Honoring Your Blood Ancestors (even if you probably would’ve hated most of them)

Awhile ago, I had a DNA test. The results contained a couple of surprises, though the fact that there were surprises wasn’t, in itself, surprising.

Let me back up.

Years ago, when I was recently diagnosed with IIH, drugged to the gills, recovering from a spinal tap, and bored out of my mind, I decided genealogy would be more fun than staring at the ceiling and trying not to throw up. There was only one problem.
We’ll call him Albert.

Albert was my great-grandfather. He was my maternal grandmother’s father and, by all accounts, an absolute chemical toilet fire of a man. My grandmother wasn’t really raised by her parents — her mother died in a sanitarium at age 22, and her father, well…

Let’s just say I didn’t have much to go on other than that side of my family was French-Canadian, and their name was spelled wrong. It was extremely difficult to get more information about them, because every search result for my great-grandfather only turned up his many, many, many appeals from Attica. (Also, he was the one who changed the spelling of his last name, and was the only one in his entire family who spelled it that way. It’s like he went out of his way to make this impossible.)

I probably would not have liked great-grandpa Albert if I had known him in life. I have two toxic relatives who are both much closer to me and still living, and I don’t even talk to them. Neither of them have even been in and out of maximum security prison (as far as I know. It’s been awhile).

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Winter Things Yule Love

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(Also, that Yule pun was terrible and I’m not even a little sorry about it.)

Now that November’s almost through, I feel like I can talk about Yule. I confess, Yule isn’t my favorite holiday — like a lot of other witches, Samhain’s more my jam. Still, there’s a lot to love about winter, from bundling up with my partner, my cats, a cup of star anise tea, and a fuzzy blanket, to visiting the National Arboretum and Rock Creek Park to take in all of the things nature hides under the greens of spring and summer. (I’m a sucker for watching fluffy little titmice puffing themselves up in red-berried hawthorn boughs. They’re so freaking cute, they’re basically alive Pokémon.)

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As a Pagan, it can be tricky to find ways to make Yule feel special when so much of U.S. culture revolves around Christmas this time of year. So, I put together a short list of things that, to me, help make this season a little extra sweet.

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A small, helpful rock.

Chronic illness demands strange rituals from you.

Sure, you go to the doctor. You take what they give you, though you might find that you have to do so at a certain time of night, or with a certain type of food, or adjust your dosage based on the weather or time of the month you take it. You start developing the small repetitions that (hopefully) keep you functioning.

Sometimes, that isn’t enough. So you branch out — you start adding medicinal baths, special pillows, vitamins, herbs. You go to a massage therapist, maybe an acupuncturist. You stretch, meditate, and spray yourself with magnesium oil. Your house becomes a haven for therapeutic smells.

Maybe you go further still. You look up the meanings and properties of crystals, and leave little groups of them huddled on your shelves or nightstand. You draw sigils on your medicine bottles, and paint runes on yourself in arnica gel and muscle rub.

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All of this is to explain how I ended up with my favorite medicinal rock.

Crystal guides usually give the same set of properties for a given stone — you use rose quartz for love, amethyst for peace and relaxation, and so forth. I come from a magical background staunchly rooted in personal associations. I don’t believe it’s necessary or desirable to reinvent the wheel, but most of the herbs, stones, and other tools I use are ones that I have a personal history with, and what I’ve learned about them doesn’t always match what the guides say.

Selenite is usually used to cleanse things. You can keep it with other stones or tools, or use the little wands to clear negative energy out of spaces like a spiritual lint roller. One crystalworker uses them to help itching from bug bites and eczema. I used to keep a couple pieces of it around to keep stagnant energy from accumulating. Now? I use selenite crystals for pain.

I get terrible neck pains sometimes, a direct consequence of a rare, incurable  neurological condition. There’s no help for it. I’ve been given everything from massage, to camphor gel, to opiates, to tricyclic antidepressants, all to little avail. If the pain becomes bad enough, it means I need to visit the ER for an emergency lumbar puncture and more hardcore pain management (which is also why I have several opinions on how the opiate crisis is affecting the way pain is managed in emergency settings, but that’s neither here nor there). If it isn’t yet at the ER point, I just have to suck it up.

One night, in a moment of sleepless desperation, I picked up a rough selenite wand and pressed it to my neck. And it worked.

Now, I keep a smoothed and shaped wand of selenite in my bedside table, ready for all of the times when pain keeps me awake. I don’t need to do much with it, just pressing it lightly to the places that hurt is often enough to give me enough relief to sleep. Would I use it instead of evidence-based medicine? No, but I also haven’t met a doctor yet that objects to me having a safe, drug-free means of relieving pain. I still need to visit the ER when things become bad enough — I haven’t found any stone that can substitute for having about 15 mmHg of extra fluids siphoned off my brain, unfortunately — but this helps make the other days more bearable.

Sometimes, chronic illness makes you do things. You might give up nightshade vegetables, take up polyphasic sleeping, or begin carrying magnesium oil in your bag.

Or, you might befriend a small, helpful rock.

 

DIY Bath Bomb Magic

Remember when I mentioned taking some magic bath bombs on the road?

Seeing as how they worked extremely well for my purposes, I figured I’d drop how I made ’em. Though they’re not exactly something I’d display in a fancy basket next to my Lush Perles de Sel, they smell fantastic and leave my skin soft (and, more importantly, magic af).

Bath bombs, the easy way

A basic recipe for bath bombs calls for three ingredients:

  1. 1 part acid
  2. 2 parts base
  3. Enough binder to get it to stick together

For most purposes, these are answered by vitamin C, baking soda, and water or oil. Put those together, and you’ll get a basic bomb that will fizz when it gets wet (and help remove the chlorine from your tap water at the same time). From there, you can play with additives, colorants, glitter, and any other ingredients that suit your purpose. You can also add one part of your choice of dry ingredients — dried herbs, epsom salt, arrowroot powder, or what have you — and enough skin-safe essential oil to fragrance the lot.

herb

So, for example, a sample love bomb recipe might look like this:

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You Can’t Erase People.

Every fall, I drag my S.O. out for what has become a small, but important, tradition for us: Persimmon Quest.

I’d never had a persimmon before, until I moved to California to live with my then-boyfriend on his family’s pomegranate orchard. His mother brought a dozen Fuyu persimmons — squat, sweet, golden bundles of deliciousness. Ever since returning to the east coast, I’ve had a much harder time finding them. Most grocery stores in my area don’t even know what I’m asking for when I call to see if they have any, and there’s only one that carries them with any kind of reliability this time of year.

(All of this, despite the east coast to the midwest having its own, wild type of persimmon. However, like paw paw fruit, they’re not exactly easy to find for sale.)

Wild persimmons on a branch.

Persimmons have their magic properties, like any other thing. The tree is used for healing magic, and good luck, too. The fruit, however, has a very intriguing use in folk magic…

Changing sex.

Folklore holds that, if a girl wanted to be a boy, “all” she had to do was eat nine unripe persimmons. (“All” is in scare quotes because, if you’ve ever accidentally tasted an unripe astringent persimmon, you probably know how horrifying the idea of having to eat nine of them would be!)

This isn’t new magic. It’s old-school Alabama folklore. So, why do legislators seem to think that transgender people are a new idea? That the days they have such misplaced nostalgia for weren’t also populated by transgender people? Or do they not care, so long as they never have to confront the idea and can remain comfortably ignorant while others live in fear and pain?

(I think I know the answer.)

I am considered to be under the trans “umbrella,” though I don’t consider myself trans — I have no desire to transition, and I would not talk about myself in the same breath as those who suffer from dysphoria. I have no real concept of gender, which, at times, can also make it more difficult to empathize with those for whom gender is a real and vital aspect of their identities. (Pink pens for women, black rubber loofahs for men, I don’t get it.) I also don’t care which pronouns are applied to me, because all of them are equally valueless. In truth, I’d rather people not apply any, because I dislike being talked about behind my back.

When I was younger, I used to care more about putting on a gender performance. Like a high school kid preoccupied with wearing the right labels on their clothes, I cared about how my gender was perceived. People still saw through it, though… I will never forget sitting in a living room with a group of friends, getting ready to watch T.V., only to have my room mate (annoyed that we didn’t want to watch what she wanted to watch instead) huffily declare,

“Well, [J]’s not even a real girl!”

Shit, I thought, am I that obvious?

As I matured, I learned better than to sacrifice my energy to keeping up a performance that, frankly, I couldn’t care less about. I’m a witch, I do as I please, and gender is a game I’ve no interest in playing. I live as I please, I dress as I please, I wear my hair (or not at all) as I please, I paint my face as I please, and I perform gender-expected functions of society as I please. I’m not the only one. This is going to continue, regardless of who thinks they can attempt to legislate my, or anyone else’s, existence away piece by piece.

It’s not going to work. Not on me, and not on anyone else.

You don’t get to erase people that easily.