ConVocation 2019

Chesed loving kindness

Convocation 2019: Personal Growth thorough Intentional Kindness

Last week I attended my third ConVocation in Detroit, Michigan, and I had a blast. I didn’t even think about work for four days! I’d also managed to avoid the rounds of strep throat and flu that have been ravaging my school, so I was healthy enough to do everything I wanted. That was a serious blessing, and I took full advantage of it. I can’t believe how much I enjoyed just setting aside normal life for a little bit. I think I need to take more real vacations!

For as much as I enjoyed myself, however, I was a little disappointed by the convention. One of my absolute favorite things to do at ConVocation and similar events is to experience ritual…particularly ritual different from how I usually practice. But ritual was thin on the ground this year. Worse, the few options were reduced further at the last minute by Devin Hunter and Storm Faerywolf’s inability to attend (Devin was ill and Storm’s flight was cancelled…a good thing, as it let him be with Devin when he eventually went to the hospital). In the end, I was only able to actually make one ritual event — the Blue Equinox Oasis’s Gnostic Mass — thanks to cancellations and incredibly poor scheduling by ConVocation’s organizers.

Up until the “dinner block”, ConVo’s event organization is usually nicely regimented. Usually the only fault I can see there is scheduling too many popular events in the same time block. But after five pm, all that organization disappears. Rituals can be scheduled at any time and can be any length. What this means is that if you do want to attend rituals or organized events in the evening, you’re probably going to find that the things you want to do partially overlap by up to an hour. It doesn’t matter if there are nine different options over the course of the evening: unless you decide to stay in one room, there is literally no way to attend more than one event. To me, it would make far more sense to divide the time into two hour blocks and ask ritualists to stay within 1 hour, 50 minutes. That way, participants could move from a 7-9 to a 9-11 spot pretty easily. You could even offer an 11-1 “midnight” slot for the “darker magics” (hah!).

But not only were the evening rituals pretty thin pickings, there were few ritual events offered in the daytime as well. In previous years, there’s usually been at least one ritual or meditative offering in each time slot, but this year it just seemed like it was lecture after lecture after lecture. By the end of ConVocacation, the only thing I attended that even had a meditative component was Literata’s “Aphrodite and Athena” exploration (and it was lovely).

Even though I was itching for more ritual, I did enjoy the events I attended. They were as follows:

  • Opening Ceremony
  • Jason Mankey’s talk “What’s so great about the Great Rite?”
  • Ellen Dugan’s talk “Earth Magick: Getting your hands dirty”
  • Jacki Smith’s talk “Magic = Healing”
  • Ivo Dominguez Jr.’s talk “Ancestralization: A pagan approach”
  • Jason Mankey’s talk “Drawing down the moon: The magick and mystery of deity”
  • Pat Camarena-Rose Barbary’s talk “Tarot intensive: The four suits.”
  • Jason Mankey’s talk “The magick of initiations, elevations, and dedications”
  • Ellen Dugan’s talk “Tarot tips and tricks”
  • Jason Mankey’s talk “So many witches!: The word ‘witch’ in the world today”
  • Blue Equinox Oasis’s Gnostic Mass ritual
  • Masquerade Ball
  • Literata’s talk/meditation “Aphrodite and Athena”
  • Morgana Moonwater’s talk “Magick every damn day”

I actually hadn’t intended on going to all of Jason Mankey’s talks. They were all more or less oral versions of different sections of his latest (and greatest!) book, Transformative Witchcraft. I’ve been reading and re-reading that book ever since its release this January, and didn’t feel a great pull to go through so much of that material orally. I’d only intended to go to his “Great Rite” and “Initiations” talks, but got roped into the other ones by friends. They were all lovely, as per usual, and Jason was a huge hit. Everyone I talked to who went to one of his talks absolutely raved about it.

I was especially pleased to attend Ellen Dugan’s “Earth Magick” talk. I’m feeling more and more of a draw towards herbals and crystals, so her primer was right up my alley. I, however, was utterly charmed by her “Tarot Tips and Tricks” talk, which she volunteered to do on the fly when Storm and Devin were unable to attend. I’ve been reading tarot for some time now, and I was surprised by how many notes I took during her talk. Someone in the room had bought the lone copy of her “Witches Tarot” in the vendor room and she borrowed that deck in her talk. A major side benefit of that was her short asides about creating the deck and some of the individual cards. In just 90 minutes, I felt like I had a much greater appreciation for the structure of the Tarot than I had previously. To top it off, my coven mate got her very first tarot reading ever from Ellen during the course of the class! How cool is that?

Jacki Smith, Ivo Dominguez, Jr., and Literata all had events that touched me fairly profoundly. Jacki’s talk revealed to me that I’m actually not as “okay” with some things regarding my family and father as I thought I was, and that I have a lot of work to do in that area. Ivo’s talk finally helped me to get my mind around the idea of the afterlife and working with spiritual and biological ancestors. My coven mate was practically buzzing during his talk, she enjoyed it so much. And of course, I adored Literata’s exploration of two of my favorite goddesses, and I loved the meditation she led us through.

I was a bit let down by Pat Camarena-Rose Barbary’s “Tarot Intensive”. She attempted to go through all the minor arcana cards in a 90 minute slot…and simple math would have proven that to be highly ambitious. She really only got through two suits, and her talk more or less amounted to reading a PowerPoint…so I could have happily skipped that.

I was also disappointed by Morgana Moonwater’s “Magick Every Damn Day”. I had thought that maybe she’d give a few ideas for integration and lead some practices, but the talk was mostly a ramble about her life. It was charming, but less useful than a structured talk would have been and ultimately a bit boring. I was also concerned about Moonwater’s representation of herself as having “Gardnerian lineage” and speaking of her upline as Gardnerians. During the course of the talk she mentioned her mentor was a Wayland Raven and that he had been “eldered” by Silver Ravenwolf. Silver, however, is not a Gardnerian witch. While Silver does trace a lineage across a few traditions that ultimately connects to Gerald Gardner through Raymond Buckland’s Seax-Wicca, that lineage certainly does not make her a Gardnerian. After the convention, I asked the Gardnerian community for a vouch for Moonwater,  but was unable to find anyone who could do so. Nor could I find anyone in Silver’s Black Forest Tradition who could provide a vouch either for Wayland Raven or Morgana Moonwater. Moonwater seems to be a very capable and talented witch, and I am sure she is a wonderful high priestess for her coven in Flint. But a Gardnerian she is not, and I am sorry that she presents herself in a way that would make one believe she was.

Even with my few disappointments in individual classes and my huge disappointment about the overall lack of ritual opportunity, I had a lot of fun at ConVocation 2019, and I really look forward to next year’s offerings!

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Because “Graphic Organizers” Are My Day Job…

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Man, I was really productive with my snow days! In addition to cleaning all the things in my house, doing some organizing, freshening up my ritual space, and hacking two tarot decks to bits, I was able to put together the finishing touches on a tarot workbook for my coven and get the “first edition” printed out and spiral bound.

I’m not really sure how I got started with this project. A few months ago, we’d loosely debated getting a tarot coloring book to augment our year of major arcana study. I think that may have been the start of it. I remember being impressed with some of the options I’d found, like Theresa Reed’s book and Diana Heyne’s. But I knew that I personally didn’t want to have my colored pictures in one book and my notes in another. I am all about keeping my project materials organized in one place. Eventually, I realized that the RWS images were now in the public domain, and that several people across the Internet had created black and white line versions. I figured I would just print off a deck’s worth at some point after work and pop them into a binder with some notebook paper and call it a day.

At some point, my day job crossed over into my mental headspace. For whatever reasons there may be, my high school juniors and seniors don’t really understand how to take notes. I do a ton of work with them to help develop these skills (after all, college is right around the corner), but when we’re slogging through a big text, most of them get overwhelmed. I guess the process of deciding what’s important about a big concept and how to usefully organize your thoughts about it can seem like a Herculean task if you’re not practiced in it, so I’ve taken to “chunking” out things the students should pay attention to in various chapters and creating “graphic organizers” that do at least the “what should I write and were should I put it” for the kids.

When my coven started solidifying out our study plan for this year and I started to think about yet another trip through the major arcana, I realized that I was starting to picture the notes I wanted to take as a graphic organizer. (I have drunk my own Kool-Aid. Send help.) So I jotted down the things I thought would be important to a study, put them into a flow that I thought would help cultivate intuition along with internalization, and created a draft. And because I’m a writer who highly values the editing process, I solicited a round of feedback from my HP and HPS, tweaked the draft, and then sent that out to some professional readers of my acquaintance for final input before nailing it down.

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I’m pretty pleased with what I came up with. The first page gives you a picture to refer to and color if you choose, and it asks you to record your first impressions of the card before asking you to describe the image objectively. Then it brings subjectivity into play as it asks you to describe the character’s mood or the emotional atmosphere of the scene. The next page asks you to catalog all the elements you see as symbolic and to posit what those symbols mean.

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When you flip to the third page, you get challenged to consider the card’s structure. What could the positive and negative associations of the card mean? How does the card’s number (for the majors and the pips) or rank (for the court cards) influence the card? How does the suit, element, or mode impact it? And because A. E. Waite consciously structured his deck around astrology and the kabbalah, there’s space to consider those influences, too, if they float your boat. Once you’ve got all that sorted, you’ve probably got a good idea of what that card means to you, so the fourth page has you record your meaning and pull out reference keywords. Then it challenges you to consider what an inversion of that image could mean and gives you the opportunity to pull out reference keywords for that, too.

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The last two pages challenge you to apply your newly constructed meanings to a context situation (readings about romantic relationships, non-romantic relationships, career, finances, spiritual issues, heath, and creativity…the most common question categories you’re likely to get from querents). And then, finally, you get some space to jot down other things you learn about the card from discussion and additional study.

I like it all right, and my beta readers were very enthusiastic and asked for copies, too. So I’ll probably throw a downloadable version up somewhere here once I get another block of “free time” to make pages for the minor arcana. I’d also like to clean up the “how do I use this workbook?” forward that I rushed and make it a bit more accessible.

So yeah! That’s how I spent my snow days.

 

 

 

Adventures in Deck Modding

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A standard Robin Wood tarot deck, and a modified Robin Wood tarot deck. Hacking off borders and coloring the card edges certainly changes the flavor a bit.

This past fall, I realized that without teacher grad school in my life, I pretty much only saw 17- and 18-year-olds all day long. I did not like what that was doing to my brain, so I started taking a tarot class in Indy to get more interaction with adults. It’s been a great experience that I will have to write more about at some point, but today the name of the game is something they exposed me to: deck modding.

All deck modding really amounts to is hacking the borders off your cards, rounding the corners off, and coloring the sides. The more artistically talented (or adventurous) go further to enhance the images with various paints and gilding. It’s not exactly rocket science or even all that destructive to a deck, but when I first learned about modding, I was scandalized. Why would anyone want to remove card borders? They’re literally there to protect the images against damage from repeated shuffling. Take a look at a well-loved tarot deck: the edges will be all nicked and scuffed. I just couldn’t wrap my head around why someone would want to go through all that tedium only to essentially weaken the card. So when the class decided to devote a couple weeks to modifying decks, I happily skipped.

But the next class I attended, I was utterly charmed by all the modified decks. I was surprised by now nice the borderless cards looked and how the images seemed to “pop” more against the reading cloths. For the most part, the cards were a good bit easier to shuffle, too, with a quarter inch shaved off every side. I soon thereafter picked up a spare Robin Wood and a Universal Waite and decided to play around with deck modification when I had some free time.

Well that time certainly arrived with the cold weather. When I wasn’t organizing the heck out of my house, I was curled up on the couch drinking cocoa, watching Netflix, and hacking away at two decks of cards.

Some of the tarot ladies mentioned they had used a Fiskars sliding trimmer to make their cuts. I just happened to have one, and it was a cinch to pick up a great corner rounder. So I blissfully worked my way through a couple movies and my Universal Waite “test deck”. I was beyond pleased with the final trimmed and rounded result…but then it came time to edge them.

To edge a deck, you basically take a Sharpie or other indelible marker of your choice and run it around each card edge individually. If you try to do the entire stack at once, ink will bleed between the cards. I wasn’t prepared, however, to see so much bleeding on individually edged cards. Because I used black ink, it doesn’t look bad per se — more like the edges have been charred — but it still wasn’t an effect I was expecting.

After a close examination of the cards, I think I diagnosed the problem. A sliding trimmer is a fantastic tool for accurate cuts, but it operates by dragging the corner of a razor through paper. It makes a very clean, sharp cut for paper, but the cuts get a little ragged once you start moving into cardstock. Tarot cards are laminated cardstock, which are thicker still. The ragged edges were not obvious until I rounded the corners of the deck. Once I had the entire deck together, I was able to see that the rounded corners were thinner than the edges of the deck were. Unfortunately, this means that the sliding trimmer slightly pulls the two sides of the card away from each other and creates an edge that is wider than the card itself. This means that more of the paper between the lamination is exposed to the ink, which allows it to soak in more and lets it wick through the card. The black bleeding is especially obvious on the corner of the Fool card pictured above with its white sun. As you can see, the only place that didn’t bleed on that card was the more cleanly cut corner.

I very much wanted to avoid the bleeding edges for the Robin Wood deck, for I almost exclusively read with that deck and wanted it to look as professionally trimmed as possible. So I acquired a guillotine-style trimmer, which slices cleanly through paper of any thickness with a long blade attached to a chopping arm. I picked up a small-scale guillotine at the local craft store. It worked beautifully, made exceptionally clean cuts, and was dead easy to use. After five cards, though, I realized that the cutting arm wasn’t properly attached and was cutting everything at a slight angle. I ended up returning it and used long-bladed scissors to finish trimming the deck.

I think the scissors ended up being the easiest to operate, and they made just as clean of a cut as the guillotine. If my blades had been shorter, I don’t think I would have been able to cut as evenly, so it is probably worth it to get some properly big scissors for this job. It’s also probably not a great idea to try to trim all your cards in one sitting: I’ve got a broken blister at the base of my right thumb now that is taking its sweet time to heal.

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The Ace of Hearts: unmodified. Ace of Wands: borders cut off. Ace of Swords: borders cut off and corners rounded. Ace of Pentacles: borders cut off, corners rounded, and edges colored black.

I was incredibly surprised by how much the deck appearance changed at each step of the process. Without rounded corners, the trimmed deck seemed amateurish to me, but the simple step of corner rounding made it seem intentional. The black edging also hid all the random colors peeking through the edges of the borderless cards and really made the final product look sharp. There was exceptionally little edge bleeding with the Robin Wood deck, and I think it now looks like it was always supposed to have been trimmed this way.

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Well, almost. The Robin Wood deck has these banners at the base of all the Major Arcana cards that display the name and number of each card. The banners run off the artwork and into the white border. Most of these banners were relatively unaffected by the trimming and rounding, but some of them were really obviously clipped. The worst of them were Justice, The Tower, and The Moon. The Moon and Justice both lose an entire “1” off their left hand 11 and 18! Aside from that unfortunate issue, however, the final cards look wonderful…and they’re *so* much easier for me to shuffle now that they are smaller!

 

Occupying Myself in the Polar Vortex

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I am including this screenshot entirely for the purpose of annoying Mario.

We in the American Midwest had ourselves a polar vortex last week, and it got cold enough here in Indiana for my local school systems to have a 2-hour delay on Tuesday and completely cancel on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. As a teacher, this meant that I finally had time to devote to all the random projects that never get done around the house…and part of that for me was refreshing my ritual room.

Long story short, Marie Kondo would be very proud of me.

I don’t really have much in the way of good “before” pictures as my ritual room is actually smaller than some walk-in closets I had been blessed with in my pre-2008 days, which makes it hard to photograph. (You don’t want to even think of the contortions I had to pull to snap these.) But all that I had in there were a couple book cases and a big, circular table plunked right in the center. I did throw up some Ikea Hoppvals blinds on the window when I first moved in and slung a bee prayer flag that I’d gotten from Alley Valkyrie over them, but that was about it.

Doing ritual in the space was really nice at first, and I loved it so much for a long while. I’d never had a full ritual room before, and not having to move all the furniture before ritual meant I did a lot more ritual. But after a few months, I realized that my room was still a bit too small to have a central altar. I really had to be careful of my movement in the space, lest I bump into candlesticks or crash into pottery.

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The after with my re-habbed dresser altar, loads of my favorite art, and a ubiquitous fiddle-leaf fig. It’s covering up the access panel to my bathroom plumbing. Please ignore the crumbling plaster under the window…it’s on my landlord’s (long) to-do list.

So I fixed up a trashed dresser, stuck it in the middle of a wall and deemed it my new altar. I loved the space and extra storage it gave me, but when I stepped back and looked at it, I thought it made my art look like it was hung too low. Instead of messing with re-hanging pictures, I added to the collection by digging the rest of my tiles I got from Barbarian Studios in Eugene, Oregon out of storage and popping them above the pictures. If you look closely, you’ll see the tiles represent the Sabbats. There’s a Brigid’s cross for Candlemas, a version of the Lover’s tarot card for Beltane, a winter/spring/summer/autumn tree tile to represent the equinoxes and solstices, a wreath of grain for Lammas, and a skull for Samhain. This is the first I’ve been able to display that whole collection, and I love it!

I’m not really a plant person, but I’ve got a huge plumbing access panel right next to that dresser, and for some inexplicable reason, my landlord thought that it would look amazing painted white. (It does not.) The panel is almost the same height as the white dresser, and it looked a bit weird. The fiddle-leaf fig does a great job of disguising the panel, and it is so on trend. By that point, I figured I might as well go full millennial cliché and set up a salt lamp under that chair and spread a honeycomb jute rug on the floor.

I really love the set up and it makes me smile every time I go in the room. It is also wonderful to have all the floor space to move around in! Ritual is so much more fun, and I’ve even started to do some yoga in that room now rather than in my spidery basement…which is not a bad change at all.

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I actually made my bookshelves look nice! I’m not convinced I’ve landed on the right candlestick storage solution. I use the black ones on my floor in ritual to mark the quarters, but I have to admit that sticking them next to that gold frog makes it look like I worship Kermit.

The decorating is nice, but the real Marie Kondo love would come with all the decluttering work I put into my bookshelves and closet in the room. Over the course of the last five moves, I have drastically reduced the number of books I own. I maybe have about a quarter of my original collection, so I didn’t think I would have much more that I would want to purge. Hah! I definitely filled up a whole box with volumes that no longer sparked joy for me. And I thanked an entire shelf’s worth of binders and notes from teacher grad school for their service and released them to a recycling bin…because, to be honest, I didn’t even reference them when I was taking the classes. The shelves also tended to accumulate the random bric-a-brac that kids and acquaintances gave me…and it was so freeing to eliminate all of those items and keep only the things that really meant something to me.

For those of you squinting away trying to see my witchy library…good luck. Those books are behind the cabinet doors. And funnily enough, I didn’t find much there that didn’t spark joy. Imagine that.

Marie would utterly lose her mind, though, if she saw the before and after of my closet. I didn’t even think to take a picture of the before, and I don’t see the point in posting the after of the closet…but the entire thing was completely full of occult paraphernalia that I had been saving “just in case”. Some of that had been following me around the country since high school! I even found a tin of incense that I had purchased from a Karma Records while standing in line to buy tickets for an Alanis Morissette concert I went to in middle school. I’m pretty sure that incense was old enough to legally drink in the US…which is all kinds of scary. Well, with the exception of statuary storage and yoga supplies, that closet is now empty. Utterly mindblowing.

Apparently the secret to organizing success is to be snowed in for three days.

My Winter Reading

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I haven’t been this excited for the arrival of an Amazon order in ages. I’m going to try to get loads of work done over the next couple days so that I can take the weekend to read, drink tea, and bake bread.

Hoosier Wiccan hygge, y’all.

Review: Mighty Molds 6-inch Taper Candle Mold

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The mold and four of the candles it produces.

I do love making candles, and the process of making them certainly doesn’t require any great skill…but that doesn’t mean it is complication free. With making molded tapers — the type I make and use most frequently — there are a whole litany of annoyances. The molds can be tricky to wick if you don’t have the appropriate tool. They have a high center of gravity for the size of their base, so they can tip over with the slightest nudge. They are a pain in the neck to clean, since it’s practically impossible to scrub out all traces of leftover wax. And, of course, trace amounts of wax left in the mold means that subsequent batches are far more likely to stick in the mold than those made with new or scrupulously cleaned molds. If you attempt to get a stuck candle to release, you can end up with a marred finish, a cracked candle, or — if you’re strong and clueless enough — you can even pull a wick clean out of the candle and be forced to melt the wax out of the mold. Silicone sprays can lubricate things a bit, but thanks to the long, thin cavity, you end up with an uneven application…not to mention trace silicone on the candle. It’s also ridiculously easy to over pour the candles as you can’t see very far into them while pouring, and that usually means wax pools and drips that flake off and stick to everything.

So when I came across Mighty Molds and saw their innovative prototype design, I was intrigued. Unlike most silicone taper molds, which are basically cast individually in solid “tubes”, Mighty Molds has created a series of interlocking layers that peel entirely apart. This means it is incredibly easy to remove the finished candles and to keep the mold clean. It also eliminates the need for any mold racks, for the entire mold is self-supporting and impossible to tip over. It certainly appeared to me that this mold had the promise to make casual candle making far more consistent and enjoyable for hobbyists like myself, but I was not able to find much information on the product from users outside the company. So I contacted the Mighty Molds Team to see if they would let me review the mold, and to my delight they agreed! The mold arrived a couple weeks later.

I’m not a sucker for packaging, and normally wouldn’t make a fuss over “unboxing”, but I have to say…I was pretty pleased by the recycling-friendly packing philosophy. I suppose part of that is the nature of this particular product. After all, it is pretty hard to destroy a silicone brick in shipping. So all they needed was some air fillers to space out the box, a sheet of instructions, and a wrapping of brown paper to keep everything clean.

I was also very thankful to see that the mold arrived completely assembled. This allowed me to easily see how to position and wrap the Velcro band that “ties” all the layers of the mold together, as well as how tight to make it. After all, if you make it too loose, there’s really no point at all in even using it. Conversely, if it is too tight, the top and bottom ends will actually bow out a bit and allow wax to creep between the layers.

The mold also came with one taper cavity wicked in each layer. This proved to be invaluable later on when I went to figure out how to wick the mold…but more on that later.

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As you can see here, what makes Mighty Molds so innovative is their modular system. Silicone candle molds have been around for ages, and they’re not particularly hard to make. But most molds are all one piece. When you make a cut or a split in a mold, such as what I had to do with my spiral taper molds, you have to be very careful to fit the mold together perfectly and reinforce it very well, or the “join” will be incredibly obvious. If you do it especially poorly, the mold could even leak. Mighty Molds, however, has embraced the split and has made the fitting practically foolproof by making layers with male and female sides. As you can hopefully see in the above photo, the left end cap has raised male sections along each side of a cavity. These sections fit into corresponding female holes in the left side of the middle section. On the right side of the middle section are more male bits, which fit into the holes on the right end cap.

The especially cool part about this design is that — in theory at least — you have the potential to continue to add to your mold as your production needs (or desires) increase. You could potentially start off with just a male and female end cap, which would make 4 candles. Each “Mighty Multiplier” middle section added thereafter would allow you to make an additional four. You could also subtract Multipliers if you wanted to make fewer candles. However, for right now, Mighty Molds does not sell individual Mighty Multipliers nor does it recommend subtracting Multipliers from your mold set up. I think that perhaps the former might be because they are still standardizing their mold design, so subsequent multipliers might not exactly match up, and the latter is likely because you would need a different sized strap if you used additional or fewer Multipliers, and Mighty Molds does not currently sell additional straps.

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The hardest part of using these molds, at least for me, was getting them wicked. With a standard silicone tube mold, the wicking process requires the use of something called a “wicking needle”, which is basically just a 15-inch long needle. You thread that needle with your wicking, stick the needle in the hole at the bottom of the mold, and thread it through. It takes maybe 20 seconds, start to finish.

The Mighty Mold, however, does not have a wicking hole. Instead, a little slit is cut on the inside of the mold, and you sort of “tuck” the wicking into the slit. It’s not a hard process, but there is a bit of a learning curve and I ultimately found it a bit fiddly. In trying to figure out how I’d wick the mold, the fact that two wells came pre-wicked was a godsend. I studied the wicked mold  shown above for ages trying to sort out the best way to do it.

For my first batch, I tried to use the blunt end of a tapestry needle to tuck the wicks into the slits. It took forever since I kept either impaling the wick or having the wick roll off the tip of the needle. In my second batch, I realized I needed a wider edge. I thought about using a flat-head screwdriver as that long, flat edge would help keep the wick from rolling off the edge. However, I was worried the square edges of the screw driver would tear the mold. I also worried about the thickness of the screwdriver wedge loosening the slit over time, so I wanted as thin a “poker” as I could find. After a solid rummage through all my cupboards for something appropriately thin and “blunt-but-round”, I happened upon a set of hair clips used to temporarily hold sections of hair while you’re styling or to pin curls while they cool. I used a screwdriver to pry the top part off one of these pins and ended up with something close to my ideal “wick poker”.

This worked far better to tuck the wicks into the slot, though I still struggled to keep the wick from rolling off to one side. In the end, the process I worked out was to fold the wick over the tip of my “poker”, and sort of crease it to hold it better. Then I positioned it against the slot as best as I could and eased it in. The friction against the silicone holds the wick in place nicely, so it doesn’t pull out when you remove the poker. And I do have to say, there is something incredibly satisfying about correctly seating the wick.

The Mighty Molds are only wicked on the male sides, so there’s no risk of ending up with two wicks in a candle. Once you’ve got your wells wicked, I found it was easiest to assemble the mold by first laying the wicked male end cap flat on my surface. I then checked to make sure the wicking was laying flat in the wells (and not crossing over into the seam), then taking my Mighty Multiplier and laying the female side over the male end cap. It seamlessly locked into place, and I repeated that process with my female end cap.

The different layers hold together so well, I thought I might not even need to strap them shut…but strap them I did. Mighty Molds does say that with enough use, the Velcro strap more or less becomes permanently “kinked” at the corners of the mold, which makes placement fairly easy…but mine was new. I found that if I lined up the seam at the buckle end with a corner, however, I got perfect placement every time.

Once the mold is assembled, all that is left is to pin the wicks to center them and pour the wax. I opted to use standard-sized bobby pins for this round, entirely because I had a full package on my work table. I thought that the mold wells would be spaced too closely together for me to use them, but I found that when I set them on a diagonal, they spaced out just fine. I also found that I could definitely get the wicks plenty taut for pouring without any risk of the mold coming unwicked, which was a huge plus. I am a little worried that the wick slot won’t hold as strongly on my 50th use of the mold as it does on the 5th…but that is to be determined sometime in the future.

A very unexpected bonus of the Mighty Mold was how clean it made the pouring process.  The actual candle mold stops a good inch or so below the mold’s surface. A little “well” flares out from the candle base. I did, at first, think this was a rather silly part of the mold design since it meant that, unless you were a very precise pourer, you’d end up having to trim your candle bases.

You will have to trim your candle bases, but the beauty of these wells means that your over pour doesn’t end up pooling on your surface or dripping down the sides of your mold. It made for some of the cleanest pouring I’ve ever done. It also helped to ensure a very easy job when it came to “topping up” the molds with additional wax once the candles had begun to set and shrink up. I am a definite convert to the recessed opening.

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I did notice that heat doesn’t dissipate as quickly as it does with the individual tube molds. This makes a lot of sense as there’s a lot of candles fairly close together in the Mighty Mold, so there’s a lot greater mass of hot wax in a smaller area with it. That does slow down the “time to release”, though. With those four spiral taper molds you see of to the side in the picture above, I can safely remove the candle about a half hour or so after I pour. In the batch above, I’d actually let both sit for about 45 minutes (or one episode of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, to be precise). I did notice that the sides of the Mighty Mold were still warm, but decided to risk unmolding anyway. It isn’t terribly evident in the photo, but the candle shafts were soft enough that even though they were set, they were still pliable. Even though they easily removed, I had to be very careful to not bend the candles.

In a traditional mold, these candles would obviously not have been able to be removed. I was able to do so with the Mighty Mold, but it was a delicate process to avoid bending the candles. Therefore, I would recommend waiting until the sides of the mold were completely cool before unmolding. I generally found that the candles were cool enough to unmold after about 90 minutes, but I think two hours would make it foolproof.

One removed from the mold, the candle bottoms do need to be trimmed. I found that the easiest way to do so was to heat up the blade of a cheap, non-serrated knife and to just slice through the join. After each cut, I wiped residual wax off the blade using a paper towel, then reheated the knife before I made the next cut. In my opinion, the cut ends of the candle were neat enough that I didn’t feel it necessary to do my frying pan trick (lining a pan with aluminum foil, heating it, and running the butt end of the candle over the foil to lightly melt the wax), though doing so did make for a prettier final appearance.

There is a fair bit of “wasted” wax in the cut stubs, but it is easy to pull the extra wick out of the remaining wax stub, which made a clean job of recycling the wax for a future candlemaking session. When the stubs were larger or the wick more stubborn, it was simple enough to slice along side the wick and tug it out sideways.

I have to say, the Mighty Mold comes incredibly close to being my ideal candle mold. Nothing beats its ease of release, and it was a total dream to clean up. After each batch of candles, I could inspect each well half for residual wax. It took all of a few seconds to heat any wax spots up with a hair dryer or heat gun and use a paper towel to dab away the melted wax. When I was all finished with my batches for the day, each half cleaned right up with hot water and dish soap. I blotted them dry with paper towels (I did find that a cotton dish towel left some lint behind), then let them air dry overnight. I could not identify any remaining wax the next morning, which was a total coup.

The only major point of criticism I have for this mold was that I found them comparatively difficult to wick. Even after I had worked out the process with my hair clip “poker”, it was still a fiddly business. I timed the process when I did my third round with the mold and had “perfected” my wicking technique, and found that it took me twenty three minutes to wick eight wells. While I did have some wells wicked within 30 seconds, I struggled for several minutes on others. As I mentioned previously, I can have one of my standard molds wicked in about 20 seconds…and then I don’t have to do it again at all in subsequent batches, provided I measure out enough wicking to ensure a clean “pull through”.

At first, I thought that perhaps Mighty Molds chose not to use a hole wicking system because of how close to the edge of the mold that hole would fall. If someone were very aggressive, they could rip that wick straight through the silicone when wicking or removing. But honestly, I probably came closer to damaging the mold when trying to stab the wick into the silicone slit than I would have if threading it through a hole. I then thought that perhaps Mighty Molds was trying to avoid the customer needing a specialty wicking needle. But because these molds allow you access to the full length of the candle, there’s no need for a special wicking needle. As you can see, there’s plenty of room to poke through a regular blunt tapestry needle (available at practically every craft, yarn, or sewing store) and pull it through safely in the well.

I do think a threading hole as opposed to the slit would have also helped solve four minor issues I had:

  • I experienced minor flashing (wax escaping through the mold join) on two of my test runs. The flashing was only around the bell tip of the candle. I did notice that having the doubled over length of 2/0 wicking that I used did leave a sizeable “bump” in the silicone, and I think that bump was the likely cause of the imperfect seal.
  • Having to poke the wick into the silicone loosened the braiding of the wick, which left some fraying at the top of each candle I made, as shown above. Unfortunately, the amount of wicking that gets tucked into the slit is only about a half-inch as is…which is just about the amount you want to leave for lighting. If I’d trimmed the fray away, my candle might not have had enough wick left to light.
  • On several candles, the wick wasn’t centered in the candle at all. This was especially obvious given the bell-style tip, which naturally points your eye to a single central point. When the wick isn’t at that point, it’s easy to see.
  • The wick slit didn’t fully close around the wick in many candles, which led to some light flashing around the wick in the finished candle. That flashing did come off fairly easily with a light brushing, though.

Between the issues of wick fray, uncentered placement, and flashing around the wick, I felt that there were only about three candles in the 24 I made in my test batches that I felt were cosmetically acceptable to sell. Luckily for me, I don’t intend to go into the candlemaking business anytime soon, so that wasn’t much of a deal breaker, and the issues didn’t impact the burn much, if at all.

The only other quibble I had with this mold was in the size of the candle it makes. Mighty Molds is still working on perfecting their mold, and they’ve chosen to do their testing with a classic “household” style taper. A household taper is almost always a 6-inch long, 3/4-inch wide cylinder with a tapered “bell” top. In the days before electric lighting was common (at least in the servant’s quarters), these were candles made out of cheap waxes that could be bought in boxes of 50 or so and were intended to be used by household staff to get another 3-4 hours of light to work by at the end of the day. The shorter size meant you could get your work closer to the light more easily, and the smaller 3/4 inch diameter made it easier to wedge the candle into the holder socket without cleaning out any remaining wax from the previous use. Today, almost all taper candle holders are sized for the wider 7/8-inch diameter “dinner tapers”. We tend to clean these up after using them, which means that it will be tricky to get these smaller diameter household tapers to stay upright in a standard holder. I tend to use “taper tacky” (beeswax softened with a bit of oil) to build a foundation for these candles to sit in, but melted wax or candle adhesive would be fine, too. All of these methods work well, but are a bit annoying. I don’t think too many casual consumers of candles would want to fiddle with making this smaller size work for their candleholders.

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As the mold that Mighty Molds sent me was a review mold, they took the opportunity to beta-test a new male joiner on me. In the photo above, the low-profile male join is the new beta design, and the more raised version is the current standard design. They did ask me to let them know which I preferred.

To be honest, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Both models joined very well with very little effort. With the beta design, all I had to do was lightly drag the female side over the male surface, and it just sort of “tugged” itself into place. I did have to more conscientiously line up the standard design and push the female side onto the male side, but it wasn’t difficult in the least. In fact, I felt I preferred it. I’m sure it was entirely psychological, but it felt like snapping Legos together. When they were joined, I didn’t question it. But I found myself positioning and repositioning the beta side over and over again because I didn’t trust I’d made the join.

If you take a moment to look at the wells on both the beta and standard designs, you’ll see that the beta mold is situated a bit closer to the candle’s center than the standard design, which is a bit off to one side. This meant that the bell point in the beta mold was a little wider than the standard. It was just a fraction of a degree different, but that fraction made a huge difference in being able to wick the mold. It took me about half the time to wick the beta version than it did the standard version. I think it was because I had just enough field of vision on the beta to not make that poke entirely blind, so my accuracy was better.

I think that if Mighty Molds continues to use the slit method for wicking this mold, the beta version would probably be the better choice for ease of use. It does, however, make that slit even closer to the edges of the mold, which could also increase the probability of tearing. I think it would probably be a better overall choice to keep the larger male joiners and keep the well more “off center” and to just switch to a threaded wicking system.

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I certainly did enjoy all the candles I made with the molds, and I found that my test rounds with beeswax and 2/0 braided wicking created perfectly dripless candles with a nice bright, tall flame. In fact, I think I could have sized the wick down to a 3/0 for better overall performance as the flame was a bit on the big side.

I definitely recommend the Mighty Molds for anyone interested in taking up candle making. The current wick system will likely annoy anyone used to threading silicone molds, but the payoff in release and ease of cleaning is totally worth it. I think that once Mighty Molds expands their candle line into more forms than household tapers and “dragon eggs”, they’ll have an unstoppable product.

If they do ever diversify their taper line, I know that I’d certainly buy:

  • 7/8-inch diameter tapers with rounded tips. I’d probably go for one “short” size, like 6 or 8 inches, and one “long” size, like 10 or 12 inches.
  • Half-inch diameter tapers (a.k.a. skinny tapers, tiny tapers, or half-size tapers) are becoming more and more popular, and I’d love molds for them, too. In fact, I actually tried to make a mold for 7-inch long skinny tapers this summer…but it was a total failure. Almost all cracked when I went to de-mold them.
  • Spiral tapers. Everyone oohs and ahhs whenever I give them a pair of spirals, and they are a royal pain to make. Frankly, they’d be a stellar application for the Mighty Mold system since they practically require a split mold anyway.
  • “Chime candles”. I have been in the market for a mold for these 4-inch tall, 1/2-inch wide jobs for ages. No one seems to offer them (likely because you can buy five of those candles for a dollar), but I’d still love to make my own.

A girl can dream, right?

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UPDATE (1/7/19): Mighty Molds re-worked their wicking system after I initially published this review, and they have subsequently released a new, threaded wicking system with their molds. I hereby dub them the best candle molds in all the land! Looks like I better start saving for their line expansion!

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I stole this image from Mighty Molds’ Facebook…I don’t think they’ll mind. 🙂

Review: Crafted Artisan Meadery’s “Planet of the Grapes”

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Crafted’s label for their Planet of the Grapes mead.

I have a tendency to hoard bottles of Crafted Artisan Meadery‘s creations. Sometimes they end up as a ritual offering…but sometimes I break into the stash to cheer myself up on an otherwise boring, mundane day. I recently had a weekend that needed to be spent doing all sorts of pushed-back projects and deep cleaning that have to wait until a school break, and I was not very happy. So I decided to pair my mundane domestic duties with the mead that embodies the American everyday: a peanut butter and jelly mead.

I’m not going to lie…this was not a mead that I thought I would care for. I was the weird child that detested peanut butter, and even today it’s not something I voluntarily eat. I’ve also had more than my fair share of Concord grape wine, since they’re practically the only grapes that grow in Pennsylvania, where my family is from. Trading bottles of homemade Concord grape or elderberry wine at Christmas is a time-honored tradition in that region…as is giving them to the kids to drink. Today, I quite find the stuff too sweet and syrupy to swallow.

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Doesn’t that look pretty? I can’t take credit for the picture…I found it on the Internet. Alas, I drank all mine before I thought to snap a picture or twelve.

Well, I perhaps may enjoy peanut butter and jelly more than I thought, for I downed the entire bottle in alarmingly short order. Syrupy this mead is not. It had a medium body, but retained a nice, sharp crispness that was only enhanced by the light carbonation Crafted has in all their session meads. The nose is intensely peanutty with some background traces of plummy fruits and florals, but the first sip presents as a solid floral mead that yields softly to classic grape jelly with notes of bread. The lingering taste is solidly honey, butter, grape jelly, and peanut. I’ve not eaten many PB & Js in my day, but the taste is close to what I remember, if slanted more to the J. In fact, it reminded me (pleasantly) of jelly toast made in my childhood with jelly someone had “contaminated” with peanut butter…just a nice, solid “hit” of peanut without it becoming overwhelming.

Overall, I found it to be incredibly drinkable, with high marks on the nostalgia factor. And with a 6.00% ABV, it certainly made my day of domestic chores far more bearable (and interesting!). And it looks like I can enjoy it whenever I want! While “Planet of the Grapes” began life as a limited release flavor, it — like my beloved “Bananas Foster Forever” — has subsequently become popular enough to be promoted to Crafted’s year-round session line up.