enough to be in the buff, you’re uninhibited enough to fully give yourself over to the emotions and feelings of the ritual.

That said, nobody has any place to tell someone that they must be skyclad. Nobody.

There have been instances where gross perverts have maneuvered themselves into leadership positions in part to preside over a space full of naked people. Anyone who insists that you absolutely have to be naked in front of them (and isn’t, like, a literal emergency room trauma surgeon) is not anyone who should be trusted.

3. Something something root chakra.

There’s a lot of crossover between Western new age spirituality and the concept of chakras in Hindu tantrism (something which both Hindu people and members of new age movements often feel several ways about). Part of this is the appropriation of the idea of chakra opening.

The root chakra is part of a complex physical and spiritual energy system. I can’t speak for Hindu tantrism in particular, but, in Westernised practices, this chakra is associated with sexuality, survival, security, and all of the other lower Maslow-type business. A blockage of the root chakra also impacts all of those above it. This makes sense — if you don’t feel safe and have your basic needs met, you probably aren’t going to really open up to much else in life.

The weird part is the number of people who want to personally unblock your chakras. Preferably with their junk.

As with going skyclad, there is no reason to allow someone to do anything to you that you are not comfortable with, even a guru. This isn’t like overcoming fear through skydiving or bungee jumping — this is a predator who wants to take advantage of someone in a vulnerable position. Cloaking it in a veneer of spirituality doesn’t legitimize it.

4. “You’re special!”

Here is where things cross over into cult recruitment tactics. One of the things cults are known for is love bombing. Love bombing is sometimes used toward positive ends. More often, it’s manipulation.

Love bombing takes a vulnerable person and makes them feel wanted and special. It can also take a person who just thrives on praise and make them feel elevated and unique. Once that “loved” status is obtained, most people don’t want to let go of it — so they put up with a lot to keep the love coming.

For a very brief time, I was involved in a small coven led by someone I trusted. All of the people involved in it were friends, and we all knew each other pretty well. I didn’t stay long, because my gut feeling pulled me away — I could tell something in the milk wasn’t clean, even if I didn’t know what. In the short time I was there, though, I could see the leader love bombing one of the members. This member got endless compliments, elevated to a higher rank, and the leader insisted that a kiss was part of the ritual structure.

Long story short, some rumors of sexual misconduct and a broken marriage later, that coven isn’t a thing anymore.

5. “The world doesn’t understand.”

Here’s another crossover into cult territory. One of the signs of a cult is isolation — the cult can only function if its members have a complete reliance on it. So, it shuts down critical thought and fosters the sense that the rest of the world is at fault, and it’s good and right to be at odds with it.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be against a lot of the things society accepts as normal. Being anti-capitalist, anti-overconsumption, or anti-patriarchal doesn’t make someone weird or wrong — far from it.

It¬†does¬†become toxic when that feeling extends to being unable to associate with anyone outside of a given belief system. When a trusted advisor tells you that you should alienate anyone who questions what you’re doing, that’s bad news.

Weirdly, it’s something that shows up in multi-level marketing schemes, too. Amway even has a name for these outsiders: dream stealers. This name is a way to “other” people who are suspicious of their activities. If a person doesn’t want to join your downline, buy Amway products, or otherwise go whole-hog into the Amway lifestyle? “Why, they’re just a loser who doesn’t want to see you succeed! They want to take away your dream!”

If your advisor tries to control the narrative by shutting down critical thought, that’s bad news.

6. “Your doctor is holding you back.”

It used to be an oft-repeated refrain that you simply¬†couldn’t¬†practice witchcraft if you were under the influence of anything. While this is understandably interpreted as a caution not to drink your weight in sacramental beer or rip a fat rail off of the back of a toilet immediately before entering the circle, you can still find people who take a dangerous, hard line approach.

As in, you shouldn’t be on¬†anything. The medication you need for anxiety? Nope. The mood stabilizers that help you function? Nah. Antipsychotics? No way.

I think this happens when the importance of practicing with a clear head gets crossed with a kind of orthorexia — the idea that you¬†must adhere to a contrived standard of internal “purity” in order to be worthy, and relying on outside help to function somehow makes you lesser. From my observation, this doesn’t seem to arise out of a desire for control (trust me, I’m much less tractable when I’m anxious), but telling someone to stop taking medication that they need is still destructive.

 

I’ve had some great experiences with spiritual advisors and group leaders, and some not-so-great ones. When spiritual advisors are good at what they do, they can help foster tremendous growth and creativity. “Help” and “foster” are the key words, though — they are there to advise, while the actual growth comes from within. If someone tries to make you dependent on them by claiming to be the only one who can save you, forces you into a vulnerable position, love bombs you, urges you to isolate yourself from anyone else who might see them for who they are, or tells you to stop taking your medication, it’s time to drop them.