Mead Vocabulary 101

Over the past few months, I’ve decided that my tea total ways needed some loosening. It is downright embarrassing to be out with a bunch of friends and have no idea what to order other than college standbys like rum and Coke. So I’ve been on a mission to explore alcohol, primarily wines and scotches. This mission also led me to stock up on an assortment of meads for circle. Because what is more stereotypically pagan than mead in your ritual cup?

Well those explorations have taught me that I dearly love mead. It also exposed me to a ton of rather confusing new vocabulary. So I thought I’d share my learnings a) so I can archive my own notes in case I forget in the future and b) to shorten the learning curve of anyone else interested in drinking more mead.

mead flight

A major benefit of visiting a meadery is the ability to try a “flight” of different types. This image comes from California’s Golden Coast Mead, If you are visiting me in Indiana, there’s New Day Craft Mead and Hard Cider in Indianapolis and Misbeehavin’ Meads in Valparaiso (near Chicago). Right across the Michigan border from Valpo is Black Dragon Meadery. There’s also Hedgegrove Meadery and Winery down south near Evansville, but they were hit by a tornado in March 2017 and are not currently producing.

If you’re in the pagan world, you’ve probably already heard about mead and probably know that it is a wine-like alcoholic beverage made from honey. And you may have even tried some before. But if you have tried one mead…you have tried one mead. The various brewers make all sorts of styles ranging from the intensely sweet, intensely fruity varieties to styles so dry and metallic, you might think you’ve licked a cast iron pan. The world of mead is far more like the world of craft beer: it is one that thrives on exploration, for there is so much variety that there truly is a mead for every taste.

Part of the variety is due to honey varietals. Just like pinot noir grapes make a very different wine than merlot grapes, so too does orange blossom honey make a different mead than clover. Or blueberry. Or goldenrod. Or buckwheat. Or fill in your favorite plant here. If you ever have a chance to visit an apiary, they will probably have dozens of varietals for you to try, and you’ll very quickly see that the taste of the flower has a huge impact on the taste of the honey. (By the way, if you ever have a chance to try goldenrod honey, jump on it. That is phenomenal stuff.) Another part of the variety is the alcohol and carbonation levels. In general, still meads (no carbonation) drink more like a wine. They tend to be a little drier and much more alcoholic (12% or more). Session meads (some carbonation), on the other hand, drink more like a beer. They are usually a little lighter tasting due to the carbonation, and they are sweeter and smoother due to the lower alcohol concentration (generally 6 percent or higher). Rules of course can be broken, and it is possible to find low-alcohol stills and high alcohol sessions.

Mead Varieties

This infographic can be purchased as a poster from Groennfel Meadery.

Meads also have other categories beyond still and session. Some of these categories tell a bit about the proportions of the three major ingredients in mead: honey, water, and yeast. Traditional or show meads typically use between 3 and 4 pounds of honey for every gallon of water. Great mead or sack mead has a higher ratio of honey, typically 5 pounds or more per gallon, and yields a sweet, dessert wine. Great meads are designed to be aged for several years, as a whisky or wine might be. Hydromels, in contrast, are ‘fast drinkers’ and can use as little as 1 pound of honey per gallon of water, though they will frequently be between 2-3 pounds. All of these can be made with honey alone, and therefore their unique tastes will be due to the honey. If using a unique ‘single varietal’ honey, sticking with a plain traditional, great, or hydromel would be the best choice.

However, meads are frequently flavored with other things, and additional vocabulary tells you what the flavorings are. Melomels add fruit to the traditional mix. A blueberry melomel made with blueberries will definitely taste like the blueberries you eat, but a blueberry traditional will actually be made from blueberry honey and will therefore have the anise and ginger notes of that honey rather than the berry notes of the fruit. There are certain sub-categories of melomels, the two most important being pyments, which use wine grapes and are therefore sort of a cross between a standard wine and a mead, and cysers, which use fresh-pressed apple or pear cider and are therefore sort of a cross between a hard cider and a mead.

Methegens, in contrast, rely on spices or herbs to bring additional flavor to the standard honey/water/yeast blend. If you wanted a traditional mead to have cinnamon notes, you would have to use a honey like star thistle that has some of these notes present, and even then they would be subtle. If you wanted the cinnamon to be prominent, you would add it as a methegen flavoring. As with melomels, methegens have some subcategories, but the most important one is the blossomel, which will use dried flowers to further flavor the mead. Lavender and jasmine can be especially delicious, and hops have become very popular as of late. Rose has been used since the time of the Romans and even has its own special name, rhodomel.

Finally, there’s a collection of names for meads that get additional sugars from non-fruit sources. The most common world wide is the braggot, where grain is infused into water as in the first steps of making a beer. The grain sugars can give braggots a malty taste. In North America, the most natural pairing is maple syrup with the honey to make an acerglyn or acer. The honey could even be heated and the Maillard reactions of caramelizing the sugars would form the complex, sweet flavor compounds that characterize the bochet.

There are plenty of other ‘mead words’, particularly for meads made in non-Anglophone countries. But if you’re a mead drinker in North America, this is most of the terminology you’re likely to encounter at your local meadery.

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Fancy Ritual Cookies

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Pentacle Stamped Cookies using Kin of Fire‘s pentacle stamp.  Aren’t these just gorgeous?  Of course, I stole this image and the one below from them.

I’ve added a couple unitaskers specialty pieces to my kitchen for the express purpose of making fancier baked goods for ritual cakes.  It occurred to me that I’ve never mentioned these items here, and they are lovingly handmade…so perhaps some publicity for the craftspeople wouldn’t go amiss?

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Handmade Pentacle Cookie Stamps from Kin of Fire

First, how adorable are these cookie stamps?  They are handmade by Shay of the Kin of Fire Etsy store, and they come in a variety of glaze colors.  They are meant to be used on drop cookies that have just been taken out of the oven, and you use a bit of a rolling motion to make the stamp.  You definitely cannot use them on things like chocolate chip cookies, but they do work on plain dough recipes, like peanut butter, molasses, or sugar.  I have found that they leave next to no imprint on store-bought dough.  They seem to need something with a bit more chew.  I’ve been trying them out on my own favorite recipes to varying levels of success.  Sometimes some recipes kinda poof out after the cookies come out of the oven, and the design flattens out.  Sometimes you can’t even see them after it cools.  But other recipes give great impressions.  I would definitely give your recipe a trial run before showing off at a circle!

I have found this recipe to be fairly foolproof with the stamp, but it requires rolling raw dough out, stamping it, then using a round cookie cutter to cut out the cookie.  And I *hate* rolling out cookie dough, so I almost never make them.

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How freaking amazing are these shortbread molds?!  Constance Tippett of Image of the Goddess is ridiculously talented.  Seriously.  Check out the whole site.  Museum quality.  And yes, these are her images.

What’s been getting more play in my kitchen these days are the shortbread molds I got from Image of the Goddess, which is pretty much the coolest website to spend 20 minutes on.  I really don’t know much about Constance Tippett, the artist behind it, but she loves historical representations.  She has this huge poster she sells, the Goddess timeline, that traces representations of Goddesses throughout history.  It’s absolutely fascinating to look at, and I was surprised at how much I learned.  Most of her artistic pieces are strongly inspired by actual archeological finds, and the overall effect is lovely.

I’m not sure how she got the idea to make shortbread molds, but I’m so glad she did!  I ended up getting both the Cernunnos mold and the Bee Goddess mold.  Constance was a fabulous seller and was so good about communicating with me.  She was worried a bit about the Cernunnos one, which she said looked a little funny to her (I couldn’t tell).  I was worried about the Bee Goddess one, which curves up for some reason.  I was worried it would make the shortbread bake unevenly (it doesn’t).  The mold I got also only had 6 squares instead of the pictured nine, so I thought I would have to adjust the recipe (I didn’t–she made the mold smaller so the same sized recipe could be used in either one without scaling).  So we definitely had a flurry of e-mails going.

I’m beyond satisfied with the molds–they are quality stuff.  I’m still, however, in the process of finding a shortbread recipe I like.  I live alone, so I can only make so much, and the pieces these make are huge.  And it’s not like I can send these around to the neighbors.

I’ve mostly been experimenting with recipes where you bake the shortbread in the pan, but I may try ones that have you unmold before baking…though those are typically done with smaller molds.  I think I will also experiment with doughs used for other traditionally molded cookies.  I bet these would make fantastic speculaas cookies! I should try that next time.

The best part of either the cookie stamp or the shortbread mold is that I get a high impact with almost no effort.  With the stamp, it’s just one quick step added to a familiar process.  It takes less than 30 seconds to stamp a sheet pan of cookies.  The shortbread molds look like they would be fussy, but they add no time to the process of making shortbread.  After all, it would get patted into a pan to bake anyway. They’re almost easier to use in some ways.  For example, I can easily see whether the dough is too thick in an area because the pans are so shallow.  So in the end, I get a lot of credit for being a Martha Stewart, but without any of Martha’s hassle.

Organizing My Crystal Collection

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I used to keep my ‘rock collection’ in bowls and jars like this for years…but this is not my picture. This one comes from IntuitiveJourney.com.

Like most people in the metaphysical community, I’ve got a crystal collection. Until recently, however, I’ve not really been moved to work with them all that much. In fact, they’ve largely just been small, inexpensive things to pick up when visiting a metaphysical shop or going to a festival when I felt obligated to support the local merchant but didn’t see anything that particularly struck my fancy.

Over the past 20 years, this means I’ve acquired quite a few rocks. For the longest time, I’d add the new rocks to a little bowl I’d keep on my desk or bedside table. But somewhere around graduating from college, my collection outgrew the bowl. So I moved to keeping everything mixed together in a plain glass jar and just switched out to larger jars as the collection grew. The collection’s grown quite a bit in recent months, and when I came back from a psychic fair in Indianapolis this weekend with a new handful of rocks, I realized I needed to upsize my jar.

But then I realized that for the past 5 years, my crystals’ primary use has been to serve as a book end. I do have a couple favorites I kept out of the jar for mediation and spell work, but I was mostly just acquiring these stones just to acquire them. When I sat and thought about it, I realized that the way I was storing them was putting up a mental roadblock to actually using them. If I wanted to use one crystal in the jar, I’d have to take most of them out to search for the one I wanted. It would take an obnoxiously long time to find the crystal, and then an obnoxiously long time to put the rest away, since I’d have to be all delicate with them to avoid scratching or chipping the softer ones or breaking tips off of points. One time I even broke the glass jar being too rough with putting the crystals back, and that was a horrendous mess to clean. So there was a big part of my subconscious that wasn’t letting me use the crystals because it thought the 10 minutes it would take to find the one I wanted and put the rest away was unacceptable. So I decided to come up with a new storage strategy that overcame that roadblock.

Crystal Storage

Jesus, Pinterest.

Looking up “crystal storage” on Pinterest certainly yielded a lot of pretty results. Most of them seem to revolve around finding antique printers trays, making lots of little wooden boxes to put inside bigger wooden boxes, or making weird little geometric shelving systems that end up looking really cool but will probably age about as well as the lava lamp has in terms of home decor.

In the end, I just wasn’t interested in scouring antique stores or revising high school geometry to make a bunch of boxes or shelves. Chances are, I’ll be moving again within a few years, so I wanted something really portable that I could just pop in a moving box without a second thought. I also wanted something that was a bit flexible in terms of dividing out space so that if I got a slightly bigger crystal, I wouldn’t have to come up with a secondary storage system. Finally, I wanted something transparent because I am utterly over looking in a dozen different boxes to find the thing I’m looking for.

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So I got me some tackle boxes. Admittedly, these are probably not the first organizational strategy that would come to most people’s minds, but my family had these all over the house when I was growing up. Dad used them to keep all sorts of hardware separate in the garage, and he kept a lidless one in a desk drawer to organize out his office supplies. My mother used them to organize makeup, sewing supplies, and various craft supplies. We kids loved them to keep our Legos coordinated, but I also remember using them for Barbie clothes and keeping favorite Matchbox cars from scratching against each other. I even used a few in high school as jewelry boxes. Tackle boxes are dead useful.

I chose this particular one, the Flambeau Tuff Tainer (model 5007B-1) because it was really sturdy and compact, but also very affordable: just $3.50 each at my local Wal-Mart. (I know! But there’s practically no other place to shop in my town.) More importantly, though, its division options were fairly small, but flexible. If each divider option is used, it will provide 36 compartments: 32 small compartments of 1.375 inches long and 2 inches wide and 4 larger compartments 2.875 inches long where half of the compartment is 2.375 inches wide and half is 2 inches wide. (Note: The website description says 35 compartments. It is in error.) The box does have three fixed dividers splitting the box into four 2-inch wide strips, but you can remove the smaller dividers in 1.375 inch increments to make a column up to 13.875 inches long.

Organized Stones Collage

My own rock collection as it currently stands.

The downside is that this box only comes with 18 dividers. Additional dividers can be easily ordered by the dozen, however, at Flambeau’s website for just $2.50 under item number 5715DP. The website isn’t as slick as most, since they primarily sell through big box stores. When I initially went to order additional dividers, the item page said the item was in stock, but when I went to check out, it would not permit me to do so saying the item was not in stock. I e-mailed Flambeau through their contact form and received a reply early the next morning from a representative stating that I had uncovered a coding error. She said they would be able to fix the error within the next 24 hours but that I was welcome to call her at her extension and order the dividers directly. I did so and received the dividers two days later. I also checked the website the day after I placed the order and found they’d fixed the bug. So great customer service from Flambeau.

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All the labels give me such great joy. More importantly, they ensure I will not mix up all the black rocks that otherwise look completely identical to me.

I chose to organize my collection by color, since it seems that when I think of a rock, the first thing I think about isn’t its name or what it can do, but what color it is. But it would have been just as easy to organize them alphabetically by name, or energetically based on what they were used for (love, luck, prosperity, etc.). If I was terribly into chakra work, I would have probably organized them by the chakras they aligned to. Or if I was primarily interested in healing, I would have organized them by the body parts they helped. But my brain’s go-to with rocks is color, so color it was.

If I had the memory I had when I was a teenager, I would probably not have labelled my crystals, but in the process of organizing them I realized that while I was easily able to identify most of them (and even had vivid memories of how I’d acquired them), I was a bit clueless when it came to some of the newer ones I’d gotten or some of the more obscure ones. And I realized I was utterly clueless with all black ones. I’d had the foresight to label most, but still ended up with six or seven that I had to send to a geologist cousin of mine for identification. (He loved the challenge, by the way.) So labels it was.

I put the label for the rock on the movable divider facing inward to the rock it was identifying. I did this entirely to avoid having to peel up tons of labels when I add new rocks to my collection and therefore need to move things around. Since this meant that the label was in the interior top (or right, depending on your orientation) of the box, I did end up with four labels on the box itself at the column (or row) end just to keep things looking neat. But it is still easier to peel off four labels than it is to peel off 28.

I also made sure to get “removable” labels. I went with Avery Multi-Use Labels (item number 6728) because they were cheap (under $3 for a box of 72), stick very well, but also peel up without leaving any residue. I could only find 1″ x 3″ labels, but they were easy to cut down just a shade smaller than half to fit on the dividers, and it effectively doubled my sticker count. I did have to remove several labels while organizing and can report that they really do peel up like a dream.

And now that I’ve got an organization system that removes my immediate roadblocks for actually using the darn things, maybe I’ll get around to incorporating them more in my practice. I hear crystal grids are a thing the whippersnappers are doing these days.

I Finally Have a Place for My Witch Ball Collection!

Witch Balls

A close up of a witch ball from Gray Art Glass

A few years ago, I wrote about glass witch balls. They’re basically just hollow glass spheres, a bit like glass Christmas ornaments. Today they’re quite decorative and go by several names such as glass kugels, friendship balls, spirit balls, ju ju balls, fairy orbs, and medusa spheres. With all these names, there is some differentiation beginning to happen. The “witchier” names to refer to those colorful glass ornaments that have strands of glass branching within the sphere, and the more benign names tend to refer to truly hollow ornaments.

Magically speaking, the witch ball is kind of related to witch bottles and other forms of protective container protective magic. Unlike the witch bottle, though, this was something that mundane people tended to use against witches and other forms of ill luck. These glass spheres as charms probably got their start in England’s 17th and 18th centuries as plain fishing floats. They bob on the surface of the water to note where fishing nets or crab traps are, much in the same way as a ‘dunked’ witch would float. In a rather gory bit of logic, someone probably got it into their head that hanging one of these glass balls up in their home would ward off evil in the same way a hanged witch would have on the demonic forces surrounding a village. So people began hanging these floats in their homes.

By the time the 19th century rolled about and the trend began catching on in America, the idea of hanging fishing floats merged with other folk protective magic from other cultures. They started to be made with glass threads in them, not unlike dream catchers and other such items, and malice was supposed to be caught in and dissipated through the webbing. They started to be more colored, a bit like the Hoodoo bottle trees with their African origins on the grounds that evil spirits are attracted to pretty things. Indeed, most of the earlier American witch balls are blue and green in color, much like the bottles popular on these trees. (Though, as I mentioned previously, that could just be a side product of history as lots of older American glass tended to become blue, green, or violet in color when exposed to sunlight.)

More witch balls

I think this collection of solid colored witch balls is so pretty, and they look so lovely against all the ferns.

I, of course, love these silly things. As I said in the earlier post, I was first introduced to them through V., my former housemate and covenmate back in Olympia who had one hanging up in the middle of each window in her living room and lined up the windowsills with glass paperweights an apprentice glass artist friend of hers continually gifted her with. The effect was very charming, and when I happened to see a small witch ball in a downtown Olympia shop, I bought it on a whim and hung it up in one of my own bedroom windows to continue the trend. Not long after, I found another one in a Goodwill shop for just a couple dollars, so I of course had to buy that one, too.

And then I just kept adding to the collection.

After I moved out of V.’s house, I really didn’t have any place to display them, so I just stored them in a box in the garage “for whenever I get a place of my own”. And that sort of meant I didn’t really have a fixed grasp on just how many I’d begun to acquire. And over the past five years…well, it got to be a lot. I had a knack for spying them in thrift stores, which didn’t help, and they’re also alarmingly popular in Western Pennsylvania where my mother lives. Nearly every little town we explored had a boutique that sold them, and I’d sometimes get one if I thought it pretty or unusual.

Fifteen. I ended up with fifteen of these things. And I have nowhere near fifteen windows in my new place. I scoured Pinterest to see if anyone else had a collection and what they did with them…and honestly, I wasn’t able to come up with much. In the end, I decided to just hang them all together in my front window.

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This is not the greatest picture. I was most of the way through the process of tying them onto the curtain rod and hadn’t snipped the excess fishing line. But it is the most in focus picture I have with the least bad lighting. Unfortunately, my iPhone camera is starting to go.

I kind of like the final effect. It’s certainly the most interesting feature of my living room, and I like seeing how different they look throughout the day as the light changes. The process of stringing them up was a lot easier than I thought it would be, too. The largest of the balls only ways 1.5 pounds, so I probably could have just used some drywall anchors and cup screws to attach them. However, I didn’t want to have a dozen screws in the ceiling (renting!), so I went with a curtain rod. I did end up needing to mount it from the ceiling as that middle orange ball is over 8 inches in diameter, and the standard clearance from a wall-mounted curtain rod meant the ball would have rested against the window. I was slightly worried about all the weight, so I did actually weigh each ball and add up the figure, but there’s still less than 20 pounds hanging from the rod, and the three brackets I used means it will support 33 pounds. I also used plain 15-pound fishing line to string them up as I thought a “floating” effect might be nice. I just doubled a length of line, stuck the loop through the glass hole, tied a larks-head knot, and fasted the other end to the rod with a few square knots. They’ve been up for at least a month now, and I’ve had no issues whatsoever.

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And now you get to see my living room, a masterpiece of Craigslist decor.

And, of course, you can bet that they’re serving a witchy purpose. My coven and I specifically charged two of the balls to keep my home safe. To be honest, my home isn’t in the nicest area of town, and the previous tenant was a drug dealer: I’ve had several people stop by over the past few months to buy their stuff, which is awkward and a little scary. (Trying very hard to live very frugally so I can start saving to buy a house.) I was surprised by how much safer I felt when I finally strung the charged balls up. They also give me a strong, physical focus to concentrate on when I renew my wards, and I’ve found that makes it a bit easier, too.

If anyone is all that interested in where you can find these things, these are the artists and companies that contributed to my collection: Kitras Art Glass, Gray Art Glass, Three Crow Glass (Les Trois Corbeaux), Virgil’s Art Glass, Pairpoint Glass, and Iron Elegance.

More Art for the Ritual Room

Last year at ConVocation, I fell in love with Laura Tempest Zakroff’s Iconomage series of paintings. Most of the images in this series are of various deities or mythical figures, though at least two–“Transformation” and “Ride to the Sabbat”–depict more of a process. The pictures are gorgeous. The colors are arresting and the symbolism Zakroff brings to her subjects is highly evocative. There are so many details crammed into such a narrow space that I almost want to get out a magnifying glass to make sure I’m seeing it all.

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“Oracle” and “Cernunnos” from Zakroff’s Iconomage Series

Most of the original pieces in this series have sold, but Zakroff has continued to make prints in various sizes of each.  She brought many of these prints to the 2017 ConVocation, and I found myself spending tons of time in the artists’ room looking at them. I really wanted a pair of the large “temple”-sized prints and had to actively talk myself out of buying them. I had no place to display them and did not want them to be damaged in storage. But this year, I not only have a whole townhouse all to myself, I’m starting to make a dedicated ritual room. So I decided that if Zakroff brought her Iconomage prints back, I would buy a pair to represent the Goddess and the Horned God. Luckily for me, she did, and I came home with “Oracle” and “Cernunnos”, both of which hooked me in a very strong, visceral way that I just can’t describe.

More cerebrally, I really love how nicely these two look together in a general aesthetic sense, but the more I look at the two of them, the more complementary they seem. In “Oracle”, the woman’s eyes are veiled by mist or something, and her third eye is prominent. (In fact, the fact I could not see her eyes was the whole reason I chose this painting. Every time I’ve successfully had some encounter with the Goddess in meditation, I’ve never been able to get a clear vision of her face, though other aspects are clear as a bell.) In the “Cernunnos” painting, the eyes jump right out at you. “Oracle” has a bright inverted star between her breasts. “Cernunnos” has a barely discernible pentagram at his groin. “Oracle” is full of ethereal wisps and mist. “Cernunnos” is fully embodied–in fact, you can see his heart and veins and muscles. I could go on and on. In the end, I think they make an interesting pairing.

Currently, I’ve got them displayed in a (painfully) symmetric arrangement with Si Mandragora’s Goddess and Horned God prints, as well as clay tiles of Pomona and the Green Man that Daniel Conan Young made. I like it well enough for now.  This is a wall I’ll have to deconstruct every time my family comes to visit as I still haven’t come out of the broom closet, so it’s likely I’ll re-arrange things a few times a year at least.

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The current gallery in my ritual room. This wall has changed at least five times since I moved in. I think I’m keeping the Command Strip company in business.

ConVocation 2018

Convocation 2018

ConVocation 2018: The Strength to See the Details behind the Big Picture

Last year, I went to my first ConVocation in Detroit after realizing I could get my convention fix fulfilled for a much easier financial commitment than going to Pantheacon in San Jose. This year, I realized that I could have arranged to go to Pantheacon (indeed, it might have been easier as I had that whole weekend off from school), but I chose to go to ConVocation instead. ConVo has such a wonderfully friendly atmosphere, and the attendees seem to roll with whatever punches come without much of a fuss. (Granted, the two Pantheacon’s I’ve been to were among the most drama-filled, but still.)

Last year, my job gave me a ton of things to do at the last minute, and I spent a huge chunk of ConVo sitting in my hotel room and taking care of that. So this year, I made sure to completely clear my schedule so that I could go to everything I wanted to go to and get totally turnt up at the parties. In the end, one of those two things happened: I had four blessedly work-free days. But I am a teacher, and winter has not been kind to anyone’s health. The Tuesday before ConVo opened, I got strep throat. I made sure I wouldn’t be contagious for the convention, but antibiotics throw off a lot of my systems, and I ended up becoming so uncomfortable that my idea of a good time ended up being baths and bed rather than drinks and dancing.

On Thursday night, I intended to go out and explore Detroit for awhile, then return to the hotel by 8 pm for Storm Faerywolf’s talk/ritual “The Watchers of the Faery Tradition” followed by the Circle of the Feri Forge’s ritual “Forming Psyche: From Details to Divinity.”

It’s hard to get the sense of a place in just an hour or so, but Detroit struck me as bigger, dirtier Indianapolis. Or, oddly enough, what I think the love child of Indianapolis and Atlanta would be. In short, I could have lived without that. I did, however, enjoy a nice steak dinner (I can count on one hand the number of steak dinners I have had in the last three years, so I was excited) and a few margaritas.

I got back just in time for Storm’s talk and ritual, “The Watchers of the Faery Tradition.” Storm gave lots of information about his tradition, who the guardians in his tradition are, and what we would be doing prior to the meditative ritual. I could really listen to Storm talk all day long–he’s very funny and engaging, and it makes taking in the content of his talks almost effortless.  I found the ritual component to be a little reminiscent of the LBRP, at least in form. We began by aligning the three souls that Faery believes people to have, and then essentially called the watchers of the various directions. In Storm’s Faery, these are StarFinder in the East, ShiningFlame in the South, WaterMaker in the West, HeavenShiner above, Fire-in-the-Earth below, and then we become the seventh guardian, Guardian of the Gates in the center. Storm had a wonderful guided meditation for each, in which we asked each Guardian “Who am I?”

Alas, I did not get as much out of the ritual as I typically do with Storm’s material as about halfway through I realized I was having antibiotic problems, and I’m not so talented a witch as to be able to focus on a long meditative ritual when I’m in lots of physical discomfort. Because of that, I decided to skip my next planned event (a Psyche-focused ritual) in favor of an early night

On Friday, I decided to attend the following events:

  • Ellen Dugan’s talk “Protection Magick for Everyone: How to be a Magickal Bad-Ass”
  • Laura Tempest Zakroff’s talk “The Authentic Witch: Crafting a Working Tradition”
  • Jason Mankey’s talk “Knowing our Mighty Dead”
  • Laura Tempest Zakroff and Nathaniel Johnstone’s ritual “Hekate at the Crossroads: A Meeting of Mind & Movement”
  • Storm Faerywolf and Devin Hunter’s ritual “The Black Rose Sabbatic Dance”
  • Jason Mankey’s ritual “D is for Dionysus: A Ritual for the Wild One”

This was the first time I’d ever been able to hear Ellen Dugan in a talk, workshop, or class on her own. Last year, I had to skip something she was in to attend a different class and only got to see her panel discussion with Michelle Belanger. Now, I’ve been a fan of her non-fiction for quite some time as it is invariably well-organized and easy to understand, and I’ve been positively devouring her recent turn into fiction, but I think now I’m a fan of Ellen herself. She’s wry and witty, and she does not suffer fools. In lots of convention-style classes, various presenters typically give people in the audience a lot of leeway, and frequently the classes get a little derailed while good intentioned but socially clueless people prattle on about a horrible thing that their High Priestess did or some psychic attack they’ve suffered. Ellen was *awesome* about checking that behavior, and I loved it. I also learned a bit on protection magic, which–to be honest–I’ve largely ignored up to this point. But now I’m single, live alone, live in a bad section of town, and I have a job that causes lots of students to dislike me on occasion…so I definitely paid attention to Ellen and will probably buy her protection magic book in the near future.

Laura Tempest Zakroff was all over Convocation, and I think I went to just about everything she did. That always makes me feel a bit like a stalker…but I got over it. Her first talk on Crafting a Working Tradition was good–as is pretty much everything Zakroff does–but to me essentially boiled down to “are you a critically-thinking witch? can you avoid being a douchebag to everyone? good–go forth and conquer”. Throughout the rest of ConVocation, though, I heard other attendees of this talk telling others how amazing it was and how it helped validate their own pathworkings, so clearly Zakroff was reaching the people she needed to reach.

After lunch, I was excited to attend Jason Mankey’s “Knowing our Mighty Dead” talk. I adore Jason to death and have historically been a huge fan of his self-deprecating presentation style, but I think perhaps I should have skipped this presentation. Jason’s gotten quite a bit into Craft history as of late, as have I. Unfortunately for me, this particular presentation was a bit of a biography lecture on dead people who self-identified as witches. I can’t say I learned more about Gardner or Cochrane or anyone else Jason discussed, though I was glad to see him introduce Rosaleen Norton and her artwork to more people. I’ve always found Norton underrepresented in Craft history, though I suppose the rest of the anglophone world generally ignores Australian people. I also appreciated how Jason carefully differentiated Mighty Dead (deceased people who self-identified as witches) from Beloved Dead (people you loved who have died), which is often a blurred line in the greater Wiccan world.

After Jason’s talk, I realized that I was very physically uncomfortable and felt about ready to crawl out of my own skin (antibiotics hate me) and considered skipping Zakroff’s Hekate ritual, but I am very glad I decided to soldier on. This particular ritual saw Zakroff’s husband Nathaniel Johnstone play an electric violin and layer various sounds together through those fancy pedal things while Zakroff basically channeled Hekate through dance. It was so moving to see. I literally felt Hekate enter the space, and the dance was utterly hypnotic. Eventually Zakroff got everyone on their feet–without saying a word–and we all joined in this dance. It was amazing to see everyone find their movements and connection without speaking, and I found myself on the verge of tears a couple of times, an event which almost never happens.

After dinner, I contemplated going to bed for the rest of the night–I was that uncomfortable!–but eventually sucked it up and went to two rituals: The Black Rose Sabbatic Dance and the Dionysus ritual. I was really excited for the Sabbatic Dance because it sounded like a contemporary complement to the ritual Jason Mankey did last year–his Margaret Murray-inspired ‘Ritual from the Witch-Cult’. I have to admit, Mankey’s ritual last year was not among my favorites, but I have in the year that has followed appreciated the historical glimpse. On paper, Storm Faerywolf and Devin Hunter’s Sabbatic Dance was pretty much the same thing: dance about in a circle for awhile and praise the Dark Lord (aka, the Magister in this ritual). But instead of a hopping conga line, Devin pretty much played the role of an EDM DJ while Storm led everyone on a collective active visualization. In the end, everyone visualized themselves transforming into animals and doing this running dance. It was really cool to watch. So many people were really getting into it and going off into an ecstatic experience. At one point, one woman even stopped dancing and was just writhing all over the ground. Other people did not reach an ecstatic point, though. Unfortunately, I was one of them. History has taught me that I need about five shots of tequila within about five minutes and a maintenance of two shots an hour to get to the point where I will dance without feeling self-conscious. I was very sober for this ritual.

I should have just gone to bed and taken the medicine to help the complication at that point, but I really wanted to go to the Dionysus ritual. In the end, though, it really wasn’t that much different from the Sabbatic Dance ritual. Mankey led his ritual crew through a much more Wiccan circle casting and invocation, and there was no EDM but rather chanting…but people were dancing (or running) about in a circle while several people made offerings of wine or apple juice to Dionysus. I did really love how active Jason made the personal energetic cleansings, and it was clear the crowd loved that, too. What would really have been perfect was if the ritual had prefaced a large dance or party or something in that space. Instead, everyone scattered to the winds for various room parties. And I went off to enjoy medication.

On Saturday, I felt a little better. My plan of attack that day was the following events:

  • Storm Faerywolf’s talk “The Witch’s Forge: Invoking the Iron Pentacle”
  • Clifford Hartleigh Low’s talk “Spellbound: Love Magic Through the Ages”
  • Laura Tempest Zakroff and Nathaniel Johnstone’s class “Stirring the Cauldron: A Ritual Exploration of Movement”
  • Jason Mankey’s talk “Building a Cone of Power: Magic in the Witch’s Circle”
  • Devin Hunter’s ritual “The Rite of the Cosmic Weaver”

Storm Faerywolf makes me think that if I had gone to the Bay Area instead of Eugene, Oregon for graduate school, I might have become a Faery/Feri initiate. There’s an awful lot about Feri that I love, and the Iron Pentacle is one of them. I was first introduced to it in T. Thorn Coyle’s book Evolutionary Witchcraft, and I’ve been enchanted by the idea of it and the Pearl Pentacle ever since. Most of this particular workshop was Storm describing what the Iron Pentacle is, which can also largely be found in Coyle’s book, but it concluded with us running a modified form of it. In this modification, the pentacle points are envisioned at the forehead, shoulders, and hips rather than the forehead and outstretched arms and feet. This was physically much more comfortable for me, and it increases the likelihood that I will incorporate running the pentacle into my own daily practice.

Clifford Hartleigh Low’s love magic talk was my wild card of the weekend, and I still don’t really know what to think of it. Low is perhaps not a natural public speaker, and I think that perhaps his talk would have been better delivered as a paper instead. To his credit, I think he understood this about himself and he pretty much had his entire lecture scripted out on note cards. Unfortunately, that also means that the talk is much more of a lecture than a conversation. I’m not knocking lectures–heaven knows I’ve done them often enough as a teacher–but these conventions are increasingly moving away from the “sage on the stage” model. And Low’s talk was a non-stop gallop through the history of love magic, a listing of historically famous love spells, and various concordances. If I had been taking notes, I might have started a fire with the friction from my pencil, Low was going so fast. And in the end, I’m not really sure I learned anymore than I already knew. I did, however, appreciate that Low made the point that so much historical information on love magic is highly coercive because marriages and relationships have only recently been about love. Historically, they’ve mostly been about power and survival. In many ways, they still are. When discussing particularly nasty love work (at least from the ethical viewpoint), Low did usually explain why those were historically done and why someone might choose to do them today. One particular spell that was about binding a person to you became suddenly understandable when Low brought up “dead beat dads”. In some cases, it’s not about binding a person to you for love, but to fulfill the obligations they have made. I appreciated the greying of love magic, and it certainly gave me lots of food for thought.

At some point during the lunch break, someone forgot a bag of popcorn in a microwave and the residential part of the hotel was evacuated for fire. Everything got sorted only just in time for the 2 pm session. In fact, Laura Tempest Zakroff and Nathaniel Johnstone held off their Ritual Movement exploration for several minutes to allow us evacuees plenty of time to join the session, which was nice. This particular session was one of my favorites of the convention. I kind of wish they’d put out a ritual movement DVD. I’ve got no way of describing what we did–I just don’t have the words. But it was wonderful, and I can see myself putting those lessons into practice in my personal Work.

Jason Mankey’s “Cone of Power” talk was pretty fun. The basis of the talk was that so many of the Craft books of the 1990s often described in pretty great detail some of the various steps of Wiccan-like ritual, but when it came to raising power, many usually just said “build the Cone of Power” without really saying what exactly that was. As Jason said, the net effect was that you got one of two impressions: that it was the greatest mystery in the world, or just something you were expected to know how to do. Jason thought it was the greatest mystery. I remember having that same impression after reading my first few Wicca 101 books, but I caught on fairly quickly that it was just a term for raising and directing energy, and that process didn’t particularly need to be cone-shaped. I do remember that not long after I realized that, I read a book that actually explained what the cone of power was. The book had a diagram in it and explained that when you were raising power, it helped to visualize that power growing into a cone extending up to the top of your circle (aka, where you envision the Gods entering). If you’re doing your visualization job well, at about the time the raised energy naturally reaches its climax, the cone will peak. And then you sort of shoot the raised energy out of the circle like a laser at the point where the cone meets the circle and envision the energy connecting to its target. Jason’s talk eventually explained the same thing, more or less, as well as gave a bit of history on Operation Cone of Power (or when Gardner and several of his friends did magical workings to help keep Hitler from invading Britain). My favorite bit was his description of “Ari’s Magic Death Ray”, which is pretty much just directing raised energy into the pentacle, which acts as a portal to wherever you want it to go. For some reason, that’s a heck of a lot easier for me to visualize than energy sent out of the circle through the cone. I’m pretty literal minded, and I tend to picture that energy zapping about in space before it reaches its target. With pentacle portals, it’s just like opening a door in space and stepping right through it. Much less bouncing about.

My last event of the night was Devin Hunter’s “Cosmic Weaver” ritual, which was pretty simple in construction, but really beautiful in practice. All it really amounted to was having a priestess sit in the center of a circle we created with our bodies, and she channeled the Goddess as Grandmother Spider. Then, a couple priests ran some white yarn from person to person until each was connected. As we were given a piece of yarn, we were told to envision filling it with our hope for what the world would be like for 7 generations hence and what we would need to do to help the world be like our vision. While the web was being spun, we all sang a chant (and for the love of me, I can’t remember the words to it anymore). When the web was spun, we all gather our bit of it in our hands as we walked toward the Goddess. Then we all collectively put it in her hands. There was a bit more, but that’s really the gist of it. I found it to be a lovely visual, and a very effective bit of ritual.

From there, I decided to skip the dance party and go to bed as I was still feeling pretty bad. And I really regret that. But it was the best choice in the end.

On Sunday, I was pretty much the only person in the hotel awake and ready to go at 6 am. So I got to have a leisurely breakfast and me time before deciding to be a responsible adult and pack my car up. I was glad I did so. The halls were crowded during the morning break with people in various states of consciousness making sure they had all their items before they checked out. It was a bit of a mad house. Instead, I got to go to a morning devotional and be thankful. I went to two classes before I left: Ivo Dominguez Jr.’s talk “A Visit with Binah” and Laura Tempest Zakroff’s class “The Art of Sigil Witchery.” I was thrilled to finally get to go to an Ivo Dominguez Jr. class. He’s one of my all time favorite pagan authors, and he’s been to pretty much every Pantheacon and ConVocation I’ve been to…but I’ve never been able to make one of his talks. He’s just as thoughtful and engaging in person as on page. And he was able to make Binah start to make sense to me (Kabballah is not my strong suit).

Zakroff had previously taught her “Art of Sigil Witchery” class at the last ConVocation. I had attended that and my mind was blown. And I bought her sigil book, Sigil Witchery: A Witch’s Guide to Crafting Magick Symbols, as soon as it was published earlier this year. I didn’t really need to attend the session, but I wanted to take good notes to be able to better explain her method to my coven. The talk was as engaging as it was last year, but far more polished. I was very impressed.

So that was my ConVocation. If I get to go next year, hopefully I’ll be work free AND healthy enough to enjoy all the things to their fullest.

Thank you, Vixxia!

This past Yule, Santa had a very thoughtful elf working for him. Fellow pagan blogger Vixxia Wyrdwritere at Travelling a Path between Church and Circle and I have been corresponding off and on for, what, three years now? It all started after I wrote about my former coven’s Imbolc/Candlemas practice of lighting all the candles we anticipated using over the next year off the main Altar candle, which was a Solas Bhride flame. (The post explains what that is.) She wrote to ask if I wouldn’t mind sharing the flame with her…and several months later, I surfaced from mundane banalities and did. Some time later, she mentioned that she had some items she wanted to send me in return…and several months later, she did!

Vixxia and I clearly operate on similar time frames, and its one of the things I love best about her.

I ended up getting her package a couple weeks after New Year’s, and I’ve kept the items on my altar ever since. I *still* tear up a little bit every time I pass the altar and see them–they’re so beautifully thoughtful.

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Opening Vixxia’s package was what I imagine opening a Christmas stocking must be like: One dear treasure after another.

Ages ago, (in retrospect, when she’d likely cooked up this crafty idea) Vixxia had asked me if I’d read Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series. I had not, but shortly thereafter started acquiring Kindle editions and the Audible audiobooks–they were utterly *perfect* for listening to on my many road trips to Pennsylvania. I completely fell in love with the series, which sees a modern Metropolitan police detective, Peter Grant, become an apprentice wizard and begin working for the supernatural division of the force. Along the way, we learn that magic is real, all the London rivers are occupied with a genus loci or two, and that friendship doesn’t always trump desire. But I never understood what made Vixxia think to turn me onto them until I read Foxglove Summer.

If you’re a casual reader, you might not be aware that Melissa is not my legal name, but my Pagan name–the circle name I took in my first coven. It means ‘bee’ and ‘priestess’, and–to cut a long story very short–bees have subsequently become an important part of my life. Well, in Foxglove Summer, Grant meets a retired wizard and his purported granddaughter, Mellissa. Mellissa is certainly fae…and she’s the ultimate queen bee. The attic of her home is a giant hive, and she seems to attract and control some men as queen bees do their drones. She was an utterly fascinating character, and she made me want to buy a physical copy of this book (something I do not do lightly now that I’ve moved my library five times in the last decade). You can imagine my delight when I saw Vixxia had sent me a copy.

I also completely nerded out over the brochure from Kew Gardens she sent me about The Hive, a large interactive sculpture created by Wolfgang Buttress. Its a glory of steel, glass, lighting and vibration all connected to a real beehive. The effects of the lighting and sound help you get a sense of what it is like to be part of that hive. It is, of course, phenomenal and I’ve been trying to get to London over the summer for the past couple years to see it…maybe this summer will be the lucky one? (Oh, who am I kidding…I have to adult and build up my savings.)

The Hive

“The Hive” by Wolfgang Buttress at Kew Gardens

But wait…that’s not all the bee-themed goodness. Vixxia also included a lovely wooden bee necklace that I utterly adore. I’ve been wearing it to school fairly frequently, and my students seem to think it’s pretty cool too. (They criticize–with love!–my lack of accessorizing skill on the regular, to this was a huge win for me.) But what completely humbled me was the little green crocheted bag. Vixxia made a Bees-in-a-Bag charm! She used a green Welsh wool that was gifted to her, and she made the blue string out of wool hand-dyed in woad. I had never seen fiber dyed with woad before, and was surprised at what a deep, rich blue it made. What I thought was particularly cool was that she made the bag look a bit like an old-fashioned bee skep! How sweet is that? Inside, she included five golden bee charms. I’ve decided to charge the bag to help me stay happy, prosperous, and healthy in my new home.

Vixxia also included a lovely book on the Winter Solstice from the artist Karen Cater, who runs the Hedingham Fair along with her husband, Colin. I adore it–it reminds me a lot of a book on Christmas my parents had. Every day leading up to The Big Day, we would read one of the little articles inside the book. I can totally see using this book to do that with my currently fictional future children, should I ever get around to making them. She also sent along a little length of applewood from her parent’s tree, and it is a lovely little wand. I am always surprised whenever I use an apple wand…you really can tell the difference.

So thank you again, Vixxia, for your lovely surprises! I adore them all, and am so pleased and humbled by how thoughtful they were. You’re amazing.