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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Foundation Offerings

The offering bears the prayer.

The ancestors thought long and hard about their foundation offerings.

In their choices, we see their intent, their wit and (like enough) their humor.

When the New Stone and Copper Age ancestors of Old Europe built a new house, they buried beneath its floor a little model of a house, lovingly rendered in ceramic detail.

No one needs to tell you what that means.

To the ancestors, it was obvious that when you built something important like a house or a temple, you first laid an offering in the ground to bear the embodied prayers of the builders.

We too have thought long and hard about what offerings to lay beneath the Bull Stone, when we raise it to mark the Marriage Point of Earth with Sky, of Land with People.

There will be three.

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The Magic of Childbirth: Rites of Protection

Violet Moore Higgins, "Three days agone - I found a tiny fair-haired infant"

This year has been a year of changes for me, some of which have yet to occur and others that have already occurred. The biggest, of course, was the birth of my second child in August. With her came the upset of routine, family dynamic, sleep, and all those other disorienting but completely natural shifts inherent in bringing a new life – a new spirit (or spirits, depending on your conception of the Self) – into this brilliant, dynamic world of the living. Of course, thanks to modern medicine, childbirth for me was a much less daunting experience than it was for my ancestors (and, sadly, for those today who live without access to adequate medical care).

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A Full Moon of Samhain Ritual to Remember

The candles were lit, the incense smoking, and the bells of the church ringing in the still night air. Friday night is the practice night for the village bell-ringers, and so our ritual was accentuated by their skilful tones. The moon was riding high in a hazy sky, and haloed with an ever-widening ring that spoke of the Otherworld.

We raised our boundary, which was to the whole of the property, and called to the realms of Land, Sea and Sky. We honoured the ancestors at the full moon of Samhain, as well as the spirits of place. We invited the Fair Folk who were in tune with our intention, as they have been a part of our rituals since we began. We sang to the four quarters, and then invoked the gods. We invited all who were harmony with us this Samhain night. This was our first time in invoking the god into our full moon ritual, but it felt right. How right, we were just about to discover.

We honoured the tides of Samhain, the winter months of darkness. We then performed our magical working at the fire, and gathering our clooties: ribbons of intention that we tie to the branches of the apple tree at the bottom of the garden every month. Walking back to the terrace where the bird bath, now a sacred basin of water reflecting the moonlight, served as our vessel as we drew down the moon into the water. The church bells rang in time to our working, and stopped just as we finished. The air was utterly still.

Suddenly, a loud bark sounded from the other side of the hedge, down the track a little ways. A fallow deer stag, wandering the moonlit night. We stopped and turned to the noise, and he barked again, this time a little closer. We looked to each other and smiled, feeling blessed by his presence. Then an enormous bark, just the other side of the cedar boundary, which made us all jump. He was right up against the hedge, near the little hole that the muntjac, fallow deer and badgers made.

And he was trying to come through.

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Making Magic: A Tender’s View of a Samhain Ritual

We gather in a heritage hall on my island home for our Samhain ritual.  Warm bodies squeeze close together to form a circle of pagan and non-pagan folks, grownups and children, and even a couple of dogs, with the room filled to capacity. 

It’s been a hard, heartbreaking year for our community. The Ancestors altar is covered with photographs and mementos of those that have passed. There have been many deaths, and the tragic loss of two precious youth in one September weekend that shook this island to its core. I feel this collective grief in my own heart, and in this gathering. Samhain is the time when we honor and name those we’ve lost this year, and commune with our Beloved Dead.

Yet there’s more than grief and loss in the room. At the opposite end of the cycle of life are the youth, our children, and the souls waiting to be born. These beings we honor on the Descendants altar, and through the naming of the newborns this year.

I stand beside the Ancestors altar with another priestess. Across the circle from us, two priestesses stay by the Descendants altar. The four us will be calling in the Ancestors and Descendants, and then shifting into paired partners of Deep Witness and Tender.

The Deep Witnesses don’t actively participate in the ritual. They sit — veiled, empty and silent — acting as anchors and observers of the deep dream of our magic. I’m one of the Tenders. Our priestess role is to support and protect our Deep Witness, and to stay by her side for the duration of the ritual.

As the ritual begins, I notice that I feel different than my usual, high-intensity magical engagement. I’m somber, watchful and empty present — a guardian and observer of the Deep Witness and our community as we enter the powerful, mysterious and mournful experience of Samhain.

Together we create sacred space. The circle is cast. We ground.  The Elements are called in through song.  Goddesses and other Mysteries are invoked.  Our priestess group calls in the Ancestors and Descendants.

I listen from the edge of the circle, attuned to the movements of bodies, weaving of energy, and quality of presence, more than the individual words and actions.  I step forward to do my calling in task, and then settle into my role as Tender.

I notice the seamless sharing of leadership, power and space — the many priestesses working together to co-create this magical experience for our community. The talent and expertise in this room are immense, diverse, breathtaking, yet I don’t sense inflated egos, jealousy or competition. 

We move on to the reading of the names of the dead who have passed this year — what is remembered lives. And the dead come, slipping past the veil that separates us, to drink of our grief, our love, and our honoring.

I notice how natural this is, how right for us to be with our honored dead in these ways. They move among us, touching the faces of their beloved kin with their hands of light, soothing the broken hearts of those left behind, letting us know that they are still with us, just a thought, a name, a song away.

Two priestesses begin to trace a path in the center of the circle, one drumming and together weaving a hauntingly beautiful guided trance to the Isle of Apples, the Pagan Land of the Dead.  Everyone settles into a comfortable position, and makes their way to the blessed Isle to commune with their Beloved Dead. 

The Sacred Witnesses don’t make this journey, nor do we, their Tenders. Together we anchor this magical circle, while the Sacred Witnesses hold vigil and observe all with their dream eyes. My only job is to stand guard. I don’t pry into the visioning of the ritual participants, nor of the Sacred Witnesses. Whatever is happening here is intensely soul-to-soul private.

I notice a current of power that runs between the two Sacred Witnesses: one an anchor for the lineage of Ancestors that stretches into the far distant past, and the other an anchor for the lineage of Descendants that reaches into the far distant future. I sway back and forth, back and forth, my movements an involuntary response to the magnetic pulse of whole time, where the future and the past are both present in this now moment, and the yet to be born, the dead and the living share this communal, magical space.

The two priestesses speak once more, calling the ritual participants to rise up and dance the Spiral Dance with their Beloved Dead, and with the Souls of the Unborn who also reside on the Isle of Apples. Hand to hand, the dancers form a moving spiral that turns inward toward the circle center, and then back outward again. Dancers pass each other by, shining face to shining face, with voices raised in song. 

I first notice how crowded the space is, not only with the living, but also with our unseen guests of the Beloved Dead and the Unborn. My guardian instincts kick in, and I expand my energy to create a protective barrier between the Sacred Witness and the dancers.

Yet the Sacred Witness is unfazed. She rocks and sways with the music and building energy of the dance. This energy is immense, intense, but also peaceful, harmonious, and so, so heart-wrenching.

Tears run down my cheeks. Love is what fills this room, overflowing from heart to heart. Love that joins us all in this raw, bittersweet dance of death, life and birth.   

This is how we hold our grief and losses; with this much love, power and presence. We are one community: the living, the dead and the yet to be born. The spiral dance is life itself, a turning into and out of the mortal coil of our flesh and bones form.

As the Spiral Dance and guided journey come to a close with words of parting and gratitude for the Beloved Dead and the Unborn, it’s time to honor and name the newborns for this year, and to circle back to the celebratory beginnings of life.

Then there’s one last task before the circle is opened: the Deep Witnesses speak on behalf of the Ancestors and Descendants.

The Ancestors remind us that we are each a light in these dark times, and we must shine our brightest to make this world a better place. The Descendants tell us that special souls are being born to this world, and that we must make space for them and heed their teachings. 

I notice how everyone in the room turns their rapt attention to the Deep Witnesses as they speak. When the Mysteries walk among us, our only job is to listen to the power of their voices, and the hope in their messages. The Ancestors and Descendants leave us with sacred responsibilities: to show up as our bright shining Selves, and to welcome and honor the newborns and our children as teachers and guides. This is how we can mend and remake our world for the better.

For this Samhain eve, our magic is done. We devoke, thanking and saying goodbye to all that we’ve called in. Priestesses and participants alike are called back from the Mysteries to return to the waking world. Our circle is opened, yet unbroken.

As a community, we share food and conversation afterwards, and I continue my Tender duties until my priestess companion is returned from her Deep Witness journey, and fully grounding in her human form. Then it’s time to go home, nourished, healed and transformed by our evening of magic.

The next day, I notice that I’m filled with a profound sense of wellbeing and wholeness. Magic makes me whole. Honoring death, loss and grief makes me whole. Deep communion with the Beloved Dead, the Unborn, the Ancestors and the Descendants makes me whole. Sharing these essential things with my community makes me whole. Love makes me whole.

Let this wholeness be our prayer and our practice in the year to come.

Ritual Credit: This Samhain ritual arises out of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft.

Photo Credit: Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Karen Clark
    Karen Clark says #
    Thank you birch! It was an honor to be a Tender for such a powerful, loving community ritual.
  • Robert Birch
    Robert Birch says #
    Karen, What a soul moving article. I read it, quietly cried and dreamed into the pagan gift to the world through your wyrds. ~bir

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
So, a Druid Walks into a Bar...

In the days of Queen Boudicca, there was a young woman who aspired to become a Druid.

“For the first three years of your training, you will keep the Great Silence,” the Chief Druidess tells her. “From one Samhain to the next, you will speak not so much as a single word. Then at Samhain you and I will meet to review your progress, at which time you may speak as many as two words, if you wish.”

The first year of the woman's training goes by. At Samhain she is summoned to the Chief Druidess.

“Well,” says the Druidess, “You have completed your first year of the Great Silence. You may now say as many as two words, if you wish. What would you like to say?”

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven says #
    Love it!
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Good one! Thanks for the giggles, and a belated Blessed All Hallows. Tasha

So last year I got to play the 14 foot “Das Madchen”–the harbinger of doom who appears in the darkest days of the year--at Parade of Spirits, Liberty Lands in Philadelphia. Formerly known as Krampuslauf, the parade has taken place every December since 2011. A teeny bit about Krampus: This furry, red-tongued, chain and/or switch-wielding character has been St. Nicholas’ companion in Alpine regions for millennia, and may even pre-date the jolly old elf. On December 5–Krampusnacht–Krampus brought Karma to the naughty before St. Nick made his appearance on his own day, the 6th.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Krampus-Postcard-1.jpg 

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Pop Culture Kitchen Witchery

I cook and I know things.  I love being in the kitchen as much as I love watching my favorite movies, reading my favorite books, and making magick.  However, as a busy person what I love best is finding clever ways to combine those things into a single action in order to save time and energy.  Oh yes, I do pop culture kitchen witchery.  Let me share with you how I make fun and nourishing treats infused with pop culture magick.

There are nearly limitless ways to infuse magick into cookery.  One can choose foods with inherently magickal ingredients; many common herbs and spices have powerful magickal correspondences.  Think of the basil, garlic, and fennel in many traditional pasta sauces and their inherently protective qualities.  Once can also compose a meal based on the color correspondences of the ingredients; perhaps an all green meal for prosperity.  Add baking to your repertoire and you have the option of shaping cookies and breads into magickal symbols that are charge when baking and released when eaten.  Of course one can, and should, always add their intent as they create their food; better still if it’s something like bread where intent can be literally kneaded into the dough.  These are just a few of the wondrous ways to add magick in the kitchen and there are plenty of resources out there for diving into the rabbit hole that is kitchen witchery.  Of course, being the inveterate nerd that I am I take things a step further.

I like to get as much bang for my magickal buck as possible and much of my stand-alone magickal workings involve pop culture magick, so I decided to bring my kitchen witchery and pop culture magick together to supercharge them.  One of the easiest ways to add pop culture magick to kitchen witchery is to make foods that appear in your favorite pop culture media, such as lembas bread from the Lord of the Rings, butterbeer from Harry Potter, or fish fingers and custard from Doctor Who.  Lembas bread is a great example; it’s already a magickal food, giving the consumer hours of energy from a single bite.  By baking a high-energy bread or energy bar and infusing it with the magickal energy of lembas bread you can create an amazing spell for stamina energy that you can take along on a hike, a long drive, or any day where you know you’ll need a boost.  Pop culture is filled with enchanted provisions and iconic foodstuffs from Alice’s tea cakes to wizarding chocolate.  Take a moment to think about the iconic foods in your favorite pop culture media and the many ways they could potentially be used in magick.  Kind of amazing isn’t it?

You can also create an infinite variety of foods themed for and inspired by pop culture media.  Kitchen Overlord has a wonderful recipe for a pasta dish where the end product looks like Tony Stark’s arc reactor that would be a fantastic base for a prosperity spell.  As you stir your pasta add your intent, let the golden color of the wheat pasta symbolize prosperity, and link to the dish to the energy of Tony Stark’s wealth; take it further by adding a few herbs that both taste great and correspond appropriately like thyme and basil.  In doing so you’re using the color and magickal correspondences of your ingredients, adding intent directly through the cooking process, and taking advantage of the prosperity energy associated with the character - that’s a triple charged spell and dinner in one!  Similarly, you could make Super Mario Brothers stuffed 1-UP mushrooms infused with energy to ace a test or job interview.  Get a few crimini mushrooms, stuff them with ingredients that align with your goals (Google stuffed mushrooms, there are hundreds of recipes for inspiration), charge them as they cook, and consume to seal the spell.  The possibilities for this type of magick are limited only by your imagination and what ingredients are available.

Beyond crafting edible spells, you can also create foods as offerings to pop culture entities.  Like any other metaphysical entity, pop culture entities often require an offering in exchange for their magickal assistance and what better offering than a food they're known to enjoy?  If you were doing a working with Dean from Supernatural it would be a no-brainer to bake him a pie.  If, for whatever reason, you wanted to do a working with Deadpool what better offering than chimichangas?  Taking the time and effort to make a food offering from scratch adds a tremendous amount of personal energy that many other offerings lack and it allows you to add specific energies into that offering.  You can add even more energy by mindfully sourcing your ingredients: making extra effort to get the highest quality ingredients, buying from merchants the character would support, etc.  If you have a special working that requires a little more “oomph” for your offering, or you just enjoy cooking, try making something appropriate from scratch. 

If you want to try your hand at some pop culture kitchen witchery I suggest starting with simple rolled sugar cookies.  If you like to cook you can make the dough from scratch; if you don’t like to cook you can buy pre-made dough at any grocery store.  You can find some amazing pop culture themed cookie cutters online or you can cut custom shapes freehand.  Try D20 shaped cookies for luck, tardis shaped cookies for adventurous travel, or R2-D2 shaped cookies for computer skills, etc. As you roll out and shape your dough allow your intent to flow into the dough itself.  Bake the cookies per your recipe and then continue to infuse magick into the cookies as you decorate.  Add icing, sprinkles, or crystal sugars in the colors and designs that correspond to your intent.  If you’re more of an advanced baker try making emoji macarons.  Infuse your macarons with positive emotions to create an edible energetic boost.  In general, cookies are easy, quick, and versatile, making them a fabulous starting point for pop culture kitchen witchery.

Whether you’re making Game of Thrones kidney pie or Welcome to Night Vale’s not-so-invisible corn, pop culture kitchen witchery can enhance your magick and put dinner on the plate to boot.  Combining pop culture magick with more traditional kitchen witchery you get all the benefits of traditional practice while layering more intent and meaning into your working, giving it extra power with very little extra time and energy.  Make the results of that magick dinner and you’ve made the most efficient possible use your your limited time and energy.  If you enjoy cooking or baking and love pop culture then give pop culture kitchen witchery a try. 

There are many websites and cookbooks dedicated to recipes from and inspired by pop culture.  Here are a few resources:

http://www.geekychef.com/
https://theniftynerd.com/category/recipes/
http://www.geekyhostess.com/
http://rosannapansino.com/
http://watch.geniuskitchen.com/show/GKPCB/Pop-Culture-Baking-Class/

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