Wealthy in love and friendship.
Wealthy in inspiration and Awen.
Wealthy in hope and peace.
Wealthy in love and friendship.
Wealthy in inspiration and Awen.
Wealthy in hope and peace.
People who do magic, who really roll up their sleeves and have altar dust under their nails, know that is not a certain thing. I’ve been searching for a holey stone since I first heard of them over seven years ago. The are primal talismans, formed by wind and water cutting a perfect window into living stone. Lucky is the Druid who can find one. Like any magical geegaw, they can be bought online, but that seemed like cheating. Power comes from rarity and from the effort in acquiring an object.
Push finally came to shove, and I needed some sort of holey stone for a particular piece of magical tech that I have been hankering to craft for nearly a year. That stone was the only thing holding me back from having quite a useful little ally in the ol’ esoteric toolbox. I’d been feeling called to visit Salem, and have found many strange and wonderful items along the beach and quay where the period ship is docked. And indeed I had seared for a holey stone there before, but never had any luck. This time I decided to prime the metaphysical gears thoroughly before I even set out on the journey.
I did a full Hekate supper in preparation that morning, calling upon the Fates, making offerings of eggs, honey, and incense. I asked the Weavers to help me find a holey stone in Salem, whether it be on the beach, in a shop, from a friend, or from a stranger–any (legal!) way they could deliver it into my hands.
What followed was a serendipitous series of events. Salem is always crazy this time of year, with the Halloween season bringing in witches and occultists of all shades of black white and gray. Despite arriving shortly after lunch on a Friday, there was no place to park. I crawled the car all the way to the top of a four-story garage and found nothing. Puffing out a sigh I began to creep my way back down and no sooner had I turned the first corner than I found not one, but two cars pulling out!
I headed for the Friendship of Salem, a replica ship that docks in the old harbor, but it sadly was out of its harbor for repairs. The New England sun cast four o’clock shadows though it was only 1 PM. I began making my way to the gravel and storm debris that lined the sides of the quay. I began on the eastern side, chanting “holey stone, holey stone, holey stone” in my head as my eyes scanned the deposits of rocks from the last summer storm. I had the image in my head of a thumb-sized rock, the hole perfectly centered, just laying there in the afternoon sun, begging for me to snatch it up. The angle of the light made it easy to see possible candidates, as any divots cast shadows across the surface of the pebbles.
Time and again I was disappointed. I did find a chunk of chert, an anomaly in the extreme. The only chert deposits in Massachusetts are far out to the west. Could it have washed up from down in Alabama? Could it have been carried across the Atlantic from the rich deposits in England? An eerie feeling stole over me as flint/chert nodules are one of the symbols I associate with closely with Gwynn ap Nudd. The piece in my hand had a deep groove and I wondered if perhaps I would have to make my own holey stone after all? But I kept going, finding pockmarked pebbles galore, but none with holes that went all the way through.
Reaching the lighthouse at the end of the quay, I paused to feel the water and wind. A busload of teenagers raced by, trying to push each other over the edge, arms wheeling and shirts grabbed. The water was cold, and, I fancied, hungry. I enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my back, the wind rough on my cheeks. Though I still had the beach proper to comb, I was getting anxious. Hekate’s rosary thumped on my hip as I walked; I still stopped occasionally but was no longer under the trance that had propelled me to the lighthouse.
Almost to the beach, a low patch of mugwort, young and green, called. Picking some, I asked her to help me in my search.
Sister Mugwort, open my eyes,
help me find the hidden prize.
I inhaled her chrysanthemummy scent and felt myself slipping back into that walking, seeking trance. There were some long bones, maybe from a pig, and some smaller ones, likely from the chicken. Scattered all over the beach were these little round thin cardboard washers. I feared that perhaps the spirits had mistaken these for true holey stones. Or, perhaps they were just screwing with me.
I made three passes up and down the moon curve of the beach, and it was on the fourth that I spied an acorn resting atop a mat of seaweed.
That, right there, is what you call a sign.
It was the only terrestrial seed I had seen on the entire beach. I felt like I was being hit with the proverbial clue-by-four. Her voice said, “Dig deep, little druid, dig deep for what you seek. An acorn marks the spot.”
I scooped up the acorn and began sifting though the flotsam until I reached a layer of pebbles. I worked methodically, like I had been trained–though without the benefit of a GPS-sighted 10 m x 10 m grid system. Minutes passed. Breathe in the mugwort. Breath in, breathe out, dig deeper, dig wider.
I picked up yet another cratered pebble like the scores I had uncovered before it. This time, light shone all the way through near the very edge. But when I held it up to my eye, I couldn’t see anything. The angle was such that the light could pass through but I still couldn’t see through the hole.
“Not good enough,” I muttered, reburied it.
I shuffled further into the setting sun, shoved aside another patch of seaweed, dug down to the stone layer. More time passed, ankles sore, back hunched. Another dozen pockmarked rejects fly away from my frustrated fingers. Then.
A tiny, black pebble in my palm, a small hole board through and through its side, perfect in its asymmetry. I held it up to my eye, just to make sure. The tiny aperture warped the sun-striped beach, wavering my vision with the wind. A window to the Otherworld. He was not at all what I had imagined, but he was perfectly suited to the task.
Body stiff and cracking, I walked pack towards the low stone seawall. I poured out an offering of water, scattered some nuts for the birds. Ate some chocolate and fruit leather to bring myself back from that place where I dug into the Otherworld and with the spirits’ blessings, pulled a little piece of it back into my own.
Magic isn’t an easy thing. It’s rarely certain. At best it can tip Fortune’s wheel a bit more in our favor. At worst it leads to delusions and insanity. But when it works, when you have that bone-deep certainty that the Others have your back, nothing is more beautiful.
The purple loosestrife just started to bloom down by the brook. It’s an undeniably spectacular plant, bringing color to parched summer meadows and brook edges. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it blooms in the hottest months.
That’s when strife’s stranglehold needs the most loosening, after all. Violent crime rates, including those for aggravated and sexual assault, notoriously spike up to 12% higher during the hot summer months. But that’s just the general yearly (sadly predictable) increase in violence and irritability.
And now there’s the added complication of climate change coming into play. An interesting article published in Science back in 2013 explores the influence of climate change on human conflict. From the abstract:
We find strong causal evidence linking climatic events to human conflict across a range of spatial and temporal scales and across all major regions of the world. The magnitude of climate’s influence is substantial: for each one standard deviation (1σ) change in climate toward warmer temperatures or more extreme rainfall, median estimates indicate that the frequency of interpersonal violence rises 4% and the frequency of intergroup conflict rises 14%. Because locations throughout the inhabited world are expected to warm 2σ to 4σ by 2050, amplified rates of human conflict could represent a large and critical impact of anthropogenic climate change.
The times, they are a-changin’. Culture (rednecks taking up arms against white supremacy?) climate (iceberg the size of Delaware?), certainty (Social Security? Don’t bet on it, you entitled Millennials)–they’re all a-changin’. Stability comes with a price as old as Cain and Able and we’ve repeatedly sacrificed resiliency for efficiency and profit. There comes a point when the supply lines are so fragile that any shift will cause catastrophic changes. The Tower will tumble.
Amidst the almost nostalgic mobilization of “grassroots” and “drops in the ocean,” loosestrife can help ease our families and communities through these changes. Allying with loosestrife can help you bring peace to your three feet of influence. It’s one of the plants I use magically on a regular basis during the summer, a charm to ease anxiety and tension. A vase or two of the flowers in your home will help mitigate the rising tempers that inevitably come with August heat. Or, see what it does for you on the rush-hour subway.
Loosestrife is invasive. Loosestrife changes the land, one of the plants of Tower Time. It continues its steady expansion across the marshes, pushing out native species. Yet what we called “manifest destiny” for our white European selves, we decry in a plant as being “alien” and harmful to the status quo. One of those “damned immigrants” taking other plants’ jobs. There is a touch of irony that a plant named “loose strife” has inspired such a crusade against it.
It’s no esoteric accident that purple loosestrife has proliferated in a time of such conflict. Loosestrife’s march is a warning, and a needed ally. If we are to bring her back into balance in our ecosystems, we must also master the same imbalance within ourselves.
Don’t hate the mirror that reflects your own shortcomings.
This is truly a little gem of a book.
The first thing that strikes me about this book is how well written it is. Morgan creates rich images with his sparse prose. He manages to sharing meaningful personal experiences (both his own and those of other witches) without sacrificing the mystery of this path. Morgan promises a synthesis of practical experience and scholarship, and judging by his footnotes I would say he delivers. It’s rare to find such a satisfying combination of learning and skill in the esoteric genre, so pardon me if I come off as a touch enthusiastic.
There is undeniably a lot of literature to wade through on this topic, and Morgan does an impressive job of summarizing it for a 201 or even 301 student. He seizes on a number of European cultures to illustrate his points, not just the standard witchcraft documents from the British Isles, but accounts from Italy and eastern Europe as well. Most importantly, he makes it relevant for the modern practitioner, detailing how various manifestations manifestations were dealt with historically and how we today as spirit workers can adapt these methods and attain similar experiences.
Oineric woodcut illustrations by Brett Morgan accompany each chapter, inviting the reader to dive more deeply into the many layers of the text. I’m admittedly a sucker for woodcuts, but these alternately fascinate and repulse–just like witchcraft itself.
Now, the following quibbles are really nitpicky things that my own copy-editor brain picked up on and just wouldn’t let go, and would probably not disturb the average reader. There are a few odd editing choices which detract from the overall flow of the book, especially the lack of chapter numbers within the text itself despite these being listed in the table of contents. The book has a gentle flow from historical evidence to modern accounts, but also might have benefited from some broader subject headings. Chapter 21 on, for instance, is really more of a practical grimoire than the previous historical and folkloric comparisons; this is somewhat indicated by the ToC, but is lacking in the text body itself. Still, these points do not really detract from the message and value of the book overall.
A neighbor of mine who is just beginning to explore the Pagan/Occult paths has been asking me for books to read. I started him out with Phillip Carr-Gomm’s What Do Druids Believe? When he returns it next week, A Deed Without a Name will surely be my next recommendation.
Morgan, Lee. 2013. A Deed Without a Name: Unearthing the Legacy of Traditional Witchcraft. Alresford, UK: John Hunt Publishing.
Herbs of the Northern Shaman was an extremely frustrating read. It’s unclear whether the cause of that frustration can be laid at the feet of the author for writing a book with so much potential that then fell short, or at my own for expecting too much.
What I expected: a detailed catalogue of northern European plants, with explanations of habitat, identification, dosages, and related ritual contexts.
What I got: a catalogue of plants quite literally above the Equator, with inconsistent descriptions, artsy photographs often useless for identification, no information on preparations or dosages, and no mention of appropriate ritual contexts. There are no citations for the authors various assertions, such as “It [Fennel] was once used by the Romans to increase stamina and courage” (p. 41). Oh, really? That’s nice, where’s your source?
In addition, several species are included from the Asian continent. At the risk of appearing blatantly Eurocentric, CM herbal preparations are not something I’m particularly interested in, and their inclusion frankly felt jarring. They are technically not outside the bounds of the book since it includes all of the northern hemisphere, but Andrews makes no mention of Chinese culture or traditions in his introduction. If Asian traditions are going to be included, own them up front with the rest of the cultures mentioned in the introduction (Nordic, Russian, Celtic, and Native American), which by themselves lead the reader to assume a European/North American expectation for the species covered.
Another problem is that many of the entries are included because there are compounds in the plants that are known to be psychoactive, but there is no evidence or experience of them being used historically or currently in a ritual or shamanic context–if that’s the case, why include them? For example the entry on Meadow Buttercup:
According to author Gareth Rose in his booklet The Psychedelics, early Chinese literature states that a flower that grew by streams and brooks could cause delirium…Some authorities [who?] feel that the herb referred to is the common species of Buttercup. Far more investigation is needed to confirm whether or not the species described actually is the Meadow Buttercup, as the leaves of this type are not really “rounded”. (pp. 15-16)
So, an unverified herb from China, asserted to be a Meadow Buttercup (R. acris) by some unknown “authorities”, may or may not have psychoactive properties. Just how, exactly, is this information either relevant to the topic at hand? In Andrews’ favor, where he does have experience with a particular plant and its effects he details them. It’s just that those little jewels are few and far between–the exception being the 7-page love letter to Cannabis (when most entries are 1 1/2 pages at most), which nearly resulted in the book being thrown across the room.
The bibliography does have a few solid sources in it, such as Culpeper and Grieve, and frankly one would be better served in many ways to consult these books directly. There are a couple of other useful titles included there that I may add to my reading list. It’s a fairly “old” bibliography, however, most of the books being from the 1990s or earlier.
I’m more than a little uncomfortable writing this, as I received Herbs of the Northern Shaman as a review copy, and I very much would have liked to give it a good one. The best I can say for it is that it can serve as a starting point for shamanic herbal exploration. However, to expect anything more of it is to invite disappointment.
*Andrews, S. 2010. Herbs of the Northern Shaman. Winchester: O Books.
As those of you who have read this blog for any amount of time know, I’m a big fan of Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery materials. One of the nice things is that once you’ve signed up for the course, you will get invitations to participate in world-wide rituals, usually focused on some sort of planetary energy. A few days ago, I received a PDF with instructions for a global Mercury rite to be performed between July 29th and August 1st. So after getting Hufflespawn to bed, I read through the ritual and decided to stretch the ol’ magical muscles.
One of the things I really dig about Miller’s rituals are that they’re pretty flexible and can easily be combined with other paths and traditions–or perhaps that’s also a function of OBOD rituals and the two just complement each other nicely. I tend to set up an OBOD grove initially, then move into Miller’s script for the main event–and of course add herbs and spices as desired! (‘Cause magic really is like cooking–it’s not your recipe until you fiddle it to your tastes.)
I waited until 9:44 PM, the beginning of the hour of Mercury, on the Day of Mercury, to start the rite. The Moon was in Capricorn, and waxing/almost full, which should lend a more mature and stabilizing influence to all that Mercury energy flying around. For offerings I used cinnamon incense, dried Nicotiana sylvestris from last year’s garden, and apple cider. I set up the circle with eight beeswax candles and my own personal Mercury sigil, in addition the to usual ritual paraphernalia.
A couple of immediate takeaways:
Definitely another ritual for the every-growing grimoire. I’m looking forward to whatever Mr. Miller chooses to tackle next.
Thank you again for joining us for a brand new episode of “This Old Altar,” with your host, Bob Vila! Er wait, that’s not quite right…let’s try this again:
When I moved into my neighbor’s house last year, it was probably one of the best decisions I could have made during the divorce process. I loved living with B. and she gave me a safe place to begin healing. However, I was only renting a room, and that did not leave me much space for altars. I used an old nightstand as my spiritual focus area, and switched out statues depending on whom I was moved to honor in the moment.
Now that I’m in a place of my own, I have the luxury of being able to set up several smaller altar spaces. Each one serves a different function, and has different layers of public and private meaning. As I was writing this, it occurred to me that each alter combines a primary element with a secondary in order to give it a unified aesthetic.
The altar I use most frequently is the one next to my stove, what I call my hearth altar (auto-correct said “heart sculpture” and that’s an apt description, too). It’s predominantly rooted in the Earth element of the North, but with a strong overtone of Fire. The statues represent Gwydion and Aranrhod, though that is not what the artists originally intended. (Yes, these two are sharing space; no this has not caused issues.) Gwydion is my wild magician, and often appears to me as having features of the boar, wolf and/or deer that he was changed into as punishment for Goewin’s rape. Aranrhod (“a fun ride”: WTF auto-correct?) is not only a celestial goddess, but the goddess of the waters. And since I’ve always had trouble giving Don a face (which according to Kristoffer Hughes is actually appropriate as this goddess was in fact faceless), I rededicated her statue in Aranrhod’s name. The little fellow playing the flute is a wight from my father’s garden. The sprig of lavender represents peace and beauty, and the turkey feather represents family; the spiral plate is carved Welsh slate that I brought back from the 2002 National Eisteddfod. This is where I perform morning prayers and my work with the Sun Mirror; it is also the altar that my son likes to help light to thank the Ancestors when we begin cooking a meal.
Right next to the back door in the South is my working altar, the one I use for daily divination or more involved magical workings. It serves to anchor my work in the cunning arts and with the Strategic Sorcery system, which is why Hekate presides over it. In addition there are representations for spirit allies that I work with on a regular basis. Both the sword and spear are ritual as well as martial tools, and at the moment I have wands of Poplar and Willow drying and waiting to be carved. This altar is the polar opposite of the hearth altar, being a manifestation of the Fire of will, grounded in the Earth.
To the West I have an altar space dedicated to the Makers: Bridget, Cerridwen, and Wayland. This is an altar to creative inspiration, and where I give thanks for the gods’ aid in music, poetry, and assorted crafting endevors. Hufflespawn particularly likes the Wayland statue, and even made him a little helper at school which he insisted on placing right next to the Master Smith. Cerridwen is accompanied by tokens from pig and chicken, which refer back to her animal shapes in her pursuit of Gwion Bach. Bridget has bone weaving tools dedicated to her, and a harp tuner. In front of Wayland sits a chunk of iron slag that I found on the beach in Salem Massachusetts, a gift that seemed most appropriate. Air is the ruling element here, with a secondary infusion of Water (and Fire, too, if I’m honest, even though it messes up my nice, neat classifications).
The next two altars are a bit more “work-in-progress.” First is a home for various local spirits and wights. Thus far Turkey, Crow, Datura, Boar and Snail are represented. I will also likely include guardians from my OBOD work here as well. On top of the shelf is a ceramic Dragon my soul’s sister made for me, which eerily matches a spirit guide of mine. Water rules here, not least because one of my allies from this land is a river wight, but also because this is an area which very much requires dreams and intuitions to access fully. Air is the breath which stirs the surface of the Water.
Finally we have this very much WIP altar, which seems to be shaping into a repository for images of Divine Queens. It may end up being more of a display for statuary that I like than an actual working altar, but I think there’s a place for both in one’s home. This sort of feminine strength and inspiration is something I’ve needed greatly over the past two years, and I’ll be interested to see whether this altar remains dedicated to that casue, or whether I will eventually repurpose it for something else.
So, after only having had a single altar space for year, I may have gone a little crazy with all these! Still, it feels good to be able to move from altar to altar, and to have specific foci for various parts of my life. More likely than not things will get pared down after a little while, but for now, this suits my needs quite well.