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.)

winterthings

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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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Have Familiar, Will Travel. Part II: Mobile Magic.

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Man, where do I start?

This trip came right when I was in the middle of a thirteen-day uncrossing. (It’s something I like to do periodically to ditch other people’s accumulated nonsense, in addition to regular clearing and protection stuff.) Fortunately, I was able to take it with me. This got me thinking — how do you perform spells or rituals on the road?

We were going to be gone for a week, so I knew I wanted to be able to handle whatever came up. Since we’d be in hotels every night, whatever I used had to be:

  • Discreet.
  • Transportable.
  • Smokeless. Not all hotels have smoking rooms anymore, and almost none have windows that can open. It’d be really rude of me to light a bunch of incense or diffuse oils in a confined, temporary space in a non-smoking room — what if the person after me has severe asthma or allergies? It’s one thing if I accidentally give myself a headache or trigger my allergies, but another thing entirely if I accidentally smoke out my cats or the poor unwitting soul who’s going to occupy the room after me. (Also, some places will heck of charge you if your room smells like smoke when you leave.)
  • Difficult for me to forget. This is saying a lot — I have a neurological disorder that makes me forget things very easily. I’m not even supposed to do things like cook, because there is a significant chance I will lose track of what I’m doing and burn my entire block down.

In the end, I settled on a couple of key items that I could use for pretty much whatever I needed to do.

Like a portable altar.

The altar structure I use only really needs three things: a tree, a well, and a hearth. These are somewhat malleable. The tree can be any representation of a tree, or even an upright stone. The well can be a cup. The hearth can be three candles. With a quartz point and three tea lights stored in a glass food saver, I had a tree, a well, and a hearth that could travel. (And I brought along a wand I made recently, so I could both have it with me, and see how well it traveled/held up to being in my purse for days at a time.) Score.

I also wanted to be able to do some more specific work in contexts where busting out an altar (even a portable one) and lighting candles wasn’t exactly… doable.

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Autumn Rituals for Getting Your Energy Right

Not gonna lie, it doesn’t really feel like fall. Like, as I’m typing this, I’m also sitting in a tank top and shorts, drinking ice water while I wait for my place’s maintenance dude to come fix the air conditioner because it’s supposed to be near 90°F.  Butts.

Nevertheless, the autumnal equinox has passed, so it is (at least technically) fall. It’s the end of the year, Samhain’s coming, the veil is thinning, and the weather will hopefully be cooling off soon. All of these things make this the perfect time to let the past year’s badness go, cleanse yourself and your stuff, and get yourself ready to face the next season right.

Do a Solid Fall Cleaning

Everyone’s familiar with “spring cleaning,” but I love fall cleaning. Besides, most places seem to benefit from doing a good, heavy, deep cleaning more than once a year, you know? So, let’s get ready to turn this into a ritual that will cleanse more than just baseboards and the dark, forbidden area under the fridge.

In a lot of magical practices, hoodoo especially, floor washes are a pretty important tool. You sweep your house, fill your mop bucket, add the floor wash of your choice, do the appropriate spiritual bits, and mop your home from back to front. You can buy floor washes prepared, but I usually skip them and add lemon juice or herbal infusions to mine instead.

(It should also be noted that my apartment is tiny, so I get by with one of those reusable spray mops more easily than an old-school mop and bucket situation. I feel a little more confident in spray mops if I know exactly what’s going into the reservoir, so I don’t end up with a solution that’s going to damage my reservoir or pads. YMMV.)

So! If you don’t have a ready supply of dried cleansing herbs in your cabinets, here are some purification herbs that are likely ready for a fall harvest:

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… And this is why I shouldn’t rush.

I celebrated Mabon the other day. Like most of my celebrations, it was small, short, and simple — lighting candles at my altar, sitting quietly, giving thanks, remembering the meaning of the season.

All of which are actually super difficult to do if I’m feeling anxious.

I have a tendency to try to push through things when I’m not feeling well. (Let’s be real, though. If I waited until I felt well, I’d never get anything done.) I’ve long held that rituals are not necessarily for me — true piety is observing them even when I’m not personally getting anything out of it. Prayer does not always have to be a refreshing, uplifting experience to have value. Sometimes even meditation is difficult work, but it’s work that I have to do.

The thing is, the ritual structure I follow has a kind of built-in way to tell if I’ve completely effed it or not. Tripped over my words too badly? I’ll get told. Unacceptable offering? Oh, I’ll hear about it. This isn’t something that’s been a problem before, luckily — even when my offerings have been small and simple, I’ve always been given signs that they were good enough.

It doesn’t help that it’s a structure I’m not entirely familiar with yet. It’s a bit more complex than what I used for most of my life (read: winging it), and the formality of it trips me up on occasion. To be honest, if you had come to me a little over a year ago and said I’d be doing things this way, I probably would have asked what you were smoking.
I digress, though. That’s a story for another time.

Anyway, for this ritual, I was confident! I had these fancy little cakes, I placed them in the offering bowls, I sat and said the words… and I rushed through them because holy butts anxiety sucks super hard and I felt like I was about to die.

And then came the divination.

I use tarot cards for the divination portion of my rituals. The particular deck I use (the Animalis Os Fortuna deck) is pretty helpful here. In addition to standard tarot meanings, the animal imagery of this deck gives it extra layers of meaning that allow the cards to be interpreted in a way that’s more conducive to this particular type of ritual divination.So I shuffled, drew, and…

Not only did I get called out, I got called out with The Moon. The warning, anxiety-indicating Moon, of all things. Like a big, black-and-white finger pointing right at my clenched hands and racing heart and going, “WTF?”

Crap.

I concluded the ritual, now wondering what I’d done. Sure, I had tripped over my words, but corrected myself. I’d said the wrong words at some points, but corrected that, too. But, while I’d been willing to offer fancy cakes, there were two things an impending anxiety attack kept me from offering — my attention, and my time.

I ate something, drank a little water, and waited for the feeling to pass, resigned now to having to repeat the ritual. I had no cakes to offer this time, just clean water and some sweet oil. But I took my time, I spoke well, and I let the anxious feelings dissipate.

And this time, even with my offerings as simple as they were, it was accepted.

There is no physical offering valuable enough to make up for an unwillingness to give my time and attention.