Prayerful Poetry

I take back every bad thing I ever thought of my high school teachers.  Since joining their ranks, I have been working harder than I ever have before, and I have never been so far behind.  These days, I’m waking up before 5 am, in to work before 7 am, begin teaching duties at 8, end teaching duties at 5:30 pm, finally get back home sometime around 9 pm after either working or attending graduate classes and collapse into bed around 10 pm.  Weekends?  I’ve forgotten what those are.

Funny, Lady Violet and I ask the same question but for entirely different reasons.

Funny, Lady Violet and I ask the same question but for entirely different reasons.

Spiritually, I’m floundering.  All my carefully crafted routines to help me worship and grow have fallen by the wayside in this relentless schedule.  When I was busy before, my fail safe was to pray and channel as I was cooking–to give thanks to the life that was giving me life and feel it as a connection to the Gods.  But lately? I don’t think I’ve so much as fried an egg since July and have consumed more fast food in the past five months than I have in the past five years.  And frankly, it is hard to muster a spiritual moment over a McDonald’s sausage McMuffin.

But last week as I was driving home after my Thursday seminar, I happened to be listening to NPR and caught a few minutes of The Writer’s Almanac and Garrison Keillor’s blood-pressure dropping baritone.  As he began reading a poem, I pulled my car off to the side of Michigan Avenue and let the words slowly fill my mind and heart.

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.

As the poem closed, I scrambled for my phone to take note on the author and title so I could look it up when I arrived back home, and I laughed out loud when Keillor announced it was “School Prayer” by Diane Ackerman.  I do not know what Ackerman meant with her wry title, but her poem was a necessary balm to this Pagan teacher’s weary soul…and I’ve taken to reading it every night before I sleep.

And Now We Start All Over Again

I know that I just announced my elevation to second degree all of four posts ago, and that I’ve only been a second for five months now, but with all the big life changes that come with starting a new career and moving 2300 miles away comes another one magically.

In a couple of months, I’m going back to first degree.

Opportunities for Growth Abound!

Opportunities for Growth Abound!

Obviously, one does not simply wake up one day and say “you know, I don’t think that elevation really took…I’m going to pretend that never happened and say that I’m still a first.”  And that is certainly not what I am doing here.  Instead, I’m jumping lines (or perhaps traditions, depending on one’s view of the California line).

See, when I realized that moving to Indiana was a sure thing, I worried about how that would impact my growth in Wicca.  I didn’t jump into this new career lightly; I knew it would involve incredibly long hours consume most of my ‘free’ time.  I also knew that even if I lucked into some incredible flight prices, I would not be able to fly back to Washington frequently enough to continue with my coven.  I discussed the matter over with my HP and HPS, and we developed a few options.  One was that I use my new elevation to start a daughter coven in Indianapolis with my HP flying in for important events until I “raised up” a local gentleman to priest.  Another was to travel to Washington a couple times a year for week-long intensive trainings.  And of course, there was attempting to join an existing local group.

Long story short, I knew I wouldn’t have time or energy to put into starting a daughter coven while also learning to teach more effectively.  (Truth be told, I’m struggling just to find time to pray.)  Long intensives were out as I desperately need to invest more in my familial relationships and my school breaks are going to be almost exclusively claimed by them.  That, of course, left joining a local group.  Luckily for me, I found a great forming coven run by people I adore and with students who feel like siblings.  There was just one minor catch.  While this new group is Gardnerian, they are from different lines than what I am.  To be adopted into their line, I would return to first degree and then work my way up through their teachings.

My new teachers have checked in with me several times to make sure my ego can handle this.  And it definitely can.  After all, I’ve only been a second for a few months and really have no true “second” experience teaching or even really leading a circle.  In a lot of respects, I don’t feel like a second, and I don’t really have the ego that would go with it.  I also think I have a few gaps in my first-degree training, and–having given this group’s teaching materials a look through–I think that the opportunity to go through first again will fill those and make me a much better witch and priestess.  Over all, I’m really excited about going through a new training process and think it a terrific opportunity.

And, as I alluded to earlier, my mindset going into this new group has served me well.  This week I received some sad news from the high priestess of my Washington coven.  Ever since I met her, she has maintained that she was Gardnerian with dual-lineage in Long Island and California.  However, as an outcome of conversations held at the Portland Gather last month, she learned that the adoption of her California teachers into the Long Island line does not carry over to herself.  As she and the High Priest she trained were my initiators and elevators, this means that the only lineage I can legitimately claim at this time is California line.

Because the majority of the Gardnerian community (at least in America) holds that the California line is not a legitimate Gardnerian line, this also means that until my own adoption/initiation into this new group is finalized, I cannot in good conscience claim to be Gardnerian.  The fix?  To completely re-do my training with another line…which, as you know, is exactly what was in the works already.  So I suppose that all these huge life changes this year have been fated after all.

I’m really looking forward to working more with my new teaching grove and especially to meeting with even more new family members later this year.  I think there will be lots of positive aspects to all this change.

My Gift to Myself Upon Taking Second

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Just taking a picture of the ring seemed boring, so I had fun playing with texture, light, and shadow.  I really like the way this photo turned out!  And on my silly iPhone camera, too!

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently underwent the second-degree elevation, a process that has been underway since I initially asked for elevation in September 2014.  A couple weeks after I asked, coven sister W. and I were shopping in Tacoma, and I came across the ring pictured above.  I decided that I would take the ring home when the elevation was scheduled, to remind me of some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

This weird little piece of bronze dates from about the Fourth Century, C.E. and is engraved on its bezel with an encircled, five-pointed star, surrounded by twenty-eight dots.  Each shank is decorated with two joined six-pointed stars (made like an X with a line down the middle).  It was dug out of the ground in Norway, and is most likely Roman in origin.  That may seem a bit odd, but Rome did have had a military presence in Norway pertaining to their iron deposits in from about 45 to 450 C.E.  The dates are based upon the remains of Romans–invariably soldiers–uncovered in the south and southeast of the country.  This type of ring is very similar to those worn by soldiers in this age, no matter where they were stationed, and the five-pointed star was one of the many designs found on these rings.  Funnily enough, it does not appear that anyone has speculated upon what significance the five-pointed star might have had to these soldiers.  I do know that some soldier’s rings marked certain campaigns, or the legion the soldier belonged to.  Others were meant to thwart the Evil Eye.  I’m sure others were purely decorative.

Whatever this ring meant to the man who wore it 1700 years ago, the symbols themselves have obvious meaning to me.  I chose to acquire the ring, though, as a lesson in longevity.  The choices we make in life have long-lasting impacts.  They set other things into motion that have their own impacts, too.  At second, the decisions I make within Witchcraft have a greater impact, not only to myself, but to others.  Second is a license to teach, and what I choose to teach to others will ripple across the waters of time.  So I suppose that this ring is a reminder to me to act wisely and to act well.  If I do, then maybe the legacy I leave behind will be recognizable 1700 years from now.

Trying Handmade Incense

The Incense Dragon’s Blend 29 burning in front of the Earth Mother.

This weekend, I finally braved up enough to try some of the incense I acquired during Pantheacon.  And I say “braved up” because my own explorations with handmade incense via Roderick were borderline disastrous.  I have painful memories of billowing clouds of acrid campfire smoke, setting off my smoke detector (which was wired into the house and required the fire department to fix), and making all my clothes and bed linens smell like I aired them while a neighbor was burning leaves.

I was being an idiot.  Everything was more than fine.

I first tried a blend I bought from Carl, Blend 29 for Deepest Meditation.  It is a combination of Australian sandalwood, Omani frankincense, Sumatran aloeswood, Siamese benzoin, a natural gum binder (likely xantham or guar gum), and Willamette River water.  The box pictured above contained three hand-formed cones, each wrapped in a strip of blue tissue paper.  Frankly, the whole packaging gave me great hopes of someday providing gifts of my own incense cones to loved ones for Sabbats and the like.  Lighting the cone had a small learning curve.  I was expecting it to light rather like the heavily oil-saturated cones I burnt as a teen.  For those, you just need a tiny smoldering cherry tip, and they burn right along.  For this, I eventually found I needed to encourage a fairly large burning tip for the rest to autoignite, but eventually it caught and burnt without issue.

At first, I wasn’t too fussed about the blend.  It was lovely, but fairly similar to many blends I buy–largely because I favor sandalwood and frankincense.  The addition of aloeswood was very nice and did instantly snap me into a ritual mindset, as it is an ingredient my coven uses in important incense blends.  I shook it off, though, and went about my mundane business as I noted how the scent developed.  Curiously, I did notice that after about a half an hour had passed, I noticed that my mind was quite a bit calmer than it typically is.  It did not put me into a meditative trance, but it did leave me feeling rather similar to how I feel after a meditation.  That feeling carried over for a couple of hours.  I was calm, focused, and surprisingly productive with my reading and editing I’d planned for that time.  It was definitely a lesson in how incense can leave a biological effect.

A chunk of my neri-koh insulated by a square of foil on top of a 3 King's charcoal.

A chunk of my neri-koh insulated by a square of foil on top of a 3 King’s charcoal.

I also tried the neri-koh I had made during the workshop.  Traditionally, these are formed into pea-sized pellets while still fairly moist, but I molded mine into a log on the grounds that would be less squishable in transport back to my home.  In theory, I could have started burning it after about a week, but it definitely cured to a state almost like it is now after about two weeks.  When I went to burn it, I broke a few chunks off the end of the log.  It broke right away, to my surprise, and had hardened very well.  I sincerely doubt I could shape it into balls at this point, so the incense has definitely cured.

I experimented a bit with how to burn this type of incense.  When I tried popping it directly onto the coal, the smell was too much like burning sugar to me.  I tried lightly burying the coal and setting the neri-koh on top of the sand, but that put out the coal.  Finally, I tried a little square of tin foil on top of the coal, and that worked out surprisingly well.  I eventually hit on a decent size:  long enough to hit the rims of the charcoal, but small enough to leave surface area open.  In this way, the incense smoldered while the coal continued to burn.  The only way I could tell it was done burning was that smoke stopped issuing from the lump.  They completely carbonized without changing shape or form, and that actually made changing out the pellets really easy:  just snag one with some tweezers and pop another onto the foil.

I freaking loved this incense.  I struggled to identify what it smelled like, and the best smell association I could come up with was “warm spices” rather like when you make a spice cake.  My housemates came home from their weekend away around this time and exclaimed, “Gosh, it smells great in here!” But they struggled to say what it smelled like, too.  C. said it smelled like cinnamon, but more than cinnamon.  K. said it smelled like Christmas to her: cinnamon and spice in the air and drinking cocoa by the fire.  To me, the strongest associations I had when burning the incense were more synesthetic.  It had this dark, sexy, slow, undulating quality to it, a little bit like what I feel whenever I hear Godsmack’s song “Voodoo” or watch a really amazing belly dancer.  I could definitely see burning it while practicing Kundalini Yoga or Meditation, or for a more movement-focused ritual.  Or just to enjoy; it certainly is fragrant.

The recipe used for the neri-koh is below.  I’d say it would make enough for about a week’s worth of burning if you burned a little once a day.  The only real tricks to making it are to thoroughly mix all the powders together into a uniform mixture before adding any honey and to add the honey to the powder slowly; perhaps a quarter teaspoon to start with, and then adding it drop by drop from there.  Once the mixture kneads into a uniform, stiff dough texture, shape it into balls or whatever, pop them in a plastic bag, and forget about them for at least a week or two.

Carl Neal’s Introduction to Neri-koh

  • 1 1/4 teaspoon sandalwood powder (red or yellow)
  • 1 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon bamboo charcoal powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon benzoin powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon aloeswood powder (optional, though I used it here)
  • Honey as needed

Carl recommends Mermade Magickal Arts for incense and incense making ingredients.  If you order through them, tell them he sent you!

A Rainbow Charm to Find an Unexpected ‘Pot of Gold’

Despite the presence of "Wee Highland Beasties" in the foreground, this picture was taken in Enumclaw, Washington.

Despite the presence of “Wee Highland Beasties” in the foreground, this picture was taken in Enumclaw, Washington.

I gotta fess up:  I’m pretty darn sure I found the original version of this in one of those obnoxious “spells for every day of the year” type books.  But this one made me laugh and it stuck in my mind…and since I live in the Pacific Northwest, I get ample opportunity to practice it.  And you know what?  Not long after I do, I usually come into a small chunk of money I hadn’t anticipated receiving.  It’s never been much–$10 to $50–but usually enough to treat myself to something fun.

Whenever you see a rainbow in the sky, grab up a golden dollar coin or a few pennies and go outside.  Face the rainbow and hail it by saying something along the lines of “Rainbow, rainbow in the sky, your pot of gold do I espy, so bring it to me on the sly.”  Raise up a bit of energy by chanting the rainbow’s colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) and clapping your hands, dancing, or spinning in a circle with increasing speed until you can’t go any faster.  Throw the coin(s) into the air and again hail the rainbow and say “Rainbow, rainbow in the sky, your pot of gold do I espy, so bring it to me on the sly.”  Watch the rainbow fade, then return to what you were doing.

The rainbow’s crafty leprechauns  will soon throw a little unexpected money your way.

A Year-Long Prosperity Spell

Things have been rather amazing with the coven these days.  Our HPS Z. is well-settled in her new home, and our HP Y. has moved with his partner to the American South where they are beginning to thrive.  W. was initiated into the first degree this year.  X. down in Oregon took the second degree when he came up to Tacoma for the South Puget Sound Pagan Pride Day at the start of October, and T., our first degree in Oregon, is coming out of her post-divorce hiatus.  And I’ve been cleared to take second, provided transportation arrangements and health holds up for everyone.

But since I’ll be taking second, Z. and Y. have decided I should start leading circles for the group, a thing that both thrills and terrifies me.  I had my first attempt at it with our Esbat this month on the 7th.  Prior to that, W. and her husband invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them, and our discussions of what we wanted the year to hold and what we wanted to accomplish with the group naturally morphed into us creating a fairly novel working:  a prosperity spell based off of a calendar “rune chain.”  What this string of runes essentially does is tells the story of how our upcoming year will progress financially.  I had gotten the idea for a rune chain from Marietta at Witchy Words, who made one to help ward her new home and–as far as I know–is the one who came up with the concept in the first place.  Once we had all agreed on a prosperity working and I showed W. and her husband a picture of Marietta’s chain, the working just fell easily into place.

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

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

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

The assembly instruction sheet I provided to the group.

The assembly instruction sheet I provided to the group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thing

The runes all finished up.

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

The items I slipped into my prosperity bag.  I wrote my two main prosperity

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

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

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

A Wonderful Yule Tradition from An Unlikely Witch

A handsome stack of Yule presents under the tree

A handsome stack of Yule presents under the tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who could ask for anything more?

Making a Magic Box: Stage 3

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a Magic Box: Stage 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The before and the after.

The before and the after.

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

The Story of How I Realized It Was Time to Ask for Second Degree

I have been dithering about asking to take the second-degree elevation for awhile now.  There’s so many things I feel that I need to do first, and–honestly–I could write several substantial posts on those alone.  But this is not that post.  This is the story of how I realized it was time to request second.

This past weekend, the Washington faction of Hartwood Grove took a road trip to Eugene to meet up with our Oregon faction to celebrate the Autumn Equinox, or–as we call it–Harvest Home.  Initially, the four of us were to travel down together…but due to real life problems like work schedules, that was a short-lived plan.  So I found myself on a road trip with nothing but NPR and my own thoughts for company.  Alas, the ISIS in contemporary news is not the Isis I’d like to hear about when traveling to a Pagan spiritual event, so NPR got nixed somewhere just south of Portland.

About two seconds later, I saw my very first dust devil.

It was just a little one in a harvested wheat field, and it was over almost as soon as it began, but I was thrilled to see the funnel of dirt rise, fall, and twirl about in the air.  I was pleased to have had the opportunity to see something so relatively rare, and it made me a little nostalgic for my Indiana hometown and tornado season.  I filed that away in my “blessed to have experienced” mental file and proceeded down I-5.

Holy geez. Over the next 90 minutes, I think I saw about 200 different dust devils.  Just past Salem and Corvalis where the valley opens up toward the east, I almost stopped the car, there were so many in my line of sight all at one time.  I counted just over a dozen very big, dark, obvious ones.  They were great columns of dirt sending debris maybe 150-200 feet into the sky.  Interspersed around them were some 30 or 40 smaller ones that were of various sizes between 15 and 30 feet, and which were much shorter-lived.  My jaw was on my car floor.

Dust Devils near Albany, Oregon that I stole from someone's Flickr because I was not about to try and kill myself by stopping to take a picture on I-5.

Dust Devils near Albany, Oregon that I stole from someone’s Flickr because I was not about to try and kill myself by stopping to take a picture on I-5.

Honestly, it was a visual image very close to some of my nightmares. As nostalgic as I am for the amazing storms and tornadoes of my childhood, a nightmare I have fairly frequently is watching tornado after tornado appear and snake through the sky, destroying everything in their paths as I watch in horror. They keep coming, these tornadoes, one after another, until I wake up shaking.

But without the strength and violence of a tornado, I could see these baby twisters in a different light.  Sure, they turned everything helter-skelter for a little while, but when they fizzled out, everything returned to a new order.  Maybe another one would form soon thereafter and the cycle of tumult would occur again.  Maybe it wouldn’t.  But eventually, the changes the dust devil brought would fade and life for all the little bugs and things it disturbed would return to normal.

One major part of me putting certain things off, things like requesting second degree, is because I feel a bit like I’m caught up in one of these twisters.  It’s not terribly violent, but I feel things swirling around all the time, and it’s not coming to a rest.  When I do end up in a lull, I’m too afraid of the next blowup to make any commitments or create anything new.  So I stagnate.  But in watching the dust devils, I realized that even if things are temporarily tumultuous and might become so again in the future, I’ll be able to roll with the punches.  So why not take on what I can now?  I’ll be able to fit it into any brave new world.

And so at our Harvest Home festival, I officially asked to take second.