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

Working with Herkimer Diamonds

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I like crystals. Even if I didn’t work with them, I’d probably collect them.

I received my first one when I was very little — about five or so, I think. It was a piece of dyed hot pink agate, shaped into an egg about as long as my thumb. I didn’t know anything about geology or crystal properties, but I knew I liked it and so, like a corvid, I kept it with the rest of my treasures.

(Most of those “treasures” were dead swamp cicadas that I’d pick up on the sidewalk in late summer. I had — okay, have — a Thing for iridescent colors.)

I still collect crystals, though now they actually get used for things. Unfortunately, the reality of the crystal market means I can’t just buy whatever I like. There’s a vetting process. Since I’m also lazy, this means that, for the past couple of years, I’ve only picked up Arkansas quartz, Herkimer diamonds, and piece or two from Brazil after making a nuisance of myself to the seller.

All of this is to say that Herkimer diamonds kick ass and they’re very easy to obtain ethically. If I could only use one crystal for the rest of my life, it’d be one of these.

What are Herkimer diamonds?

Well, for one, they’re not diamonds. They earn their name because they come from Herkimer county, New York, and are an exceptionally hard, clear variety of (usually double-terminated) quartz.

Herkimer is known for these stones, so there are a bunch of mines you can visit to get your own from the source. There’s no child labor involved, and the process of mining is pretty much you, some hand tools, and a bucket, so these crystals are also lower on the social and environmental impact scale than many others. A bunch of Etsy merchants make a point to visit Herkimer once a year or so, dig for some, then sell them, so they’re also pretty easy to obtain even if you aren’t interested in making the trip yourself. (Two of my favorite sellers are Luminous Harvest and Greengem. Bonus, Greengem is also a source of beautiful, conflict-free rings — even some really fancy alternative engagement rings.)

How are Herkimer diamonds used for spiritual healing?

Herkimer diamonds have a reputation as extremely high-vibration crystals. They’re supposedly good for purifying the physical and astral body, attuning you to another person, group, or place, removing energy blocks, and increasing the “oomph” of the other stones they’re used with.

According to Michael Gienger’s Healing Crystals, they can be used for awareness, clarity, dream recall, heightened awareness and consciousness, and pain relief. It’s also trigonal and secondary, which makes it particularly helpful for people with “trigonal personalities,” and who wish to unlearn negative behavioral patterns and live in greater harmony with their external environment. For more information, read Gienger’s Crystal Power, Crystal Healing. It’s a very interesting read that outlines his really unique approach to the subject.

(Of course, I don’t endorse the use of crystals in place of conventional medicine. They’re great as a complementary therapy, but please consult a doctor first.)

A hand holds a Herkimer diamond in clear river water.
Cleaning a Herkimer diamond in the river. Look at all of those hydrocarbon inclusions!

What are the magical properties of Herkimer diamonds?

Since they’re clear quartz, they are pretty efficient “all purpose” stones. They do often come with some neat, unique features that make them particularly useful, in a magical sense:

  • Many of them contain hydrocarbons, visible as black lines, dots, or flecks within the crystal. These bits of incredibly ancient vegetable matter connect us to our ancestors, all the way back to our pre-human family tree. For this reason, they can be very helpful for ancestor work.
  • Most of them are double terminated, which makes them helpful for simultaneously sending and receiving energy.
  • A lucky few contain deposits of water, too! “Enhydro” crystals are strongly connected to the water element, as well as earth. This makes them useful for rituals for purification and emotional healing.
  • Some of the rainbow fractures and water or hydrocarbon inclusions give them a character that’s similar to garden quartz (or shaman quartz). The inclusions and “flaws” can create beautifully complex scenes inside the crystal that are lots of fun to fall into. This makes them great as a meditative focus, or an aid to trance or journeying work.
  • They’re generally not huge. To be honest, most of the ones you’ll find in metaphysical shops are downright tiny. This makes them great for including in pouches, sachets, bottles, or whatever else your witchy heart desires.

Herkimer Diamond Clearing Spray Recipe

This is a recipe for something I whip up when I’m in a situation where salt, smoke, or other methods of clearing energy aren’t advisable. Plus, it smells really good.

You’ll need:

  1. First, make sure your ingredients are good to go — tell them what you’re using them for, and what you’d like them to do for you. Bergamot protects from evil, cuts off interference, and functions as a “power” herb. Lavender cleanses and promotes peace. Ylang ylang is calming and uplifting. Rosemary is cleansing and protecting. Vervain purifies, gets rid of negative energy, and enhances the action of other herbs in the mixture. Frankincense is purifying and energy raising.
  2. Add the dried herbs and oils first. You can go with your preference here, one is no more powerful than the other. You don’t need much — a drop or two of oil, a pinch or two of herbs.
  3. Swirl the mixture when you’re through, and speak your intention again. This can be simple. Start with, “With this mixture, I[…]” and state your intent.
  4. If you plan to keep this for a long time, fill the bottle two thirds of the way with high proof grain alcohol, like Everclear. (The Tisserand Institute has more information on preservation here.)
  5. Fill the bottle the rest of the way with lavender hydrosol or distilled water. Swirl to mix.
  6. Add the Herkimer diamond.
  7. Screw the top on the bottle and label it. You’re done!

While the sun is great for empowering things, it’s also not super great for scents. If you want to charge this mixture, do so either under moonlight, or very briefly under sunlight. To use it, simply mist the object, person, or space in need of some energy clearing.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Goldenrod Folklore and Magical Properties

Ah, goldenrod. To some, it’s an essential part of their herbal medicine cabinet. To others, it’s a source of misery. I love seeing the bright yellow flowers on their drooping, swaying stems, but I’m also not one of the people suffering from goldenrod allergies. (Allergies to plenty of other pollens, yes. Goldenrod specifically, no.)

Interestingly, many people blame goldenrod for late summer and autumn allergies. Without an allergy test, there’s really no way to tell — ragweed blooms at the same time, and it’s a very common allergen. Most pollen allergies are triggered by wind-pollinated plants, but goldenrod is pollinated by insects. Ragweed, however, is not.

(This is also why raw honey and bee pollen aren’t actually great ways to desensitize yourself to pollen. The pollen that makes it into the hive isn’t likely to be the same kind that’s making you sneeze.)

Goldenrod is a bit of a misnomer. It isn’t a single plant, it comprises 120 different members of the aster family. It’s scientific name is Solidago, via the Medieval Latin “soldago,” via a somewhat circuitous rout from the Latin “solidus.” It’s a name that references strength and solidity, the ability to make something (or someone) whole again. With goldenrod’s traditional medical and magical properties, it’s a very apt name.

Goldenrod Magical Uses and Folklore

Various legends tie goldenrod to the presence of wealth. One source said that, wherever goldenrod grows, gold is buried. (But, were that the case, I can guarantee that DC wouldn’t be nearly as economically stratified as it is. Just saying.) Another says that to find goldenrod growing near your home portends a spell of good luck.

Goldenrod is also tied to water. Folklore holds that, wherever it grows, a spring must be nearby. The plants were also used as effective, if temperamental, divining rods — they were said to only work in the hands of the right person.

One legend tells the story of how goldenrod received its bright yellow flowers. An old woman, traveling through the forest, was growing weary. She asked all of the trees around her for a walking stick, but they refused. She found a small stick on the ground, and asked it for help instead. The stick agreed, and she used it as a walking stick until she was out of the woods. As soon as she stepped beyond the tree line, she shed her disguise — revealing herself as a powerful fairy. In return for the stick’s help, she sprinkled it with gold.

Another story speaks of two little girls who went to an old witch for help. One girl, tall and blonde haired, asked the witch to grant her wish. She wanted to be admired by everyone. Her friend, short and blue-eyed, wished that she and the blonde girl would never have to grow apart. The girls were never seen again after that day, but it’s said that, wherever they walked, there sprung up the yellow goldenrod and the blue aster.

This isn’t folklore so much, but the tires on the Model T Ford that Henry Ford gave Thomas Edison were made of goldenrod. The plant naturally contains a decent amount of rubber — through experimentation, Thomas Edison managed to produce a taller goldenrod that was up to 12% rubber. He partnered with Henry Ford, George Washington Carver, and Henry Firestone to put these tires into mass production, but synthetic rubber arrived on the scene before goldenrod tires ever made it out of the experimental stage.

Goldenrod is one of those plants that seems to be an herbal pharmacy in itself. In America, indigenous people used the leaves externally for skin conditions, and internally for ulcers and lung or kidney problems. After colonists dumped tea into the Boston Harbor in protest, they used goldenrod as a tea substitute. One of Solidago virgaurea’s names is “woundwort,” and it was used in Europe to stop bleeding from wounds. Studies in Germany have found that it’s an effective treatment for kidney stones. It contains compounds that encourage urination, reduce inflammation, soothe pain, and kill pathogens, and the whole plant is edible (though easily confused with toxic Haplopappus heterophyllus, so be careful).

Of course, don’t take my word for this — if you have a medical condition, seek treatment from an expert..

Using Goldenrod

Keep your eyes peeled, since the appearance of goldenrod near your house means good luck is on the way. Of course, if you want to influence fate a little bit, you can plant goldenrod or keep a vase full of it in your home. If you practice feng shui, put it in the money areas of your home. If you don’t, put it near your front door to draw wealth in.

If money’s not your thing, you can also use it to bring in love. Wear or carry it, and you’ll soon cross paths with your true love. Add the dried leaves and flowers to sachets, herbal mixes, incense, or potions for love-drawing.

To dowse with goldenrod, hold a stem in your hand, and watch the flowers. They will nod in the direction of what you seek.

You can turn goldenrod into a useful yellow dye, paint, or magical ink:

  1. Collect the young flowers when they’re about to open, and their concentration of pigment is at its highest.
  2. Let the flowers dry completely.
  3. Simmer in a cup of hot water with a teaspoon of alum for twenty minutes. (Alternatively, grind the flowers fine with a mortar and pestle, add just enough boiling water and alum to cover, and sit in a sunny spot for a full day.)
  4. Filter out the flowers, and add about a half teaspoon of gum arabic if you’d like a thicker consistency. This part is mostly helpful for ink, since it makes it flow and adhere to the paper more nicely.
  5. If you don’t anticipate using all of your dye/ink/paint right away, add two or three drops of essential oil to inhibit mold. Thyme or oregano work well for this.
  6. Bottle, label, and store in a cool, dark place.

Goldenrod is a beautiful, magical plant with a bad rap. It’s showier than ragweed, so its bright yellow flowers are often erroneously blamed for symptoms actually caused by wind-pollinated plants. It’s abundant this time of year, so, if you find yourself in need of a little love or money magic, consider making an offering to the goldenrod plant and harvesting no more than 25% of its leaves and blooms. Even better, sow a local variety in your garden so you can enjoy its presence and provide a valuable food source to butterflies, moths, bees, and other pollinators at the same time!

art, divination, life, Witchcraft

Bustin’ (Disappointment) Makes Me Feel Good

Yesterday, literally the same day that I posted that tarot reading, I got a bit of disappointing news. I don’t want to get into the details, but it turns out that an artistic opportunity that I’d been pretty excited about isn’t going to happen for me. C’est la guerre. Even amid fulfillment and happiness, it’s a bit much to expect everything to be a slice of fried gold.

Still, understanding that fact doesn’t really banish the bad feelings. Here’s what did, though:

I set a timer.

I gave myself ten minutes to be completely self-indulgent in my complaining. After that, the grumpling grace period was over and I had to keep quiet about it. This serves two purposes:

  1. It keeps me from dwelling on whatever’s bothering me.
  2. It keeps me from becoming insufferable to absolutely everyone around me.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I use this time. I flop dramatically on furniture. I go full Howl’s-Moving-Castle-goopy-wizard. I get to feel my feelings, I can be cartoonishly whiny until I laugh at myself, and other people won’t secretly wish they could lock me in a dumpster.

I did some agitation pedaling.

My partner calls it “having the zoomies.” I call it having more energy than I know what to do with. Sometimes it’s from anger or annoyance. Sometimes it’s boredom. Sometimes, it’s because I ate four bowls of cereal for dinner.

All that corn syrup and riboflavin

Either way, ten minutes of furious living room biking usually sorts it out decently well. I work myself up to my top speed, and hold it as long as I can — all while mentally focused on a goal I have. When I get to the point where I can’t sustain it anymore, I release the energy toward that goal.

Sweat is also cleansing. Sweating can be a sacred act. There are reasons why so many cultures have traditions built around inducing a good sweat.

Singing along to Turisas is entirely optional, but it helps.

RA-RA-RASPUTIN, RUSSIA’S GREATEST LOVE MACHINE

I took a bath (with friends).

(No, not human ones. I don’t think any of them would talk to me afterward.)

When it comes to spells to fix a disappointment, I think they should be spontaneous. It’s not really the time to go worrying about moon phases or astrological timing — if you have needs, fulfill them. Emergency magic performed from the heart can be just as effective as a meticulously planned ritual.

Water is the element of emotions. It’s cleansing. It’s healing. It’s a great way to kill some time doing something that’s objectively good for you. It was late at night, so I didn’t have the energy to make myself a full-on brew, but I do pretty much own my weight in various teas. I boiled some water, added two bags of peppermint and one of chamomile, and asked for their help.

“Peppermint,” I said, said I, “I feel like complete ass and would like that to not be a thing anymore. Peppermint, clear my energy from all that’s dragging me down, and, with chamomile, fill that space with luck and prosperity.”

If you’re putting it in a bath, the garnish is probably kind of excessive

I held my projective (dominant) hand over the vessel, and did the energy thing. When I felt that it was good enough, I asked the brew if it was ready.

“If this be done, and done well, push my hand away from the vessel.”

(Fortunately, I felt the familiar little energetic “push” against my palm. I don’t think I had it in me to sit on my bathroom floor and troubleshoot this spell.)

I poured the brew in a bath full of warm, fresh water, dumped in an unmeasured buttload of Trader Joe’s $1.99 sea salt, stirred it with my projective hand, and called it good. As soon as I stepped in, feeling the silkiness of the water, smelling the fragrant peppermint-and-chamomile steam curling up from the surface of the water, I began to feel better.

I also had a bright, unmistakable vision of a wolf’s face when I closed my eyes, but that’s probably going to take some further research.

I followed the advice I’d been given in the first place.

There’s a lot to be said for the idea of conceptualizing things as happening “for” you instead of “to” you, though that can be tough to remember in the moment. Personally, every setback I’ve ever experienced — every call I never received after a job interview, every breakup — has always led to something better within the space of a few weeks, like clockwork. I don’t force positivity on myself, and you shouldn’t either if you’re really not feeling it, but I try to keep this track record in mind.

Anyway, all of this is to say that, when the sun is shining and everything’s going great, sometimes a minor bump in the road can seem bigger than it is. Tarot readings function as more than a prediction and an energetic snapshot of your life. They’re also advice. Yesterday’s advice was to celebrate, spread joy, and not let my emotions overrule my discernment. I have a lot to celebrate (I sold a painting recently! I can hike longer trails! I did a bunch of paid writing!), I’m hoping this post might be helpful to someone else who’s feeling the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and, logically, I know this disappointment will pass and be forgotten before long.

I turned it around.

Creativity is deeply personal. When you put yourself into what you make, it’s hard not to take rejection pretty hard. Most of the time, though, that rejection has nothing to do with you — because creativity is so personal, there’s no accounting for what people want. What I consider my best work is almost never as popular as the things I’m not nearly as attached to.

Similarly, this situation in no way impugns me as a person or a creative force. So, worn out from pedaling, freshly minty, and completely called out by my own tarot deck, I went to varnish some paintings.

I don’t want to suggest that vigorous cycling and a bath are the way to deal with, say, a house fire, the loss of a loved one, someone stealing your car, or a loved one burning down your house and stealing your car, but these techniques can help shift the energy around the things that occasionally show up to heck your day apart.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Capers Folklore and Magical Properties

Edible flowers have always intrigued me — I love floral flavors, far more than floral scents. Lavender Italian soda, candied violets, briny capers… Give me all of the flowers. I was eating my favorite breakfast the other day (toasted sesame bagel, veggie cream cheese, sliced tomato, thinly sliced red onion, and capers) when one of the little pickled buds dropped out and rolled onto my plate. It was surprisingly pretty, a deep olive green at the tip, turning to a deeper violet near the base, and it got me thinking.

What are capers good for?
(Besides being delicious.)

I didn’t find many traditional magical uses for these guys in my search, but I did find some very interesting medical uses and folklore than seems to provide the basis for their modern magical properties.

Capers Magical Properties and Folklore

Going down to bone town.

No, really. They’re mostly used as aphrodisiacs.

Even the Christian Bible acknowledges this — in Ecclesiastes, translations dispute whether a certain passage should read as “desire” or “caperberry.” In Hebrew, the word for caperberry, aviyyonah, is linked to the word avah, meaning “desire.” The King James version of Ecclesiastes 12:5 reads, “the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail.” Meanwhile, older translations render the word “desire” as “caperberry.” As a result, some modern translations go for “desire,” while others use “caperberry.” Confusing, huh?

In ancient Greek medicine, capers were used to relieve gas and bloating. This isn’t really tied to any aphrodisiac effect, but it’s probably easier to want to do the do when you aren’t farting like a Clydesdale.

The Witch’s Cottage Garden lists capers as a Mars plant. This is most likely due to the plant’s thorns — plants associated with Mars tend to be prickly — but also fits its use as an aphrodisiac. While Venus plants are associated with love and beauty, Mars energy can be passionate and lustful, in addition to assertive and warlike.

Other sources list as useful in magic for lust and potency, which also suits it’s Mars energy and desire-promoting qualities.

Using Capers

Eat them, but not too much. Capers are preserved, so they’re very high in sodium. (Ironically, if you have sodium-sensitive blood pressure and blood pressure-related sexual dysfunction, they can make it harder to get in the mood.)

I like including them in salads or, as I mentioned before, on a bagel with cream cheese. If you don’t eat cheese, a nondairy alternative or some avocado would work — I find that the salty, lemony bite of capers benefits greatly from something cool and creamy to offset it.

If you want to use capers in your magic without eating them, the mature flowers are very pretty and unusual-looking. While I haven’t seen the flowers for sale (I think most people prefer to pick them when they’re just buds, for culinary purposes), you can find the whole plant for sale and grow them fairly easily if you’ve got a dry climate and plenty of sun.

As a note of caution, the caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris) is a poisonous plant that is often confused for capers. Eating the buds can cause mouth pain, nausea, cardiac arrhythmia, fainting, and delirium. So, if you going to go try to find capers, maybe stick to garden centers and grocery stores unless you’re really, really good at IDing plants.

Witchcraft

Raising Power (and Then What?)

The whole moon hexing-thing seems to have opened up a whole can of worms, hasn’t it?

It seems like most witchy spaces have kind of gotten past the collective initial reaction to it, but it continues to raise a lot of interesting questions — some thought-provoking, some annoying and gatekeepy.

One discussion I came across involved the validity of using the internet as a magical learning tool. Sure, there’s a lot of very “Well, in MY day” attitudes about it among older witches and Pagans, but there are some valid criticisms to levy. The internet has democratized the spread of information, but that goes hand-in-hand with the spread of misinformation (as anyone currently dealing with relatives who believe COVID-19 is a hoax can attest). Granted, a lot of books on the subject are no better. I can’t recall the title, but I vividly remember reading one passage about an Irish potato goddess that someone not only wrote, but someone else published and other people bought. Misinformation still spread, just more slowly.

From this sprouted a discussion about the validity of online spells, and the preponderance of people looking for magic as a kind of quick fix. “Ceremonial” magic gets derided, while simple candle and jar spells pop up and get passed around everywhere. The only problem there is that the “ceremonial” stuff is often not ceremonial it all — it’s the power-raising and the meat of what makes the magic happen. Candle and jar spells are completely valid and workable, but there’s more the thing than putting herbs in a jar and hoping for the best.

This, in turn, hosted a conversation about power raising. One person was completely unconcerned about online spells — they could never work to begin with, because the instructions didn’t include anything about raising power “properly.” Why, one person asked, would you send your energy into your materials?
That, in particular, got me thinking: What does proper power raising and releasing even look like?

Before I even came to witchcraft, I was familiar with raising power — not as a practice, but as a feeling. I picked up on the bright, effervescent thrill that went through me when I was dancing, or when the song I was listening to hit that crescendo that was just perfect, and I could feel the build and release of energy. It wasn’t going anywhere in particular, but it was happening.

As I learned, I was taught the basic circle casting, power-raising, releasing toward your goal construction of a spell. While that’s a perfectly workable means of spellcasting, it’s also not the only way to do it “right.”

Like anything else in magic, it depends on the intention. I don’t mean the intent of the spell, I mean your intention to cast it in the first place. Your intent might be to get a new job, but your intention is to use a candle/jar/sigil/whatever spell to get a new job. That determines what your spellcasting looks like, even down to the release of power. Not every situation calls for a “cast a circle, raise power, release it toward your goal” strategy.

Candle spells are nice because they’re a simple, accessible type of sympathetic magic. You want something to happen as the candle burns. Maybe you want to reverse a hex, so you use a two-color candle and watch the black wax neutralize whatever the other color is. Maybe you want to feel better, so your fatigue decreases as the wax is consumed. Maybe you want to attract a lover, so their heart warms as the flame grows and burns. Versatile!

That also means that the candle is a way of releasing that power. You light the wick, the flame consumes the wax, it releases it as the products of combustion — heat, light, soot, and water vapor. Sending your intention and energy into the candle allows it to be burned when the time is right, or as needed — you raise and release power once, direct it into the sympathetic vessel, and let the element of fire do the rest. You could raise and release power toward your intent, but, at that point, the candle is strictly ambiance.

Jar spells are nice because they’re long-lasting. You fill a container with symbols of your intent, and put it somewhere to work. Maybe you want to keep a happy and stable home, so you fill it with peaceful ingredients and bury it in your back yard. Maybe you want to attract a new lover, so you fill it with rosebuds and bury it near your front door. Maybe you work with someone who really sucks, so you fill it with nails, hot pepper, and stolen pieces of hair and ditch it by a railroad crossing. In this case, much like the candle, the spell isn’t necessarily helped or hurt by a one-time release of energy toward a goal.

Sigils are their own thing entirely. They hopscotch back and forth over the line between magic and psychology as a matter of course, so they’re not going to follow the rules for raising and releasing power. That doesn’t mean that they don’t work, though.

Servitors are interesting energetic constructs, but that means that your energy should be directed toward making them. You don’t really need a circle for it — you’re going to give the energy its own shape, anyway. If you can’t keep it from getting away from you without a magical container, you’re probably going to have trouble with that second part as it is.

Knot magic is another time-release kind of spell. It’s a form of sympathetic magic where the tying or untying of knots contains and releases energy as needed. If you aren’t putting your energy into the knot-tying itself, then the action of untying the string doesn’t actually release anything.

Does this mean that energy raising and releasing have no real rules, and any online spell will work? Well… No.

The common thread of all of the types of spells I mentioned above is that the materials and actions in the spell have a reason for being there. The spell jar’s a magic battery. The knotted string is a string of magical firecrackers. The candle is a way of holding energy until the flame releases it. There are definitely some spells out there that are unfocused, at best.

For example, say you want to draw in a new lover. You fill a pretty dish with rosebuds, lavender, and jasmine flowers, add a drop of love-drawing oil, and send your energy and intent into the dish. You feel that the herbs have absorbed all of the energy they can, so the spell is over and you dispose of the remnants.

And then what? Where does the energy go? How does it get to its goal? You could burn the herbs and release it with the element of fire, fire’s related to warmth and passion. You could even scatter them in a moving body of water, water’s related to the emotions. But, unless the spell tells a novice witch to do that, are they going to?

I like online spell resources because they’re good for ideas. You can usually tell which have a chance of working (and which don’t stand a brine shrimp’s chance in a photon tube) by asking a pretty simple question for each ingredient and instruction: Why is this here?

Most will tell you to meditate or visualize. These are ways of raising mental and magical energy, but not the only ones. You can dance, sing, or ride a twelve-speed vibrator the size of a Thermos until your eyes bug out, and it’ll work just as well as long as you keep your goal in mind.

They might not give you an effective way to direct or release this energy. Don’t get me wrong, you can do way worse for yourself than holding a bunch of lavender flowers and meditating on something that would bring you joy, but that probably isn’t going to bring you much closer to your goal.

At each step, ask why. At each ingredient, ask why. Not only will it let you know if you’re wasting your time, it’ll make it easier to write your own spells or make substitutions when necessary.

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.

life, Witchcraft

You don’t need to worry about the moon.

Today, in Things I Never Thought I’d Have to Type:

Just in case you came across this Twitter thread yesterday — the moon is going to be fine. A minor internet kerfluffle ensued when some kids got the bright idea to hex the moon (?) and the fair folk (??) for… Reasons, I guess.

Everyone who gets into a hobby — whether it’s pottery, baking, or witchcraft — has a moment or two when they develop starry-eyed aspirations of punching way above their weight. For some people, that means trying to tat an entire lace tablecloth by hand. For others, I guess it’s trying to curse the moon. But, much like ending up with a pile of tangled thread instead of heirloom-quality table linens only really hurts the crafter, trying to hex the moon or the fae only really hurts the caster. The only real difference between the two is that a finished tablecloth would have been beautiful and served a purpose.

Kids have been doing asinine things since the beginning of time. When I was four, I ate an icicle that was hanging off of the muffler of my grandma’s car and became violently ill. When I was ten, I ate a plate of dog food to prove a point (the point was that chicken alfredo is gross, don’t @ me). My adorable baby cousin once spent twenty minutes enthusiastically smashing sliced peaches into his hair. This probably isn’t the first — or even most impressive — time someone’s tried to pull something like this. The moon will be fine. Moon deities will be fine. They’ve survived the destruction of their temples and imagery, the forced conversion of their believers, and actual people walking around and leaving trash on the moon. They survived Theodosius the Great and the Donation of Constantine. This is kind of adorable by comparison.

(It’s also what happens when you dive headlong into spellwork without learning enough about history or theory, but that’s another subject.)

space egg

Admittedly, energy might be a little weird for a bit. Not to get too deep in the weeds, but, during some vision work I performed before finding out about all this, I experienced what I can only describe as an energetic whirlpool. I tried to feel it, but it slipped right over my hands like oil on water. I asked what it was and what it was for, and was told that it wasn’t my problem and not to worry about it. I went on my way. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, and, to be frank, didn’t feel like it was useful or important to delve into something that had been expressly described as Not My Problem. In retrospect, it makes sense.

I don’t think these witches should be bound or otherwise disciplined by more experienced heads. I think they’ll get what’s coming to them well enough, either through the backlash of their own work, or the humbling realization that the whole situation is more cringey and hilarious than anything else.

As for the fae, maybe leave some honey or milk out in your garden. Wear some gold. Carry some cold iron. The fae are temperamental at best, and this definitely isn’t a situation where I’d recommend going the “fuck around and find out” route.

life, Witchcraft

Cleansing Your Space After an Illness

By now, your home has probably had some sick people in it. Even if you’ve been fortunate (or diligent) enough to avoid COVID-19, the pandemic has triggered a spike in people using telemedicine — which means that they’re avoiding healthcare offices and handling more things at home.

Even in homes that haven’t seen illness, the vibes might be getting kind of weird by now. Being in close proximity to other people, no matter how much you love them, can result in more arguments, more tiny annoyances, just more of everything. (Absence may not always make the heart grow fonder, but it can certainly do a lot for sanity now and then.)

Cleansing is intended to recalibrate the energy of a space. Without getting too Witchcraft 101, it’s a good idea to do it where there have been arguments, nightmares, annoying guests, or anything that just makes a room feel a little “off.” It makes sense that you’d want to energetically cleanse a place where people have experienced sickness or physical or emotional pain. Odds are, you’re going to be giving the whole room a regular disinfecting anyhow, so why not combine the two?

In many folk magic traditions, magic and housework go hand-in-hand. As cleaning protects the home from filth and sickness, magic protects from spiritual ills. Hoodoo, in particular, has a strong tradition of using floor washes for bringing good in and shooing evil out. In nature, the cycles of weather and the seasons keep things moving. Fresh energy is brought in, the old is re-integrated. This isn’t something that can take place indoors, where it’s sealed-up, soilless, dry, and climate controlled all year!

Open Up

Cleansing a space gets things moving. That’s why it’s important to allow as much of the outdoors in as you can. Open windows and doors, bring in the wind and the sun. Much like grounding allows us to recalibrate our own energy fields, this lets the energy stirred up by the process to re-integrate into the world outside.

Perform a Physical Clearing

Vacuum carpets. Sweep floors. Change linens (preferably for a set that’s been aired in the sunlight). Wash curtains. Air out bedding. Anything that can be physically cleaned, should be. Pay particular attention to areas that don’t see much action, like the corners of rooms. These spaces allow things — both physically and energetically — to accumulate.

Do a Double-Duty Cleansing

Many of the ingredients that are used for energetic cleansing are also useful for sickrooms.

Floor cleaners with pine oil purify spaces and ward off evil, while having some antimicrobial activity. (Unfortunately, Pine-Sol no longer contains pine oil.)

Lemon is also used for energetic cleansing, while the citral and linool in lemon oil have some bacteria-inhibiting and antiviral action.

Fresh herbs.

Vinegar is sometimes used for energetic cleansing, by leaving a dish in an empty room to evaporate. When prepared as an appropriate dilution, vinegar also inhibits candida, e. coli, and staph.

Some herbs, like white sage, are antimicrobial when burned. If you don’t use white sage, bay leaf has also shown some similar effects.

These measures will shift the most resistant energy patterns and restore the flow.

It’s important to note that these ingredients are all aromatic. That means that they might be too strong to be tolerated by someone with a respiratory condition or sensitivity to smells. Air everything out well afterward. Even if the smell is dissipated, the cleansing action is still there.

It’s also important to note that, if you’re dealing with a serious pathogen like the novel coronavirus, you should disinfect using a cleaner approved by the EPA for that specific purpose. Not every cleaner, herb, or oil is effective against every pathogen out there. If you know what bacteria, fungus, or virus you’re dealing with, make sure you knock it out first with a good disinfecting agent. You can clear the vibes afterward.

Bring in the New

Next, it’s important to bring in the kind of vibrations you want to have around. You can place crystals that correspond to the kind of energy you want to bring in (or the kind of illness you’re working on healing), but it should be noted that a lot of crystals come with energy you may not want. If you’re in doubt, find a piece of Arkansas quartz or a Herkimer diamond harvested by the seller. Arkansas and Herkimer county are home to some beautiful, powerful clear quartz crystals — you can ask for their assistance, inform them of your intent, and they’ll work just as well.

You may also want to sprinkle cleansing salt in the corners of the room. Plain sea salt is fine here, but you can create your own cleansing salt by combining it with your preferred herbs. Eucalyptus leaves, lavender buds, and dried lemon zest with some coarse sea salt all work well for this purpose.

Playing music helps, too. Music and sound have a powerful effect on our mental — and even physical — states. The frequency of a cat’s purr helps speed the healing of bones, muscles, and connective tissue. In one study, 528hz was found to lower biomarkers for stress. Even if you can’t replicate exact frequencies, your favorite music can have a strong impact on a room’s energetic imprint.

As a chronically ill person, I’ve found that I’m especially sensitive to when things start to go a little bit “off.” Even if you don’t have the energy to do all of the things on this list, doing just a few (opening a window, playing music, getting rid of some clutter) can help improve the feel of a place.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Filtering, Storing, and Using Magical Oils

So, we’ve got our herbs infusing, our mixtures are empowered, and everything’s been sitting for however long we need it to — maybe a week, maybe two, maybe an entire moon cycle.

Next, we’ve got to filter them, figure out where and how to keep them, and use them.

Filtering the Oils

Filtering the oils takes the solid plant matter out of them, leaving just the clear oil behind. Naturally, how effective that is depends on what filter media you use. Filters with larger mesh, like cheesecloth, will let your oils filter much more quickly, but will allow some small particles to pass through. Finer filters, like coffee filters, filter very slowly and produce a clearer oil.

Really, the choice of filter medium is up to you. If you’re not worried about having floaty bits in your oil, pick a coarser filter. If you’ve got time to kill and want a clear oil, pick a finer one.

I usually set up the filter in an empty jar, and hold it in place with a rubber band. You’ll want to avoid stretching the filter too tightly across the top — it should dip in the middle, to properly hold the oil and herbs without spilling. Think of it like a coffee filter.

I give the jar of herbs and oil one last good shake to wake it up and keep the herbs from staying in a thick layer on the bottom. After a few minutes to allow it to settle, I begin pouring the oil into the filter. Depending on the size of your filter and jar, you may be able to pour the entire batch of oil out at once. Otherwise, pour a bit, wait for it to filter through, then pour some more.

You can wring the remnants of oil out of the herbs you’re left with, or not. The choice is up to you. The remaining oily herbs can be incorporated into salves, or simply composted.

At this point, I usually add any essential oils I’m working with. They are aromatic compounds, so they lose potency with time, heat, and light. I find that adding them at the end of the process helps them stay stronger, longer — especially if I’m using warmth or sunlight to aid the infusion process.

Storing Magical Oil

You might want to keep your oils in sunlight for vibrational purposes, but, as I mentioned previously, light and heat degrade many of the compounds in oil. Your best bet is to store them the way you’d store any essential or cooking oil — in a cool, dark area. (Especially if you’re using an oil with a shelf life of a few months, versus a few years.)

Colored bottles help preserve oil by blocking ultraviolet light:

  • Amber glass provides the best protection against UV and visible light.
  • Cobalt blue protects against visible light, but not UV.
  • Green glass protects against visible light, but not UV.
  • Clear glass doesn’t protect against UV or visible light.

In short, amber glass is the best option for storing large batches of oil. If you want to use clear glass for aesthetic reasons, only use it for small bottles that will be used up fairly quickly. If you don’t have much choice in what kind of bottle you use, opt for the largest wrap-around label you can. An opaque label will block out UV and visible light.

Preserving Oils

Even if you have a carrier oil with a long shelf life, some degradation can happen. Worry not; there are two ways you can help protect the integrity of your oils, without negatively impacting their magical properties.

Have you ever heard any say that rosemary can be substituted for any herb in a spell? Not everyone agrees with this, but rosemary does have an impressively long and varied list of properties. It’s a good thing, too, because it can help preserve your oil. Rosemary oil is a natural antioxidant, and you only need about .2-.5% to help keep a mixture fresh. (It smells really good, too.)

Fresh herbs.

If rosemary really won’t suit the mixture of herbs you’re working with, you can go with vitamin E oil. Either get the liquid form, or pop open a couple of vitamin E capsules from the drug store. Vitamin E is another antioxidant, and it won’t harm the scent or consistency of your oils.

As with anything else, avoid these if you have an allergy.

Using Your Oils

How you use your oil depends on which ingredients you chose. Virtually any oil can be used to dress a candle, sachet, or poppet, as an offering, or what have you, but not everything is suitable for anointing. Some essential oils, like lemongrass, can be sensitizing. Citrus has a reputation for phototoxicity — definitely don’t use it before going out in the sun!

If you plan to add essential oils to an oil for anointing, be mindful of your dilution. Most guides for oil dilution assume that the end product is a massage oil, lotion, or other body care product, so they tend to be a bit conservative — you definitely want a pretty low level of essential oils if you’re planning on regularly applying something to your entire body! For oils intended for anointing, which is generally done rarely and sparingly, a perfume dilution is fine. Body care formulations typically stay around 2% or less, while perfume may be as high as 5%. Mountain Rose Herbs has a very helpful dilution calculator that can help you make sure your blends aren’t too strong.

That’s it! While buying your magical supplies is definitely helpful in a pinch, nothing really compares to making your own. With some time and quality ingredients, you can create magical oils that are effective, powerful, and personalized for your needs.