Hello There

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Illness And The Witch

This post doesn't have much to do with magic, but it IS an important part of my life, none the less. At times in my blog, I've mentioned that I was unwell, or unable to do something on a particular day, but haven't mentioned why. Well, the truth is, I suffer from chronic illness which limits my activities. Around 2005, I suddenly came down with severe, chronic migraines accompanied by devastating fatigue, and despite brief periods of improvement it hasn't really let up since. I became ill almost overnight, it seemed, but it took around 7 doctors a good year to diagnose what was wrong with me. It was ultimately decided that I suffer from chronic migraine disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Fibromyalgia. Looking back over the years, I can see signs of trouble as far back as my early teens (I would have periods where I felt as though I had the flu, but the doctor said I had no infection) but it wasn't until I was 25 that it got really bad.

I've learned, the hard way, that our American culture does not do well with chronic illness. People sort of assume that, if one gets sick, one either goes to the doctor and is "cured," or else worsens and dies. It seems hard for a lot of people to comprehend that there are some disorders which can neither be "cured" nor are fatal, and that it's possible to suffer for many years despite not looking sick. Almost as difficult as the severe physical pain my illness causes me has been the lack of understanding shown to me by friends and even family at times. When told of my condition, peoples' reactions tend to range from the kindly-meant but ill-informed ("Oh, I get headaches too, and sometimes I'm tired after a long day.") to condescending ("You just need to take vitamins/give up gluten/exercise/etc") to the both ill-informed and the hostile ("Well, I read on the internet that your disorder is FAKE! If I saw it on a website, it must be true.") There is a tendency for people to vastly underestimate how disabling some of these symptoms can be. A migraine is not simply a "headache" and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not the same kind of tiredness you get from a long at work or too much exercise. My migraines are the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life, by far (and I've had quite a few surgeries) and the fatigue I suffer from is, at times, so severe that even getting out of bed to go get a drink of water feels like an almost insurmountable task. The best way I can describe my daily experience is to say, imagine having the worst flu you can think of (but without the fever or congestion) and the kinds of aches, pains, and severe tiredness you feel. That's what I wake up to every day. Now, obviously, I don't usually discuss my health with strangers, but at times it becomes relevant when I have to explain why I have to cancel plans, cannot be somewhere at a certain time, or am moving slowly. Sadly, because of my health issues, I cannot work and have become largely disabled.

So, how does this tie in to Witchcraft? Well, the question has been asked of me a few times (by non-occult acquaintances) "Well, if you're so magic, why can't you just cast a spell and heal yourself?" My response is always the same: "Well, if modern medicine is so great, why can't they give me something to heal me?" For, indeed, while it's possible to reduce some of my symptoms, there is presently no cure. Going more in depth, it's my belief and experience that magic is a tool, but not a miracle. If something is possible, magic can make it more likely to happen, and can give things a little "push" in the right direction. For example, if you've an injured arm, or a fever, magical treatments can help the harm heal, or aid the body in overcoming the infection causing the increased temperature. However, no magic (or medicine, at this time) can regrow an arm which has been removed, or heal a body so badly damaged that death is imminent. There is no belief system or occult science which puts you outside of natural law, and negates that fact that people are born and will one day die. I do NOT hold truck with the trendy New Age idea that we "create our own illnesses" by not being forgiving or something (which is a terrible philosophy that blames innocent victims of disease) but I do think a certain amount of suffering and pain in life is inevitable, though we ought to work to lessen that and provide relief. Though if I had a magic pill which would cure me instantly, I would take it without a second's delay, I have learned from my pain to enjoy life's little pleasures, and now take much more enjoyment out of days when I feel well. I've also gained much more empathy for other suffers of chronic pain and other chronic conditions, for I know now what it's like to have an "invisible illness" that others often time do not understand, or do not take seriously.

Because of my magical training and skills, I've been able to find useful coping mechanisms, be they herbal remedies to treat symptoms like nausea and vomiting, or trance techniques I can use to "escape" during the worst bouts of pain. However, it's still a tough time, and I have a lot of regrets and ever anger over things I had dreamed of for my life, but will now probably never happen. I have gained a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, though, and perhaps also a more detailed glimpse of the darker side of the human psyche and experience. I sometimes wonder if my problems, and the solitary life which tends to accompany them, have actually aided my magical work in a way, as all that alone time is valuable for doing mental exercises and study.

I usually don't discuss this issue, because I know it's a drag to read about other people's problems. However, I think it's relevant to my experience as both a Witch, and as a human, which is why I've discussed it here. If nothing else, it might help explain some of my previous statements on here, or why there are times when I don't post or mention missing out on sometime important because of my health. I also like to help increase public awareness, since there is much misunderstanding and even hostility towards what some call the "invisible illnesses." It's been one of my goals in life to help educate people, so that those who suffer as I do can find better treatment, and so that family and loved ones can better understand, be be more supportive,to those struggling with these same issues.

For more information:
About Fibromyalgia
About Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
About Migraine Disorder

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thought For The Day

I've been poring over the writings of a very experienced, very traditional Hedgewitch of my acquaintance, and reading his work, I'm reminded of just now much I DON'T know. I feel as though I've only barely scratched the surface, magically speaking, and I suppose in a way that's true. It's funny, too, because the author in question is not a "big name" and if I were to link to him, it's unlikely his page would ring a bell. It just goes to show you, the real deal isn't always the one making the most noise, but the quiet one in the corner who's too busy spending their time "out in the field" to seek fame and publicity. Be that as it may, should I end up only half as wise as this particular Witch is, all of my efforts will have been worth it.

More Cemetery Explorations

Living as I do in the Southern US, we don't have the kind of ancient, historical cemeteries that you find in Europe or even the East Coast. Be that as it may, you can still find older graveyards in my area, usually from early pioneer settlements and located next to an equally old church. Recently, I posted pictures of a very large cemetery near our Downtown area, but this week I visited a much smaller graveyard, which is located next to a 150 year old Methodist church.

The cemetery is surrounded on all sides by a very large, thorny hedge. I suspect there may be an Elder tree (which is more like a bush in this part of the world) in there somewhere, but I cannot be sure. Even though you can hear the distant sounds of rushing traffic, once you step through the gate and into the cemetery, you still get a feeling of stepping back in time. There are very few of the modern, ugly, flat tombstones in evidence; most of the monuments are old, and of the upright variety. I'm quite sure there are no available spaces left, and one can only be buried here if you have a family plot. There are large trees in the cemetery,which (oddly for my state) are afire with brilliant Fall plumage.

To me, cemeteries are "in-between" places of power and magic. They are simultaneously places of the dead, AND of the living, and you don't find that in many other situations. They are also amazing sources of information, from a historical angle, because you really can learn a lot about peoples' lives and beliefs merely by reading their tombstones. Some people find cemeteries to be frightening, and to be sure, they are not always "welcoming" in their energies, but they are ultimately places of rest, and a place where the living can honour and remember those who have gone before them. They are few crimes I find more abhorrent and abominable than the desecration of cemeteries, and I feel heartbroken when I read about burial grounds being violated by teens or adults who smash headstones and destroy markers for "fun." I sincerely hope that people who do such monstrous things pay a very heavy price for their transgressions.

Anyway, here are some pictures I took. Some of them are spooky, some are a little sad, and some are lovely. This is turning in to a series, as I am making an attempt to visit and photograph most of the local graveyards. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Seasoning Cast Iron

Today, I had my first real experience in seasoning cast iron. I wrote last week about getting my beautiful new cast iron cauldron, but I hadn't gotten around to seasoning it until today. I tried putting it into a cold oven to see if it would fit, and it did.....but only barely. So, I had to get a friend to come over and give me a hand, because it was too heavy for me to pick up on my own.

When I purchased my cauldron, the seller sent along a few booklets that told me how to season it. One said one thing, and the other something slightly different, so I sort of averaged it out. First, we gave the inside and the outside of the cauldron a good washing. Then, we dried it out and put it in a warm oven for a bit to make sure all moisture was gone, and to "open the pores" so to speak. Next, we gave the entire thing a rubdown with Crisco. You can use various vegetable oils, or lard, but I settled on Crisco as being easiest and most shelf-stable. Lastly, we put it in the oven, bottom up, and cooked it at 300 degrees for about an hour and a half. I opened all the doors and windows, having been told that the seasoning process would smell and would cause smoke, but it really wasn't that bad.

When the time was up, we opened the oven door and turned off the heat, and waited a bit until the pot cooled down (which takes a fair while with cast iron.) We took it out of the oven, and I was pleased to see that the cauldron had turned a beautiful shade of rich, almost glossy, black. As the metal cools, the vegetable shortening will form a protective coating that will protect the cast iron from rust and from the acids of the foods being cooked, and will also help to keep the iron in good shape and prevent brittleness. I'm hoping to have my cauldron for a good, long while so I'm happy to spend the time NOW to ensure it lasts.

Here's a few pics of the seasoning process. You can see it greased up, the Crisco I used, and the final result (I put the hot pads beneath the legs so it wouldn't burn the floor.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

An Old Favourite Book

When I was young, around 11-12, I found a book in my school library that I absolutely LOVED. It was about Witches, ghosts, werewolves, and fairies, and though it was meant for young people it actually had a lot of good, factual information. Most such books I'd come across dismissed such topics as being from more ignorant times, but this one presented things in a pretty straightforward manner. Being an English book, it even went into the Cunning Folk tradition, which was the first I'd ever heard of such a thing (before, I'd always been told that Witches were imaginary, even though I knew better; I was thrilled to find proof that I was right!) I was especially taken by the illustrations, which were reproductions of old woodcuts and photographs of modern Witchcraft artifacts (one of which I believe is in the Boscastle museum.)

Unfortunately, being young as I was, I never wrote down the title of the book, and when I went on to high school I almost forgot about it. I wished, now and again, that I had a copy of my own, but I didn't know the title or the author, and eventually gave it up as a lost cause. A few days ago, however, I was searching Amazon for new books, when a title jumped out at me. "Ghosts, Witches, and Things Like That" by Roderick Hunt. I clicked on it, and though it didn't have an image, the description sounded familiar. "Could this be that book I used to love?" I asked myself. Well, only one way to find out. I ordered it (for a very good price, I might add) and, two days later, it's just arrived.....and it's the right one!

I feel like I am taking a stroll down Memory Lane, and the book is just as amazing as I remember it being. If anything, I can appreciate it MORE now because I know so much more about the subject than I did at the time. For a big geared towards children (though I think when this book was written, they didn't dumb things down so much for kids) it's really a good source of information, and it also has various recipes, songs, poems, and Hallowe'en activities to do. I'm going to post a few pics here of it, to show you just how awesome it is. If you can find a copy, I highly recommend it. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Brand New Cauldron

I finally broke down and ordered myself a brand-new cauldron. I already had a little one, which I used as an incense burner, and to burn spell papers, but it wasn't food safe and looked a little on the cheap side. In general, I don't buy things from "witch shops" because they tend to be overpriced and poor quality, and the last thing you want with your magical tools is to have the same thing that everybody else has. So, the cauldron I bought came, not from a witch shop, but from a small company which sells them largely for outdoor cooking and country living.

I had a wide number of choices when it came to selecting one. I wanted it to be big, large enough that I could actually cook up a big batch of soup or stew if I went camping, and big enough that I could burn things in it, or use it for scrying. On the other hand, I didn't want it to be TOO big, as I have a small apartment and health issues prevent me from picking up anything too heavy or bulky. The kind of pot I settled on is actually called a "pojtie pot" and is heavily used in South Africa as a cooking pot. They are numbered by size, with a "1" being the smallest, and going all the way up to "20" or even higher. I decided on a "4" which will hold 10 quarts, or 2.5 gallons. I got it for a pretty good price, but shipping added on another 30 bucks because it was so heavy.

It arrived on Tuesday of this week. I heard an ominous rattling coming from the box, and was concerned because the box looked like it had been through a tornado. I think the UPS people hate me, because most of the packages that arrive looks as though they've been almost deliberately mistreated. When I order something expensive, I almost always get insurance on it because of how badly mistreated most of my mail seems to be. Anyway, I brought it inside and opened it up, and found that the rattling was simply the lid rattling against the pot (they were packed separately in the box.) When I got everything out, I was surprised; I was afraid before it came that maybe I should have gotten a bigger one, but when I actually saw it I was shocked at how big and heavy it really was. It's covered in little bits of white packing material, which is something I will have to clean off. I really, really like my new cauldron, as it's obviously high quality and is 100% food safe.

Now I just have to season it. Cast iron must be seasoned with a protective coating before use. You can use lard, or vegetable oil, but I have decided on Crisco because it's cheap, easy to handle, and non-animal derived. You have to rub the whole pot and lid down with it, and then bake it in the oven for a few hours. Now, the pot is big and heavy, heavier than I imagined, so I am hoping I can get it in there and out again without any problem Once it's down, the cauldron will find a place alongside my working space/altar, until I am ready to go someplace and cook something in it. Because I am pretty practical with my Witchcraft, I see no problem in using it for both ritual, and cooking, uses though obviously I won't be able to use it for any baneful herbs. I like my new pot SO much, in fact, that I am going to be ordering another, smaller one without any legs so I can cook with it on my gas stovetop. I will also be ordering a tripod and chain so I can suspend my cauldron over an open fire when I am using it out of doors.

Here are some pictures. They are bad quality, as I took them on the spur of the moment with my cell phone, but I will post better ones later. The little white flecks you see are bits of packing material; I am going to be cleaning them off today as I prepare to season the pot.

Without the lid. You can see my taken-down Halloween decorations on the table

With the lid. The lid has a deep rim to allow hot coals to be heaped on top.

On the floor, with a burning candle within.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Post Hallowe'en Happenings, And Some New Books

Another year, another Hallowe'en has come and gone. I had a very pleasant holiday, though as per usual ate too much candy and goodies. Be that as it may, my "Dinner for the Dead" was a success, and I watched my fill of Witch movies and ghost stories. However, 6 days later, I still haven't taken down all of my Hallowe'en decorations, and my apartment is full of skeletons, ghosts, witches, pumpkins, and the like. Today I'll probably box them up, but for the mean time I'm going to enjoy them for just a little longer.

In other news, it's been a week of new books! On Wednesday, I got Cassandra Latham-Jones' book "Village Witch." If you don't know, Latham-Jones is a village Witch, or wisewoman, living and working in rural Cornwall. I've read a few reviews where people weren't really thrilled with the book, because it does read like an autobiography and not as (yet another) "how to" book on Witchcraft. This is what I like about it, though; I know how to work magic, but it's interesting to read about the long and winding path that led the author to where she is now, and about her personal take on magic and The Gods. On Friday, I received Raven Grimassi's new "Old World Witchcraft," which is his newest work and presents his thoughts and opinions about Traditional Craft. I've barely gotten to look at it, but from what I've seen so far it explored the truths behind the historical Witch trials, and looks at what the Witches of the past actually believed as opposed to what their persecutors claimed that they did. By now I'm quite convinced, modern assertions to the contrary, that there WERE (and are) pockets and covens of surviving, if fragmentary, Pagan belief which existed underground even after the Church had violently conquered most of Europe, and that these people became the Witches of the Middle Ages. However, these people worshiped a Horned God (later known as "The Devil") and the Goddess Diana (often called "the Queen of Elfhame" after Her true name had been forgotten or repressed) and not the "Satan" of the Christians. From what I've seen, this book explores much the same conclusions, so I'm quite excited to be able to read in-depth about Grimassi's research. I'll post a longer review whenever I'm done with the book.

Hope everybody is well. The time changed last night, so by waking up at my usual 6:30am the clock now insists that it's 5:30am, so I think it's going to be a long day. I've been suffering from a migraine off and on since Thursday, so I do believe I will just take it easy.