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

Brigid before me,

Brigid beside me,

Brigid behind me.

I am under the shielding

Of good Brigid

Each day and each night.

This is my nightly prayer – though often said in my mind rather than with my mouth – as well as my charm of protection whenever the need arises for one.

This came to me many years ago after first reading “The Descent of Brigid,” based on verses in the Carmina Gadelica, as well as several other protective charms to the Irish goddess and saint called Brigid, Brigit, Brig, or Bride, depending on your preference. If you are unfamiliar with this deity, this article on The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids is a good place to catch up.

Many people remember Brigid at her February festival of Imbolc, which many of us celebrated last week. We make a Brigid’s cross or bed, maybe eat some dairy-based dishes, sing one of her songs or another, and say a prayer to her. Then many seem to forget her with the coming of spring and festivities of Ostara and Beltaine. It seems that she was the goddess du jour when I was coming into Paganism in the late 90s. There does seem to be an inclination to be interested with the goddess of the moment, which blogger Daughter of Avalon discussed in her post “The Goddess Trend.” In it, she discusses how the changing world may be encouraging us to look at specific goddesses, rather than just following a trend.

Irish crosses

A Brigid’s cross of lavender stems and a Celtic cross both cross the threshold between Pagan and Christian.

Yes, Brigid has the advantage of being at the center of one of the four fire festivals, Imbolc, where people weave reeds or straw into her crosses or eat dairy foods to represent the return of the milk. But many people forget her after that. And many who once revered her have since left her for the goddess of the moment. It’s a bit sad to me that more people who start with Brigid (and so very many of us did) decide to forget or abandon her for a different goddess. As a multifaceted deity, she can fit into almost any societal mood.

She is the strength and fire to forge both swords and plows.

She is the healer of people, animals, and sovereignty – not to mention legendary midwife to Mary and Jesus (clearly an embellishment to her legend, but it could offer a clue to her earlier veneration).

She is the breath of inspiration to the poet and artist.

She is the protector who lost and frightened souls call upon for strength.

She is the goddess that stands on the threshold and holds hands with Pagans and Christians on either side. She – much like the Celtic cross in some myths – is a symbol of two cultures combining. Considering many of us live in places where we are a spiritual minority, she may remind us to respect those who walk a different path, especially if we expect the same courtesy.

However popular she may or may not be, she is in my heart always. She was my first goddess. Not necessarily the first one I learned about after coming to the Pagan path in 1997, but the first one I felt called to. My only connection to community early on was a subscription to SageWoman magazine. The second issue I received was #40 Angels & Guardians, in which Diana Paxson’s long-running “One of Ten Thousand” column featured Brigid in her protector aspect. And just a year and a half later, Paxson’s column in Issue #46 again focused on Brigid but in her inspirational role. The Daughter of the Dagda had certainly caught my attention with her dualities of gentleness and burning flame, healing and forging. Not much later, I performed a self-dedication to Brigid.

Sagewoman articles – cat not included – were my introduction to this versatile goddess.

Sagewoman articles – cat not included – were my introduction to this versatile goddess.

Thinking back on it now, it seems she was especially attractive because she’s just as complex and multidimensional as all of us are (no matter how society may try to trim us with its cookie cutters). None of us are flat characters – some of us just appear that way because we’re afraid to show our real selves to the world.

Like many others who follow Pagan or goddess spirituality, I have no problem in honoring and working with multiple deities. And while Cernunnos, Abnova, the Morrigan, Lugh, the Green Man, and Airmid are all ones I feel connected to, Brigid remains the cornerstone of my spiritual foundation for the reasons above and many more.

So by all means, enjoy making a Brigid’s cross and eating custard on Imbolc, but please don’t forget about good Brigid the rest of the year. She is there for you no matter the season.

Until next time, bright blessings!

Thistle

 

Every year in the days before Samhain, I either move or take down my everyday altar and put in its prominent place is the Ancestor Altar, which I call my Altar to the Beloved Dead. It is something I cherish doing and something that is adjusted every year and also reflects what is important to me. Every night for the week before Samhain and week or two after, I take a few minutes to light the candles and remember the Beloved Dead represented there.

2015 alt all Many of us do this and, frankly, ancestor altar building is covered in many places, so never felt the need to do it here.

But every year when either people see my Ancestor Altar in person or on a blog or Facebook photo, I inevitably get someone saying they just don’t know how to go about building their own. They don’t know enough about their family, or they had issues with their family. Or they don’t know where to start. I’ve been told many reasons. Considering how important and sacred this altar is to me, it makes me sad that there are people who want one but don’t feel comfortable building one.

So for those who need a little nudge, here’s a quick and dirty write up of my philosophy on building the ancestor altar.

I will say that I personally do more than ancestors of my blood. As discussed in this essay by Druid author Joanna Van Der Hoeven, I welcome ancestors of blood, of place, and of tradition. There is no way I could limit it to just relatives – there have been too many people that were important to my spiritual development to ignore them just because we do not share physical DNA. We share spiritual DNA, and that’s good enough for me and many other Pagans.

So, even if you don’t know your family, were adopted, or are estranged from family, you can still build this based on the people who have been important to you in one way or another. It could be a spiritual leader or counselor, a family friend, a coworker, or even a pet who has passed on. It could be someone you didn’t know but who inspired you. For example, the last couple years I included the late frame drummer Layne Redmond – her music and research was very inspiring and empowering for many of us women who took up the drum. And the drum has been a big part of my spiritual life.

I start, of course, with a table and tablecloth. This year, I added a box in back under the tablecloth to add more height and dimension the the arrangement. Do what will look good to you. I also have a lot of candles – but you could use some other type of lighting that you prefer.
Let’s take a look at a few of the elements I’ve included this year:

Ancestors of Blood

2015 altar ancestors

At the top, you see three photo frames with my great aunt and uncle, my Mom, and my grandmother when she was young. These are all from my mother’s family. I choose not to include anyone from my father’s family because they are negative, not well-known to me, or not yet deceased. My mother’s family has its flaws, but they weren’t intentionally hurtful and did the best they could.

I personally wouldn’t include anyone whose spirit might not be in your best interest because not only are you honoring ancestors with this altar but also inviting them in, whether you realize it or not.

Ancestors of Place

2015 altar crones

There have been many people in my life totally unrelated to me that have had a powerful impact on my life. Two examples are my first two Crones: Sandy and Bernice (I’ve written about Bernice before and recently reposted it). Bernice was my ex-husband’s great aunt but our friendship opened my eyes in so many ways. Sandy was one of the women who started the Daughters of the Sacred Grail, an Avalonian women’s group that really helped firm up my spiritual foundation.

2015 altar pets
I also include in this group all the positive friends and mentors from life. Some for me include old friends but also includes pets from my life. As an introvert and animal person, my anim
al friends have often been a true source of love and support. I would never leave them off this altar, so I would suggest people not feel limited to just humans.

Ancestors of Tradition

This section is a little more flexible for me. In some sense, I also consider the late Crone Sandy an ancestor of tradition as well as of place. Yes, I knew her in this world, but she also helped lay the groundwork for my spiritual tradition. Some of what I do spiritually is because of her. It could be a leader like the Pope or Dalai Lama. Some may disagree with me, but it might also include something to represent a spirit guide or spirit animal.

After you have found a photo or something to represent anyone who fits these, simply put them together in a way that pleases you. You could add more common altar items that represent the four elements, deities, etc. You could put out little items you think the Beloved Dead would appreciate – I always put out a Snickers and change for my grandmother. You can incorporate other meaningful things to you such as things from nature (like the gourds and bittersweet you see on mine) or whatever inspires you.

And think it’s too late? You have tonight and tomorrow before the calendar Samhain on Nov. 1. And astrological Samhain isn’t until Nov. 8 this year. Plenty of time to remember those who have gone before in however big or small way that you wish.

Bright blessings and wishing you all an inspired and magical Samhain!

Thistle

Just this week and next week (for the main part of the Samhain season), I’m pulling a card a day from the Halloween Oracle by Stacey Demarco on Parting the Mists’ Facebook page. Today’s card, appropriately enough for the first one, is the Jack-o-Lantern. If you want me to post each day’s card here too, let me know in the comments.

Blessings!

JACK-O-LANTERN
“Protection”
HO JackOLanternOh Jack! Oh Jack!
Let me carve my protection
Shine your fire outwards
Evil rejection and reflection

Halloween wouldn’t be the same without the carving of pumpkins into scary jack-o’-lanterns. Glowing menacingly from porches, dinner tables, and porches everywhere, Jacks actually have a rich history and a spiritual bent.

The original for a jack-o’-lantern was a will-o’-the-wisp, and old British term. The will-o’-the-wisp was a small bundle of sticks used as a flame or torch. The Irish and those living in the Scottish Highlands all carved winter vegetables – not just pumpkins but also parsnips, carrots, and beets. The time around Samhain (Halloween) was of course when the fae and goblins were said to be roaming wild and so the lanterns were intended to be both scary (scaring off the undesirable) and to light the way in the dark.

Today, carving pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns has become an art in itself and a true icon of Halloween. Intricate designs both scary and funny can be found in almost every home that celebrates the holiday. Both electric light and candles now illuminate the inside of the lanterns.

Know that you are protected and that you are capable of creating the life that you want and that the universe supports you in this should Jack shine his light upon you. Boundaries are important to teach people how to treat us and drawing this card indicates that you may wish to renew the ones you have or to establish new ones.

The Halloween Oracle by Stacey Demarco

I’m not sure how the Celtic god Lugh had time for games at the first of August – I’m always a busy, busy bee this time of year. Of course, Lugh was holding the festival games in honor of his belated stepmother (learn a bit about this here), but I guess time can stand still for a deity unlike we mere mortals.

I’ve been chomping at the bit to finish up my Airmid cloak posts and to work on a story about spiritual beekeeping, but the hours of summer have been flying by with gardening, berry and grape picking (and the subsequent jelly and jam making) getting out in nature while the sun shines, and so forth. And I know I’ve touched on this in the past, but it seems to be true every summer.

Just last night was a beautiful evening to pick the grapes that are finally ripening.

Picking grapes for jelly

Picking grapes for jelly

 

And the sky as I picked from the vines was gorgeous!

And the sky as I picked from the vines was gorgeous!

Also, I’ve been hard at drying herbs and making tinctures and glycerites (herbal medicines for those unfamiliar with the terms) from both bought and wild-crafted herbs. The corner of my kitchen has been jam-packed with chocolate mint, yarrow leaves and blossoms, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and more!

Mint, yarrow leaves, lemon balm, and yarrow flowers all dry in the kitchen.

Mint, yarrow leaves, lemon balm, and yarrow flowers all dry in the kitchen.

What have all of you been up to the last month or so?

Whether you have been hard at it or just relaxing, have a blessed Lughnasadh (or Lammas, if you prefer)!

Bright blessings,

Thistle

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