Celtic Polytheism, fae, Paganism, Spellwork, Spiritwork

Riders on a Baleful Wind, and a Charm to Keep Them at Bay

This time of year, between the autumnal equinox and Samhain, is when I notice the most activity from a loose grouping of spirits I’ve begun to refer to as Riders on a Baleful Wind. I’m referring both to the Wild Hunt ⁠(or, really, Hunts, plural) and also to some of the Fair Folk⁠—trooping fairies who travel near these dates*, and groups like the slua sí, who are also associated with wind or storms, and overlap somewhat with the folkloric Wild Hunt.

As a folklore motif and a mythological archetype, the Wild Hunt is prevalent across much of Northwestern Europe, and the Hunt of each region has its own leader. Often these leaders are Pre-Christian deities associated with war or death, like Odin/Woden and Gwyn Ap Nudd. Other times they’re figures associated with the aos sí, like Manannán Mac Lir, or they’re said to be famous ghosts, like Herne the Hunter. These folk tales came with European Immigrants to the Americas as well, and here the Hunt is sometimes known as the Ghost Riders. (Some of you will be familiar with the song, I imagine.) Besides the leader, who or what exactly the rest of the company is varies from tale to tale. Sometimes they are human dead, sometimes they’re said to be fairies or demons, but most frequently these groups seem to be something of a motley crew. The overlapping circles of the Fair Folk, the Gods, and the Dead are difficult to pick apart, and it’s especially difficult to draw any clear lines when we’re looking at the Wild Hunt and related groups of weather-riding unfriendly otherworldly beings.

Unfriendly and intimidating though they may seem, not all of them are actually malevolent. That’s why I term them “baleful”, not “baneful”, and each individual group poses a different type and level of danger. Malevolent or not, however, they’re generally not spirits most witches want in or around their homes or places of business, and with that in mind I’ve been working on a charm object to add a little additional protection to whatever wards you already have in place.

Warding Charm

The charm itself is fairly small and would easily blend into an autumn wreath. The ingredients are pretty simple as well: a sweetgum ball, some red yarn, and iron water.

SWEETGUM BALL: One per charm, dried, preferably with the stem attached.

Part of the work I’ve been doing with the Ogham for the past two years (or more, really, but I think it was two years ago that I really started diving in deeply in a structured way) is finding local plants that have similar energy to the plants of the tree ogham list.** Sweetgum, a tree indigenous to my area, has an energy that I think is similar in some important ways to Blackthorn. While it doesn’t have thorns, it does have spiky seed balls, and its sweet-scented sap, like blackthorn sloes, is actually very bitter tasting. Additionally, it’s a favored food of luna moth caterpillars, an insect I have long associated with nocturnal fairy beings. Blackthorn is sometimes said to belong to or to ward off the Othercrowd, and I find Sweetgum fits that niche as well. I have since learned that sweetgum balls are also used in hoodoo for protection, which dovetails nicely with both my experience of the tree, and this charm.

RED YARN: Or thread, I suppose. Enough to wrap around the sweetgum ball twice at perpendicular intersections, and tie off to leave tails for hanging.

I decided to spin my own yarn. I’ve wanted to learn to spin for a long time, but until recently thought I was allergic to wool. It turns out, I’m probably reacting to a chemical used in the commercial processing, because I did a test with a friend’s fleece-to-homespun and had no redness, no itching, no bumps, no hives! Excited, I borrowed a drop spindle and purchased some red-dyed roving from an artisan supplier. They included a sample of some other colors and I used that to figure out a technique for spinning. That way, once I started on the red roving, I could focus more on spinning my intent and my power into the yarn, instead of still figuring out what the heck I was doing. If you don’t spin, I recommend braiding embroidery floss as a good alternative for adding your intent and power to the string. Something like: I’m a badass witch and I protect this space; I decide who enters and who the wards keep out.

Iron Water: Soak some nails in water with a little splash of apple cider vinegar for a few days. When it’s ready, dip the sweetgum ball, yarn and all, into the water and let it get saturated.

I doubt I need to tell most of my readers that iron is known to ward off the Fair Folk, but just in case you need the refresher: that’s why we’re using iron water. You could also stick those very nails into this charm if you wanted, but that’s a bit stronger than I wanted for my personal charms, and it would be a little too strong for some allies I don’t want to keep out. I wanted something vaguely iron scented. Enough iron to say that I know what I’m about, but not enough iron to deeply offend those who are welcome across my threshold.

This is also probably a good time to tell you that this charm, as I’ve made it, is basically a “No Tresspassing” sign. It’s not going to do much good if it’s your only line of defense. If you have decent house wards, though, and gods or allies you can turn to in times of need, that sign will be enough to make those Riders more inclined to go around, rather than through. There are fewer obstacles elsewhere, and easier prey to be found. As with most predators, that’s usually enough, as long as you don’t provoke them.

* Though the ones who travel near the autumnal equinox may be following the Pleiades, not the equinox. See Morgan Daimler’s recent writings on that for more information.

** Nota Bene: The Ogham is an alphabet, and it’s not just about trees. Trees are one of the ogham lists. There’s also word ogham, skill ogham, bird ogham, even dog and waterway ogham. Eventually I’ll make my own local herb and bird and waterways lists, too, and maybe a modern skills ogham. But a lot of my general witchy practice includes work with plants, so trees seemed like a good place to start.

Event, Paganism, Retreat/Festival/Convention

Beltaine at Fertile Ground Gathering!

So, this past weekend, Scott and I went to Triangle, VA for 2 days of Fertile Ground Gathering. The event runs Thursday through Sunday, but for personal/family logistic reasons, we only attended Friday and Saturday, the days with the bulk of the rituals and workshops. The Acorn Sprout did not come with us – after discussing it, we though it would be better to leave a toddler still in diapers with his grandparents and cousins for the weekend than to bring him along camping in the (likely) rain. There were kids activities, but we expected they would be geared towards slightly older children. So, we dropped off the Acorn Sprout on Thursday afternoon, packed up, and left at 7am on Friday. We arrived around 8:30am, in time to register and have a little breakfast before the first workshops. As with other events, I’m going to be focusing mostly on workshops I attended, rather than what Scott attended, because I took notes with plans to blog about my experiences!

Early Religion in Scandinavia – Jane Sibley, PhD

This was an extremely informative workshop, and Sibley seems to really know her shit – which I would expect from someone who *is* Scandinavian and speaks a Scandinavian language and got a PhD in folklore! Much of the presentation was drawn from a book she wrote called The Divine Thunderbolt, which includes both comparative mythology and the archaeological record, though the book has a much wider scope than the presentation, which focused on the Scandinavian Thor and his cognates in Sámi and Germanic mythology. She also emphasized how much of what modern Heathens and Norse Polytheists consider lore was likely made up by, or at least heavily edited and rewritten by either Snorri or the Brothers Grimm. She believes we need to pay more attention to the archaeology and the Icelandic sources.

There were a few takeaways that I think will be relevant to my own practice. Firstly, Sibley said that the Norse originally had a tripartite elemental system, similar to the Celts, with Earth, Water, and Sky/Air, fire being considered just a hot air. Secondly, she said that Thor should probably be considered Vanir, as he predates Odin and the Aesir, but things get kind of blurry, because the bloodlines are all mixed up anyhow. (Just think about how many of the Aesir are said to have Jotun parents!) Thirdly, Sibley discussed the importance of linen or flax and leeks used together for protection magics. Lots to think about!

Making My Introductions

Before lunch, Scott and I popped down to a place we’d found last year at Hallowed Homecoming, which takes place in the same camping area, and greeted some of the local spirits we’d met in October.

Wakening Ritual

This was a sort of opening ritual, following the Warding Ritual Thursday night. It was short, but to the point, and allowed people to find their trance in stillness, slow motion, or ecstatic motion as they preferred. As it was quite warm out and I was struggling slightly with my chronic illness, I opted for stillness, but that is frequently my preference in any case.

Fiber Magic – Katie LaFond

This was an extremely small workshop – just the presenter, myself, and one other attendee! It was an interesting twist of fate, though – three women of three different ages, discussing fibercraft and witchcraft. LaFond had brought extra supplies and several things to demonstrate, so she set me up with some yarn and a crochet hook while she talked about different ways she uses fibercraft to do witchcraft, from knitting intentions into baby blankets, to creating a family cable pattern for sweaters, to how she sewed planetary robes for her husband to use in his astrology work during the associated planetary days and hours. She demonstrated two different kinds of wool spinning, showed me how to spin flax and let me try that, and set up the other woman with a collapsible lap loom. We also talked about witchcraft more generally, and homesteading and gardening, discussing our lives, our paths, and our crafts as we worked away at our little projects. I made a small crocheted floppy witch hat, for one of the Acorn Sprout’s dolls.

Friday Evening

After dinner, there were a few musical performances and then a bonfire. We stayed to listen to most of Melanie Bresnan’s set, but we went to bed before Maharal began. I have seen them perform before, however, and I do recommend seeing them if you get a chance!

Weaving your Destiny – Chris LaFond

This workshop sort of built upon LaFond’s earlier workshop on the natal chart but I have a vague understanding of my natal chart so I figured I would be able to follow along. As it turned out, we had an entirely new group of people anyhow, so he spent the first fifteen or twenty minutes giving us an overview before moving into his main topic, which was about how to use planetary timing to predict possible events coming up in your life, and how to have a better handle on working with planetary timing, instead of against it. He explained that his approach to astrology is more pre-1700s, before the Enlightenment came and added in a bunch of early psychology, and that puts him in contrast to most pagan and mainstream astrologists, who use newer astrology methodologies. Because of his focus, he doesn’t really use the outer planets much. He also uses Whole Sign Houses, where the Houses of one’s natal chart start at the beginning of the sign and encompass the whole sign, instead of starting at a specific degree of the sign.

LaFond explained the Chaldean order, and how our lives cycle through it, spending a number of years under the influence of each planet, starting with either the moon or the sun, depending on whether one was born at night or during the day (defined as whether the sun was above the horizon or not). Since I was born at night, I spent the first 9 years under the influence of the moon, then 11 years under Saturn, and I’m currently within the 12 years under Jupiter. Within those periods, each is broken down into 7 again (because no outer planets, remember), and so I am currently in the time of the Moon, within the period of Saturn.

LaFond also explained how an astrologer can cycle the natal chart forward every year and use that as a means of predicting the year to come (on the birthday, not the calendar year). For my chart, that means I’m in a 5th House Year, now, and my fifth House is in Taurus. Another means of predicting the year to come that he discussed was to cast a new chart for the solar return of your birth, which is usually within three days of your calendar birthday.

Next, LaFond discussed planetary days and hours, and emphasized that the “hours” are just daylight or nighttime divided into 12, so only near the equator near the equinox do they actually last an hour! Also, the planetary days all begin at dawn, and the first planetary hour is the same as the day. They cycle through the week completely (again, with only the 7 planets of older astrology). This made me think of the old nursery rhyme/divinatory poem that starts “Monday’s Child is full of grace…” I’d always considered myself a “Monday’s Child” because I was born on a calendar Monday. But by this system, as I was born before dawn, I was born on the Day of the Sun, instead!

Accidental Wanderings

After Chris LaFond’s workshop, I wandered down to the water there, which I have come to learn is called Happyland Camp 5 Lake. I saw a number of turtles and frogs and it was really quite lovely, especially since the rain overnight had taken the heat away. On my way back to the feast hall I started wondering about one of the local spirits, and I took a wrong turn – I found myself at a footbridge over a creek, near the fire pit, but I also found my answer. Not exactly my intention, but once I acknowledged that and understood the message, I found my way to the feast hall for lunch with no further ado, so: no harm, no foul. Perhaps a good reminder to keep slightly better track of my surroundings, however!

Warrior Blessing Ritual

Irene Glasse led a Warrior Blessing Ritual after lunch, for blessing and healing of the Warriors among the Dead, the Living, and the Future Generations. It was a really heartfelt and emotional experience, especially as I took the time to connect with two of my great-grandfathers who were in service during WWII, and I reflected upon the military service of other family members and friends, both living and deceased.

Power, Freedom. Boundaries, and Consent – Rath

Some of this presentation was apparently based on a Foundations class Rath had previously taught. There were only a handful of us in attendance so we sat on the porch instead of inside the craft cabin, where we were divebombed by carpenter bees on occasion, but it was nice to be outside in the warm-but-not-too-hot weather.

Rath began with Power, and had us all give words we associated with it, and asked us if we wanted power. I said “it depends”, which is a normal tendency of mine that is perhaps related to my dealings in Faery – I generally want to know all the details before I agree to something, and there are plenty of circumstances in which I would not want specific kinds of power! Rath then discussed “power over” vs “power with”, and different models for wielding or sharing power. When he discussed Freedom, Rath also used two kinds: “freedom to” vs “freedom from”, though he spent more time focusing on “freedom to”.

That brought us to Boundaries, both in the personal (between individual people) and in pagan traditions and systems of magic, where some things are a part of the system or tradition, and other things don’t fit the paradigm. Rath emphasized that even the most eclectic and welcoming groups have a boundary somewhere, using Mormons as an example of a spiritual tradition most pagan groups would consider outside their boundaries. Following on boundaries, we talked about consent, and how in an ideal world consent would always be explicit and informed, but that some experiences are so difficult to fully explain that nearly everything is only partially informed, and in many cases consent is implicit instead, though it can still be revoked.

The final segment of the workshop was focused on exploring a number of different common pagan group models, and pointing out the flaws in each, because at the end of the day, no group is perfect, and all are open to different sorts of abuse. The best thing we can do is to try and mitigate the flaws as much as possible as group leaders, and as group members we should try to find groups that best fit out own personal boundaries.

Wandering Ritual

This ritual began in the ritual field we’d used for the Wakening Ritual, and instead of a Maypole, this year we wove ribbon as a community, in keeping with the theme “Weaving a Tapestry”. The Fae were invited to weave with us and then to join us in as we processed back to the feast hall and walked through hanging veils into the evening’s revelry and feast.* The ritual was not to be closed until Sunday morning, but as Scotty and I needed to be home Sunday and a thunderstorm was rolling in, we left instead of staying for the feast, and therefore missed the Kindred Crow set which was somewhat disappointing. Still, we got home in time to get decent sleep, which I needed. One of these days, though, I am going to actually manage to see them live!

Overall?

Overall, we had a pretty enjoyable experience. It was really nice to be out in all that GREEN! I’m not sure if we’ll be back next year, though, because Beltaine is usually a pretty busy time of year for us, both for our hearth cult and because it’s near the Acorn Sprout’s birthday!


* Note: I had serious misgivings about the structure of this ritual, not least because we were all supposed to be in the Otherworlds with the Fae all night, despite the fact that there were quite a few young children attending the event. As a practitioner of the Fairy Faith, I really can’t emphasize enough how mercurial and potentially dangerous the Fae are, especially around Beltaine. I was told that offerings were made and precautions were taken, but as I wasn’t there for the Warding Ritual and I wasn’t given details, I can’t speak to their efficacy. I made my own supplications and performed my own protective magics. I’ll leave you with Morgan Daimler’s words on the subject.

fae, Spiritwork

Faery Weather Report: Beltaine

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but last night I was meeting with some of my local witches, working on a small-but-growing pagan community at our local UU church, and as the conversation drifted, one of them asked if things had been weird for others, as it seemed to them that there’d been an uptick in spirit activity, especially of the chaotic and dangerous sort. Others agreed, and though I hadn’t really noticed a change, my daily life is mostly lived inside my own wards, and wherever else I go I can’t help but notice a flurry of spirit activity unless I specifically shield it out. For better or for worse, my particular brand of Senses mean that I very rarely experience the Veil the way I usually hear others talk about it. So I took a moment to check in with my local allies among the Fair Folk, and the response was swift and somewhat amused at my lack of awareness.

I was told that, yes, the Borders were Open. Fae were riding and rioting like they normally do at Beltaine, only it had begun with the first sliver of crescent moon in April (approximately the 7th), and it would continue until the very last crescent was lost to darkness in June (approximately the 2nd)… or perhaps beyond. Topsy Turvy time was upon us, and Lawlessness, and all things were allowed during the extended carnival.

While that might sound fun, for humans it is Bad News. Capricious at the best of times, fae unrestrained by anything resembling rules of engagement are incredibly unpredictable. And unpredictable could mean anything from general bad luck and milk souring to getting distracted at the wrong moment and dying in a freak accident. In my experience, that’s one of their favorite ways to steal children and pregnant people in our modern world: accidental deaths.

So: shield yourself, your family. Ward your home, your vehicle, your place of business. Get some iron and rowan. Look to folklore. Be careful out there.

I do not know how far afield this warning stays true, but it applies at the very least to the Potomac River watershed, and I have corroboration from a colleague in Baltimore that it’s true up there as well. So likely for most of DelMarVa, DC, parts of PA and WV. I would not be surprised if it’s more global than that but I have no evidence one way or the other. If you have contacts among the Fair Folk local to you, I suggest you check in with them. (It’s good praxis anyway, to check on anything a fellow witch tells you, yes? Yes.) At the very least check in with your guides or do a bit of divination, to get specifics on how things may affect you.

I’ll be camping for Beltaine next weekend so I will not be available after the 2nd, but before then I’m happy to answer questions or offer advice. I’m not the only one who does this work, though – chances are you already know someone. Ask around.

If you’ll be at Fertile Ground Gathering in Triangle, VA, however, I’ll see you there on Friday and Saturday!

ancestor work, Event, fae, Paganism, Retreat/Festival/Convention, Spiritwork, Workshop

Hallowed Homecoming 2018

I meant to blog about this right away, but first I was still processing and then Samhain season really hit. It’s still hitting, and I’ll blog about that, soon, but first, here are my impressions of Hallowed Homecoming.

Generally, I liked the event! The workshops were enlightening and inspiring, the rituals small but effective. The staff was amazingly helpful, the food was delicious and filling (and they are SO GOOD with allergies!), and there was enough tea to keep my cup always filled. The parkland was beautiful, and the cabins were spacious. The only bad thing, really, was the weather.

It was cold. Cold and wet, and the cabins didn’t keep out the chill – they barely kept out the drafts. I had a brand new coleman sleeping bag rated to 0°F, and that combined with wearing three layers and a hat to bed made me barely warm enough. The rest of the time, I was fighting numbness in my hands and feet, even with thermal layers beneath my clothes, my good new boots, and gloves. Part of that, of course, is due to my chronic illness: I have poor circulation and difficulty with temperature regulation. The tea helped, and the fire in the main hall helped even more, but with wet firewood making fires in workshop cabins a struggle, I often found myself too cold to be fully immersed.

Our first day opened with registration and unpacking, and then I opted to skip the first workshop (on crafting ancestor altarpieces) in favor of walking the land, as I did at Witches’ Sabbat this past May. I started with my traditional self-introduction with tobacco in the Anishinaabe language, and after that I went wandering in search of the local Courtly Fae.

I was guided down a trail, under a fallen tree, down a fork to the left, across a field, down a hill, counter-clockwise around a holly bush, over another fallen tree, and to a decaying stump covered in bright green moss. Like the small hill in Ontario, this natural landmark was an anchor to a Faery Court, and when I gave an offering (of a delightful elderflower and lemon soda), I perceived a beautiful hall, and in a throne on a dais, a young and exquisitely beautiful Queen. She hadn’t been expecting my visit, but was pleased enough to meet me and accept the offering. I called her Wood Violet, because the flowers were a repeating feature in the decoration of the room and her wardrobe, and her eyes were the same purple. Scott accompanied me on the physical journey, but did not join me in the Hollow Hill.

Byron Ballard was the keynote speaker for the weekend, and that evening we attended her first workshop: Practical Ancestor Work. She began with a line from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”, which is also a favorite of mine. (If you don’t know it, I highly recommend reading it.) My notes are sporadic, because Byron was teaching to a mixed-level group, and I was already familiar with much of her material. I did not know, however, that there is a version of the Wild Hunt in Yorkshire called the Gabble Ratchet that is associated with migrating geese, and is said to collect the souls of the recently departed. Byron also emphasized that there are several different types of ancestors: 1) blood family ancestors, both recent and ancient, 2) adoptive family ancestors, including friends who have passed, 3) the Beloved Dead, who are people from history that you feel a special kinship with, and 4) the Mighty Dead, who are the cultural heros of groups one belongs to, be they ethnic cultures, religious cultures, trades or crafts, or subcultures. A lot of time, people seem to shy away from Ancestor Work because their most recent ancestors were abusive or intolerant of other faiths, but there’s a wide world of the Dead out there, and no rule that says you have to start with the grandmother who hated you. (Although Bryon did also say that sometimes, those toxic relatives get a better perspective once they cross over, and they realize what they’ve done and feel obligated to make things better. Not always, but you might try contacting them and seeing if they’ll help you out occasionally, if speaking to them isn’t likely to trigger too strong of a negative reaction.)

The Opening Ritual was mostly to introduce the Guardians for the weekend, and to establish sacred space. My friend Kate joined them this year, and I felt that we were in safe hands for the work we would do the rest of the weekend.

Kate also led the first workshop I attended on the second day, on Hedgewitchery. Despite some technical difficulties with the fire in the craft cabin (damp wood), she led a pretty lively discussion of traditional witchcraft, her family’s German-American folk magic, and her approaches to hedgecrossing. The last part of the workshop was a guided meditation to speak to an element, and I had a very insightful conversation with the goddess Dinand while standing in a river. I was very glad to finally attend this workshop, since I missed it the last time Kate taught it!

Byron’s workshop on Saturday was one I believe I’d seen before, called the Spirit-Haunted Landscape, but the stories and the way she teaches change every time, so I was happy to listen again.  She talked a bit about human spirits and different kinds of ghosts, and then of land spirits – both the large spirits of place, and the smaller more fae beings associated with plant growth.  The last group she talked about are what I would consider the Gentry, the more powerful among the fae, like Wood Violet, the White Lady, and my own Queen, Starflower.  Her words were as much warning as instruction: do not do the work if you are not called to it, she said, because you will be happier and have a simpler life without Them.  But she believes that, for those of us who are called, we need to heed it, we need to brave the danger, because They can help us heal the world, and we need all the help They can give, even if it means that some of us lose parts of ourselves.  I found myself nodding along with much of what she said, and I wasn’t the only one – at the end, she asked a few of us whom she either already knew or could tell worked with the Gentry and she asked us to share a nugget of wisdom.  Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely, considering the subject matter), I can no longer remember what I said.

After that was my own workshop, an intermediate-level introduction to the three Morrigna, specifically the Daughters of Ernmas. There were about a dozen attendees, and I think it was pretty well received, even though I came dangerously close to info-dumping during my section on the Morrigna’s appearances in lore.  I’ll be sharing the journey prompt in my next Dark Moon Crow Calls blog.

Following my workshop it was dinner time, and then after dinner we were all turned out of the main hall long enough for the staff to set up for the main ritual.  We gathered outside for the main ritual and processed in, finding seats in near-darkness and near-silence.  After what I recognized as a fairly standard Wiccan ritual opening led by Rev. Tristan and Byron Ballard, we were led in a call-response honoring ancestors who had many different types of deaths.  Then a yarn rope that had been woven during an earlier workshop was stretched into a circle around the room, with each participant holding onto it in their non-dominant hand.  We were instructed to give a single word answer to describe wisdom we’d received from our ancestors, and then take the scissors from the ritual leaders and cut a piece of the rope.  My word was “peacemaking”.

On Sunday, Byron opened her workshop by explaining that she’d gone off site last night and had been in contact with the wider world, and expected that most of us had not, as that area of the parkland is a cell signal dead zone.  She painted the Pittsburg tragedy in broad brush strokes, and said some strong words about banding together and fighting bigotry and the importance of interfaith work, before giving us all a moment to process.  I had already begun to feel that we shouldn’t stay all the way to the end of the day, because the cold and damp was beginning to get to me, but after the news I just wanted to get home to my baby.  My baby, who at eight days old, was given a taste of sacramental wine while a rabbi spoke prayers in Hebrew over him.  My little family may be pagan, but we’re Jewish, too.  We still observe some of the traditions of our ancestors, even if our religious views differ.

Once most of us had regained our composure, she began her workshop proper, on the topic of Peasant Magic.  She shared a paraphrasing from Jason Miller, who split magic into two broad categories: temple magic, and field magic.  Peasant magic and folk magic, she explained, was field magic, where you do the work that needs to be done with whatever tools and materials you can scrounge up, be that a bit of lint from your pocket and your own saliva, or an herb you grow in your yard and your good wooden spoon.  She talked a bit more about community, too, about being our own first responders and not relying on bureaucracy when its ways will take too long.  Boom the creek yourselves to stop an oil spill from making it to the river.  Set up networks, where you know who to turn to for each crisis, be it one of waterways, immigrants in crisis, or a house fire.  No one can devote time to every worthy cause, she reminded us, to it’s best to pick 3, and devote as much time and effort as you can to those three, and trust that your neighbors will cover the rest.  You can support them in solidarity when they need your help, and they will support you back, even if it’s something as simple as buying a box of candles for a vigil.  Mundane actions and magical workings work best in unison, she said – one without the other isn’t as effective.  But if you try a spell and it doesn’t work, and then you try it more carefully and harder and it doesn’t work, and then one more time while pulling out all the stops and invoking all your gods and it still doesn’t work, you need to stop.  She calls it “1,2,3, Brick Wall”.  After the third time, you’re being told that the work is not for you to do, and your need to accept that.  She told a poignant story about the fires near her home a few years ago, to illustrate the point, and ended with the wisdom that what seems like a disaster may contain within it new growth; some seeds are only opened by fire.  That resonated with me, especially considering the messages I’ve been getting from the Morrigna and the Eyes of Ra lately.

After the workshop we packed up to leave, and did not stay for the closing ritual.  We said our goodbyes, and exchanged contact information with a few new friends.  Some people asked if we’d come again, and I wanted to say yes, but I could already feel how much strength the weather had sapped from me, and the insight of the chronically ill told me I’d be spending days recovering.  So I don’t know.  I enjoyed the event.  I’d love to see the space again; I’d like to return in the spring to see Wood Violet in her time of power.  But I’m not sure if three days of damp and cold was wise.  I may need to look into staying somewhere off site, somewhere warm and dry, but then the expense may be more than our budget can stretch to cover.  We shall see.

Event, Spiritwork

Witches’ Sabbat: Meeting the White Lady

I have been trying to write this for more than a month, now, but every time I do, I hesitate. I am uncertain how much of the story is truly mine to tell. Today I am trying something new: I have asked the White Lady herself to join me, to watch what I write over my shoulder, and to tell me when things must be struck from the record. So here is the story, somewhat abridged. But first, a warning: be careful, witches, when you consort with the Fair Folk, for you may have wondrous experiences, yet be unable to tell the full story to another living soul.

This is the story of how I came to meet one of the Gentry in the woods in Canada, this past Memorial Day Weekend. As I have said in previous blogs, I was there attending The Witches Sabbat at Raven’s Knoll, near Ottawa. Our weekend centered on fairylore, especially Fairy Queens and the Wild Hunt, and as part of my personal work, I wished to meet the Locals, whoever would consent to meet me. To that end, I spent a free part of an afternoon wandering the area, looking for a sign.

Near the Birch Grove, I saw two mourning doves, who turned to look at me, and a chill went down my spine. I knew, somehow, that these were my heralds, come to lead me to the place I was seeking. And so I followed them, as they flew always a small way ahead of me, in a large anti-clockwise circle, and then they cooed at me and flew together over a clearing ahead of me, and then into the treetops and were gone. I entered the clearing, uncertain of what the next step would be, when I saw in front of me, dead in the center of the clearing, a bright blue damselfly sunning itself on a rock. I approached it, and it, too, flew in a circle, clockwise this time, before stopping almost exactly where it was before. It seemed to be waiting, so I poured a tiny bit of the mead I had brought as an offering, and when I got up from doing so, I noticed a trail leading out of the clearing. I walked in that direction, and it did not continue very far, but as it was disappearing, I came across a small hillock of some variety, and there perched on it was yet another damselfly, this one dark blue, and the hillock was surrounded by blooming wild strawberry vines.

On that hillock, I poured out the mead I had brought, and I sat and let my awareness open. While I sat there, I became aware that I needed to uncover my head, and that more than the mead was required in offering – whoever had agreed to meet me wanted a blood offering. I might have refused, but as I was suddenly swarmed by mosquitoes (who just as suddenly left), it was not a negotiable point. Blood was given. A clay-colored sparrow buzzed loudly. And I was allowed to See. My vision shifted, another scene began to overlay the hillock in the afternoon sun, and I slowly found myself in journey space.

I was standing, dressed in formal clothing in a wooden building, some type of outpost hall. In front of me stood two beings, drinking glasses of the mead I had poured out earlier. At first, they were both somewhat shrouded from me, cloaked in glamours, until I introduced myself and explained my purpose. A second call from the sparrow signaled an understanding and acceptance, and the glamours dropped from the being closest to me. Revealed, now, I could see she was tall, and very pale, with a sharpness to her features that spoke both of her otherworldliness and her viciousness. Her hair was long, straight, and white-blonde, and her clothing was also white, and seemed to glow. Describing it now, the words sound like Galadriel, but no. Her postures were active, dynamic, almost predatory, and certainly powerfully confident – nothing like the serene and benevolent Lady of Lothlorien. She was cold, not golden, and her white was more like the white of birch trees and of snow, though it did not seem to me that she had a seasonal alignment, like some others I have met. She told me something I did not understand, in response to my attempting to mentally categorize her, and when my confusion showed, she laughed and told me to attend Erik Lacharity’s workshop on French Canadian fairylore. Later, I learned that the almost-Scandinavian vibe I had been trying to categorize was partially right – whatever type of being she was, she hailed from Normandy (either originally or by heritage), and others like her were known in the lore of immigrants from Normandy that had settled in the area.

The other figure, still shrouded from me, was her consort, as I began to understand. The White Lady did not wish outsiders to look upon her consort, in order to keep the consort safe. I cannot give any defining characteristics of this being, save that the consort is part of the reason for the long version of the name of Raven’s Knoll campground. Having met and introduced myself to the White Lady, and learned what I could of her, I then asked if I was free to take my leave. The sparrow called once more in response, and I rose to go, leaving for my campsite taking a more direct route than I had when arriving.

On Saturday, during a break, I went down to the river to talk to the Lady Bonnechere, whom we had selected as our Fairy Queen for the ritual, and I spent a few minutes talking with both her and the White Lady. It seemed that the White Lady was a client of the River, the sovereign of a small territory beneath the Bonnechere’s domain. I attempted to share our plans for the ritual, for approval, and was given some insight that I took back to the group.

During the ritual itself that night, I spent much of the time talking to the White Lady as we walked anti-clockwise around the fire, telling her of my personal practice, painting a picture of my local community in large brush strokes, and other such things. I am certain there is much of that conversation I have forgotten, but the feeling of the conversation will stay with me. I do think I have made a new but lasting contact among the Gentry, and I find that even here, hours by car to the south of where I met her, I can still feel her presence when I wish to communicate with her. I am glad to have met her.

Event, Holiday Celebration

Our Beltaine

WOW this month has been busy so far!  And our Beltaine celebration started that off, pretty much.

We were hoping to have a Beltaine-eve bonfire with local pagan friends but the host unfortunately got sick, so we had another small hearth celebration, like we did for the Spring Equinox.  The deity of the occasion for us this time is Áine, the Fairy Queen, and we also celebrate the fae (particularly the Seelie and nature-aligned ones) for this holiday.

Our meal consisted of a spring green salad with berries and goat cheese and honey with a berry vinaigrette dressing (YUM!), and gluten free angel food cake with home made strawberry topping for dessert.  We also picked up a package of violet flavored chocolate covered marshmallows on a whim at the grocery store, so that’s the other thing on the plate!  And we finally got Áine her own candle for the shrine shelf.

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I used the prayer from the Spring Equionx again, altering it for the new holiday, and though I didn’t write it down at the time, I’ve recreated it as closely as possible below:

Beltaine has arrived, and the days are growing longer than the nights,

Plants are unfurling their leaves, and some have begun to bloom!

Spring has now reached its height, and the season is turning again

We stand at the balance: Spring becomes Summer

And on this day, we honor Áine

Queen of the Fae, Lady of Golden Light

Come to us now, and join in our celebration!

We offer you food, and drink, and merriment!

We ask in return for your blessings.

Help us to continue to grow and to bloom in this season.

Áine, Hail and Welcome!

A couple of days later, we took part in a ritual planned by a local pagan friend of ours that focused on the Green Man as a metaphor for the growth of the coming season.  My role was that of a quarter call, in which I invoked local waterways, tying us back to the local environment.  (The details for that are probably best left for a post on local cultus.)  Here’s an image of the altar at the end of the rite (unfortunately by that time, the Green Man face we had constructed together was beginning to lose leaves!)

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I hope you all had an amazing Beltaine!

Book Review, Reviews

Book Review: Evolutionary Witchcraft by T. Thorn Coyle

Coyle, T Thorn. Evolutionary Witchcraft. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005.

I recently attended a book club meeting held by a non-denominational pagan group I belong to called The Fellowship Beyond the Star that discussed this book, and I thought I would share some of my personal insights and opinions here as well.

The book is written as both an informational and experiential introduction to Coyle’s Feri/Reclaiming tradition, geared towards the solitary beginning practitioner. However, the exercises in the book get more advanced as it goes on, and it is very likely that the intermediate or even advanced practitioner of another tradition would find a lot of the work worthwhile. My main impression of the book as regards my personal practice is that Feri definitely isn’t the path for me (despite my strong ties to the Fae in general). It’s still too close, structurally, to Wicca and related initiatory traditions for me and I don’t find the ecstatic sexuality focus any more comfortable than I find Wicca’s procreative/fertility focus. However, I did find many of the individual exercises very helpful either as they were intended to be used, or as sounding boards for engaging more deeply with what I practice and believe, especially in places where Coyle’s clashed with my own. I find it useful to periodically examine not just what I do, but how and why, and this book certainly facilitated that process for me.

The book itself is very straightforward in structure. The introduction and the first section of each chapter outline what follows, and the chapters themselves follow the form of a ritual that is the organizational schema for the whole book: a sphere casting that uses seven directions (East, South, West, North, Above, Below, and Center). Each of these directions is given correspondences, a tool (wand, chalice, etc), and a Guardian, and various exercises related to the theme of the chapter are presented. The writing is very easy to follow, and is poetic without being verbose or abstruse. Sub-headings break up the chapters neatly, making it easy to find a place to stop (this really isn’t a book you want to read straight through unless you’re going to go back and do the exercises on your second pass). The last chapter has a self-initiation for those who wish to continue down this path in a solitary way, and it also contains ideas for moving forward, using this book as a foundation for a personal path. At the end, Coyle includes an appendix with recommended further reading, and a pretty comprehensive index.

One of the central works of the Feri/Reclaiming tradition(s), the Iron Pentacle, is presented in the chapter on the South, “because it uses the fire of red, iron earth energy as a catalyst for transformation and re-balancing” (p 114). This tool is used for personal wholeness, the task of becoming more completely human, Coyle says. Its partner tool, the Pearl Pentacle, is in the chapter on the West and water, and is a tool for balancing our interpersonal lives. Both pentacles can serve as the backbone for deep work, but neither spoke to my energies and needs as well as I had hoped. They did, however, spark me to brainstorm the sort of tool that might work for what I struggle with, and I have been jotting down a multitude of thoughts on a similar set of septagrams.

Many of the chapters had bits of lore and pathworkings about the Gods of Feri as well as the Guardians of each direction, and though I found some of it very interesting, it doesn’t really fit my personal cosmology and (perhaps because of that) I had a difficult time getting more than the briefest hint of an impression from the majority of these new gods. I did, however, find that their Star Goddess, Quakoralina, seems to be analogous to a being I call Star Mother, even if the details of my personal mythology differ from what Coyle presents in the book.

In general, my experience of this book reflects a topic Coyle touches on in chapter 8, on the Powers Below: the idea of two disparate things coming together to create a third. Coyle discusses the cauldron as the tool for this direction, a tool of alchemy and transformative change, and she says

“…the cauldron’s power shows the beauty of friction, of the Pythagorean harmonic of two notes played together forming a third, or the reconciling force of grace that rises from a yes met by a no. It is the third road that leads to [F]aery, the place of paradox.

We have the ability to hold disparate things, to hold them until the very tension of the holding creates its own heat. Then something new can emerge within us.” (p 231).

I held my practice as it was, and this book as it was written, and where they clashed a new understanding emerged within me. Feri/Reclaiming may not be the path for me, but in exploring this path through Coyle’s book, I saw parts of my own path more clearly. While I obviously recommend reading this book to anyone who does find Feri/Reclaiming appealing, I also highly suggest reading this book to anyone who could use the sort of deep engagement with their own practice that I experienced while working through it. I will definitely be leaving this book as a reference on my shelf for years to come.

Spiritwork, Uncategorized

It has been a while…

…since last I posted, and there are probably things I ought to catch up on (my Wep Ronpet, for one) but for today I am stopping in to write up something a bit more time sensitive: my first Unseelie Weather Report for the year.

Once again I went to see the Morrigna to ask them about the baton pass this equinox, and for the general themes of the coming autumn and winter.  What I was shown, briefly, is that the baton pass will go smoothly, but then the power transfer will cause an explosion of sorts, with the more feral types and the Wild Hunt(s) racing across the skies. It’s likely to be sensed as turbulence by sensitives, and may cause storms: thunderstorms, maybe even tornados and hurricanes. There may also be political “storms” (as above so below).  I did not see the blanket of snow this year, though – I was instead shown ice. Ice storms, freezing rain, hail, sleet – less visually arresting than huge piles of snow, perhaps, but just as dangerous.

Be careful, everyone. Stick together, watch your footing, and try not to slip on the ice.

Spiritwork

A Message for the Equinox

This is going to be a different sort of post – I’ll be sharing a piece of personal UPG, a message I received from the Morrigna (that is plural – the three Daughters of Ernmas, of the Tuatha De Dannan).  I don’t usually do much of that here, but it’s a more general message, not a personal one, and the few other messages like this I’ve gotten I shared with close friends, people I worship and practice with, and many of them found it useful.  I thought it might be time to share with a wider audience.

For background, last winter I started getting weird vibes about the coming spring and a sense that things were Not Quite Right.  That culminated in a journey to see the Morrigna where they showed me an image of the world outside my door blanketed in snow, and a faery host culling plants and animals, bringing death to make room for new life.  That’s an important part of every winter, but I was made to know that it would be somewhat more severe, and warned to make preparations.  I did as I was advised and I returned on several additional journeys where I was given additional messages.  Some forecast bad weather (in both the physical sense and in the sense of psychic “bad weather” due to spirits runnng amok)and I was eventually told that things would settle down, and everything basically did settle down a little before Beltane. The turning of the seasons last year did not go as smoothly as it usually does and it seems this time isn’t going to be much better, unfortunately. When it comes to influences between the worlds, “as above so below” so to speak, and with things being a bit off kilter up here, things are off kilter Over There as well.  Sensitive people have been noticing that things have been bleeding through a bit already, and a lot of people have noticed a sort of weird imbalance between the hot weather and an uptick in spirit activity that usually comes with cooler weather.  Hoping for answers, I went to go talk to the Morrigna about it again, and below is what they showed me.  I am sharing this here in case anyone else finds this useful, though with the usual UPG disclaimers.*

I asked the Morrigna about the “baton pass” between the local faery courts that usually signals the changing of seasons, and in their cauldron of water I was shown an image of the inside of a great hall, where the Seelie court was gathered and meeting with emissaries from the Unseelie court.  However, instead of all of them being courtiers, many were the more feral or more bestial members, those more associated with the Wild Hunt than with the Unseelie court proper. As the Seelie King stretched out the sceptre in his hand, the Unseelie King reached out to take it – and as soon as his fingers grasped it, himself and all the Unseelie courtiers also became like the feral and bestial creatures that had accompanied them.  (Whether they had been in disguise or whether they are merely showing a different aspect of their nature this year I am not sure – but in my experience, the local Court is usually at least nominally in charge of the local Wild Hunt, providing them with some oversight.)

The Wild Hunt left the hall like a host of bats, or perhaps of locusts, because as they reached the outside world they began stripping everything back to the roots, back to the stones, devouring and destroying nearly everything on sight. Despite the intensity of the imagery, however, I did not get the sense that this was a bad thing. The changes, though harsh and sudden, were paving way for newer, healthier growth. It was a cleansing chaos, almost fire-like it its wrath, but made instead of death and ice.

As they moved about, they created prisms of ice around the homes of the Seelie fae, isolating them and putting them into stasis, but also protecting them from the storms to come. I had a glimpse of powerfully destructive winter storms following in the wake of the tearing claws and teeth of the Hunt, but those are still far enough in the future that I will need to return again later to ask for more details. I also was given a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, and was shown the returning sun turning the ice prisms into greenhouses, sanctuaries where small plants might sprout, rousing the Seelie fae who will then shatter the ice and begin the spring. After that, I thanked the Morrigna, and returned.

Today is the equinox, so it all starts today.  I recommend grounding and centering even more than usual this autumn and coming winter. And check your wards. It’s probably going to be a bit rough for sensitive people, so if that’s you, work on your personal shielding, too. Most of it will probably pass us by like it did last year, since the fae are more concerned with the natural world than they are with human society (and we have fabulous indoor heating and food flown in from all over the globe, etc), but I do somewhat wonder if the chaos will have an effect on the election.  Besides that, expect heavy snows and ice storms and very probably a late spring. I’ll keep checking in with the Morrigna now and again and posting here if people are interested.

 

*That is, if your UPG is different from or conflicts with mine, that’s fine!  But don’t try to convince me that mine is wrong.  It could be we’re looking at the same truth from different angles – and I’m not going to try to convince you, either. But I will keep posting mine here, because this is my space, and this is my truth. (UPG = Unverified Personal Gnosis)

Devotional Jewelry, Etsy Shop Update

Etsy Shop Update

I’ve been sick unfortunately (it’s all this rain), so not everything is up in the shop yet following Baltimore Faerie Faire, but we do have two new listings!

I made two more devotional bracelets especially for the Faeries, one for each of the two Goddesses I’ve been working with as Queens of the Fae: Morrigan and Aine.  Morrigan’s is made with lapis lazuli, brecciated jasper, dark amethyst, and smoky quartz.  Aine’s has green aventurine, rose quartz, light amethyst, and opalite.

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Right now I have them both featured in our etsy shop, along with the Faery Oracle Card Readings!

Hopefully I’ll be done photographing and listing everything else soon – stay tuned!