Category Archives: rituals

a short thought on magic and spells…

This morning, I was reminded of something my old neighbor said to me (I was on PaganForum and an old thread popped up) last fall:

Words are a magic wand, casting pieces of yourself out into the universe. Be careful what you say. the chances are good that they will come back to you.

When I was younger, both in years and on my path, I thought that magic was a *something else*, something mysterious or supernatural, some woo-woo power or force to tap into, to use. But the longer I go along, I’ve realized that I’ve been wrong. Magic isn’t a power you tap into, or some special thing you do to make things happen…magic is everything you do because magic is the underlying fabric of Divinity that the Universe is based upon.

(cue the misquoted 80’s pop) …every little thing you do is magic…

And the best magic is that which you do with a clear intention and purpose.

But every little thing you do is not necessarily a spell. A spell is an (IMO) intentionally ritualized* piece of magic that “attaches” an intention and purpose to an otherwise mundane act or item–brushing your teeth with intent (for clear speaking, or for honesty, or to clean up the potty mouth, etc) can be a spell just as much as mucking around with herbs to make a potion (example: adding some relaxing vibes to a relaxing mix of herbs for tea) or enchanting a necklace or charm for confidence or luck before taking a test or going to court.

Often, I have heard people with the problem of when or whether to do magic.  I used to be one of them–don’t do magic if you are angry, don’t do magic if it will cause “harm” (such an ambiguous term anyhow), don’t do magic except as a last result.  If that is what your ethics demand, good on you…but don’t expect or condemn others for doing what their ethics demand.**

Honestly, the ethics involved in choosing to use magic isn’t any different than choosing not to use magic and using a hammer or a scissor or a paintbrush instead. At the end of the day, magic is just a tool like a hammer, or a scissor, or a paintbrush.  If it works, and we are willing to accept the consequences of using it, we should choose to do so or not in accordance with the same morality (or lack thereof) that we display mundanely.

But whatever your ethics dictate, magic is a tool, and tools don’t get the job done sitting in the toolbox.  If you just sit on your arse and wait for shit to happen, you will be in for a rude awakening.  To misquote Ben Franklin once said “the gods help those who help themselves”…and so does everything else.

*A spell is a type of ritual, but a ritual is not always a spell.

**This is particularly true concerning the idea of “harm none” that often gets bandied about. First off, its not even the entirety of the Wiccan rede (‘An it harm none, do as ye will). Second of all, if someone isn’t Wiccan, why would they be expected to follow the Wiccan rede as if it were a universal Pagan law (as if there were any of those anyhow!)? And third, the Wiccan rede isn’t even interpreted as literally or simplistically as “harm none” by a good number of Wiccans anyhow.


May they all come home.

In thanks we lift our hearts this day,
for those at home and far away
Who heard the call to love’s high goals
and answered with their very souls.
Bless all who serve where e’re they be,
on land, in flight, or on the sea.

(an alternate UU lyric to the Navy Hymn by Andrew Millard, minster of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula)

pow_mia_poster_2013

If there is anything Pagans understand, it is the power of symbolism.  Its something Pagans have in common with military members.  In the military, there is a tradition that most chow halls and mess decks participate in, regardless of branch.  Every command I have been at (including the one am at now, as a civilian) has observed this day, with the setting of the POW/MIA table on this day..  If you aren’t familiar with this tradition, it occurs on the third Friday in September each year, though many commands and military affiliated organizations will perform the ceremony for other important events as well.

The ceremony itself varies.  Often an honor guard enters, each member holding a cover (hat) for each of the branches of service–I’ve even seen one that carried in a ball cap for those civilians that have been POW/MIA as well (the poster above doesn’t, though often the Coast Guard is included as well).  But the table is almost always small, and set for one, to symbolize the one man alone and frail against his or her captors.  The words often vary, but the tablecloth is always white  to symbolize of the purity one’s intent in responding to their country’s call to arms.  

Sometimes their is a black napkin, in symbolism of grief.  The table is set with a single red rose in the vase, for the blood they many have shed or to remind us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep the faith, while awaiting their return.  The case is tied with a red or yellow ribbon on the vase to represents the  ribbons worn on the lapels of the thousands who demand with unyielding determination a proper accounting of our comrades who are not among us tonight.  A slice of lemon on the plate reminds us of the bitterness of their fate, and the salt sprinkled on the plate reminds us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.

Depending on the ceremony, the glass(es) at the table may already be inverted.  Sometimes though, the honor guard will bring the cover for the branch of the military to the table, set it at their place, and turn over the glass to symbolize that cannot toast with us this night.  The chair is left empty–they are not here, but a candle is lit, the light of hope which lives in our hearts to light their way home.  And then, a moment of silence, occasionally preceded by the words, “Let us pray to the supreme commander that all of our comrades will soon be back within our ranks.”

This is probably one of my favorite ceremonies from my time in the military.  Not because I like the reason for having it, but because its poignancy is heartrendingly powerful.  I’ve never seen one that wasn’t done with sincerity, and the utmost respect.  I’ve never been to one that didn’t make me cry.  83,000 men and women, from all branches of the military, as well as civilians remain missing since World War II–73,000 from WWII, 7,500 from Korea, 1,600 from Vietnam, 126 from the Cold War, and 7 since the Gulf War (Sgt. Bowe Bergedahl has been held prisoner by the Taliban since 2009).  But even one is too many.

…Let us remember the still missing, far from home, whose bodies have never been recovered and returned.  May they one day come home.  Until they all come home.


Serving the Elements: Air

Blessing of Air
May the blessings of the air be upon you,
A soft breeze to refresh you,
A strong wind to lift you up,
Great golden wings to enfold and heal you.

- blessing from a Pagan handfasting ceremony
(via The Blessing Files)

The strongest quality of air is truth.  Air is an element of intellect, of thoughts, and of the mind…whether bright and clear or dark and clouded.    In ancient Greece, the element air was sometimes associated with one’s spirit.

Scientifically speaking: What we call “air” is really our atmosphere.  Our atmosphere is mainly composed of Nitrogen (78.1%) and Oxygen (20.9%).  The remaining 1% (due to rounding, it looks like 1% with the numbers I’ve used, but really its more like 0.97%) are Argon (0.93%) and Carbon Dioxide* (0.035%), as well as even smaller amounts (in order) of Neon, Helium, Methane, Krypton, molecular Hydrogen (H2), Nitrous Oxide, Carbon Monoxide, Xenon, Ozone, Nitrous Dioxide, Iodine, and Ammonia.  Another component of the atmosphere is, of course, water vapor (its not included in these calculations of percentage, though it makes up an average of 0.25% of the atmosphere by weight, ranging from 0.oo1%-5% locally). (source)

Our atmosphere is divided up into layers, a bit like a cake.  There’s a mnemonic to remember the 5 principle atmospheric layers–The Strong Man’s Triceps Explode (or Thoughtful Schools Manufacture Terrific Experiences…or Terrible Sun Melts Tiny Eskimo!) , which stands for (from the surface of the Earth, out) Troposphere, Stratosphere, Mesosphere, Thermosphere, Exosphere.  The atmosphere, in some ways, behaves like the oceans, in that there are tides, and currents, and waves, that move energy and molecules.

The troposphere is where weather happens–it contains about 80% of the atmosphere’s mass (including 99% of its water and other aerosols) and extends 4-12 miles above earth (the heights it reaches depends on a location’s latitude and altitude).  Nearly all weather occurs here

In the stratosphere, the coolest temperatures are found closest to Earth, and the highest temperatures are the furthest away.  Other than airplanes (people) and birds, which can fly in the lower parts of the stratosphere, bacteria is the only life form that can be found in the stratosphere.  Also, the stratosphere is quite dry, and it is home to the ozone layer, which protects us from the Sun’s UV rays.

Scientists don’t actually know much about the mesosphere, compared to the other layers of the atmosphere–its too low for satellites and too high for planes and weather balloons (between 31 and 53 miles high).  One thing we do know, though, is that it is the place where meteors burn up in the atmosphere…but its really cold, around -90 degrees C or -130 degrees F (they burn up because of friction with the gas molecules in the mesosphere).  Its also home to a couple of neat phenomena–noctilucent clouds (wispy, almost glowing clouds visible around and after sunset) and sprites (a type of lightning that occurs over thunderstorms, glows red, and is best visible from sky).

The thermosphere, in contrast to the mesosphere, is hot.  Really hot.  It increases in temperature the further from Earth one travels, and the temperature varies between night and day and what is known as the solar minimum and the solar maximum (which has to do with sunspot activity), but the average temperature range for the upper thermosphere is 500-2000 degrees C (932-3632 degress F).  Space shuttles and the International Space Station orbit Earth in the thermosphere…this is also where the aurora happens!

Lastly, we have the exosphere.  Depending on where one gets their information, it is either the last layer of Earth’s atmosphere, or the first “layer” of space…some sources actually consider “space” to start in the thermosphere (How high is space anyhow?).  Either way, this region is where the lightest elements wind up, still bound by Earth’s gravity…but tenuously.

Traditional Correspondences: East, flying, sound, yellow, mountaintops, wind-swept plains, cloudy skies, knowledge, recovering lost items, fragrant herbs and flowers, light stones (such as pumice) and transparent stones (such as mica), wind instruments, birds and winged insects, airplanes, balloons, bubbles, spring, dawn, wands (magical tool and tarot–but beware the “controversy”, in some systems swords are associated with air, and wands with fire), feathers, incense smoke, divination, concentration, visualization, wind magic

Deity Correspondences:  There really aren’t any gods of air, specifically.  There are, however, sky deities and wind deities. My “favorite” is Aeolus, the Keeper of the Winds from Greek mythology.

In the natural world, Air is associated most closely with the sky, wind, and clouds. Mountain peaks, which seem to touch the sky, are also Air. Birds of all kinds belong to this element, and hawks and eagles are especially associated with Air because they fly so very high and make their nests at such high altitudes. A stork or duck, by contrast, is a less powerful symbol of Air because, although these birds fly, they live in and near the water.

In a person, Air is associated with thought and with the intellect, corresponding in the Witches’ Pyramid to “To Know.”1 Ideas are said to come from Air, as is inspiration, a word that also means “to breathe in.” Logic and scholarship are Air functions, which is perhaps why academics are said to live in ivory towers as opposed to ivory basements. People who spend all their time thinking “have their heads in the clouds,” and if they’re “airheads,” they mistake imagination for real life and are impractical (because practicality is an Earth quality, which they lack).

The direction of Air is the East, and since the Sun rises in the east, Air is associated with the morning, with the spring (the beginning of the agricultural and astrological year), and with beginnings of all kinds. Anything that “dawns” is a thing of Air. The things in our lives that dawn, be they projects, creations, or careers, dawn with an idea. Often inspiration feels like the sunrise; a bright beginning full of promise and possibility. Since seeds are beginnings and are associated with the spring, seeds, too, belong to Air.

Deborah Lipp, The Way of Four

Getting to know air:

  • Go fly a kite (made of natural materials that will biodegrade without causing damage).  But DO NOT release balloons!  They just become pollution.
  • Take a hot air balloon ride
  • Spend an afternoon (or morning) watching the clouds roll by
  • Skydive, parasail, bungee jump, etc
  • Volunteer at a bird sanctuary or wildlife refuge that rehabilitates birds
  • Keep track of a nest
  • Get to know your backyard birds–put up a bird feeder and pick up a field guide
  • Make a set of windchimes
  • Create a shrine to the four winds (or to another spirit or deity associated with air
  • Plant a tree and study photosynthesis and respiration
  • DO NOT collect feathers from migratory and native bird species in the US, if you would like to collect feathers, go through someone that is properly permitted
  • Learn your native birds and winged insects
  • Make a bee box, a bat box or a bird house (or all three!)

How I do it differently…Adapting Correspondences:

If you’ve been a reader of my my blog for awhile, it comes of no surprise that I’ve made some changes, adaptations, etc to the conventional correspondences that fit my practice and beliefs better.  I’ve mentioned many times over that I’m a big believer in witchcraft being an extension of one’s geography–that part of our job is to *grok* the forces and cycles that are native to one’s location and to work with them, forging our own relationship, rather than some formula from some book by some guy (or gal).  Now, if it just so happens that those correspondences work for you, that is awesome…and if you aren’t sure, try on the traditional correspondences for a bit, and shift them as needed for your environment.  I promise, you won’t break anything!

So, for me, air is now.  Its an end-of-summer, fall thing (hurricane season), its a North correspondence, and air, as an elemental force, reaches its peak around Samhain…

Serving Air:

Through ignorance and carelessness we have poisoned your clean air. For monetary gain we have reduced verdant forests, the lungs of our world, to barren wastes. In our craving for more we have plundered your beloved creation and driven many of our fellow creatures to extinction. Only recently have we begun to realize the dangerous future into which our current patterns of consumption and waste are driving us, especially in relation to earth’s climate. Only recently have we begun to see our need to find a wiser and better way of life, before it is too late and our choices are limited by the consequences of inaction. Lord of the Winds, in your mercy, hear our prayer.3

I pray that I may draw a lifesaving breath. This is the most important element of health, to breathe clean and unpolluted air.

(from my Prayer for Clean Air)

Plant a tree.  Stop smoking.  Plant another tree.  Drive less.  Plant a tree.  Turn off your lights and wash your clothes in cold water.  Plant a tree.  Write your representatives to support limits on air pollution by industry and fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and alternative energy.  Plant another tree.  Stop buying furniture made from rain forests.  Plant a tree.  Stop buying ANYTHING made from rain forests, unless it is ethically sourced and fairly traded in a way that supports local peoples.  Plant more trees.  Plant sea grass.  Let your lawn grow as high as you can without getting a citation.  Plant a tree.  Get rid of your lawn, and make it a certified wildlife habitat, and a place for birds and bees and butterflies.  And for goodness’ sake, plant another tree!

Read the rest of the series: Earth, Fire, Water, Intro


Thank you.

The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses:
 who has not heard them?  
They have a silence that speaks for them
at night and when the clock counts.  

They say, We were young. 
We have died. Remember us.   

They say, We have done what we could 
but until it is finished it is not done.  
They say, We have given our lives
but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.  

They say, Our deaths are not ours:
they are yours: they will mean what you make them.  
They say, Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope
or for nothing we cannot say: it is you who must say this. 

They say, We leave you our deaths: 
give them their meaning: give them an end to the war
and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war 
and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning.

We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us. 

poem by Archibald MacLeish

Today is about the men and women that have died in service to their country, regardless of their race, religion, political affiliation, gender, sexuality, marital status and nationality.  It is about someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, someone’s father, someone’s aunt or uncle or cousin, someone’s grandfather or grandmother or however many great’s one might need to add, someone’s lover, someone’s partner, someone’s friend.

Today is not about a barbecue or camping trip.  It is not about a boat ride, or trip to the beach.  It is not about that furniture sale for snaging a new area rug or an ottoman.  Today is not about you and, even as a veteran, it is not about me–it is about the men and women that never got to come home and hang up their uniform and trade in their combat boots for sneakers or heels.  Today is about the men and women that didn’t get to see their children grow up, or graduate, or give them grandchildren to spoil.  I don’t think the men and women that chose to put themselves in harm’s way because they believed in the ideal of service and freedom would begrudge you any of those things…indeed, I think many of them, were they still with us, would be enjoying a cold one in the hand and hot one off the grill.  But.

A midst our weekend plans, it is our mission to remember that our barbecue or camping trip or visit to the zoo is made possible by the death of our brothers and sisters–of somebody’s mother, somebody’s son.

War is brutal, it is bloody, and it kills.  There is no glory in war, no glory in sending our mothers and fathers and sons and daughters to kill another’s mothers and fathers and sons and daughters.  It is a tragic and painful fact that every nation and every generation has seen conflict escalate to war–whether it be to combat a cruel leader seeking to oppress their people (or another’s people), or a hapless legislature sending their might abroad for spurious reasons.  Humanity will never be perfect, there will always be someone that is willing to kill in the most heinous of ways to achieve power, and there will always need to be someone willing to take up arms against them.  This means that the innocent will die alongside the not-so innocent, and that communities and entire countries will be ravaged, both the people and the land.  There may be no glory in war, but there can be honor in service.  There is honor in protecting our homes, our families, our land, and our ideals.  There is honor in standing up for the downtrodden, for seeking to bring justice where there was tyranny, and to try our damnedest to secure equality and freedom for a new generation.

There are many reasons that men and women choose to serve their country, and there are men and women that are unwillingly selected to serve their country and choose to fulfill that requirement out obligation.  Regardless of reason or length of service, they are all worthy of our respect.  They serve in times of war, in times of peace, as well as the in-between.  Many, if not most, of them come home, but none of them are unchanged by the experience.  And many of them, too many of them, do not return at all.

Let us remember the countless and often unknown women that have served their country from its conception and died in combat, despite prohibitions against such service.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us remember those that have served their country to protect rights they could only hope that they could one day claim as well, from the Colored Troops of the Civil War to the gay and lesbian troops still fighting for equal protection of the law and equal recognition of their families.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us remember those of the Pagan community that have given their life in service to their country, despite often being an unrespected minority in both environments.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us remember those that have died in service, whether that be in the moment of battle, or months or years after they have returned to a home-that-is-no-longer-home, unable to find their way.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us remember all of those that have died fulfilling their Oath of Enlistment–to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, bearing true faith and allegiance to the same, and doing their job, so that others within our populace do not have to.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us remember the still missing, far from home, whose bodies have never been recovered and returned.  May their families one day find solace and closure.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us celebrate their lives, however short they may have been cut. Let us thank their families and extend them our sympathies, for the anguish of loss that has allowed us to stay home, or to come home safely if we have served. Let us remember, and let us find a way to give their lives and their deaths meaning.

Hail the honored dead!

Let their deaths be a solemn reminder on this day, and every day, to treat one another with compassion, to honor and respect our differences as well as our similarities, and to live our lives in a manner that kindles the spirit of peace a little bit stronger and a little bit longer, pushing back the darkness of war for as long as we are able.

 

**Note**
The Hubby and I have been working on a family ritual for Memorial Day for some time.  As veterans, both of us have lost friends–family really, to our current wars.  Both of our families have had somewhat of a tradition of service, and between the two of us, we have had family serve in all four branches of the military and in all of this country’s major wars.  We choose, on this day (or sometimes on the Monday), to pay our respects to the sacrifice of the 1.3-1.7 million Americans that have died (numbers vary a bit) in service to their country, and to their countrymen.   We combine the Pagan traditions of the dumb supper, or of leaving and offering for the gods or one’s ancestors, with the military’s tradition of “the little white table” that features so hauntingly in chow halls and shipboard mess decks to honor the missing and the prisoners of war that cannot be with us, by adding a place at the table as a memorial, a tribute, and an invitation.  Tomorrow (while I’m at work), The Hubby is going to try his first solo craft with the kidlets, making poppies using paper plates and peanut butter cup wrappers, in an adaptation of these instructions.   This year, we’ve decided to add the playing of The Last Post and Taps (The Last Post is a British tradition, but was the original “taps” call for us as well until the writing of Taps during our Civil War) at the beginning and the end of our moment of silence (at this point, about all a 6 and 4 year old can manage), before reading the above (which has been cobbled together and adapted from the past few Memorial Day posts I’ve written), and following it up with a prayer from the Unitarian Universalist Association’s “Bless All Who Serve”.  Over time, as their capacity to understand grows, we would like to include them more and to add some other readings, as well as a roll call of sorts of the number of casualties for each war…and extend the moment of silence for the entire meal–I’d also like to work on creating a special meal, though I haven’t had the chance to work on that yet.


Love Potion #37

It doesn’t smell like turpenine or smell like India Ink–that would be Love Potion #9!

Love Potion #37, on the other hand, is quite tasty and looks more like liquid roses (or blood for the macabre-like-my-hubby crowd).  And, it won’t find you love.  However, it might just put you in the mood for it.  Use it with a partner or alone, its great for anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, and grown-up Beltane celebrations!

Warning:  If you have problems with alcohol or alcoholism, this is not the recipe for you!

Love Potion #37
wide mouthed quart jar
a 750 mL bottle of Amaretto (I like di Amore–its pretty tasty and rather affordable)
4 T hibiscus
4 T damiana
4 T honey
1 T mulling spice
1 T jasmine
1 t cardamom

Put herbs and alcohol in the jar, shake daily for the first week.  Infuse 4-6 weeks in cool, dark place. Strain out alcohol and rebottle.

Love Potion # 37 is technically a tincture, though not as strong as your typical medicinal tincture.  Its made in pretty much the same way(if you aren’t all that familiar with tincture making, check out the video below!), although it contains a bit less alcohol than using 100 proof vodka (50% alcohol is the typical amount of alcohol in a tincture).

You can drink it straight (its best cold), on the rocks, topped off with either water or sprite for a less alcolic beverage (I quite like it this way), or made into an amaretto sour or similar drink.  It is effective in spells and rituals based around one’s relationship, as well as divination concerning love and relationships.

The Herbs
Here’s a list of the herbs in the tincture, and their applicable magical correspondences and medicinal properties…
Damiana–lust, love, and visions (magical); digestive aid, nerve and reproductive tonic (medical); reputed aphrodesiac
Hibiscus–lust, love, and divination (magical); digestive aid and improves circulation (medicinal)
Jasmine–love and dream prophecy (magical); liver tonic and digestive aid (medicinal); reputed aphrodesiac
Cardamom–lust and love (magical); stimulant, digestive aid (medicinal); reputed aphrodesiac
Allspice*–luck and healing (magical); digestive aid (medicinal)
Clove*–love (magical); digestive aid, male reproductive tonic (medicinal)
Ginger*–love and power (magical); mild stimulant, promotes circulation, and digestive aid** (medicinal)
Orange peel*–love and divination (magical); digestive aide, liver tonic (medicinal)

*from the mulling spices
**you may have noticed that all of these herbs are digestive aids, if it seems peculiar that I’ve listed this as a related medicinal property, think about the parts of the body where the digestive system is located in conjunction with the associated chakras…plus, who wants sex when their tummy hurts, lol?!?

IMG_0100

Enjoy!

Making it (more) Magical: Another option to consider when making potions is to “brew” at the appropriate point in the moon’s cycle, for one full cycle (as well as other considerations like time of day, etc). Also, use the time “shaking” or mixing the potion to charge it, particularly the first week. If one is doing any energy work in conjunction with making the potion, I’d recommend doing so during the mixing, straining or bottling steps.

(If you were wondering, why #37, its my own notation for making concoctions–it would more accurately read 3-7 for the 7th “try” of the third series of love potions…the first series is water infusions, second series is for oil infusions, etc)


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