Three white candles in the middle of dried vines.
life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

The Many Implications of a Jacket

Guess who’s got two thumbs and a jacket she got a pretty rad deal on!

(Me. I did.)

Everything we touch, we leave a little of ourselves in. Maybe you handled a book when you were having a terrible day, or picked up a crystal when you were feeling particularly elated. By that same token, everything we bring into our spaces comes with its own energetic history. This is why it’s always a good idea to cleanse your stones, bowls, wands, or any other tools before you use them — you don’t necessarily want someone else’s bad day screwing with your whole jam, you know?

So you rinse them in clean water, if you can. Maybe you hold them in incense smoke, or the fumes of cleansing herbs. Maybe you place them in sunlight.

All of this is to say that this jacket is very pre-owned, and I don’t know any of its history. Was it owned by a nice little old lady who only wore it on Sundays? Did it narrowly escape being labeled “Exhibit B” in a trial? It’s a mystery!

Even though a jacket isn’t a magical tool, I still don’t really want any bad vibes hanging around. I mean, if nothing else, that is other people’s energy and should be returned to them. This can go beyond sending energy back to its previous owner, too — not only was this jacket previously owned by someone, it was sewn, cut, dyed, and tanned by someone, the cow was raised by someone, and the cow gave its life for it. (I prefer not to mess with plastic leather substitutes for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, plant-based alternatives like hemp were not going to meet my needs here.)

A lot of living things sacrificed their time, energy, and even lives to keep me warm and dry. That deserves appreciation.

When I cleanse secondhand objects, it’s important to me to not only remove the residual energy from the object itself, but to return it to its source and express thanks and understanding of how it got there in the first place. The choice to purchase or wear anything shouldn’t be made lightly, and it should be done with a full view of what it took to get it into a shop, and what’s going to become of it once its working life is through.

Even the choice to send gratitude and positive energy to whoever previously owned, made, or died for a thing isn’t without controversy. Let’s be real — most of the people involved in this jacket’s creation are probably still alive. There’s something to be said for never performing magic for someone without their consent (though this is often considered a limit to love spells and things of that nature). If the previous owner is a devout Christian, how would they feel about a Pagan doing a working for them?
Granted, my experience with this is limited to watching a family member (and, to be fair, Pat Robertson devotee) set AzureGreen catalogs on fire in our kitchen sink while ranting about Satan, but I am inclined to think the answer is: not super great.

On the other hand, nobody says that this hypothetical person has to accept any intentions they don’t want. I ain’t over here trying to force anyone to have a good day. Ultimately, it’s enough that their vibes make it back to them, where they belong.

So, I light my herbs. I sprinkle my salt. And I send the energy back with the intention that it finds its targets happy and well.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Elderberry Folklore and Magical Uses

With colds, the flu, and COVID-19, elderberry syrup has made a lot of appearances in various “crunchy” and DIY blogs. Elderberry is touted as an herbal “medicine chest” — even Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder had a hard time overstating the herb’s value. It’s said to improve allergies, inflammation, sinus problems, and pain, and, with prompt use, shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms.

Elderberries and syrup.

That’s not all elderberry is used for, though. This tree, with its white flowers and dark, shiny berries, has a lot of folklore and a long history of magical use behind it.

Elder Magical Uses and Folklore

The elder tree is believed to house a spirit with the power to help or harm. In Denmark, it is Hylde Moer. Elsewhere, it was dryads, or simply the Old Lady of the Elder tree.

Taking any of the tree’s gifts has to be done with permission. If permission is granted, they have the power to heal and protect. If it isn’t, they have the power to harm. One charm for cutting elder wood goes:

“Old Lady of the Elder Tree,
Let me have some of your wood,
And, when I am a tree,
You may have some of mine.”

In southern Italy, the wood is used to drive out evil, and protect against thieves and serpents.

In Germany, hanging elder branches in a home on Walpurgisnacht protects from evil.

The spongy centers of elder branches are soaked in oil and used as a kind of lamp wick to reveal all of the witches in an area.

In England, carrying an elder stick or cross made of elder wood was said to protect from rheumatism.

Building a cradle from elder wood is a bad idea, for spirits with pinch and poke any child that sleeps in it.

It’s considered a very bad idea to burn elder wood. In Ireland, it was believed that burning elder would would make you see the devil in the flames. Part of the Wiccan Rede goes as follows:

“Elder be the Lady’s tree. Burn it not, or cursed be.”

(Considering the cyanide content of uncured fruitwoods, and the fact that hydrogen cyanide is liberated by heat, this is probably very good advice!)

elder-4246132_640

The scent of elder flowers is said to be narcotic in nature. Sleeping under an elder tree would cause the sleeper to dream of the fairy realm, or else not wake up at all.

Magically, carrying elder wood, leaves, twigs, or berries is said to protect you from harm, while hanging elder branches over doors and windows of a building protects its occupants.

Elder is associated with death and rebirth — all parts of the plant are toxic (except the ripe, cooked berries), and elder grows quickly from cuttings.

Elder wood is used for wands, and for making instruments whose music is said to be favored by spirits.

In some situations, elder is used as a commanding herb.

Using Elder

All parts of the plant produce cyanogenic glycosides, hence all of the old admonitions against the improper use of elder. The berries are used medicinally, but that’s only after proper preparation.

Magically, elder is a powerful tree — which stands to reason, since the plant itself contains the power to heal and kill. Any tree should be asked for permission before gathering its products, but that goes double for elder. From what I have read, elder wood should be avoided for mundane purposes, and its use should be restricted to magical tools.

 

Elder has gotten a lot of press lately because of its use as a remedy for respiratory illness, but there’s only so much it can do. It can help with sinus problems, inflammation, and shorten cold and flu symptoms, but the best way to keep from getting sick is still to eat well, rest well, stay hydrated, and stay away from people.

crystals, Witchcraft

“Fake” Crystals — Opalite, Goldstone, and More.

So, fake crystals.

Some materials that make it into the gem trade pretend to be something they aren’t. They might even come complete with a list of healing and metaphysical properties, leaving buyers none the wiser.

Wait, fake crystals?

There’s a whole spectrum of things covered by the term “fake crystal.” On one hand, it can mean a gem where the trade name doesn’t reflect the mineral itself (e.g. various types of crackled or dyed quartz). It can also mean a material that’s treated like a gem when it isn’t. It might be made into towers, molded into points, tumbled into nuggets, or even shaped into palm stones and spheres.

How can you tell if a gem is actually a crystal vs a man-made material?

Honestly, the best way I’ve found is to know the various types of art glass that end up in the gem trade. If you’re trying to suss out a man-made crystal masquerading as a natural one, there are certain tells you can look for. That’s a better subject for another post, however, so let’s look at art glass that’s frequently sold as and mistaken for natural gemstones.

Opalite

640px-10-20MM_Tumble_Polished_Opalite
Photo from Albion Fire and Ice. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Opalite is a type of opalescent glass, sometimes sold as sea opal or opal moonstone. There is a natural stone called “opalite,” but you’re more likely to come across it under the name “common opal” since synthetic opalite is much more prevalent.

Some unscrupulous sellers will try to pass off opalite glass as natural opal or moonstone. Fortunately, opalite is pretty recognizable — it’s smooth, evenly colored, doesn’t exhibit any cracks or inclusions, and may occasionally contain air bubbles.

Crystal healers sometimes credit opalite with the ability to shift energy blockages, improve one’s ability to communicate, and stimulate creativity.

Goldstone

551px-Goldfluss_(Aventuringlas)
Goldstone photo by GDK. CC BY-SA 3.0. No changes were made.

Goldstone, or aventurine glass (no relation to aventurine), is a stunningly sparkly type of glass made in a low-oxygen environment. It has to be produced in a specific type of environment to allow the copper ions in the mixture to reduce to pure, elemental copper, and within a very narrow temperature range to allow the glass to stay liquid while the copper precipitates out, creating the evenly-distributed gold glitter throughout the glass.

I have seen goldstone marketed as sunstone, as well as sold in ways that obscure the fact that it’s a man-made glass. Goldstone doesn’t really look like natural sunstone, however — the color and distribution of metallic crystals is too even.

Some crystal healers say goldstone promotes energy, confidence, vitality, and ambition.

Blue Goldstone

Blue goldstone looks very similar to regular goldstone, the only difference is the color. Blue or purple goldstones use different metallic elements in their formulations, giving the stones a deep blue or purple color (hence the name) with silver glitter.

Blue goldstone doesn’t really resemble any natural stone, but I have seen it sold as “blue sunstone.”

Like goldstone, blue goldstone is said to help with vitality. It’s also credited with the ability to soothe anxiety and communication.

Fake Quartz

With a cursory visual inspection, molded glass can pass for quartz. There are a few key things to look for to be able to tell regular glass from the real McCoy:

  • Quartz is probably going to be cold to the touch, colder than glass.
  • Quartz will probably be slightly heavier — it generally (not accounting for differences in composition of the matrix, inclusions, etc) has a density of 2.65 g/cm3 while borosilicate glass is about 2.2 g/cm3.
  • Glass is likely to contain air bubbles, and probably won’t have the natural imperfections of quartz.
  • Glass is softer than quartz — it won’t be able to scratch a glass plate, but quartz will.

Some low-quality quartz crystals are ground up, melted down, and used to create reconstituted quartz. This is frequently used for scrying spheres, since it offers perfect clarity along with the other properties of quartz. The best way to tell reconstituted quartz from naturally-formed quartz is its lack of imperfections, and its price tag. A reconstituted crystal sphere of a given size and clarity is much less expensive than its natural counterpart.

natural-4596205_640
Reconstituted quartz spheres can be as transparent and flawless as glass, but natural quartz very rarely is.

Does it matter?

Eh, maybe.

If you have a piece of opalite, goldstone, or even resin or glass that you get something out of, I’m definitely not going to tell you you’re wrong. I’ll be the first to tell you that something’s origins or how natural it is don’t necessarily dictate its usefulness; I’ve used literal, actual garbage in spellwork before.

That said, it royally sucks to get mislead by an unscrupulous seller. If you enjoy opalite and find that it’s useful for you on your spiritual path, that’s awesome! Just please make sure you know what you’re buying, and don’t let someone overcharge you for their “super rare sea opal.”

It can also be important when you’re looking into making things like gem elixirs. While glass is pretty much inert, you really, really want to make absolutely certain that you’re not working with something that’s going to leach harmful compounds into your elixir. For that reason alone, you absolutely want to make sure that you know exactly what kind of minerals — natural or man-made — you’ve got.

Of course, no man-made material is going to have the exact same physical or metaphysical properties as the gemstone it’s imitating. But (as I mentioned in my post about identifying natural citrine) goldstone, blue goldstone, and opalite can have a legitimate use, even in a very traditional magical system. Color magic is a viable aspect of witchcraft, and goldstone being made in a factory instead of underground doesn’t make it any less orange and sparkly.

 

If you try to use nature-derived material in your spellwork, you might want to familiarize yourself with the man-made stones that occasionally make their way into the crystal and gemstone market. If you don’t really care, or feel drawn to these stones for their own sake, there’s no reason to avoid them. Opalite, goldstone, blue goldstone, and reconstituted quartz are all beautiful and useful in their own ways. If you find a piece that resonates with you, enjoy it and treasure it — no matter whether it came from the earth, or from a laboratory.

Burning incense.
life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

I passed! … Now what?

It took me some time, but I submitted my ADF Dedicant Path work, received some feedback, elaborated where I was asked to elaborate, and… I passed!

It’s an enormous relief — perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the feedback I received involved me being “too hard on [myself]” when rituals didn’t go perfectly to plan. I don’t consider myself a type A personality, I don’t really think I’m a perfectionist (well, most of the time), but I can see it. Completing this path work was very important to me. Upholding the virtues and things I’ve learned in the course of doing it is still important to me.

There’s only one problem: where do I go from here?

I’ve considered trying to pursue ordainment. There are also other paths of study within each of the Druidry guilds. With how long it took me to finish my Dedicant Path work to my satisfaction, I’m a little hesitant to jump into another round of studying and writing so soon. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t calling to me, though.

Do I explore other Druid groups alongside ADF, and see what knowledge they have to offer? Do I choose a guild or two to concentrate on?

I’m giving myself until February 8th. By then, I will have looked at my options and picked a course of action.

Fingers crossed that it’s a good one!

life, Neodruidry

The Return of Spring

Imbolc was this past Saturday.

I celebrated alone, as I often do — as much as I like having other Pagans to share with, i still really enjoy the headspace of a solitary ritual. It can get much more improvisational. If it feels right to do a ritual in the alley next to the dumpster and pour out my nature offerings right where the birds can get them, I can do that. If I want to honor my ancestors by making and offering of some of the really awesome BBQ pizza I reheated from the night before, I can do that. If the spirits move me and I want to cover my floor in newspaper, smear my body with paint, and express myself by doing the worm across a piece of unstretched canvas, I can do that.

Not that I did, or anything. But I could!

Oddly, being able to get out and about more now has given me more of an appreciation for solo rituals. The difference between having to celebrate alone and choosing to do so is much bigger than I thought.

I don’t generally get much opportunity to decorate for the High Days. Kiko would eat whatever I put out, and Pye would throw it on the floor in a fit of pique if he thought his food bowl didn’t contain the right ratio of freeze dried bits to crunchy bits. I love my cats dearly, but they are kind of jerks.

crocus-318293_640

And so, I had a small Imbolc celebration sitting in the big, comfy chair in my living room, with my coffee table as an altar and a very fancy candle I choose specifically as an offering for Brigid. The Nature Spirits received mung beans, my Ancestors received candy, the Shining Ones received bourbon and incense, and the waters of life were the tail end of a bottle of very excellent cucumber, mint, and geranium lemonade. (I’m a sucker for cucumber and herbal flavors.)

It was peaceful. It was low-key. It was just what it needed to be, in a place where the pavement often keeps me from being able to see the first early flowers make an appearance, on a day when the overcast sky seemed to blanket everything in downy gray and the brightness of spring still feels far away.

It was nice.

Plants and Herbs

Marshmallow Folklore and Magical Uses

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the herbs I talk about here. These allow me to earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting independent artisans, and this site!

I drink so much marshmallow, it borders on the absurd.

It’s not for the flavor, either — marshmallow root doesn’t really have much of one. Let me tell you, though, if you’ve got a stomach ache, bladder pain, or an annoying, dry cough? There’s nothing more soothing than a big cup of swamp root goo. No joke.

I cannot overstate the debt of gratitude I owe to marshmallow.

cropped-img_20170903_182451_435-768x768.jpg

(I’d also eat my weight in toasted vanilla Smash Mallows if science would let me, but that’s a subject for another time.)

Marshmallow Magical Properties and Folklore

As its name implies, marshmallow (Althea officinalis) is considered a water herb. It’s often associated with deities of love and beauty, and used in fertility and attraction spells. (Some sources say that the slippery marshmallow extract was even used as a lubricant, so using it in sex and fertility magic isn’t much of a stretch!)

Marshmallow is sometimes burned to cleanse a space, or used to make protective oils.

It’s considered to be a favorite of benevolent spirits. Spirit bottles, used to house helpful spirits, are filled with marshmallow root. Keeping a jar of it and a dish of water on your altar is said to help call helpful spirits to your aid.

Planting marshmallow on or near a grave, or decorating a grave with the flowers, is used to honor the dead.

Using Marshmallow

A big part of why marshmallow root is medicinally valuable is its mucilage content. Marshmallow mucilage is a polysaccharide with a very thick, slippery consistency. When you stand the root overnight in water, you’ll notice that the water becomes more viscous.

Marshmallow expresses its mucilage best as a cold infusion. I usually measure the dose of marshmallow root I need (depending on what I’m trying to do) into a tea strainer, fill a glass jar with clean water, plop the strainer in it, and set it in my fridge overnight.

If need be, you can brew the root the way you would any other tea, it just won’t produce quite as much mucilage. I usually do this if I have a sore throat — the mucilage and the warmth are really soothing.

Marshmallow leaf contains less mucilage than the root. It’s a diuretic and helps with expectoration, and is sometimes used as a topical poultice.

The key words here are “soothing,” “protecting,” and “comforting.” On a physical level, the mucilage in marshmallow root soothes irritated membranes, forms a protective layer, and brings comfort. This is reflected on a metaphysical level, too — as an ingredient in beauty preparations, it’s not surprising to see it used in spells for the same. As something that helps banish pain, it’s natural to use it to banish evil. As an herb that offers comfort, it makes sense to use it to comfort and placate the spirits of the dead.

You can find shredded, ready-to-use marshmallow root from retailers like Mountain Maus Remedies and Grassroots Herb Supply. If you prefer, you can also find it in a finely ground powder form.

 

Even if you don’t regularly perform spiritwork or work with the dead, marshmallow’s a helpful herbal ally to keep around. It makes a soothing tea, and its gentle, comforting nature lends it well to a variety of magical applications. Even though marshmallow is used as a food as well as medicine, consult with an experienced practitioner before use — especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or have any medical conditions.

 

Three white candles in the middle of dried vines.
Witchcraft

The Magical Properties of Wax

Candles are a cornerstone of some of the most simple — and powerful — magic there is. Pretty much everyone’s first spell is some form of candle spell, because they’re inexpensive, easy to come by, and effective (once you know how to use them). A lot of care and thought goes into the selection of a candle’s size, color, and even shape. This got me thinking… What about the wax?

candle-397965_640.jpgCandles made from the wax of the bayberry plant are traditionally burned on new year’s in order to bring prosperity into the home. We’re also way past the days when all we had were bulk paraffin chime candles. There’s some history behind using specific wax candles for specific purposes, and a lot of options out there. It made me to do some experimenting.

Bayberry wax is typically, but not always, green. I’ve also seen plenty of bayberry candles that have turned out beige, brown, or even a grayish color. So, assuming that it isn’t the color of the wax alone that gives it its associations with prosperity, that gives me a jumping off point.

 

 

Looking at the metaphysical properties of the origins of each wax and my own experience, here’s what I’ve found:

Palm wood is said to be associated with transformation and transitions, but also peace and relaxation. Wands made of palm conduct energies around them and stimulate intuition. While not at all analogous to the living wood, petrified palm wood is protective and grounding. While those are typical traits of petrified wood in general, they seem to go hand-in-hand with palm’s ability to help us navigate transitions and upheaval.

Palm is one of the waxes I don’t have much experience with, in a magical sense. Based on its other properties, I’d use candles made of palm wax for stability and protection, particularly when it comes to weathering major life changes.

Beeswax is a bit different. Honey is frequently used in sweetening jars, to anoint other candles, and so on, because it’s sweet and sticky. It’s an attraction ingredient par excellence, and its inviting golden color certainly doesn’t hurt.

I predominantly use beeswax candles in my practice, but they’re especially good for spells that involve drawing things to you — like love, money, friendship, and so on. Good beeswax even has a warm honey smell that’s absolutely wonderful while it burns.

Another nice thing about beeswax is that it’s fairly firm. So, if you use it in a spell to bring something to you, and you want to dispose of the candle’s remains, it’s really easy to melt the candle stub down and form it into a love-, money-, or whatever-drawing amulet. Soften the wax, flatten it, and inscribe it with a rune, symbol, sigil, or even just a word expressing your intent, then use it however you please.

Paraffin is where things get a little strange. It’s a byproduct of the petroleum industry, which leads a lot of people to view it as less natural than the alternatives out there. It does release compounds like toluene into the air, which keeps it from being the best choice for anywhere that isn’t well-ventilated. I haven’t found any sources for magical properties of paraffin itself, other than as a base for candles. I was able to find a few for petroleum jelly, which is often used as a base for herbal salves, but they primarily touted its ease of use as an ointment.

Some sources cite petroleum’s origins as a good basis for ancestor magic — even going back to our non-human ancestors.

It seems that few people have really delved into the magical properties of paraffin, which I can understand. If your practice relies on using materials that are as close to nature as possible, it’s hardly going to be your first choice! Paraffin’s history of use seems to indicate that it’s like a white candle — while it might have properties of its own, it’s also a neutral, all-purpose stand-in for other waxes. Its associations with the ancient dead also make it useful for death-related or ancestor work.

candles-2681068_640.jpg

Soy is another option for candle wax. Traditionally, soybeans are associated with prosperity and luck. Soy milk is used in recipes for employment and business success. In magical cooking, soy ingredients are said to promote psychic awareness and spirituality. As the seed of the soy plant, soybeans also have obvious connotations of growth.

Soy wax is a great choice for spells and rituals for financial gain and abundance of any kind. (I like it when I’m looking to grow my bank account!) I have a fantastic soy-based candle by Enchanted Botanicals that I light before spells to establish a sacred space — that soy-seed-growth energy is an excellent foundation for spellwork.

Tallow is a bit hard to come by now, because it’s made from rendered animal fat, sticky, and not quite as appealing as other waxes for candle crafting. Since it’s sticky, it made for an excellent vehicle for magical herbs — all you had to do was roll it in fresh or dried herbs, and you were good to go. Raymond Buckland recommends against using tallow for candle magic in Advanced Candle Magic, but this seems to be a purely practical concern (tallow can be smelly and messy).

As animal fat, tallow has connotations of wealth and sacrifice. It’s a food, so, by burning it, you’re giving up something you could use for your own sustenance. This would make it a worthwhile choice for an offertory candle — as long as who- or whatever you’re offering it to doesn’t have any taboos against the animals used in making it!

For more specific magical properties, you’d have to look at its origins. Pigs are associated with abundance, prosperity, and fertility. Cows are associated with nurturing, protection, and fertility. Sheep are associated with peace, harmony, and tranquility.

There are other options for candle wax out there, including clear gel (which is probably closest to paraffin). I’d like to experiment with them and see how I can expand this list.