A Year-Long Prosperity Spell

Things have been rather amazing with the coven these days.  Our HPS D. is well-settled in Tacoma and our HP T. has moved with his partner to Atlanta (yep, we’re now a bi-coastal coven) where they are beginning to thrive.  S. was initiated into the first degree this year, and her husband J. has asked to begin training in our outer court.  Dn. down in Eugene took the second degree when he came up to Tacoma for the South Puget Sound Pagan Pride Day at the start of October, and M., our first degree initiate down in Eugene, is coming out of her post-divorce hiatus.  And I’ve been cleared to take second, provided transportation arrangements and health holds up for everyone.

But since I’ll be taking second, D. and T. have decided I should start leading circles for the group, a thing that both thrills and terrifies me.  I had my first attempt at it with our Esbat this month on the 7th.  Prior to that, S. and J. invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them, and our discussions of what we wanted the year to hold and what we wanted to accomplish with the group naturally morphed into us creating a fairly novel working:  a prosperity spell based off of a calendar “rune chain.”  What this string of runes essentially does is tells the story of how our upcoming year will progress financially.  I had gotten the idea for a rune chain from Marietta at Witchy Words, who made one to help ward her new home and–as far as I know–is the one who came up with the concept in the first place.  Once we had all agreed on a prosperity working and I showed S. and J. a picture of Marietta’s chain, the working just fell easily into place.

My completed prosperity rune chain hanging up in my room.  It's one of the first things I see every morning.

My own completed prosperity rune chain hanging up in my room. It’s one of the first things I see every morning.

Last year, a cedar tree on S. and J.’s property had been damaged in a storm and had to be removed, but before the tree got chipped up, J. took a limb and cut it into disks and dried them out with the idea that he’d eventually turn them into a rune set of his own, and he had oodles and oodles to spare.  That left S. and I to figure out what runes we wanted and what we wanted them to represent.  Eventually, we decided to constrain this working to the course of a full year and view the chain as a calendar marking what steps towards increased long-term prosperity we would attain at certain points in the year.  Since the Esbat we were performing the spell on fell on a full moon between Samhain and Yule, we decided to treat this spell as a sort of Wiccan “New Year’s Resolution” and framed our year around the eight Sabbats.  Therefore, we’ve got eight runes divided into two six-month intervals, one where we set the stage for increased growth during the time when sunlight increases and one where we reap our harvest as sunlight decreases.

The assembly instruction sheet I provided to the group.

The assembly instruction sheet I provided to the group.

This is basically how we envision the story of our financial year unfolding:

YULE, Fehu: We start the story with a good, solid introduction. This working is about material prosperity, so we start off by focusing on the rune of wealth: fehu. Fehu is about wealth accumulation through judicious investment of resources—cattle, for instance, are only going to be healthy and multiply if they are well-cared for. Our challenge for the period of Yule is to determine what we need to “care” for our “herds”.

CANDLEMAS, Berkano: By the time the wheel turns to February, we should have been able to identify what we need to care for our nascent prosperity and are ready to seriously nurture it, if we haven’t already begun to do so. Berkano is the “Earth Momma” rune; the ever-young birch tree; pregnant. Our challenge is to do what we can to protect and nurture our financial goals. Flood the market with job applications, put in overtime and a good face with the boss. Whatever we need to do.

SPRING, Elhaz: At this point, the protective nature of nurturing our financial goals shifts from a maternal one to a magical one. Elhaz sets up a blocking barrier, keeping the influences that would impede our goals at bay. Got an application out in the marketplace? It will keep all the niggling things that slow down that process away. Starting a new job? It will keep all the “newbie” slip-ups minor. Whatever impediments may arise, Elhaz will see you through them. Our challenge is to be attuned to what can block us, and actively work to overcome them.

BELTANE, Bind Rune: By the time Beltane rolls around, the energies surrounding Fehu, Berkano, and Elhaz will be at a peak. Therefore, they are bound together as a joint foci. Important decisions will be made now.

MIDSUMMER, Ehwaz: Ehwaz is the rune of partnership and cooperation. It bridges dyads and helps them work together towards a single goal. This can be a bridging of the metaphysical and physical. Magical steps and prayers taken towards prosperity will pay off; maybe more literally than you’d think. But other things can factor into this energy, too. Maybe you start working very well with a boss and get onto a promotion track. Maybe you start finding your groove in a new job, make some friends, learn some tips, and earn some new bonuses. Bottom line is, you don’t need the protection anymore. To act in accordance with this rune, look towards your networks for help.

LAMMAS, Dagaz: Dagaz is the rune of dawn and hope and the returning sun—kind of a big deal in Northern countries. One of the interesting things about experiencing such drastic changes is how much you appreciate the sun when it finally arrives out of the dark. The dark, then, more sharply defines the light. We’re definitely getting to a point of increased financial stability by this point, but we need to remember that we can’t fully appreciate security without struggle and that life’s going to be a shifting balance between the two. We’ve just discovered a new balance that we’ll need to adjust in the next cycle. Our challenge, then, is to start shoring up for lean times. Take the financial planning classes, contribute to retirement plans, fill up the savings accounts, etc.

HARVEST HOME, Sowilo: Finally, when all the harvest is coming in, we can take stock of the successes we’ve had over the year. Sowilo is a rune of illumination and movement and success. During the course of this year, we’ve brightened up our financial landscape and brought some fiscal fluidity back to our lives. Now is the time to take stock of what we did right. To act in accordance with this energy, we should reflect upon these successes, learn what made them successful so that we can continue to be so, and give thanks for the opportunities we’ve had.

SAMHAIN, Bind Rune: By the time Samhain rolls around, the energies of Ehwaz, Dagaz, and Sowilo will be at their peak. Just as we did in Beltane, we consider them together in a bind rune and allow ourselves to seriously plan how we can bring their energies into the next turn of the wheel. Our challenge, then, will be to set out a plan of action for the next year’s finances.

Once we got the story down, tested our planned materials, and ran a “draft” of the idea past our high priest, S., J., and I all met up to take care of burning eight sets of runes and compiling eight spell kits.  We figured it would be complicated enough to string them together and personalize them as a group:  we didn’t need the headache of managing to share a couple woodburning tools in a small candlelit room full of naked people on top of all that.  So we took a nice, sunny afternoon, cast a big circle, and took turns burning runes as we concentrated on our intent of prosperity and then concluded by raising energy to that purpose through a prosperity chant.

Thing

The runes all finished up.

Once that was done, I assembled a bit of a kit for everyone in the group with the runes, an 8-foot length of leather cording, materials to mount the chain to a wall (a small Command hook, a Command strip, and a thumbtack), and a few “prosperity baubles” in case anyone was interested in adding that element to their chain.  I included a golden dollar coin, a citrine bead, bay leaves, some “Sweet Success” incense (a coven tradition), and some green felt and green thread to make a bag if anyone so chose.  I also advised those coming to the circle to bring items that meant “prosperity” to them to the circle, and I mailed our Atlanta and Eugene contingents their kits with an explanatory letter.

The items I slipped into my prosperity bag.  I wrote my two main prosperity "wishes" onto the bay leaves.  They read "A job that I love; one right for me" and "A home, a hearth, security".

The items I slipped into my prosperity bag. I wrote my two main prosperity “wishes” onto the bay leaves. They read “A job that I love; one right for me” and “A home, a hearth, security”.  The other items are a golden dollar (John Adams, my favorite President), a bit of blue ‘woad’ to connect to the throat chakra (the seat of communication, which is where I want my career to focus), a citrine bead, a loadstone, and–courtesy of S.A.–a lucky sixpence.

In circle, we all constructed our rune chains the way we wanted them to be (note to self:  taper candles for more light in the future!), gathered up our items, discussed our plans for prosperity as we worked, and then charged up the items with our intent using a chant.

IMG_0706What I did with my own chain was to link up the runes.  After the final one, I created a witch’s ladder knot spell to secure my intent (nine knots in which I bound my intent to the totem with the chant “by knot of one, the spell’s begun,” etc.  I put all my items in a little leather pouch, which hangs at the base of it all.  My intent to help myself act in accordance with the spell is to “check in” at the first quarter and full moons every month to evaluate my progress and to chart out a weekly-ish plan for how I will live in accordance.  By combining short and long term goals with a healthy dose of magic, I’m confident I’ll turn my luck throughout 2015.

A Wonderful Yule Tradition from An Unlikely Witch

A handsome stack of Yule presents under the tree

A handsome stack of Yule presents under the tree

I know I’m not alone in associating the Yuletide with ample gift giving (and receiving!).  It’s fun to plan what to get each loved one, it’s a blast to fuss over brightly colored paper and wrapping your gifts attractively, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see the anticipation and joy on your giftee’s faces as they unwrap your presents.

And yet, as the Christians say, the commercialism and materialism behind the culture of this sort of gift-giving is decidedly not “the reason for the season.”  Worse still, too much focus on gifting things can turn any jolly old soul into a major Scrooge.  I know that in my leaner years, I looked upon the list of people I wanted to gift, then looked at my bank account, threw up my hands in despair, and basically avoided holiday functions altogether.  Frankly, that’s a damn shame.  The December holiday season is one of the best excuses to be merry and celebrate with your loved ones that our dominant culture has, and the general practices we have of Yule itself are so close to the secular celebrations of Christmas that it’s a great way to gently share our faith and love with those who might not be accepting in other settings.

So what’s a gifting tradition we can adopt that eliminates the Scrooge potential and gets more to the heart of the spiritual importance of this time:  the return of the light?

Well, last year the answer came to me in an unexpected vehicle:  a then-recently published novel by Debora Geary.  Since March of 2011 with the Kindle publication of her first novel, A Modern Witch, Ms. Geary has prolifically created three related novel series tying together characters in her “Witch Central” universe–basically groups of contemporary magical practitioners in Berkeley, California and Nova Scotia who all help each other improve their lives in incredibly healthy ways.  Franky, Witch Central is one of the best treatments I’ve seen seeding a solid reality into a fantastic universe.  I’m not going to say that Ms. Geary produces amazing and masterful literature–really, this is the level of “chick lit” without a heavy romantic focus–but the books are so satisfying that I happily buy each one as soon as they’re published.

The cover of Debora Geary's novel "An Unlikely Witch."

The cover of Debora Geary’s novel “An Unlikely Witch.”

Ms. Geary’s Winter Solstice 2013 publication was An Unlikely Witch, which was itself set around the Winter Solstice.  In fact, the driving force behind novel’s greater plot is a scheme that Nell’s 11-year-old triplets–Mia, Shay, and Ginia–devise.  Essentially, they create a new gift-giving strategy for the enlarged Witch Central community.  They assign each member the name of one other member and give them the task of making one of that person’s dreams come true.  It’s like a secret Santa exchange, but without the emphasis on purchasing an item under a dollar amount.  In fact, the gifts the triplets propose giving are priceless.

Now, this being a work of magical realism, some of the dreams tackled are incredibly tall orders with very magical solutions–such as taking on a woman’s infertility (though that dream is ultimately solved mundanely) and making it snow in southern California–but others are quite simple.  The non-magic Nat, for example, discovers that her giftee, a recently homeless girl, has a secret talent and love for painting.  Not only does Nat find a way to get this girl supplies in a way that doesn’t make the girl feel like charity, but she also positions her to have her work seen by many and gain lucrative commissions in the process.  In other words, she sets the girl on the path to becoming that which her heart most deeply desires:  a professional artist.  Another person, the octogenerian spitfire Helga, finds a way to give her giftee, a teenage boy, space away from the tight-knit community to pursue a first love without interference.

I think it would be a wonderful Yule tradition to put something like this into practice within our own communities–whether in a coven, family, or association of adopted loved ones.  Sure, Yule is a great time to give physical tokens of affection–desired store-bought trinkets, homemade sweets and savories, etc.–but it’s also the best time to shine a little light on some of the dreams we lock away in the deepest darkness of our subconsciousness.  In the process, we’ll end up giving our giftees something far more important than a bauble they’ll forget they wanted in a few years:  they’ll get glorious memories of time spent together with those they loved as well as help in becoming the best versions of themselves.

Who could ask for anything more?

This is How I Spent the Last 3 Months: Refinishing Furniture and Moving!

My new altar arrangement for daily devotions.

My new altar arrangement for daily devotions.

I have been so quiet on this journal for so long, which–of course–means I’m dealing with Big Life Events.  Ever since August, I’ve been taking stock of my living situation and realizing I needed to move.  I wasn’t happy, and uncertainty about some of my housemate’s finances were causing me extreme anxiety and flashbacks to when my dad lost his job and then lost the house.  The other housemates (K. and C.) and I decided we’d go in on an apartment together, so lots of real-estate hunting and budget discussions ensued that eventually culminated on finding a place at the end of September.  We were originally given a move-in date of November 1.  We are all Pagans, so that was like asking Christians to move house on Christmas Day.  That obviously wasn’t going to happen, so we negotiated to November 8.  So largely all of October was spent preparing for Samhain and the move, all on a shoe-string budget.

In retrospect, I’m surprised we kept our stress levels manageable.  My main task for the month was procuring furniture as I had sold all of mine with the exception of a nightstand and an ugly green La-Z-Boy recliner and all K. and C. currently owned was their own bedroom furniture.  But, as my housemates say, I have “mad Craigslist-fu.”  For the common spaces, I found a non-ugly, excellent condition sofa, a nice lift-top coffee table, a large dresser to serve as the TV console, a dining table and 5 chairs, and a kitchen cart.  The previous owners of the cart had cannibalized two of them, so what I bought had one wire top and two wire basket shelves, a push handle, and four casters.  I picked up an additional shelf for it at The Container Store and it now holds my Kitchen Aid mixer, their microwave, and our bulk potatoes and onions perfectly and frees up much-needed counter space in our kitchen.  We split the purchases with K. and C. getting the sofa, dresser, table, and chairs ($205) and me taking care of the coffee table and cart ($184).

I took care of my own bedroom furnishings pretty easily.  I decided to keep the storage shelving I’d bought for S.A. and A.J.’s garage and repurpose it for my bookcase, which meant I had to get shelf liners ($30) so the wires wouldn’t damage the books.  My covenmate S. and her husband J. gave me a new queen mattress (from their RV; they replaced what the factory had provided), so I found a nearly new Ikea Brusali queen bed for $60 and also found a nearly new Ikea Hemnes 3-drawer dresser for $65.  I’m sure I’ll probably sell these pieces if I suddenly find myself moving across the country; after all, they’re not exactly heirloom quality stuff.  But I am definitely keeping my “splurge” piece:  a vintage secretary desk that I completely refinished with the intention that it would be my desk by day and my altar by night.

The desk/altar in all its glory.  I'm pretty darn proud of it.

The desk/altar in all its glory. I’m pretty darn proud of it.

I paid about $100 for the desk, which was $60 more than I wanted to pay.  However, I scoured all of Craigslist for secretary desks for weeks, and most were going for about $150 and were also really ugly.  I liked the federal lines of this piece, which can be mixed in with contemporary, traditional, or ‘country’ style furnishings with little conflict, and I liked that there wasn’t some massive organizing system in the secretary top.  In fact, it just had a tiny divider that I easily knocked out.  When I went to see it though, I was a little disappointed with the condition it was in.  The drawers would not slide evenly, the whole thing smelled awful–a combination of mildew, cat, and old lady–and the previous owner had spilled something in the top drawer and it looked like a fungus was growing on it.

I was decidedly unamused, but ended up buying the desk at full asking price out of pity for the seller.  She was taking care of her mom’s estate…and her mom had been a hoarder.  It was woefully evident that the woman did not want to be within a hundred miles of the house, just as it was plain that all her mother’s “treasures” were dusty, broken, dated junk that no body would purchase.  I figured the least I could do was give her full asking price for the one thing likely to sell and offer it up as a mitzvah.

Back home, I damn near cried when I finally got to inspect the piece fully.  The “solid wood” piece only had a wood frame and drawer fronts.  The top surface was actually laminate, the sides of the dresser part are thin particle board, and the drawer boxes appeared to be the 1970s equivalent of MDF.  The drawer glides were toast, and one of the drawer handles was missing the pull part, which meant I’d have to replace at least the bottom four pulls.  When I went to remove the knobs from the top drawer, I damaged them and ended up having to replace all four of those, too.  Worse, the “fungus” was not, in fact, fungus, but an eruption of wood from the chipboard of the drawer getting wet.  But I decided to soldier on anyway.

F

Top row, left to right:  The before picture with the drawers as even as I could get them; after removing the back cardboard panels and installing new drawer glides; after giving all surfaces a good sanding.  Middle row, left to right:  After painting the whole piece, I started waxing with dark wax; I eventually wiped off most of the dark wax and got a cool aged effect for the finish; I gave up on the white drawer interiors and painted all the inside stuff blue.  Bottom row, left to right:  Unable to find replacement hinges for the desk front, I did my best to clean the rust and crap off the old ones; I painted the hinges black and reinstalled them (with some scratches); done!

First, I did my best to clean up the desk to a) get rid of the smell and b) dislodge the several colonies of spiders that had taken up residence.  This meant removing the backing on both the drawers and the desk area, which wasn’t very hard as it turned out to just be a thick cardboard.  Discarding that helped a lot with the cat smell. Soap and water helped, and I was truly surprised at how abysmally dirty the desk was.  However, I also had to go over the whole piece–every interior and exterior surface–twice with mineral spirits to get things truly de-grimed and de-stinked.  Then I turned my attention to the fungus drawer.  As it turned out, I had to take a razor blade and scrape all the damaged particle board out.  There was a lot of damage, but after lots of scraping rounds, I got to solid particle board.  I used mineral spirits to clean up the gunk, let it and all the drawers dry for several days, then spray painted all the drawer interiors with a white spray paint, which did a great job of sealing up the damaged area.

Next, I turned my attention to the drawer pulls.  At that point, I thought I’d have to trash the whole project as no body sells center mount drawer pulls in the size I needed.  Eventually, however, I found wooden ones at True Value hardware, and I cut them to size.  Installation was a bitch, though.  The replacement guides were taller than the originals, which mean I had to inset them, but right where I needed to screw them in was routed out to hold cardboard dividers.  It took about four hours and lots of help from K. to get the three glides installed, and I’ll be the first to admit it looks sloppier than it should  Retrofitting sucks.

Once I knew I had working drawers, I felt comfortable stripping the original finish so that I could paint it.  I was originally going to stain the piece, but then discovered that the top was laminate and the drawer sides pressboard, so paint it became.  When I took off the knobs, though, I ran into another problem.  The original maker had drilled 1/4-inch holes in the piece, then used special inserts to anchor the hardware to the drawer faces.  Today, the screws for hardware are much smaller in diameter.  If I attached new hardware, they would rattle around, but I couldn’t keep the damaged hardware.  Eventually a brilliant clerk at Home Depot pointed me in the direction of nylon inserts.  I had to make the holes a little bigger, but eventually I got the inserts installed.  I also had to sand the heck out of the drawer faces to remove the impressions of the old hardware.  The other surfaces got a lighter sanding just to give the surface some tooth.

In retrospect, I don’t think I needed to sand the other surfaces.  I ended up using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (ASCP), and it adheres beautifully to anything without sanding.  I chose Primer Red, and was very happy with the color.  The shop clerk showed me a piece she’d done with it and said she’d only used a dark wax to seal it, so I just bought the paint and the dark wax.  That was a mistake.  When using that dark wax, you’re supposed to coat the piece in a clear wax first.  What I got when I finished looked like mahogany, which was pretty but not what I wanted.  Luckily, Miss Mustard Seed’s clear furniture wax removed a lot of the dark wax and left a great finish.

I had decided to paint the back of the drawer fronts in Primer Red, too, but all that handling utterly destroyed the white paint job I’d done on the drawer boxes.  I tried to clean it up with mineral spirits, but that didn’t take me far.  Eventually, I repainted the interiors in ASCP’s Provence blue with a clear wax finish and really loved the funky pop of color.  I even painted the backing for the desk that color, too.

The next major hurdle was the hinges for the desk.  When I had removed the originals, I thought they were unsalvageable.  The screws holding them in were so rusted, I was able to smash one to pieces.  Frankly, I’m amazed I was able to remove the screws intact.  The hinges themselves were rusted, and the areas that weren’t were covered in a thick layer of grease and dust.  It took me half an hour of scrubbing with a toothbrush and dish soap to remove all the grime, and two hours of scrubbing with Brasso to get rid of the rust.  Eventually they cleaned up all right, but they turned out to be brass and still cosmetically damaged.  So I spray painted them with a black Hammerite and re-installed them with black screws.  It was a bitch to get them re-set, though, and I did a couple big scratches in the desk.  At that point, I no longer cared.  Someday I’ll fix it.

At that point, I decided to put a shelf inside the desk part to hold odds and ends, and it looks great.  I also re-installed proper drawer backing on the top and bottom and made sure to cut a hole in the top to be able to run my computer cord through.  In truth, I still have to screw the front of the shelf down, and I suppose I should attend to a big ding in the front sustained when someone knocked something against it when we moved…but honestly?  I’m glad to take a break from this project.  It was way more involved (and expensive! I’m pretty sure I spent more on paint and wax than I did on the desk, and then there was the new hardware, the shelf, the drawer backing…oh man.  I don’t want to total it up.) than I thought it was going to be.

Making a Magic Box: Stage 3

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Once I completed finishing the exterior of my magic box, I had to tamp down all my fears of failure and figure out how I was going to finish up the interior.  The whole point of this project was to create a place where I could store the bulk of my magical tools where none of them would be damaged if the box moved around, such as if I needed to travel to a circle.  I was particularly worried about my cup.  It’s vintage, it’s sterling, and it is light.  A solid knock could dent or even crumple it, so I like to treat it with kid gloves.  I knew, then, that I wanted to create inserts that were “custom molded” to all my pieces.

For this customization, I had thought about getting “pick and pack” foam, but it is a bit expensive.  Since I knew I eventually wanted to cover up the foam in fabric, it didn’t have to be the most good-looking foam out there, either.  Eventually I decided upon styrofoam, which broke my environmentalist heart.  However, it is pretty darn useful for this purpose.  Once you cut into it, all the little spheres that make it up easily brush away, which lets you “carve” to precision with very little effort or special tools.  In order to fit everything I wanted into the box, I needed two layers of 2-inch foam.  Styrofoam was still ridiculously expensive when I priced it out at craft stores and places like Joann Fabrics, but in one of my (many) recent trips to Home Depot, I realized that styrofoam insulation was the same thing as craft styrofoam, and it was way, way cheaper.  I think I picked up a 2×4 foot length of 2-inch thick styrofoam R-Tech insulation for maybe $8.  As it turned out, the plastic and foil covering the long faces worked out in my favor:  it made chopping the foam down to size much easier.

Once I got two lengths of foam chopped down to fit the inside of the box, I laid out everything I wanted to fit inside:  my wand, athame, white-handled knife, cup, pentacle, boline, pen of art, silver incense and salt spoons, and my cords and ritual jewelry.  I decided that I only wanted special compartments for everything but the cords and jewelry, which made laying everything out much easier.  For the second layer, everything was short enough that it could fit on one side, so I have a large, open compartment for assorted odds and ends on the other half.  Once I had everything laid out, it was actually a simple matter to carve the styrofoam.  I even used my white-handled knife to do it!  I used the “pick and pluck” method, so I cut straight down into the foam around the outlines I had made, then I cut a grid into each shape.  It made it easy to then pop out each cube, and then I used the tip of my knife and my fingers to smooth things out into the shapes and depths I needed.  (Pro tip: this is incredibly messy.  Make sure you have a vacuum cleaner on hand, lest you trail tiny bits of styrofoam throughout your house.)

Once I had all my shapes carved, I realized I had some areas I needed to reinforce because the divisions were so thin and the styrofoam so frangible.  One little brush, and several little spheres would break away.  Out of desperation, I turned to duct tape.  This was actually a brilliant solution.  It adhered well, was moderately repositionable if I made a mistake, and was very moldable.  In fact, once I reinforced the problematic areas, I decided to go ahead and cover the entire thing in duct tape for extra security.

This turned out to be a genius move on my part.  Once everything was covered in duct tape, I realized I could move the inserts around with no fear of damaging them or breaking them apart.  Better still, they provided a barrier to the styrofoam, which was a great benefit when I started to contemplate what adhesive I could use to stick silk to the inserts.  Eventually, I decided to go with a spray adhesive, 3M’s “General Purpose 45″ which is photo safe.  On its own, it would have melted the styrofoam, but the duct tape covering prevented that.

Now, I was terrified that I would create a huge mess with the spray adhesive and the silk…and the silk was crazy expensive even after a half-off coupon.  But honestly?  It worked beautifully.  A liberal coating of the adhesive on the insert was enough to hold everything, but not heavy enough to bleed through the fabric.  And the adhesive stayed positionable for several minutes, which let me get everything “just right”.  With all the crazy shapes, there was no way I was every going to get the fabric to lie perfectly straight, but I loved the rumpled look I achieved.  The only tricky bit were the two parts that I let go entirely through the styrofoam:  the cup insert in the first layer, and the “open space” in the second.  I had to cut through the silk and stick the raw sides to the foam, and it looked very messy.  Eventually, it occurred to me to take strips of the scrap, fold it to create a clean edge, glue it to the vertical sides with Fabri-Tac, and then pin the top border with straight pins to ensure everything stayed neat.  It worked like a charm.

I covered a piece of poster board with the silk to line the bottom of the box, and I’m contemplating doing the same to the top with the piece I have left. I also covered the sides and the bottoms of the insert with some felt I had lying around, since it didn’t require hemming any ends.  I used Fabri-Tac and pins to adhere it, since I didn’t want to spoil the silk with overspray from the spray adhesive.

All in all, it looks far better than I thought it would and perfectly solves my tool storage issues.  I don’t have to worry when I transport my tools, and the box is perfect for daily storage, too.  Up to this point, I’d kept a full altar up, and frankly, that’s more bric-a-brac out than I’m comfortable with.  (I am NOT a tchotchke person.)  Now, I can simply keep my devotional altar up for daily purposes:  my deity figures and a couple candles.  I couldn’t be happier!

Making a Magic Box: Stage 2

The box's new finish.  I'm so pleased with how it turned out!

The box’s new finish. I’m so pleased with how it turned out!

Wow, it has been forever and a day since I started this project.  I bought the box on February 3rd, 2014, and I’d been searching for a good one months before that.  Where we last left off, I had removed the original finish completely off the box using 80-grit sand paper and 6 hours of sanding by hand.  At that point, I pretty much abandoned the project.  My arm was killing me after all that sanding, and I thought it would take another 8 hours each to go over it with 120-grit and then 220-grit paper.  And then there was the interior to contend with.  Let me tell you, ripping out 66-year-old silver cloth is no fun.  There was so much disgusting-smelling dust, and then what was left was firmly stuck to the inside with the remaining glue.  I just about wanted to die after I’d finished ripping out what I could.  I had no idea what to do to remove what was stuck on, so I essentially abandoned the project.

But now that I myself am moving, I desperately wanted to get my “large scale” projects done while I still have such things as a back yard and a garage to facilitate the process.  I wish I had taken photographs of my different stages, but as I believed I would firmly screw it all up, I did not want photographic evidence of my failure.  (Also, there was no way I was touching my iPhone with dirty hands.)

First, I finished sanding.  As it turned out, I only had about 45 minutes left of work to do on that front; once the old finish was gone, it was so easy to just go over all the surfaces and smooth things out.  I eventually took the hinges off the box to make sure I sanded in every nook and cranny.

Once that was done, I turned my attention towards cleaning out the inside.  I took a gamble that the glue was waterbased and that I wouldn’t warp the project with a “liberal” application of water…and I essentially filled up the inside of the lid and the main box’s body with a couple of gallons and let it soak for 15 minutes or so.  Then I poured out the water and set to work scraping with a putty knife.  To my eternal amazement, it worked!  I repeated the process about three times in order to get the worst of it off, then I let the box dry for four or five days and took the 80-grit paper to the inside to remove what remained.  To transition off to the next stage, I lightly sanded the outside again with 220-grit, just in case the water raised anything, checked the box for square, and washed the whole thing–inside and out–with mineral spirits to remove all the dust.

After I let the mineral spirits dry off for a day or so, I stained the entire exterior of the box with one coat of Minwax’s dark walnut stain.  I’d originally wanted to stain the whole thing green, but when I went to go buy the stain, I couldn’t find any place local that carried the colors.  Since I wanted to finish the project ASAP, I went with my next choice.  I am very glad the fates conspired against me!  The dark walnut beautifully pulls out all the details of the wood grain and makes the project look timeless.

When I first applied the stain, I thought I’d destroyed the box.  The wood instantly absorbed all the pigment, and even thought I wiped the surfaces down immediately rather than waiting the recommended time, the box was black.  But I decided to roll with it; after all, what’s the worst that would happen?  When the stain dried, I went over the whole exterior with WATCO’s butcher block oil and finish.  Rubbing the oil into the wood actually removed quite a bit of stain and let me see the beautiful grain again, so I was pleased.  I ended up doing about two coats of oil.

After the oil had dried, I was very pleased with the final result, but it still looked very matte.  I decided to do a final “seal” of wax and rubbed Miss Mustard Seed’s Furniture Wax into the wood, which removed a little bit more stain color, gave the project an incredible luster, and makes the wood feel like satin when you touch it. And I am going to take one moment to say how much I love this wax.  It’s just beeswax and carnauba wax, and it’s whipped to the texture of softened butter.  It’s positively luxurious to work with, and it’s one of the best furniture waxes I’ve ever used.

Finally, I taped off the outside of the box and sprayed the interior with Rust-Oleum’s Black Hammered spray paint.  Normally I wouldn’t have used the Hammered product and would have just used a brush and acrylic to apply the paint, but even with all my ministrations, the interior wasn’t “flawless” and I thought the Hammered paint would add enough texture to camouflage my remaining sins.  It took three coats and an entire can to provide enough coverage, but it worked out in the end and I was pleased with the final result.  My housemate then helped me clean up the hinges with some ammonia and re-install them, and voila!  The exterior was (finally!) finished!

The before and the after.

The before and the after.

I can’t believe the difference all that work made.  Though my younger brother says I spent too much time and money to make the box look exactly the same, I think the devil is in the details.  I erased all the damage of the past 66 years.  I smoothed out the gouges and the nicks, and I sanded out the burns.  I got rid of the plastic-y lacquer finish and achieved something that feels “alive” and sensual when you touch it.  And the color is now something that isn’t trying too hard to be elegant.  It could go perfectly well in contemporary, country, or classic decors.  I think I’m going to have this box around for quite a long time.

Pagan Pride Day and Tolerance

This has been a very odd week for me.  I’ve been busy navel-gazing with my own spirituality, preparing for Soma Sidhe’s “performance ritual” at the Central Sound Pagan Pride Day which was this past Saturday, and generally minding my own business.

Pagan Pride Day was certainly interesting.  In between snippits of shopping and getting to know different people in the area, I sat down on a bench to chug some water, rest my feet, and maybe create a new Facebook status update.  But that got waylaid.  My Facebook feed was full of messages from my undergrad friends posting about a high school classmate and friend of theirs.  I won’t post his name here–the last thing he needs at the moment is his name popping up on some Pagan blog–but you’ve heard about him if you’ve seen the news over the past couple days.  He’s the Indiana man who is currently next up on the Islamic State’s beheading block.  He initially went to the Middle East as an Army Ranger, but returned after his honorable discharge to become a humanitarian worker who trained civilians in medical treatment for refugees.  He was captured last October while traveling to eastern Syria as part of his relief work.  During his captivity, he converted to Islam.

But that’s unlikely to keep his head attached to his neck.

It was supremely surreal to learn of this news–and how close I was to it–at an event for religious tolerance and community building.  As I flicked through Facebook and felt my horror escalating, I felt keenly how different life must be in the Middle East.  The CSPPD coordinators had been worried that there would be protesters at our event, given some missives they’d been sent by various other groups in the area and by the events at Antelope Valley’s PPD.  We were worried about yelling people with signs.  In the Middle East, non-Muslims worry about abduction, torture, and death.

That makes our concerns seem like first world problems.

With that in mind, I think we at the PPD missed a real opportunity.  The event was fun–don’t get me wrong.  It was awesome to see so many Pagan and paganish people all in one place and to put faces to names and groups I’d only encountered online or by reputation.  But we didn’t really do anything to strengthen our community other than showing up and buying things.  There just wasn’t space for any meaningful dialogue.  Despite a huge turnout, the workshops, talks, and rituals were underutilized.  For example, there were maybe 6 people at the class on religious tolerance I went to, and the class itself was pretty much just a speech prepared by the leader…a speech I barely heard over the noise of the crowd.

If we’re really going to be the change we need to see in the world, we need the space to start that discussion and to be heard.  There’s not much interfaith infrastructure in Paganism, let alone between Pagan Paths and other religions, so opportunities provided by events such as Pagan Pride Day are few and far between.

From what I experienced this week, we can’t let even one of these opportunities pass us by.

EDIT:  On November 16th, 2014, President Obama confirmed the beheading of this young man.  I do not know how to wrap my head around this pure evil.  I can only try to support my friends who are struggling with the news and hope that Allah moves the hearts of the men who took this action to compassion and repentance.

Samhain Decoration Idea: Wineglass Centerpiece

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I saw this picture online and knew I had to replicate it for the centerpiece of my Samhain dumb supper this year. It’s so simple it takes practically minutes to pull together, but the effect is really quite classy.

What you’ll need are a large platter, an assortment of stem-ware (beer glasses, wine glasses, hurricanes, margarita glasses, etc.  The more varied the shapes and heights, the better), miniature pumpkins and gourds small enough to fit under the glasses, votive candles in a fall color, and clear votive cups (not in this picture). You’ll also want pine cones, acorns, grapes, dried flowers, or some other small-ish item to strew around the glasses on the platter. I think it is important to use votive cups here as the candles will burn down and puddle over an hour or so and make a mess otherwise.

Just place the votives in their cups, place the pumpkins on the tray, up-end a glass over them, and place a votive on the wine’s base. Strew some pinecones between the glasses, light up the candles, and you’re done!