Oct 5, 2015

The Great October Book Giveaway - Red Wheel/Weiser Books

If there is a publishing house that is staffed with nicer folks than the lovely people at Weiser Books, I would be terribly surprised. For the second time, these generous book lovers have offered you, dear readers, a duo of this year's releases from their wonderful catalogue.

Special thanks to Eryn for going above and beyond and Judika for keeping me connected!

First up, we have Courtney Weber's gorgeous study on the goddess Brigid:
"Brigid—mother, daughter, healer, bard, warrior, fire goddess, goddess of the oak, animals, and magic. Brigid of the spring, her festival Imbolc, oversees fertility of all kinds. Brigid is many things to many people. In this enticing book, Courtney Weber offers up a wide-ranging exposition and celebration of all things Brigid, who is arguably the most popular figure in Celtic mythology and religion. Meet Brigid in her various incarnations—Celtic Pagan Goddess, Christian Saint, and Voudon Loa. 
Each chapter ends with guided meditations and exercises that help readers tap into Brigid’s healing powers. Inside you’ll find Brigid-focused spells, blessings, recipes, and rituals for love, harmony, protection, and much more."

Next, you might want to grab Orion Foxwood's book of old-style witchery, The Flame in the Cauldron:
"For the first time, Foxwood reveals some of his own deeply personal rituals and spells directly from his own grimoire of witchery; he highlights the differences (and similarities) between Wicca, "traditional" witchcraft, and old style witchery. By weaving his own path to witchery throughout the book, he gives readers examples of how to identify the way toward this path. 
There is a revolution among the Pagan and Witchcraft communities, a movement away from prescribed ritual and neopagan practices and a reaching back toward what Foxwood says is in the heart of any true witch: a thundering call deep within their very blood to become a healer, a reckoner, a protector of magical arts, and a guardian of the wild woods."

You can check out Weiser's wonderful catalogue of books anytime here. Also, if you are a Twitter-type person, follow them there - they are very close to ten thousand followers and are planning to give some books away themselves when they reach that milestone!

Leave a comment below if one of these books inspires you. You can let me know which book you would like if you win, and I will try my best to accommodate you.

Please be aware of the rules and legal bits here.  You must leave me a way to contact you - if you are not commenting with a profile that links to an email for you, then please leave an email address in your comment in whatever form you are comfortable with. (For example: Jen AT gmail DOT com.)

I will draw the winning names on Friday, October 9th at 6pm Pacific (9pm Eastern). Good luck!

*Photos and quoted text are copyright Weiser Books and are used only to showcase the giveaway items.

Oct 1, 2015

The Great October Book Giveaway - Neil Gaiman

These books are now heading out to haunt:

~ Birgit
~ Autumn Earthsong

Congrats! I'll contact you shortly!


Once upon a time, I gave away four books in the month of October. I enjoyed it a great deal and decided to continue the tradition the following year. I thought that perhaps I should name my October book party something clever, and the name "All Hallows Read" came to me, which I thought was perfect! And it was perfect - so perfect that Neil Gaiman had already thought of it. Thanks Neil.

Fast forward several years later, and I'm now giving away oodles (a scientific term) of books, and Neil and I are good. I have since forgiven him, and discovered his reimagined "Hansel & Gretel" with dark and stunning illustrations by Italian artist Lorenzo Mattotti.

Neil talks a bit about the horror of Hansel and Gretel for him as a child, and why you should make children aware of dark things, in this brief interview.

I have two copies of this gorgeous fairy tale up for grabs (sadly, unsigned, but still fabulous). If you want to revisit this story, curled up with a blanket on a cold October night, leave a comment below. I will draw two names on Monday, October 5th at 6pm Pacific (9pm Eastern) and update this post to let you know who the lucky folks are.

Thanks for joining me again for another October of mischief! If you don't see something that tingles your spine, stick around. Something else is bound to creep up.

*Giveaway rules/regs are right here. Simply make sure this is legit where you are and we are good.

*Photos are used only to showcase the featured title. They are linked back to source, and are copyright Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti.

Sep 30, 2015

The Great October Book Giveaway 2015

Welcome to the 5th annual Great October Book Giveaway!

This yearly party is my way of giving a big virtual hug to all the folks that have connected with me over the years, especially everyone who has ever stopped by to read a post here at Rue and Hyssop. This little blog holds a big place in my heart, and so do all of you (squeeze in - we will all fit, I promise).

The Goods:

Books. And more books. Plus a few extra super-cool things that came my way this year via awesome people of the interwebs.  

Whenever possible, books were purchased from the author directly and autographed for you. There are also a small handful of unautographed books coming directly from publishing houses. I'm no virgin when it comes to Amazon, but I still prefer to buy books from authors, publishers, and small bookstores whenever possible. Please support them too!

The Details:

*  I will post a giveaway approximately every five days this month.  You've got those five days to leave a comment on the blog post for that particular giveaway, and then I'll draw the winning name(s) and post the next giveaway. I'll leave dates and times in the posts, so you know when you need to have your entry in by.

*  Please ensure that there is a way for me to get a hold of you.  I'm not going to allow anonymous comments because I get terrible spam if I do, but you can use Open ID or a registered account to comment. For now I'm going to leave the comment moderation feature off, but if it turns out that I've got to spend time each day deleting comments, it may have to come back on.  Let's hope the Halloween gods get rid of the trolls for us.

* You will have exactly one week to respond to my request for your mailing address, and I'll send your book out within a week of receiving that info from you.  If you don't respond within 7 days, I will have to draw a new winner for that particular book.

* I am in Canada.  I will send the books to Canada, USA or overseas (according to the legal rambling below) at the most cost-effective shipping rates.  This means your book may arrive anywhere from 5 days to 5 weeks after I mail it.  (In Canada - approx 5 business days.  To Germany - approx 5 weeks.)

Legal Bits:

* This giveaway (or "sweepstakes") is open to all residents of Canada, (exluding Quebec residents) the USA, Great Britain, Europe, South America,  who are 18 years of age or older. This giveaway is void where prohitibited by law.  Please be aware of the contest/sweepstakes laws in your area.

*  Canadian residents will be subject to a skill testing question before being able to claim their prize (this is standard law in Canada).  The skill testing question will be in a form similar to: 1 + 2 - 1 =

*  This giveaway is not for profit and no purchase is necessary to enter.

*  This giveaway is sponsored/administrated solely by this blog/blog author and is not affilitated with or sponsored by Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, or any other entity, nor can they be held liable.

* By leaving a comment intending to enter into the draw for the giveaway (or "sweepstakes") you are knowingly agreeing to these rules/conditions.

I have chosen all the books featured this month myself.  I have not been paid to feature a book, nor have I been asked to advertise for anyone.  This giveaway is not endorsed or sponsored by anyone other than Rue and Hyssop.

Make sure you are back here on October 1st to put your name in the cauldron, and keep checking in!  Click the pumpkin photo in the sidebar on the right to see the latest giveaway and leave your comment there.

**Comments on this post are not included in any prize drawing. Please comment on the current giveaway post (click the image in the sidebar on the right that looks like the one above - it will take you to the current giveaway). Or, if you have found yourself somewhere on the mobile site, click the "Rue and Hyssop" header at the top of the blog, and scroll down until you see the current giveaway.**

Sep 25, 2015

On Lines and Expectations and Perfection

"She loved the lines around his mouth."
~ 5 Days in May, Blue Rodeo

Another birthday has come and gone and this morning I looked for a while at the lines that are appearing around my eyes and starting to reach out, toward my temples. It's an odd thing, to wake each morning believing that you are still just moments past your teen years and then discover that two decades have passed. I routinely get mistaken for someone much younger, but I'm quite happy to be settling in to this early autumn of my life. Just as the tree outside my window is turning a remarkable golden colour, I see my edges mellow, and enjoy the sense of calm I have found while life flies madly around me. A whirlwind of leaves rip free in the blustery north winds and yet the tree bends and releases without a fight, knowing there is always more to come.

There is so much more to come.

I sat for a while this week with my friend's 93 year old mother. She is tiny and frail and yet still so strong. She has outlived a husband and a son, and so many friends. She tells me the same tales (often several times during a visit) of what her life was like in Bangladesh, how she spent her time sewing at the convent for the nuns, and the jubilant gatherings that happened almost every evening at her home as family and neighbours came by to visit.

I watch her face as she speaks. It is the closest thing I have seen to perfection. Her lines, in the winter of her life, fly from her eyes upwards toward her temples, and then downward over the apples of her cheeks - the feathers of a phoenix waiting to be reborn. They are as exquisite in her laughter as they are when her eyes well up with tears as she speaks about her lost son. A face so full of life that it is etched into her divine coffee skin in fractals prettier than any computer could conjure.

One day, I wish to have phoenix feathers that tell tales of my life and loves and losses. For now, my little lines are just starting to deepen, showing more when I smile than when I cry. They will be seared into my skin a little more each year over the remaining summers of my life spent in gardens and wandering hillsides. They are often hidden behind my hair that I wear long and wild, bucking every comment of "you know, at your age..." Yes, yes. At my age...

At my age, the "grey" strands that are appearing are coming in pure white, and are camouflaged by the blond that they snake through. At my age I wander alone in the woods, go to theme parks even though they scare me, and would absolutely jump out of an airplane again. And again.

At my age, my oldest niece has moved out after living with me for two years, and now I find myself with no excuse to refuse the offers to set me up on a blind date with a friend of a friend of a friend. I find it odd - this idea that unless there is someone in your life, your home, your heart, to fuss over, that you should be lonely - at any age. I have told my friends that I have never been lonely. Not once. Not when I was engaged to a man that was never around, or throughout my single years, or while taking road trips by myself. Not even in my twenties when I thought that I loathed myself - I've never been afraid of my own company, and the host of unseen others that wander with me.

At my age, my caregiving is slowly transferring from my nieces to my parents. But mostly, this year at least, I've been taking care of myself. I've been delighting in movement (from ass-shaking dancing to long yogic stretches) and creating oil blends to bless my sun-weary skin. I've been gathering my friends more, around fires and wine glasses and dinner tables. We speak of all the things that happen to us "at our age" which is intriguing and eye-opening because I have friends ten years younger than me and friends a dozen years older, and how wonderful and strange to hear all their "at my age" stories.

Should I have the blessing of time, I suspect that over the years I will disrupt all sorts of people's expectations of what might be acceptable of a woman of my age. I haven't yet had turquoise hair. There are still a few settings I have in mind where I'd like to tumble all naked and unruly with someone. I intend to keep giggling at inappropriate moments. I have no plans on ever letting a season go by when I don't find some childish wonder in the world around me.

I will earn my phoenix feathers. I will tear apart the world's ideas of what might be appropriate at my age - whatever that age becomes. And perhaps one day, when I am 93 and my nieces sit and talk with me, and I tell all kinds of stories of the wildness of the early autumn of my life, they might look upon my face all tattooed with lines and find it perfection, and wonder what they might do to earn phoenix feathers of their own.

Sep 16, 2015

Tools of the Game

The light was slanted and golden yesterday as I made my way along the lake to the next town. The trees, just starting to blush at their topmost places, looked lit from beneath like they were on display at a gallery. The residual smoke drifting up the Valley from the wildfire still burning in the south softened the sky and created an amber haze. These first weeks of September have been stunning.

I'm enjoying the feeling of the heightened summer energy dispersing as if it were the mist in the hills, while the autumnal spirit slips out of the rapidly cooling lake and river waters and blows in on the north wind to fill us with thoughts of comforting meals, a fire in the hearth, and some good ghost stories.

Summer was wild and long and so very warm, and yet...every month now, every season, seems to have floated by on the shoulders of the cottonwood fluff, and then the dandelion, and the milkweed seeds, and on...and on...

I whisper often, "Grandma, you were right, it all moves so fast."

But there have been beautiful armfulls of lovely moments, as there always are when you expect to find them. And as the garden fades, and my favourite months settle in, I continue to eat the last peaches and plums, and play with the outrageous number of apple varieties grown here, and still spend time at dusk in the garden watching the last few blooms of the evening primrose open.

Life is rarely syrup-sweet for long. There is the bitter too. Rebecca speaks of moving forwards, even when you aren't sure you can or want to. She says,

Sometimes I feel like a tiny human facing down the gaping maw of misery and destruction and the only weapons I have in my hands are a little piece of plant matter and a pen. And then I realise that its not the tools in my hands but the fact that I’m willing to turn and face it despite only having those tools in my hands that makes the difference.

I asked once, in despair, "what is this life?" The answer was immediate. "A game," It said. (Whatever the unknowable It might be.) And I was satisfied with this answer - as much as I could be satisfied in my little human mind - because I like to play, and I once spent years in theatre classes which gave me a molecule of an idea of being in a world of my own making.

I am quite happy to believe that the poets, artists, writers, actors, inventors, and all the creators who play with the world (which is to say all the creators) might feel on some level that we are adventuring through this grand game, and they are willing to have a go at it with whatever meagre tools they are carrying.

My tools these last few months have been a pair of cast iron frying pans I rescued from my camping supplies. They were sad-looking and so under-appreciated, barely feeling the fire beneath them more than a few times a year. A good scrub and a proper re-seasoning, and they are now the stars of the kitchen. And they conjure up such wondrous things.

My hands have served me well this summer digging garden beds, creating magic with plants, pushing a lawn mower, office work, holding books, and rubbing the belly of a big black cat. They have some scars and some freckles because I refuse to wear gloves, but they are strong and soft and just as happy to be wrist-deep in dirt as they are wrapped around someone I love. Hands and frying pans don't seem like much, but both can serve you up all kinds of goodness, or knock you into next week.

What tools have been your steadfast companions this year, or this last season? How are you getting along in the game (or the great play, or the divine comedy)?

I've just begun another year on this peculiar gameboard. I'm ready to see what magic and mischief I can make as I head out to meet the arrival of autumn. Come along friend. Grab your favourite tools and let us turn and face what comes this way. Let's walk out to meet it.

This and That:

~ If it matters to you at all, I season my cast iron with avocado oil, but any oil with a high smoke point will do the trick. I still know old-timers who use lard or bacon grease on theirs, but it can leave a smell. Whatever floats your boat and keeps your iron in good shape. I clean the pans while still warm with a paper towel, and if there is any residue after that, I toss some salt in the pan, let it sit, and wipe it out with a towel again. That should take care of it. A drop of oil before putting them away, and I'm done.

~ The grass pictures are part of my summer fun. I cut runes in to my lawn before I mowed it, all season long. On the left is Algiz, and on the right is Fehu. As I cut the lawn, I meditated on the rune, essentially sealing it in to the land. Perhaps give this a try (or a sigil of your own making) for your last cut of the year.

~ Mercury heads into retrograde tomorrow, and it affords us (especially so soon after a Venus retro) a perfect opportunity for a good clean, sort, and organize before the winter arrives. Trust me on this. Recycle, re-gift, donate, and look at all the things you surround yourself with. Do they feel good? Do they move you? Can you breathe in your space? Getting the "big clean" done early in the autumn will put you in the perfect zone to concentrate on the upcoming seasonal celebrations without worrying about the haunted dust bunnies of summer past.

Aug 23, 2015

Wildfire Harvests and Full Moon Renewals

The red tractors were in the hay fields yesterday. As I drove by I watched them trace lazy, winding circles around the pastureland gathering the cut hay and transforming it into massive rolls that looked like the shredded wheat my grandfather used to eat. I love the drive over to the next valley. I pass small lakes favoured by the local fishermen, and then ranchland dotted with cattle, and finally orchards, farms and vineyards that are pulling in harvest after harvest at this time of year.

August evening sky, pre-wildfire haze.

I'm glad I went out yesterday morning, before the wind changed direction. At some point in the afternoon the wind swept in from the south and brought with it thick smoke from the fires burning just below us in Washington state.  Today, I still cannot see more than a block in each direction - there is only a wall of haze. Unless the air shifts, there will have been no sun today at all. More than that, if the smoke isn't blown out off the valley floor soon it could damage the grapes growing in the hundreds of vineyards dotting the hills. 

It is a bad situation all around, but those who have the worst of it - the ones forced to flee their homes, and the wildlife running for their lives - have my most fervent thoughts and wishes for safety. There has already been tragedy east of here where 30 homes were lost, and straight south, across the border, where firemen have lost their lives. We can deal with smoke and haze and sunless days. Our tourism industry has taken a hit this past week and as of today, you could likely stand at the highway (if you could stomach the smoke) and watch the line of tourists heading home early. Revenue and crop losses are not good. But we still have our homes.

I'm heading up to my friend's ranch this afternoon to check in on her and her corn harvest. I'm not sure what the smoke will do to the beautiful sweet corn she grows. She is a farmer though, and used to trials. Last year birds devastated her field. She tried every trick and invented a few of her own to keep those birds away, but they were legion. This year she got ahead of them and put "corn condoms" on the cobs - coffee filters held in place by an elastic. It allows air in to the cob, but the birds don't see the tops of the corn and therefore don't land on the stalks to pick at it. She is brilliant.

We all create our own ways to traverse what life throws at us (whether fire or plague or something a little less dramatic). Of late I've found solace in chanting - something I've played around with over the years but never really committed to.  A few simple mantras have become favourites. The familiar om mani padme hum and the Green Tara mantras have been wildly helpful in bringing me to a place of calm.

The second full moon in July stripped me bare. This time it was a cold fire, refining me. Nearly a month later as the moon grows toward full again, I feel like a new person. I'm finding peace more easily than I have before. I'm sleeping better and finding new ways to stretch my body in yoga class. I've eaten something out of my yard and/or gardens every day. I have been swimming - full-on swimming, not just wading - in the lake for the first time in years. And just like that, the sun moved in to Virgo today - my birth sign. I am all set to renew my life for another year.

 Second full moon of July in the arms of the cedars.

Coinciding with my birth month, I'll be kicking off another year of magic making with the marvellous Briana Saussy as I dig in to her course Spinning Gold. In Bri's words:
This year-long course provides the principles and practices needed for a life of wholeness, holiness and healing. As a student, you'll access and enjoy real teachings from practicing sacred artists, and a sacred arts community full of love, support, and real accountability.
You can reserve your spot in this incredible journey by heading to Briana's site by August 31st.

Also of note: I've had a few exciting conversations with some brillant magical folks about conjurings for October. If you are new here, make sure you stake out a spot during the most magical month of year - there all all kinds of books coming your way in the yearly Great October Book Giveaway! And there are a couple extra surprises too...

I hope the sultry months have been kind to you, and that you too have sampled local harvests and found adventure whenever you could. My thoughts are with those of you in wildfire areas - continued safety to you and yours.

Summer is still here - it hasn't lost its grasp yet. But there are cooler evenings creeping in, and the sound of geese on the wing is already being heard. Kiss your summer loves and hold them extra close - these hot, heady days won't last forever.

Jul 2, 2015

When Witches Grow Weary

"We stand, friends, at a liminal time somewhere betwixt spring and summer, between school and summer break, between one place and another. Thresholds are important for us culturally, of course, but for those of us who truck with the Unseen, there is power and melancholy in these times of shifting space and time. Hold the ragged edges of your hearts together tonight, my dears. Pull the tatters of your soul into some semblance of your sacred garment. Straighten your back, stand tall, look forward. All is exactly as it seems, and yet...everything is a shadow. Ground deeply, breathe into your belly.
Seize the power of the moment and fear not. Fear not."
The above quote was posted on social media by Byron Ballard, author of Staubs and Ditchwater, in early June. I had been feeling weary for a week or so at that point, and simply hearing another spirit worker speak of the deepness of the latest threshold we were moving through, gave me permission to pause and breathe deep. 

Hob, the talented writer and witch doctor in residence at The Orphan's Almanac had, only a week earlier, left me nodding and holding my hands up in a throwback to my church days, when he called his discomfort of the seasonal shift "threshold sickness."
"Bruised, raw, exposed, the fresh green growth and soaring chorus of renewed life came down on me like a white-noise hammer, filling my head with broken glass and radio static, and sent me, howling, down the oubliette. The Sun becomes increasingly feral as the days lengthen, and a 13-year cycle of cicadas has stirred to fill the daylight hours with a constant, machine-like droning. Already nocturnal by nature, I’ve gone full-blown “creature of the night,” grasping for the elusive stillness that blooms like jasmine in the slow hours, after midnight."
"I am not alone," I remember thinking upon reading this.

June used to be a month that allowed us here in The Valley a slow introduction to summer. We would ease in with toes dipped in the lakes, and the first small strawberries from the field. There would be breezes through open windows and long walks into the forest to pick local herbal treasures and wild mushrooms. This year has been different. 

Summer arrived nearly three weeks too soon, and it has not eased in at all.  Fierce heat broke records early in the month, and destroyed my pea crop and sent the lettuces to bolt.  There were thunder storms and heat lightening that left my ears ringing and sparked fires on the hills. The farmers market had heaps of cherries and early peaches laid out right beside the strawberries. I have never eaten peaches so early in the season. June was a whirlwind, and I tried to keep up.

But really, all I wanted to do was sleep through the sweltering daylight hours, and wake when twilight fell.

It was early June when I began sitting outside every evening and noticed the two bright stars in the western sky. Watching Venus and Jupiter moving closer to each other as dusk fell was one of the things that kept me going this past month. Stars leaning in.

I leaned in too. A new working emerged, inspired by the dance I was watching in the sky. Messages that had been fuzzy at best, were being heard more clearly. I dug deeper in my journeying practice. I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.

The delightfully magical Paige Zaferiou said this, as the solstice arrived:
"I don't know how y'all are feeling but I am weary and wrung out by this strange thin light veil time.
The land speaks and its voice is a swelling orchestra of complexity, a river that never stops flowing over and around and through me. I am caught in the flood and it bears me down and buoys me up and I like it. So help me, I like it here in the ebb and flow. I like being under water with open eyes. So help me, I love this magical fucked up life."
Preach, Sister.

Something happened in June as the doorway through spring caved under the pressure of an early summer. I felt both wrung-out, and stronger. Weary, and ever more a witch tapped into the cycles and shifts that were both uncomfortable and yet potent times for manifesting.

I've come into July feeling wild, worn-thin, and wicked. This may be a very good thing.

It has not escaped my notice that September eves and the shadows of October make magic seem always close at hand and somewhat easier to access. I wait all year for those days. But ease is not always the best path for growth.

Today I heard Sarah Lawless, in her interview on the latest episode of the Down at the Crossroads podcast, share a quote from her fabulous article "For Fear of Flying."
"Witchcraft is not safe. Witchcraft is not good and kind. Witchcraft is the domain of the trickster, the outcast, the wanderer, and the crooked.  It belongs to those who know every light casts a shadow; who have looked into the depths of darkness in their soul and accepted what they’ve seen along with all that is good.  Witchcraft requires cunning, manipulation, self-awareness, adaptable morals, and dash of madness."
To madness then.  To scorched summer days and sticky nights. To blood offerings given up begrudgingly to mosquitoes and raspberry thickets. The brief hours of darkness. The endless afternoons where bird and beast hide in whatever shade can be had. To drinking in the heat, and using that in ways that surprise you. To making friends with your sweat and your scent. To the animals of summer wherever you are. Here, there are bats beyond number feasting on bugs by the river. There are fat marmots and rattlesnakes sunning themselves, and turtles climbing out of the ponds to soak up the warmth.

To acknowledging the discomfort of 100 degree weather, and getting shit done anyway. To having a summer adventure - and then having a mojito. 

Hob said this, of embracing the challenge of summer wandering:
"There are rivers to follow, and streets to walk, and people to meet, living and dead. We will smell the salt of the ocean, the dust of strange shops, and the breath of the empty places. We will be pilgrims, seeking the roadside shrines to the lost, the forgotten, and the bygone."
To being a weary witch, and still wandering, still seeking, still making magic.

Please check out the amazing folks quoted in this post - they are all linked up to their respective websites and are worth a visit!