In Honor of Buckland’s Passing

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Raymond Buckland, 1934-2017

The death that has occupied celebrity news this week was that of Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine. In the Pagan world, however, that news barely registered in the wake of another passing that same day: that of Raymond Buckland.

Buckland was one of the more influential figures in late 20th century contemporary paganism. He and his first wife Rosemary founded the first Gardnerian coven in New York–and quite likely the United States. When Buckland left Gardnerian craft in the early 1970s following his separation and subsequent divorce from Rosemary, he went on to found Seax-Wicca, which was groundbreaking in being a complete, working tradition that required no initiation to join. Anyone who studied its main text, The Tree, and chose to self-dedicate could become a Seax-Wiccan, which was incredibly liberating at a time when access to Wiccan covens was practically non-existent for most of America.

Since about 1969, Buckland served his Craft best as a professional writer and has one of the more impressive bibliographies I personally have ever seen, with at least 40 or so titles to his name in both nonfiction and fiction–and all without the use of ghostwriters. Of course, not all are memorable and some–notably The Magick of Chant-o-Matics–are downright silly. Professional writers do have to pay the bills, after all. But in between texts clearly designed for mass media and fast sales, Buckland produced important work. American paganism would not be what it is today without The Tree and the influence of Seax-Wicca and, perhaps more importantly, the influence of Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, the giant cobalt tome that so many in the community have renamed “Uncle Bucky’s Big Blue.” The BCBW is such a clean, useful, and popular book that it is one of the only books on contemporary witchcraft that any publisher has bothered to make into an audiobook. It is, as they say, kind of a big deal.

Outside of paganism, Buckland also achieved a high notoriety among American Spiritualist communities, in large part due to his publications on mediumship, the most beloved of which is The Spirit Book and the most comprehensive of which is Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communications, or “Big Red”. I grew up in spitting distance from one of the largest spiritualist camps in the country, Camp Chesterfield, and visited there only last week. I can personally attest that the Raymond Buckland section in their bookstore is comparatively prodigious and clearly well-loved. He even made an appearance in a 2011 spiritualist documentary produced by HBO, No One Dies in Lily Dale. (The link should take you to his appearance, about 47 minutes into the film.)

Buckland was a complicated man with a complicated life. He made plenty of close friends and alienated others. But whatever issues anyone may have had with him, Paganism in American would have looked very different without his influence, and the community honors him as one of the Greats.

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Bringing Still More Deity Representations to the Altar

 

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Mihaylo Melnichuk‘s Aradia and Cernunnos out in the gardens near my home.

Have you ever seen something and instantly thought, “I have to have that!” That was the case with me and these wood carvings of Aradia and Cernunnos. I saw a notice from the artist, Mihaylo Melnichuk (Михайло Мельничук), on a Facebook group announcing he’d started an Etsy store, which would allow him to be able to accept PayPal. He is based out of the Ukraine, and I suppose it is harder to use that service there. The announcement was accompanied by a picture of his Aradia carving and the next thing you know…I was smitten.

I cannot describe how much I love these statues. The craftsman ship is incredibly good, and the artistry even better. Clearly Melnichuk does some research before applying his chisel and Dremel tools to the wood. He has a whole series of Norse gods, which are gorgeous. I’m particularly fond of his Hel, and rather envy this person’s whole collection. Just looking at the various figures alone has helped me get a sense of that Pantheon. All these pieces as well as the Aradia and Cernunnos I purchased are relief sculptures, but Melnichuk is also highly skilled at independent sculptures, too. Just take a look below at a figure he carved of a cossack.

Cosack

That’s some good work. I have no idea how he was able to keep all the proportions so realistic while working with wood. It’s not really a medium that lends itself to such precision. Or perhaps just the artists I know are not as skilled.

My absolute favorite thing about these relief statues, though, is their portability. I really dislike transporting my other statues because I am so worried about breaking them. Most of them are resin, which is fairly durable. However, having broken my fair share of precious figurines in my childhood…I know transporting them without lots of Styrofoam and big boxes is not a smart idea. One small knock could chip the resin or break off a limb or antler. Wood has a bit more resiliency, but the relief nature of the sculpture means there’s no small parts that can break off.  If I want to take these to a festival or a coven members house, I just place these back to back (the backs are completely smooth), then roll them up in a soft cloth. They remain totally secure and safe. And they certainly are light! I barely notice them in a bag. For now, they’re enjoying hanging out on my Altar, and I’m enjoying having some new representations to cycle into my rotation.

Since I ordered these figures, Melnichuk’s store has received quite a bit of traffic and I do not believe he currently has much in stock, but he is accepting orders and also does custom work. And I believe he may be expanding his pantheon offerings. In addition to his sizable Norse collection and the “Celtic” collection of Aradia and Cernunnos, he recently added the Greek Hecate. If you want something different, he’s open to custom work. And if you want something he’s already created but sold, he has a knack for faithfully re-creating designed piece. His prices also seem fairly reasonable. These hand carved relief statues are only about $50 a piece, and they’re a pretty good size. Mine are about 8.5 inches tall. He can scale the size up or down, too. Last I checked, he estimated a 1-2 week time to complete carving, and it took about a week for my carvings to arrive from the Ukraine. I also had the opportunity to ask him a few questions through Etsy, and was very pleased with the promptness and thoroughness of his replies, which were in English. (Most excellent, as my Ukrainian is non-existent.)

So if anyone was in the market for deity representations that were a bit different from the resin pieces that are readily available, I highly recommend this artisan!

Modern Village Witching: Cursebreaking

One of my best friends from grad school round 2 has been having a tough time of it lately. She went on to do her own round 2, and she has been struggling to manage her new program’s demands. To try to space out her work load, she decided to take lots of summer classes and double her summer teaching load, which would reduce the courses she needed to take during this school year as well as give her a semester off teaching so that she could have more time to devote to her own dissertation. She also decided to move so that she could live closer to campus and cut down her long commute time, so she scheduled the move for the only ‘free’ week she had…the only free week she has had since she began this program, and the only one she will have until Christmas, provided she completes all her semester work before then.

And that was when the trouble began. Two weeks before the move, she found bedbugs in her old apartment and the landlord refused to do anything. She had to tackle all the extermination and prevention in her old place on her own dime as well as take all the precautionary steps and treatments in her new place, too. Much of the support she had lined up to help her move backed out because they didn’t want to be exposed to a possible bedbug threat, so her move was more laborious and expensive than anticipated. She’s been settled in the new apartment for a few weeks now, but this past weekend she discovered that her indoor cat had fleas. Upon tearing up her new apartment to determine the extent of the flea problem, she discovered evidence of a major mouse infestation (likely the source of the fleas, too). At that point, all the stress and exhaustion caught up with her, and she got caught in a Murphy’s Law loop: everything that could go wrong did.

This friend knew I’m a witch, so she called me up, described all her troubles and said, “Melissa, you know I’m a hardcore atheist, but I think I’m cursed. Can you help me break it?”

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Are these the harbingers of a modern day curse?

Even though I’m a witch and therefore hold an awful lot of beliefs that seem kooky from the outside, I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to curses. I don’t deny that they are a thing some magical practitioners do, but honestly they take a fair bit of time and planning, not to mention mundane and magical effort. Most of the practitioners I know would rather spend their time working more positive things to help their own selves out rather than heap negative things upon someone else. Of course, some non practitioners can deliver some walloping curses, but usually that is because you’ve delivered them an egregious wrong, and you are the focus of all their anger and frustration. Unless someone is seriously pissed off at you, you are unlikely to be the target of a curse. And because most people don’t actually do terrible things to each other, the likelihood that anyone is being cursed is extremely low.

But right before I opened my mouth to tell my friend she was being silly, I stopped. It occurred to me that when it comes to curses, the number one suspect on the list of people who could have cursed you is…you. We’re our own worst enemies. I guarantee that no one thinks as many bad thoughts about you as you do yourself. People are egocentric creatures, and most don’t care enough to focus their ire upon someone else.

I knew my friend has been struggling for a long time with lots of issues. She doesn’t feel like she’s good enough for anyone to love her, so she’s largely stopped dating. She also a victim of imposter syndrome, something I know all too well. She’s also in a hypercompetitive world class graduate program, and the people in her cohort are much more likely to feed into her feelings of inadequacy than they are to help her overcome them. And I know from my own struggles that when I feel bad about myself, the mundane struggles that come up seem much bigger and are much harder to solve.

So I decided to become a cursebreaker.

Curse

Here is a stolen image of exactly what I did not do.

It doesn’t really take that much time. In this particular instance, the thing that pushed my friend into panic was the litany of pests. But these are a symptom and not the curse itself. So I took a couple days to visit her and give her a hand. We scrubbed down all the cabinets in her kitchen with a bleach solution and removed all the mice droppings and urine trails. Then we rubbed peppermint essential oil into all the nooks and crannies and placed a few different traps about the place. I made her up a ‘spelled’ peppermint floor wash to use in her (awesome) spray mop, which she uses daily in the kitchen. And we re-organized her pantry and made sure that all food was stored in rodent-proof containers.

To combat the fleas, we treated her cat as her vet instructed and washed all her bedding and linens. We used a flea spray on her carpets and furniture and sprinkled some of the diatomaceous earth she’d got in the bed bug incident on them, too. We did a solid vacuuming of the whole place with my shop vac (diatomaceous earth murders vacuum filters), and we ended up buying her a new Dyson vacuum to replace the broken one she’d been using and doing another thorough vacuuming with it. We also timed how long it took us to vacuum the apartment (25 minutes) and figured out how my friend could work that into her schedule at least twice a week. (Regular vacuuming, if you don’t know, is a major deterrent for most insect problems.)

Simply having someone to help her with all these mundane issues did a wonder for my friend’s outlook.

After all the cleaning, we performed a house blessing to help her feel settled and secure in her new home. And then I helped my friend create a working schedule that could help her balance her classwork as well as allow for some things people just need. Like Netflix and Facebook. Or time to cook, clean, and exercise. Or time to call your parents and friends. Or time to pamper yourself. I gave her a ‘spelled’ bath salt mix of rose, lemon verbena, and mint to use on her new Wednesday spa night and some vaguely magical visualizations, cleansings, and affirmations to do to help her relax and feel good about herself.

Did I do magic to break a curse? Maybe not the ritual magic my friend probably meant when she asked, but I think we worked a far more effective magic with friendship, support, and a few fun witchy window dressings.

13 Things Effective Pagan Leaders Avoid Doing

True Leaders

One of the things I appreciate most about the post-millennium pagan community is how easy it is to communicate with various leaders. There are so many pagan festivals these days in so many different locations and with various levels of accessibility that the likelihood of being able to actually meet and talk with various authors, activists, and other Big Name Pagans is pretty high. And then, of course, there is the wonderful world of social media, which lets you get to see how people act and think when they’re not on their best public behavior.

Having been an avid participant in festivals and a lurker on many a Pagan forum for several years, I believe I’ve been able to see a bit of the real people behind many high recognizable names, and their personalities have taught me a bit about some of the things the egomaniacs in our community do that are noticeably absent or minimized in the true greats. And because it’s a lazy Saturday, I decided to to list them out, Buzzfeed style.

The best leaders in our community do not…

1.    Crave Community Approval. Curiously enough, the best Pagan leaders are entirely disinterested in proving their superior witchiness to the rest of the community. They do not rest on their (usually) well-deserved laurels and continue to spout and promote their own gospels. They don’t seek celebrity status. If they publish a book or organize a festival, it’s because they have something they genuinely want to share with the community and think the community could use. They don’t name drop or allude to their connections to other notable Pagans to impress others or (worse) to begin or end an argument. Rather, they continue to hone their Craft throughout their lives and see themselves as seekers as much as they are teachers. And they are happy to incorporate and share the lessons they learn along their spiritual journey.

Love Me

2.    Cede The Moral High Ground. Leaders of all sorts understand that a “game of thrones” accompanies any leadership position. As great as a leader is, there is always someone who thinks they can do it better. Or worse, some just want to take away the successes of others in order to make themselves feel bigger. Neither of these people are above petty psychological attacks. Great leaders, however, understand that while they cannot control the actions of others, they can control their responses to those actions. Their power as a true leader is to manage that response and act with grace and compassion instead of additional low-handed tactics.

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3.    Begrudge Others Their Successes. In some groups, leaders seem to leech of the energy of others. If someone comes to share a success with the group, the leader is quick to re-direct attention to themselves. This is obviously highly problematic and can quickly become abusive. Even mediocre leaders have the ability to celebrate the achievements of others in the group. But excellent Pagan leaders are able to feel genuine joy and excitement for other people’s success and communicate that joy. If that success reveals a personal failing to them, they do not detract from or attack the covener who succeeded. Rather, they work to improve their own chance at success.

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4.    Become Control Freaks. Effective Pagan leaders are not complainers. They tend not to dwell on the niggling inconveniences of daily life, but more importantly they also don’t fret about the actions of other people. If a student or covener chooses to leave the coven, they wish them well and help facilitate their transition. If another Pagan in their tradition does something they disagree with, they have a conversation with them so that they can understand their actions and motivations. If that Pagan is outside their tradition, they recognize that their opinion is not highly relevant and leave those in that tradition to have those questioning conversations. Instead, they tend to their own garden as best they can.

Control

5.    Live In The Past. Amazing, dynamic Pagan leaders spend their time creating strong practices now that can be useful foundations for the future. They learn from their tradition’s history and from their own past experiences, but they are able to avoid investing all their mental and spiritual energy in fantasies of the bygone “glory days” and other disappointments. The past hundred years have seen a sea change in the secular culture, and as we have seen, religions that cannot find a place to work with secular cultures are doomed to die out. (Just ask the Shakers! Oh wait…)

dwell on past

6.    Become A People Pleaser (or Hater). Coven leaders know that they will drive themselves crazy if they cater to everyone’s whims, and they know where the line is between thoughtful accommodation for a need and bending for a preference. Similarly, they do not try to undermine the authority of others, especially in an attempt to make themselves look stronger, more knowledgeable, or a better Witch. Instead, they try to be fair and kind to others, and they speak up when they see that someone needs an advocate. The can understand that some may be upset with their actions, but they can navigate the situation with grace and develop useful compromises if necessary.

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7.    Avoid Change. The best Pagan leaders have no desire to re-invent the wheel and rebuild their tradition(s) from scratch, but they also welcome new challenges and embrace change. If a ritual from the early days of their tradition wants participants to kneel for 15 minutes, but they know that one of their coveners just had knee surgery and some others are battling arthritis, they will find creative ways to accommodate the physical needs of their group while simultaneously honoring what the spiritual intents of the ritual are. The biggest ‘fear’ of a strong Pagan leader is of becoming stagnant in a rapidly changing world by allowing their tradition to lose the intent and power of their rituals through relying on unexamined orthodoxy.

Winds of Change

8.    Repeat Mistakes. Everyone has heard the definition of insanity: performing the same actions again and again while hoping for a different outcome. Great Pagan leaders are not insane. They are self-reflective in accurate and productive ways. They take responsibility for their past behavior and learn from their mistakes. If they realize their rituals have become the Priestess and Priest show, they’ll re-work their structure to find more opportunities for the coveners to actively participate and learn. If a student decides to drop classes because they’ve devolved into rambling lectures, the leader will re-work planned lessons and experiment with more ways for students to engage with the material.

Mistake

9.    Avoid Risks. An ineffective Pagan leader either jumps headlong into foolish risks or refuses to risk anything at all. In contrast, a strong Pagan leader is willing to take calculated risks. They have the ability to thoroughly weigh risks and benefits to their actions, and they fully assess potential downsides and worst-case scenarios and address ways to minimize them before they take any actions. They understand that the health and safety of their group is one of their most important obligations, and they find ways to help their coven grow and be challenged while remaining secure in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.

Calculated Risks

10.    Expect Everything To Happen RIGHT NOW. Great Pagan leaders know that the best results take time. They know that it will take years to build a strong coven and decades to develop a healthy downline. They know that training cannot be put on a timeline and that some rare people are ready to become a third degree after three years, others will never be ready after thirty and still others will never want to. Instead of running ragged to make everything perfect now, effective leaders make the most of what they do have. They also take care to give their time and energy in measured doses and celebrate the steps and milestones of the journey as much as they do its end. They know they are leaders for the long haul. They work to develop their staying power, and they know how to delegate tasks and ask for help.

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11.    Play The Victim. Caring Pagan leaders take responsibility for their actions and their outcomes, and they know that life just isn’t always fair. Instead, they view difficult times and challenges as opportunities to grow, and they often emerge from these situations with strong self-awareness and gratitude. They don’t immediately assume that they’ve made an enemy in the community or that they’ve been cursed or that they’re receiving a karmetic reward, and they make sure to determine and address mundane causes for their problems before seeking magical solutions.

Victim Card

12.    Yield to Failure. We don’t say it outright, and perhaps we rarely think of it as such, but the Pagan community highly values attaining success. Many of us, especially newer witches, only tend to work magic to help us secure the things that we’re failing at attaining mundanely. Just think of all the luck spells, money spells, job spells, love spells, and all the rest that have been written and performed across all the Pagan branches. I suspect that few of us have groups that routinely practice the skills needed to support a covener through a personal or magical failure, and doing so with a leader can be pretty awkward. After all, aren’t they they ones who are supposed to have their ducks in a row? But leaders fail. Even strong ones. But strong leaders don’t let their failures be the end of their story. They tend to see life’s hiccups as learning experiences, chances to improve, or ways to create something even better than they’d originally dreamed.

Failure

13.    Ignore Their Need For Personal Space. While many Pagan paths bestow all initiated or dedicated members with the titles of Priest or Priestess, the group leaders tend to wear the clergy mantle. We go to them with our personal problems and entrust them with our spiritual struggles. They are also the ones who take on the majority of planning and behind the scenes work, and most of them work their own full time jobs (or more!) on top of it. Clergy burnout is a real thing, and Pagan leaders risk losing other critical parts of their identity on the altar of the Ideal Priest or Priestess. Effective Pagan leaders, therefore, are able to set and work within clear boundaries, and they are able to refer people to other professionals when and if it is necessary. They can also rely on the those they are training to step up and shoulder some of that burden as well. In fact, they should actively plan for these opportunities so that they can attend their own spiritual needs while their trainees develop their own leadership skills. In short, strong Pagan leaders know they have a life outside Witchcraft, and they create the infrastructure they need to make sure they can live it.

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Practical Defense Against Internet Trolls

Internet TrollIf you would have asked 15-year-old me if Witchcraft as it is practiced today believes in trolls, I would have laughed you out of the room. But 33-year-old me would sadly nod her head. The pagan religions attract a lot of amazing, thoughtful, conscientious, creative, and loving people, but they also attract power-hungry egoists who delight in stirring the pot. And this, unfortunately, means that our community has its fair share of trolls. Worse, since a majority of communication between pagans happens online rather than in real physical space, our trolls can have a much larger impact upon our community than what other faith groups may experience. A few well-placed comments by a troll can monopolize conversation in the magical community for weeks.

For those not in the know, an Internet troll is person who uses an online avatar to instigate or contribute to a discussion by posting comments designed to upset others and disrupt discourse. Very often, it appears that the trolls have no reason behind their posts other than to upset other participants in the conversation. Their language often contains falsehoods such as deliberate misrepresentations and outright lies, hyperbolic statements, and insults. Increasingly, these insults denigrate the ‘other.’ They can be misogynistic, homophobic, racist, abilist, body-shaming, and every other vile thing under the sun.

It takes a pretty twisted soul to be a chronic troll.

These past couple of weeks in both pagan forums and in responses to current events, I have seen conversations that caused me to wonder why trolls troll and how they can possibly maintain and grow an audience for their vitriol. Are these people in someway broken? Could they be fixed?

I am no psychologist, but I am a scholar whose best friend in grad school did her dissertation on trolling culture. Through her, I learned that psychology research around the troll phenomenon is still pretty lean, but that many people rely on the findings of Buckels et al in their 2014 paper “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun”. In search of hard data linking trolling with the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits, they conducted two online studies administering personality tests and surveys to over 1200 people.

Using lay speak, these Canadian researchers were essentially trying to quantify how evil the people behind the troll avatars are.

The term “Dark Tetrad” has become increasingly common in the 21st century as a sort of way to objectively measure evil. It describes various maladaptive personality features for which a form of measurement exists: psychopathy, narcissim, Machiavellianism, and Sadism. Briefly defined, these terms refer to:

  • Psychopathy: behavioral patterns defined by an absence of empathy that may signal the subject lacking the emotional aspects of a conscience.
  • Narcissism: form of self-obsession. Clinical narcissists are often described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also concentrate on grandiose fantasies of their own success, beauty, or brilliance and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment.
  • Machiavellianism: refers to one’s proclivity to manipulate a situation and one’s attitudes regarding that manipulation. If one has a detached, calculating attitude about it, they could be said to be highly Machiavellian.
  • Sadism:  the ability to derive pleasure from the suffering of others.

Alone, any one of these four traits could be fairly benign. For example, most sexual sadists negotiate consent with their partners and do not exceed what their partner has agreed to, thus causing no real harm. Similarly, a psychopath might not actively seek to harm or control others and a narcissist’s conscience could help guide their behavior more constructively in social situations. However, a psychopathic narcissist would have all the negative traits of egotism without the empathetic conscience needed to hold him or herself back. If one also condones manipulation to serve their needs, we can begin to see how truly evil decisions and actions can be made. Adding the fourth part of the tetrad, sadism, to the mix leads to what we frequently think of as evil: the active desire to cause pain in others through manipulations made to feed one’s ego.

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Screen shot from the Buckels et al paper correlating survey participant’s personality scores to their reported favorite online activities.

Cutting to the meat of Buckels et al‘s findings, comprehensive Dark Tetrad scores were highest among people who stated that trolling was their favorite Internet activity. However, they also found that “sadism had the most robust associations with trolling of any of the personality measures” and concluded that “the associations between sadism and GAIT [Global Assessment of Internet Trolling] scores were so strong that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists.” They believe that trolls, like the sadists they are, “tend to troll because they enjoy it”, and found that when they controlled for enjoyment, “sadism’s impact on trolling was cut nearly in half.”

The interesting thing about sadism is that one does not have to be the cause of another’s suffering to derive pleasure from it. And this is where I believe trolls find their audience. It does take a certain type of person to instigate any sort of action against another. Think, for example, of how difficult it can be to muster up the courage to call (or text, email, tweet, whatever) someone you just met for a date. That action takes a considerable amount of mental work. It is far easier for some sadists to effectively leech off the pain caused by others. And it is exceptionally easy for baby trolls to sit at the sidelines munching away at popcorn while they watch a particularly juicy flame war go down.

Jackson popcorn

My main take away from the Buckels paper, however, is their point that sadism’s impact on trolling was cut in half when enjoyment was controlled. To me, this implies that if trolling does not provide the troll with some near immediate short term pleasure, they are likely to move on to greener pastures. (It would be too much to hope they cease trolling, however. Sadism is a core part of their personality.)

In other words, it is your suffering that brings the troll pleasure, so the very best thing you can possibly do is ignore them. The Internet adage of “Do Not Feed the Trolls” holds a great deal of truth. If you do not show your suffering, the troll’s pleasure is greatly lessened. If you feel you need to alert your potential supporters to the troll, tell them who is trolling you, what they are saying, and where they are saying it. Then ask them to not rise to the troll’s bait. If the troll is exceeding the terms of use agreement of whatever site they’re using, by all means report them. Be aware, however, that many trolls have many avatars and that the report can, at least temporarily, feed the frenzy. If the troll is moving into libel, do not engage them. Instead, quietly collect your evidence and follow the advice of your legal counsel on the matter.

Offline, however, work your mojo to burn that crazy douchebag’s ass and protect yourself. Just because you’re not picking up what the troll’s putting down doesn’t mean you can’t do anything at all.

How to Create a Label for a 7-Day Candle

Votive Candles

You can’t deny it: They look so pretty and colorful!

Plain 7-day candles are great, but they certainly have that je ne sais quoi appeal when festooned with colorful labels. Most of the readily available labeled ones are of Catholic iconography, though, and buying them makes me feel guilty. There are plenty of specially designed hoodoo candles on the market, which the manufacturers call “mystical candles” or “veladoras místicas. These are essentially the same candles, only with different labels promising love, luck, and money. They just cost $12-15 instead of $1-3.

If you’re going to go through the process of making your own 7-day candle, you can magically charge the stuff that actually gets burned rather than slapping a label over the same old same old. In fact, you can add herbs, oils, and small stones to the wax if you want. Or, if you’re using the coconut oil additive trick, you can steep herbs in that oil before making the candle so that every speck of wax has a special correspondence with your purpose. But it is awfully fun to have a corresponding label, too. And it’s dead easy to whip one out.

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Measure twice, cut once. And laugh at my horrific drawing and handwriting.

The first thing you are going to want to do is measure your specific candle jar. There are loads of manufacturers out there, and I’m fairly sure each one uses a few different glass molds as I’ve seen the same candle from the same company use slightly different jars. Most of these 8-inch tall jars are straight cylinders, but they have slight bends or tapers at the top and bottom. You just want to measure the straight bit and not any of the bends. It’s easiest to measure this with a sewing tape measure, which is flexible and will hug the glass. Once you’ve taken the height measurement, subtract 1/2 inch. Then measure around the circumference of the jar and add 1/2 inch. For example if the “rectangle” you measured is 7.5 inches tall and 7.5 inches long, the label you create will be 7 inches tall and 8 inches long. The shorter height will leave about a quarter-inch glass border at the top and bottom, which will look nice and give you some fudge factor. The longer length will allow your label to have a 1/4-inch overlap seam in the back, which will help the label remain stuck to the jar when glued.

Portrait Landscape

Choose something tall and skinny, not short and wide.

The other major thing is that you need a picture that is in “portrait” orientation. And this is a case where you would want it to be much skinnier than a normal portrait. If your final image should be about 7 inches in height, you really do not want the image to be more than 5 inches wide. 4 would really be the preferred maximum.

Once you’ve got an image you like either drawn, photoshopped, or simply uploaded and cropped into a rectangle you think looks decent, you’re ready to print it. The easiest way I have found to do this is by using Microsoft Word (I know!) on standard letter paper (8.5 x 11) and manually trimming your paper to the desired size.

Landscape and MarginsBegin by setting your page to print in landscape orientation (see how the icon with the man on his side is darker?) and setting the document’s margins to .5 inches on all four sides. I’m running an older version of Word for Mac, and I know it’s different on the newest Windows OS, but those are the settings you want for whatever version of Word you are using. Once that is set, go to Insert > Photo > Picture from File and select the picture you want to use from your files.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 10.48.30 PMAt this point, the image should insert itself into the document and automatically resize itself to fit within the top and bottom margins of a letter-sized paper. We need to re-size it. If your height measurement of your label is 7 inches, then you would likely want something between 6.5 and 6.75 inches as the final height of your image. It is very easy to set the image height in word by simply dragging a corner of your image to shrink or enlarge the image. At whichever corner you click, a little yellow box will appear that will display the width and height of the image, as shown below.

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Resize the image to your desired height, then center on in the page, either by selecting the center alignment button in the home tab, or by clicking on the image and hitting command + E for Mac or control + E for PC.

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Finally, I like to soften the edges of the image, simply because I think the harsh straight lines look a little weird with candlelight coming through them unless they are a decorative border, and I do not have the skills to fiddle with creating a decorative border. If you want to soften the edges, you just select “Format Picture”, go to “Glow & Soft Edges” and move the bar on the soft edges right from zero. I tend to think somewhere in the neighborhood of 19 points looks pretty decent.

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And with that, your need for the computer for this project is at an end. All you need to do is print the image. I prefer to use a translucent vellum paper because it looks a bit like frosted glass on the candle jar, and it lets the light come through the image beautifully. It also “softens” the image, so if you’ve stolen a fairly low resolution image from the Internet like I did here, it will still look decent when it is printed and when light shines through it. Alternately you could use a parchment or even one of those transparency sheets used for overhead projectors. You just want to stay away from a very opaque paper, especially since this label will wrap all the way around the candle. When you print the image, you may find that you will get a cleaner image if you use a laser printer. Inkjet printers lay down strips of ink, and those strips do not always blend together well. When backlit, even the best ones can be fairly obvious.

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Assembled tools: Printed image, cutting mat, straight edge, X-Acto knife, glue, candle. Not pictured: wax paper for gluing.

Once you’ve got your images printed, all that needs to be done is to cut them down to the desired label shape and glue them onto the candle. Cutting can be done with scissors instead of an X-Acto blade if needed, but you will likely still need a ruler with a straight edge to make your measurements and a pencil to lightly mark your cut lines.

Finding the top and bottom cut lines can really be done by eye. If your image is a quarter of an inch smaller than the label height, you just scootch the straight edge up or down the border a small tad, make sure the line is parallel with the paper edge and mark your line. Left and right will require some subtraction and division. If your paper is 11 inches wide and your label needs to be 8 inches, subtract 8 from 11 and divide by 2. You would in this case need to take 1.5 inches off the left and right sides of the paper.

More Images

Left: Demonstrating where cut lines should be. Middle: Demonstrating size (and perfectly square cuts!) of the final label. Right: Demonstrating gluing. Remember to turn the image over (easy to forget with vellum!), use washable glue, and protect your gluing surface.

Once you’ve got your label cut, you just need to apply the glue. Choose a washable glue stick, and choose one that is “repositionable” if you can. Washable formulas will allow you to easily wash off the adhesive with normal soap and water when you go to make a new candle after using this one, and the repositionable formula will allow you some fudge time if you really botch gluing the label down the first time. You will lay a thorough smear of glue not only in a few places in the middle of the label (total coverage is not necessary), but along all four edges (where total coverage is pretty necessary). You’ll need to get glue on, not just near, the edges, so protect your surface with some paper before beginning gluing. Wax paper seems to resist the glue and it doesn’t leave any smears on the vellum, so it’s a great choice if you have it.

I couldn’t take pictures of how to apply the label, but you basically line the top edge parallel to the cylinder edge, but a touch lower. Then you sort of roll your hand around to thoroughly glue down one of the two side edges, moving your hand up and down the paper to eliminate air bubbles. Then press the label down as you glue it around the jar, again moving your hand around to eliminate air bubbles. If you’re worried about your skin oils leaving prints on the vellum or smearing the ink, use a clean rag to press down the label. When you get to the overlap seam in the back, make sure the edges meet neatly and make sure you glue it down so that you get no little “ripples” along the seam. If you’re using vellum, it is stiff enough that it will not crinkle or crease, or even move that much along the glass. Gluing it neatly is very easy–far easier than the gluing projects we did in grade school! Once the label has been smoothed down to your satisfaction, let it sit to dry for about 5 minutes, and then you are free to light your candles!

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The final products. As you can see, it is impossible to see any of the frosting or cracks in the purple candle, thanks to the vellum label, so a warm cooling environment isn’t a necessary step unless you’re a perfectionist. The artwork on the purple candle is a “Beltane” print from Neil Sims. The artwork on the green candle is a drawing of Gerald Gardner that was recently done by a super cool Gardnerian.

I know it’s a little silly, but I really love the idea of labels. If you were a talented artist, you could draw iconography pertaining to a type of spell you were doing if these were spell candles, rather like Sabrina Underwood or “Sabrina the Ink Witch” has on her line of 7-day candles. And how cool would it be to make a few of these up showing black and white images of our dearly departed? That would make for a gorgeous Samhain altar, especially for a coven. I think the artwork is a great way to add just another level of oomph to whatever working you’re using these candles for.

How to Refill 7-Day Candle Jars

Vigil Candels

An Array of 7-Day Candles in a Hoodoo Store

In my former coven, my High Priest and his husband were somewhat famous for asking the rest of us at least once every few months if any of us wanted the spent jars from their 7-day candles. Of course, no one could figure out what to do with them, but their predicament stuck with me. They can’t be the only Pagans who struggle with what to do with the empties. After all, seven-day candles have a firm foothold in the Pagan world. We use them as meditative tools, as eternal flames on altars, as elemental and God and Goddess candles, and even for spell work. And we are just a tiny segment of their market. These things are huge in the Hispanic community. In fact, I know some Hispanic families that consider these candles to be a regular grocery staple, much in the way toilet paper and laundry soap would be.

A lot of people just toss the spent jars in the trash, but they can be recycled, if recycling is available in your area. Most glass recycling programs just have two major restrictions: 1) the glass is soda-lime glass, not borosilicate (Pyrex) and 2) the glass is clean. In my former home in Olympia, you could actually recycle glass with food on it, but you would have to clean out candle containers, so always check with your own recycling provider to see what is permitted.

But my feeling is that if you’re going to go through the trouble of cleaning out a spent candle container, you might as well just refill it yourself. And if you’re going to go through the trouble of refilling one, you might as well learn how to do it well.

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The test subjects. I got two in case I broke one in this process. Fun Fact: This Marian aspect is the patroness of Cuba and has been syncretized with the orichá Ochún in Cuban Santería.

This venture, unlike many DIY projects, will not save you money. These candles are readily available in plain white from the Dollar Tree for a whopping $1, or from Walmart or the Dollar General in an assortment of Saints and colors for $1.50 each. I chose to support my local Spanish grocery, where I believe they were supposed to be $2, but I was charged $2.65. The teenager who checked me out was being trained, and my Spanish is just good enough to pick out “white lady surcharge” in her supervisor’s instructions, which deeply amused me. The point, though, is that these candles are so cheap that even with buying “expensive” ones with extra charges, you will spend more on bulk wax than on buying new candles.

Frankly, I think that’s a good thing. If we do it ourselves we get the luxury of choosing wax and wicks that have consistent qualities, whereas the manufacturers of these candles, who operate on slim profit margins, have to make the best of whatever raw paraffin and string they’re sent. As a result, their candles are notorious for their inconsistency. If we pour our own, we will have more control over how they burn and that can be very useful magically, especially if you practice divination from burned candles. We also get more control over what types of wax we get to use, which is especially useful if we want to make smart environmental choices. I made a table below of common environmental concerns associated with the five major waxes used today below. There is a sixth wax that could be used: tallow, or rendered animal fat. It is something, however, that you would have to create yourself. It can also smell a little funny and be sooty depending upon how well it is made, so I haven’t paid it much heed. However, if you sourced your fat from locally-raised, grass fed cow or sheep or from a deer you hunted, it would be about as environmentally friendly as locally-sourced beeswax. If using tallow interests you, you can find instructions on how to render tallow and make candles from it online.

Wax Environmental Concerns Table
Environmentally, it is hard to beat beeswax–especially if you have a locally-produced source. After that, it’s a bit of a tossup for me personally between soy and coconut. On paper, I think coconut comes out the winner, but I live in walking distance from corn and soybean fields, and there are soy oil and wax producing plants in my state. In theory, it would be my local option, while coconut has a hefty mileage footprint. For me, local is really important. Others may feel the same way about GMOs. Make the choices that are best for you. Personally, I steer away from paraffin for fairly obvious reasons, but I also stay away from palm. Read up on the issues in that industry. It’s terrifying.

But there’s more than just the environment to consider here. There’s also what material is going to work best for the project. So, I made another table, this one with the various physical traits of each wax.

Wax Tendencies

In the end, I opted to use soy wax for this project, as I wanted a more environmentally-responsible wax, but with minimum hassle and a manageable cost. I also thought beeswax was a bit overkill for a container candle. I love the tapers and pillars I make from beeswax, but it really shines (hah!) in those applications. I’ve always been disappointed with every beeswax container candle I have ever made, seen made, or purchased. And with that big decision, it is time to actually start re-filling the candle.

To begin, assemble the following items:

Melting Wax

Step 1: Remove the label (if any) from the candle and melt and remove any remaining wax.

Start by removing the label, if there is one. If you have burned the candle before, removing the label will help you to see if the glass has cracked somewhere. Obviously, if the glass has cracked, it should not be re-used. Removing the label at this point also helps to minimize the mess created when paper hits boiling water. The labels on the candles I started out with here were plastic and peeled off easily. They just left a strip of glue on the glass that wiped off without a problem after the jar had been heated and the wax melted. However, different companies have different labels. It is not necessary to completely remove the label and adhesive at this stage, and it could even be easier once the jar has been heated. If you are confident the glass is fine and the label is proving difficult, just remove it later, perhaps after you dump the majority of the wax.

Next, all you have to do is stick the jar in a pot of water and set it to boil. The pot shouldn’t be completely full, as  the water may jump out a bit, but you definitely need more than an inch or two. As the jar heats, the wax will melt (and any paper labels and adhesive will soften). When the wax has completely melted, pour it into a trash can or, if you wish to save it, into a clean plastic or glass container. (I actually love using a glass mason jar for this, as I can just pop it into a pot and re-melt the wax straight in it.) Do not pour it into your sink unless you want an expensive plumbing bill and a huge mess. Wipe the rim of the jar with a paper towel and put it back in the boiling water for a few minutes, then pour it off again. You will likely get rid of another half-teaspoon or so of wax.

At this point, you want to remove any wax residue that remains in the jar. I find it easiest to heat the jar in the water again, and then stick half a paper towel down in it with a chopstick. You move the towel around in jar with the chopstick to absorb the wax and it’s pretty easy to remove by trapping the towel between the chopstick and the jar and dragging it up and out. I find about 3 repetitions gets the job done, with reheating the jar between each towel. You could also line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (to protect the sheet) and some paper towels or bits of brown paper bags (to absorb the wax) and set the jars upside down on the paper. Set them in a cold oven and bring it to about 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit. A good bit of the remaining wax will flow down the sides and be absorbed by the paper by the time the oven is done preheating.

Cleaning Jar

Step 2: Scrub out the jar with an abrasive cleaner. Rinse, dry, and inspect. Repeat if necessary.

When all but the smallest bit of wax has been removed, it’s time to start cleaning the jar. If its wick was held down with adhesive, you do need to remove as much of that as possible as you’ll be using your own later. Many of these adhesives are high-heat and will scrape off with a butter knife if the jar is hot, and most residue can be removed either with isopropyl alcohol or acetone (different solvents for different brands). If neither works, a commercial solvent like Goof Off may.

After tackling the adhesive, you’re in the final stretch. All that really needs to be done at this point is to give the glass a good scrub with an abrasive cleaner like Barkeeper’s Friend, which is fantastic on stainless steel and glass. Using a good amount will definitely clean up any tiny bits of remaining wax as well as any soot or discoloration from the inside, and it should get rid of any remaining adhesive on the outside. (There was no soot on this one, but I have used it on many glass candle containers in the past, and it’s a dream.) Barkeeper’s can’t be used with lots of water, or it loses its abrasive ability; what water remains in the jar and on the brush after a rinse and shake should be plenty. You will, however, have to use a bottle brush for the tall and skinny 7-day candle jar as shown above because it’s impossible to get the right angles and pressure with a standard dish brush. After a thorough scrub, rinse the jar and inspect it for any remaining wax or soot. Scrub again if needed, then rinse and dry the jar.

Setting the Wick

Step 3: Glue a wick to the bottom of the jar and center the top of the wick with a wick pin or chopstick.

When the glass jars are dry, they are ready to be wicked. And this is the part of the process I am most proud of. Most of the container candles I’ve made in the past have been short with wide tops, so it’s easy to just stick your hand there to affix the wick. But there’s no way to do that with this tall, skinny jar. As I was struggling to figure out a method, I thought it would be much easier if the wick was stiffer so that I could use it like a stick. And that was when I realized I could just slide it into a straw for instant stiffening. It is a bit tricky to hold the straw and the wick and direct them downward fast enough and accurately enough for the wick to be glued in the dead center of the jar…but it is much easier to hold the wick upright and slide the jar over it, looking through the bottom of the jar to make sure the wick gets stuck in the center. So in the end, all you do is slide the wick into the straw, squeeze a pea-sized amount of hi-temp hot glue onto the bottom of the wick tab, turn the jar upside down and slide it over the straw and wick ( which you are holding upright). Stick the wick in the center of the jar’s bottom and hold it for a couple seconds, then turn the jar right side up and remove the straw. Wrap the free end of the wick around a chopstick or grip it in a clip until the wick is fairly taut and straight. Center the wick in the center of the jar opening, and you’re ready to pour in the wax!

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Step 4: Measure and the wax and any oils or coloring. (Note: These are not my pictures. This is so fast, I forgot to take a picture of it.)

Once the wicks are set (Or even before, frankly. The wax takes a long time to melt.), you can finally turn your attention to the wax. The jars I am using here are 8.25 inches tall and 7.5 inches in circumference, and I found that about 12-13 ounces of wax was fine. You want the candle to start about an inch down from the glass rim. Weighing is easy. Set the scale to display weight in pounds and ounces, then plunk your pitcher onto the scale and tare it out so that the display shows 0.0 oz as the weight. Then simply add wax a bit at a time until it hits 12 ounces or whatever you want as your target. Add coconut oil and your coloring, then pop the pitcher into a pot of boiling water and let all the wax melt. Remove it from the boiling water and give it a stir: it should probably be close to 185 degrees Fahrenheit at this point. If not, return it to the boiling water and continue heating until 185 is reached. At this temperature, the oil and colorant will more thoroughly incorporate with the wax. Then set the wax aside until it reaches about 135 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, it will be cool enough for stable pouring.

The weighing and melting is easy, but deciding on your “recipe” is a matter of trial and error in order to get the right rate of candle burn. Prior to this, I had made a straight soy candle in a different container and found that it was burning cooler than I expected it would given the wick size I was using. If a wax is burning cooler, a trick for making it burn hotter is to incorporate an oil, such as a fragrance oil. I didn’t want a scented candle, though, so I decided to use coconut oil. Usually soy waxes can handle about 1 ounce of fragrance oil for every pound of wax. Many people recommend also adding a tablespoon of coconut oil (about .5 oz) on top of that to help with the scent throw, so I decided to see how 1.5 ounces of coconut oil impacted the burn. However, my pitcher had a couple ounces of beeswax in it that I was too lazy to melt out, so I left that in. The next candle I made, I used 12 ounces of soy wax and 2 ounces of coconut oil. I was very surprised by how differently the two candles burned.

Candle Burn

Top row: The 12 oz soy: 2 oz oil candle after 20 minutes of burning and after 90 minutes of burning. Bottom row: the 12 oz soy: 1.5 oz oil: 2 oz beeswax candle after 20 minutes of burning and after 90 minutes of burning.

It may be hard to see here, but after 20 minutes of burning, the green candle’s wax pool still hadn’t made it across the whole surface, but it was on its way and one side was about 1/4-inch deep. By contrast, the purple candle had a very shallow wax pool that had only just touched one side. After 90 minutes of burning, the green candle’s pool had gone completely across and was about 1/2-inch deep, while the purple candle looked much as the green had after 20 minutes, though perhaps a little shallower. Neither is burning perfectly, but both both are burning just fine and pretty cleanly.

What the different burns mean is that the purple candle (thanks to the beeswax) is burning much more slowly than the green candle, which is burning at about the same rate the original paraffin wax was. In fact, the green candle is burning at the outer reaches of “fast” for me. It is burning well and cleanly, but the wick end is “mushrooming” a little, which indicates its consuming a little more wax than it can cleanly burn. It’s likely that this candle will start to form soot on the glass as it burns down halfway and oxygen starts getting restricted, and I will probably have to blow out the candle periodically and manually trim the wick. With this wax to oil ratio, I probably could have sized down to a “small” wick rather than a medium to get a better burn. Conversely, the purple candle is burning at the outer reaches of “slow” acceptable for me and is on the cusp of sizing up to a large wick. The wax pool will eventually extend to both sides, but in order to insure a good burn, I have to use the foil trick after about 90 minutes of burning because the wax pool won’t grow any more. Ten minutes after that, however, it has a full wax pool which it maintains independently afterwards, so the wick size might be just fine.

The rate at which a candle burns is something to pay attention to if you are striving to make a 7-day candle that will actually burn for 7 days. I am estimating that the green candle would probably burn for 5 days if I didn’t blow it out, but I bet I could get a full 7 days from the purple. The next time I try this, I will shoot for 12 ounces of soy to 1 ounce coconut oil and see how that affects the burn. I am fairly sure that will hit a happy medium for the wick, and I might get a 7-day burn from it.

Pour and Cool

Step 5: Pour and cool.

Whatever you’ve decided on as your wax “formula”, once it has cooled to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, it is ready to be poured into the container. Ideally, you should try to warm up the container a bit so that the wax cools at about the same rate in its interior as it does its exterior. If the rates are a bit off, some parts of the wax will stick to the glass and make it look like there are “wet spots” on the side. Soy wax is also prone to “frosting” against the glass as the wax solidifies, which some people think looks like mold. Moreover, as the candle cools it will also crack as some sections are cooling faster than others. The top of the candle is especially prone to cracks or “sink holes.

For these candles, I wasn’t too worried about what they would look like on the exterior because of what I was planning to do with them later. These cooling issues don’t really affect how the candle burns. So I let the purple candle cool on the kitchen counter where the ambient room temperature was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Sure enough, it developed a big sinkhole, frost and cracks. I did want to take care of the sink hole since the top would be visible, and that is a pretty easy fix. All you do is make the hole a little worse by pushing through it with a chopstick or skewer, then pour a light level of wax over the hole until the top is level.  After that, it will cool with a clean top or a smaller hole that can easily be filled by lightly melting the candle top with a heat gun or a hair dryer set on hot heat and low air.

cooling rates

What a difference room temperature vs. warm environment cooling has on the external appearance of the finished candle!

In order to show the difference cooling can have on the final appearance of the candle, I used a different technique for the green candle. I set my oven on its lowest temperature, 150 degrees Fahrenheit. When it came to temperature, I set the wicked jar on a foil-lined sheet pan (so in case it spilled I could clean up more easily) and let it heat for about 5 minutes as my wax cooled to temperature. Then I poured the wax and returned the jar to the oven where I let it sit for another 5 minutes before I turned the oven off. This created a warm, insulated environment that would slowly cool down to room temperature (77 degrees) over the course of a few hours. I went to bed, and the next morning I took the candle out of the oven. It was practically perfect. No frosting, cracks, or wet spots, and only a very tiny hole in the top that looked like a bubble. A quick shot with my hairdryer took care of that.

In the end, I was left with two fantastic candles that I should have taken a glamor shot of before I moved on to decoration. And the cost per candle wasn’t that high either. I got 4 pounds of soy wax from Michaels for $14 with tax (I had a 40% off coupon). And their box of six medium 9-inch wicks was $2.53 with tax (I had a second 40% off coupon). The cost of the hot glue is negligible, so in the end my unit cost was $2.63 cents in wax per candle and $0.42 cents per wick, so a grand total of $3.05 per candle. It may be three times the cost of the cheapest 7-day candle, but it’s hardly at risk of breaking the bank.