Ace of Wands

Few things feel as nice as a new beginning — that’s why I like the Aces so much.

They’re a fresh start, the energy of limitless potential. They’re a blank page, an unlocked door, and a new day. They’re the impetus to take the first step on a journey of a thousand miles.

The Ace of Wands card from the Rider-Waite deck.

From the Rider-Waite deck, illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith.

I didn’t have anything in particular in mind when I drew this week’s card. I’m still working on things from last week, still looking forward to more medical tests. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have the encouragement that I’m going the right way.

It’s hard to interpret aces, sometimes. While they have the energy of all of that possibility, that’s all it is: possibility. Tarot never guarantees anything, aces doubly so. They’re the seed of an idea that needs effort to grow. They’re a promising opportunity, but only an opportunity.

I always seem to draw Wands when I have something creative going on. In this case, it’s the fact that holy crap I am completely sick of figuring out how to display things, I mean damn.

See, pre-stretched canvas is expensive, unwieldy, and difficult to store and ship. Canvas stretchers are cheaper, but still need space to store. Roll canvas is less expensive to buy, and easier to ship and store, but it’s also more difficult to work with and a pain to display. Want to frame it? Good luck — unless it’s smaller than 11×14, you’re probably going to have to figure out how to either stretch or mount it first. Hopefully there’s room to stretch it without losing any of the image! Good luck with mounting, too, because any permanent mount will decrease the piece’s lifespan (and probably its value),

I have a plan, I think, albeit a harebrained one. I’ve no idea if it’ll work. It’ll look really neat if it does, but will also involve ignoring a lot of what I’ve been taught and picking up a few new skills. It’ll be interesting to try, if nothing else, and the Ace of Wands indicate that it might not actually be a bad idea!

The Ace of Wands can also indicate an opportunity for personal growth. I’m hoping it’s pointing to my doctor’s appointments later this week — if I can get that resolved, if I can put those years of pain and frustration behind me, it’ll open up more opportunities than I can even begin to imagine.

Either way, I have a lot to look forward to.

 

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Caraway Folklore and Magical Uses

I never paid much mind to caraway seeds, really. I mostly knew them as the little vaguely anise-flavored bits in my rye bread, and the occasional ingredient in a love recipe. Lately, though, they’ve gotten my attention.

As it turns out, caraway seeds are one of the best herbs for digestion — particularly for people with functional dyspepsia. Caraway is a carminative, which means that it relieves gas, and the licorice-like compounds in it have a very mild anesthetic effect that’s soothing to a troubled stomach. I have a bag left over from a spell, and I’ve been grinding the seeds to use as an after-meal tea. (I also have samples of a caraway-based digestive remedy called FDgard, but that’s a subject for a different kind of post.)

Long story short, since I’m going to be ingesting a bunch of it anyway, I thought it might be a good idea to brush up on some of the folklore and magical uses of caraway. If you’re going to be brewing it into a tea several times a day, might as well enchant it at the same time, am I right?

Caraway Magical Properties and Folklore

Need to keep your stuff from being messed with? Bust out the caraway.

In Germany, it was sprinkled on coffins to keep evil spirits away from the dead.

By a similar token, it is believed that anything that contains caraway can’t be stolen — putting a pinch of it in a wallet, purse, or car helps deter thieves. Placing a dish of it under a child’s crib was said to keep witches away. Sometimes, the seeds were even mixed into animal feed to keep chickens and sheep from wandering away!

Caraway seeds.

Caraway is often used as a love herb. Chewing some of the seeds before kissing someone is believed to entice them to fall in love with you. (Perhaps not incidentally, caraway was also used since antiquity as an after dinner breath-freshening and gas-fighting herb. It’s probably easier to get someone to fall for you if you’re not enveloped in a dense cloud of halitosis and farting like a Holstein.) Hiding caraway in your lover’s food is also believed to keep them faithful to you.

Bathing in an infusion of caraway removes the spiritual causes of disease.

Using Caraway Seeds

Herb lore usually treats herbs in terms of what they’re able to bring to or repel from you. How many herbs are described as love-drawing, money-drawing, or banishing? After reading about caraway, it seems to be more useful for keeping what you have over bringing in something new. Even in love recipes, its action is geared more toward helping you maintain what you already have — you need to be reasonably close to someone in order to kiss them and get them to fall for you, right?

I think caraway’s greatest strength is as a protective herb, where this preserving quality can really shine. It would also be a useful addition to house blessing spells, or other spells with the aim of maintaining love, providing protection, and keeping evil away at the same time. In love formulas, I usually combine it with other things that have a more direct action.

Caraway seeds are also used to improve memory (which, when you think about it, is another type of preservation). Combined with herbs like peppermint, lavender, and mugwort, they’d make a great addition to a dream pillow or sleep sachet to help with dream recall.

 

If you don’t often use caraway in magic or cooking, I suggest keeping some on hand. Medicinally, it has a whole list of benefits ranging from improved digestion, to better circulation, to pain relief, and relatively few side effects. Magically, it is a very versatile herb for helping you keep all of the things you hold dear.

4 Great Alternatives to Incense

Note: This post contains affiliate links to some of the products I mention. These allow me to earn a small commission on each item sold, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for helping to support independent artists and artisans, as well as this site!

Incense is pretty magical. Not only does it give a place that certain mystical je ne sais quoi, it works for sympathetic magic, carries prayers and petitions away on its smoke, and clears away stagnant energy. It’s pretty awesome stuff.

… Unless you’re asthmatic. Or have migraines triggered by smells. Or live in a dorm. Or aren’t yet “out” as a witch. Or are one of any of the millions of other people who, for various reasons, can’t light up.

What do you do then?

Burning incense.

I can get away with using incense sometimes. For other occasions, I’ve found a bunch of very effective incense alternatives that work in both a magical and a mundane sense.

1. Hydrosols

Hydrosols are a “byproduct” of essential oil distillation. I put “byproduct” in quotes because, while they are certainly considered a byproduct if the oil is what you’re after (in much the same way that a rosebush would be considered a weed in a wheat field), they’re very useful on their own. I originally started using them as part of my skincare regimen — putting a couple of sprays on a cotton ball and using it as toner, or stashing a bottle in my bag to cool and freshen my skin throughout the day. After that, I began expanding my use to more metaphysical purposes.

Since hydrosols are derived from the same herbs used to make incense and essential oil, they carry the same properties. The only difference here is that they are closer to water, rather than the airy qualities of incense smoke. So, if you’re using incense to represent the air element on an altar or in a ritual, you may want to choose a hydrosol made of an air-aligned herb (like yarrow or peppermint), or add a feather or other airy representation to your work.

To use them, treat the spray like incense smoke. If you’d use incense to fume an object, space, or person, for example, give a spray of the hydrosol instead. I’m a big fan of those  produced by Wildroot Botanicals.

2. Essential Oil Sprays

These are very similar to hydrosols, but a bit different in composition. While hydrosols are made up of the water-soluble portions of a plant, essential oil sprays are made up of water, a blend of oils, and something to keep the oils in solution (usually witch hazel or ethanol). Hydrosols are usually sold as the product of a single herb, while essential oil sprays are often a proprietary mix of oils, sometimes with crystals, gem elixirs, or flower essences added.

This makes essential oil sprays great for ritual purposes, because you can easily customize them to meet your needs. Need a fire elemental spray? Use oils from fire-aligned herbs, and add some water-safe red or orange crystals. Since a lot of the ready-made sprays have proprietary oil blends, however, they may not be the best choice for skincare applications like beauty magic.

To use them in a spell, treat them just like you would a hydrosol. Enchanted Botanicals has some really nice sprays — their Clearing spray is powerful stuff! I’ve used it for everything from cleansing spaces and tools, to helping to lift a bad mood.

Fresh herbs.

3. Loose Herbs

You don’t always have to burn herbs to get the benefit of them. Burning has its place, but you can also add a dish of loose herbs to your spell, then release them to the wind when you’re done. Rather than waft incense smoke over an object, lay it on or cover it with the herbs. (If you add a few drops of essential oil, you can also pass the herbs off as potpourri.)

Harmony Hills Boutique has a very good selection of hard-to-find herbs at reasonable prices, and they ship quickly.

4. Tincture Paper

Tincture paper is fun if you absolutely need to be able to burn something, but incense still isn’t an option. It’s made by creating or taking a tincture of the herbs you’re working with, and adding a few drops to a piece of blotting paper. The paper will readily absorb the tincture, the alcohol will evaporate, and, once the paper’s dry, it’s ready for use.

These papers are nice because you can write petitions on them, create your own blend of tinctures to add to them, and they’ll burn quite a bit faster than incense. So, if you can handle limited amounts of smoke, or just don’t want to wait for incense to finish burning, try them.

 

Incense is treated as de rigueur in a lot of spells, but isn’t always an option for everyone. If you’re one of the many people who can’t use incense, try hydrosols, essential oil sprays, loose herbs, or tincture paper instead — you may find that you actually prefer them to dealing with smoke!

Death of the (Tarot) Artist

There’s an idea in literary criticism called the “death of the author.”

It’s not a literal death — just a very stark metaphorical distancing. It pretty much means that, when it comes to interpreting a work, the creator’s context and intentions should be ignored in favor of an interpretation of the text as it stands. There are certainly some works that benefit greatly from the inclusion of the author’s context, but there are flaws inherent in binding a work — any work — so tightly to its creator.

The concept was described by a French literary critic and philosopher named Roland Gérard Barthes, who felt strongly that keeping the interpretation of a text tied to the author’s biases was limiting, as well as innately flawed. By contrast, ignoring the author’s intentions freed the text to be analyzed and criticized entirely on its own merits and message, while erasing the issue of putting words in the author’s mouth.

It’s a thing that crosses art forms. Visual arts resist interpretation a bit more strongly than the written word (either fortunately or unfortunately, there is no OED for imagery. Unlike language, pictures don’t need to be mutually intelligible). Freeing an image from the creator means the meaning of a piece is left entirely up to what it is able to communicate to a viewer. At most, the interpretation of a piece in the context of the creator is only one of many facets of it. To (mis)quote Barthes, “a[n image’s] unity lies not in its origins […] but in its destination.”

I remember learning to read tarot. It wasn’t a thing that interested me much, initially — I liked runes, geomancy, Ogham staves, things whose imagery was far simpler, but contained multitudes. (And seemed to involve a hell of a lot less rote learning.)

“Read it like a story,” my teacher urged.

But the trouble with learning to read tarot cards is that it feels like a lot to memorize. You have your deck, which, at first, seems impossibly thick. You have the little soft-cover booklet with its handful of keywords, or a short paragraph for each card. “The Three of Wands,” it helpfully tells you, “Progress, expansion, opportunity. Reversed: Delays, short-sightedness.” You might read this book, using the cards like flash cards to test yourself on the meanings. Finally, one day, you’ve achieved memorization.

 

2ofcups

And then you get a new deck.

I want to preface this by explaining that I’m not suggesting that the traditional interpretations of tarot cards be thrown out entirely. Part of tarot’s enduring appeal is the universality of it as a means of self-insight, as much as divination. Those meanings endure because… well, they’re meaningful to us.
But there’s something to be said for burning that little book.

My S.O. didn’t read tarot when he met me. If you ask him today, he still probably wouldn’t consider himself a tarot reader, per se. But, between the two of us, we still have six decks — three apiece. One has beautiful imagery surrounding Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, another is based on the works of Klimt, two others are animal-themed, yet another is based on the works of Mucha, one is full of strange, surreal moon-faced figures, and yet another is a joke deck I helped create to raise money for charity. All of them are tarot decks, with their Rider-Waite-Smith-inspired tableaux — The Fool, The Chariot, and so forth. All of them have subtly different meanings for their cards.

Reading tarot intuitively is a means of getting information without memorization, and it works because of the death of the artist. When you set the book aside, you free yourself to receive only what the artwork is giving you. The creation of a tarot deck is a deliberate act — every image is chosen or created with care based on the feelings it evokes, the ideas it conjures up, or its place in the visual language of alchemy. Allowing the artist to “die” frees us from adhering to the interpretations handed to us.

 

 

Please don’t eat the oil.

*DEEP BREATH.*

Okay.

As someone with a chronic health condition, I’ve heard a lot about how all I really need are essential oils. This comes from a place of love (usually, though it sometimes comes from a place of “please buy this from me or my upline is going to be pissed”) and from people who mean well, but that doesn’t make it any less grating. I still smile, say thank you, and accept the advice in the spirit in which it was given — a desire to help me be healthy again. As hard as it is to continually hear that I’m only suffering through medication and medical procedures because I haven’t properly tried oils/yoga/meditation/green juice/coffee enemas, I can’t really get mad over it.

Sometimes, though, this advice crosses the line between “well meaning, but misinformed” to “please stop telling people to do this.”
That line is when people begin telling me I should be eating essential oils.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Sure, some oils are routinely used in food — by commercial food operations, who use industrial food-grade oils to flavor batches of food intended to feed hundreds at a time — but this is not what I’m talking about.

You’ve probably experienced this scenario: You’re on Facebook or Instagram, minding your own business, and you get a message. Not just any message, oh no. It’s a friend you haven’t spoken to since high school, and they want to tell you about their wonderful new business opportunity. One look at their profile tells you all you need to know: their feed is hashtagged out the wazoo, and replete with photos featuring crockpots of soup, fresh-baked pies, and water bottles glistening with condensation… All serving as backdrops for tiny, all-too-familiar amber bottles.

My primary gripe with putting essential oils in food comes from two things:

  1. What’s actually in essential oils.
  2. Deceptive marketing tactics (and those who uncritically repeat them).

There’s too much oil in the oil.

Look at it this way. Oil is… well, oil. This is why is needs to be diluted for use — it doesn’t mix with water, and will sit, undiluted, on your skin/in your esophagus/wherever else it touches and burn the living crap out of you if you aren’t careful. Adding a few drops of oil to a meal without a sufficient volume of liquid fat (or an emulsifying agent), for example, may not end up flavoring the meal. It will, however, set up one poor bastard for one hell of a flavor adventure.

Essential oils are also highly concentrated. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon or tablespoon of rosemary, for example, this is not going to be answered by using rosemary essential oil instead. It takes a tremendous amount of plant matter to yield a comparatively tiny amount of essential oil (which is also why they’re not exactly as sustainable or green as many oil sellers would have you believe, but that’s a subject for another day). Not only that, but, by not using the whole herb when it is called for, you’re missing out on the compounds that don’t get released as oil. Anything water-soluble is lost to the hydrosol during distillation, and doesn’t end up in the finished oil at all.

Oils are more expensive, less safe, and don’t even give you all of the flavor or benefits of the whole herb.

That’s not what “purity” means.

Sometimes you’ll hear multi-level marketing reps defending essential oil consumption by saying something like, “My essential oils say they’re safe to use internally!” or “My essential oils are more pure than the competition, therefore they’re safe!” This is a bit of marketing jargon likely passed down to them from their upline that misses one obvious issue: The reason essential oils aren’t safe to eat is that there’s too much essential oil in them. 

I mean, theoretically the less-pure oils might be safer, because at least then you’re slightly less likely to OD on the equivalent of eight pounds of lavender in one sitting. In this context, “pure” does not equal “safe to consume.”

So is it medicine, or not?

One thing that I find fascinating is the discussion about whether essential oils are medicine or not. Sure, they’re required to say they can’t treat, cure, or prevent any disease, but there is still a lot of historical evidence of herbs and herbal distillates used as medicine before isolating, refining, and synthesizing active compounds became the pharmaceutical standard. So, some people who doubt the safety or efficacy of a pharmaceutical approach will reach for an essential oil bottle over a prescription slip.

And then reach for that bottle again when they want to cook a meal. And again for a relaxing bath. And again for an air freshener.

So are essential oils medicine, or aren’t they? If they are effective at treating anything, they are medicine and should at least be treated with the respect you’d afford a bottle of gummy vitamins. Essential oils don’t work through fairy dust, they contain compounds that act on processes in the body just like medicines do. This is why the same oils that can help dry up a blemish or disinfect a cut are outright neurotoxic to animals — differences in the way these compounds are metabolized yield dramatically different results from species to species.

Essential oils work therapeutically because those compounds are concentrated within them. If “the dose makes the poison,” why use a concentrated form of an herb instead of what a recipe actually calls for? I don’t drink Nyquil because I like the way it tastes, so I’m not going to put concentrated plant compounds in my food or water for flavoring.

Less is more.

Overexposure to essential oils is definitely something you want to avoid. Some oils can have unwanted effects if they’re used on a daily basis, and some are known to cause sensitization with repeated exposure.

While sensitization can happen at any time, the risk is increased with certain oils and improper dilution. Most reactions cause localized skin rashes, but some particularly unfortunate people will go into anaphylactic shock. It’s not at all uncommon for aromatherapists, for example, to become sensitized to even the safest oils purely due to daily exposure. This isn’t meant to scare anyone away from using essential oils, but to underline the importance of treating them like what they are — a highly concentrated form of plant-based volatile compounds.

So, why do some people advocate eating essential oils?

I want to make one thing clear — it isn’t doctors or certified health practitioners that I’m taking issue with, here. These are people who know what they’re doing, and are both aware of and prepared to weigh the risks (adverse reactions, sensitization) against the potential benefits to their patients. They also generally don’t push adding essential oils to food. A health practitioner might recommend enteric-coated capsules of peppermint oil to someone with IBS, to ensure that standardized levels of the therapeutic compounds in the oil are delivered where they are needed (instead of just irritating the crap out of the esophagus because lemon oil is literally never going to mix properly with your bottled water, Taylor). Actual medical usage isn’t the problem. I mean, I’ve got a fat stack of FDgard samples from my gastroenterologist, and they’re basically coated caraway oil and menthol.

The thing is, I use essential oils on a consistent basis. I even make things that I give away, trade, or sell to other people. It’s safe to say that I go through more essential oil than your average person, but, even so, a bottle will last me for a while.

That’s bad news for an essential oil rep. The more ways they can find to sell oil, the better. People don’t make new bottles of homemade spray cleaner every day. They don’t take long, luxurious baths every day. They don’t need to make their own herbal salves or cold-process soaps every day.

You know what they do do every day? Eat and drink.

Suddenly, the bottle of lemon oil that could last all year only lasts for two months. Tell people that only X-brand of essential oil is pure enough to eat, and the oil rep can lock in a customer base that will not only keep returning to them for the “purest” oil, but go through it much faster than they otherwise would (and likely end up joining the rep’s downline in order to save money). All of these things add up to more profit for the MLM.

People are fond of essential oils as a “safer,” “greener” alternative to things they mistrust. Big Pharma, spray cleaners, air fresheners, personal care products, all of these are multi-billion dollar industries, and that breeds mistrust. Businesses don’t just rake in billions without considerable effort and a strong profit drive. If they are profit-driven, how often does the safety of their customers take a back seat to money?

In 2016, the global essential oils market was valued at over $6.6B USD. Of that, doTerra alone pulls in over $1B in sales annually.

Please don’t eat essential oils.

 

The King of Cups

Even with all of the reassurance I had from last week’s cards, I still went into my appointment on edge.

(Okay, so I had a full blown panic attack and had to ask the receptionist if there was somewhere I could lay down and try to relax. Everyone was incredibly chill and understanding about it, though, which was nice.)

The parking garage felt claustrophobic. I had to ride in a hot, stuffy elevator. I had no idea what kind of tests would be required of me, and knew this might be my only chance to have them. What if the doctor asked for twelve tubes of blood again? What if I couldn’t convince them to take my blood pressure at the end of the appointment, instead of the beginning?

As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry. Not only was everyone really kind and reassuring, my nurse practitioner is awesome. I was never made to feel that I was wasting her time. She thoroughly explained everything to me. She took my medical history with no fuss, no sighing, and no muttering. There were no awkward first-visit dives into my parent’s marital history. I left the office feeling empowered, like I knew what was going on. I have hope that, even if the h. pylori test is negative, there are other possibilities. I also have samples of FDgard, which I didn’t even know was a thing before this.
I’m probably fixable, you guys.

(The real kicker, though, was finding out that I shouldn’t’ve had the h. pylori test in the first doctor’s office to begin with. I had no idea that using antacids in the previous two weeks might alter the result — I could’ve ended up with a false negative, wasting more of both his time and mine for nothing.)

So, now I’m pretty much just dealing with the symptoms for another week and a half until I can get a few more tests. I just have to wait.

I’m not good at waiting. I can be patient, but I hate the powerless feeling of sitting on my hands as minutes to become hours and hours to become days. I didn’t even have any good questions for my tarot deck this time — I just wanted to know what kind of energy this week is bringing. What can I focus on to help the time pass?

I drew King of Cups.

Cups is the suit of the emotions, and the King is the master of them. He is relaxed, balanced between the heart and the mind, neither devoid of reason nor incapable of empathy. When he turns up, it’s an invitation to explore the feelings around a situation — are there emotional factors that are making things more difficult than they need to be?

… Yeeeah, kinda.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy managing my physical symptoms. While I know that they aren’t caused by stress or fear, the anxiety they trigger still needs managing. When I do self-work, I usually focus on panic disorder and finding ways to manage unpreventable panic attack symptoms as they arise. Now, I should probably look more deeply into strategies for managing my medical anxiety, specifically — it’s going to be hard to go through rounds of testing and follow-up visits if I can barely make myself walk through the door.

Besides, I’ve got time to kill.

 

Deepening Resilience: Preparation.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here, or read my previous post in this series here

Preparedness looks different from community to community. In some places, it’s ensuring that there will be enough clean food and water. In others, it’s getting ready to battle things like worsening allergy seasons and severe weather phenomena.

In mine, it means pulling up stakes.

To look at my neighborhood, you wouldn’t really think of it as something that’d be that threatened by climate change — the hardest part might be getting supplies in and out of the city, right? When you look at projections of swelling rivers and reshaped coastlines a few years to a few decades from now, though, it’s not that easy. One estimate places the new waterfront at ten feet from my front door. In addition to rather complicated traffic patterns, there are many reasons why this would be really, really bad. Even with time to prepare, how can an entire, already-existing city keep sewage, garbage, vermin, and other vectors of illness out of the rising water? Keeping our potable water from contamination is important, but also not something a small community using city infrastructure can really manage on its own. Even if we set up our own, smaller-scale  means of keeping our drinking and bathing water clean, the mold, rats, and insects will still be there.

Sometimes, preparedness looks a lot like leaving.

Unfortunately, that means it may not be possible to take care of everyone. There are a lot of people here who can’t move on their own, whether due to physical or monetary limitations. Even if we take it for granted that my community would be willing and able to pitch in to uproot every member and move us all to somewhere safer, it still isn’t possible. Some are too old, others are too ill. Even with able-bodied people to help, even if money isn’t an issue, you can’t move everyone.

That doesn’t even take into account the strong ties people feel to their homes. There are still people living in Centralia and outside of Pripyat, and not all of them are there because circumstances force them to be. The ties to home are strong. For some, a life in a strange place — no matter how safe — would be no life at all.

So, how do we prepare our community for climate change here? Is it right for the able-bodied to put themselves and their families at risk for those who either can’t or won’t move to safer ground? Could my community even still function, as our houses flood and crumble and our streets vanish under the water? I don’t have an answer. I wish I did.

Sometimes, preparing means packing up and doing the best you can.