Element Earth

Roughly a year ago, Awen began smacking me upside the head to do a series of paintings for the elements. (It’s true, sometimes Awen hurts.) I’ve obviously been sitting on this inspiration for a while now, but I think the brew’s been boiling for long enough.

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At the last full moon, I scoured the conservation land for as many different types of leaves as I could get my grubby little Ovate hands on. The results were: four types of oak (red, white, black, pin), American chestnut, staghorn sumac, hawthorn, striped and red maple, sassafras, fern, birch, and beech.

15547038782_23c9ad4a04_kI pressed them between the pages of the Oxford Classical Dictionary (yes, its abbreviation really is OCD) for two weeks while my brain played with the patterns. Finally, in a rare two hours of free time, I prepped the canvas board with acrylics and began arranging the leaves.  Where they didn’t contact the wet paint directly, I used PVA glue to secure them.

15360891228_4e913c87dc_hThe next step was to fashion a stencil that could be used on all four paintings for the elemental symbols. Once it was in place, I used metallic gold spray paint to create the Earth motif. Finally I cleaned up the edges with various shades of Sharpie to make the gold really pop.  This was the final result.

Next stop: Water.

Candles

First melt—equinox candle

Candles are probably one of the easiest ritual tools to make. I also find them one of the most satisfying. Oddly enough, I’m only in the mood to make them in September and February, so I tend to go on a bit of a binge so that I have enough to get me through the rest of the year.

The first step getting some wax! First, I put an email around to all of my neighbors asking for their old candle ends. This will save you a TON of money versus buying new paraffin from a craft store. My other wax source is directly from a bee keeper. Most of my ritual candles are pure beeswax, while my daily devotional ones use recycled wax of varying proportions beeswax to paraffin. (A word on crayons—some sources maintain they do NOT make good candles, so resist tossing your child’s collection into the melting pot, please.)

Once you have yourself a nice little stash, the next step to to melt the wax, which is best done in a double-boiler over low heat. Yes, this way takes longer, but the risk of wax explosion/fire/other mayhem is much less. When everything is liquid, it’s time to add dye and/or fragrance as desired. Dye come in solid blocks or liquid form—I much prefer the latter as I feel it gives more control and deeper colors. You can color-test the wax by putting a teaspoonful on s sheet of white paper. This will give you a decent approximation of the final shade.

First layer poured

Once the wax is melted and dyed, it is poured into a mould lightly coated with olive oil. I just learned the olive oil trick this year and boy has it helped! I used to spend a good deal of time cursing stuck candles, or worse, marring them with a hair dryer or hot water bath. Olive oil really saves you the trouble and keeps bits of wax from sticking to the inside of the mould.

Newborn candle

There are a number of different types of wicks, some stand alone, some needing to be tied off through a hole in the bottom of the mould. For votives, I do prefer the self-supporting wick, though these often have some sort of metal like zinc in the core. But for anything bigger, a large or extra-large braided cotton wick is my favorite.

In my experience, all poured candles (as opposed to dipped ones) need to have a second or even third pouring after the initial ones have cooled. A well will develop around the wick as the wax shrinks and adheres to the sides of the mould. Simply use a chopstick or thin dowel to poke three to four holes into the soft wax to within an inch of the bottom of the mould; this will relieve the surface tension, so you can make a second pour to fill in the well.

Dressed and ready for ritual

Once the candle has cooled and you’ve removed it from the mould (if if does get stuck, put it in the freezer for no more than 10 minutes and it should pop right out, especially if you’ve used olive oil), you can trim the seams and decorate it. This one got one of WillowCrow‘s necklaces to spruce it up a bit.

Melting bits and blobs for votives

The next couple of shots show the process for votive candles. When melting wax, I try to keep the colors to one family, or at least to a secondary color and its two primaries (e.g. orange, red, and yellow)—otherwise, you end up with a lot of browns. These votives came out on the red-orange end of the spectrum (a shade I privately call Tequila Sunrise), and truthfully a bit more eye-searing than I would have liked. But they are relentlessly cheerful in the face of winer!

Votives poured

Below you can see the difference between the self-supporting wicks (which tend to bed in larger candles) and the tensioned cotton wick, supported by half a chopstick.

Ready to burn

I actually managed to craft my way through my entire left-over wax stash this fall, as well as all my neighbors’ donations. I still have a large block of paraffin left over, and probably six to eight pounds of beeswax. And hopfully my generous neighbors will have even more odds and ends for me in the spring.

Blue-green end of the spectrum

The last candle I made will be for Alban Eilir, since it reminds me of spring leaves. I also mixed in ashes from the Alban Elfed bonfires at the OBOD East Coast Gathering, which give it a nice symmetry in my mind.

Candle for the spring, with ashes from the East Coast Gathering bonfire

Candle making can be more than just a way to create nifty altar swag. It’s a way to live the ideal of reusing materials. It’s a way to connect with your neighbors and community. And it can also be a way to remember what our ancestors had to do in order to work past sunset on those long winter nights. And it’s an exercise in patience, meditation, and mindfulness, if we so choose.

—A.V.

Back and Crafting Again

Druid 'n' Drum

Yes, my eyes are closed. It was a meditation fer cryin’ out loud!

Even though the second annual OBOD East Coast Gathering has been a week past, it’s still very strong in my mind. The week before was pretty much consumed with making my robes, which my grove bro helped me finish at 3 AM the night before we left. (Of course, then I forgot the clasps and the grove banner, but happily my husband brought them with him when he came up the next day! What’s an event without a little last-minute sewing?)

The Gathering itself really hit its stride this year. It felt like the core group had really solidified, and that we were able to embrace guests and newcomers into our traditions. Now we were friends coming together, not just folks with similar interests seeking companionship.

The two guest-speakers were Philip Carr-Gomm, the Chosen Chief of OBOD, and John Michael Greer, the Grand Arch-Druid of AODA. It has long been a wish of mine to put these two men in the same room and be a fly on the wall during any following conversations. I more than got my wish! Hopefully their open discussion will be broadcast on an upcoming episode of DruidCast (available free on iTunes). Both gentlemen were approachable, eager to answer questions, and had an amazing depth of knowledge across a variety of subjects.

Beeswax equinox candle. It was supposed to be white and black, but yellow and purple seemed to work well enough! Necklace by Willowcrow.

In fact, JMG was able to answer a question that had been bugging me for nearly five years, namely why did the Golden Dawn change the correspondences from the traditional Hellenic Elements (Earth/West, Water/North)—used from  to what is so commonly used today in Neopagan circles (Earth/North, Water/West). It was apparently not, as some have suggested, a geographical change to better match Britain’s climate, but one based on the different elemental associations of the four Hebrew letters that comprised the name of god, Adonai. In hindsight it’s a little ridiculous how much this question was bothering me, but it’s so nice to have an answer other than “the Victorians are doin’ it wrong, again.” Now I feel like I can make an informed choice between the systems, and that’s a great weight relieved.

Meditation beads for the Chosen Chief.

We were then lucky enough to host the Carr-Gomms for our Alban Elued celebration back in Boston post-Gathering. We all brought gifts for a crane bag that we presented to the Chosen Chief and Scribe. My contribution was a glass spiral pendant on a silver chain, and a set of meditation beads. Meanwhile, between these, my robes, and pouring a candle for the ritual, I feel like I’ve gotten my crafting groove back. Fall is really a time of fruition in more ways than one for me; it feels like the long drought of summer has finally broken and awen is able to flow freely through me.

Tucking in the Garden

Rows of Hay 2 by goody2230

As of 2pm yesterday, the community garden was officially put to bed for the season.

It was wonderful how much folks wanted to participate because there was a lot to get done. Friday afternoon I prepped the fields by winding up the irrigation system and stowing the 22 tomato cages that had supported our friendly little nightshades all season long. Saturday, three pickup trucks full of manure were unloaded and carted by wheelbarrow down the rows of the field garden; these were then raked into place. The process continued on Sunday, and extra lime was added to the beds to lessen the acidity. Lastly, hay bales were hauled to each of the rows and laid down in sheets to help protect the manure as it composts over the next several months.

The whole process took four days, with multiple people putting their energy into the project. But my body and soul were singing the entire time. Working the land, preparing for the winter—it puts everything in perspective. Somehow the woes of the world just don’t seem that pressing anymore. Your body aches with a righteous soreness that comes from being full engage, fully present, in a very old tradition. You’re connecting with your neighbors, and the bonds that are built during field time will sustain you all until the coming of spring.

It’s my hope that we can get more of the community involved with the garden next year. If this fall’s turnout was any indication, we may be well on our way towards creating excitement for the spring planting. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to create enough food for at least three of the common meals during the summer. It’s an ambitious goal, but one worth trying for.

—A.V.

Busy, busy, busy

And things are only getting busier as the fall wraps her shawl around New England.

Soon I’ll be off to the OBOD East Coast Gathering. I’m looking forward to spending a weekend with such an awesome bunch of druids! Last year was a blast and I can’t imagine what’s in store for us this time.

And, sadly, my camera decided to up and die while I was on a hike a couple of weeks ago. It’s leaving large purple smudges over everything—with no evidence of anything on the lens—which means I don’t have my usual visual assortment of filler for the blog. But, among the works in progress are a number of wands, a macerating pig skull, a rabbit skin divination cloth, and the completion of my (patent-pending!) Druid Bugout Bag. Many goodies, but no pics. Very sad indeed.

Lastly, the garden is giving up her final fruits. We haven’t had time to do a fall crop this year, but hopefully we can get this season’s final hardscape tasks firmed up before the community work weekend. Then, it’ll be time for planning, and drooling over the seed catalogues with cups of hot chai. There’s one thing I know for certain: fewer tomatoes!

Happy Autumn and Alban Elfed!

—A.V.

Vanir of Autumn

Looking back over the posts on this blog, I realize that I haven’t talked much about the Gods.  I think part of this is because my devotional practices end up placing as much emphasis on the Ancestors and Wights as the Cosmic Big Cheeses.  Still, the fact remains that as the seasons turn, I do have an acute awareness of which deities are more active, and which have taken a well-deserved vacation.

As I mentioned in the practical patronlessness post, I’ve finally settled into the gods of the Vanir (or Wenan, as it’s been reconstructed in Old English) and my sole pantheon, with the caveat that I subscribe to the Vanacelt theory.  The Vanir are undeniably Gods of this world, inextricably woven into the fabric and rhythms of life on this little ball of rock, water, and wind.  And it makes sense that being to tied to the world, these Gods mimic the changes that occur as we all spin around the sun.

Here in New England, we’re moving into the Autumn.  The first acorn dropped a couple of weeks ago, and The Hunter has begun his ascent up the dome of the night sky.  The slight chill in the air sharpens my senses and fills me with a wondrous anticipation for the coming harvest.  This is a time of bounty and magic, when gifts may flow freely between our world and those of the Other-realms.

Habondia, the Lady of Plenty, strews her gifts of harvest across our tables in an ecstatic display of generosity.  Hers is the magic of fruition, of the selection of the finest crops to be given as gifts to our neighbors, human, wight-kin, and God.  Plunging your hands into the earth as you dig potatoes; gathering the bounty of apples that have swollen to ripe, red girth; shucking the last ears of corn from their papery husks and spider-wraps of silk—these are her rites.  They are humble and they are holy.

Gullveig burns brightly in the red and gold leaves of the autumn.  Her lessons stretch thin the membrane between the worlds, allowing glimpses of knowledge otherwise beyond reach.  Her song can be heard in the bonfires that dot the land, Her arousal is evident in every spark soaring skywards.  She, too, is a goddess of bounty, but Hers is victory and spoils wrenched from her enemies in the blaze of battle.  As She dances, the hills turn to flame as they behold Her passion and joy.

Nerthus, the Great Lady, also now gives Her gifts to mankind, though we balk at what She demands in return.  We try to avoid our end of the bargain, dodging responsibility by engaging in a year-round orgy of excess.  But She is as patient as She is immovable.  As autumn is a time of plenty, it is also a time of decay—the beginning of the cycle of renewal.  Leaves blanket the ground in a rich layer of death, that they may foster the seedlings of next spring.  Annual and perennials alike whither while releasing the last of their seeds to the wind.  No new life may come without sacrifice of the old, and Nerthus welcomes the fallen into Her arms before the deep rest of winter.

Gwyn ap Nudd, the Hunter, begins to stir under the hills of the land.  He will not ride until Samhain, but the first notes of His horn can be heard on the wind.  His song is the exhilaration of a cool, sharp wind, and the rise of a Blood Moon on the horizon.  He, too, is immovable in His task, and will not waver in His pursuit of prey.  Soon, the time of the final culling will begin and the choice is to either ride the madness at His side, or get out of the way.

Autumn has always brought out my “witchy” side, the part of me that enjoys lacing hot cider with spices and spells against the coming winter—the part that will wander for hours in the woods, reveling in the final release of energy and color of this year.  It is time for setting our affairs in order, taking care of the details of the last harvests and choosing which of the herd to slaughter, and which will survive the winter.  The Vanir are said to be Gods of fertility, but they are also Gods of death, for one would not exist without the other.  One cannot know Them fully without accepting Their whole nature.

May you also enjoy the final fruits of the land and dance before the long shadows of a dying sun.

—A.V.