life, Neodruidry

It’s decided (sort of)!

After finishing the Dedicant Path, I needed to figure out what to do. Continue with the Initiate Path? See what’s required to pursue ordainment? Join a Guild or Kin and follow their path of instruction? I gave myself until the 8th to decide, and I did.

For now, I’m going with the first one. Having read about it, it sounds like it will bring me the closest to where I want to be. The curriculum covers things that I have experience in, and that I know interest me (trancework, divination, ceremonial magic), and covers things that interest me, but which I lack confidence in (liturgy, the bardic arts).

I did apply to join a few Guilds as well, but I think I want to work on them afterward.
It’s funny — it all feels almost like declaring a major in college. (Hopefully it’ll involve less organic chem.)

The only thing standing between me and the Initiate’s Path right now is the Initiate’s letter. It’s the answers to three questions, seemingly designed to figure out why, exactly, the respondent is interested in pursuing initiation, and how they plan to use it when they have it. Knowing I’d spend weeks writing and re-writing if I let myself, I answered and explained myself as best as I could, and fired it off.

Now I just have to wait. I’ll know if it was acceptable within the next few weeks, then I get to jump into another round of reading and writing!

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Blog, life

Two Bards.

Tuesday night, I had the chance to see Richard Thompson perform live. It’s a show I’ve had on my bucket list ever since I was introduced to him a few years ago — he’s an incredible guitarist, and watching him play is really an amazing experience. When I stopped being able to go out much for awhile, I was legitimately afraid that I wouldn’t get well enough to be able to see him play. I only learned about Coco Robicheaux on the day of his death, and I missed the chance to see Tom Waits (who doesn’t tour very often) perform when I lived in California; two things I consider some of the biggest missed opportunities of my life.

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I think my S.O. and I were the youngest people in the audience by close to twenty or thirty years, which made me a little self-conscious when we were finding seats. (‘Scuse me, sir and/or ma’am, biker punk and tattooed millennial with a shaved head coming through.) As soon as I sat down, though, I didn’t care. I still whooped it up and applauded hard enough to jam one of my fingers.

He’d just started playing “Valerie” when we got in, which is, bar none, my favorite of his songs. It was honestly a little overwhelming — I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my heart skipped a beat and I thought I was going to have a panic attack for a few. I teared up at “Beeswing” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” just like I knew I would. (Lucky for me, I’d had the foresight to forego eye makeup for this exact reason.)

The songs were moving, tragic, and hilarious by turns. His voice and guitar playing were superb. His banter made the venue feel small, with the kind of warmth and humor that turns a show into an intimate gathering.

I loved every minute of it.

And then, the next day, I found out that Terry Jones had died.

He wanted to be remembered as a comedian, but I knew him best as an author long, long before I knew anything about Monty Python’s Flying Circus. When I was a kid, we had a copy of Fairy Tales. It was my favorite children’s book — as a kid, I think I learned more important morals there than almost anywhere else. Like Three Raindrops, which taught me that everyone’s grave is the same size, and there’s no point in wasting your life on comparisons. Or Jack One-Step, which taught me the value of collective bargaining. Or The Glass Cupboard, which, I’m fairly certain, is what turned me into a tiny environmentalist.

monster
And then there’s this guy, which I’m pretty sure figured prominently in my nightmares until I was ten. Artwork by Michael Foreman.

I loved Michael Foreman’s illustrations, too. To be honest, I can’t really overstate the impact they had on my imagination as a kid, or even on my artwork now. His watercolors were at once bright and soft and dreamlike, surreal and strange, occasionally with a subtly unsettling edge. They were the perfect accompaniment to stories like The Fly-By-Night and The Wonderful Cake-Horse.

cakehorse
Illustration for Terry Jones’ The Wonderful Cake-Horse, by Michael Foreman.

I’m much older now, but the stories and illustrations still mean just as much to me.

Jones’ passed after a battle with dementia. As much as we like to think that “where there’s life, there’s hope,” there’s still a very particular kind of mourning that happens when someone passes from a brain disease. There’s the loss you experience when someone is no longer who they once were, and the final loss that comes with death. Sometimes, the hardest thing to deal with is that we might not think we feel “sad enough” when someone actually dies, because we’ve spent so long mourning the person they used to be. It’s something I experienced with my grandmother, as she declined from brain cancer. As hard as it was to handle her passing, I felt guilty for feeling relief. Not for myself — I felt relief that she was beyond the pain, confusion, and anxiety that her illness had caused her.

It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with, too. Intracranial hypertension causes brain damage, and it’s very likely that I will suffer a stroke at some point and either die, or have to fight my way back from that. Sometimes, you have to mourn for yourself. The important thing is to process this grief, then get on with the hard work of living. For Jones, that was raising awareness. For my grandparents, it was my grandfather feeding, dressing, and bathing my grandmother. For me, it’s working a little more every day to try to regain some ground before I lose more of it.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re part of an artist’s primary audience. Life’s too short to miss the concert you want to go to, or to overlook a book just because it’s intended for children. Eventually, like the Three Raindrops, we all become part of the same big, muddy puddle. Draw inspiration and spiritual nourishment anywhere you can.

divination, life

A Free, Simple Card Reading for You

This week, I wanted to start trying something different. I picked up three of my divination decks, and decided to put together a small reading for anyone reading this post right now. It’s simple: just pick a stack of cards, scroll to the one you chose, and see what they have in store!

Not everyone agrees with doing “general” tarot readings, but I find that they can be very helpful — synchronicity is a thing. If you’re drawn to pick a card today, tomorrow, or any time in the future, there’s likely a reason why. So, even if a free tarot reading is a general one sent to nobody in particular, it can still hold a lot of insight.

So, shall we? Pick a stack of cards. From left to right, they are marked by a moonstone, an amethyst, and a rose quartz.

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Now, when you’re ready, scroll down to the cards you chose. Each stack comprises a tarot card from the Deviant Moon tarot deck, an animal spirit card from The Wild Unknown deck, and a plant card from The Illustrated Herbiary deck.

Moonstone

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Here, we have The Empress, Hummingbird, and Plantain.

The Empress is the embodiment of a loving, nurturing spirit, surrounded by abundance. She is regarded as a very feminine figure and, in some contexts, can even signify marriage or childbirth. You are in a period of growth right now, and are surrounded by the energy of abundance. If that is difficult to recognize against the background noise of your life, take some time to connect to the world with your senses — go into nature, bring a picnic of your favorite foods, and give yourself the gift of time to experience the earth beneath you, the fragrance on the breeze, and the taste of good food. Remind yourself of all that you have to be grateful for, and help cultivate the feelings of contentment and prosperity in your life.

Hummingbirds have really fun energy, I love them. With Hummingbird, there is a feeling of enthusiasm, creativity, and positivity — though this can turn into overbearing pushiness if this energy is out of balance. Since Hummingbird represents an open, curious, and creative mind, one way to bring this energy into balance is to learn something new.

Plantain’s advice is to rewild. This simple herb, often treated as a weed when it pops up in lawns, is a versatile and abundant source of medicine. Mash the leaves and place them on a bruise or bee sting. This is what Plantain asks you to do: connect with simplicity and the open-hearted, childlike side of your authentic self.

Overall, the advice here is to connect with nature and feelings of gratitude, simplicity, and the fresh curiosity you had as a child. Take time to enjoy the simple pleasures in your life, you are surrounded by them and much more prosperous than you might feel right now.

Amethyst

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Here is The Star, Firefly, and Vervain.

The Star is a very hopeful card. It is the promise of a new day that comes after a period of strife. It’s the feeling of new possibilities after experiencing untold hardships. It is hope, wishes, dreams, and a desire to connect with the energy of spirituality and inspiration. Be assured that you’re moving into a fresh period of your life, full of possibilities for growth and happiness.

Oh man, Firefly! Firefly is a burst of inspiration — bright and radiant, but brief. It is the energy of the creative breakthrough, but, when out of balance, it can feel like the creative burnout that turns into a block. Firefly’s advice is, “Creator, create!” Bring its energy into balance by stretching your creative muscles and making something.

Vervain is one of the most sacred herbs of many European magical traditions. It is the herb of between-places, harvested at dawn and dusk, and it encourages you to explore the liminal. Let magic into your life by opening yourself to the possibilities around you. After all, it is in the in-between places where possibilities overlap and we are presented with nearly infinite outcomes. If you had every door open to you, what weight would you be willing to drop in order to pass through?

Overall, the advice here is to embrace the new possibilities open to you. You seem to have come out of a difficult period, and you’re entering a new one that is giving you the chance to experience an incredible burst of inspiration, creativity, and growth. Are you willing to take it, or is the fear of what you have gone through going to hold you back?

Rose Quartz

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Here is The Chariot, Cobra, and Rose.

The Chariot is strength. It is girding your loins for battle. It is determination, action, and decisiveness in the face of a challenge. It tells you that now is the time to make a choice and take a stand. If you’re afraid that you lack the strength to do so, don’t worry — with focus and determination, you have what you need to be successful. Assert yourself, and don’t back down on matters that are important to you.

Cobra is a spiritual guardian. They are not ostentatious, they do not command the attention of a room, but they are patient, watchful, wise, and strong. When out of balance, this strength can turn into egotism. Balance cobra energy by remaining humble — give yourself the opportunity to learn something new from someone else, and recognize that there is still much that life has to teach you.

Rose is an herb of duality. It is the soft, silken petals and the blood-drawing thorns, the nourishing rose hips and the choking seeds. As such, it reminds you to embrace duality within yourself. You can be beautiful and fierce, soft and strong. Look at the things within yourself that you perceive as flaws, and recognize that they do not define you — you can still have a whole, open heart that is worthy of love.

Overall, it looks like you are in a period that demands a lot of strength from you. The Chariot assures you that you can succeed, if you are willing to stand up and assert yourself. Cobra tells you to remain humble — you have strength, but should not let your assertiveness turn into an ego-shield of narcissism. Rose says to embrace the contradictions within you. You can be assertive and soft. You can be successful and humble. You can push yourself to succeed without losing the tender, gentle aspects of you.

 

I had a lot of fun putting this together. To be honest, I was very surprised at how well the cards interrelated with each other. I’d like to do this again (maybe next week?) and I hope you’ll join me.

 

divination, life

The Six of Swords

Fffffffuuuuh… It’s swords again. Not even a court card, either.

I mean, I don’t have anything against  swords, but I haven’t had a lot of positive experiences with them lately, either. At least this one isn’t so bad.

They (though I’m not exactly sure who “they” are) say that you change every seven to ten years. Depending on who you ask, this comes from either a physical place, or a metaphysical one. Some hold that our body cells are effectively replaced every seven or so years — not all at once, mind, but every seven years you can be reasonably confident that you no longer contain the same cells you did on that day seven years ago. Some hold that our luck or our spiritual growth move in seven-year cycles.

All of this is to say that this is a Six of Swords kind of week.

The Six of Swords doesn’t really look like a happy card — if anything, it’s bittersweet. Three people, presumably a family, load up a bunch of swords in their rowboat and shove off. Their backs are to the viewer, indicating that they are leaving, not arriving. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the two seated figures almost appear huddled. It is abundantly clear that this is not a pleasure trip.

Still, that aside it’s not all bad. Interpretations vary, but all of them have one element in common: letting go and moving on. As unhappy as these people might look right now, they’re headed away from the source of their unhappiness and moving toward something better.

Trouble is, they don’t look happy to be leaving.

The Six of Swords is about cutting your losses. It’s letting go of something you might want to keep holding onto, but which is ultimately not actually helping you. Whether it’s a situation, an idea, a feeling, or a habit, it needs to be dropped for growth and progress to take place.

In some interpretations, the Six of Swords stands for healing. I can understand why — these people are leaving a bad situation. Things are looking up, but they can’t see that yet because they are still in the midst of the pain of leaving.

When I was younger, I was fortunate to learn something in the midst of a very frustrating job search. I was underemployed, in a bad relationship, annoyed at my lack of progress, and fed up with the dearth of opportunities in front of me. A set of circumstances — far too long to delve into here — taught me that every chance I was denied was a sign that something better was close by. When I didn’t get the job I was hoping for, it was because the opportunity I stumbled upon a week later was waiting for me. When my relationship finally ended its interminable death throes, it was because there was an incredible set of experiences that I never would’ve gotten to have if it hadn’t.

I wanted to know more, though. The Six of Swords isn’t a bad card to pull, though it’s a bit thorny. But what am I supposed to be leaving?

I pulled Justice.

I have to admit, I’ve been holding on to a very particular idea of fairness. They say the best revenge is living well, but it can be very difficult to enjoy if your enemies don’t know you are, you know? People often talk about a very westernized idea of karma. Rather than the sum of one’s actions deciding their fate in a future life, it’s regarded as a kind of manifestation of “the golden rule.” You do unto others, and life does unto you. If only things were so simple!

I get what the cards mean, though. In this cycle of life, I have to let go of the last nagging part of me that wants things to be fair. Life isn’t fair. I left my enemies behind so they wouldn’t have a negative impact on my life anymore, but, but continuing to live in hope of justice and some kind of fairness, I’m still allowing them to affect me. It’s only when I can rid myself of their influence entirely that I’ll really be free.

We’ll see where this week goes.