My Visit to the Buckland Museum

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Admission is $5, and with that comes a tour from one of the museum directors, Steven Intermill or Jillian Slane.

This past June 13–Gerald Gardner’s birthday–I found myself with the opportunity to go to Cleveland, Ohio. And of course I jumped on that, for Cleveland is the current home of the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, and I’ve been trying to find time to see that ever since it opened last year.

As I’ve likely mentioned before, Raymond Buckland is largely credited with introducing Gardnerian witchcraft to the United States. Around 1962, the year he immigrated to America with his family, Buckland became fascinated with witchcraft and began a correspondence with Gerald Gardner, who eventually invited him to come back to Britain and be initiated. Gardner arranged for the initiation to be done by Monique Wilson and her husband Scotty in November 1963, and Gardner was in attendance at the rite. In fact, Buckland snapped what is now a rather famous photo of Monique Wilson and Gardner during that trip. He went back home and initiated his wife, Rosemary, and they eventually went back to Britain for further training under the Wilsons.

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Gerald Gardner standing before his Museum of Witchcraft at the Witches Mill at Castledown, Isle of Man. The image is from a postcard that used to be sold at the museum. Today, the mill tower still stands, and I believe all the buildings have been turned into housing.

I do not know if Buckland visited the Isle of Man during his initiation trip, but I believe his visit with Rosemary to the Wilsons was on the island. Gardner had died by that point and left the museum to the Wilsons, who moved their family to the island to take on and expand the business. Buckland apparently looked around and thought “I could do this.” Shortly thereafter, he started a small witchcraft museum in the basement of his house on Long Island in 1964. By 1966, the collection had grown a bit (and frankly, Rosemary and their sons were probably a bit tired of the stuff and the people…wouldn’t you be?), so Buckland moved his collection to a house on Bay Shore, where it thrived and further expanded. In 1973 following his separation and divorce from Rosemary, Buckland moved the collection to Weirs Beach, New Hampshire and operated the museum in that location until 1978, when he disbanded the museum and put the collection in storage. The items bounced around for some time after that. At one point, Buckland had sold or given the items to be used in a witchcraft museum in New Orleans, but that was a poorly done affair and Buckland eventually got most of the items back. Eventually, the items were entrusted to a coven in Columbus, and in April 2017, they were finally made available to the public at the current Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland.

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The current front window of the museum. I was certainly glad for the painted windows! The more official signage is on the door and isn’t readily visible from the street. Without GPS, I might have missed the place all together!

The current museum is a labor of love and a side hustle for the curators, Steven Intermill and Jillian Slane. As such, the hours it is currently open are fairly limited: Wednesdays from 5-7pm, Fridays from 5-8 pm, and Saturdays from 12-5 pm. If these times do not work for one’s schedule, they also open by appointment. For me, it was a little tricky to be able to arrange a travel schedule to hit one of those times, and I think I would have made an appointment if I was to do it over again. If making an appointment, my advice would be to keep in mind that the curators have lives and day jobs and to contact them a good couple of weeks before you want to see the collection.

My first impression on stepping into the museum was definitely favorable. They’ve got exposed brick walls all over the place, bright pops of color catching your eye, and a definite 1970s vibe going with the music and wall of vintage books that immediately greet you. The museum is just one large room, so the curators have created a little vestibule to block off the collection from unpaid eyes by installing an enormous bookcase and stocking it with used books on witchcraft, paganism, and the occult that they have sourced from their own libraries, various acquaintances, old metaphysical haunts, garage sales, and used book stores. All the books in the vestibule are available for purchase, and there are certainly some gems. I spied an excellent copy of Leo Martello’s Witchcraft: The Old Religion as well as what looked like a first edition of Isaac Bonewits’s Real Magic. There are also several less-thrilling titles in the mix (I’m looking at you, Edain McCoy and your ancient Irish potato goddess), but I’m sure that there’s just about something for every visitor there so long as they take time to peruse the titles. The vestibule also houses other ‘gift shop’ items like various t-shirts, coffee mugs, and pins with the museum logo as well as more metaphysical items like crystals and gemstones, a few ritual tools (I believe by Aimee Temple), and occult posters (Madame Talbot) and artwork. The sale of all of these items helps keep the museum going, and I was pleased by the high quality of the items I saw for sale.

Once you pay the ‘gatekeeper’ your $5, you’re led on a tour of the collection (if you want…you can also self-browse). The collection itself is something that you could spend 15 minutes looking at or two hours, depending on your interests. When I visited it, there were a couple glass cases full of artifacts from Gerald Gardner and Raymond Buckland that I was fascinated by, and another case containing an assortment of athames and ritual cups from various practitioners. I very much underestimated how neat it would be to be near items that Buckland and Gardner and Eleanor Bone and Patrica Crowther had touched. These are people I read about all the time and who I thought had been alive in my imagination, but seeing items they’d made or handled–even if mundanely–hit me with a strange gut punch that made them all much more immediate and real. I remember standing in front of a case staring at a pipe that Gerald Gardner had smoked and thinking, “well, I guess now I get why my grandmother goes nuts over Saints’ relics.” It was an oddly moving and emotional experience.

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The pipe that belonged to Gardner. I have no idea why I found this so fascinating, but I did, and I kept returning to the pipe over and over again. The curators are totally fine with visitors taking photos–just no flash!–and I asked their permission to post pictures I took here, which they had no issue with.

In addition to the aforementioned pipe, the museum also has a wallet Gardner owned (you can see a corner of it in the left of the picture above), a besom of his, and the cross guard and hilt he had cast for magical swords. I was also charmed to see a pair of apothecary bottles that Eleanor Bone had passed on to Buckland, as well as an array of athames and cups from various practitioners including Sybil Leek, Christopher Penczak, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, and various members of the Buckland family. I was also surprised to see a headdress from Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, who was such a wonderful and warm woman. I only met her once, but she was so distinctive I knew that item was hers before I read the placard. I was also struck by Rosemary Buckland’s lunar crown and silver bracelet. She’s a person I would dearly love to know more about. I don’t know if she initially went along with the Craft because of her husband’s interests or because of her own, but she definitely had a major investment in it. I wonder if she completely walked away from the Craft forever following her handing the queenship to Theos and her divorce from Raymond. And I really do wonder about what their sons must have thought about all this. The museum did have an athame attributed to one of Buckland’s sons, and the placard said he was initiated when he was just seven years old! I wonder why they would have done so.

Of course, the museum had several items of Buckland’s himself. I was particularly taken by his athame and wand. The wand looked much more like a traditional magician’s wand than it did any of the crystal-bedecked or Harry Potter-inspired wands that are so popular today, and I was surprised by how short it was. There were also items like crystal balls and scrying mirrors that were once Buckland’s, but I particularly geeked out over a purple ritual robe and pentacle of his that was displayed on a mannequin. I immediately recognized it as Buckland wore it in a few publicity photos, and in person I was struck by how much it looked like the one the character Gahan wore in the initiation scene in Anna Biller’s 2016 film, The Love Witch. Biller certainly did fantastic research when developing her film, and I wonder just how much of Gahan was based on her idea of Buckland.

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Left: Buckland wearing the robe and pentacle that are currently part of the museum’s collection. Right: The character Gahan wearing a similar robe in the movie “The Love Witch.”

I was also rather charmed by a whole case of various mid-century witch brick-a-brac. There were all sorts of random items in there, including an “emergency athame” keychain and a plastic figure of Lisa Simpson done up as a witch. There was also a fair bit of jewelry in that case, too, including a couple pendants that the original Long Island coven used to wear. It was lovely.

The museum also had several items from Aleister Crowley and his magical orders there, with little placards saying they’d been passed on through Israel Regardie. There’s plenty of material in the Craft that can trace back to Crowley, but I’ve personally never thought of him and witchcraft together. I did share some pictures I took of those items as well as prints of pictures done by Lady Freida Harris who had done the artwork for Crowley’s Thoth tarot with a friend of mine who is a “recovering Thelemite” and he totally geeked out over them and similar items, so there really is something everyone under the occult umbrella could be interested in there.

The real fun of the museum, however, are the curator’s stories about all the pieces and of Buckland himself. I popped in about 45 minutes before the museum was to close, but had so much fun talking with Steven that I think I was there for nearly an hour after it closed! I felt so bad when I realized how late it had gotten, but Steven was very gracious about it. Definitely ask questions about the items when you’re there, for Steven and Jillian know far more information than the little placards can hold, and they can make great connections between the items.

I had a wonderful time at the museum and was only sorry I couldn’t stay longer in Cleveland. I heard that the nearby Christmas Story museum is entertaining (but would have been entirely lost on me as I’ve never seen the film), and the Tremont area in which the museum is located looked like a ton of fun. It’s also apparently a foodie destination in Cleveland, so I guess I missed out on some good eats and good parties. There’s always next time, though!

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Book Review: “In Perfect Love” by Taliesin Govannon

I love fiction books about witches. I’ve loved them since I was a fourth grader sneaking a re-read of Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch during math class, and I love them to this day. As a Wiccan, I really treasure the rare witchy books that do a halfway realistic job of depicting my chosen community. So when I heard through the Gardnerian grapevine this week that someone had gone and published a book–not only a book, the start of a whole series–that prominently featured Gardnerian Wicca, I was intrigued. And since I’m on vacation and can actually read a book that I’m not teaching for the first time in months, I decided to drop a whopping $2.99 on Taliesin Govannon’s first novel, In Perfect Love.

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The first edition cover of “In Perfect Love”.

This book, the first of Govannon’s proposed Five Acres Coven series, picks up from his 2012 film Dark of Moon. While it is obvious that there is a rich back story to some very minor characters in this book, I was not at all lost in reading In Perfect Love, so the novel does stand on its own quite well. This novel focuses primarily on a minor character from Dark of Moon, Mordwyn. She’s a twenty-something first degree Gardnerian at the novel’s opening who has been blowing her coven–the New Forest Coven–away by how quickly she’s progressed through their first degree requirements. She leads a rather bohemian life, renting the basement apartment in a covenmate’s house and teaching Wicca 101 classes a few times a week at the Pagan store where she also works. She’s also very attractive and seems to take great joy in shooting down the advances of imperfect men while she waits for the right person to show up.

When that person does, she’s a woman, and Mordwyn doesn’t recognize at first that she is attracted to Amy (short for Amethyst), a petite and spunky redhead. Thanks to a couple of covenmates, she figures it out fairly quickly and the pair become happily committed within 24 hours and move in together within six weeks. I’m fairly sure they’re engaged within a year. Even the other characters in the book crack jokes about their warp speed U-Hauling.

Mordwyn and Amy have a charming relationship, and Wicca is at its foundation. Mordwyn quickly begins teaching her new girlfriend more and more about the Craft, and Amy eventually asks to join the coven’s outer court. But even though Amy proves herself to be even more studious and gifted than her girlfriend, she hits a snag when it comes to the one thing Gardnerians are famous for: skyclad practice. When sexual trauma is revealed to be at the root of the problem, the coven generously bends the Tradition to help Amy heal from her trauma and eventually become an initiate. Soon thereafter, Mordwyn and Amy join the newly hived Five Acres Coven, headed by the millennial daughter of the New Forest Coven’s leaders and a slightly older male initiate. By the novel’s close, they’ve initiated a fifth member and have another one or two in the outer court. Presumably, the rest of the series will follow this new coven full of witches from the social media generation.

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Witches of Instagram, baby.

I do have to say that I did enjoy the book. In my first read through I wasn’t exactly gripped by the plot or the characters–there’s practically zero conflict and both Mordwyn and Amy are Mary-Sue perfect–but I loved seeing traditional Wicca through fresh eyes and I really enjoyed how Govannon depicted coven dynamics. As he demonstrated, the people in a good, functional coven become a family in all the best ways. The huge strength of the book, I thought, was in its depictions of the relationships between the covenmates. At one point, I even thought that the book was reading a bit like Gerald Gardner’s novel High Magic’s Aid. Like Govannon’s novel, the plot is the least interesting thing about the book, but the depictions of circle craft, magical practice, and the relationships between practitioners are quite captivating and informative.

I was also appreciative of Govannon’s respect for the Gardnerian tradition and his care to not disclose too much of what we do. As an oathbound tradition, we’ve got lots of members that would be worked into a tizzy if they saw rituals that looked like their inner court rituals or language that looks like it could have been lifted from a line’s Book of Shadows. Govannon could not break Gardnerian oath even if he tried, for he is not a Gardnerian and is not bound by that oath. Nevertheless, he did do a great job of respecting its spirit. Any time the New Forest Coven held a initiates-only ritual, for example, the ritual was not depicted. All the rituals described were either personal rituals or outer court rituals, and while they had a traditional flair, they didn’t do anything that couldn’t be found in a decent published book.

I was, however, worried by statements throughout the novel that implied that Gardnerian craft is better than eclectic craft. These start out tame enough. For example, Govannon notes early in the first chapter that Mordwyn’s coven is “not only Wicca, it was Gardnerian, the oldest running modern Wiccan tradition” and that Mordwyn “loved being a part of a Tradition that served as the foundation of her religion”. Moreover, “having access to her line’s Book of Shadows was a huge plus” because it contained all “the collected spells and other writings of all her up-line Priests and Priestesses”. In this moment, Govannon hasn’t said anything that is untrue or even bad…but there is a slight impression left that Mordwyn was drawn to Gardnerian craft because it is more authentic than the alternatives. Not more than a few pages later, that implication becomes explicit with Amy calling her own previous practice “flaky”, saying “I spent every holiday alone with my [solitary Pagan] Mom, doing some cobbled together, improvised ritual. Somehow, sitting in my living room in front of my Mom’s altar eating some cookies and singing some cheesy Pagan chants didn’t exactly bring across […] The power and mystery of the Old Religion”. Elsewhere in the novel, a seeker approaches Mordwyn and Amy saying “it is so exciting to be meeting a couple of actual Gardnerian Witches! I mean, you guys are the real deal, not like the mall-rat Wiccans I meet online!”

I think that every Gardnerian I know would say that Gardnerian Wicca is the best tradition *for them*, not for everyone. It’s just one way of doing things. It does some things really well in ways that I and others personally appreciate, but it also does some things not-so-well. I know that I’ve been getting stronger in some forms of energy work by attending meditation and psychic development classes at the flakiest, fluffy-bunniest New Age emporium in Indianapolis than I have by working with my coven. And I’m finding I’m able to better connect with deity when using techniques I’ve picked up from Feri practitioners than those I’ve learned through Gardnerian teachers. Gardnerian craft is *a good* pathway, not *the best* pathway. And, to be honest, I would be exceptionally skeptical of any Pagan pathway that claimed to be *the best*.

I was also a little perplexed by just how degree and progression-focused the New Forest Coven was depicted as being. All the first degrees are diligently working their way through a long list of reading, tasks, and assignments to be able to get their second degrees, and presumably all the second degrees are doing the same. They keep tabs and comment upon each other’s progress. At one point, the High Priestess even says that “we always assume that people who dedicate eventually want to reach the third degree.” And the importance of progression in this coven leaves them vulnerable to using that desire to manipulate behavior. For example, one third-degree priestess mentions how they need to tell a first-degree priest that helping a covenmate move is a requirement for getting second in order for him to show up. That is all kinds of wrong on so many levels.

There definitely is an appearance that Gardnerian Wicca is all about the hierarchy, and it is true that many people who initiate ultimately do want to become second and third degrees–if only to be able to run a group someday in their later lives. But that’s not a requirement. An initiate can stay a first degree their entire lives, if they want. They are still a Priest or Priestess of the Craft. And I’ve met several firsts that have more talent and understanding than some thirds, so being a third-degree hardly means you’re the biggest, baddest witch in the land. And no matter what, progression is something that the initiate *asks* for, not something they are expected to do in order to be a good witch.

I was also really disturbed by the fact that no one in the book was shown as having any interests beyond Wicca and romantic relationships. Mordwyn, the main character here, literally has nothing in her life outside of these two things. She works in a Pagan shop. She has a tarot-reading side hustle. She met her girlfriend while teaching a Pagan class. She rents her apartment from a covenmate. Quite literally, unless she and Amy are getting it on, we do not see her doing a single thing that isn’t Pagan related. That’s just unhealthy. The reader is told that Amy has a nice job outside of Paganism (though it also endorses a Pagan club and gives everyone in the club all the Sabbats off with pay…oh, fiction), but everything else she does is Pagan related. Out of all the other coven members, the only things we really know about them is that the High Priest is a professor at the local college, some are married or in long-term relationships, others are single, and there are people of just about every sexual persuasion in the group. That’s about it. These people really need lives outside of Wicca. If only for them to have something to do magic for later on in the series.

I have several other issues with the book, particularly with the superficiality of Mordwyn and Amy’s relationship and Govannon’s problematic depictions of the LGBT community (Brigid outs Amy’s mother to Amy and no one calls her on it?! In what queer universe would that happen?), but that’s perhaps going beyond my Gardnerian focus.

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Something traditionally Wiccan to look at because this post is going on longer than I thought it would

Ultimately, the depictions of general British Traditional Witchcraft in this book are pleasantly compelling, even if the nuances around Gardnerian craft can miss the mark a bit. I can’t exactly say I enjoyed the plot or the flat characters in this book all that much, and I certainly found a lot to object to in their depiction, but I’d still probably read the next book in the series whenever it is published. I have a feeling it will get better as Govannon writes more…and if it doesn’t, it’s not like $3 will break the bank.

Here are some basic things that I wish this book had done:

  • Sprung for a copy-editor. There were plenty of small, overlookable typos, but there were also some really confusing errors, like using the wrong character name or the wrong pronoun. (Especially confusing during the coming out scene!) In the last chunk of the novel, Amy’s mother’s name suddenly changed from Dani to Dina, too, which was super jarring. I totally understand that self-published work will have the occasional hiccup, but this edition had way too many.
  • Sprung for a more professional cover. I hate to admit it, but even I judge a book by its cover at times, and this one is strongly reminiscent of the early days of Geocities free websites in its aesthetic. It is vital in self-publishing, particularly when starting a new series, to have attractive cover art. Without a lot of reviews, buyers will make assumptions based on what they see. In fact, many self-published authors usually give the first book away free on Kindle in order to help create a reading audience. Paying for a professional cover designer is an immediate financial loss in that case, but even if a writer doesn’t want to take that hit, there are plenty of free resources like Canva.com that idiot-proof the graphic design process…for free.  I designed this one in all of five minutes, and I can’t design my way out of a paper bag.
  • Been told from Amy’s point of view. I totally get that Mordwyn was the character Govannon created in his 2012 movie and that he wanted to focus on her…but the audience would have had so much more buy in if they were learning about Wicca and this new coven community at the same time the protagonist is. Many successful series have their book 1 told from an “outsider’s” perspective, and it’s usually a fantastic strategy.
  • Not used Gardnerian craft. This pains me, for I *love* fictional books about Wicca and I specifically read this one because it talked about a Gardnerian coven. But not showing what the inner court was doing–while fine in this introductory novel–seems like it would be too difficult to sustain over the long term of the series. I think that if it were to be a stronger book with a stronger future, a fictional British Traditional Witchcraft tradition should have been created. (How cool would it be to have a Valientian Wicca?!)
  • Had actual problems that took more than a few pages to “solve.” There really wasn’t a crisis moment or anything that held the novel together. It could have been a wildly interesting book about a priestess who thought she was straight in a tradition that highly valued gender binary discovering she was actually gay. There is so much room for self reflection and questioning and personal growth there…but it was literally unaddressed. Amy deciding to become a Gardnerian but needing to overcome skyclad issues could have been an awesome book two. There is so much internal struggle just in feeling comfortable in taking off your clothes in front of others, but to also come to terms with childhood sexual assault? These should have been huge story arcs. And frankly would have been an awesome place to show how Wiccan practice is all about getting out of the way of your own ego. But Amy was a model patient in a therapy that all took place during months that were not described and instead we just got super witches making out. Hardly the stuff of compelling literature.

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.

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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.

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.