Hello There

My thoughts about Traditional Witchcraft, Wicca, cooking, gardening, and anything else that catches my fancy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 3 of 44 Days of Witchcraft: Witch Tools

Well, this one is easy for me. My favourite tool, by far, is the magic wand or rod. Why? Well, for two reasons. First of all, I love trees.....not only aesthetically (and there's nothing witchier than seeing a dark, old, twisted, brooding tree) but for their magical wisdom and power, which can be immense. The wand (and I only use wood) is an extension of that power, and when properly made contains some of the spirit from the tree from which it came.

I've posted before of my distaste for the idea that magical tools are "just tools" to be used and discarded, and provide no inherent power of their own (this seems to be a popular screed of the McWiccans.) If so, why use them? Indeed, this is not a traditional way of thinking at all, and ignores the fact that various trees and woods have always been revered for their magical power. The three chief wand woods, from my own research, are Hazel, Blackthorn, and Elder, with Hawthorn and Ash being also mentioned.

I have two I use most often: a Hazel one for general purpose use, and a Blackthorn one for banishing and more heavy-duty workings. My Hazel one is intricately carved, but rather on the short side, making it portable and easy to stick in my bag for working outside (yes, my magical tools get used, and heavily....they don't just sit on an altar somewhere.) The Blackthorn one is much simpler, just a long, polished rod with a rune carved into the base. I'm a bit more reticent about showing my magical tools these days, but here's my Blackthorn wand.

It's important, if you don't make the wand yourself, to buy one from a reputable artisan who will make them in the traditional way. There's nothing wrong with adding some customization (most of mine have runes, animal totems, etc) to the stick, but in general it's wise to avoid anything made from milled lumber, lathe-turned, or that resembles a movie prop more than a magical tool.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day 2 Of 44 Days: Myths and Folklore

Well, here's day 2 of the 44 days of questions I got from Twisting Ways. Today's question:

"Relate a myth or story from folklore." Hmm, this is a tough one. Ah ha, I've got one!

The Cauldron of Ceridwen, from the Tales of Taliesin.

In this tale, Ceridwen (it's not clear if she's a Witch, or some kind of goddess) creates a magical brew in a giant cauldron, the first three drops (the rest being poison) will bestow wisdom upon her foolish and ugly son Morfran. Unfortunately, the boy who's chore it was to stir the cauldron, Gwion Bach, was scalded by three drops of the potion and, without thinking, put his burned finger into his mouth, thus attaining the powers meant for Morfran. In fear Gwion fled, transforming into a hare, pursued by Ceridwen in the form of a greyhound. Gwion turned into a fish and jumped into the water, and Ceridwen became an otter. He turned into a bird and took to the skies, and she became a pursuing hawk. Finally, he turned into a grain of corn, and Ceridwen became a hen and ate him, therefore becoming pregnant with him in a child-form (hey, it's magic.) She resolved to kill him as soon as he was reborn, but he was so lovely she could not, so she instead cast him into the ocean in a leather bag, where he drifted away before being rescued by a Welsh prince, and grew up in a new life to be known as the bard Taliesin.

This is a very old tale, with some claiming that Ceridwen was simply a mythological Witch, and others claiming her as an older Pagan Goddess. She's certainly become popular amongst Wiccans, though her nature in the story isn't exactly pleasant. Regardless, it's an interesting bit of folklore, and I wonder how much it had to do with the later idea of Witches standing over their boiling cauldrons.

Stay tuned for a new question each day!

Monday, August 29, 2011

What's Your Witch Background?

This is question one from the 44 days of Witch questions.

1. What's your Witchy background?

Always wanted to be a Witch, even as a small child. I dressed up as one for Halloween at age 3! Made up my own version of the Craft, and practiced it in secret, until I found my first "real" Witchcraft books at around age 12. After that, I started practicing what I thought was Wicca, until I became disillusioned and went underground, so to speak, for years. When I discovered Trad Craft, though, and that there were others like me that weren't sappy and into sparkles and hugs, I became involved in the new Witchcraft community once again. Over time, I find myself moving away from the more ceremonial magic, ritualistic based stuff and into a simpler, more organic folk magic and spirituality.

Witchy Questions, and 44 Days of Them!

I got this one from Eric Jeffords, over at Serpent and Toad, and a Bit O' Dirt. You answer a question a day for 44 days; hopefully I can stick with it. Hope you like!

  1. What’s your witchy background?
  2. A myth or story from folklore.
  3. Witchy tools:
  4. Picture of nature (water element).
  5. A favourite Goddess.
  6. A favourite God.
  7. Air element.
  8. A photo of a magical place outdoors.
  9. A favourite mythological animal.
  10. Your sun sign.
  11. Witchy tools: oils.
  12. Picture of nature (air element).
  13. What are some of the witchy books that influenced you?
  14. A favourite pagan holiday that you celebrate.
  15. Thoughts on the afterlife?
  16. Favourite witchy website(s).
  17. Picture of nature (fire element).
  18. Have you had any paranormal experiences?
  19. Fire element.
  20. A picture of a tarot or oracle card, and its meaning.
  21. A favourite scent.
  22. Current moon phase.
  23. A favourite candle.
  24. Your moon sign.
  25. How do your close ones feel about your witchy path? Do they know? Why or why not?
  26. A witchy podcast.
  27. Picture of nature (earth element).
  28. A picture of a witchy I-Want-It-Now!
  29. Water element.
  30. Witchy tools: wand.
  31. A favourite pagan/witchy movie.
  32. A pagan/witchy artwork.
  33. Faerie of your choice.
  34. Rune of your choice.
  35. Something that I think people who don’t know much about paganism/witchcraft should know.
  36. Flower of your choice, and its magical properties.
  37. A famous pagan/witch!
  38. Witchy tools: cauldron.
  39. Something that inspires you.
  40. Your altar, if you have one!
  41. A spell you’ve done.
  42. A favourite nature spirit.
  43. A magical recipe.
  44. Witch’s choice!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Halloween's A-Coming!

Yes, I know it's still August, but it's not too long now before Halloween season us upon us. As you won't be at all surprised to learn, Halloween is my favourite holiday......and my favourite time of year.

Though we don't get much in the way of Fall here (yesterday was 107, and everything is so burned up and hot, I can't imagine it ever cooling off again) there are still one or two cool days during October, which I guess makes us appreciate them more. I love the dark, grey, windy days of gloom and such the we sometimes get in the Fall, and I love seeing all the pumpkins set upon porches and in windows. Most of all, I love decorating for the holiday, with little Witches and ghosts and skeletons. I don't much like the bloody, gory stuff, but I do like cheerful pictures of skeletons and such.......as there is a large Death component to Halloween, I prefer to focus on the concept of Death as friend instead of Death as evil.

This year, as always, I'm be throwing a little part and making my pumpkin cake with the Maple frosting. I'll also be doing my Samhain rituals, hopefully this time with others. Keep your eyes peeled for exciting new updates, recipes, spells, and such to come on my blog here. Last year, I took sick with the flu or something right before Halloween and had to miss out, so this year I really want to make up for it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Witchcraft And The Gods: My Personal Views

Most modern Witches I know take a polytheistic view; that is, they believe in multiple different Gods. I am no exception. Most, as well, would refer to their beliefs as a form of Paganism. However, whereas in most religions the entire focal point of their practices is worship of a God or Gods, and performing various rituals to either beg their favour, or appease their wrath, I would take the stand that such is NOT the goal of Witchcraft. Indeed, I question whether we "worship" our Gods at all. In some cases, yes: there are definitely Pagan paths which are religions, and which devote themselves entirely to religious pursuits. However, in Traditional Witchcraft and other such magical traditions, I think there is a difference in how the Gods are approached (if they are approached at all; there are some Trad Crafters who do not believe in, or actively work with, Deities.)

In my personal view, a Witch is a magic worker, someone who can harness the forces of Nature, spirits, the Gods, and their own Will and utilize these forces for their own ends. While Witches may have a strong respect and even love for their patron Deities, many seem to feel that their relationship is a "working" one, and not a master/servant dynamic. Certainly, almost none of the Trad Crafters I know consider their Deities to be "all powerful" or "all knowing" in the way the Islamic or Judeo-Christian God is meant to be, nor would they consider it their life's work to grovel in obsequious piety before said Gods. As an animist and pantheist myself, I see a spark of the Divine in everything, and to debase yourself in servitude as though we were lowly creatures, barely worthy to speak to the Divine at all, is to me the height of folly and smacks of Christian masochism. I also remain deeply suspicious of anyone who claims to know the "Will of God" whether that God is Jehovah, or the Lord and Lady. History (and today) is rife with barbaric atrocities committed by people who have claimed such knowledge, and it becomes possible to justify any act of violence or genocide if you can believe that the Gods have commanded it.

What, then ARE the Gods, if not all powerful beings we must bow before? The truth is, I don't know....and I don't think anybody does. My own feelings on the matter change over time; at some times, I feel that they are actual distinct, personal beings that exist quite independently of ourselves. At other times, they seem to me to be a kind of archetype, "real" in the sense that they exist in the fabric of human experience, but not as literal, physical beings. Having had what I would consider Divine experiences myself, I tend to lean towards the former, but I maintain a healthy skepticism and questioning attitude, for the reasons I mention above. I should also add here that I do not believe that "All Gods are one God" as I think that this is patently untrue, and demeans and cheapens the very concept. I've seen such claims made, largely by people from a Judeo-Christian background who are frightened to entirely leave behind their old religion, but clearly to equate vastly different beings from vastly different cultures and claim they are the same being is a folly, if for no other reason except that it smacks of cultural appropriation. The idea, for example, that Pan and Jehovah are really "the same God" is laughable, considering their historical context and legendary attributes. Even if they are but human projections, they project completely different and contradictory things.

I consider it a large part of my path as a Witch to ask these kinds of questions, and view myself not as a worshiper dedicated to "truth," but as an explorer trying to FIND truth. I'm primarily a magic worker, not a priest, and am dedicated to using my skills to help myself and humanity....and not in service of a God. Despite my occult leanings, I base most of my social agendas on Humanism, and the betterment of people, which is something I wish ALL people of ALL faiths would do. Religious differences come and go, but human needs and suffering are very real and, unfortunately, eternal and these are the things that I think deserve our full attention and agreement.

So, is my path a religion, or a trade or skill? I would say somewhere in the middle. Perhaps a "spirituality" would be the proper term. "Religion" to me implies a set of beliefs which one must adhere to, and a rigid set of rules to follow in service of something. This is not my path. However, neither do I view magic as a purely mechanical power, harnessing nameless "energy" in a manner rather like baking a cake ("Light candle A, say B, and C will happen.") I don't pretend to have all the answers, and indeed don't think I (or anybody) ever will have the answers. Our best option, then, is to keep an open mind, and to continue asking these kinds of questions and questing to get a better understanding of the world around us, both in the physical AND the occult realms.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My Beautiful New Magical Book

I've never been especially good at magical note-taking, and up until now have been using a large, three ring binder to hold all of my recipes, spells, correspondences, etc. About a year ago, though, I decided I needed to really focus on putting together a Book which I could not only use in my personal magical work, but which would be long-lived and a magical object in and of itself. There are many such books on the market, but I just couldn't find one I liked enough. They were either too "Gothic" looking, or were mass produced, and I didn't want a book that anybody else would have. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I try to make things myself, but when I cannot I try to work with individual craftspeople who are willing to dialog with me so there's a whole lot of "Me" in the finished piece.

I was lucky enough to come across the enchanting and talented Jack Copal, of Bewitching Books. He specializes in making one-of-a-kind grimoires and Book of Shadows. I saw some of his previous works, and immediately fell in love with his style. His books tend to remind me of Victorian scrapbooks, with a lot of velvet, brocade, and embellishments, and had the magical yet tasteful look I wanted for my own. Also, he offers both sewn AND post-bound books, which is a huge plus; my handwriting is horrible, so I usually type my rough notes up into my computer and then print them out. With a post-bound book, you can take pages out and re-arrange them, while still having the appearance of a hard-bound book.

I e-mailed Jack, and he responded quickly with some ideas. We decided on a green, brocade cover with a black leather spine and corner pieces, holding 500 pages in the post-bound style. As he lives in Scotland, and I in the US, we discovered that paper sizes there and here are slightly different, so I sent him some of the parchment paper I use so he'd have something to size things with. We also decided on a metal seven pointed star, or Faery Star, as an embellishment for the cover. He's quite good with a computer, and was able to make me mock-up images of how my book would look when finished, so I was able to see what it would look like and make changes as needed. After agreeing on a price, he set to work, and I waited in anticipation. I should add here that Jack is a really nice guy, and in addition to our business talks about the book, we also shared a lot of witchy tales and tidbits, discussed various movies and books, and generally compared life (and cooking!) between his part of Scotland, and Texas where I live.

Unfortunately, the places he'd tried to order my Faery Star from turned out to be out of stock, or unreliable, and I began to wonder if he'd be able to find one. However, he told me he had a surprise for me, and soon after I found out what it was......he'd actually taught himself to metal work, ordered some silver, and had MADE me an exact copy of the star I wanted! Needless to say, I was incredibly impressed that he'd made such an effort on my behalf; he definitely went above and beyond what anybody else would have done, and I was very touched.

Finally, my book was finished, and Jack set up a time for delivery. He uses a courier service, rather than the mail, because the courier is much faster and safer. They guarantee delivery within 3 days, so I made sure to be home and yesterday,at around 11am, I heard the knock on the door and my book arrived. It was very securely wrapped, and I was almost too nervous to open it, I was so excited. When I finally got the paper off, I was floored.....my new book was even better than I'd imagined. The green brocade is absolutely lovely, and the ribbon markers are beautiful as well and a very nice touch. Jack had sent along a nice note, as well as some other treats, which was much appreciated. I am very, very happy I chose Bewitching Books to make my magical book for me, and should I ever need another one, I will absolutely use his services again. I've already started the process of transferring my pages and recipes into the new book.

Here are some pictures of my book. First, here's the "mock up" he made to show me what my book would look like:

And here's what the book actually looks like. Even better than the mock-up!

And here is the interior:

I'm glad I took the time to research my options, as I feel I definitely got the perfect book for me. I'm sure it will give me many years of service, and who knows.....maybe when I'm gone, I'll be able to pass it along to somebody else. Thanks, Jack, for making me something so awesome!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Witchcraft Then And Now; An Observation

Let me start by saying by "Witchcraft then and now," I don't mean the witchcraft of 500 years ago versus the witchcraft of today. Indeed, I think it's become clear that we know very little of how Witches operated in centuries past, as so little was written down, and what WAS preserved was often the result of torture and probably reflects innocent people concocting stories to save themselves more than any genuine reality of Witchcraft. No, I mean the Witchcraft of the 20th century revival, versus the bulk of what is published today.

In general, it seems that current Witchcraft has become much more "materialistic" than what was being practiced even 40 years ago. For example, in Doreen Valiente's published "Book of Shadows" in "Witchcraft For Tomorrow" she lists a relatively simple set of tools that I'm sure are familiar to anyone reading this. The knife, the wand, the pentacle, the cord, the book, candles, incense, and the cauldron. Magic was performed by casting a circle using salt, water, and incense and then raising energy through mental effort and invoking the Gods. In her other books, as well as others of the time, one finds easy rituals for candle magic (involving nothing but an inscribed candle, some incense, and perhaps the knife used to direct energy) as well as spoken charms and knot magic. Even today, while perusing a website about Cornish Traditional Witchcraft, photographs demonstrate the Witch casting spells using little more than a knife, beeswax candles, and a fire. Simple items that one can purchase or make for one's self, and then use repeatedly for the rest of one's life.

Not so with most modern books on Witchcraft and magic. Many modern, published spells require sometimes dozens of ingredients and tools, many of them exotic and, if not expensive, at least an effort to obtain. One such book I own lists no more than 23 separate tools required for one rather basic ritual. Even worse, the author advises the reader to discard all candles and incense partially used, claiming that they can't ever be used again for magic. Perhaps the biggest change I can see between the time periods is the influx of herbal preparations and essential oils into magical practice. It's not that they aren't traditional, because they are, but not to the extent that they are used today. While older books contain a few simple incense recipes, or tell one how to make infuses oils to be used for certain magical aims, they do not require the dozens of herbal blends, tinctures, oils, and powders one typically finds today. But why is this?

Harkening back to a previous entry, I think that what's happened has been the influx of what one might call "sorcery" into Witchcraft. I define "sorcery" as the use of external objects to create a magical change, as opposed to "witchcraft" which involves exercising a power innate to the operator, along with the powers of spirits, Gods, and herbs. For example, American folk magic practices like Hoodoo and Pow Wow seem to have made inroads into Wicca and Witchcraft, altering all three in the process. In a less benign vein, Witchcraft has become big business: "Pagan" shops have popped up everywhere, willing to sell you herbs and tools of various freshness and quality, all for a pretty hefty price (it's not uncommon to see a cauldron that retails for 25 dollars one place, to be marked up to 40 or even 60 dollars elsewhere.) One wonders how much the ready availability of magical materials, which would have been unheard of even 40 years ago, has influenced the practice of magic itself.

I don't think there's anything wrong with having magical tools you find attractive and powerful, and I definitely don't deny that herbs, stones, woods, etc have inherent powers that the Witch can harness in order to work magic. However, I worry that sometimes people become so intent on buying more, having more, and stocking enough herbs to run a Witch store, that they forget to do the work! In addition, a lot of modern "Witchcraft" shops sell shoddy, tacky tools that carry but little of the natural energy required. What I cannot make myself, I buy from a few small, private artists (some of which I've shared) or come across in antique shops and thrift stores, where you can find amazing, high-quality objects that are perfect for Witchcraft. In the end, though, the important thing to remember is that YOU are the Witch, and if you cannot work magic using nothing but the power of your Will and experience, it's unlikely that even an entire Witch store full of merchandise can help you.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Dark Mirror

As promised, here's an entry about my creation of, and use of, a Dark Mirror. If you don't know, a dark mirror is (as you might guess) a mirror or glass that's been darkened and magically consecrated for use as a divination tool. Some people use an actual mirror, with smoked glass, but others simply paint the back of a glass picture frame with dark paint, and use that. I chose the latter course.

I actually made mine a couple of years ago. I went to the craft store and bought an antique-looking picture frame and some flat black paint, and took it home. After laying out some newspaper, I removed the back from the frame and slid out the glass, cleaned it, and then put it on the paper. I sprayed the back of the glass with a coat of the black paint, let it dry, and then applied another one to make sure that it was evenly coated and completely black. After it dried, I put the glass back into the frame (with the unpainted side facing OUT) and then put the back back on. After performing an empowering rite, the mirror was ready for use.

I recommend using it in a very dark room, with only one or two candles going, but be sure to place them where you don't see the reflection in the glass, because you want to have a perfectly smooth reflection. You can also burn a divination incense, consisting of Mugwort, Wormwood, or others. Place the mirror on your worktable or similar, standing on edge, and sit about 4-6 feet away. Again, be sure that nothing is actually reflected in the glass; you want a perfectly black image to gaze into.

My own experiences with the mirror have been promising, but to be honest I haven't spend a huge amount of time with it. The first time I used it, I did began to see images, but felt I might not be ready for anything else so I stopped my experiment. In my case, after staring at the glass for about 5-10 minutes, I started to see what looked like a glowing mist forming. Shortly after, I began to see indistinct images (random shapes and such) swirling about, which then began to feel three dimensional and actually looked like they were coming OUT of the mirror, flying at me. It was definitely a witchy, magical experience but not something I would recommend if you are of a nervous or unsure disposition. Out of all the "gazing" methods of divination I have tried, the Dark Mirror had the best and most rapid results, quicker and better than a crystal ball or similar.

I do hope this has been instructive. Here's an image of my Dark Mirror at work, so hopefully you can get an idea of the technique I use.