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Osage Orange trees (Hedge Apple or one of many other names) does call to some people. Here, a spiritual sister has a moment of reverence and healing with the Dragon Tree in Kansas.

As a child growing up in the Ozarks, I loved Redbud trees. Not just their spring-budding beauty, but also the branching structure that was as fascinating as their rosy blooms. On the wooded hillside by our house, I found the perfect retreat on a slab of limestone with two Redbuds arching over. It was shady and the stone cool, making it perfect for an hour’s reading even in summer heat. I was known to lay down and admire the tree canopy against the sky while cradled by the trees and stone.

In adulthood, I’ve become fascinated by a far different kind of tree from my childhood.

Another common tree of the Ozarks is what my family called the Hedge Apple tree, or more properly the Osage Orange tree or Maclura pomifera (though it has more common names than my pets have nicknames: Prairie Hedge, Horse Apple, Bodark, Bowwood, and more). I remember these from childhood too, of course, and some of them in our nearby woods would grow covered by vines and greenbrier and form little huts we could play in. But there was a creepy aspect with their grasping branches that my imagination took in a scary direction sometimes.

A smaller Osage Orange displaying a reaching/arching branch structure. Photo by Allen Childers.

Despite how they may look, they were an important part of rural life. Hedge Apple trees are native to south-central United States, though they easily spread into much of the Midwest and were planted on the East Coast. Early farmers of the area grew the trees close together as inexpensive fencing for their herds. With the tree’s shoe-piercing thorns and often twisting branches, it made a formidable barrier. After barbed wire became available and affordable, everyone knew that hedge fence posts were the best and would last for decades. The Osage Indians made bows from the wood, which was strong, flexible, and polished well. Even today, many archers consider hedge to be the best wood for a bow.

Though the tree is useful, there’s a profound spiritual energy to it. I’ve also seen the amazing Dragon Tree, a dramatic and huge hedge at the Gaea Retreat Center in Kansas. This tree is revered, with small altars around it and little trinkets and offerings placed in the folds of its many-branched trunk. Clearly, I’m not the only one that finds them magical. Admittedly, the Dragon Tree looks to fit its name – long, angling branches reach out from a huge trunk that would take at least three people to circle it with their arms. It astounded me the first time I hiked to see it.

But there’s more to it than merely being physical impressive. These trees seem assertively protective. They emit robust and creative energy. I’ve felt this for some time, but even my boyfriend noted a group of small hedge trees while we were out on a hike outside Springfield, Missouri. He took several photos and smiled. “I think fairies live there,” he said.

The spiritual sister who took me to see the Dragon Tree for the first time also has a studding Osage Orange open their property. It almost looks like the fingers of a hand reaching up from the ground, but the center part opens up between two trunks like a portal or fairie gateway. Visitors often climb through a wild part of their yard in order to visit it, often taking pictures with this magical tree.

Yet, the Osage Orange has yet to catch the attention of those who tend to chronicle such things and provide correspondences for magical folk. Many writers tend to focus on the trees that are prominent in Europe, presumably because many modern Pagan and Western mystery practices originate there. For example, I can find quite a bit of magical information about the Yew tree but almost nothing about the Osage Orange – yet I cannot recall seeing a Yew tree in person – ever.

So, I considered the feelings that came from being around the trees, which for me was a combination of fierce protectiveness, groundedness, wildness, creativity, and adaptability. They range from small and scrappy to huge and impressive. These aren’t lush, beautiful trees that inspire sylvan poetics, but they are striking and capture the imagination, all the same. It would be easy to imagine a Hedge Apple getting up and walking off like a character from the novel Uprooted or A Monster Calls.

Thistle (the author) by the Dragon Tree.

There is a bit of folklore and mundane facts about the Osage Orange that can be considered too.

Probably the best-known folklore about the tree is that its round, green hedge apples, when placed by doors and in the corners of closets, will keep spiders out of your house. It’s certainly a popular folk remedy against spiders where I grew up. Scientifically, it’s questionable. Hedge apples do contain tetrahydroxystilbene, an anti-fungicide. Not insecticide, mind you, but we also know that many humans have skin alleries to the hedge apple’s white sap. Who knows, maybe spiders are allergic to it as well?

Folklore about the fruit of the Osage Orange is abundant, including that they keep away spiders.

And whatever you do, do not take the name “apple” in hedge apple too seriously. The fruit of the Osage Orange is actually poisonous, so don’t get tempted to see what they taste like.

The only other folklore I could find on the tree centered on weather prediction. If Hedge Apple trees produce more fruit than normal, drop the apples later than normal, or are larger than normal, we will have a cold and snowy winter.

Another key trait of the Osage Orange’s wood is that it is extremely resistant to rot, which is why they make great fence posts. Before metal posts were cheap and convenient, hedge wood made posts that wouldn’t rot for decades (if you’ve ever dug post holes, you know you want to do that as little as possible). The wood was also used for ship masts for this same reason. As a child, I remember seeing hedge posts that looked so weathered and dry on the outside that I thought they would fall over with a push. Usually, you could hit those things with a bat and not budge them.

What I find intriguing is though its wood is so long lasting, the tree itself only lives 75 years on average. In tree years, this is not long-lived. That’s almost the same lifespan as modern humans. Perhaps this is part of the spiritual connection, for though the Osage Orange is rooted and grounded like any other tree, they do not see centuries go by as do Redwoods, Oaks, and some other Elder trees. Perhaps some of that fierce protectiveness I sensed is from knowing that its life is short by comparison and that life needs be both experienced and protected.

Another factoid: in studies, Osage Orange produces more BTUs when it is burned than other domestic hardwoods. This makes it a great choice for fuel if it is available. It might also explain the energy that comes off these dramatic tree. Thoughts?

A Osage Orange boline and chalice handmade by friends are among my favorite magical tools.

Though my infatuation could be considered just that, it does seem like the Universe backs me up. Two of my favorite magical tools, my chalice and boline, were both made from that wood. The chalice, made by another spiritual sister’s husband  and a man I respect greatly, turned it from the wood. Years later, I sent a photo of a boline to a coworker who dabbled in forging blades, hinting that if he ever made a blade like it I would buy it. He promptly decided to try it as an experiment, and – without even asking my preference – chose Osage Orange for the handle. They are both solid and beautiful pieces handmade by people I know, which amps up their special factor already, but the wood definitely helps.

So, what does the tree represent magically or spiritually? For those who like correspondences, the magical/spiritual qualities I’ve honed in on for the Osage Orange are: Protection, Endurance, Practical Creativity, and Flexibility. I’m sure there’s more one could deduce, but too much deduction tends to get my head out of the spiritual aspect of what I’m doing, so I’ll leave it to others to think of something to add.

Do any of you have experience with the Osage Orange/Hedge Apple/whatever you call it? What do you sense from its spiritual presence?

Until next time, brightest blessings!

Thistle

 

Sources:

https://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/1995/11/enduring-osage-orange

https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1997/10-10-1997/hedgeapple.html

https://www.news-leader.com/story/sports/outdoors/2016/09/14/osage-orange-trees-purpose-evolved-history-developed/90262216/

https://www.wood-database.com/osage-orange/

 

 

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This is an unusual post for this blog. This came about when my crew at home (my boyfriend and his 16-year-old daughter) heard about the magic school my women’s group used to do for the group’s children every summer. Every summer, we ladies would use our weekly meeting night for five weeks to do our magical version of vacation bible school.

My family has been interested in learning about magical practices, meditation, and so forth, so when they heard about magic school they asked me to do a version of magic school for them. So, using what I could remember and tweaking it for more mature folks, we started our own little magic school.

Since then, I’ve mentioned this to some people and was surprised to see an interest by some newer folks to the path. So, I decided to share my overview information here. Understand that not everyone will agree with me (heck, I’ve even wanted to tweak some stuff already), and that’s OK. There are many ways and ideas that are all valid, but I focused on what I thought would be beneficial for my family.

Ok, I know there are many books that teach basics. (Didn’t that used to be everyone’s complaint about a certain popular Pagan and magical publisher?) Yet, many of the books I’ve seen are path specific, such as Wicca or Druidry. My boyfriend is investigating animism, Druidry, shamanism, and pop culture magic. Our kiddo considers herself a pantheist. I’m an Eclectic Pagan with influences from Avalonian, Druid, Cottage Witchery, and American folk magic traditions. Clearly, a one-path book isn’t going to work for our household. So, I approached this in a more general way.

All that being said, I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts and suggestions about this material. FYI, we are focusing on the elements next, then on to meditation and other topics – so stay tuned if you enjoy this.

Audio Discussion

Also, the three of us had a very lively conversation when we went over this material (again, this is our casual conversation, not a polished podcast). If you’d like to take a listen, click here.

Blessings!

Thistle

 

Thistle’s School of Magic: What is Magic? & Intention

Introduction

Magical practice involves many things other than the spells you see witches on TV flinging about. Often, the most personal power you gain isn’t through spell casting but through exercises that help you to understand yourself and to conquer habits that might be sabotaging your dreams and plans.

To cover the basics of magical practice, we will look at the following:

  • Intention, the most powerful tool you have
  • Meditation
  • Self-reflection and self-evaluation through journaling and discussion
  • Understanding the elements, symbolism, and other components of the Western mystery tradition.
  • Crafting your own unique practice by first exploring basic methods such as chants/toning, purifications and blessings, candle magic, protection and healing spells, energy work, and so forth. You will find the techniques that work for you!

During this time, we will create a notebook of information, but keeping a spiritual/magical diary or journal is recommended. We often learn much through our musings when we return to them after some time has passed.

We will start with a short discussion of what magic actually is and then cover intention before moving onto the elements, meditation, and other subject matter.

So What Exactly is Magic?

Magical and spiritual practices can be very individual.

If you ask practitioners what magic is, you will receive a variety of answers. Magic is not an exact science and the methods and beliefs vary from culture to culture and by personal preference. There is high magic (ceremonial) and low magic (folk practices). Magic can be practiced by anyone of any faith.

Late witchcraft author Scott Cunningham considered a common thought on the subject: “Magic is the art of causing change by means commonly supposed to be supernatural.” He responded with his own thoughts: “Magic is simply the use of powers not yet recognized by science,” adding that magic is a very natural art. “It is the use of powers that reside within us and the natural objects of our world to cause change.”

Early witchcraft leader and author Doreen Valiente seconds that magic is a part of nature and that old occult philosophers never considered magic to be supernatural. “To them, magic works because of nature’s laws, not in spite of them. It was something built into the universe,” she said in the opening of her classic, Natural Magic.

“Magic is just science we don’t understand yet,” said science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. One of his three adages is that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Most modern magical practitioners will say that magic does not so much change the world around us, but changes us and our ability to maneuver within the world. Inevitably, people who practice magic ethically will find themselves feeling empowered, more creative, and more confident. All of these can greatly change how you are treated out in the world.

This falls in line with many polytheist and nature-based faiths and our relationship with the gods and spirits. For those of us who have gods, ours are not usually the kind to bestow gifts or favors based strictly on prayers. While veneration can help build a relationship with a chosen deity, our gods want you to learn to help yourself. They want to inspire you to be strong, creative, confident, kind, and independent – not to simply lay these or other gifts at your feet because you begged for them.

If this sounds like the magical power that you want to infuse your life with, continue on and we shall see what powers you have lying within you.

Questions to Consider

What do you think of the idea of magic as science that hasn’t yet been discovered or understood? What has been your perception of magic up to this point? Write your thoughts on this in your journal.

What Magic Looks Like

While Hollywood films about magic workers are entertaining, they are rarely accurate (like the much-loved film “The Craft”). Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Movies and novels have done a great disservice to us when it comes understanding true magic. Magic does not usually entail wands that shoot sparks or throwing objects or levitating people with a gesture of the hands. Real magic is subtle. Real magic shines from within you.

Like anything we do to improve ourselves – for example, losing weight or quitting a bad habit – magical results don’t happen overnight. It is not an easy fix, despite how it is often presented. It requires work and dedication, as does anything worth pursuing. If it takes weeks or months to change something physical, it can take even longer to change the mental and emotional aspects of yourself – which is where much of our magic comes from. Oftentimes, we have to move through cycles of self-examination and change before we can really be in the mental and emotional place that we desire.

Another thing to understand about magic is that results do not always look like what we imagine. For example, asking to find your soulmate. Your soulmate may not be the love of your life – the definition of soulmate is misunderstood in Western culture as a romantic relationship. It’s actually a soul with whom you made an agreement before reincarnating to help each other grow from a soul perspective. A soulmate could be a good friend, lover, or even someone you cannot stand who pushes you in ways that challenges and grows your soul.

Another example is your work. The dream job you desire may not truly be a good fit for you so if you do a job spell to gain the job, the Universe may not answer by giving you that specific job. It might wait months or even years but position you so that you will see the right job when it does come available.

In short, keep an open mind when looking for your magical results – they may simply look different than you envisioned.

Questions to Consider

Have you ever felt something happen that seemed magical? For example, maybe you felt that a friend was in need, so you called them and, indeed, they were in need of you? Write in your journal about any experiences you’ve had that seemed magical even a bit.

The Importance of Intention

Magical tools are wonderful to have, but your most important tool is your intention.

Most forms of magical practice use a lot of stuff: wands, crystals, herbs, ritual knifes and clothes, cauldrons, tarot and oracle cards, and so forth. All of these can be great tools, however, the greatest tool you have for magic is yourself, specifically your intention.

Intention is simply the power that comes from your own mind and heart, and it is much more powerful than people imagine. It’s the same fuel that powers prayer or even effective meditation. It’s your will focused on the outcome you desire, whether it be physical healing for yourself or someone else, clearing a toxic person from your life, gaining courage for a speech or performance, or whatever you need.

While herbs and stones can lend their own energy to your workings, they will go nowhere without your own clear intention. Likewise, tools such as wands, staffs, and prayer beads can help you direct your energy, but again, intention is the key to having energy to direct at a problem or goal.

To help build the power of your intention, follow a simple process before doing any magical working or spell:

First, make sure that you truly wantwhatever the working is for. Be clear headed and don’t be doing something because it seems like the thing to do. If your heart isn’t into it, don’t do it.

Second, believe that whatever you are aiming your intention at can really happen. There’s no wishy-washy middle ground here. A common magical adage is “will it, do it.” Basically, feel that you have the power to make it happen, elsewise, you will probably not have good results.

Finally, you need to believe that what you want is actually about to happen. You have to act it as if it’s not a question that it will work. It WILL work. Part of intention is having confidence in your will and your energy working in the Universe for good. Prepare yourself for the positive outcome.

A lot of intention is about focus and confidence. You must be able to clearly focus on what you want or need, and you need to feel like you can achieve it.

Making & Using an Intention Candle

A simple method for using intention (and practicing it, I might add) is through simple candle magic that I call an intention candle.

First, think of something that you want to bring into your life. Mental/emotional healing? Peace? Love? Confidence? Make it a simple concept that you can easily relate to.

Next, find a candle that will burn several times – a pillar candle or glass prayer candle are both excellent for this. If you buy a colored candle, be sure to pick a color that feels like it represents your chosen focus. If you choose a prayer candle but can only find white ones, you can always paint the glass a color to fit your purpose.

  • When you have the candle the color you want it, feel free to add some extra focus or intention with one or more of these methods:
  • Paint (prayer candles) or carve (pillar candles) a related symbol on the side of the candle Apply essential oils that align to your purpose to the candle
  • Sprinkle herbs or even tiny shells or stones on top of the candle to add another element of symbolism

One example of a candle I made was a jarred seven-day prayer candle for a friend who was in mourning. I painted the candle a soft purple and silver (spiritual and yet soothing colors), infused it with lavender and vanilla oils (for relaxation and comfort), placed an bead bracelet I had made with rose quartz and other grounding stones around the candle, and tucked a few sprigs of rosemary under the bracelet to signify remembrance. This one is fairly elaborate, but even a simple candle will do the trick.

When the candle is ready, place it somewhere where you can light it and be in its presence for a while. When you first light it, focus on the candle and concentrate on your intention. See whatever it is in your mind as a reality. After several minutes, you can go about whatever you need to do, but try to keep the candle in your view and think of your intention whenever you catch a glance at the candle. You can snuff the candle after an hour or so (though prayer candles often burn longer than pillar candles, so adjust your time accordingly). Do this every day for at least a week.

Questions to Consider

Did you choose any colors, symbols, oils, or anything else to add to your candle’s focus? If so, what were they and explain why you chose them. You can write your answers in a journal. 

How did the week of intention building go? Do you feel it was helpful – or do you feel you are good at directing your intention anyway? Discuss any thoughts you have about this exercise in your journal. 

Sources:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2013/04/what-is-magic/

Magical Herbalism by Scott Cunningham

Natural Magic by Doreen Valiente

Thistle’s Freaky Brain

 

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Today is Beltaine, the day of the flower bride and the sacred marriage of myth, as well as a season to honor the blooming and fertile Earth. It’s also the season that the Green Man comes to the forefront. Though I keep planning to write an in-depth post about this nature spirit, I’ll suffice for now with the mossy rock face that brings him to mind for me. Do you see it?

I’m a May Taurus and adore this season, though perhaps that doesn’t have as much to do with my birth month as I imagine. Digging hands in the dirt, smelling green grass and blossoms, walking in the sunshine with dogs and cats – these are just a few joys of springtime in full bloom.

As a little something, here’s an older post taking a quick look at the Flower Bride and some small charms of the Beltaine season. Enjoy the day and the season.

Blessings,

Thistle

A statue of Mary in southeast Kansas

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Looking for more Samhain-related posts? Here’s some past posts: Honoring the Ancestors, Embracing the Wise Crone, and Herb or Rembrance, Herb of Samhain.  

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Happy Halloween and Blessed Samhain to all of you! It’s been a while since posting something other than the Halloween Oracle Card of the Day (on Facebook), but this time of the year always makes me want to get back to the keyboard.

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My Beloved Dead altar for 2016

Of course, I’m not alone and I’read many blog posts and articles about this beautiful season and what we learn from it. We see how others deal with loss, and Heron Michelle from Patheos wrote how we as Pagans should do more than honor and celebrate the dead but also prepare for own death even in practical ways. It’s an excellent and honest article.

I lost my Mom a little over two years ago, and I do know that Michelle’s words ring true as my Mom had taken care of everything for her funeral and burial except her head stone, which she always said she would leave for us kids to pick. When an undiagnosed liver disease finally became known, we had precious little time with her and it was a blessing to not also worry about her medical wishes, funeral expenses and so forth. Planning all of that years ago was a gift my mother may not have even realized she was giving.

However, I my biggest Samhain lesson from losing the most important person in my life is this: Don’t wait to live the life you want.

Mom was one of those who worked hard at underpaid and underappreciated jobs all her life. She raised four kids and showed great resourcefulness in keeping us fed, clothed, and sheltered on a tight budget. Even after retirement, she had to work to make due. With undiagnosed illnesses (for him, it was dementia) affecting their personalities, my mom and stepdad divorced when she was in her late 60s. What little savings they had was split. They had to lower the price of their home to sell it, losing money in the process. Her last year was stressful as her tight budget, her medical issues, and mental confusion combined to make life very difficult, even with three daughters hovering over her.

Mom’s “golden years” had become pretty tarnished. All her life she had planned to travel and relax in retirement – that dream mocked her as she struggled to get by.

Sadly, I see so many people go through this same thing. They focus all their energy on work or professional goals or doing the things they “ought” to do, thinking they can work on their real dreams or just take time for themselves later. So many have their retirement dreams cut short illness. For others, it’s financial surprises that ruin their plans. The fact is that even careful planning can be for naught in some situations. We simply don’t control as much of what happens to us as we think.

It reminds me of a picture I once took where a sign warned about falling rocks, but a log was falling in the background instead. Life is like this: prepare for one thing and something different will happen.

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And as I put up my Beloved Dead altar every year, I’m reminded of this lesson.

This is why I don’t work overtime. Yes, I have what many consider a good job, but the fact is that the company really cares more about its bottom line than it does about me. And while it’s a good job, it’s not exactly a dream job. So I’d rather spend my extra time for me or with the ones I love.

This is also why I saved some of the insurance money leftover from Mom’s final expenses to travel to Ireland next year. We have some Irish heritage, so I know my Mom would have approved – but it’s the place I’ve longed to go to for the longest time.

This is why I allow myself the really good chocolate and time to write.

This is why I took up an old hobby that brings me joy.

It’s why I try to focus on smiling and laughing with friends and family rather than getting too involved with things that bring a lot of unneeded stress.

Many Pagans quote the “live in the moment” philosophy and yet are often as bad as the rest of Westerners about taking time for themselves and honoring their real life goals and dreams. We are not immune to the disease of just getting by or wasting time on things that don’t fulfill us.

No matter who we are, the fact is that life is much shorter than what we imagine. Let’s not waste it.

Blessings!

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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