A couple days ago, we talked about learning to experiment with brewing herbal teas. Today we are going to talk about making teas (herbal and non) magical…
“Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world.” ~T’ien Yiheng “Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”
~Kakuzō Okakura, author of The Book of Tea**
Lets start with what teas are, and where the idea of drinking them comes from. It would not surprise me that early man, having discovered fire and cooking, figured out that twigs and roots and leaves in hot water made for a tasty drink. Archaeologists put the first recorded accounts of (real) tea-drinking back to the 10th century, BC in China. Undoubtedly, mankind has been drinking plants in water for much longer. All it would have taken is a windy day, blowing a few random leaves into a pot for a revolutionary beverage to be born. And indeed, one of the Chinese legends of Shennong and the invention of tea has the leaves of the tea plant falling into a pot of boiling water being prepared for the emperor’s consumption (Shennong apparently mandated the consumption of boiling water for health and hygiene reasons). Overtime, tea*–the act of making it and drinking it, has become a ritual for cultures around the world.
“Tea…is a religion of the art of life.”
~Kakuzō Okakura, author of The Book of Tea**
We can make tea (whether it be real tea or not), the making and drinking, into our own rituals and part of our own religion of the art of life. For tea to be a ritual, we need to lay down the same tracks in mind and our bodies, over and over, until they become deeply embedded in our psyche. Those rituals start with the tools involved in making and drinking. Start at your tea cup. Do you like it? Because if you hate it…you should probably get another one. What about the place where you have chosen to drink the tea? How does it make you feel? If it makes you depressed or reeks of negativity, its probably a bad spot. What about the stuff you make your tea with? Does it function efficiently, without altering the flavor or aroma of the tea?
We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.
This does not need to be an expensive enterprise. My favorite tea cup and my tea kettle came from a Goodwill (my other favorite tea cup came from a potter at a farmer’s market and was a bit pricier), and my french press was a discount store purchase. But get stuff that you like, stuff that has aesthetic value to you, and that speaks to the witchy part of your soul…or for the creative part, the spunky part, the sexy beast part, the calm guru part, etc–heck, you might even have a one of each, for different days and times of your life! Colors and textures and materials can be of incredible (and powerful) symbolism, both traditional and personal. When you choose your tea pot, or kettle, or cup/mug, or tea tray, choose something that is empowering and inspiring (or choose something you can make empowering and inspiring***).
Once we’ve considered our reusable accouterments for tea-making, its time to consider what tea is, and what makes it synergistic. Tea is more than just plants in hot water–it is the marriage of the elements held in your hands and taken into your soul. Elementally, the cup that we drink from is earth, the water it is made from is (obviously) water, the heat that prepares the water is fire, and even air makes an appearance, twice–in the aeration of the water by boiling, and in the steam from the cup that communicates its aroma and determines its taste.
“And the plants”, you might be wondering, “what about them?” The plants are the spirit of tea–the life force of the plant, imprinted into the water, served in the cup, inhaled and consumed.
“Each preparation of the leaves has its individuality, its special affinity with water and heat, its own method of telling a story.”
~Kakuzō Okakura, author of The Book of Tea**
When we choose which plants to brew and consume, we are not just picking flavors to tickle the tongue (though that is good too), we are choosing which plant spirits to let make tracks in our psyche. Don’t worry, the effects are temporary if you choose something that doesn’t work how you envisioned. But, when you choose something that works for you, repetition can lengthen and strengthen the effects of the plants to affect long term positive change. Or as my momma says, “Its okay to have habits, as long as they are good habits!”
While you are choosing individual herbs for your tea, look at both their magical and their medicinal properties and evaluate both together, and when you are choosing multiple herbs, look at the overall profile of the entire concoction, and test it out a time or two. If this seems like a heck of a lot of preparatory work, its only that way at first. Once you get the hang of you herbs and have an established set of combinations for different end states (whether they be moods, or seasons, or states of mind, or goals, etc) it becomes pretty effortless, unless you are trying out a new brew.
“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
“The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed.”
~Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
It is possible to make every moment of the act of making and drinking tea into a ritual, from filling the pot to rinsing the cup. It is possible, yes…but the act of making each and every moment into a ritual act is not necessarily preferable. What counts is that “I know what to do: I know where to stand, how to move, what actions to take at specific times, and what words to say. Because of all these things, I can actually focus on the ritual itself. You may think this is funny, but because I’ve got the these physical things down and don’t have to think about them, I can actually get my mind into a ritual mindset, ignore the details of the mundane world and focus on what I am doing spiritually and magically.” (I couldn’t have said this better, so I’m just quoting it wholesale…be sure to read the rest of her post). And that means finding the ritual elements that work for you, so that you can repeat them until you could do it with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back (okay, so maybe that’s a bit much), and focus on what you are doing spiritually and magically.
Your tea ritual might be a simple mindfulness meditation as you sip your cup of tea, or it could be some grand and elaborate affair where you charging and/or blessing your herbs, your water, and your tea set as part of the ritual preparations. Personally, that’s a bit long and drawn out for me as a mom, so I go with the short and simple, no more than 10-15 minutes (which is about as long as a cup of tea stays nice and hot for drinking anyhow). You might choose to make tea time an act of devotion to a particular deity, or a time of thankfulness and reflection, or ritual for grounding and centering, or a time for divination.
“I read the tea leaves as if they were words left over from a conversation between two cups.”
~Kenny Knight, The Honicknowle Book of the Dead
I combine mindfulness meditation with grounding and centering on a regular (almost, but not quite daily) basis, usually to start the day out, and/or end of a rough day. On some days I use the ritual to clear my mind an set the mood before divination, or before spell work and other magics. On other days, I just use the ritual time to keep from pulling my hair out! By using the act of mindfully enjoying my tea (breathing in the aroma and drinking in the flavor), I can ground and center myself into alignment with the energy of the plants themselves. The herbs I choose act as a sort of focus and aid to altering the state of my mind for whatever purpose I’m aiming for…almost like a prism can be used to separate the individual colors of light from a beam of white light.**** The benefit of doing this regularly is that on the days that I only have time to have a sip of tea, because scent and memory are tightly interwoven, I can more easily enter the desired state of minds that I have achieved in ritual, without the act of ritual.
“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.”
~William Ewart Gladstone
*When I use the word tea, I am meaning both the tea plant and other herbal infusions and decoctions (aka tisanes)…but I’m lazy about the lingo…so sometimes I’m meaning the tea of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. My apologies if it offends anyone’s sense of proper verbiage, but I trust that we can all figure out which is which!
**I really, really recommend reading the The Book of Tea for a better understanding of the aesthetic of the Japanses tea ceremony, and how it is more than just a ceremony. It is an excellent introductory idea for creating tea time as a time for meditation and ritual, even if the methodology is different.
***If you can sew or knit/crochet, you can whip up a cozy for an ugly tea pot, if your tea tray is boring (like mine) you can decoupage the heck out of it, and if your tea cup is plain, there are some awesome things you can do with food safe paint pens for china.
****As with most topics in magic and energy this, it is difficult to explain what is going on in plain language. If you are wondering, perhaps, why I have chosen not to include an actual ritual, part of the reason is that this is already gotten darn long. The other part of the reason is because I believe very strongly that personal rituals are exactly that, and need to be written primarily by the person performing them for their own purposes. Even so, I do plan to get around to posting it, eventually!