camp fire horzLast fall, I attended the Gaia Goddess Gathering near Kansas City with several friends as I have done for six of the last seven years. It’s a great little women-only festival that is affordable and recharges my spiritual batteries.

One night the small group of us who came together – ranging from 14 to 40-somethings – huddled around a small campfire chatting. Most of us have a connection to a specific women’s group, and one of the ladies around the fire was preparing to be inducted as a member. Mentioning how she needed the structure, another friend was shaking her head.

“All we need,” she said, emphatically gesturing to the ground on which our humble fire and group sat, “is this. Right. Here.”

I got what she meant. I think.

We Pagans/Earth-loving folk often try to find groups of like-minded people. Christians, Jews, Hindus, and other religions have their churches and temples, but most Pagan types don’t have an organized community like that. And though many of us are drawn to the strong individualism and lack of dogma of Pagan and Earthy traditions, it’s always nice to know you’re not alone.

I remember when finding community was so stinking hard! I began my Pagan journey in 1997 and the only connection with others I had was a subscription to Sagewoman magazine. To learn of a practicing group in the area, you might have found one close to you on the Witch Vox website, but you usually had to learn about them by word of mouth. If you were lucky enough to have a Pagan Pride Day or Pagan Picnic in your area, you could meet folks that way.

Now, many groups are created online (or members find each other there), but just because we can find each other easier via the Internet doesn’t mean we’re any better at staying together. There are some reasons for this, some of them come from the core of Paganism and some from the core of being human. In many cases, they can be overcome with self-awareness and thought.

For what it’s worth, I’ve outlined a few issues I’ve noticed over the years in case it helps any groups out there having difficulties.

Beltaine offerings

I’m Pagan and You’re Pagan, so We’re Good, Right?

Well, maybe and maybe not. It’s really not enough, in most cases, for everyone involved to simply be Pagan or Pagan-friendly. There’s no dogma or religious rulebook for us, so what Pagan means can be different to every single one of us. In other words, just being Pagan isn’t necessarily a unifying concept.

I’ve seen many groups – online and in person – fall apart or flail about because they tried to be too inclusive and had no guidelines of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior (or just very weak guidelines) for the group.

While being all-inclusive sounds like a wonderful thing, the sad fact is that there is always a troll, narcissist, or energy vampire waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Groups like this are chum for those types.

Rising Numbers of those Intolerant of Focus – or a Challenge

With information readily available (either as online content or as books for sale online) about different traditions, more people are doing a smorgasbord approach. And I’m not saying this is bad – I have gone this way somewhat too, as you may remember.

However, I’ve found that the more Pagans there are who have never worked within a specific tradition for any real length of time, the fewer Pagans there are that have learned to have patience or respect for those with different opinions and practices. You present them with something they disagree with and they’re gone. Or they simply balk whenever they are challenged spiritually or mentally, which is often something mentors and teachers do to help us learn. I know my primary mentor in the Avalonian tradition challenged me plenty – and grow I did!

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Can’t We All Just Stop Bickering? (AKA: Group Dynamics)

I’ve been blessed to have many opportunities to work within several group structures – from highly structured and organized groups with a mission statement to small and casual social groups.

The first group I was a part of met weekly but had no unifying identity other than being some type of Pagan. It fell apart in the typical “witch war” situation. Then there was three years coordinating the local Pagan Pride Day and then several more years as a PPD volunteer. There was a very short stint in the Sisterhood of Avalon, and then almost nine years of being highly involved (and I’m still involved but to a far lesser degree) with the structured Daughters of the Sacred Grail.

Then, there’s the online folk magic group that went gang busters for a year or two and then petered out to nothing (actually, there were several online groups like that). There was also a long-lived social group that met in our local bookstore’s café once a month – and it would probably still be going if the bookstore hadn’t shut down.

Currently, the only Pagan/magical group I really meet with is a small group of friends that occasionally gets together to do a study or to celebrate holy days. This is my spiritual family, and I’m a bit bulldoggish in guarding it because of the drama I’ve seen in the past.

From these 19 years of experience, there are things I’ve noticed working against groups of any kind:

• Absolutely no rules or guides – As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been part of a group that really had no direction or guidelines. Most people seem to need a focus or tradition to avoid issues like different camps in the group from going to battle. And if you’ve ever seen the love-and-lighters trying to philosophically battle the left-hand enthusiasts, you know what I’m talking about. Even a few basic rules outlining an expectation of behavior is a good thing.

Then there’s the other extreme.

• Rules gone crazy – Sometimes group leaders dislike the behavior of some members of the group: poor attendance, showboating for attention, etc. So, they create rules. Mind you, I’m not opposed to a few rules myself, but sometimes leaders can get on a kick thinking every problem in the group can be solved with a rule. They want the group to move forward in unison and be productive.

But they forget to listen and to see the deeper issues at hand and to solve them in other ways. Instead, their rules sow more division between the “good” members and the “bad” members. They forget to keep their own egos in check when they believe they are all right and the others are all wrong. Sometimes, these folks start feeding off this power to control others, which is never good. And they also:

• Forget the Pagan individual – Forgetting that many Pagans are drawn to the individualism of our spirituality is a big problem for groups on a mission to grow, develop structure, etc. Much of what makes Pagan group ritual effective and beautiful is the creative energy of those members who know when to throw a scripted ritual to the wind and work with spirit. What makes a Pagan study group so interesting is hearing from those who come from different perspectives and paths.

With us, you cannot sacrifice the individual spirit for the good of the group – you must learn to balance the two. After all, we are not sheep to be herded.

Further, you cannot forget to feed ALL the members spiritually. It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of sabbat celebrations, full moon rituals, and studies, but some people need things to be shaken up now and again. Some people need deeper studies to stimulate their spiritual minds while others are perfectly OK going over basic information with new members every time. Again, there must be a balance to make sure everyone is fed. Too many groups (and even churches) have groups splinter off because of this very issue.

SUn thru walnut

All Bickering Aside, What Do You Really Need?

Now, back to my friend’s statement by the campfire.

When all is said and done, all we really NEED for community is this: a small group of people who have your back and who you can trust to share your experiences. The campfire is optional, but sharing lunch or teatime or an informal ritual is equally satisfying. We may WANT more structure – this is often attractive, especially for those that have trouble with motivation or have been out of practice for a while – but we don’t really need it for spiritual community.

All we need to do is to find our people and treat them with respect and love. To share when it is helpful. To make your limitations clear and don’t feel bad for having some – if they love you as a brother or sister, they will understand. To support them in whatever ways you can, but to never forget to add to your own spiritual stewpot so you’re not running on empty. To be fucking nice to each other. Yes, I said that, and I mean it. A real community built with love and honor won’t as easily default into gossip and battles.

Until next time, I wish everyone the warmth of community in whatever way you connect with it – and, of course, blessings of Avalon.!

Thistle

Happy September, everyone! I love the fall months, and I enjoyed the daily card readings from the Halloween Oracle last year so much that I decided to start it early.

When I drew this card this morning, I almost giggled – what an appropriate draw for the day of the dark moon! Also, don’t forget most readings will be posted directly to this blog’s Facebook page. Enjoy!

SCRYING

Intuition

HO Scrying

Soften your eyes

Being the trance

Whole worlds are opened

Begin the dance

Scrying is the divination technique of seeing unconscious images (or images from the diving or supernatural) appear upon or within a surface. People scry into a crystal ball, a black mirror, water, even the surface of ice. It is a very ancient technique and one traditionally enacted on Samhain (Halloween).

The keys to effective scrying are being as relaxed as possible, minimizing possible distractions, softening our gaze and allowing.

The enemy of effective scrying is distraction, both from inside and out. Turn off the phone, electric lights anywhere you can see them, any music, and if you are srying out doors, take the time to settle into the environment and listen to all the noises so that your mind will not need to break your focus later It is also vitally important to settle the mind as much as you can.

If you regularly mediate, you may wish to use those techniques or otherwise you can simply shut your eyes and focus on your breath – this is usually very effective. If you have a specific question for the scrying medium, state it up front. Then, once you feel relaxed, turn your focus inward. Imagine pulling your energy within you, and then focus on the third eye point (the chakra point on the center of the forehead, just above the eyebrows) and imagine opening it. Then gaze in a soft, unfocused way at your scrying surface and simply allow images to from and observe what presents itself to you. Do not engage your rational mind – this is about receiving, not thinking!

Should you pull the Scrying card, I suggest you try scrying for starters. It also indicates that you may wish to develop your intuition further and not rely soley on the logical part of your mind for all the answers. True wisdom takes a balance of logic and imagination for true wisdom.

The Halloween Oracle by Stacey Democrat

HO samples 1OK, this is early, but I can’t wait anymore. Normally, I start the daily card pull from the Halloween Oracle in October and go through November. Well, I’ve felt the urge to use these cards much earlier this year, so I’m starting a month early and will go through all three fall months (well, for northern hemisphere folks) with the daily reading.

halloween_oracleAs many of you know from my review post, this deck speaks to me quite a bit. Many of my friends have stated that they felt the veil would thin earlier this year, so perhaps I’m right on target for feeling the need to start earlier. Whatever the reason, I hope you enjoy it. I’ll post about one reading a week here on this blog, but most of them will be posted directly to the blog Facebook page, so please look for them there starting this Thursday, Sept. 1!

Blessings of Avalon!

Thistle

 

PTM sunflowers

Almost four weeks ago was the holy day of Lughnasadh as well as the fifth anniversary of this blog.

I should have been excited and whooping it up, but I’ve just not been feeling it. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I tend to feel more connected to the harvest than many other people do today. But the last couple years have simply not been as productive in that literal way. My volunteer time at the community garden has not been fruitful, due mostly to the changing weather patterns and simply not having enough volunteers to keep up. With these two issues stacking up, we just can’t keep the weeds out, plants watered and maintained, and so forth. The sad part is that we haven’t produced even 10 percent of what we’re used to giving to the local food bank – one year we donated 10,000 pounds of produce. In sharp contrast, this year and last we’ve only turned in a few buckets here and there.

The only things that have actually done well in the community garden have been the herbs, newly planted elderberry, and wildflowers, including the sunflowers that the birds help to resow in the garden every year.

PTM elderberry

My personal small garden hasn’t done well this year either – again only herbs are taking off. Tincture making and home crafting (except making jelly, of course) have all but come to a halt. Holy day observances, save for Samhain and Yule, have pretty much been been reduced to a mental acknowledgement on my part.

Even this blog has been neglected a bit though I should have been excited at the fifth anniversary.

As Lughnasadh approached and I started to let all this sink in, I was feeling a bit disappointed in myself for letting things slip. Then I ran across this blog post about how Lughnasadh/Lammas isn’t just about the harvest – it’s also about sacrifice. Well, duh, I thought to myself. In mythology, of course, we’re referring to the sacrifices like that of Tailtiu, the Celtic god Lugh’s step mother who died of exhaustion while trying to clear the land for agriculture.

PTM herbsEven though it wasn’t a direct correlation, something in this blog are me realize that my harvest wasn’t less than in the past, it just wasn’t the same kind of harvest. In the past couple years, I’ve dealt with a lot of personal loss – my mother and three dear dog family members are gone. If loss doesn’t turn you bitter or sad, it makes you realize that you have to take every opportunity to enjoy life: kiss the dog on the nose every morning, take time to have tea with friends, learn to be silly, and chat up the cute guy at the art club – which is exactly what I did.

The result of that is I’m now living with that cute artist and his beautiful daughter – the first time in more than a decade that I’ve lived with anyone else. These relationships are precious and need to be cultivated through time and attention. Sometimes when we want to move forward in a new direction, we have to sacrifice some old activities and habits to do this. Time in the garden has become time with them. The rewards of this is a harvest of its own kind: nourishment for the heart and soul instead of the body.

Given all this, next year instead of me trucking off to the community garden across town, we plan to add a couple raised beds to our backyard so we can still have a harvest that we can work on and enjoy together. It may not produce 10,000 pounds for the food bank, but we can still make some small donations and that’s OK. Letting yourself change and do something different is a part of sacrifice. It might seem a small one, but for some people letting go of what they expect of themselves is a big accomplishment. It’s letting go of who you were in order to be who you want to be now.

So next time you’re beating yourself up for not doing as much as you used to, think about what you might be doing now that you didn’t think of – or perhaps you are giving yourself some needed time for self-care. It’s all good. Really.

I'm always finding "gnome home" holes when walking in the woods.

I’m always finding “gnome home” holes when walking in the woods.

On Earth Day, people celebrate what should be celebrated every single day: the Earth’s  beauty and bounty – and trying not to ruin it. As someone following an Earth-based path, the idea of Earth Day being 365 days a year is important to me both environmentally and spiritually.  I cannot imagine not being able to touch the trees and fresh dirt, nibble wild greens, listen to the birds, smell fresh rain or honeysuckle, and more – these are more important to my soul than any spiritual text or building.

From my perspective, the biggest challenge we face is a society that thinks of nature as dangerous and uncomfortable rather than beautiful and full of discoveries. This, along with the idea that we should be able to take and dispose of whatever we want creates a dangerous future if we do not address it. One joy I’ve recently rediscovered is nature photography, which I think is one art that helps remind people of Earth’s beauty and resilience.

Here are some photos I took recently at a former mined area that was set aside to be reclaimed by nature and wildlife. I hope it inspires you to go outside and enjoy nature yourself – and to remember to stay connected to and save our big, beautiful Mama Gaea.

Blessings!

Thistle

Along the trail, little blue wildflowers brighten the way.

Along the trail, little blue wildflowers brighten the way.

Originally a mined area, a creek has filled in many mining holes to form pretty ponds.

Originally a mined area, a creek has filled in many mining holes to form pretty ponds.

I adore redbud trees, which grow well in our area (but even more so a little farther south in the Ozarks)

I adore redbud trees, which grow well in our area (but even more so a little farther south in the Ozarks)

An almost magical glow comes from morning sun hitting redbuds.

An almost magical glow comes from morning sun hitting redbuds.

Even rocks have their own beauty in spite of a manmade hole.

Even rocks have their own beauty in spite of a manmade hole.

Healing is often talked about in Pagan or New Age communities but often any purposeful action behind the words is missing. Sometimes, we all need a little extra help in becoming healthy – whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual health in need. This ritual is an excellent tool to give the participants some extra healing energy while also helping to refocus their minds on what they need to heal.

Ritual Premise

I’ve recently mentioned the Irish goddess of herbalism, Airmid. The idea is to invoke the spirits of Airmid and her brother Miach to help send healing energies to ritual participants. I considered writing a short post just about Airmid for anyone unfamiliar with the goddess/faery healer, but I decided that it would be difficult to beat the classic essay by Erynn Rowan Laurie from Issue 25 of Sagewoman. Click here to read it.

An herbal healer as shown in the Druid Plant Oracle deck. Image copyright – Will Worthington.

An herbal healer as shown in the Druid Plant Oracle deck. Image copyright – Will Worthington.

Attendees bring a sprig of fresh herb or small sachet of dried herb, taking turns explaining what the herb’s use is spiritually and physically, and then sews it onto the cloak that is on the center table. When the herbs have been sewn on and the cloak blessed, the cloak is used to direct healing energies to the participants.

After this, you can add a seasonal celebration before the cakes and ale if doing this at a sabbat. I often do this at Midsummer and honor the Sun with a game of roll-the-hoop or something similar within the ritual circle.

A Note About Scripted Rituals

I’m not fond of scripted rituals. I prefer that participants know the outline and concepts behind the ritual and simply deliver the words that feel right at the moment. The following ritual does provide wording for different things, but feel free to just read it, learn the gist of it, and present it in a way you enjoy and makes you comfortable. 

Preparation

Set up a ritual table in the center of the circle that is clear of all objects except a needle, thread, and snips or small scissors. You can place the cloak on the ground and sew the herbs on that way, but a table makes it easier, especially if your knees aren’t what they used to be. Another table should be set up on the edge of the circle for a chalice or small cauldron with whatever you use as holy water, smudge, god & goddess or elemental items/offering plate, and cakes and ale.

Cleanse the space with your preferred method. I typically sain the area by sprinkling what I consider holy water: moon-charged water with 9 drops of Chalice Well water added in.

The ritual leader can conduct the entire ritual by his or herself, or split into two parts for a high priest and priestess. You can assign parts to others as desired, particularly the quarter calls. If you have a great storyteller in your group, you may assign them the task of learning and telling the story. Another possibility for a group with at least four people comfortable with acting out sacred drama is to act out the story of the physicians, with roles for Airmid, Miach, Dian Cecht, and Nuada. As I’ve discussed before, sacred drama can make a ritual amazing.

The Ritual

Smudge participants and enter into the circle as normal. Use these simple quarter calls or whatever ones you prefer – depending on who is in the ritual, I will sometimes substitute quarter calls with honoring the Realms of Land, Sea, and Sky from the Celtic cosmology.

Air (east): I call to the spirit of Air, breath from the east.

Fire (south): I call to the spirit of Fire, energy from the south.

Water (west): I call to the spirit of Water, blood from the west.

Earth (north): I call to the spirit of Earth, flesh from the north.

If you wish, you can add the common chant, “Earth my body,” at this time, doing it multiple times to build the energy.

Now, tell the story of the Physicians of the Tuatha de Danann:

The Physicians’ Story

Here the facilitator summarizes the story of the physicians as desired. See the last blog post to learn the story.

After the story is finished, call Miach and Airmid:

Ritual Facilitator: I ask that the spirit of Miach join us in our circle. May his selflessness and desire to heal and be healed be reflected those here today. May his wisdom and skill be infused into this world for the healing of all. So mote it be.

Ritual Facilitator: I ask that the spirit of Airmid join us in our circle. May her desire to harvest and to sow healing wisdom be shared among those here today. May we continue to learn her healing secrets so her tears are not wasted. So mote it be.

Ritual Facilitator: Now, we will take turns stepping forward to share our own herbal knowledge and to imbue this cloak with healing power.

Participants take turns stepping forward, explaining their herb’s powers, and sewing it on. It is a good idea for one of the ritual organizers to start this off to help others be more comfortable in knowing what to do. An example is,“I bring plantain, a wild-growing herb good for healing the skin and small wounds.” After all the herbs are sewn onto the cloak, dedicate the cloak.

Ritual Facilitator: Now that we have brought forward all the healing herbs available to us, we will now dedicate this cloak to healing. Though we do not have their healing well, we will sprinkle holy waters from this sacred chalice onto the cloak.

Facilitator takes the chalice and sprinkles water from it onto the cloak.

Ritual Facilitator: We will now use the healing charm of the physicians of the Tuatha de Danann:

ALL:

Bone to bone

Vein to vein

Balm to Balm

 

Sap to Sap

Skin to skin

Tissue to tissue

 

Blood to blood

Flesh to flesh

Sinew to sinew

 

Marrow to marrow

Pith to pith

Fat to fat

 

Membrane to membrane

Fibre to fibre

Moisture to moisture

Ritual Facilitator: May this simple cloak be imbued with the healing power of Airmid and Miach so that it may facilitate healing for us all. Now, I will bring the cloak to each of you and place it around your shoulders. When you are done receiving the energies, remove the cloak and return it to me.

Go around the circle and put cloak on attendees one at a time, keeping your focus on the healing for each individual. Sometimes it will be physical healing they desire, but other times a spiritual or mental healing – try to be grounded and supportive in your energies as you take the cloak around the circle.

After you’ve gone all around the circle, you can add a chant or toning that you feel focuses on healing – or use sound vibrations like that from singing bowls or gongs, which are becoming better known for healing work. I was trained to use a toning that goes: E-A, E-A, E-O. Each vowel is toned individually and held for a long as possible. You can use anything you wish.

At this time if you want to do a seasonal observance, do so.  

To help reground the circle, distribute the cakes and ale with the traditional blessings of “May you never hunger” and “May you never thirst.” Start to close the circle by thanking Miach and Airmed:

Ritual Facilitator: We thank the spirit of Miach for joining us. May his story continue to inspire us on our healing journey. Blessed be!

Ritual Facilitator: We thank the spirit of Airmid for joining us. May her wisdom and dedication to healing continue in us. Blessed be!

Air (east): We thank the spirit of Air, for breathing new life into us. Blessed be!

Fire (south): We thank the spirit of Fire, for re-energizing us. Blessed be!

Water (west): We thank the spirit of Water, for cleansing us. Blessed be!

Earth (north): We thank the spirit of Earth, for regrounding us. Blessed be!

ALL:

“May the Circle be Open” chant to close

 

Well, that’s it. If I’ve left out anything or if you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll answer a soon as possible. As we are between the Vernal Equinox and Beltaine, we are heading into prime time for this ritual, though it could easily be done through early fall in most regions.

Until next time, blessings!

Thistle

I never knew 19 years ago that someday having a stockpile of herbal tinctures would make me feel witchy.

I never knew 19 years ago that someday having a stockpile of herbal tinctures would make me feel witchy.

I’ve become one of them.

Them. The older Pagans and Witches that I remember from my early days on the Pagan path. Those that would nod encouragingly but with a smile hiding at the corners of their mouths as I relayed my early endeavors with the elements, meditation, and such. They were always supportive, but now I understand the smile tugging at the corners.

Meeting folks new (or old) to the path is always a pleasure – we are always eager to share what we’ve learned with others and trade suggestions. But after almost 20 years, I’ve heard those same early experiences so many times that I can’t help but smile a little now too. But like the elders I looked up to, I wouldn’t dare act like it’s not a big deal because it is a big deal.

Some recent experiences like this made me think of the evolution of witchy-ness that I and many folks that I know have experienced. Anybody else remember when they were a bright and shiny witch or pagan? That giddy feeling from buying the first few books or magazines? That so-anxious-you-might-puke sensation at your first ritual?

I remember when getting a subscription to Sagewoman magazine felt like a big deal, and being given a tarot deck was HUGE (yet kept hidden in case my mother saw it during a visit). Over time, things became more elaborate and my above-average memory came in handy to remember the order of a ritual as well as the chants, the correspondences of herbs and stones, and folklore and mythology.

As the years went by and ritual participation moved into ritual writing and leading classes, what also made me feel witchy changed quite a bit. As experiences became more richly woven, they often became more complicated as well. After a few years, I found myself wanting to focus more on building my own knowledge of applicable skills like herbalism and sustainable living. To strip away the excessive elements of the practice and be creative in a different way. I made a few teas, soaps, infused oils, and bee’s wax lotion bars as I started to experiment.

A year and a half ago, I started taking herbal classes, most of them lead by an herbalist from The Golden Light Center in Missouri, and this expanded my knowledge and confidence in using herbs more than traditional spell work ever did.

Harvesting my own herbs – like this chickweed – for herbal tinctures and tonics has proven rewarding.

Harvesting my own herbs – like this chickweed – for herbal tinctures and tonics has proven rewarding.

Last summer and fall, I concocted more than a dozen different tinctures and glycerites, a few of them even from carefully wildcrafted plant materials. There was lemon verbena and mint glycerites for upset tummies, Japanese knot weed tincture for Lyme’s disease prevention and treatment, horny goat weed tincture for those certain performance problems, and even mimosa tincture for dealing with mild depression. And as I started to share and trade these with friends, I found myself feeling more witchy than I ever had before. I felt a connection to those who came before me and used their knowledge – whether it was knowing the magic of herbal healing or using herbs magically (or other items and skills).

Looking back at this, I think it is similar to learning how to draw realistically before going into abstract art – learning to use herbs for physical health feels like a foundation for magical use of herbs, if that makes any sense at all.

Even months later, when I look into my magic cabinet where I now keep the herbal medicine along with my assortment of candles, crystals, and other items, I feel a creative spark and a power I’ve never known before. Of course, I’ve felt connected to the Irish fae/goddess Airmid for years, but now that connection is forged by action and not just an ideal. Now, reading the charm, “bone to bone, vein to vein, balm to balm” takes on yet another layer of meaning – the passing on of knowledge from one person to another. To heal using nature’s divine bounty, just like that dutiful goddess tried to even when her father’s ego got in the way.

Usually, I have a good idea of where a post is going when I start it. Not so with this one. Perhaps it’s to see if others out there have had their own evolution of witchy-ness. Maybe it’s just to give beginners an idea of why the elders sometimes look amused  – or just to remind the elders not to feel superior just because their beginning lessons were 20, 30, or more years ago. We all must break down and analyze our practices now and again, starting anew to some degree. Any well-lived life is an evolution of sorts, so why should a magical practice be any different when it affects our lives so much?

OK, enough rambling for the night – please post your own ideas about changes of magical practice if you wish.

Until next time, blessings to you all!

Thistle

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