Handfasting Blessings, Brooms, and Poppets, Oh My!

March 21, 2014 in Sage & Scourge

Tomorrow I’m Priestessing a handfasting for two dear friends.

Handfastings are a type of wedding ceremony that come to us from the British Isles when the clergy were few and far between. Couples would get hand fasted while they waited for a clergy member to come and perform the official ceremony. Many modern Pagans have adopted the practice, not wanting to have a more traditional (Christian) type of ceremony.

During many traditional handfastings, the couple’s arms are bound (fastened) and they are asked to jump over a broom, a cauldron and a fire. Being tied together makes them work together, symbolizing the relationship they will have as a married couple. The broom, cauldron and fire represent fertility, health and well being. Depending on the tradition, the couple will remain bound until night falls or until the marriage is consummated. (You can find these traditions all over the world, Ireland to Africa to Asia…)

The broom itself is a powerful symbol of male and female fertility bound together, which is why it’s such an important part of the handfasting ceremony. It is also an important tool to take together into your new marriage.

The broom is hung over the bed if the couple wants to have children. If the couple doesn’t want children, the broom is placed underneath the bed!

I’ve also heard it said that you should always treat your broom as a member of your family, and when you’re having marriage difficulties, talking to your broom can help sort them out. Another tradition is that when you and your spouse are fighting, sweeping your house out with your broom can help clear the air.

Treating your broom well and taking care of it is symbolic of taking care of your marriage, and ensures that  you and your spouse are healthy and happy as a couple. Mistreating your broom can have ill effects on your marriage!

(There are also superstitions that if you step over a fallen broom before your wedding, you’ll never get married! So watch out!)

The ritual itself is of course the important part of the handfasting, but guests who come to the wedding can contribute more than their energy during the ritual.

The handfasting basket is fairly traditional, and many people will tell you to put thirteen specific blessings symbolized by certain items into a basket for a new couple. But I like to make mine up a little differently.

In a basket I like to put a fresh loaf of bread, a bag of sea salt, and a bottle of wine or ale for a house warming gift. Casting salt through your house, while carrying fresh bread and wine blesses your home with abundance and captures any “leftovers” from whoever was there before. If you are moving in with your spouse for the first time, it helps to get rid of your habits as a single person. If you already lived with your partner, it helps cast out any distance that might remain between you. Of course you sweep the salt up with your broom and cast it out your front door.

I also like to include a Bridget’s Cross. A Bridget’s Cross hung in a house prevents fire.

A piece of iron for protection.

A horseshoe to hang over the couple’s door for luck.

A tin can with a bright shiny penny in it. (If a couple sets this somewhere in the house and continues to add loose change to it, it will help attract financial success to the household).

Lavender sachets to set near the bed for peaceful dreaming.

And finally I like to create a poppet that gives all the blessings, hope and love I have for the couple in their new marriage.

If you’ve never created a poppet before, it’s a very personal type of magic. I always make mine to look like small stuffed animals that can be placed on an altar, a shrine or a mantel.

How to create a poppet:

First, choose an animal that symbolizes whatever you’re creating the poppet for.

For a marriage I would create one that looks like a hare.

Taking two pieces of fabric (in a fabric that seems appropriate to you),  cut out the shape you’re going to sew.

I hand sew it together, thinking about all the things I will to give to the new couple. This takes a lot of your energy and focus, so be prepared to be pretty wrung out after you’ve completed your sewing!  If you need a way to help you focus on the task at hand, you can always choose a traditional song or rhyme to sing or speak while you’re working. For a wedding I would pull out “Hares on the Mountain” or the “Bonny Black Hare.”

Before closing the poppet up, stuff it with a mixture of herbs, a stone or two and regular stuffing to fill it out. For a marriage I would consider using woodruff, rosemary, marjorum, mint, marigold, ivy and maybe a hint of cinnamon. I would also add rose quartz (it’s usually better to place the stone near the bottom of the poppet to help it stand up!).

Close your poppet up and then have fun decorating it! I usually use buttons for eyes and paint to place any other symbols that I think are appropriate for the occasion.

If you work in a group, you can also have anyone help with the creation of the poppet or do a group blessing when it’s finished.

Finally, gift the poppet to whoever you made it for!

Happy Ostara everyone! I hope you’re equinox was as lovely as mine!

 (Photo taken by me at Griffiths Park in L.A.)

Children’s Henwen Ritual for Samhain

October 28, 2013 in Sage & Scourge

Henwen is one of my favorite Celtic Goddesses. The Great White Sow wandered from Annwn, the Underworld, into this world, giving birth to wheat, barley and bees, as well as wolf cubs, ferocious cats and eagles wherever she went.  And this is how she brought life to the world.

Other stories tell that it was prophesied that whatever Henwen birthed would bring harm to Britain and so King Arthur tried to catch her. Her swineherd was Coll Ap Collfrewi, one of the great swine herders of Britain, and he hung onto her bristles wherever she went. She escaped into the sea, but returned to the land and gave birth to her strange litters there. Arthur never did catch her and it is assumed that the Great Sow still wanders Britain, bringing fertility and prosperity wherever she goes. In this version , Henwen will also read your fortune for you with rods and runes.

Pigs often symbolize our relationship with the Underworld (read more on that here!). This is the time of the year where the veil thins between the worlds because of the harvest. This is when the final harvest is brought in and the last animals are slaughtered for winter. All of the spirits passing from our world to the Underworld open the boundaries and allow us easier access to those who have gone before. It also makes it easier for those who are making their transition from this world to the next more to slip away, which is often a blessing. It can be a time of great grief and blood, it can also be a time of joyous celebration and gratefulness for another bountiful year.

Henwen is an excellent goddess to honor for this turning of the Wheel! She is also a goddess you can easily share with your children.

If you have a group of kids, you can do a really easy children’s ritual from the story of Henwen.

Sit all the children down and have them braid wheat straw. (You can find a tutorial here). If your children are too small for this, you can do this beforehand; just make sure there is a wheat braid for every child. Take everyone somewhere outside where there is plenty of room to run around.

Have everyone stand in a Circle. If you want to call Quarters at this point and cast a Circle you can, but you might simply want to acknowledge each direction. Tell the children the story of Henwen and explain that she brought a good harvest to the world. Have them hold their wheat braids and go around the Circle having everyone ask for something for the upcoming year. Have them focus their energy for their wish onto the wheat braid. (This would also be a good time to talk about the Harvest and why it’s important to how we live and what we are celebrating. Let them know that they things they should be wishing for should not be material, but things to help their community).

Since Henwen is a goddess of prophecy, put all the children’s names in a bag (this should probably be done beforehand) and randomly choose names to assign parts to. You will need a Henwen, a Coll Ap Collfrewi, an Arthur and several knights.  (If you want to have clothing props like a pig nose and capes, that could be fun as well!)

Give the children picked to be Henwen and Coll Ap Collfrewi the bags with the wheat braids in them. The rest of the children will be chasing them. The other children are It and the goal of the game is that each child must catch Henwen and Coll, who have to stay together the whole time. (This is a giant game of tag in reverse). When Arthur or one of his knights “catches” Henwen and Coll, Henwen or Coll should give them one of the wheat braids and give them their blessing for the year. That child can now return to the starting point. When everyone has caught Henwen and Coll, Henwen and Coll can return together to the rest of the group. When everyone is together again, have Henwen and Coll announce that their wanderings are done for the year and that they are ready to enjoy the bounty of the Harvest. At this point, have everyone celebrate together with a snack, after closing whatever Circle you started with. A good snack would be wheat toast with butter and honey. Each child can take their wheat braid home with them.

If you’re having an adult ritual later, you could also have the children “visit” all together with their wheat braids to offer the luck of the wheat braids for that ritual. Have them present their wheat braids with well wishes for the blessing of the Priest and Priestess.

Blessed Samhain all! Have fun! 

A Ritual for Heart Ease

August 26, 2013 in Sage & Scourge

An unfortunate part of love is often heart break. Two weeks ago, a good friend of mine broke up with her long term partner and started the process of rebuilding her life. She’s been staying with me as she works out all the details of what she needs to do before she can start all over again.

Those of us who have long term partners forget what it’s like not to share household responsibilities and bills. She’s had to find a new apartment, buy new furniture, assemble all the goods a basic household needs, put utilities in her name and start thinking about buying her own car.

And that’s not even taking into account the emotional turmoil of ending a serious relationship and starting to think about the “you” as singular and not the “you” as plural anymore. (Assisting in this transition makes me even more appreciative of the fact that I have a solid relationship).

Unfortunately, as most of us who have done this a few times know, love is not always enough. As Pagans we usually celebrate the balance of life, but in these scenarios it is usually hard to focus on the good things around us. It’s hard to let go of your anger and hurt over a relationship that might have been. Losing a partner, for any reason, can make it seem like the world is ending.

And in some ways it is. The life you had with that person is gone and a new one is beginning. Transition is never easy, but there are things we can do to make it a little easier.

The most important part of a transition like this is being ready for it mentally and emotionally. If you’re still holding onto the relationship, there is no magic in the world that will help fix things. But once you’re ready for an ending and ready to find some peace and healing, here is a little something to help things along.

 

 

What you need:

Something your ex gave you (a letter, a card, a small gift, a piece of clothing, it does not have to be significant, but it needs to be something that they gave to you specifically).

An outdoor fire pit of some variety, with everything necessary to build a fire

Lavender oil

Sea Salt

A Broom

A piece of quartz (I would use Rose, but use what feels appropriate)

Household cleaning supplies (whatever you prefer to use that will bring you the most comfort)

 

Directions:

Start out the day of a full moon.

First, clean your house or your personal space. As you clean, think about getting rid of the person’s energy and presence in your life. Gather up all the hard feelings you’ve been carrying with you as you clean. The harder you scrub, the more effective this will be. Mop your floors; clean the floorboards that you usually ignore. Scrub your bathroom and your kitchen. Dust your nooks and crannies. Put clutter away. Do your laundry. And while you do this, think of all the things that you used to do with this person that you no longer want any part of. Let all your anger and sorrow come to the surface. Drag those feelings out of your house.

Once your house is clean and you are exhausted and sweaty, go through each room and toss a handful of sea salt across your floors. Go through each room with your broom and say “I reclaim this house for myself. I reclaim my life for myself” and sweep up the salt. Toss the salt out your front door and say, “this house and life is mine”. Go back through your house and sprinkle lavender oil (as much or as little as you want) throughout the rooms you just cleaned and say “I welcome happiness, healing and peace back into this home”.

Next, with an item from your ex and your quartz, go to your fire pit and build a fire. Don’t bathe beforehand; go out in your cleaning clothes and all the grime you accumulated from the house cleaning. Set your quartz near your fire pit and sit in front of the fire. Bring all that angry energy that you gathered as you cleansed your house to the front of your mind and start feeding it energetically to the fire as your fire grows into a healthy flame.

When your fire is dancing merrily start telling the fire everything that was wrong with the relationship. If you need to scream it out, do it. Take all that upset and hurt and let it loose. You don’t have to be nice or patient or kind, say all the things you always wanted to say. When you’ve gotten everything out, take the item that you brought with you and feed it to the fire. As it burns thank the fire for taking your anger.

Sit for a little while and really let all that anger drain out of you into the fire. Enjoy the night around you, soak up the full moon you’re sitting under.

When you’re calm and the anger is gone, start telling the fire all the things that you loved about the relationship, the things that you’ll miss, the good qualities of the person that you are no longer with. Let out your sorrow over what might have been. Feed this energy into your quartz. When there is nothing left to say, set your quartz back by the fire and offer it to the the goddess of your choice.

Let your fire burn out and meditate on the new life you’re going to build. When your fire is completely out (and you’ve made sure to bank any coals that are left), go back inside, take off your dirty clothing and take a long bath (you can put more lavender oil in the bath with you). Wash away the dirt and the grime of cleaning your house and working with the fire. Wash away any painful energy that is left. Go to bed and sleep.

Sleep as late as you want, in the morning, take the quartz and place it in a body of running water. Let the water carry your grief away. Take a deep breath, turn around, walk away and don’t look back.

 

*As a side note, many people prefer to do rituals like this by themselves, but a ritual like this can be even more effective with the people who love and support you helping. This is totally up to what you feel is appropriate. I would invite the friends who had helped me work through the end of the relationship. Other friends of mine have liked to do these things with their mothers and sisters. This can also help the people you love put some closure on a relationship that affected their lives as well.

Spell for a new School Year

August 12, 2013 in Sage & Scourge

It’s that time of year! It’s time to go back to school!

This morning on my way to work, I saw lots of parents anxiously ushering kids onto buses or waiting for the streetcar. (I love that many kids in New Orleans ride the streetcar to school).

I too will be going back to school this year. And even though it’s for my Master’s degree, I find that I am suffused with the same excitement that I remember from grade school. I’ve been disappointed all weekend that I have to wait another two weeks to start myself!

(Remind me of this conversation in a few months when I’m drowning in graduate English papers).

I’ve been carefully picking out my new school supplies and searching for a new backpack. Things like this make it easier to start the new school year off on the right foot.  But just because you have the right supplies, that doesn’t mean that your student isn’t still anxious about starting a new school year.  

What if your teacher is mean? Or the work is too hard? Or you have problems getting to school?! We aren’t the only ones to worry about these things; students throughout the ages and all over the world have worried about the same problems.

In one story, there is even a magical element to getting to school! This very old English ballad tells a story of a little boy that meets a stranger on the road and he has to outwit the stranger before he can get to school safely.  

“Oh, where are you going?” says the false knight on the road.

“I’m going to me school,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“What is on your back?” says the false knight on the road.

“Me bundles and me books,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“I came a-walking by your door,” says the false knight on the road.

“That lay in your way,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“Flung your dog a stone,” says the false knight on the road.

“I wish it was a bone,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, what sheep and cattle’s that?” says the false knight on the road.

“They’re mine and me father’s,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“And how many shall be mine?” says the false knight on the road.

“The ones that have the blue tail,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, can I get a share o’ them?” says the false knight on the road.

“You cannot get a share of them,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“And why the stick all in your hand?” says the false knight on the road.

“To keep me from all cold and harm,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, I wish you were in yonder tree,” says the false knight on the road.

“A ladder under me,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“The ladder it’ll break,” says the false knight on the road.

“And you will surely fall,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“I wish you were in yonder sea,” says the false knight on the road.

“A good boat under me,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“The boat will surely sink,” says the false knight on the road.

“And you will surely drown,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Has your mother more than you?” says the false knight on the road.

“Oh, none of them for you,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“I think I hear a bell,” says the false knight on the road.

“It’s ringing you to hell,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

~ Steeleye Span sing False Knight on the Road, Traditional English Folk Ballad

(You can listen to it here or you can hear The Fleet Foxes version here…)

 Hopefully your student won’t experience anything like that, but what can you do to sooth fear and anxiety about a new teacher, a new classroom, harder work and new friends?

I love baking and I love bottle spells, and this is an excellent opportunity to combine both!

This is a variation on the honey jar spell, which you can do to “sweeten people up” for any sort of new endeavor.

What you need:

Your favorite cookie recipe and all the ingredients to make the cookies.

An apple

A candle

A tin with a lid (make sure that the tin is big enough to hold the apple).

A piece of paper and a pencil

Directions:

Do this the night before school.

First, core your apple and set it inside the tin.

Next, bake your cookies. Do this with whoever is going to school. For each ingredient, as you measure it out into your cookie dough, talk about what you want out of the school year.

For example: While adding your sugar you could say “I hope I have a teacher that loves to teach me new things and who is kind to the students!” or for vanilla you could say, “I hope this year that learning will go more smoothly!”  For salt you could ask for protection from bullies and safety in traveling to and from school. As you discuss each ingredient, toss a pinch of the ingredient into your apple core in the tin.

After you mixed all your ingredients and put your cookies in the oven, take your piece of paper and write the name of your student on it. Have your student cup it in their hands and make a wish for a great school year! Then put it in the apple core with everything else and put the lid on the tin.

Next, set your candle on top of the lid. (You can either melt the wax onto the tin lid or use a candle holder). I would place the spell on my altar, or you could also put it next to the bed of your student. Light you candle and let it burn down completely. (Wherever you place the spell, make sure that there aren’t any fire hazards and that the candle can burn safely).

As the candle burns, it will take all your students anxious energy and concentrate it down into the spell for a better school experience.

After the candle has burned down the next morning, you can bury your apple in the garden or in a potted plant to continue feeding the spell and then you can fill your tin with cookies to send to school with your student to share.

Happy start of school all!

*For those of you who need a cookie recipe, try that old classic, Nestle’s Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Fairy Tale Magic

July 1, 2013 in Sage & Scourge

I’m going to take a slight commercial break this week and share the news that the book that my curmudgeonly Wiccan, Kenny Klein and I wrote for Llewellyn will be out in May of 2014! It is titled Fairy Tale Magic: Unearth & Reclaim the Potent Enchantment of Old World Folk Tales.

In the book we look at magical theory and the basis of ritual in stories such as: The Buried Moon, Brother and Sister, Vasilisa the Beautiful, Little White Thorn, Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and several more.

Little White Thorn and the Talking Bird

Little White Thorn and the Talking Bird

We are very excited to have the opportunity to present this book to all of you!

On another note, my partner is currently working on a Kickstarter project to get his band to festival this summer. If you want to help support Pagan indie artists, or are going to be at Sirius Rising this year, check it out and chip in! They have some great gifts for anyone who does.

I will be at Sirius Rising myself, in just about two weeks. Stop by and say hello! And I hope that everyone else is having a safe and exciting summer as well!

Queimada for Litha

June 17, 2013 in Sage & Scourge

Litha is a time for the sun. It is a time for weddings and celebration and games. It is also often a time that fairies are especially attracted to human gatherings. I think that I’ve mentioned before that I’m not overly fond of fairies.

My partner and I were recently interviewed on Pagans Tonight (the interview is archived here if you would like to hear it) and one of the things we discussed was human relationships with fairies and how they often go badly. The original fairy tales were, excuse the pun, pretty grim. A lot of the knowledge that passes to us from these stories are how to treat the fey and what to do when we’ve drawn their attention. Some fairies will help you, but just as often, if you don’t get it right, they will harm you.

Take the story of Lusmore for example.

Once upon a time there was a humpback named Lusmore who lived at the foot of the mountains. Most people were more than a little afraid of him. He had a great knowledge of herbs and charms, but made most of his livelihood off of braiding rushes.

One night he was walking home along the moat of old Knockgrafton, when worn out by the walk, he sat down to rest.

Presently there rose a wild strain of unearthly melody upon the ear of little Lusmore; he listened, and he thought that he had never heard such ravishing music before. It was like the sound of many voices, each mingling and blending with the other so strangely that they seemed to be one, though all singing different strains, and the words of the song were these -

Da Luan, Da Moti, Da Luan, Da Mort, Da Luan, Da Mort; when there would be a moment’s pause, and then the round of melody went on again.

Lusmore listened attentively, scarcely drawing his breath lest he might lose the slightest note. He now plainly perceived that the singing was within the moat ; and though at first it had charmed him so much, he began to get tired of hearing the same round sung over and over so often without any change; so availing himself of the pause when the Da Luan, Da Mon, had been sung three times, he took up the tune, and raised it with the words augus Da Cadine, and then went on singing with the voices in side of the moat, Da Luan, Da Mort, finishing the melody, when the pause again came, with augus Da Cadine.

The fairies within Knockgrafton, for the song was a fairy melody, when they heard this addition to the tune, were SO much delighted that, with instant resolve, it was determined to bring the mortal among them, whose musical skill so far exceeded theirs, and little Lusmore was conveyed into their company with the eddying speed of a whirlwind.

Glorious to behold was the sight that burst upon him as he came down through the moat, twirling round and round, with the lightness of a straw, to the sweetest music that kept time to his motion. The greatest honour was then paid him, for he was put above all the musicians, and he had servants tending upon him, and everything to his heart’s content, and a hearty welcome to all ; and, in short, he was made as much of as if he had been the first man in the land.

WB Yeats: Fairy Tales of Ireland by PJ Lynch

WB Yeats: Fairy Tales of Ireland by PJ Lynch

Presently Lusmore saw a great consultation going forward among the fairies, and, notwithstanding all their civility, he felt very much frightened, until one stepping out from the rest came up to him and said

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              “Lusmore Lusmore!

Doubt not, nor deplore,

For the hump which you bore

On your back is no more;

Look down on the floor,

And view it, Lusmore !”

 

And his hump fell off his back! He was so overwhelmed that he feinted and didn’t wake up until morning! When he woke up, the hump was gone and he was finely attired in a new set of clothes that the fairies made for him.

As he walked home, he had to convince everyone he met that it was, indeed, Lusmore that they were seeing!

Of course this news spread through Ireland. One day, an old woman came up to his cottage and told him that the son “of a gossip” that she knew was also humpbacked and wished to also be rid of his hump. Would he tell her how he had lost his?

Lusmore more than happily explained and sent the woman on her way.

The woman returned home and went to the son of the gossip to tell Lusmore’s tale. Jack Madden was his name and he was known to have been a “peevish and cunning creature from his birth”.

Jack Madden went to Knockgrafton and waited.

He had not been sitting there long when he heard the tune going on within the moat much sweeter than before; for the fairies were singing it the way Lusmore had settled their music for them, and the song was going on; Da Luan, Da Mort, Da Luan, Da Mort, Da Luan, Da Mort, augus Da Cadine, without ever stopping. Jack Madden, who was in a great hurry to get quit of his hump, never thought of waiting until the fairies had done, or watching for a fit opportunity to raise the tune higher again than Lusmore had; so having heard them sing it over seven times without stopping, out he bawls, never minding the time or the humour of the tune, or how he could bring his words in properly, augus Da Cadine, augus Da Hena, thinking that if one day was good, two were better; and that if Lusmore had one new suit of clothes given him, he should have two.

No sooner had the words passed his lips than he was taken up and whisked into the moat with prodigious force; and the fairies came crowding round about him with great anger, screeching, and screaming, and roaring out, “Who spoiled our tune? who spoiled our tune ?” and one stepped up to him, above all the rest and said:

“Jack Madden! Jack Madden
Your words came so bad in
The tune we felt glad in ;-
This castle you’re had in,
That your life we may sadden
Here’s two humps for Jack Madden !”

And twenty of the strongest fairies brought Lusmore’s hump and put it down upon poor Jack’s back, over his own, where it became fixed as firmly as if it was nailed on with twelve-penny nails, by the best carpenter that ever drove one. Out of their castle they then kicked him; and, in the morning, when Jack Madden’s mother and her gossip came to look after their little man, they found him half dead, lying at the foot of the moat, with the other hump upon his back. Well to be sure, how they did look at each other ! but they were afraid to say anything, lest a hump might be put upon their own shoulders. Home they brought the unlucky Jack Madden with them, as downcast in their hearts and their looks as ever two gossips were; and what through the weight of his other hump, and the long journey, he died soon after, leaving they say his heavy curse to any one who would go to listen to fairy tunes again.

So if you happen to come across any of the fair folk this Summer Solstice, remember to tread carefully and to treat them with respect. You may receive an excellent reward, but you might also be punished for a blunder. In fact, just try to avoid the whole thing. Competing with other humans should satisfy you enough.

One traditional way of holding the otherworld at bay for the night is making and drinking Queimada. Queimada is a fiery drink ritually made to hold off the darkness in traditional Celtic lore.

The night before Litha, gather around an earthenware bowl. Do this in a ring of candlelight, preferably outside with your family and friends. On a lit grill, set the bowl and mix in: 1 liter of grappa, 2/3 cup sugar, lemon rind bits from one lemon and ¼ cup whole coffee beans. When all of the ingredients are combined, stir until heated, chanting whatever you think is appropriate and infusing the liquid with your energy. Invoke the sun, pour out your feelings about what the solstice means to you. Summon the light for the longest day of the year. And then (using a long match or lighter for safety) light the mixture on fire! When the flames turn blue, extinguish them by putting a lid over it and then dip it into mugs and serve. This beverage will keep you immune to the wee folk through the solstice and anything else that might be lurking in the shadows of the longest day.

Blessed Litha all!

(Carrying an iron nail or a pinch of salt with you never hurt anyone either…)

 

* This particular recipe was from Llewellyn, you can find others out there.

*If you would like to read the full story of Lusmore, you can find it here!

Enter Freely and of Your Own Will

June 3, 2013 in Sage & Scourge

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about magical etiquette. I thought I would expand on that topic a bit more and talk about what to do when you invite guests to your rituals.

When you invite someone to a ritual, don’t assume that they know or understand anything about what you’re doing, because, well…they probably don’t. Even if this person has been in the Pagan community for years, that does not mean that they will be familiar with the sort of ritual that you’re doing.

Make sure to give them some background about your group or tradition and explain what you’ll be doing in ritual. It can be confusing going to a new ritual; giving a guest some basic background information can help them understand your ritual a little better and allow them to ask appropriate questions. It also lets them know what they should be doing during ritual.

Explain your altar and the tools on it. Tell the guest a bit about why they’re there, what you will be doing with them and how the guest should act around them. Don’t want your guest to touch things? Tell them that, and explain why. You don’t have to give away secrets, you don’t have to go into a three hour lecture, you can just say hey…this is my athame, I’ll be using it to direct energy, please don’t touch it.

Make sure to explain any stances that you might be doing within ritual and let them know whether you expect them to follow along or not. I always explain what we will be doing at different points in ritual, why we do it and let the guest know that they can do the stance or feel free to just stand politely throughout. Not everyone’s comfort level is up to following along. It can also help to explain why you’re using a particular stance. In my rituals, we do a stance when we are calling quarters. It’s not only a stance that’s respectful, it’s also one that helps you ground the energy that we work with.  Clarifying things like this helps people be more comfortable with what they are doing.

And most importantly, explain what will be happening in ritual. Let them know what the point of the ritual is, what you will be doing at certain points and all the things that will be used in ritual. My significant other went to a ritual where they drank wine in the ritual. Sounds pretty standard right? It wasn’t until later that he found out that there was semen and menstrual blood in the wine. If you’re doing something like this, tell your guests, they have a right to know and the right to make a choice about whether or not to partake or to participate. If you’re going to be upset if someone does not want to partake or participate, then this is a ritual where you probably should not invite guests.

 

In this scenario, warning your guests about possible death would be appropriate.

In this scenario, warning your guests about the possibility of death would be appropriate.

Make sure to take a minute or two here or there to see if your guest has any questions. This doesn’t have to take away from your ritual, there are always moments in ritual when you can pause and check on your guest. If there really isn’t a spot to pause, make sure to check in after ritual is over and make sure your guest understood everything that you did.

Rituals with guests should also not be long, drawn out affairs. People have a short attention span and when you’re a guest you aren’t usually expecting to end up participating in a five hour ritual. Would you want to be involved in a five hour ritual if you weren’t familiar with the people involved or a ritual that you weren’t familiar with? One of the worst rituals I ever went to as a guest ended up being a five hour ritual. Keep it short.

Having feast after ritual? Make sure to inquire into your guests dietary needs. If the person has a dietary need that you can’t meet, let them know that they should bring something that they can eat. Don’t wait until the meal itself to realize that you don’t have anything other than celery stalks for someone who is vegan.

There’s this idea in the Pagan community that you have to have perfect love and perfect trust for everyone in your ritual. (I see this a lot at public Pagan events). This comes from the line in the Wiccan Rede, which most Neo-Pagans misquote. The line is “Bide ye Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust”. This has nothing to do with loving and trusting everyone perfectly in a Circle; this is about the laws of the Wicca and really doesn’t have anything to do with non-Wiccan circles. This is a fallacy that is dangerous. If you have a guest, treat them like a guest. This is obviously someone you trust to a certain extent, since you’ve invited them to a religious ritual. This might even be a longtime friend that you do love and trust. Most of the time though, this is not the case. This is someone that you just met and they expressed interest in what you’re doing, or it’s a friend of a friend. Don’t hand someone your house keys just because you’re inviting them to your ritual. The gods are not asking us to be stupid.

Having a guest to ritual can be both fun and educational. It can help people understand a very important part of your life, or help them in being able to be a part of something different than what they usually do. But keep in mind that this is a guest and don’t expect them to understand everything. Think about how you would feel if you were going to a strange ritual and treat a guest accordingly. It’s easy enough to have a bad experience just because you don’t understand what’s going on around you. Sometimes the little explanations make the most difference.

Choosing and Consecrating Magical Tools

May 20, 2013 in Sage & Scourge

The tools that we work with in ritual are important elements of our workings. They are objects that focus us in directing our will and our energy to complete whatever work it is that we are doing. These sorts of tools become more effective the longer we have been using them, and the longer we have been working to invest our energy in that particular tool.

These tools know us and vibrate in harmony with our use of them when they have a relationship with us. While our tools are not sentient, I wouldn’t call them passive either. These are tools that channel magic, and the longer we use them, the more magic we imbue in them.

Some of us are lucky and these sorts of tools are handed down to us with a great deal of magical energy already present. My best friend’s Athame is the straight razor her grandmother used in her sewing projects. This is an Athame with a great deal of family history and ties. These sorts of tools recquire little more than a sort of getting to know you period where you and the tool aclimate to each other and establish a working relationship based on the ties already present.

Most us, unfortunately, aren’t that lucky. While there are many more second and even third generation Craft practitioners these days than there were even ten years ago, most of us are starting out on our own and have to pick up our tools the old fashioned way. And some of us don’t want that combined history and simply want to start fresh with something that is completely and only ours.

I’ve recently acquired two new tools that have a large significance in my rituals: an Athame and a wand. The athame was a tool I helped to choose, and was presented to me at my initiation; the wand was a gift from my partner.

So how do you start creating this sort of working relationship?

Never buy a tool that doesn’t call to you. All of my Craft tools, in whatever form, have pulled me to them specifically. There has been an immediate zing of energy exchanged that was impossible to ignore. In the case of the wand, it called my partner to it. It will be a tool that our coven uses together.

I look for tools that are traditional; not everyone does, but I prefer bone and wood that have been handcrafted over cheap, machine made items. Tools like this handle energy much more naturally.

It’s not always possible to know the maker of your Craft tools, not all of us are lucky enough to live near someone who makes these sorts of items, but I would also recommend not buying these types of tools online. You need to be able to handle a tool and speak to the person who was responsible for its creation. If you can make them yourself, even better. This is true of most magical items. There are very few online vendors that I trust, the ones that I do have been recommended to me by other reliable practitioners of my acquaintance and when I have bought items from them, they have been exactly as advertised.

Most Craft store owners should be able to tell you the provenance of an item and the exact materials used to make that item. They also usually know whether the maker has a good reputation or not.

You don’t have to find a tool immediately. Take your time, go to festivals, go to fairs, talk to people and see where they have found their tools. It may take a few months, don’t be discouraged. Remember, these are items that we will use for years to come. Rushing something like this ensures that you will not find the correct tool.

Once you’ve found the perfect item, don’t haggle for it. Pay exactly what the seller is asking if it’s a fair price. When you haggle a price down, it diminishes the power of the tool and takes away from the effort the creator took in making it. If you can barter for the tool and give something in trade, this is perfectly acceptable. You’re still paying a fair price, you’re offering something of equal value, even if that is simply the gift of your own energy.

Once you’ve acquired your tool, take the time to consecrate it and then invest your energy into it everyday. When I’m at home, I carry my Athame around with me, even when I’m not in ritual. I push my energy through it constantly. If I’m not carrying it or I’ve had a busy day, I take a second to pick it up and just think at it for a minute or two. I also won’t let other people touch my tools until I’ve firmly established my own bond with that tool. I’ve only had my Athame for four months now. It will not be touched by anyone other than my partner for a long time yet and the only reason that he is allowed to touch it is because he and I are magical partners as well as significant others and when I do most magical workings, he plays a significant role. He is not a casual lover and I would not recommend sharing your tools with anyone who is.

To consecrate a tool:

Set an altar with representations of the four elements. It is traditional to set Air in the East (usually incense), Fire in the South (candle), Water in the West (bowl of water) and Earth in the North (bowl of salt), but this is up to you and how you usually work.

Choose your representations with what feels right to you. I start in the East; many like to start in the North, again, this is up to you and if an element calls you specifically, start with it.

Take your tool and kiss it, focus your energy on it and take a few minutes to think about what you’ll be using this tool to do.

Wave the tool through the first element and say: I ask ____ to bless and consecrate this tool in doing (state whatever you will be doing with the tool). I ask that ____ bless this tool with (whatever nature the element represents). Bless and consecrate this tool in my service to the Craft. (You can also name any patron deities you’re using). So mote it be!

For example, I started my consecration of my wand with the East and Air. I waved my wand through my burning incense and said: I ask Air to bless and consecrate this tool in it’s use for casting enchantment for me and for my coven. I ask air to bless this wand with its intellect and its quickness. Please bless and consecrate this tool in my service to the (name of my patrons). So mote it be!

Move to the next element and repeat. Do this for all four of the elements. After you have done this, either offer the tool your own blood (which I did in the case of my Athame so that it never works against me) or offer it your energy (which I did with my wand) by placing it against your heart and feeling the energy move between you and the tool.

At the end of the ceremony, place the tool on your altar, continue with whatever work you normally do, and let it acclimate itself to your altar and energy. Leave it for a night and then start carrying it around with you and using it as you would with any tool you already work with.

Beltane May Bushes and May Wine

May 6, 2013 in Sage & Scourge

Last night, I had the honor of being crowned May Queen. As the personification of the Summer Lady, I led everyone in a merry chase through the woods. I was eventually “caught” by the gentleman who was crowned the May King. This wild hunt is a Beltane tradition. Beltane or Whitsun has many traditions associated with it, but it is a time for frolicking in the woods and merry making.

In ancient Rome, the goddess Flora was celebrated by a week’s worth of games. These games represented the renewal of life and the growing crops. It was a time of drinking and celebration. Flora was married to one of the wind gods and together they represented Spring.

This was also the time of the year when the goddess Persephone is seen dancing once more at her mother’s side after her sojourn in the Underworld.

In Britain, young people danced around the Maypole after a night in the woods where all social conventions were ignored. Bonfires were lit across the hills to help usher in the summer and banish the cold winter nights. “Jumping the fire” was a traditional pastime for young lovers. Morris dancing is also a traditional way to usher in May.

In most traditions, this is a time that represents the union of the God and Goddess and the celebration of life.

Traditionally, Beltane was not celebrated until the white flowered tree blossomed. In England, this is usually Rowan or Hawthorn. In the U.S., this is usually the Dogwood.

Rowan Blossom

Rowan Blossom

Hawthorn is a tree that has many folkloric stories and uses attached. This is why, one way to celebrate May is to decorate a May Bush. The Hawthorn is a thorny tree with white flowers and small red berries. To create your May Bush, gather the fallen branches of a Hawthorn tree together and bind them so that they stand up. Decorate the tree with bright flowers, painted shells and colored garlands. Do this with your family or your community. May bushes recall the power of the sun for your homes and the new crops.

It is traditional to set the May Bush outside of your home or in a window. It was also traditional to try and steal your neighbor’s May Bush! (This tradition was outlawed in Victorian England for exactly this reason). At the end of May, it was customary to dance around the May Bush in the same way that you danced around the Maypole and then burn the May Bush in the bonfire. The ashes from this fire are then sown through fields and around houses as a blessing and protection against the fey.

The Hawthorn is said to mark entrances to the Underworld and to aid in healing. If you’re working on any healing rituals during the time the May Bush is in your home, bless strips of cloth during the ritual and tie them to the May Bush.

And most importantly, while celebrating around your May Bush, drink some May Wine!

May Wine Recipe:

Ingredients -

1 Bottle Riesling

1/2 cup dried Woodruff

3/4 cup diced strawberries

1 bottle champagne (if desired)

Directions -

Combine the bottle of Riesling with the Woodruff, then let sit for an hour. (You can let it sit all night, but start with an hour to see how you like the taste of the Woodruff).

Pour into a glass pitcher. Add in the strawberries and champagne. Serve and enjoy!

 

Blessings of the May Queen to you and yours this beautiful Spring morning!

 

Magical Etiquette 101

April 22, 2013 in Sage & Scourge

I recently had an experience with a guest at my coven’s ritual, which is held in my home. This guest came in and, without asking, touched our altar and picked up tools. He also made negative comments about the way we do ritual. Needless to say, the evening only went down hill from there and the guest was not invited back.

This brings up magical etiquette, both in your own home and in the homes of others. There are a few basics that most people should be aware of. When you go to another practitioner’s house, never touch anything without permission. Everyone approaches their tools differently, and while it might be fine with permission, you should never just pick things up. This is extremely disrespectful. The same goes for altars and shrines. This isn’t just out of respect for the person who owns the altar or shrine, but for your own protection as well. Do you know what sort of work this person is doing? Do you want to inadvertantly become a part of anything they do in the privacy of their own home? Say they’re doing a love spell for a friend; what might be the results if you end up putting your energy into whatever work is being done?

This also goes for things that you might not take to be magical or religious in nature. You never know what that statue might mean to the person who lives there.

Not all of us, but most, intertwine our magical rituals with our religious ones. These are extremely personal workings that you just don’t get to butt into without permission. And this brings us to our next point; don’t make negative comments about the things you see. Our guest kept telling us that what we were doing was not what another group in the area did, and that therefore we were obviously doing things incorrectly. Why wouldn’t we use lines in our ritual that the other group used? You can see where this was quite offensive. When you go to someone else’s ritual, understand that they may not be working the way that you are used to. What they do is not wrong, it is simply different, and expecting them to change what they do to make you more comfortable is not appropriate. If you have that much of a problem with different rituals, you shouldn’t be the guest of another group in the first place. It is perfectly OK to turn down an invitation to a group’s ritual.

You might see something and disagree with how it was done, or think it should have been done differently. However, you are a guest. Ask about what you’ve seen in a positive manner. “That was a very interesting casting. May I ask why you do it that way?” is much more friendly than “I don’t do MY casting that way!” It’s offensive to force yourself into someone else’s workings and imply that you could have done it better.

When our coven has a first time guest in ritual, we explain what we will be doing, and we make sure to ask if the guest has questions at various intervals (it is actually part of the way we operate to assign certain coven members the task of making sure guests are informed and made to feel welcome). Most groups will do this if you are invited as a guest to ritual. You as the guest should expect a certain level of explanation about the ritual itself. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to learn all the secrets a group has, or be “trained,” but you deserve a basic explanation of the etiquette for the things that will be coming up in ritual. One of the worst rituals I’ve ever attended was so because there was no explanation of what was planned, and I didn’t know how to react to the things that were happening or what words to say at certain points.

If you are holding a public ritual, you also need to remember to do this. Do not assume your guests’ level of knowledge, experience, or tolerance level. A friend of mine told me about a ritual she went to that was for women’s spirituality. Sounds pretty standard right? It wasn’t until the priestess smeared something on her forehead in the middle of ritual that my friend found out that it was someone’s menstrual blood. Needless to say, smearing a stranger’s menstrual blood on someone else without explaining this sort of thing or asking permission is invasive in more ways than one. Think about what you are doing and ask people if they are OK with what is being planned, especially in cases where bodily fluids are being used.

It should also be pretty obvious that you shouldn’t insert any of your own energy into something without discussing it first with your host. Maybe your help will be welcomed and appreciated, but you can’t know without asking. Again, you don’t know exactly what a person is working toward and it’s arrogant and disruptive to assume.

Walking into another practitioner’s home should be like walking into anyone else’s home, the same basic etiquette applies. But unlike everyone else, where poking through someone’s medicine cabinet is probably not going to get you into trouble, poking your nose without permission into a practitioner’s workings might get you into a whole lot of trouble in ways that you won’t even see until six months down the road.

Don’t assume; always ask, and be aware that most things you see are probably not mundane. Look, don’t touch, and remember, you break it, you’re probably going to buy it, in a very metaphysical and unpleasant way.