Solitary Misconceptions

Solitary Misconceptions

by Sylvana SilverWitch

I used to be a solitary many, many years ago now. After I moved to  Seattle — away from my first priestess and  coven — I looked for a new coven, thinking it would be easy to find one. In the  early 70’s, there was not much pagan activity in Seattle. As I became familiar with  the area and got settled, I ran into a number of people who claimed to be  practicing the Craft but were not into anything  like what I had been taught.

One guy I met ended up getting arrested a few years later for  luring young girls into a “coven,” only to  ply them with drugs and take advantage of them. I was very happy that I wasn’t  taken in by his charm and promises of third degree initiation into his  made-up tradition.

I read the submissions for this issue with interest because I always  wonder why one would choose to be a solitary, foregoing the rich tapestry of  learning and practicing with a group. I feel truly blessed to be a part of my coven,  Sylvan Grove, and I wouldn’t trade the last 16 years with the evolving group  for anything. As I read, I noticed a theme of misconceptions about working in  a group and/or being part of a coven. Misconceptions, that is, from my  point of view. Having been in a couple covens for a number of years each as well  as having been a solitary for over 10 years, I feel well-equipped to address  some of these issues.

Seemingly common misconceptions I have come across, and my  perceptions about them are:

1. That you can just find and join a coven.

Finding covens is not easy. It’s not like we advertise in the phone book  and you can simply call us up and come on over. In most cases, you cannot just  join the coven the next day, week or month. It takes training, discipline  and elementary knowledge to begin working with an existing group. Not to  mention social skills, responsibility and basic compatibility with the tradition and  the people.

2. That working alone is somehow better than working in a group.

There is a limit to how much you can learn and grow on your  own. Whether it’s getting a new perspective or opinion or having support in  times of need, We all need other people.

I have found value in working alone, but I can do that and still be part of  a coven. We get together on the new and full moons and the Sabbats,  and sometimes socially. But we don’t all live together. We have separate lives.

Also, I have found nothing to be as wonderfully challenging, stimulating  and rewarding as working magick with a group of intelligent, inquisitive, bold  and progressive people. The coven I am now HPS of has some of the brightest  and most amazing people I have ever come across in the Craft. The energy  we generate when we do magick is palpable. We are a focused and powerful  entity and our magick works well because of that.

3. That groups follow some “Sacred Book of Shadows” that was  passed down from Old Gerald, and that they duplicate the rituals  absolutely religiously.

This is true in very few covens I have been exposed to. More often,  when a written tradition hands down a book of shadows, it is passed from the HP  or HPS to the initiate. Initiates then expand on or change what they do to  suit themselves. Very few covens, in my experience, go by the letter of the  book for every ritual. In fact, most of the people I have done ritual with are  artistic, creative witches and have written and performed some remarkable  rituals. Maybe that’s a comment on who I tend to gravitate to, but it can’t be only  that after all these years.

4. That groups don’t allow for individual personal creativity.

If my coven is any indication, this cannot be true. Andy recently wrote  a paper for the Sylvan Outer Grove class and in it he mentioned the Sylvan  Grove Random Moon Generatorä in which we look at what astrological sign the  sun and moon are in and what that means. With this information and  group consensus about what we want or need at the time, we decide what magick  to do. I know other covens invent rituals as they go — during several years  as the New and Full Moon coordinator for a Northwest pagan organization,  I watched it in action.

5. That they somehow won’t “fit in” to a group.

This is one of the most obvious fallacies I have heard expressed.  Anyone can fit in if they find the right group or coven. It does take some social  skills to work with others successfully, but a coven is a lot like a family.  Everyone does not get along all the time, everyone does not always agree. There  are conflicts from time to time, but we are committed to working things out.

It is important to find common ground in philosophies and styles  of working, but you don’t have to agree with everything or like all things  about someone to work magick successfully with them. If you find people you  like and are compatible with, and you like the tradition, a year should be  long enough to figure out whether you can commit to a long term  working relationship.

Also, people come and go as part of the natural order of things.  Everyone grows at their own rate. You don’t have to dedicate the rest of your life to  a coven. If it doesn’t work for you in the long term, you can always ask to  be released from your obligations.

6. That people are “solitaries” when they aren’t a formal part of a coven,  even  though they work with some group or even just one other person on a  regular basis.

Solitary implies alone. My personal definition of a solitary is a person  who does not work with, or belong to, a group. If you are working  magick regularly with a coven or group, whether or not you are formally dedicated  to the group, in my opinion you are not a solitary.

To find an appropriate coven or group, you must be persistent. Keep  your eyes and ears open. Go to whatever public rituals you can attend.  Take classes on different traditions if they are available in your area; if not,  read books on different traditions to find what you most resonate with. My coven only advertises  the Outer Grove class in one issue of the paper per year and there is a  deadline to get into the class.

When you do find a group you are interested in, ask if you may  attend something that might be appropriate. If you get invited to a ritual, ask what  you can bring or contribute. Make yourself useful, help out where and when  you can. Be on time. Be good listener. Keep an open mind. Remember, you are  asking to become a student — don’t come across as if you already know it all.  Be open to letting others get to know you and let your interest be known. If  in doubt, ask!

In the Sylvan tradition, you must ask many times before you are invited to  be part of the inner circle. This assures us that you are serious and  committed; that’s what we are looking for.

Good luck finding a coven, if you want to be a part of one. If you do  join one, you will find the group magickal experience to be profoundly  rewarding, fascinating and an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth  beyond compare. Blessed be.

Start Making Scents

How to Make Incense for Magickal and Spiritual Intents

by Miriam Harline

Smell is the sense most hot-wired  into our animal past. According to  Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History  of the Senses,we smell by means of  olfactory bulbs at our nostrils’ upper  tips that, when triggered directly, signal  the limbic system — a brain region  inherited from our mammalian  ancestors, a player in lust and creativity.  Smell is also our most permanent  sense. Research says scents go  straight into long-term memory, later  to be retriggered with all the emotion  of the time that laid the memories  down. As Ackerman writes, “A smell  can be overwhelmingly nostalgic be-cause  it triggers powerful images and  emotions before we have time to edit  them.”

Smell thus proves one of our bodies’  best gifts to the magician, ritualist  and spiritual seeker. To speak to  the emotions, to the animal spirit, to  the part of us that believes in and  works magick, use scent. Burn incense.

If ease is a priority, you can buy  your magickal incenses. I’d recommend  Wortcunning and Nu Essence brands.  You can find Wortcunning incenses, by  local incense master Leon Reed, at  Travelers (501 E. Pine in Seattle) or directly  through Wortcunning (P. O. Box  9785, Seattle, WA 98109). Wortcunning  incense is one of the reasons I moved  to Seattle. On a visit here, I picked up  some Pan incense, which when I ran  out of self-igniting charcoal in mid-Missouri  I burned on the stove: great before  going out dancing. I figured any  place with incense so magickal had to  be worth returning to.

However, if you want incense imbued  with your specific magickal or  spiritual purpose and your energy,  make it from scratch. Once you have  supplies, it needn’t take a long time,  maybe an hour per scent. It’s fun. And  there’s something special about burning  a mixture that smells heavenly (or  noxious, as the intention may be) and saying, “Hey, I made that.”

Following I’ve set down wisdom  from my teachers and my forays into  the craft and recommended books to  take you further. But, as with cooking,  you learn incense making by doing.  Find a recipe you like, study it till you  understand how it works, then improvise  based on your tastes and ingredients.  As with any practice, trust your  instincts. If you want to reproduce the  exact incense in a seventeenth century  grimoire or Egyptian papyrus, you’ll  follow that recipe to the letter (if you  can find the ingredients). Otherwise,  experiment. Play.

I describe here how to make loose  incense, to be burned on self-igniting  charcoal briquettes. You can buy such  charcoal most any place that sells incense  herbs. You can also make stick  and cone incenses, which the books I  recommend describe. Stick and cone  incenses look more impressive for  presents and are easier to burn. But  they’re more complicated to make,  and the different forms don’t make  your intentions’ results more sure.

Getting Started

To make incense, you’ll first gather  some ingredients and tools:

  • Herbs and oils
  • Eyedropper (preferably several)
  • Base oil
  • Mortar and pestle (preferably two)
  • Coffee grinder (optional)
  • Ziplock baggies, in gallon and sandwich size
  • Small bottles or tins (optional)
  • Small spoon or spoons (optional)
  • Astrological calendar
  • Book or books of recipes

If you want to make just one incense,  get just the herbs and oils you  need. However, if you plan to make  incense as an ongoing hobby, round  up some basic incense makings. Some  elementary herbs and resins, arranged  by how often I use them:

  • Sandalwood
  • Myrrh
  • Frankincense
  • Benzoin
  • Pine resin
  • Orris root
  • Lavender
  • Rose petals
  • Cedar
  • Cinnamon
  • Copal
  • Rosemary
  • Mace
  • Nutmeg
  • Bay
  • Lemongrass  Some of the above list will look  pretty familiar. Rosemary? Nutmeg?  Got it, in the spice cabinet. If you want  to start cheap, you can make many  incenses from common kitchen spices.Of the nonspices listed above,  orris root (iris root) deserves special  mention. It’s a good idea to add one  part orris root as a preservative and  fixative to most incense recipes, especially  those that don’t include resins.  (Resins are gums formed by solidifying  plant juices, for example frankincense,  myrrh and amber.) Get your  orris root preground if you don’t feel  like spending an afternoon worrying a  tuber.

    In general, you’ll want to get woods  and tough roots in powdered form.  For anything grindable, however, get  leaves or chunks, and grind the ingredient  when you need it. That way, it  will stay fresher.

    For oils, I tend to buy those specific  to the recipe I’m doing. After  making a few incenses, you’ll have a  large library. These are the ones I use  most:

    • Patchouli
    • Jasmine
    • Cypress
    • Eucalyptus
    • Peppermint
    • Rose

    Use essential oils, rather than perfume  oils. An essential oil will generally  announce itself on the bottle. And  watch out for patchouli oil. It’s intense;  a few drops will do.

    You can locate herbs and oils at  pagan and herbal supply shops. To buy  herbs, I tend to go to Travelers or  Tenzing Momo (93 Pike Street in Seattle).  You can order from Tenzing  Momo by phone, at (206) 623-9837. I  wouldn’t recommend a phone order  for a novice incense maker, though;  you’ll want to see what you’re buying.  Many herbs and resins are very light,  ounces not pounds. Some are very  expensive, though most are not. The  fresher you get something the better —  beware a very dusty herb bottle.

    Herbs originate in gardens and the  wild, of course, and if you have access,  jump at the chance to harvest  when the herb’s ready. Don’t wildcraft  too much; take no more than a quarter  of what you find, and never take  more than you can use. Pagans will  want to ask the plant’s permission  before clipping; a gift in exchange, such  as water, returns energy to the herb.

    There is such a thing as too fresh,  though. If you just cut your herb, you  can’t use it today. I’ve tried quick-drying  herbs at 200 degrees in the oven,  and it doesn’t work. Ideally, you should  harvest herbs on a dry day at the peak  of their maturity, when active ingredients  have reached the highest concentration —  an herbal will tell you when.  Hang the plants upside down in a dry,  airy place between 70 and 90 degrees  Fahrenheit; they should take about a  week to dry. Don’t store them still  damp; they’ll mold. Store herbs in air-tight  containers, ideally glass or pottery.  This process should occur beforeyou try making incense.

    When working with oils, an eye-dropper  proves useful. If you don’t  employ one, at some point I guarantee  you’ll screw up an incense recipe  by, say, pouring in a half-ounce of  patchouli. Get several to avoid cleaning  droppers between oils. Look for  eyedroppers at your local drugstore.  In addition to scent oils, you’ll add  a base oil to incense to activate some  of the esters (scent chemicals) in dried  herbs, to make the incense mixture  hang together better and to help preserve  it. I tend to use safflower oil  because it has a very light scent, but  I’ve been told it goes rancid more  quickly than others. People I trust have  recommended jojoba oil and sesame  oil. The strong scent of sesame oil  disappears as the mixture dries.

    To grind your herbs and resins,  you’ll want at least one mortar and  pestle. It’s a good idea to get two and  powder herbs in one, resins in another —  this because resins tend to  stick and stain and may never come  out of a coarse mortar and pestle.  Mortars and pestles can be found at  kitchen supply stores. If you do a lot  of grinding, you’ll want a coffee grinder.  Buy one secondhand, and devote it to  incense only — you don’t want  mugwort-flavored coffee.

    Ziplock baggies are good for incense  mixing and for temporary and  less pretty incense storage. More  pretty incense storage is the domain  of cute, colored, cork-topped glass  bottles and cunning little tins. The  Soap Box used to carry such bottles,  and I’ve seen them at kitchen supply  stores. You can also store incense in  film canisters or pill containers, anything  airtight. Small spoons prove helpful  when doling out incense samples  to burn, something you’ll do a lot while  concocting scents.

    An astrological calendar aids in  making incense just as it does in any  magickal or ritual activity, to align with  the energies of the universe. The subject  of associations is endless and  personal, and I’ll only touch on it here.  In general, create incenses under a  waxing or full moon for intentions involving  growth and waxing energy, under  a waning moon for intentions involving  shrinking or ending. If you’re  making an incense for Aphrodite or  to draw love, Venus should probably  be favorably aspected; to get a job,  Jupiter should probably be favorably  aspected. You get the idea.

    You’ll want recipe books. I list  some recipes at the end of the article;  chances are none of them will suit your  exact magickal or spiritual purpose.  The books I rely on are Scott  Cunningham’s The Complete Book of  Incense, Oils and Brews and Wylundt’s  Book of Incense. The latter includes  many recipes based on kitchen spices,  if you can’t afford much in the way of  supplies. Both also explain how to  make stick and cone incenses.

    Substitutions

    Suppose you have a recipe you  like, for an intention you’re interested  in. It calls for peppermint, bay, frankincense  and gum bdellium. The first  three the herb shop has. On the last  one, the cashier shakes her head.  “Never heard of it.” You try pronouncing  it again — same effect. Even if an  herb, gum or oil is theoretically obtainable,  you may run into a situation  when you want the incense now and  can’t find the odd ingredient.

    Don’t give up. Substitute.

    You can substitute in several ways.  First, if the recipe calls for the herb or  resin and you can only find the oil, use  the oil, or vice versa. For example, oak  moss itself is hard to find, but you  can locate oak moss oil fairly easily.

    If you can’t track something down  in solid or liquid form, The Complete  Book of Incense, Oils and Brews has a  lovely table suggesting one-for-one  substitutions for many ingredients.  You can also substitute according to  intention or elemental or planetary  rulership. Both The Complete Book and  Wylundt’s list ingredients aligned to  different intentions, elements and  planets. For example, “love” has a list  of suggested ingredients, as do “water” and “Venus.” Many Wicca and Magick  101 books offer similar tables of  correspondence. If you poke through  the tables, you’ll find a substitute for  your herb or oil, often a whole list to  choose from. In a pinch, as  Cunningham writes, rosemary can  safely be substituted for any other  herb, rose for any flower and frankincense  or copal for any gum resin.

    Substitutions are essential for  many obscure and poisonous ingredients  recommended by old magickal  tomes. In case you need to be told,  do not use aconite (wolfsbane), belladonna,  hemlock, henbane, mistletoe,  nightshade or other poisonous substances  in your incense! It’s not worth  the hassle. Some substances are sufficiently  toxic that merely handling  them is dangerous. You can replace  any poisonous herb in incense with  tobacco, as Cunningham suggests.

    Likewise, be careful with ingredients  that cause smoke that’s very foul-smelling  or liable to produce an allergic  reaction, such as asafoetida, mace,  pepper and rue. Some incenses are  best burned outdoors.

    Making Incense

    Ingredients, tools, moon phase  and aspects all lined up, it’s time to  start. I generally lay out everything on  a clean, smooth surface, then put up  a circle and call the elements, deities  and fey to witness. You can be as formal  or informal as you like about your  working, but stating and concentrat-ing  on your intention as you assemble  ingredients will help imbue the incense  with that intention.

    Now dig out your gallon Ziplock  baggie. This will be your mixing bowl.

    Reread your recipe. Incense recipes  are often listed in terms of “parts.”  What constitutes a part is your decision.  I often use for a part as much as  I can hold in the palm of my hand. You  can also use a teaspoon or a half-cup  or any other measure as a part, as  long as you keep the part measure  consistent through the recipe. If your  incense recipe is listed in terms of  weight (ounces, grams), however, use  weight measurements throughout —  don’t mix parts, which are measure-ments  by volume, with measurements  by weight, or the result will make no  sense. Whatever the form of measurement,  measure any ingredient that requires  grinding in its final, powdered  state.

    I often find I have a limited quantity  of one ingredient. In this case, I  usually grind that first and let the resulting  measurement dictate how  much incense to make. For example,  if the recipe calls for two parts lavender,  and I only have two teaspoons of  it, my part will be one teaspoon.

    Another factor in pulverization  order is your tools. If you have two  mortars, you can grind herbs and  gums separately. If not, start with  herbs as they’ll stick up the mortar  less.

    If your ingredients and tools are  sufficient to the task, grind herbs and  resins in order of smell. Incense, like  perfume, is considered to have top,  middle and base notes. Top notes are  the lightest and generally what you  smell first. Floral scents are often top  notes, for example neroli (orange flowers).  Base notes are the bottom of the  spectrum, the strongest, darkest  scents. Animal odors, such as musk,  and heavy woods, such as patchouli,  usually form base notes. Some strong  herbs, such as lavender, are also  bases. Vanilla and rose are examples  of middle notes — strong, but not as  overpowering as patchouli. Use less  of the base and middle notes when  creating an incense, more of the top  notes, to create a balance. In the absence  of other concerns, start creating  your incense with the base note.  This rule especially applies if you’re  creating or revising a recipe.

    To get to know each ingredient,  burn a small ground sample. Your own  associations and emotions for each  scent are important. For me, benzoin  smells fey; eucalyptus is cool and sensual.  Everyone senses subtly different  affinities. If you find your nose burning  out, sniff coffee beans to clear your  sense of smell.

    Grinding takes a while. Have faith.  Some herbs are surprisingly tough to  work with — lemongrass, for example,  grinds away to nothing, so you’ll be  working a long time. Bay doesn’t pulverize  well; use scissors to cut it as  fine as possible. Your final powder  grains need not be infinitesimally small;  however, the smaller you grind, the  more thoroughly your ingredients can  mix to create the unique smell of the  final incense.

    As you finish each ingredient, add  it to the gallon Ziplock baggie, close it  and shake thoroughly.

    Once you have all the dry ingredients  in, add scent oils. If you’re adding  an oil where the recipe calls for an  herb, or vice versa, keep in mind that  an oil comes across much more  strongly than the matching herb. A few  drops of most oils will suffice, unless  you’re making mountains of incense.  Again, with your oils, start with the  base note and use little, then move  on to the middle and top. Mix your  oils with the dry ingredients thoroughly,  rubbing out dark spots and balls.

    Herbs, resins and scent oils mixed,  burn the result. What do you think?

    You’re wrinkling your nose. That’s  okay — you can fix it.

    Suppose your incense smells like  just one of your ingredients — cinnamon  and nothing else. There’s a couple  of ways of dealing with this. You can  add a little more of everything else.  Or you can decide which of the other  ingredients would help balance the  strong scent. Cinnamon’s a middle to  base note — another middle to base  note would balance it, for example lavender,  assuming your recipe includes  lavender. Oil is the easiest way to add  balance because it’s so strong.

    Sometimes incense will come out  smelling like next to nothing. Too much  balance! Here, you’ll want to emphasize  one or two ingredients, whichever  seem most appropriate. For example,  if I were creating a moon incense with  oil of jasmine that came out smelling  bland, I might tap in a few more drops  of oil, as jasmine is an ingredient that  I like and that feels very moon to me.

    Once you’ve got your incense  smelling as you want it, it’s time to add  the base oil. Add it in small amounts —  you don’t want the incense wet. Add  till you get a sticky or tacky feel, till  the powder sticks a little to your hand.

    The base oil gives your incense a  longer life, but it makes the mixture  produce a heavy, burnt-smelling  smoke in the short term. If you must  burn the incense right away, leave out  the base oil. After you add the oil, incense takes a week to ten days to set,  and it’s not till after that period that  you’ll be rid of excess smokiness.  Check your incense while it’s setting —  if the smoke continues heavy, you can  leave the container open to let the in-cense  breathe a bit.

    When I’m done adding base oil to  an incense, I raise energy and consecrate  the incense to the purpose for  which I devised it. This step is essential  if yours is to be a magickal incense.

    Now, sit back! You’ve made incense.  Be proud of yourself. You have  a new ritual tool that will heighten your  every working. And you’ve brought  some scents into the world.

    Special thanks to Sylvana  SilverWitch and her incense classes, from  which I learned much of the preceding.

    Sample Recipes

    Full Moon incense

    2 parts frankincense 2 parts myrrh 2 parts sandalwood 1/ 2 part rose petals Jasmine oil

    The smell is powdery and sweet,  very moony and watery.

    Hecate incense

    4 parts sandalwood 2 parts peppermint 2 parts myrrh Cypress oil

    As you might guess, the sandalwood  is very forward in this recipe.  Wortcunning also makes a stellar Hecate  incense based on information in ancient  magickal texts. However, that incense  strikes me as better burned outdoors.  Use the preceding to gently honor Her in  your hermetically sealed ritual room.

    Hermes incense

    1 part cinnamon 1 part frankincense 1 part lavender

    This is not my own recipe; I’m afraid  I forget where I got it. But it’s great! Use  it also for spells of communication,  travel protection and the like — anything  ruled by Hermes.

    Lammas incense

    2 parts frankincense 2 parts sandalwood 1 part pine resin 1/ 2 part bay 1/ 2 part cinnamon 1/ 2 part coriander 1/ 2 part meadowsweet 1/ 2 part oregano 1/ 2 part rosemary A few drops rose oil Slightly less oak moss oil Very little patchouli oil (start with one drop)

    Meditation and divination incense

    2 parts benzoin 2 parts lavender 2 parts myrrh 2 parts sandalwood 1 part orange peel 1/ 2 part mugwort

    Equal amounts eucalyptus, patchouli oils  This mixture is very floaty and psychically  oriented. If you have trouble  grounding, ground before you burn. The  sandalwood and eucalyptus come to the  fore.

Heating Up Litha With a Bonfire

by C. Cheek

Is there anyone who doesn’t associate bonfires with pagan festivities? Fire is the element of Midsummer, when the Sun King is at his highest. Sweet herbs laid upon coals purify the air, and the smoke from burned prayers or offerings rises to the heavens. Some revelers dance around the fire to infuse the night with life and laughter and lust, others gaze into the flickering light to see what the future holds. What could be wilder, more carnal, more appropriate to the Dionysian festival of Litha than a huge, roaring bonfire? All you need is a little planning and forethought, and you too can set the night aflame.

Location

Most people want to host Midsummer on their own property or in a public park. Keep in mind that not all parks allow fires. In Seattle, for example, only Alki Beach and Golden Gardens allow fires at all. If you’re in a national forest or state park, fires are generally allowed except on no-burn days. You can call the park warden to find out the conditions in advance.

If you’re having a celebration on your own property, you’ll be restricted by your city’s backyard burning rules. Most cities allow small fires, as long as you’re not burning garbage. Call the fire department to find out if a burn ban is in effect, or check your city fire department’s Web site.

Safety

The safest place to have a fire is in a permanent brick or stone fireplace. Second safest is in a covered fire barrel with mesh sides, over a concrete or other non-flammable surface. You have to admit that this doesn’t have the allure of a fire built in a more primitive setting, but safety is still important. You don’t want to chance having the wind or a careless guest spreading the fire. If you have the fire pit on the ground, remove any grass underneath, and replace peat or bark mulch with sand or stones. Make sure there are no trees, bushes, buildings, picnic tables or other flammable objects near your pit.

No matter where you put your fire, you’ll need something ready to put it out. A fire extinguisher is good for emergencies, but you won’t want to use a fire extinguisher every time. Not only are they expensive to purchase and recharge, but some of them contain toxic chemicals. For a campfire, water is best. A single gallon isn’t enough. Have a hose or several large buckets of water ready. It may seem like a good idea to put sand or earth on a fire instead, but earth or sand can bank the coals, keeping them dormant until the wind stokes them up again. Every year, people who fail to completely extinguish their campfires start forest fires. Don’t be one of those people. If you leave a fire unattended, your karma will get so bad, you’ll be audited yearly for life.

Fuel

Bonfires are communal events, so your best bet is to make everyone bring a little bit of wood — like a flammable potluck. That way everyone has contributed to the event, and the burden of gathering or buying wood isn’t all on the host.

Many people like to use Duralogs, firewood made from compressed paper. These are good because they burn cleanly and are made from recycled materials. Duralogs can help you start the flames, but cost about a dollar an hour per log to burn. They also aren’t structurally sound once they start burning, and you won’t be able to stack them very high.

Cordwood is a good choice, because most wood sold for fires has been well dried and comes from ecologically sustainable forests. Places that sell camping goods often sell small bags of firewood, but you’re paying for the convenience. Like many things, wood is cheaper in bulk. Depending on the type of wood you get and where you live, it will cost $100 – $200 per cord. (A cord is a stack of wood that measures 4′ x 4′ x 8′) Check the classifieds, or visit www.firewoodcenter.com for a list of dealers near you. The disadvantage of buying cordwood is that you usually have to buy at least half a cord, and you may need to pay delivery fees as well.

Another option is to use gathered branches. If you are having a fire in a national or state park, you are not allowed to gather wood for fires. If you are on private land, you can do it as long as you respect the wishes of the owner.  Don’t cut down living trees. Not only is it bad karma, the wood will remain green and wet for far too long. Gather only dead branches. Dead wood is free and removing it helps the tree grow better. You’ll know it’s dead when it snaps off sharply. If it bends, it’s still too green.

If you’re on the beach or near a river you can gather driftwood. It burns much hotter than normal cordwood, and is generally free of rot and insects. Driftwood from a river will gather on the banks, especially on a curve, after floods. Don’t count on finding all the wood you need at one time or in one place. Plan ahead, and pick up a little at a time. It will add up.

If you are willing to invest the time you can get free wood in your city. It’s too late for this Midsummer’s bonfire, but next autumn, walk around your neighborhood, especially on days when trash collectors pick up yard waste. With a saw or a pair of loppers cut pruned branches into manageable sized pieces (one to two feet) and store them in a dry location, such as a garage or carport. In a few months, your yard waste will be burnable timber. The advantage of gathering the wood yourself is that it’s free, you can get to know your neighbors better and you can choose woods that have magical or emotional importance. Also, since you put more foresight and work into your fuel, the fire will have more meaning. Meeting the tree, cutting the lumber, and anticipating your fire for months and months is very different from picking up a couple of Duralogs at Circle K on the way to the park.

Don’t burn broken furniture, cardboard boxes, or other trash. Most city laws prohibit burning garbage, and with good reason. Plastic, varnished wood and even some papers release harmful gasses when burned. If you have mementos or items of spellwork that you want to burn for ceremonial reasons, either make sure they’re clean and free of chemicals, or use only a tiny portion.

Firebuilding

A fire needs fuel and air. Place the fuel in such a way so that the air can get to the flames without extinguishing them. If you have patience, you can start with just kindling. Light a match under grass and slowly add small twigs. When you’ve got a decent flame, but before the fuel turns to ash, add larger thumb-thick sticks to the pile. When those sticks have lit, you can gently teepee or stack the larger logs on top. That’s how experienced campers do it. The rest of us use an entire box of matches, curse at everyone nearby and blame the damp earth and the wind for our failure.

If you’re one of those, try the cheater’s way. Clean and prepare your fire pit, whether metal or a hole in the earth, and pour in a pile of charcoal briquettes. Douse them with lighter fluid and toss a match on top. When the coals have been burning for a while and glow red, stack logs on top and fan the coals till the wood catches. If you do this well before your guests arrive, you can tell everyone you started the fire by rubbing sticks together. Hide the briquette bag and they’ll never know.

Once you’ve got your fire going, what to do with it? An old German tradition is to burn Sun wheels: everyone would bring a handful of straw, tie it to a wheel, and set it on fire. The men would roll it down the hill, past cheering women. Your local fire warden will not approve of this. An even older tradition (decried by the Romans) is to cage condemned men and women in a wicker effigy and burn them alive. This is also a bad idea.

Instead, give everyone an unlit torch. The leader begins a prayer, then lights each torch as they pass in procession. The torchbearer joins in the prayer as soon as his or her torch is lit. As the firelight rises, the chanting will grow louder. Once everyone holds lit torches, use them to light the bonfire simultaneously. As the bonfire burns, have everyone join hands and dance a simple grapevine step in a circle. Your coven leader can sing out couplets for all to repeat, other members can offer songs of their own, or people can simply sing whatever nonsense is on their mind. The important thing is to make some noise and loosen up. There’s nothing like the flickering glow and heat, the communal voices rising like sparks to the sky and the warm grip of palms on either side to make anyone feel fiery and sensual.

Some people might want to jump over the bonfire, but unless it’s very small, discourage them. Loose clothing and open flames don’t mix! I once had a cloak catch on fire while I was wearing it. Cotton lights quickly, hair burns faster than paper and synthetic fabrics melt and stick to skin. This is not fun.

Another ritual that’s great for bonfires involves preparation. Ask the guests to prepare a sacrifice (homemade incense works well) as an offering. Say whom the offering is for as you toss it into the fire. Conversely, you can invite your guests to burn that which they don’t want anymore: mementos of an ex, their pink slip, strands of pre-diet clothes. As they toss it into the flames, they ask the gods to remove it (and its implications) from their life.

Once the party gets going and the mead starts flowing, people might feel inspired to toss clothing too. As long as they don’t toss stinky polyester into the fire, why not? Hey, it’s Midsummer! What better time to go sky clad?

Enjoy your bonfire!

 

Safety Checklist

·                     Have the fire only in designated areas, and keep flammable materials away from your fire pit.

·                     If your wood has been stored outside, wear gloves and watch for wildlife. Snakes and spiders love woodpiles, and they might bite you for disturbing their home. Also, build and burn your fire on the same day so that you don’t unwittingly kill innocent creatures.

·                     Make sure you have a sufficiency of water and/or a fire extinguisher. It’s easy for a fire to get out of control.

·                     Don’t have fires on windy days, or when the land has a lot of dry brush. Sparks can fly.

·                     Keep children away from the fire. Watch the adults too. There’s often a joker who thinks he’s invincible, especially when he’s had a few beers.

·                     Don’t have fires under trees or other flammable structures.

·                     Don’t pour lighter fluid or any other flammable liquid onto an open flame. Flames can travel back to the source of the fuel, causing explosions. Also, never ever use gasoline to start a fire unless you want to see the inside of a burn unit firsthand.

·                     Keep the fire attended at all times.

·                     Make sure the fire is completely out before you leave. A cold puddle of ash is good. A smoking heap of coals is not.

Secret Visions from the Flame

Secret Visions from the Flame

by Andy

 

The old witch added a whitish powder to the fire and waited as the flames grew strangely green. “I see forms taking shape… visions… A tree! No, it is a wheel! A wagon wheel, on a wagon with horses!” She turned back to her guest and asked in a knowing voice: “Are ye planning a journey, perhaps?”

For as long as there has been fire, people have seen visions in it. Shamans would see visions of a good hunt in the campfire and then use its ashes to paint the visions on the cave walls to bring them about. Perhaps the oldest form of divination, fire scrying is one of the most primal (and beautiful) methods a witch has for “seeing the unseen”. It is not an easy form, to be sure, but it can produce clearer results than any other method if done well.

Basically you look into a fire and see the shapes there. Take the seeds of images that the fire gives you and apply all the visualization skills you ever learned to get a coherent vision out. If you are not a good visualizer, this method is not for you. Then you have to figure out what the vision means. Yes, you saw a wolf chasing down a cloud and eating it, but you were wondering if you should take that class at the community college. Finding an appropriate meaning is often the really hard part.

Those searching for visions should find a dark, quiet, and open area. Cast a circle to set up the ritual space. Then invoke the flames, lighting the scrying bowl at the end of the invocation. Detailed instructions on preparing and lighting the scrying bowl are in the side article. How you invoke depends on your relations to fire. Keep it simple if you are not a fire person, go all out if you are a closet pyromaniac.

I like to take a long candle (or long lighter), light it, and draw three invoking pentacles in the air with the flame. The chant of “Fire, Fire, Flames Grow Higher!” punctuates each pentacle, one word per point. Then I bring the fire to the center in front of me and say: “From the fires of the stars, to the fires of our souls, Fire be with us. As you burn in the sun, giving us all light and life, burn for us here and now. Burn through the veil that separates the worlds and let us see that which is unseen.” Then I focus my mind on what I want to know and light the bowl with the fire.

Use as little light as possible while casting and invoking. That will help set the mood and will make it easier to see the flames. Any colors you may see will be enhanced by the darkness. Fire is finicky. If the invoking flame keeps going out or the bowl just will not light, don’t force it. Let it go and try again some other time. You don’t want to see the visions that come from unwilling flames coerced into life with the repeated application of flammable liquids and mechanical aids.

Sit comfortably and stare into the fire. Watch the flames and see what shapes they make. Open and shut your eyes repeatedly. Try to make out the pattern the fire leaves behind your eyes. At first your mind will say it is just the shape of the fire, but put that aside. Picture the shape that it is most like. See the form it takes. This is not easy. It is the same process you use to see the shapes in the clouds (something we, here in Seattle, have a lot of experience with). When you get a vague image, go with it. Let the shapes change as your vision focuses. Open your eyes again and get a new form to help the vision continue to grow. Shapes can change and the vision can move. Just let the flames shape the images they will. With practice, you will move from an image to a movie in your mind.

For instance, I just did a bit of test scrying into the candles I’ve lit to write this by. I saw the flame which made a circle in my mind. Rays came out of the center of the circle and turned into clock hands. The circle turned into a clock face. As I realized what it was, the hands started turning backwards. It probably means I should have started writing this article earlier or something….

After you have your visions, thank the now departed fire, open the circle, and try to make sense of what you have seen. Think about what you saw and ask what it means to you. In my sample, I had a clock moving backwards. Clocks mean time to me. Backwards brings to mind the past or a while ago. Since what I wanted was something for my article, it probably meant I should have started writing this earlier. Or maybe I should rewrite what I did a while ago. Another interpretation occurs to me, the hands were going counterclockwise, or Widdershins. Anyway, that was my vision. I could go for another one for clarification, but that could also just confuse things more.

With practice, anyone can see the visions in the flames. It is interpreting the visions that separates the oracles from the players – with – entrails. Just as anyone with a book can do a tarot reading, it takes skill and work to figure out what it means. I find most symbols to be too personal to give a general meaning list. If you are doing a reading for yourself, whatever you think the symbols mean is probably what they mean. If you are reading for someone else talk to them and ask lots of questions. If they don’t know, suggest what you think, but their meanings are probably the best. If you have trouble coming up with meanings, a book on interpreting dreams will have most of the common symbols and their meanings listed.

The final thing you need is honesty with your vision. Many “life is a bowl of crystals” tarot readers often reinvert inverted tarot cards because “there are no bad things, just challenges.” This neuters the readings. Life has bad things in it, to believe otherwise denies the Dark Goddess. Sometimes you have to eat your own young, figuratively speaking, and it is not pleasant. If you see your yourself being burned at the stake, go with it. Mentally forcing it to be you, as May Queen, being tied to a maypole will invalidate the vision. Not everything you see will be happy. That is why Cassandra, the ancient Greek prophet, considered her visions a curse.

Puzzled, for she wasn’t planning a journey, the woman went home. The next day, at the supermarket, she hit another car in the parking lot. It was a Jeep Wagoneer. “Damned visions! Always right but never right enough!”, she muttered as looked about, hoping no one had seen her.

Other Celebrations Around The World, Jan. 20th

Babin Den (Grandmother’s Day; Bulgaria)

Feast Of The Kitchen God: Offerings made, beans tossed over roof
St. Sebastian’s Day (patron of archers, soldiers, athletes, Rio De Janeiro)
Aquarius zodiac sign begins
Basketball Day
Heroes Day (Cape Verde)
Celtic tree month of Beth ends
Hat Day
St. Sebastian’s Day (patron of Rio de Janiero, archers, athletes, hardware, lace makers, the military,

pin makers, potters, police officers; against plague)
Mali Army Day
St. Fabian’s Day (patron of lead founders, potters)
Heroes Day (Guinea-Bissau)
US Presidential Inauguration Day (every 4 years)
Lesotho Army Day
Take A Walk Outdoors Day
St. Euthymius’ Day
National Buttercrunch Day

St. Paula’s Day, celebrates a young girl saved from the passions of a pursuer by running into a church, where she grew a beard.

Heads Up Seattle, Washington: First of the month of PLURIOSE (rain) in the French revolutionary calendar.

Birthday of Ruth St. Denis 1879 -Great American modernist dancer, breaker of social taboos.

GrannyMoon’s Morning Feast – Source: The Daily Globe, School Of The Seasons and The Daily Bleed

Seeking (and Finding) Beauty, Mystery, Wonder

Seeking (and Finding) Beauty, Mystery, Wonder

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by Janice Van Cleve

Beauty, mystery, wonder — these are the fundamental forces underlying any religion or spiritual experience, according to Steve Blamires, a Scottish author who lectured recently at the Theosophical Society in Seattle. He is a native of the Scottish island of Arran, and the purported subject of his talk was the Celtic spiritual tradition, based on beauty, mystery and wonder. The advertisement said he was going to strip away all the additions and complications that later have been added to this originally simple, practical spiritual path.

There certainly was beauty, mystery and wonder in the room that night. I, for example, openly wondered how long this short little man with the affected accent could drone on and on about the wee little village where he grew up. I wondered why it is in talks like this that a speaker’s mystique and credibility are supposedly somehow enhanced by the difficulty in understanding him. It must be a “speaking in tongues” thing.

Another wonder I had was when would he finally get to the subject that was advertised. I have read a good deal about Celtic traditions, particularly as they apply to the neo-pagan movement in the United States. It is amazing to see how far wishful thinking, misinterpretation, ego and greed can go, grinding out endless books with pretty covers to sell to the unsuspecting. One only has to scan the shelves in the bookstores to realize how much bunk and bullpucky has been fabricated.

Those are the things I was wondering. Then I got to the mystery. The mystery for me was how in the world someone like this could attract an audience on a Sunday afternoon to listen to a talk that really wasn’t going anywhere. It must be marketing. You write a few books, get them circulated, they resonate with some key people and presto, you get to speak. It’s also the macaroon cookies. The Theosophical Society offers macaroons that must weigh in at about a pound apiece. The one I had held my attention and kept my sugar up for a couple of hours.

The beauty, besides the nice room and the spiritual ambiance of the place, is that I stayed to the end and allowed my imagination to interact with the presentation. I go to these things not to get one, two or three rote facts, but to stimulate my thinking. The topic is only one factor. The room, the speaker, the other people — even the droning — all spin threads from which an open mind and an active imagination can weave a pattern or at least a story. Besides, I was not about to invest a couple of hours of my time and walk away empty-handed. In this case, I began to see an application of these three concepts of beauty, mystery and wonder in the creation and performance of ritual.

Ritual is all around us. It is in almost everything we do — dating, dining, political rallies, business meetings, worship and workouts at the gym. Even the process by which we get going in the morning can be a ritual of sorts, what with shower, coffee, the news and so on. What separates ritual from habit or accident is that ritual is an intentional series of actions, appearances, sounds and words that move our psyches beyond logic and tap into emotional energies to alter our consciousness.

A good example is fundraising. On the logical level, the objective is to move cash from the donor‘s pocket to the fundraiser’s cause. Logic alone may move a few donors, but they are never enough. For most, the fundraiser needs to employ rituals of conversations, lunches, tours and building connections — the rituals of schmoozing — to achieve the desired results. The fundraiser paints a picture and paints the donor into it in a way that the donor can see. Strict accounting and profit and loss statements will not move the donor there. The ritual of fundraising has to tap into the emotional energy of the donor to alter his or her consciousness to help him or her become invested in the project. When their emotions are invested, their money is never far behind.

Conversely, we all know what it is like to get out on the wrong side of the bed in the morning. Interruption of or missing a comfortable ritual can put us out of sorts very quickly. That’s an altered consciousness our significant others and co-workers would rather not see!

There are many ways to think about and plan effective rituals, but beauty, mystery and wonder are not a bad approach. As I sat there listening to the Scotsman’s brogueish monologue, I imagined applying these principles to the Wiccan rituals I write and in which I perform.

Beauty is absolutely necessary for effective ritual. Symmetry, color, grace, simultaneous movement and repetition, harmonizing sounds and building to a climax — these principles of beauty have been understood and employed by the Catholic Church for centuries. Smells, bells and stained glass windows are no accident. They are designed and intended to build upon chants, processions and fancy robes to weave another world, an altered consciousness that will give participants the feeling that they have experienced a heavenly place and connected with their saints and angels.

Neo-pagan ritual writers today do not have the advantage of following centuries-old customs that tap into the well-trained responses of their followers. In spite of claims to the contrary, most Celtic or other “traditions” have very shallow basis in the modern world, and today’s pagan audience is usually untrained, eclectic and very independent. Ritual writers have the advantage, however, of being able to call upon the skills of storyteller, magician, choreographer and playwright to put together effective ritual. They get to create something new! By paying attention to tried and tested theatrical, military, business, political, social and religious techniques for crowd engagement, they get to build new vehicles to move our psyches beyond logic and tap into emotional energies that alter our consciousness.

Isn’t this just crowd manipulation? That’s where the mystery comes in. Mere manipulation only attempts to move a crowd into one uniform behavior, like buying a certain product or supporting a certain candidate. The mystery of good ritual is that it helps each individual open up to his or her own unique experience of another world or a unique experience of this world. To do this, the ritual must first engage the people. This is why the old Catholic mass with a priest up in front with his back to the people was much less effective than the new format of moving the altar into the middle. This is also why film houses employ wraparound screens and sound, and why sports teams use cheerleaders.

Once engaged, the people need to be moved from passive observers to active participants. Chanting, dancing, singing, toning, drumming, trance journeying and a host of other techniques are useful. While the participants may outwardly be moving closer and closer to the same behavior, what they are actually doing is letting down their logical restrictions. They are depending upon the mutual support of the others within the safety of the circle to let go of the mundane world and experience an altered state of consciousness.

The wonder is what they behold. If one believes in a single deity or truth, then the wonder is to behold it and to connect with it emotionally outside the narrow limits of the mind. If one believes in immanent deity or many deities, then the wonder is to swim among them and to experience them directly. If, on the other hand, one believes in the individual divine nature of each human being, then the wonder is to behold one’s own disembodied goddess/god self blooming like a flower from its pod. Perhaps the wonder is a glimpse into the future or a profound insight into the past. Perhaps it is simply an indescribable sense of beauty or love or peace. Whatever the wonder is, the ritual is successful if it helps participants get there.

That’s as far as my thoughts got when the speaker began winding down his talk and the effects of the macaroon were wearing off. I began to notice the people around me again and to feel how stiff my backside had become in this hard chair. Perhaps I had been daydreaming. Perhaps, however, my little Gaelic friend had slyly managed to slip me into an altered state of consciousness to behold a truth I could not have reached otherwise.

I wonder how he did that? It’s a mystery to me. Sure’n ’twas a beautiful talk!

Janice Van Cleve is known to doze off in lectures and concerts, but usually comes away very satisfied.

Heating Up Litha With a Bonfire

Heating Up Litha With a Bonfire

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by C. Cheek

Is there anyone who doesn’t associate bonfires with pagan festivities? Fire is the element of Midsummer, when the Sun King is at his highest. Sweet herbs laid upon coals purify the air, and the smoke from burned prayers or offerings rises to the heavens. Some revelers dance around the fire to infuse the night with life and laughter and lust, others gaze into the flickering light to see what the future holds. What could be wilder, more carnal, more appropriate to the Dionysian festival of Litha than a huge, roaring bonfire? All you need is a little planning and forethought, and you too can set the night aflame.

Location

Most people want to host Midsummer on their own property or in a public park. Keep in mind that not all parks allow fires. In Seattle, for example, only Alki Beach and Golden Gardens allow fires at all. If you’re in a national forest or state park, fires are generally allowed except on no-burn days. You can call the park warden to find out the conditions in advance.

If you’re having a celebration on your own property, you’ll be restricted by your city’s backyard burning rules. Most cities allow small fires, as long as you’re not burning garbage. Call the fire department to find out if a burn ban is in effect, or check your city fire department’s Web site.

Safety

The safest place to have a fire is in a permanent brick or stone fireplace. Second safest is in a covered fire barrel with mesh sides, over a concrete or other non-flammable surface. You have to admit that this doesn’t have the allure of a fire built in a more primitive setting, but safety is still important. You don’t want to chance having the wind or a careless guest spreading the fire. If you have the fire pit on the ground, remove any grass underneath, and replace peat or bark mulch with sand or stones. Make sure there are no trees, bushes, buildings, picnic tables or other flammable objects near your pit.

No matter where you put your fire, you’ll need something ready to put it out. A fire extinguisher is good for emergencies, but you won’t want to use a fire extinguisher every time. Not only are they expensive to purchase and recharge, but some of them contain toxic chemicals. For a campfire, water is best. A single gallon isn’t enough. Have a hose or several large buckets of water ready. It may seem like a good idea to put sand or earth on a fire instead, but earth or sand can bank the coals, keeping them dormant until the wind stokes them up again. Every year, people who fail to completely extinguish their campfires start forest fires. Don’t be one of those people. If you leave a fire unattended, your karma will get so bad, you’ll be audited yearly for life.

Fuel

Bonfires are communal events, so your best bet is to make everyone bring a little bit of wood — like a flammable potluck. That way everyone has contributed to the event, and the burden of gathering or buying wood isn’t all on the host.

Many people like to use Duralogs, firewood made from compressed paper. These are good because they burn cleanly and are made from recycled materials. Duralogs can help you start the flames, but cost about a dollar an hour per log to burn. They also aren’t structurally sound once they start burning, and you won’t be able to stack them very high.

Cordwood is a good choice, because most wood sold for fires has been well dried and comes from ecologically sustainable forests. Places that sell camping goods often sell small bags of firewood, but you’re paying for the convenience. Like many things, wood is cheaper in bulk. Depending on the type of wood you get and where you live, it will cost $100 – $200 per cord. (A cord is a stack of wood that measures 4′ x 4′ x 8′) Check the classifieds, or visit www.firewoodcenter.com for a list of dealers near you. The disadvantage of buying cordwood is that you usually have to buy at least half a cord, and you may need to pay delivery fees as well.

Another option is to use gathered branches. If you are having a fire in a national or state park, you are not allowed to gather wood for fires. If you are on private land, you can do it as long as you respect the wishes of the owner. Don’t cut down living trees. Not only is it bad karma, the wood will remain green and wet for far too long. Gather only dead branches. Dead wood is free and removing it helps the tree grow better. You’ll know it’s dead when it snaps off sharply. If it bends, it’s still too green.

If you’re on the beach or near a river you can gather driftwood. It burns much hotter than normal cordwood, and is generally free of rot and insects. Driftwood from a river will gather on the banks, especially on a curve, after floods. Don’t count on finding all the wood you need at one time or in one place. Plan ahead, and pick up a little at a time. It will add up.

If you are willing to invest the time you can get free wood in your city. It’s too late for this Midsummer’s bonfire, but next autumn, walk around your neighborhood, especially on days when trash collectors pick up yard waste. With a saw or a pair of loppers cut pruned branches into manageable sized pieces (one to two feet) and store them in a dry location, such as a garage or carport. In a few months, your yard waste will be burnable timber. The advantage of gathering the wood yourself is that it’s free, you can get to know your neighbors better and you can choose woods that have magical or emotional importance. Also, since you put more foresight and work into your fuel, the fire will have more meaning. Meeting the tree, cutting the lumber, and anticipating your fire for months and months is very different from picking up a couple of Duralogs at Circle K on the way to the park.

Don’t burn broken furniture, cardboard boxes, or other trash. Most city laws prohibit burning garbage, and with good reason. Plastic, varnished wood and even some papers release harmful gasses when burned. If you have mementos or items of spellwork that you want to burn for ceremonial reasons, either make sure they’re clean and free of chemicals, or use only a tiny portion.

Firebuilding

A fire needs fuel and air. Place the fuel in such a way so that the air can get to the flames without extinguishing them. If you have patience, you can start with just kindling. Light a match under grass and slowly add small twigs. When you’ve got a decent flame, but before the fuel turns to ash, add larger thumb-thick sticks to the pile. When those sticks have lit, you can gently teepee or stack the larger logs on top. That’s how experienced campers do it. The rest of us use an entire box of matches, curse at everyone nearby and blame the damp earth and the wind for our failure.

If you’re one of those, try the cheater’s way. Clean and prepare your fire pit, whether metal or a hole in the earth, and pour in a pile of charcoal briquettes. Douse them with lighter fluid and toss a match on top. When the coals have been burning for a while and glow red, stack logs on top and fan the coals till the wood catches. If you do this well before your guests arrive, you can tell everyone you started the fire by rubbing sticks together. Hide the briquette bag and they’ll never know.

Once you’ve got your fire going, what to do with it? An old German tradition is to burn Sun wheels: everyone would bring a handful of straw, tie it to a wheel, and set it on fire. The men would roll it down the hill, past cheering women. Your local fire warden will not approve of this. An even older tradition (decried by the Romans) is to cage condemned men and women in a wicker effigy and burn them alive. This is also a bad idea.

Instead, give everyone an unlit torch. The leader begins a prayer, then lights each torch as they pass in procession. The torchbearer joins in the prayer as soon as his or her torch is lit. As the firelight rises, the chanting will grow louder. Once everyone holds lit torches, use them to light the bonfire simultaneously. As the bonfire burns, have everyone join hands and dance a simple grapevine step in a circle. Your coven leader can sing out couplets for all to repeat, other members can offer songs of their own, or people can simply sing whatever nonsense is on their mind. The important thing is to make some noise and loosen up. There’s nothing like the flickering glow and heat, the communal voices rising like sparks to the sky and the warm grip of palms on either side to make anyone feel fiery and sensual.

Some people might want to jump over the bonfire, but unless it’s very small, discourage them. Loose clothing and open flames don’t mix! I once had a cloak catch on fire while I was wearing it. Cotton lights quickly, hair burns faster than paper and synthetic fabrics melt and stick to skin. This is not fun.

Another ritual that’s great for bonfires involves preparation. Ask the guests to prepare a sacrifice (homemade incense works well) as an offering. Say whom the offering is for as you toss it into the fire. Conversely, you can invite your guests to burn that which they don’t want anymore: mementos of an ex, their pink slip, strands of pre-diet clothes. As they toss it into the flames, they ask the gods to remove it (and its implications) from their life.

Once the party gets going and the mead starts flowing, people might feel inspired to toss clothing too. As long as they don’t toss stinky polyester into the fire, why not? Hey, it’s Midsummer! What better time to go sky clad?

Enjoy your bonfire!

 

Safety Checklist

· Have the fire only in designated areas, and keep flammable materials away from your fire pit.

· If your wood has been stored outside, wear gloves and watch for wildlife. Snakes and spiders love woodpiles, and they might bite you for disturbing their home. Also, build and burn your fire on the same day so that you don’t unwittingly kill innocent creatures.

· Make sure you have a sufficiency of water and/or a fire extinguisher. It’s easy for a fire to get out of control.

· Don’t have fires on windy days, or when the land has a lot of dry brush. Sparks can fly.

· Keep children away from the fire. Watch the adults too. There’s often a joker who thinks he’s invincible, especially when he’s had a few beers.

· Don’t have fires under trees or other flammable structures.

· Don’t pour lighter fluid or any other flammable liquid onto an open flame. Flames can travel back to the source of the fuel, causing explosions. Also, never ever use gasoline to start a fire unless you want to see the inside of a burn unit firsthand.

· Keep the fire attended at all times.

· Make sure the fire is completely out before you leave. A cold puddle of ash is good. A smoking heap of coals is not.

Healthy Bodies Make Better Magick

Healthy Bodies Make Better Magick

by NightOwl

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Are you in pain? Do you wake up tired? Take a couple of minutes right now and examine your body, your heart and your spirit. Then answer this question: Are you in pain right now?

You may forget to pay attention to yourself, even if you know it’s important. Stretch, flex, roll your head around, rub your neck and shoulders – how are you doing? Look for tension in your jaw, around your eyes, in your neck and shoulders and in your lower back. Are your hands sometimes clenched when you are not conscious of being stressed?

Continue your assessment to determine which areas need attention. Try taking a few minutes and assess your body several times a day. If you want to make changes in your life, remember it’s impossible to get somewhere without knowing your starting place, and your body is your starting place.

We live at a time when we use our minds more and more, and our bodies less and less. Most of us think of our “selves” as being located in our heads somewhere. Yet if we stop for a moment to consider the reality of our lives, our bodies are our very best friends. They carry us around like faithful and patient mules; they bring us exquisite pleasure; they enable us to interact with other people and with the world of nature. They give us honest and reliable information about our actions and our thoughts. As practitioners of the Craft, we use our bodies to focus energy and do magick. They are our chief magickal tools. If you purge pain and ill health from your body, your magick has that much more chance of working.

Working with pain isn’t simple. We human beings tend to learn our deepest lessons via pain. If you train yourself to think of pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, as a valued teacher – one who grades pretty tough – then you can more easily accept any source of pain or unhappiness in your life as an opportunity to learn. Pain is one of the ways in which our bodies “speak” to us.

I am not suggesting that this is the “true” explanation for pain, or that this is the “best” way to approach it, but this is a way to view the puzzle of pain that empowers you to put it to use in your life.

The keys to the pain puzzle are your body, your feelings, your thoughts and your beliefs. Your body responds to physical reality and follows the orders of your thoughts and beliefs. As you learn to pay attention to the pain in your life, you will increase your ability to see your own belief structures, both positive and negative, to take good care of your body and to decrease the suffering in your life if you choose to. This article covers some ways to unlock the pain puzzle.

None are a replacement for seeing a doctor or other health care professional when you are sick or injured. If it seems warranted, discuss with your M.D., naturopath or other health care professional possible causes and treatments for your pain, tiredness or stress. If a professional does give you medication or make suggestions, at least try them for a period of time. What is the point of paying someone to advise you and then ignoring the advice? By all means, insist your health care providers explain the reasoning, and the mechanism, for any treatments they give you. But if you don’t trust their suggestions, find a health care practitioner you do trust enough to follow.

If you try some techniques following – actually doing them and not just thinking about them – and you still feel really sad much of the time, or if you cannot find the energy to even try them, you may have clinical depression and you should see an appropriate health care practitioner right away. Depression is a real physical illness that has emotional components. Trying to think your way out of most illnesses is risky business.

You are the one in charge of whatever you do for yourself, and you have to do the work to change anything in your life. Every act of life is a creation ritual. The suggestions in this article are just ideas to enable you to become more aware of your state of well-being and help you fine-tune your wonderful mind, body and spirit.

Begin with breathing

Breathing is the only body system that is both voluntary and involuntary, and so it is the easiest place to begin. Practice breathing all the way down into your belly. Fear and tension cause us to tighten our bellies and breathe in the upper lungs. You can relax very quickly by breathing deep into your belly and counting as you breathe to balance the in-breaths and out-breaths. For example, breathe in to a count of six, slow and easy. Hold your breath for a count of three, and then exhale to a count of six. Hold again for three, and inhale for six. Do this cycle several times, striving to breathe very evenly all the way in and all the way out, ending with your lungs completely full, and then completely empty.

Be gentle with yourself while doing this. It is not a contest to see how much or how little air your lungs can contain but a way to become conscious of what you do with your body and to nourish it. Many people “underbreathe” all the time as a result of stress and find they are tired because the body is oxygen-deprived.

Particularly if you are quitting smoking, or some other addictive, numbing behavior, practice breathing deeply and slowly every time you get the urge to return to your addictive practice. You may find this reduces the craving.

Easing your pain

Try lying on your back with your knees bent and slowly twist your legs first to the right, then the left, as far as is comfortable. This exercise will make you aware of and help release any tension in your lower back. Next, sit cross-legged and roll your head around on your neck, slowly and carefully, then shrug your shoulders, roll them in big circles, and flex your spine forward and back. Are you finding any areas of tightness, any pain?

If so, first examine your environment to see if it holds the source. Is there pain in your neck and shoulders? Are you on the phone a lot? If you are, do you have a headset or at least a shoulder brace? Are you in the habit of holding the phone by scrunching up your neck and shoulder while you write stuff down? If you do that, and your neck hurts, stop doing that and invest in a shoulder brace (around $5) or a headset phone ($30 to $100, and you get what you pay for). Don’t wait until your boss offers to pay for it; his or her neck doesn’t hurt.

Do you carry a purse or a backpack on one shoulder? If you have pain right at the top of your back and at the base of your neck, stop hanging that heavy sack on one shoulder. If necessary, get one that cannot be carried that way. A fanny pack around your hips can carry as much and won’t create the pain in your neck and shoulders. A regular two-strap backpack is better for your spine than a one-strap bag, if you will use both straps.

Examine your posture, the chair you sit in at work, your mattress and pillow, your easy chair. Are any of those the possible source of your pain? If so, determine what changes will assist your body and make those changes. Sleeping on a fairly firm mattress, and if you have neck pain getting a cervical support pillow, can reduce or eliminate back and neck pain. The pillows are sold on television or at places like Zenith Supplies, a fabulous store near 65th and Roosevelt in Seattle, for $20 to $30. Pillows and mattresses wear out and should be replaced every few years.

Walking, swimming, biking and all other forms of regular exercise will do more for your well-being and long-term health than any other single thing, except for stopping smoking. Smoking is the No. 1 killer in the United States; 1000 people a day are dying from the long-term effects of smoking just in this country alone. Regular exercise is also the best way to improve your mood and energy.

Yoga is the very best exercise for reducing pain, even that from arthritis and other chronic problems. If you are in the habit of regularly taking pain medication, either prescription or over-the-counter, discuss your chronic pain with your doctor, exercise teacher or coach and see if there are not specific exercises that will help you. Many yoga teachers and other exercise experts are extremely skilled in working with chronic problems or people with specific needs. Movement therapy, dance classes or hiking in the park could change your entire experience of living.

Don’t be afraid to try acupuncture for chronic pain. The needles are much less painful than most people imagine they will be, and acupuncture can be very helpful for a wide variety of chronic illnesses, injuries and stress-related pains.

Another way to improve your well-being is to drink more water. You may not be drinking enough water to allow your body to balance itself. Drink at least a quart a day, plus other liquids. When you are under stress, adrenal steroids and other stress chemicals build up in your body. When you exercise, drink water and breathe deeply, you assist your body in getting rid of the stress chemicals. Just exercising to the point where you are breathing more rapidly and beginning to perspire changes your body chemistry dramatically, and therefore changes your mood.

Better sleep

Get enough sleep. Modern humans are only sleeping six to seven hours per night. It has been estimated that humans slept eight to nine hours per night before the invention of electric lights. Our bodies have not been able to adequately adapt to the sleep reduction in the short amount of time lights have been available, so most of us are tired most of the time and don’t really realize it.

If you have trouble sleeping, or wake up tired, try the following practices:

  • Reduce the amount of caffeine you use. Do not drink any coffee, tea, or soft drink containing caffeine within six hours of when you want to go to sleep. If this change doesn’t solve your problems, switch to decaf, herb teas, fruit juice or water.
  • During the day, turn up those lights, and be sure to spend some time outside every day in the fresh air, walking around and appreciating the wonderful planet we live on.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night. Use earplugs if your bedroom is near a noisy street and eye shades if you cannot make the room dark enough. Make your bed clean, comfortable and adequately supportive.
  • Don’t read or watch television in bed. Train yourself that when you go to bed and turn out the light, you will simply go to sleep. Tell yourself, “I can go to sleep easily and sleep all night.”
  • If your dentist tells you that you grind your teeth in your sleep, get a bite guard. They are a bit expensive (in the $200-300 range) but can go a long way toward soothing neck, shoulder and facial pain, plus enabling you to get more restful sleep.
  • Try melatonin supplements. If you are older, you may not be producing enough melatonin from your pineal gland. Production begins to fall around age 30, and by age 40 a fair percentage of people are not producing enough to stay asleep all night. Do some reading before you begin any self-experiments, however. Melatonin will only work one time each 24 hours as it “resets” your biological clock. Only take it once each night at most, about an hour before you want to go to sleep. It does not help everyone but appears to have a very low incidence of side effects. Discuss taking it with your health practitioner.
  • If you become aware of pain in your body you ignored during the day, do some light stretches and flexes, tighten and release different muscle groups and turn your head from side to side while lying flat on your back with your knees flexed. Listen to slow, dreamy, relaxing music while you stretch.
  • Examine the label of any herbal preparation you are using. Ma huang, or ephedra, should only be taken in the morning as it will interfere with your ability to fall and stay asleep. Ma huang is a pretty intense herb and should be used with caution anyhow, as it may raise your blood pressure, make you dizzy or wind you up just too tight. It is often the main ingredient in the so-called “thermogenic” formulas sold for weight loss.
  • Before going to your doctor for prescription sleep medication, consider trying the herbal teas such as Sleep Easy, or preparations with folk remedies like hops, skullcap, valerian, passionflower and others. Look remedies up in herb books and, if you like, experiment gently with yourself, beginning with small amounts and increasing them gradually.

Herbs are not harmless, so learn what you are doing before you use them, or go to a herbalist or other health care professional. Be cautious and stop using anything the moment you have an adverse reaction, including prescription medication, which often interferes with rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. Herbal sleeping formulas may leave you feeling groggy when you first wake up, but they do not seem to interfere with REM sleep the way prescription sleeping medications do.

Additionally, if you suspect that you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder or mild depression, try using herbs and other folk medicine if it is not too serious. St. John’s wort is used widely in Germany to help mild depression.

The food you consume

If sleep is not a problem for you, but you still suffer from tiredness, nervousness, muscle tension and pain, consider trying the following.

Go to your health care professional for a complete physical. You may have some condition that requires treatment. For example, you may be anemic and need to take iron. Without adequate iron, your red blood cells cannot carry enough oxygen to meet bodily needs.

A quick home check for anemia can be done by very gently pulling your lower eyelid away from the eyeball while you look at it carefully in the mirror. The blood vessels are very close to the surface there, and the area should be a nice rosy pink. If your lower lids are noticeably paler than other people’s, ask your doctor to check you for iron deficiency.

Avoid taking iron unnecessarily, however, as it can build up in the blood, particularly in males, and can become toxic. Females who menstruate are less likely to have too much iron, and more likely to have too little, as they lose some each month during their periods. After their periods cease, women need to be more cautious about taking too much iron.

Eating a healthy diet with little or no caffeine, small amounts of sugar and fat, adequate protein and lots and lots of grains, fruit and vegetables will go a long way toward improving your health and your well-being. You should eat at least some complex carbohydrates as soon as you get up in the morning, to begin bringing your blood sugar up to operating level. Just having some coffee in the morning and eating no food until lunch is a poor health practice, as is skipping lunch. Several small balanced meals per day are much better for your health than one giant one at night.

Following is a recipe for “Go Juice,” adapted from Adele Davis’s and very good for building your tolerance for stress and reducing those winter blues. All items mentioned are available in health-food stores or in the nutritional departments at co-op groceries, Fred Meyer’s, Larry’s Market and other stores. Prices are approximate.

To a 12-ounce can or equivalent frozen juice (your choice, grapefruit, raspberry, peach, lime) add the following in a blender:

  • 1/2 to 1 cup nutritional yeast. Using a full cup makes the mix thicker than you may like; you can always drink more if you like the effects. A 1-pound can of nutritional yeast costs around $7; yeast is even cheaper in bulk from the bins.
  • 12 to 24 calcium-magnesium-zinc tablets. Generally, 250 tablets are $10 to $12. Try Costco for cheaper.
  • 1/2 to 1 cup lecithin granules or powder. A one-pound can runs about $7.
  • 4 to 8 tablespoons blended oils. If you make Go Juice often, try mixing one pint Hain All-Blend oil mixture (safflower, walnut, soy, peanut) with one pint of olive oil. Keep the blended oils in the fridge to keep them fresh. You can also use this blend for cooking and in salad dressing. Cost is $4 up, depending on the oils you use.

Mix the juice and put some of it in a blender. Turn on the blender and first grind up the mineral tablets, then slowly add the yeast, lecithin and oil. Allow them to blend thoroughly, then add the remainder of the juice to make a couple of quarts, and store your Go Juice in the fridge. Shake it well each time before you pour some in a glass to drink, as the minerals settle out and you need to take all the ingredients together.

If you find the mixture causes intestinal gas, try taking three to six Super-Enzymall tablets (Schiff, 90 tablets for $13), or another enzyme formula, and three to six Betaine Hydrochloride with Pepsin tablets (Thompson, 180 tablets for $9) with each 6- to 8-ounce glass of Go Juice you drink. Experiment to discover what works for you.

Some people hate the taste of Go Juice, and others love it. You should notice an improvement in energy and mood within a week if you drink a glass each morning and each evening.

Many people take vitamins and other supplements as insurance. Unless you really pay attention, and eat food that is grown organically, you do not have any way to know whether you are getting all the nutrients you need. A good (usually fairly expensive) multiple vitamin, additional Vitamin E and C and, for women particularly, additional calcium can improve your well-being. If you have pain in your legs at night, commonly called “growing pains” in children, or menstrual cramps, you may be low in calcium or may not be absorbing what you take in. A naturopath can help you evaluate your diet if you cannot do so by yourself.

More tune-up tips

Learn some massage so you can have massage breaks with your co-workers and friends. When you get together to watch a movie at home, give each other back and shoulder rubs. Get some massage tools and carry them with you so you can use them on the bus or if you get stuck in rush-hour traffic. Use them for little breaks at work. If you have a desk job, remember to stop, stretch, bend, breathe, get up and walk around and change your position every hour or so.

Light-sound machines or “brain-tuning” tapes are useful for learning how to relax and to help you fall asleep. Brain-tuning tapes play a slightly different pulsed rhythm in each ear. The pulses are masked with music and ambient sounds such as rainfall, cricket chirps and owl and whale calls, so the pulsing is not very noticeable. The brain balances out the difference between the two rhythms and lowers your brain waves to match. The Brainwave Suite tape set is excellent, as are many others. The light-sound machines can put you into a meditative state, or to sleep, in a few minutes and are a lot of fun.

These tapes and machines are amazing to use and really work for many people. Do not confuse them with the “subliminal learning” tapes that are widely offered for sale. I have not been able to find any studies showing that “subliminal” tapes are any better than just listening to the relaxing music used to mask their spoken words. You could probably do just as well buying relaxing music you like.

Light-sound machines can be dangerous for those who have seizure disorders, so do not use these if you do, and never use them while operating machinery or during any other dangerous activity.

Grounding and earth energy

Learning to ground and doing so daily, even if just for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, can really help you relax and learn about yourself. There are many ways to ground, and in the absence of a class or teacher, all the possibilities can be confusing. Following is one description. You can use your imagination to focus your own energy, and you can then practice moving energy from the earth and sky into and out of different areas of your body.

Stand or sit in a relaxed posture with your spine straight and, if standing, your knees slightly bent. Take a deep breath and relax your belly. Imagine that there is a long cord attached to the base of your spinal column that extends down into the ground, going down deep, even to the center of the earth. Visualize this cord and imagine it getting bigger and stronger, see it pulsing, and then visualize or feel sending energy down it. Imagine the energy as light, sound, vibration or however you wish to picture and feel it.

Then visualize and feel any tension, or excess energy in your body, draining down the cord into the earth. You will be able to feel the change right away, although you will have your own experience of it and may describe it very differently from anyone else. It may be helpful to ask a friend who is more familiar with the skill to ground with you the first few times, to help increase the sensation and the experience.

You may wish to use your hands to increase the sensation of the experience. Place one hand on the center of your chest, and the other on the center of your back opposite it, as near the top of your spine as you can comfortably reach both front and back. Slowly move your hands down the center line of your body to the base of your spine, using your imagination to feel the energy moving down your spine with your hands and continuing on down your grounding cord into the earth.

Play around with this for a few minutes, and then imagine you are growing roots from the bottoms of your feet, down into the earth. Feel your roots sliding down, deep into the darkness and inner warmth of the earth. Use these roots to draw earth energy up into your body to balance and heal it. This energy may have a color, a temperature, a vibration or some other sensory or visual aspect. Imagine and feel the earth energy filling and nourishing your whole body and spirit.

Sky energy

You can also draw energy from the sky. Once again using your imagination to create a picture of this in your mind’s eye, see an opening beginning as a point and growing to about the size of a quarter in the very top of your head. With your imagination, draw in energy from the sky. Imagine this sky energy filling and energizing your body, flushing out tension and tiredness. Sky energy will probably appear and feel very different from earth energy to you. Imagine sky energy and earth energy swirling and mixing together in your belly and pelvic area, and then spreading out to heal and nourish your entire body, mind and spirit.

Move this energy from point to point in your body. For example, rub your palms together and feel the sky-earth energy mixture flowing into and building up in your hands. Feel it moving into your hands more and more as you rub them together. Then, when you have built up a charge, separate your palms an inch or two apart, and play with the ball of energy that you can feel between them. Build this energy ball even more, moving your hands closer and further apart, feeling it get larger and stronger. Then take this energy ball and press it into any area of your body that is tired or tense, and visualize the energy ball flowing from your hands into the area. Feel that area soaking up the energy and being nourished by it.

These exercises can be done anywhere, at any time, to assist in balancing your energy and improving your mood. Your ability to use them will increase with practice, just as your muscle tone increases with physical exercise. In time, you will do them automatically whenever you are under stress. If you’re interested in learning more about them, look through the many books available, or take a class.

Remember that thinking about doing a technique is not the same as actually doing it with your body. It is very easy to kid yourself that you know a technique just from reading an explanation. To actually learn it, you must actually do it.

Listening to your inner voice

Can you usually hear what your “inner voice” is saying? Do negative or scary thoughts flit through your mind fairly often? You can greatly reduce the stress in your life by paying attention to the content of the automatic thoughts that go through your mind. You may have to make an effort to become conscious of the exact words, but if you do, you will probably find the source of much of your unhappiness in life. To learn to hear your own automatic thinking, also called “self-talk,” take a few minutes every once in a while and write down every thought that pops into your mind. You may be surprised at how negative your self-talk really is.

If you do find it’s mostly negative, don’t worry about it. The little thought-voice in the mind is negative for most people. It’s like a scared little watchdog who always tries to keep track of the “worst possible scenario” to keep you safe, so it usually looks on the dark side of things.

It’s useful because it’s on the lookout for danger, but it can become a major source of stress and tension because it is only semi-conscious. You can begin to greatly reduce the tension in your life by becoming aware of your self-talk, assessing the accuracy of the statements and changing the inaccurate negative or scary ones to positive and relaxing affirmations. Once you do a little work to become aware of your self-talk, you can use it to change your point of view in life and have a lot more fun. As you learn to hear what a paranoid pip-squeak lives inside your head, you will laugh at how silly it sounds out loud.

Get a kitty or some easy-care plants to make your home a restful refuge. Cultivate a positive frame of mind, and take a self-mastery class. Encourage your friends to support you in being positive, and put cards around your house with affirmations like “Today I will be happy and calm, and I will accomplish everything I need to do” or “Goddess grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” Get involved and make a useful contribution to the well-being of the world through volunteer work or other social action. Develop a regular spiritual practice. Mourn your losses, and give yourself credit for all you accomplish.

These are difficult times we are living through; the future looks uncertain, and everything is changing faster than before. Try thinking of what you are doing as surfing, or dancing, with the energy of life.

This is indeed a time of great opportunity.