Jul 6, 2017

Dog Days and Wild Roses

What befell June, only the gods know now. I have shut my eyes to the passing of time because it is more uncomfortable for me to note it, than to simply keep putting my hands in the dirt and taking in the sunsets. Watching what was pass away doesn't feel as satisfying as noting what is. And for the first time in a long while, I am feeling a ripple of excitement about what is to come.

There are disturbances in the force. A beloved cat is faltering, and I'm unsure if he will completely right himself again (even with veterinary assistance). His illness means I have to miss meeting a friend I've been waiting years to hug. I have nieces trying to navigate fresh-adulthood and finding it a bit more heartbreaking than they had hoped. I wish I could scoop them up under their arms and swing them in circles again until they forget how cruel the world can be. But we cultivated a love of the land in them too, and so they run off to the woods to camp and they swim in the lakes and revel in the gardens, and those things can ease an ache in such refreshing ways.

My aches are all welcome, for they are familiar friends. There are talkative muscles in my thighs, groaning from all the squatting between garden beds weeding and pulling up one crop to plant another. We had one brief afternoon of rain a little over a week ago, and the light but lingering moisture was exactly what I needed to dig my fingers under the grass making itself at home in the beds. I could push my fingers down, and find the roots, and pull them out without disturbing the plants around them too much. I have dirt under my nails that may never come out, but I also felt more at peace that night, weeding in the soft rain, than I have felt in quite a while. They say that bacteria in soil can be beneficial for humans, and I don't know that I've ever been so happy to share my body with another being.

There are other twinges that I'm breathing through, one gorgeous summer day at at time. Ripples of the heart and spirit that can only be assuaged by heat lightning, and the sight of growing ducklings, and Jupiter winking down upon me as the sky lets the light slip from its shoulders each evening. Those pangs are the exquisitely human ones. The gifts-with-purchase. There is nothing to be done about them but let go. And you can always burn.

I burned brightly in June. I danced around the midsummer's eve fire, and then again a few nights later on the eve of St. Johns' day. I blessed my body with rainwater and herbs, censed myself with the fragrant smoke of wood and sacred plants, and softened and perfumed my skin with a balm created from this spring's violets. I lit candles, called to my spirits, tossed cards and gained insight. I walked deep into the woods, harvesting wild roses, yarrow, self-heal, and silver wormwood. I made offerings as I went: herbs and waters, local fruit, and one particularly expensive bottle of local wine I had hoped to keep, but a certain guardian of my favourite three-way crossroads had other plans.

I have also offered up more blood this year than I would have liked, but the impassioned spring rains flooded the valley and the mosquito population has flourished. I don't mind giving portions of myself to garden or beast. I've felt more maenad than human these past weeks. The lushness of June was so erotic that it's a wonder I wore clothes at all and didn't bite everyone I came into contact with. I have been listening intently to the land and the places just beyond my fingertips. The realms I can see, the plants and animals I encounter, speak to me of how to move through these mid-year months. They whisper of herbal blends to turn into new balms and suggest undertakings that might stretch me further along the path I wander.

My working altar is spilling over with glass jars full of elixirs, oils, and a potent Florida Water mother tincture, all from wild-harvested and home cultivated blossoms, roots, and leaves. The kitchen sinks have been overtaken by lettuces, peas, strawberries, and assorted herbs. The rafters are hung with bunches of fragrant and healing flora. My visits to the farmers market have yielded the season's first cherries and apricots, as well as bundles of just-picked lavender. But now the heat of summertide is upon us and the energy shifts from the explosive growth and green of June to the languid and somewhat dangerous days of July. We've already had wildfires locally, and only a couple days ago the next town up the lake suffered the loss of two homes and an orchard after a fire started and was exacerbated by the wind. 

We move carefully in July and early August, conserving energy and water. I attempt my yard and garden work at dawn and dusk, and we gather in the twilight hours on patios and tucked into cool spots in courtyards. The beverages are more icy, the fare lighter, and the laughter echoes long after the stars have appeared. Magical work is more quiet and focused. The fire ban means no more exultant work around outdoor flames. Things get buried or tossed into moving water. Talismans and amulets are formed out of found root and wood and feather and bone. A good portion of my practice becomes as simple as listening and roaming with sharpened intent (which is always how I endeavor to move through the world, but there is something about the careful placement of foot and attention during the most unforgiving times of the year). When it has become so hot that you cannot pack enough water with you and exertion can mean heat-stroke, you are forced to rethink the way you plot your course.

Still, the Dog Days have their charm. Some may yet be watching fireflies. I've been taking in sunsets that streak the sky with purples, and waiting each night on the dragonflies and bats that soar past chasing their dinner. Soon my friend's corn will ripen and we will have our yearly first-harvest celebration at her ranch, but for now I'm trying to encourage my late planting of pumpkins to stretch out, and bemoaning the catnip that jumped its container last year and is marauding through the perennial beds.

I hope your summer has made itself at home in such a pleasing way. I hope you have had bright things to raise your eyes to, whether you are a fan of fireworks, stars, or sunsets. And I hope you find your own groove, your own magic, to dance with on these hot and heady days and nights.

Witch Notes (like field notes, but with extra magic)

~ I made a pesto with the wild onions I harvested recently, and it was spectacular tossed into a delicate angel hair pasta. You can make pesto however you prefer, but this recipe from Hank Shaw is how I roll.

~ I keep a canning jar of locally made apple cider vinegar in the fridge that I toss fruit into all summer long. This is the strange delight that becomes the shrubs I drink, sometimes with the addition of a simple syrup when I'm mixing it into a cocktail or soda water, or I simply add a tablespoon of the vinegar to an icy, sweetened soda like gingerale for a refreshing libation on a sweltering day. Emily Han wrote a fantastic book focused on creating your own unique cocktails (these work for alcohol-free beverages too) but you can also check out her fruit shrub syrup recipe here.

~ Summer reading:

I'm still making my way through The Witching Herbs by Harold Roth (not because it isn't wonderful, but because my own gardening and wild-crafting adventures have eaten up most of my time of late).

I'm also trading off with Byron Ballard's newest tome, Embracing Willendorf, and to feed my ghost-story appetite, a gifted copy of The Bell Witch of Tennessee sits beside my bed and gives me a thrill each night. I can't speak of the stack of books waiting on me to complete these three, because I will feel guilty and stop buying books, and we can't have that.

~ Briana Saussy has her next Feast Day for the Radically Reverent approaching.

~ I'm in mad love with Renée Magnusson and her Sunday Sin missives that show up in my inbox each week. They are amazing, hilarious, and sometimes heart-wrenching. She holds nothing back.

May 14, 2017

The Dead Don't Need Flowers

Today I drove up to the cemetery on the hillside overlooking the lake, where my grandparents ashes reside. I wanted to bring my grandmother some flowers for Mother's Day. It was quite pleasant this afternoon, warm and bright, and so it was unsurprising that when I arrived at the cemetery it was bustling with people paying respects to their own mothers and grandmothers.

It was a delight to see all the fresh flowers on the gravestones. An array of colours and arrangements flowed here and there across the manicured land - a wandering river of plants that spoke of fondness and remembrance. I saw everything from a simple posy of fresh-cut lilacs placed on a plaque, to elaborate floral vignettes set up just-so. 

A red-tail hawk circled overhead, and a small mule deer, shaggy and shedding its winter coat, grazed on the hillside while those of us below went about our duties. From the look of the tulips I left for my grandma last week, I suspected the deer must roam through the cemetery, nibbling, after everyone has left their tasty flowers behind. I brought an oatmeal cookie for my grandpa on my previous visit (he always had a sweet tooth) but that was long gone, possibly scooped up by birds or squirrels. I bring him simple treats (no chocolate) because I'm fairly sure the local fauna clean it up after I leave and I'm not interested in poisoning anything. 

Several folks were hanging out on or near specific markers. One woman had brought herself a chair and a picnic basket and was eating and chatting with her gravestone of choice. A gentleman was leaning against the bank, making time with the sunshine and occasionally looking down to gaze at someone's name. After my usual ritual of washing my grandparents' plaques and setting up my grandma's flowers and having my visit, I followed the winding road through the large property and nodded and smiled at those who looked up to note another embodied soul passing by. 

I always pay my way through the cemetery gates, in both directions, usually with as many dimes as I have in my purse. I'm fairly inconspicuous when I let the coins slip from my fingers at the threshold but today with the crowds of folks around I'm sure the tinkling of silver was heard by someone. I didn't mind so much. Though I couldn't help but notice them today, the living aren't really who I am interested in when I cross through that land. 

I glanced at the lake as I left, and I saw sailboats skimming along the water taking advantage of the wild spring wind. They always remind me of my grandfather. He would fold boats out of any piece of paper he could get his hands on. Newspaper sheets became large vessels and captain's hats, and sugar packets transformed into tiny ships. Sometimes, when I miss him so terribly, I fold joss paper into a sailboat and burn it on my altar for him. It will take me a lifetime of practice to make perfectly folded boats as quickly as he did, but gods-willing I've got some time yet to improve my technique. 

I don't go to the cemetery to feel close to my grandparents. I have an ancestor portion to my altar that gets concentrated care and offerings, and I feel my grandparents with me often. I simply like visiting that large piece of land on a bluff with the stunning view of the lake, and it gives me the opportunity to actively do something with my hands and attention. The dead don't need flowers or cookies. They don't even need cemeteries. But sometimes the living do.

Apr 13, 2017

The Kiss of Cottonwood & Amber: On Poplars

When the wild rose thorns catch your hair like a lover,
and the rain is but a mist that kisses your face,
and the cottonwood buds gift their aroma of honey and amber,
you will know that your heart is forever lost
to the forest and wetlands and overgrown places.

I've been running away. I have grown tired of waiting on spring, and so for the past couple weeks I have driven over to the next valley and kidnapped a friend who led me off-trail into a wetlands area where we got lost and felt our winter-weary spirits lift. The red willow was showing off its crimson bark. The wild roses were grabby and glorious, their bare, thorny limbs revealing little pockets of bird's nest treasure and strangely weathered strands of milkweed fluff that had caught there in some autumn wind and never escaped. We were watched by a mating pair of bald eagles and made eyes at them in turn until they grew shy and moved to a tree across the river. We picked up rocks and sticks, and then put them down again because we each have too many rocks and sticks in our collections.

Meandering our way through the floodplain, our fingers became sticky as we picked a few cottonwood buds here and there from each tree. We would stop from time to time, and take long breaths of the late winter air and swoon at the scent on our hands from the resin. The first time we went out wandering, a few weeks back, the snow was low on the hills and the buds were still closed tightly. Only a short time later the ice had melted from the river's edge and the buds were starting to burst open. (If you live in a climate where spring comes especially late, you may still find some buds to harvest, but time is running short.)

When the world is behaving badly, and your spirit is parched from a long, cold winter, and your green-soul knows that there is always something alive and speaking if you just pay attention, a walk in the wilds in early spring is the very best medicine. I have needed the outdoors so much this winter, so when the cottonwoods called, I answered.

In the interior of British Columbia, we use the terms "cottonwood" and "poplar" fairly interchangeably. Both cottonwood trees and balsam poplar can be identified as Populus balsamifera, though you will more often see black cottonwood specifically identified as Populus trichocarpa (and as you head east you run into variants such as plains cottonwood and eastern cottonwood, among others). The cause for the confusion is that the trees are nearly identical to each other and are known to hybridize where they meet in their environment. However, the sticky resin contained in the late winter buds is the same stuff-of-the-gods whether you stumble across black cottonwood, balsam poplar, or eastern cottonwood. Black cottonwood is sadly much maligned in my area due to the prolific downy seeds that fly through the air and coat our small town in whorls of white fibrous fluff.

If you listen carefully, cottonwood will whisper to you of thresholds and magic. A liminal being, it chooses to grow close to a water source, stabilizing the banks of rivers and offering shade.  It is prolific and grows swiftly, a benefit in our area where trees often fall to the beaver population along waterways. In my high valley desert (an unusual combination of rolling hills and mountains stuffed with pine and fir, and a valley floor dotted with lakes, with an arid region boasting desert sagebrush and bitterroot) it gets very dry from mid-May to mid-September, but cottonwoods are drought tolerant and laugh at the heat while their roots reach into the water table.

The resin found in poplar buds (sometimes called balm of Gilead) is a gummy, sweet-scented miracle. I usually infuse my harvest in oil and put it to use as a sore-muscle rub, or a chest rub when I have a cold. You can also add some local beeswax, and now you have a lovely balm you can employ for minor cuts (poplar is antibacterial as well as pain-relieving) or to pack around in your gym bag for a spot treatment for overworked muscles. I also cut a small amount of the poplar oil into my after-bath oil blend because it makes my skin smell like it has been blessed by some kind of heady temple incense. 

Magically, the honeyed resin has been used in healing and apotropaic work as well as in situations regarding love or reconciliation (likely owing to its sweet scent and sticky/binding qualities). There is also evidence that poplar was either added in kind with, or played host to, other psychotropic herbs in salves that would likely have been used as medicine, though would also have been considered 'witch's ointments.'

Possibly due to the goodly number of metamorphosis myths that the Greeks attributed to poplar, the tree whispers of shape-shifting and transformation, and the myths surrounding its connection to Hades (including his love(s) Leuce/Persephone) 
among others, hint at the tree's underworld connection. Poplar was also reputed to be one of the plants in the garden of Hectate. There are references, as well, to cottonwood being used in ceremonies for the dead within several First Nations tribes, and a rather fascinating belief of at least one tribe that the shade of the tree might host a spirit that could be willing to offer assistance if entreated respectfully.

Spend some time with the poplars in your region, if you can. Let them teach you about moisture and transformation while you watch the sticky buds burst open. Mind your allergies, but do delight in the snowy 'cotton' of the cottonwood seeds as they alight on the spring winds. Consider how these trees that stand at the mingling of land and water might offer insight into your own work surrounding balance, and the in-between places. Approach the shade of these great hardwoods with respect and perhaps you'll make an ally, or at the very least have a place to rest on a hot summer's day.

 *Please avoid using poplar if you have any aspirin allergies - like willow, the trees contain salicin which your body converts into salicylic acid.*

Of Interest:

Kiva Rose has a lovely post about cottonwood medicine here.

Gabby Allen writes her story of cottonwood here.

I've been gathering red willow (also called red osier dogwood) during the last month, and this post from Erin about the shrub is pure poetry.

Greek myths - see Leuce, Hades
Hidatsa history and culture

Witchcraft Medicine - Claudia Müller-Ebeling, Christian Rätsch, Wolf-Dieter Storl Ph.D.

Jan 11, 2017

The Stirring

Fresh snow blanketed The Valley a few nights ago. It arrived late in the afternoon and flurried with such spirit, long into the next morning. It was almost invisible at first, but so quickly the feathery flakes multiplied and soon there was a good bit of weather happening beyond the warmth of my home. I never get tired of the sight of it. I long for spring, waiting impatiently for the first green to appear. I groan at the ocean of white beyond my window covering every field and hill, broken only by roads ploughed dutifully by the towns and districts. But when it falls... There is little that stirs my heart like falling snow.

I want to kiss when it snows. Long, deep kisses, with warm lips and tongues that taste like hot cocoa. I want arms around me, taking the place of the blankets that I drag around from room to room. I want to see candlelight flickering, its glow hunting shadows across the walls. I want good stories, low, murmuring music, and the sound of a snoring cat. I want my grandmother's shortbread melting in my mouth.

I'm fortunate to have some of those things. I'll manage without the rest somehow, while perusing a few of my favourite seed purveyors and contemplating how long it will take the snowplough to find my rural street. I have had a beast causing havoc with my lungs for the past week. It's left me weary and frustrated, but my daily application of a poultice has been a lifesaver, and I'm finally sleeping through the night without waking up in frantic fits of coughing. I take each day as it comes. Another mustard plaster. Another towel, warm from the dryer, slipped onto my chest when the mustard cloth comes off. Another cup of mullein tea.

Christmas tide a minute wide,
Twelfth tide a cock's stride,
Candlemas tide an hour wide.
(old saying that speaks to the increase of light after the solstice)

We've had a full ten minutes more daylight today than we did when the year turned over. That is no small miracle when you live in the thin portion of an hourglass-shaped valley that routinely gets socked in with low cloud. We greedily welcome every small measure of increase we can get, when it comes to light. I spent the twelve days following Christmas filling my journal with daily observances and insights. Some folks mark these days leading up to twelfth night or old Christmas (January 6th) as omen days for the coming year (and just to be particular, some folks start on old Christmas and count forward eleven days for what the next twelve months will bring). Each day might have a hint to give, as far as weather, health, or fortune. I found that I witnessed a large amount of wildlife this year. Hawks and eagles, a lynx, and several giant crows all crossed my path in late December and the first week of this month.

Now that all the modern and old holidays are tied up with bows and put away for another year and plough Monday has come and gone, marking a return to work, there is little to keep a distracted creature like myself from my daily duties and chores. I am a bear at heart, and am so content to hibernate in January (and much of February if truth be told) but this year I seem to be stirring - almost pacing in my eagerness to get out. The weather here in southern British Columbia has been bitter and the wind unceasing, and so there hasn't been much in the way of walks by the river or trips out to my fire bowl. We are at that strange still time of mid-January, post winter celebrations and yet not quite reaching the time for the observances of chasing away the cold season. Even the Wild Hunt, in some tellings of the tale, is said to have lost its ferocity after Twelfth Night (yet other tales speak of the Hunt riding racously into early February before it rests).

The times betwixt, when the division between the worlds of man and spirit loses what little solidity it may have , are in the West Country the 'wisht' or 'hood' times; moments bewitched or empowered.

~ Gemma Gary, The Black Toad: West Country Witchcraft and Magic

What is to be done in the betwixt time, when we are still in the dark, cold caress of winter's hands, yet the buds of the magnolia are fat and furry and the local vineyards are pruning in preparation for the waking of the grape? What do we do when we cannot rest as we might have once during wintertide, because the old guard has stepped down and the keys are about to be handed to those who are incapable of being good stewards? When what was hangs so precariously, like the last ice-bitten apple on the tree. What then?

We make magic. We call back the Old Ones - the ones that never left this land. We ride with The Hunt or form our own band of misfits, and we make beautiful trouble. If you can stand and fight, you do that. If you can heal or protect, then you do that. If you can curse...you know where I'm going with this. My work may be quieter than yours, but it is happening. I've picked up my feather robe again (I've been haunted of late by dreams of people in flight like wild swans) for there is work to be done in the air as well as on the ground.

Stir. Wake. Make magic. The Wolf Moon of January is here. The light creeps in. The earth is not dead, nor is her slumber as deep as it was yesterday. Find reasons to celebrate, because even in the time of ice and cold and darkness and in the face of an incoming tyrant, we live. Gather your forces. Your ancestors. Your spirits. Doreen Valiente said "Once a person has had even one of these experiences of contacting the forces behind the world of form he or she is no longer in mental bondage to that world." Shake free of your bonds.

I want to sit in front of a window and watch the snow fall, and kiss. I want to sleep. I want to wake and find the world as exquisite as it was on my very best days. It's okay to want those things. It's just fine to take a breath. To ask for someone to hold you for a moment. But then we get up. We move. We howl and keen, and call down the stars or call up the dead, or do whatever we need to, to make sure there is a world to awaken to in the spring.

We aren't just here to turn the wheel, and to be polite placeholders for the seasons. We are here to stir the pot. Paint grease on our broomsticks and fly. Cause mischief. I intend to resist. Stir. Create. Burn. 

I'll meet you at the fire.

Witch Notes ~ bits of this and that:

~ My friend's mother introduced me to a mustard plaster/poultice. Mix dry mustard with the smallest bit of water until you form a paste. Spread on a clean rag (you won't be keeping this cloth) and place over your chest, being sure not to let the mustard seep through onto your skin (it will burn, baby). Leave on for ten minutes or more if you can handle the smell and tingling, and then remove and replace with a nice hot towel from the dryer (or hot water bottle). It's a lovely, stimulating treatment for heavy lungs. Kiva Rose also recommends an onion poultice which I've used a few times and found quite nice (perhaps give your spouse a head's up if you are going to slather yourself in onions - just to be fair).

~ A 'cock's stride' or 'cockstride' is said to be a small measure, primarily one of distance or length (in regards to time). Interestingly, there is a good bit of lore that speaks of how ghosts who were banished or 'laid down' by a priest might be allowed to return to their home by a cockstride a year (generally after first performing some almost-unending task - you can imagine how long it might take a waylaid ghost to return to its preferred haunt at that rate). Folklorist Mark Norman speaks more of those tales here

~ Briana Saussy speaks of omen days here.

~ There are many stories and cross-cultural takes on the Wild Hunt. I rather enjoy the book Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead, by Claude Lecouteux. Another fair source is The Esoteric Codex: German Folklore by Delbert Geitzen (chapter 59, specifically).

~ Do check out a mid-winter festival near you. There are many ice festivals, winter sports-themed celebrations, and assorted pre-lenten revelries to take part in.


A Dictionary of English Folklore, Jacqueline Simpson, Stephen Roud (see: cocks)

The New England Farmer, Volume 2, Thomas Greene Fessenden, pg 271
Ozark Superstitions, Vance Randolph, Chapter 2 - Weather Signs
Where Witchcraft Lives, Doreen Valiente, pg 89

Oct 31, 2016

The Light in the Forest - The Great October Giveaway

*The Light in the Forest is going home to live with Shelley!

Thank you so much for playing along with me this month!*

The final day of October has arrived, and with it the magic and mischief of Halloween, and the remembrances and observances of Samhain. I want to thank you for spending some time with me this month, celebrating my favourite season, and the sixth annual Great October Book Giveaway (which has evolved so beautifully, beyond books, thanks to several big-hearted folks). Things have been a bit mad at my end with computer issues and wild work schedules, but I have muddled through and you have been such lovely guests.

I have always said that the gods took one look at me when I came into form and said "this girl is going to need some real help in this lifetime," and they surrounded me with exceptional people. I've always felt so fortunate to know the folks I do, and to be the sort of creature that people found worthy of their friendship. I bump into the most extraordinary humans, and some of them don't even mind if I keep them. One of the amazing people I have crossed paths with (and subsequently inserted he and his remarkable partner into the part of my heart labeled "family") is Aidan Wachter. His work, his wisdom, and his spirit are evident in all he does. He is a sorcerer with silver (and now gold) creating talismans that are deeply magical and personal. I have several of his pieces and each is so incredibly special to me (I am wearing this star right now, in fact).

Being the generous soul he is, Aidan has offered up the perfect talisman for this spirit-filled time of year. One very lucky person will be receiving "The Light in the Forest" to wear around their enchanted neck.

This giveaway is as ethereal as the spirits - you have only until 11:59pm (Pacific) on All Soul's Day (Wednesday, November 2nd) to get your name in the hat. As always, your comment is your entry. If Blogger's platform gives you a hard time or if you are a bit shy, feel free to send in your entry via the contact button up top.

Thank you again, for hanging out with me during this magical month!

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/cards 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