Pantheacon 2015: Listening to Pagans of Color

Disclaimer:  I edited and re-wrote this several times, and I still think it’s “whitesplain-y.”  I’m sorry, y’all…I don’t know how to write about race outside academia.

At this point, most Pagans with an Internet connection know that the big brujería brouhaha at this year’s Pantheacon was racism.  Many also know that the satirical program “Pantycon” was at the root of the problem.  For those not in the loop, Pantycon has been an anonymous mainstay of the Convention for years, and it largely pokes gentle (if biting) fun at different convention offerings and general current events within the Pagan world.

A woman of color leading an open Pagan ritual.  Because she's an awesome human being.

A woman of color leading an open Pagan ritual. Because she’s an awesome human being partaking in an awesome religious practice.

This year, there was a prominent theme of race and cultural appropriation in the convention.  Initially, there were two panels pertaining to racism and Pagans of color (a panel hosted by Crystal Blanton called “Bringing Race to the Table; An Exploration of Racism in Paganism” and a “Pagans of Color Caucus” hosted by Xochiquetzal Duti) and two panel discussions tackling issues of cultural appropriation (one with T. Thorn Coyle and Friends called “Honoring or Appropriation? What is the Difference?” and one with Starhawk and Friends called “Working with Diverse Traditions”).  These are not atypical offerings for the convention, but perhaps had a little more interest behind them given a pair of statements by the Covenant of the Goddess delivered a few months ago.  The more troubling of the two was an especially anemic December 2014 statement that ostensibly related to the news coverage regarding white police officers shooting innocent black men.  This statement was little more than bland pap, saying nothing concrete–not even what exact “current events” (IE: racist murders) it was addressing.  After some COG members “felt the Board’s original statement did not go far enough in addressing the issue”, a much more targeted second draft was issued.  Still, many Pagans remained deeply disappointed by the first (and even the second) draft, feeling that saying nothing would almost have been preferable to those meaningless words.

Reading through the COG statements, it is easy to get the impression that the organization is saying, “Oh Gods.  Racism.  We should probably say something.  It’s expected of us.  But honestly, I just can’t get angry about this shit one more time.”  It was inexcusable of such a prominent organization.  So, between the convention’s emphasis on race and this current event in our sphere, Pantycon wrote the following “workshop description.”

“Ignoring Racism: A Workshop for White Pagans
Large Umbrella Pagan Group

Isn’t all this talk of social justice and racism just tiring? Don’t you wish you could just ignore it and put out meaningless statements of pure pablum? We’ll discuss how to ignore requests for consideration by pagans of color, cover up racist actions of high-ranking members, and pretend that you don’t understand the resulting outrage. Remember, #AllLivesMatter, except  when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient.
Large Umbrella Pagan Group has been around for long enough that they think they can get away with  this stuff.”

I think that we can all agree that these words crossed a line even if you knew about the COG statements.  If you did not (and not all Pagans follow the COG regularly, if at all), then they are one hell of a slap in the face.  When I read this…well, I’m a white person who is deeply frustrated by the COG and hashtag activism, and I was upset.

It’s taken me awhile to be able to articulate why this shook me so, and to explain it, I actually have to turn back time to a discussion I had at my very first Pantheacon:  Pantheacon 2012.  I’d never attended such a large Pagan gathering before, and since it was in San Jose, I expected there to be many Bay Area locals.  In my naiveté, I expected to see a rainbow of faces trailing through the Doubletree’s hallways simply because the Bay Area is an ethnically diverse urban area.  I figured that if the Bay Area was roughly 53% white, 8% black, 19% Asian, 19% Hispanic, and 1% Native, then I should see a similar demographic amongst the attendees.

Yeah, this wasn't so much the case.

Yeah, this wasn’t so much the case.

But the rainbow I observed was mostly made up of shades of ecru, eggshell, and bisque.  Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of Pagans of color at the convention, just nowhere near what I had (very unrealistically) expected.  Puzzled, I went to my High Priestess and asked her about it.  After all, she’d been to over a dozen Pantheacons by that point, and I knew she’d be able to speak to attendance trends.  She replied that was that her experience had shown her that many Pagans of color in this country tended to be drawn to Pagan practices that were historically associated with their ethnicities, and that these Pagan practices had their own communities and interests that didn’t always play well with the heavily Euro-centric contemporary practices that tend to dominate Pantheacon.

At the time, I wasn’t particularly satisfied with that answer for many reasons.  The largest of which is that I didn’t (and still don’t) feel that you have to have a genetic or historic link to a religion in order to have the desire to practice it.  After all, I was called to Gardnerian Wicca, a religious practice dominated by English culture, and the closest I can get to that genetically is one Welsh great-grandparent.  Blood, I thought, obviously didn’t call to me to my religion.

And yet, I now think maybe my blood had more to do with it than I realized.  When I was seeking, I knew the Abrahamic religions did not match how I felt spiritually and that Paganisms did, but I never once even considered Pagan paths that are strongly associated with non-white races.  Santería, Ifá, and Vodun never even crossed my mind.  I briefly flirted with Hinduism, but felt like I was voyeuristic Peeping Tom.  I was an outsider there, and after some reflection, I couldn’t find an answer to whether or not I would be able to shake the feeling that I was appropriating instead of practicing.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that some Pagans of color would feel similarly when practicing European Paganisms.

Illustration by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necochea

Illustration by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necochea.  As distasteful as I personally find images of the KKK, I cannot deny that this creates a strong visual argument.

I believe that remembering how much of an outsider I felt in this experience was my particular trigger with Pantycon’s description.  It is impossible to ignore race.  People can trumpet all day long about how colorblind they are, but almost everyone has some subtle difference in how they interact with those of their own race and how they react with those outside of it.  Racial prejudice is normal.  Some of it is probably even biologically hardwired.  For example, the legal world has established that eye witnesses are less likely to be able to positively and correctly identify a suspect when that suspect is of a different race than the witness.  In other words, your brain cannot easily recognize the microdifferences in the faces of people who are of a different race than you.  But racial prejudice does not mean that one is a racist.  A racist is one who believes that a certain human race is superior to any or all other races. Racial prejudice just accounts for differences in human character or ability; albeit differences that are strongly influenced by stereotype.

If we ignore race altogether, we will have no chance of keeping prejudice from becoming racism.  We will have no chance of combating the smaller effects of this prejudice.  We have to be educated.  We have to be aware of how we treat others.  We have to take the requests for consideration by people of color incredibly seriously.  Combating racism requires nothing less than constant vigilance.  It will be uncomfortable, and it will be inconvenient, but we cannot overcome prejudices unless we are aware we have them and we constantly interrogate them.


Photo by Shauna Aura Knight.  Sometimes you have to cancel one mystery exploration to do another.

That being said, interrogation has to come with safe space.  At this convention, there was difficulty maintaining safe space for Pagans of color.  Throughout the halls, I heard whisperings from the support staff about how so many people were feeling threatened, and a crucial point of this was how the Pagans of color hospitality suite was received.  Some people reacted as if the very existence of a place for Pagans of color to safely discuss issues pertaining immediately to them threatened some of the white attendees.  I heard that people would yell “Racists!” into the suite, disrupting programming.  In addition to being inexcusably rude, this intrusion is incredibly puzzling from a Pagan perspective.

In Paganism, we recognize that there are certain mysteries.  There are the big, mythological mysteries like the Eleusinian Mysteries, but there are broader, universal ones as well.  There are the mysteries of womanhood and manhood.  There are the mysteries of the genderqueer.  Every sexuality has its own unique mystery.  There is the mystery of motherhood.  The mystery of fatherhood.  The mystery of being a warrior.  And there are the mysteries of what it means to be a part of Western culture and to be Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native, or any other race.

When we engage with mysteries in our practices, we largely accept that if we are outside that mystery, we will never be able to fully understand it. But we still hold sacred the space for the mothers to explore motherhood and so on.  Why, then, would it be so difficult to hold sacred a space for Pagans of color to interrogate more fully what it means to be a Pagan of color?  What comes out of this sacred space and can be revealed to others will be useful, healing, and helpful to all.  Even if not everyone can fully understand the mystery, the outsiders can at least listen to the illuminations developed within.  If they do, they can better interrogate their own responses to that mystery.

Listen, damnit.

Listen, damnit.  It’s not that hard.

So, I suppose that this Pantheacon really drove home to me that no one can afford to ignore race.  In the Pagan context, we all need to be especially aware of racial prejudice, racism, and the line between them.  We also need to acknowledge that people of a particular race can be made to feel like outsiders in certain practices.  Therefore, we all need to listen more closely to each other in order to be able to more fully explore different modes of spirituality safely.  We also need to make sure that safe, sacred space is maintained for those of a minority race within a religion to be able to explore the additional mystery of how their race informs and influences their practice.

Celtic Jackalope Expands Their Bronze Finishes

The prototypes of a new bronze finish for Maxine Miller's Horned God and Moon Goddess altar statues in the herm style, which were created with input from Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor.

The prototypes of a new bronze finish for Maxine Miller’s Horned God and Moon Goddess altar statues in the herm style, which were created with input from Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor.

Pantheacon is over, and in the coming days I’m sure I will blog on what I did and thoughts I had and all that droll stuff.  I’m nowhere near recovered enough to do that now, but I still I really wanted to put up a pretty picture and write a line or two, and this is what I landed on.

My coven, Soma Sidhe, collectively has a fondness for Maxine Miller’s artwork.  Between us, we own more than a few of her prints and statues.  Our favorite finish for her statuary is by far the cold-cast bronze, but it is more difficult to find that finish.  The others–typically stone or wood, but sometimes a color like red, green, or white–are a little less expensive than bronze when there is the option, so I suppose bronze is less popular for that reason.

My coven sister, S., has had her eye on the Horned God and Moon Goddess herm statues for ages, but wasn’t fond of either the stone or the wood finish that they came in.  Luckily for her, we stopped by Celtic Jackalope‘s booth in the Pantheacon vendor room early on Monday and saw a pair of herms in our favorite bronze.  The gentleman working the booth at the time said they were the prototype for the bronze finish they are working on with their new supplier.

S. immediately snapped them up, and I’m sure they’ll find a place on her amazing home altar, but I’m sure we’ll see the bronze becoming available on a larger scale in the upcoming months.  Thank you, Celtic Jackalope!

Eco-Friendly Fabric Softening, Continued.

In my fourth plastic reduction mission, I swapped out bottles of commercial fabric softener for acid rinsing with citric acid.  One plastic-free option I didn’t mention in that post was swapping out my liquid fabric softener with dryer sheets, which come packaged in cardboard boxes.

Truthfully, that option didn’t even occur to me because dryer sheets are so wasteful in themselves.  In addition to the fact that they’re a single-use product, most dryer sheets are made of polyester and as such are non-biodegradable.  Their chemical softening ingredients aren’t great either. According to the health and wellness website, some of the most harmful ingredients in dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener alike include benzyl acetate (linked to pancreatic cancer), benzyl alcohol (an upper respiratory tract irritant), ethanol (linked to central nervous system disorders), and chloroform (a neurotoxin and carcinogen).  These chemicals don’t rinse out either.  In fact, since fabric softeners are specifically designed to stay in your clothes for extended periods of time, such chemicals can seep out gradually and be inhaled or absorbed directly through the skin. Dryer sheets are especially problematic as the chemicals in them get released into the air when they are heated up in the dryer and can pose a respiratory health risk to those both inside and outside the home.

As I mentioned before, using a simple acid rinse will have notable softening effects on your laundry, but it won’t be as drastic as commercial fabric softeners and while it reduces static cling, it doesn’t eliminate it from all fabrics.  There is, however, a very simple solution–and one that can add scent back to your clothes (homemade detergent and softener is almost scent free).

A bowl full of wool dryer balls

A bowl full of wool dryer balls

Felted wool dryer balls are the way of the future.  Six tennis-ball sized wads of felt bounce around in the dryer with your clothing, and somehow magically make your clothes feel a lot softer than when you don’t use them.  Even more magically, these little guys can last for years, which is obviously a lot more attractive than single-use dryer sheets!

I expect that some minor softening powers involve residual lanolin in the wool, but most of it probably comes from the fact that the balls help clothes separate from each other in the dryer, which probably reduces the friction on the fabric surfaces a little.  At any rate, in addition to making the fabrics feel softer, they also do wonders for eliminating static.  Best of all, a few drops of essential oil on the balls before they go in the dryer will also leave your clothes nicely–and naturally–scented without leaving weird, flaky residue on your clothes.

Better still these balls are really easy to make yourself.  For under $20 (maybe even $5 if you’re super thrifty!), you can make 4-8 balls that will probably last at least 3 years, if not more.  At the most minimal end of the spectrum, all you need is a quantity of 100% wool yarn, some cheap knee-high nylon stockings (or old ones of your own), and access to a washer.  The cheapest, most widely available wool yarn I know of is Lion Brand’s Fishermen’s Wool, which comes in 8 oz/227g/465 yd/425 m skeins and costs somewhere between $8-10.  You can make about 3-4 balls per skein of Fishermen’s.  Alternately, I would suggest unraveling a few old wool sweaters, which can certainly be found at a thrift store for very economical prices if you don’t have a few unfashionable gems languishing in a drawer.  You can definitely find a couple pairs of knee-high nylons for $1 at Walmart and many Dollar Stores across the country.  You really shouldn’t pay more as they will be destroyed by the felting process, since some wool fibers will probably adhere to the stocking and force you to rip the stockings to free the ball.  Veer on the side of caution and purchase enough stockings to use a new one for each washing cycle you will use to felt.  (You may need to wash the balls up to 6 times, depending on the yarn.)

All you do is wind the yarn into balls a little larger than the size of tennis balls (about 8 inches in circumference), put them into the stocking tying knots between each ball, then put them through 1-2 hot loads of wash.  Let them air dry, then cut them out of the stocking and inspect the felting.  If the strands of yarn can be pulled apart from each other, tie them into a new stocking and repeat the process until the balls are fully felted.

Balls in a stocking, ready to begin felting.

Balls in a stocking, ready to begin felting.

Having done this a couple of times now, I can say with certainty that I vastly prefer to wrap my yarn balls in a solid layer of roving before felting them.  Roving is carded, unspun wool, so it’s just a bunch of free fibers.  When they felt, they’ll give the ball a uniform appearance much like those in the first picture above.  The layer of roving also locks the yarn strands into place, which means they definitely won’t come undone in the dryer later (and make a huge, tangled mess!)  The outer layer of roving also felts much more quickly than the yarn, so you may only need one major wash to adequately felt the outside.

Once you’ve felted the outside, you can go back and needle-felt designs and figures onto the exterior of the ball if you wish, or sew on scraps of wool felt.  I rather enjoy these simple hearts below.  If adding details, tie the balls into nylon and launder for one final time to make sure the designs adhere to the ball.  When you’re ready to use your dryer balls, select between 4-8 balls, put a few drops of an essential oil of your choice onto each (if you want scented laundry), toss them in the dryer with your wet clothes, and dry as normal.  Enjoy!

These are my very own wool laundry balls.  After I felted them, I attached green felt hearts with brown embroidery floss using a blanket stitch.

These are my very own wool laundry balls. After I felted them, I attached green felt hearts with brown embroidery floss using a blanket stitch.

Plastic Reduction Mission 4: Fabric Softener Alternatives

Holy cow!  I can’t believe it’s been two years since I did my last plastic reduction mission!  I have definitely found that the easiest way for me to reduce my plastic usage is to avoid buying things that come in plastic bottles.  Last time, it was laundry detergent.  I’ve been using homemade laundry detergent for awhile now, and I’ve really liked the results.  I’ve also really liked my DIY fabric softening results…and it’s just occurred to me that I haven’t bought a bottle of fabric softener in two years either…so why not post about it?

If you’re really into plastic reduction, or just reduction in general, the obvious choice is to forgo a fabric softener altogether.  I did this all throughout my co-op years with no ill-effects.  The detergent I used then was Seventh Generation’s powdered detergent, which is a mostly washing soda based product like my homemade stuff is.  However, now that I’m using my homemade stuff, I have noticed that if I do not use a fabric softener, my clothes feel a good bit stiffer after drying than they did before.  A little research and some basic high school chemistry eventually brought me to the conclusion that the soap in my homemade detergent might be bonding with the few hard water deposits (calcium and magnesium cations) in our water and leaving a very fine residue of soap scum in my fabrics that was contributing to the stiffer feel.  Any residual alkalines (the borax and washing soda) in the clothing would only serve to increase the scratchy feel.  The solution here is really simple: introduce an acid to the rinse cycle to dissolve the soap scum and neutralize residual alkalines.  Enter my first DIY softener: distilled white vinegar.

Do as you oughta, add acid to wata!

Do as you oughta, add acid to wata!

As it turns out, I’m not the first person to think of this.  Martha Stewart advocates using between 1/4 and 1 cup of white distilled vinegar in the final rinse cycle as a fabric softener.  I’ve started to do this, either by pouring vinegar directly into the machine’s softener dispenser (mine takes about 1/4 cup) or by putting greater amounts into a Downy Ball and putting it into the machine,  and I’ve been pretty pleased with the results.  My fabrics aren’t ultra-soft in the way they become using commercial fabric softener, but they’re definitely softer than using detergent alone, no matter whether the detergent it is homemade or commercial.  Moreover, using vinegar in place of laundry detergent has been promoted by Frugalistas all across the Internet.  After all, a 120-load bottle of Downy (103 oz or 0.8 gallons) costs about $11, but two gallons of Four Monks white vinegar (which would do 128 loads using 1/4 cup) cost me $3.91 at Costco last week.

Unfortunately for me, using vinegar as a fabric softener doesn’t exactly help me reduce my plastic load as I would have to purchase two larger plastic bottles of vinegar to get the same number of softened loads as the smaller Downy bottle.  Since doubling my plastic dependency isn’t the goal of this challenge, I need something that can work the same as vinegar, but is sold in solid form so that it doesn’t need a plastic or glass container.  I need a weak acid that comes in a powdered form.

Citric acid:  it's cheap, sustainable, and solid.

Citric acid: it’s cheap, sustainable, and solid.

I think I have found a winner in citric acid.  Like acetic acid–the acid which in an 5% solution with water forms vinegar–citric acid is a weak acid.  It’s also not uncommon to use citric acid in the household: solutions of citric acid and water are is the recommended way to descale–or to remove hard water buildup–from expensive espresso machines, dishwashers, washing machines, boilers, radiators, and water softeners.  Citric acid is also an active ingredient in many commercially prepared cleansers.  In short then, I really think this could work.

Chemically, there are some differences between acetic acid and citric acid.  Acetic acid has a relatively simple chemical structure with only 8 atoms [CH3COOH].  It’s also a monoprotic acid, which means that it has only one proton to potentially donate to a water molecule (to form one hydronium molecule).  Citric acid, on the other hand, is a larger molecule with 21 atoms [C(OH)(CH2CO2H)2CO2H] and is a triprotic acid, which means that it has 3 protons to potentially donate to 3 different water molecules (to form 3 hydronium molecules).  The acid dissociation constants for each of these proton donations are very close together (with pKa values of 3.13, 4.76, and 6.40), but are also in the same general range of acetic acid’s dissociation constant (pKa=4.75).  What this means is that the buffer region (the region where the solution will resist a change in pH despite the addition of a base) for citric acid is a lot broader than it is for acetic acid.  For my laundry purposes, this means that if I have two equivalent amounts of citric acid and acetic acid in solution and I add the same amount of a basic (or alkaline) substance to each, the citric acid solution will stay at its pH for a longer amount of time.  If I want to make sure to dissolve all the residual alkalki and soap scum in my fabrics, this is an incredibly attractive property.

At this point, all I really need to know is what concentration to make my citric acid solution for effective fabric softener use.  Alas, this is also the point where my chemistry knowledge is very imperfect.  My first instinct was to create a citric acid solution with a pH close to distilled vinegar (which hovers around 2.4).  According to this online pH calculator, a citric acid solution of pH 2.36 has a concentration of 0.03 M.  This means that there are 0.03 moles of citric acid per liter of the total solution, which then translates to 5.76 grams of citric acid per liter of solution or 21.82 grams per gallon.   Since there are 453.6 grams per pound, a 50 pound bag of citric acid ($2.50 a pound, shipping included), will yield 1039 gallons of solution (at a cost of $0.12 a gallon!).

When I mixed this concentration up, though, I was slightly disappointed.  The resulting solution was definitely sour–perhaps a little less so than lemon juice–and it definitely created a reaction with baking soda…but that reaction wasn’t as complete as it was when I used similar amounts of baking soda and vinegar.  Ultimately, I decided that this concentration wasn’t going to cut it in my laundry…especially when 1/4 cup of the solution would be further diluted by several gallons of water in my laundry’s rinse cycle!  I decided that my next step would be to prepare a citric acid solution of the same concentration as that of vinegar, which the bottle says has a 5% acidity.

A 5% acidity is basically a volume ratio, which means that 95 parts of distilled water are added to 5 parts of glacial acetic acid (pure acetic acid, which is in liquid form).  To get the weight/volume ratio, you need to factor in the density of acetic acid, which is 1.049 g/mL, which means that 5% v/v acetic acid solution is 5.25% w/v solution.  To make an equivalent concentration of citric acid, then, you would need 5.25 grams of citric acid and 95 mL water.  This works out to 209.2 grams of citric acid for every gallon of water (or 0.288 M), which is almost exactly the amount of 1 cup of citric acid (211 grams).  If I used 1 cup of citric acid for every gallon of water, my cost per gallon would be $1.16, which is still a 40% savings on my vinegar budget of $1.95 per gallon).

Although the pH of this stronger citric acid solution is 1.85, which looks like a scary decrease from the 2.36 pH of our 1.5 weaker citric acid solution, it is only about 5 times more acidic than the solution made using 1.5 tablespoons citric acid per gallon of water.  In fact, it’s about the same pH as fresh lime juice.  This solution won’t dramatically burn through your skin, but it would be irritating with prolonged contact.  You should obviously take care not to splash any in your eyes and to rinse it off your skin.  If you were to try to use it to clean something, you’d want to further dilute it, too–just as you would with vinegar.

I’ve now done several loads of laundry using my homemade detergent and my 5.25% w/v citric acid solution as the softener, and I’ve been pretty impressed.  My clothes were noticeably softer than they were when I used vinegar, and there appears to be no ill-effects to any of the fabrics I’ve washed.

Tangent Garment Care's Fabric Softener

Tangent Garment Care’s Fabric Softener

After I did a mountain’s worth of laundry, I got so excited at the prospect of using citric acid as a fabric softener that I looked to see if anyone else had the idea.  I actually discovered two European companies that do just this.  The German company Sodasan and the Swedish company Tangent both offer citric acid based fabric softeners.  Tangent’s also been getting a lot of press lately with write-ups in Swedish Vogue, so I suppose there’s a bit of an upper-class vibe with these products.  The two products are practically identical:  Sodasan lists its ingredients as “>30% water, 15-30% citric acid, <5% xanthan gum, essential oil, vegetable betaine, citrate, Aloe Vera” and Tangent lists its ingredients as “>30% Aqua, 15-30% citric acid, <5% xanthan gum, lauryl polyglucose, essential oils from peaches, vegetable betaine, potassium citrate and aloe vera”.  Sodasan also recommends using 40ml (2.7 tablespoons) of its softener per load of laundry.

What I took away from these products (which are essentially stronger concentrations of citric acid and water plus a few thickening ingredients and scents) is that you can make up much stronger concentrations than even my 1 cup per gallon of water.  I’m not entirely sure how strong these commercial formulations are, but if the percentages given are by weight and we assume that the final solution weighs about the same as water, then a gallon of the solution would be 8.35 pounds, which means that a 22% citric acid solution would have 1.84 pounds of citric acid per solution.  That’s almost 4 times as much citric acid as my 5.25% w/v solution has, and you use only 32% less solution per load than I do!  Clearly your clothes can take a lot of citric acid!

Avoid Dripping Tapers in Ritual

I have to admit, I totally feel like MacGuyver for figuring this out.

This would quite literally break my OCD brain.  As the Internet puts it, "I just couldn't even."

This would quite literally break my OCD brain. As the Internet puts it, “I just couldn’t even.”

I love using taper candles in ritual.  It feels so ceremonial to me, and it looks so dramatic.  As a bonus, they shed more light than other candles since their wicks never drown in a pool of wax, so a pair of tapers on the altar usually provides ample light for most rituals on their own.

What I don’t love is constantly worrying whether dripping wax is falling all over my candlesticks and the top of my altar.  These mundane worries do an amazing job of keeping me from achieving the proper magical mindset for ritual work.  Worse, my utter loathing for cleaning up candle wax will keep me from actually performing ritual.  I’ll weigh the options, decide I don’t have time to spend babying silver and fabrics, and watch some Netflix instead.

I have never professed to being a good witch.  Stop judging.

This past Candlemas, I pulled out a new pair of tapers for the altar and realized they hadn’t dripped at all during the whole ritual.  So I lit them the next day just to enjoy the candle light during a meditation and came out of trance fifteen minutes later to a horrifying amount of stalactites forming along the sides of the candle.  I quickly blew them out and examined the candles for flaws but then remembered a few high school physics principles.

I decided that the candles did not drip when I first lit them because the tops were tapered.  Therefore, the flame used up the wax slowly enough that it formed a gutter: a concave hollow around the wick.  This let the outsides of the candle stay cool enough so that only the very top rim melted and fell into the gutter at about the same rate it was being used as fuel.  That constant hollow gutter, then, prevented drips.  When I lit the used taper, the rim wax flowed into the gutter faster than new wax drew and created a pool.  That hot wax pool was then hot enough to heat the candle walls, form a channel, and then drip out.  I figured if I just re-tapered the candle ends, I’d be able to start the process over again.


Hot damn, do I love it when I’m right.

To re-taper, I just took a paring knife (my white-handled knife), and whittled away the rim.  It took maybe 30 seconds per candle.  I let them burn for about half an hour to see if they would drip, and they never did.  Obviously if there was a draft or a breeze in the room, the candles wouldn’t draw evenly and would drip no matter what (I still say tiki torches are your best bet for outdoor ritual), but I think this is a really easy thing to do to neatly extend the ritual life of your tapers if you primarily work indoors.

Atholl Brose: The Drink for all your Candlemas Libations

Mmm...such creamy lusciousness!

Mmm…such creamy lusciousness!  No idea where I stole this photo from, sorry.

I’d never heard of Atholl Brose before I joined up with Soma Sidhe. Our High Priestess has a great tenure with the Society for Creative Anachronism and, as such, has picked up some truly medieval odds and ends she’s tucked into her practice. One of them is making Atholl Brose as the liquid libation for Candlemas.  It’s a Scottish drink that’s been around in some form or another since at least the late 1400s.  And man, is this oldie a goodie.  All I can say is that it’s a good thing we only make it for Candlemas, or else we’d all be big as houses! It’s got the eye-rolling goodness of sweet cream augmented by field honey, fortified by oat brose, and tempered with the slow burn of a whisky. I dare anyone not to fall in love.

The traditional recipes I have found have 7 parts oatmeal brose to 7 parts whisky along with 5 parts cream and 1 part honey. However, our proportions in Soma Sidhe are more like 2 parts brose, 2 parts cream, and 1 part honey, and then every individual adding whisky to taste.  This is a bit too sweet for me, so I halve the honey.  (And if I’m drinking it virgin, I add more brose to my portion.)

Oatmeal brose is, for all intents and purposes, oat milk. However, it’s oat milk without any salt, sweeteners, or any other flavorings. Therefore, I think it’s best to make this yourself rather than buying a carton of oat milk at your local health-conscious grocery. To make the drink from start to finish, here is what I do:

Atholl Brose

To make approximately 2 cups brose:

  • 1 cup oats*
  • Filtered water
  • Blender, fine sieve, muslin cloth

*Any type of oats are fine:  quick, old-fashioned, or steel-cut.  However, if using steel cut, it really is best to soak them overnight.  If you want to be fancy, toast them before hand.

Place at least 1 cup of oats into a blender with three cups of water and blend for perhaps five minutes or so.  Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then pulse again.  Strain the pulp through a bouillon strainer, a nut milk bag, or a cheesecloth lined colander and let the liquid drain away from the pulp until you have at least 2 cups of brose or oat milk.  The liquid should be opaque and about as thick as 1 or 2% milk.

To make the finished drink:

  • 1/2-1 cup honey
  • 2 cups brose
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • approximately 2 cups whisky

Pour 1/2-1 cup of honey into a Pyrex bowl or measuring cup and microwave for a minute or until the honey is runny but not hot.  Pour the honey into a blender and add the 2 cups of brose.  (Optional: a pinch of salt can also be added at this time if desired.)  Blend until the honey is fully dissolved, then add 2 cups of heavy cream and pulse a couple times to incorporate.  (Do not blend long, lest you turn your drink into butter.)

Adding whisky to the whole lot can make it curdle if it sits for very long or is refrigerated.  Therefore, I prefer to add the spirits just prior to serving.  If adding whisky to the whole batch, stir 2 cups of whisky in.  Alternately, let everyone add whisky to taste to their own portion.

Obviously, bourbon could be used here, too.  Bear in mind, though, that this is not a beverage helped by a fine single-malt, so don’t waste the really good stuff.  In fact, atholl brose does amazing things to really cheap whisky.  In the $10 paint stripper stuff from Costco pictured below, it brought out tons of vanilla, oak, and snickerdoodle notes.  If you are wanting a single-malt, I would caution you to stay away from the peaty, smokey whiskies.  Milder singles like Glen Morangie or The Macallan would be about right for this application…although entirely overkill.   Slàinte Mhath!

The atholl brose I made for this Candlemas, along with a Brigit statue that was my birthday present this past year.

The atholl brose I made for this Candlemas, along with a Brigit statue that was my birthday present this past year.