Friday, December 30, 2011

Vendredi: Happy New Year

Not quite "back to normal" but a quick wish to all who stop in at HQ today and tomorrow for a safe and happy celebration to ring in 2012.  I'll see you all in the new year!

Header: Happy New Year via Mid-Century

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Jeudi: Great Spirits

When moderns think of Saturn our imagination usually brings up a picture of the second largest planet in our solar system; that cool one with all the rings.  Saturn, in fact, is a very ancient spirit and it is in him that we find the origin of our envisioning of “Father Time”.

Though Saturn was linked with the Greek god Cronus many millennia ago, he was originally an ancient Italian spirit, one of quite a few, who looked after the daily doings of earthly mortals.  Known to the Etruscans and the very ancient Romans as “Numina”, Edith Hamilton tells us that these spirits “… for the most part… were not even distinguished as male or female.  The simple acts of everyday life, however, were closely connected with them and gained dignity from them…”  In this sense, Saturn was originally the Protector of the Sowers of Seeds and his wife, Ops, was the Helper of the Harvesters.

With the dawn of the classical age in Rome, Saturn shouldered the mythos of Greek Cronus with all its bloody fringe.  He cannibalized his children, regurgitated them when confronted by his youngest, Jupiter, and then battled his own progeny for supremacy over the Earth.  Despite the best efforts of Saturn and his Titan brethren, Jupiter’s new band of gods won the day and it is here that Saturn’s mythology takes a different path than the gory trail of Cronus.

Rather than being cut to ribbons by his son, as Cronus was, Saturn quietly left the seat of power.  Taking up his scythe and sheaf of wheat, he travelled to Rome with the matronly Ops where they became King and Queen.  For centuries Saturn ruled over a Golden Age when peace, freedom, plenty and good health were secured for all.  Exactly when that delightful time ended is not told in myth but eventually Saturn and Ops returned to the land of the gods and humans tumbled slowly from the Silver, to the Bronze, to the despicable Iron Age.

It is in this sense that Saturn became associated with time and the movement from one “age” to another.  His scythe became a symbol not just of harvest but of cutting ties with the past.  He became the “Old Year” as we see him represented at the change to the “New Year”.

In Rome, the golden time of Saturn’s rule was remembered with the feast of Saturnalia which occurred over many days around the Winter Solstice.  In her classic Mythology, Hamilton says of this celebration:

The idea was that the Golden Age returned to the earth during the days it lasted.  No war could be then declared; slaves and masters ate at the same table; executions were postponed; it was a season of giving presents; it kept alive in men’s minds the idea of equality, of a time when all were on the same level.

It is certainly reasonable to argue that Christianity, with its true birthplace in ancient Rome, was heavily influenced by the Saturnalia holiday.  Our modern focus at Christmas time on both gift giving and “peace on Earth” probably have more to do with rites dedicated to Saturn than with anything written in the Bible.

Although old spirits are easy to forget, they are not so easily gotten rid of.  So it is that Saturn lingers on, bestowing gifts, encouraging peace, reminding us of the passing of time, and chilling in space as that really cool planet with the rings.

Header: Saturn with his scythe by Polidoro da Caravaggio

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

Today's is the 400th post here at HQ and I thought I would use it to pay homage to one of the people whose work inspires me.  Scott Cunningham’s recipe for an herbal beauty bath seems like the very best thing to offer on this holiday Wednesday.

Cunningham was born in 1956 and was the author of over twenty books.  His largest body of work focused on Wiccan practice and magickal workings.  He had a no nonsense attitude toward spell craft and never tried to obscure either ritual or ingredients to confuse his audience, as he himself noted many occult writers did and do.   It was a sad loss when he died very young in March of 1993.

This herbal bath is from Cunningham’s The Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brews published by Llewellyn.  The book is full of wonderful recipes beyond even what the title suggests and, as usual, Cunningham’s “use your intuition” style of instruction is prevalent throughout.  To help with that, he also offers a comprehensive list of substitutions for various herbs.  Substitution of ingredients, in my opinion, is one of the most useful skills any magickal practitioner can learn.

Here’s what you’ll need:

3 parts lavender
3 parts rosemary
2 parts spearmint
1 part comfrey root
1 part thyme

Wrap all of your ingredients in a square of cheesecloth, muslin or an old washcloth, tie it up tightly and then toss it into a bath of warm water.  Allow the herbs to steep for about ten minutes or until you can smell their fragrance emanating from the water.

While the herbs are steeping, set up your bathroom with candles, incense, music or what ever helps you to relax.  Cunningham recommends placing a mirror close to the tub and then climbing in to lie back and relax.  As you take in the scent of the herbs, visualize yourself as you wish to be – both inside and out.  When you formed a clear visualization, hold be mirror up and see the person you want to be.  Repeat this bath as often as you feel is necessary.  As a general rule, hoodoo baths are repeated for nine mornings or evenings.

Find more information on Scott Cunningham’s encyclopedic work here at the Llewellyn website.  A votre santé ~

Header: French New Years postcard circa 1922

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Last week we talked about the uses of anise in Wicca and hoodoo.  Today we’ll look at a completely different plant with a very similar name: star anise.

Star anise is in the same botanical family as magnolia, but its origins are Asian.  In Japan it is held sacred; star anise is often planted near tombs and temples in that country.  As Catherine Yronwode notes, most of the star anise available in the U.S. is in seed form.  The seeds are quite lovely with their eight-pointed star shape and are considered to have great mystical power.

In Wicca, the seeds are burned as incense to increase one’s psychic powers.  Scott Cunningham also notes that the seeds can be strung on cording and worn as a necklace for the same purpose.  Some Wiccans place an uneven number of star anise seeds on their altars to draw power to the area.  Five seeds are usually used, place at each of the four directions and then in the center to represent Spirit.

In hoodoo, star anise is considered very lucky.  The seeds are used in mojos to bring psychic dreams of lucky lotto numbers, winning horses’ names and cetera.  Star anise is also thought to be protective.  Seven seeds tied up in a mojo bag and carried on one’s person are said to ward off the Evil Eye and draw good health, prosperity and luck in love for twelve months.  This is a wonderfully easy working for the New Year to set things up for personal success as each year changes.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Past & Present No. 2 by A.L. Egg

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Vendredi: Heading Into the Holiday

As they are everywhere, things are crazy here in the frozen North.  We had a big snowstorm yesterday and have added that to our "to do" list in preparation for Sunday.  All that said, normal transmission should resume next week but for today I give you the beautiful Immaculate Conception from the Cuzco School of Peru, circa 1780.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jeudi: Root Work

Well, here it comes like a freight train, looming just around the bend we call Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/etc.  That’s right; it’s New Years Eve and for single people in our culture it is often one of the most dreaded 12 hours of any given year.  Will I have a date?  Someone to kiss when the ball drops?  Will they ever stop playing that “What Are You Doing New Years Eve” song!?  We’ve all been there.

Sometimes it’s even worse when you’re in a sorta/kinda relationship and your just-about-significant other is hemming and hawing about committing to your plans.  Or theirs, for that matter.  This is when everything seems set but Mom suddenly gets sick or there’s a snow storm in Phoenix (who knew, right) and they can’t get home or they have to work…  The list goes on and on and so does the frustration.

First, some motherly advice, particularly for the girls out there.  If you’re really single, round up some single friends and have a sleep over.  No one is in danger of a DUI and its lots of fun to wear footy pajamas, watch old movies and drink sparkling wine.  If you’re in some on again off again thing, that’s not really a “relationship” and you probably need to evaluate whether or not it ever will be.  You might want to just dump him and revert to that first bit of advice.

If you absolutely, positively must get him (or her) to commit, now is the time to take action and this bit of gypsy spell work will do the trick.  This working is very ancient and was originally done, according to my Gran, without the freezing of the name papers and honey.  They were simply sealed in a box or jar with wax and put away where they would not be disturbed.  The addition of freezing only serves to seal the deal, so to say, that much more efficiently.  Here’s what you’ll need:

Two brown paper between two and three inches square
A red pen
Honey
A container that will hold the name papers and enough honey to cover them
A freezer

While focusing on your relationship, write your name on one of the papers and your guy or gal’s name on the other with red ink.  First names will work; full names will work better.  Place the paper with your name on it face up in the container, then place the other paper face down directly on top of it.  Make sure all the sides and corners are completely even. 

Now pour the honey over the name papers until they are covered, continuing to focus.  Place the container, honey and name papers in your freezer and leave them there for as long as you wish the relationship to continue.

This little working should give you the “upper hand” in the relationship and bring your partner to heel, for New Years Eve and beyond.  Remember not to abuse your magickal privilege in this as that karma will come back to you.

Should you decide you no longer want to engage in the relationship, thaw and discard the entire working.  And, of course, gently let the other person know; no tweeting or texting a break up, now.  Yule heureux et bonne chance ~

Header: The Proscribed Royalist by John Everett Mallais

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Giving

With Ramadan behind us, Hanukkah now in full swing, Yule only a day away and Christmas and Kwanza not far behind, most of you have probably wrapped up your shopping for the Holiday season.  I know I have, and I’m thankful for it.

Now is the time when I usually start to think about rewarding myself for a job well done – especially after the big family dinner we’ll be putting together on Sunday.  What I like to do, if I have time to think about it, is get a little something festive to warm my home in the New Year.  Since I’m addicted to deliciously scented candles, I usually turn here.

Dark Candles is a Dallas, Texas based business that opened in 2003.  I have been a patron for seven years and I cannot say enough good things about proprietor and head candle maker Helena and her wonderful products.  Not only does she offer candles in a variety of gothic themed scents, there are also wax melts, scented oil, body care and related products available.  They do ship internationally, so don’t be shy if you aren’t a U.S. resident.

My personal favorite scents are Lilith, Graveyard and – most of all – the minty delight called Winter Solstice.  Click over and poke around if you have a minute; the offerings are extensive and fun. 

Finally, a thank you to Undine and the folks at Poe Head for intelligent discussions in 140 characters that planted the seed for this post.  Following them is worth your while.  A votre santé ~

Header: Winter Solstice logo via darkcandles.com

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Anise is a favorite holiday spice, particularly in sweet treats and liqueurs.  It has a licorice or fennel taste to it that some people really like and others are put off by.  I personally fall into the latter category but that doesn’t mean I don’t keep anise around as a magickal assistant when it’s called for.

Anise should not be confused with star anise.  The two plants are completely different and look it.  That said, they are both used in hoodoo and Wicca to similar ends: to increase psychic abilities and ward off the Evil Eye.

Old wives in Europe used to advise hanging a sprig of anise on the bedpost when a girl began to mature.  This was to be freshened regularly with the thought that it would help keep her youthful.

In Wicca, sachets filled with anise seeds are stuffed under one’s pillow to keep nightmares away.  Anise seeds are also added to baths to help in spiritual purification; Scott Cunningham recommends adding bay leaves as well.  Anise leaves and flowers are strewn around the home or used to form the outline of a magick circle to keep evil at bay.  Needless to say, anise grown in the garden helps protect the home and property.

In hoodoo, anise seeds are one ingredient in Psychic Vision Oil.  They can be burned as an incense to encourage psychic dreaming or open psychic centers before undertaking a card reading, a lot casting, a scrying and so on.

Likewise, a mojo bag to aid in divination can be made with star anise, anise seeds and dried yarrow flowers or leaves.  Carried, this is thought to increase psychism and should be held in the hands prior to undertaking a reading.  Bonne chance ~

Header: A Christmas Frolic by Louis Loeb via American Gallery

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

Today's recipe isn’t necessarily for you (although you can tweak it a bit to make people cookies), it’s for your dog.  If yours is as spoiled as mine, this will be just the kind of thing you’ll both enjoy.  And these cookies make a great Holiday gift for your four legged pal.

Here’s what you’ll need for the canine version of this recipe:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¾ cup creamy peanut butter
 ½ cup mashed banana, cooked and mashed sweet potato or solid packed canned pumpkin
½ cup nondairy milk or water
¼ cup vegetable (such as canola) oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line them with a Silpat or parchment paper and set aside.

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients and process until mixed well.  Note that if you’re like me, and don’t have a food processor, old fashioned elbow grease and a wooden spoon work today just as they did 200 years ago.

Transfer the dough to a flat work surface and roll it out to about ½ inch thick; this is made much easier by placing the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or floured parchment paper.  Once dough is rolled, cut out cookies with your choice of cookie cutter, arrange them on your baking sheets and bake until lightly brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.  The dough will hold in a bowl placed in your refrigerator if you have to do more than one rolling.

Allow cookies to cool thoroughly before offering them to your best friend.

Note that this recipe can be made for people simply by adding a cup of sugar to the stated recipe.

This recipe is courtesy of Adopt-A-Pet and Petfinder email and comes from Robin Robertson.  Visit her website for lots of wonderful vegan recipes.  Bon appetite à votre chien ~

Header: Our gentle giant Thor in the snow last spring

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vendredi: More Animals to Speak Of

Today we’ll finish out the list of meanings generally applied to the shapes of animals in tasseography.  This list, including last Friday’s post, is not by any means complete.  As is true with any other aid to prescience, you will develop a feel for the shapes you see in the tea leaves and what they are trying to tell you in any given situation.  Also, make sure you consult many different sources as you learn the art of tea leaf reading. 

Fish ~ travel over water; the fish is also read as an extremely lucky symbol.
Fox ~ a friend, acquaintance or business associate who seems to be lending their intellect to your good use may be only looking out for themselves.  Beware of the person who is “crazy like a fox.”
Frog or toad ~ the petitioner needs to dial back their attitude, particularly if they tend to be a know-it-all.
Goat ~ close friends may hide scheming enemies.  Tread with caution.
Horse ~ news, usually good, is on its way.  A horse standing or walking indicates a long wait for the news but a horse running – particularly if it carries a rider – indicates swift and surprisingly good news.
Lion ~ favorable outlook for current ventures; friends in high places and/or help from people in power is indicated.  This is an extremely auspicious shape for writers to find in their teacups.
Mouse, rat or other small rodent ~ theft or robbery should be guarded against.  A friend is untrustworthy.
Parrot or other talking bird ~ gossip.
Peacock ~ increase in material possessions.  Surrounded by dots, the peacock indicates an influx of cash.  When the bird’s tail is open, real estate is involved.
Pig ~ success with consequences.  Both good and bad are ahead.
Rabbit ~ fear and/or anxiety.  The appearance of this animal may indicate that the petitioner suffers from a treatable anxious condition.
Snake ~ anger or hostility directed toward the petitioner.  Note that the snake has a discernable head unlike a road/line, which does not.  The snake may also indicate deceit, particularly if it is near the top of the cup.
Spider ~ persistence; as the spider will spin its web again after it is ripped or broken, so the petitioner will pursue their goal despite obstacles.
Swan ~ happiness.
Turtle or tortoise ~ single-mindedness; watch out for falling for flattery.

There, then, is a generally list of animals you might see in the tea leaves.  Even if you don’t plan to seriously practice tasseography, it is a fun pastime after a nice afternoon cup.  Here’s a great post you might find helpful; I know I did.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Young Hare by Albrecht Durer c 1502

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jeudi: Curios

The form of green chalcedony commonly called bloodstone, because of the dark red flecks that run through it, has a long history in both common and ritual magick.  It has been used as a Christian symbol, a focus of Templar ritual and a curative.  Since ancient times, the bloodstone has been prized for various uses.

In ancient cultures, bloodstones were thought to quite literally stop bleeding.  Though the Ancient Egyptians used it in rituals for opening locks and bonds, its use by Roman soldiers and gladiators is the most familiar.  Bloodstones were carried by these men to increase their strength and help them to avoid being wounded in the first place.  If they were cut, the warriors would apply their bloodstone directly to the injury in the hope of halting the hemorrhage.  Reliable sources from the era say that this procedure often worked.  As Scott Cunningham notes, though, much of this success was probably due to the coolness of the stones – which were usually large – and the application of direct pressure.

In the Middle Ages, bloodstones were carved as medals with pictures of the crucifixion or the martyrdom of saints.  This gave the stone its alternative name: martyr’s stone.  According to the Inquisition, the Knights Templar had an enormous bloodstone carved with the image of the Devil which figured in their Satanic rituals.  It probably goes without saying that nothing even vaguely resembling this has ever been located.

Meanwhile, further down the class ladder among wise folk and old wives, small bloodstones were carried as pocket pieces or tied onto the body for specific benefit.  Gripping a bloodstone was thought to calm anxiety and promote courage.  Pregnant women tied a bloodstone around their left arm to prevent miscarriage.  When labor was imminent, the stone was moved to the left thigh where it was thought to encourage a quick and easy childbirth.

In the Renaissance era, the bloodstone began to be associated with legal issues and money.  Carrying a bloodstone into court was thought to ensure victory; better results could be achieved if the stone was worn as jewelry set in gold.  This type of personal adornment was also thought to keep a prudent man’s coffers well padded.

This idea trickled down as well.  By the 18th century, merchants kept a bloodstone in their purse or lock box to promote monetary increase.  In modern times, bloodstones are slipped into purses, wallets and cash registers for the same reason.

In the romantic era, when the high Gothic style of poetry and literature reigned supreme, the bloodstone became popular in jewelry.  At first, it was used as a symbol of mourning but its popularity continued into the Victorian and Edwardian era even after this association appears to have been forgotten.

Header: Bloodstone set in gold c 1865 via Facets of History

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Giving

By this junction in the Holiday Season, most of us are pretty much saturated as far as available time.  Gifts, particularly last minute gifts, just aren’t going to be handmade niceties that we’ve loving crafted in our “spare time”.  That often means picking something random that doesn’t have that little extra that we’re longing for.  Sometimes, though, we can find just the right thing and, if it has any value at all, the Internet is certainly valuable in that regard.

Today, in the spirit of encouraging handmade rather than mass produced, I’d like to introduce you to two of my very favorite purveyors of the interesting and the esoteric.  All things that I’m fairly certain anyone who reads HQ occasionally has an interest in.

First up, the delightful offerings over at Pixie Hill.  Run by the dear Knickertwist (whose blog I highly recommend), the Hill offers a number of fanciful, beautiful and just plain endearing items that only the most heartless of Scrooges could resist.  You can find many of the offerings at Pixie Hill online here.  Pop over and check out her designs at your leisure; I’m certain you won’t be disappointed.

In the mood for something a little Voudon meets Pyrate meets “hey, those are kinda cute”?  Then you must peruse Missus Mooney’s Penny Dreadful Poppets.  Mrs. Mooney’s offerings include poppets, spirit dolls (in the tradition of what many people know as “voodoo dolls”) and the seriously cute Pocket Mojo Babies.  These all have a ton of potential, from being christened for serious spiritual use to sure-to-be-a-conversation-starter art piece.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Missus is the better half to my particular friend and fellow corsair, Captain Swallow.

I’m no expert, but I know what I like, and both of these ladies are making quality items with heart.  Whether as gifts or as a little something for yourself, I think you’ll like what they’re dreaming up, too.

Header:  One of Pixie Hill's incredible "tiny houses" via Knickertwist's 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Last week we talked about holly, that quintessential Christmas herb that is also one of the favorite ingredients in protection magicks.  Holly’s well known counterpart is ivy.  The two are, according to Scott Cunningham, magickally “paired” and can therefore be used in tandem in love workings with holly representing the masculine and ivy the feminine.

Ivy, though not much used in hoodoo, is considered a good luck herb for women in most magickal systems.  It is carried by women in sachets or mojo bags to encourage good things to happen in their lives.  It is also thought to ensure fidelity in the woman’s partner if she puts a leaf or two under their shared bed.

Ivy grown in a garden and particularly clinging to a home is thought to be a sure guard against disasters of any kind.  Wise mothers in old Europe would include tendrils of ivy in their daughters’ bridal finery to encourage a happy and fruitful union.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Cover from a copy of sheet music for the carol “The Holly and the Ivy”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011

Vendredi: Creatures in the Tea Leaves

Animal shapes have some curious meanings in tasseography.  It seems, at least to me, that they can be unusual and sometimes even mythical.  A cow might be sitting next to a basilisk in your cup.  Next time you may find a jackalope running with a dog.  It’s a little off-putting at first but I suppose you get used to it.  Here are a few of the living creatures I’ve encountered so far – and some I haven’t – along with their general indications in tea leaf reading.

Alligator ~ someone is deceiving the petitioner (or they are deceiving themselves).
Bee ~ a very propitious sign; much success after hard work.  Loyal friends are also indicated, particularly if two or more bees are seen.
Bird ~ if the bird has lighted, the petitioner will land on their feet after some trouble.  If the bird is in flight, good news is on its way.  The exception to the positive indications of birds is the owl, who foretells potential failure.
Bull ~ an aggressive nature is indicated; the petition or someone in their immediate circle may be acting without consideration for the feelings/needs of others.
Butterfly ~ happiness.  If the butterfly is surrounded with dots, the petitioner may be a free spender who is frittering away their cash.
Cat ~ someone in the petitioner’s life is acting the part of their friend while preparing to stab them in the back; beware.
Chicken ~ a pompous personality is indicated.
Cow ~ a comfortable situation; nurturing from others.
Crab ~ watch out for the silent person in your life, they are sharpening their claws.
Deer ~ untrustworthiness.
Dog ~ reliable friends; a dog at the very bottom of the cup means a friend needs help.  A running dog means trustworthy associates while a dog at rest warns against talking about a friend behind their back.
Donkey ~ forbearance; strength.
Dragon ~ a frightening occurrence is on the horizon but the petitioner will get through it, and be the better for it (this is also the case with other mythical beasts like basilisks, gargoyles, griffins, etc.)
Elephant ~ an indication of wisdom in the petitioner, and the strength to push through to a positive outcome even if the endeavor takes many years.

We’ll stop there for today and then return with another list of animals next week.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: Mastiffs Wilbur and Anchor backstage at the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show via NYT online

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jeudi: Weather-Wise

Winter weather is often absent from the tales of old wives aside from when it comes early or stays late.  This is probably because our agrarian ancestors didn’t pay too much attention to it aside from when some disaster like a leaky roof or animal epidemic struck.  Winter was down time; farmers got in their crop, slaughtered the designated animals and hunkered down well before the month we now call December.  Medieval era Europe is one of the most indicative cultures as far as this is concerned.  The Illuminated Hours of the Duke of Berry, for instance, show fairly comfortable peasants doing no more than chopping wood and warming themselves by their fire on a winter day.  No wonder the Christmas holiday lasted twelve days.

There were a few notable signs that seem to hold true in both hemispheres and particularly closer to the poles.  The Northern Lights were thought to be a sure sign of windy snow storms in the offing and the Southern Lights are also considered a storm warning.  This is probably a fairly accurate assessment as the clear, crisp winter days that allow viewing of the Borealis are often followed quickly by clouds and storm.

Another sure sign of storm from late fall to early spring is the bunching up of large, domestic animals at pasture.  Horses and cows were turned out almost daily, regardless of weather, and seeing them stand together with their breath making foggy clouds around them was often an indication that it was time to bring them back to the barn.  Native Americans on the Great Plains had a similar weather indicator but in their case, the animals were bison.  

A final winter storm warning was said to be falling stars or, in particular, meteor showers.  This probably speaks to the same sort of weather patterns as the beliefs about the Borealis.  If the sky is clear enough to see falling stars, it naturally follows that sooner or later it will cloud up again.

Header: February from Les Tres Riches Heures de le Duc de Berry

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Giving

I've talked a lot about oils at HQ over the last year.  There are myriad magickal oils used in all disciplines but hoodoo is especially fond of oils for dressing things like mojo bags, talismans and so on.  Oils are a lot easier to make than most people might think but the process is time consuming.  Making magickal oil as a gift for the upcoming season would most likely be right out, but planning ahead for occasions in the coming year is certainly possible.  Then too, at least for me, the cold, dark months are the most conducive to the kind of concentration required for an ongoing magickal working.

First, you need to decide on what herb or herbs you’d like to use.  Dried herbs are really the only choice for making magickal oils and, although purists will tell you that any herb used in magick should be grown, plucked and dried with your own hand, I use the stuff right off the grocery store shelf.  For me, it is not just a matter of convenience but the reality of where I live.  Many herbs grow nicely here in the sub-Arctic but many more will not even sprout without greenhouse conditions.  My black thumb makes that impossible so it’s off to the market I go.  If I can find fresh herbs, I will dry them myself but I won’t stress over it.  Intention counts for a whole lot more than what time of day and with what silver athame you plucked those stalks or leaves.

Next, it’s time to pick an oil.  The very best medium for magickal oils, to my mind, is almond oil.  If you are making oils for food preparation, corn oil works best.  Olive oil is also nice but it is really not good for use in magickal oils as it can go rancid within a year or so. 

You’ll also need some good apple cider vinegar, glass jars with tight lids to hold your oil and herbs, a fine strainer or cheesecloth for removing the herbs from your oil, and a warm, dry place for your oil to steep.

Place about two ounces of dried herbs in a mortal and pestle and really grind them down, as close to a powder as you can.  A cup or bowl and the back of a spoon will serve the same purpose.  Put the crushed herbs in a glass jar and then pour about eight ounces of oil and a very generous tablespoon of vinegar over them.  Seal the lid of your jar and shake gently before putting the whole thing up in a pantry or other warm, dark spot to set up.  Some people set their jar in sunlight but I find that this tends to degrade the oil too quickly.

Two weeks later, strain the oil into a new jar to which another two ounces of herbs have been added.  You can top this off with a bit more oil if you like and then start the whole process again.  Continue in this endeavor every two weeks until the smell of the herbs you are using is pleasingly clear to your nose.  The longer the oil sits, the more the herbal mixture will develop and the more intention and concentration you will be able to infuse it with.

After the oil is strained for the last time (three to four rounds of the process is usually enough), decant it into a nice bottle with a tight sealing lid.  You can mark it for use with a tag or sticker if you like, after which it is ready to give as a gift or go into your magickal cabinet for your own use.  A votre santé ~

Header: Madonna del Vittoria by Andrea Montegna c 1496

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

Holly is one of the two herbs representative of the Christian celebration of Christmas.  The other, of course, is ivy which is the feminine to holly’s masculine.  This tradition actually came to Europe from the Roman festival of Saturnalia and was grafted onto the Druid and Scandinavian reverence for the prickly bush we now call holly.

In just about all magicks, holly is used for protection.  Both Druids and Wiccans advise planting holly bushes near a home to protect it from dark magick, the evil eye and demon infestation.  Scott Cunningham writes of an old tradition that recommends tossing holly leaves at wild animals to encourage them to leave your property or your presence.  Personally, living in a place where truly threatening creatures like brown bears are frequently too close for comfort, I’ll bring a gun along as well.

Druidic tradition says that newborns should be sprinkled with water infused with holly to protect them as they grow.  Men should carry a holly leaf as a pocket piece for good luck; in contrast, women should carry ivy.  If a girl plucks nine holly leaves at midnight on a Friday, wraps them in a white cloth tied with nine knots and tucks this under her pillow, she will dream of her future husband.  This only works if the entire ritual is done in silence; the magick is particularly potent on or near the Winter Solstice (December 22nd this year).

In hoodoo, holly carries the same tradition of protection.  The leaves are burned to protect and cleanse the home.  Holly branches are also hung above the front door to encourage luck and draw helpful spirits to the place.  Bonne chance ~

Header: The Spirit of Christmas by Spencer Baird Nichols c 1910

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lundi: Recipes

Last Monday I posted some recipes for warm drinks from our local paper’s quarterly magazine 61 Degrees North.  Mulled cider and hot chocolate are great, but if you’re looking for something with a little grown up kick, I’ve got two more recipes from the same article that might just hit the spot.  Particularly if it’s as cold where you are as it is here in Anchorage, AK.

Hot Toddy

1 ounce whiskey or bourbon (the recipe recommends “Alaska’s own Outlaw Whiskey")
1 tbsp honey
1 cup hot water
Squeeze of lemon

Pour honey and liquor into the bottom of a mug.  Fill with hot water and finish with a squeeze of lemon.  You can add tea, if you like, to turn this into a nice pick me up if you’re feeling under the weather.

Chair 5 Coffee

Directly from the article:

If you’re in Girdwood, stop by Chair 5 for this hot treat: coffee with Kahlua, Baileys Irish Cream, Tuaco, cognac and crème de menthe with a tall cup of whipped cream drizzled with crème de menthe.  Yum.

Yum pretty much says it all.

Header: Chair 5 in Girdwood, Alaska via tripadvisor.com

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dimanche: Swimming

Catalina Swimwear ad circa 1950 (note the gentleman has a matching coverup) via Midcentury

Friday, December 2, 2011

Vendredi: Shapes in the Leaves

Circles, triangles, squares and lines; geometric shapes are some of the easiest to spot when beginning to read tea leaves.  I’ve seen at least two every time I’ve tried.  Getting the hang of what exactly they are trying to say is another business entirely.

The basic shapes, according to Lyons, amount to only seven but the number of combinations is endless.  Here are the seven major geometric shapes and their meanings in tea leaf reading:

Circle: this shape is sometimes said to represent a ring and is therefore thought to be a sign of impending marriage.  It can also represent closure, wholeness or even pregnancy depending on the other patterns surrounding it.

Cross: a cross can be thought of in the same light as “crossed conditions”.  It foretells a stalled venture, unsuccessful enterprise, hostility from others or illness.

Dots: dots are thought to indicate money and are interpreted as adding a financial element to any other shape/pattern they are near or – in particular – surround.

Line: interpreting a line as a path or road seems to be the prevailing notion in tasseography.  The path may be windy, broken, or split off into two possible options.  The interpretation can be elaborated on depending on what pattern(s) touch or cross the line, or seem to wait at the end of it.

Polygon: though rectangles/squares and triangles have their own meanings in tasseography, other polygons like hexagons and octagons are generally lumped into this category.  They represent right action and/or a balanced nature.

Rectangle or square: confinement or restriction are indicated; in unusual circumstances these shapes can foreshadow a prison sentence.  Sometimes the rectangle is interpreted as a coffin, indicating the death of someone known to the petitioner.

Triangle: triangles are read as either facing up or down.  If their high point is facing the rim of the cup, then the petitioner should stay his or her course; their current plans will succeed.  If, on the other hand, the point faces the bottom of the cup, no amount of hard work will bring the petitioner’s endeavor to a successful end.

And there we have the basic geometric shapes and their general interpretations in tasseography.  Next week: animals and other living creatures.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: The Reading the Tea Leaves by William Hogarth via wikigallery

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jeudi: Great Spirits

According to the now familiar story, a Nahuatl native named Juan Diego was walking the fourteen mile path home from mass at the cathedral in what was then Tenochtitlan and is today Mexico City.  The day was December 9, 1531 and as Diego, who some have claimed was a local shaman, rounded the hill of Tepeyac he came upon a vision of a beautiful woman wearing white and blue and “shining like the sun.”  She was dark haired and eyed, and her skin was as brown as that of the flabbergasted Diego.  To him, she appeared nothing like the statues of the Holy Virgin at the cathedral.

To Diego’s amazement, that is exactly who the woman claimed to be.  She told him, in his own language, that she was Mary, the Virgin Mother of Christ, and instructed him to convey her message to the Bishop of Tenochtitlan.  A church in her honor should be built on the site where she now stood; on the little hill known as Tepeyac.  With this, the beautiful lady disappeared leaving the shaman trembling and dizzy.

What Juan Diego must have thought as he trekked home that day is unknown to us but the fact that some researchers indicated his connection to the pre-Hispanic religion of the Nahua people should give us pause.  The hill at Tepeyac had long been the sacred ground of their mother goddess, Tlakatelilis who was known to the Aztecs as Tonan. 

Tonan bears some curious similarities to the Mayan goddess of women, Ix Chel.  Both were thought to descend from heaven and were prayed to by all women and mothers in particular.  The story goes that Tonan’s son claimed to be the mightiest of all the gods.  Tonan responded that the truly mighty were far more than just strong; if her son was the mightiest of all he would produce milk and feed the infant gods.  Of course, he could not meet his mother’s challenge and his claim to superiority came to an end.

The Aztec goddess was worshiped at the Winter Solstice, very near to the time when Diego’s vision first appeared.  At these ceremonies, a young woman would chosen the year before would represent the goddess.  She would dance through the city in a white dress of seashells and feathers while singing the praises of the benevolent earth.  When the procession reached the temple, the girl would be sacrificed to ensure the fertility of the land and the people.  To this day the Nahua of Mexico celebrate the Festival of Tlakatelilis over three days ending on December 24th with music, dancing and offerings of flower garlands made to statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

It took several more visions of the beautiful lady before Juan Diego finally approached the bishop.  He was of course rebuffed, written off as an ignorant Indian babbling for no reason.  But the lady had other ideas; she marked Diego’s tilma, a robe made from cactus cloth, with her image and gave him a bouquet of glorious roses – out of season no less – to take to the bishop.  The miracle achieved its purpose and the bishop was convinced.

Today the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe stands near Tepeyac hill and Diego’s robe hangs in the sanctuary surrounded by silver and gold leaf.  Miracles are still attributed to Guadalupe who shares a common bond with other Virgin Mary figures such as Our Lady of Fatima and our Lady of Lourdes – both of whom also have pre-Christian connections.  Not surprisingly, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico and of Mexican people dispersed around the globe.

While no true believer would see anything but a Christian miracle in this story, the debate continues as to Juan Diego, his vision and his true intentions.  Some authorities say there was no Juan Diego and that his story was fabricated to increase the faith of the local indigenous people.  Others claim that Diego did indeed have a vision but of his own goddess, which he then cleverly tweaked to dupe the Catholic Church into building a shrine to Tonan all unbeknownst to them.  The debate over the authenticity of the famous tilma also continues; you can read more about that here. 

If nothing else, the story illustrates how the religion of a conqueror will happily absorb that of the conquered in order to further its own ends.  Just as the Celtic sun god Lugh became Mercury under Roman rule, so the ancient Tonan/ Tlakatelilis has become Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Header: The tilma of Juan Diego enshrined in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City, Mexico; photo by Bill Bell via ontheroadin.com

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mercredi: The Art of Giving

It happens to be that time of year again.  The one where pretty much all of us, regardless of background, creed or faith, start to think about the giving of gifts.  The problem is that we in the Western world are bombarded by the media blitz of “only the biggest is best”.  If you don’t buy her a diamond, you don’t love her.  Only the largest, most plugged in, most HD-iest TV will do for him.  And as for the kids? iPod, XboX, new phone, laptop…  what is your problem Mom and Dad?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no.  You have to put a stop to it at some point and yet – despite the withering of our economy here in the U.S. and elsewhere – we still insist on buying, buying, buying.

But that’s not the point of this post.  Everyone needs to do what’s best for them.  I maintain, however, that something handmade tucked into a stocking or waiting on a breakfast plate is one of the kindest things anyone can do for someone they love.  So I’ll kick off the season with a dream mojo.  Easy to make, easy to use, and full of sweet dreams.  Here’s what you’ll need for four bundles:

5 tbsp dried lavender
25 whole cloves
5 tbsp dried rosemary
1 amethyst bead for each mojo
Four fabric squares about 5” x 5”; your choice of color
Ribbon or thread to tie up your bundles in either matching or coordinating color

Take some time away from your worries to concentrate on putting these dream mojos together for family and/or friends.  Light a candle, put some music on, immerse yourself in a dreamy atmosphere so that you can infuse your work with wishes for pleasant, prophetic dreams.

When you’re ready, combine the herbs in a bowl or cup.  If possible, use your fingers for this and concentrate on the magick of sound sleep.

Next, lay out your fabric squares.  I like to use a soft fabric like silk, satin or velvet in dreamy, night time colors like dark blue or violet but white muslin will work perfectly well.  Distribute the herb mixture evenly into the four fabric squares.  Place a little amethyst bead on each of the piles of herbs; this is to keep away nightmares and restlessness.  No semi-precious stones to hand?  No worries; use a pinch of salt or a large seed such as a pumpkin or sunflower seed to do the same job.

Now you are ready to tie up the bundles with your ribbon or thread.  Remember to use three knots for each before finishing with a bow if you like.  Don’t forget to continue to focus throughout the process.

Give these right away or tuck them into a safe, quiet place for presentation at your holiday celebration with instructions for them to be placed under the receiver’s pillow at bedtime.  And please don’t forget to make one for yourself; you deserve beautiful dreams, too.  A votre santé ~

Header: Dante’s Dream by Dante Gabriel Rossetti c 1871