This land is my home
where the naked mountains caress
and the veins of hills run to the sea.
This land is my home
where I’ll live alone until
my hair grows white
and my bones grow old
then I’ll hang my spirit on tree tops
to provide a cushion of coolness
for children who gather round
Spirit of the Land – Makiutii Tongia
My earliest memory of encountering the spirits of the land, genius loci or the pervading spirit of a place, was my childhood adventures in Canyonlands, Utah. Canyonlands is a wild country of sheer sedimentary rock walls, 4-wheel drive roads, and natural arches. On this day, my family was having lunch in a favorite picnic spot, I looked up to see petroglyphs high above us. We had never seen them before and had been there several times. A feeling of a presence surrounded me that day which was mysterious but not altogether unpleasant. In fact, I enjoyed the overall feel of this place so much, that it influenced my choice of anthropology and geology as majors in college many years later. I wanted to study places which had a strong spirit of place. This experience happened many times to me in Canyonlands.
On another visit, my father was reading an old topo map which said, “Thirteen Faces” in small print along the contour lines of a canyon. None of the forest rangers would tell us what it was so it became a mysterious adventure for my family that year. I can remember pushing through thorny brush and close growing trees whose limbs would smack the person behind you if you weren’t careful. It was like the entire place was keeping us from finding it. We finally came to an overhanging rock wall with the painting of ten warriors painted underneath with the faint remnants of three more. We had stumbled upon a sacred space. It was a profound experience with a real feeling of being watched by the spirits of those who walked those desolate landscapes and were depicted on that rock face. Even now I can still connect to that feeling of discovering “thirteen faces” although it has faded somewhat since I was a child.
If there is one take away from my years developing my own practice, it is to start with connecting to the spirits where you live. The spirits who reside in the open air places, and liminal environments right outside your door. If you are lucky enough to visit a place like Canyonlands, Utah, you will definitely feel the energy of the spirits of the land. Connect with these powers of place and the animals and plants who hold that ecosystem together. Many people want to start with communing with the Gods. While this is a great goal, it is easiest to start with your local environment first. A great way to begin is to make an offering to the spirits of the land first thing in the morning. I begin with a simple incense offering out in my garden. I might say a blessing or just offer the incense and take some time outside. The incense turns my garden into a wonderful smelling place and puts me into a mood of veneration.
Another way to connect to the spirits of the land is to sit quietly in a natural environment and connect to the living and non living things that are a part of that spot. We are normally moving through nature but do not commonly reside for any length in nature. Developing the habit of sitting in nature is a good way to receive messages and connect to that environment. It is common that I come away with thoughts about what my plants need as I sit there. Your garden tends to flourish when you pay attention to it this way.
In my own yard, I like to leave a spot which is a bit wild as well. I don’t pull weeds or do any kind of upkeep in that area. While this sounds a bit on the messy side, it is an amazing area that seems to grow strange new plants, as well as, the seedlings from existing plants. This was a common practice in Europe, hundreds of years ago as people set aside a small plot of land dedicated solely to the faery or earth spirits. It was not permitted to be cultivated, weeded or touched in any way. This practice seems to embody the spirit of the land as these untended tracts seem to have a mind of their own. You’ll be surprised by what appears there.
Keep the downy dittany and storms will bring you calm,
Fill a vervain pillow for a thought-grieved head;
Cherish balm whene’er you can, there’s none too much of balm,
And never stop for rosemary, ’twill follow where you tread.
Taste the scarlet love-apple, if youth will drive you to,
But leave alone the rue—-
Fair lass, fine lad,
Leave alone the rue!
The Herb of Grace by Elsie Cole
Herb of Grace
Rue (Ruta graveolens) is an herb which has a long association with witches and magical rituals. The Romans called it Ruta which was shortened in English to Rue. Historically, rue is a protection herb and is routinely used in protection magic. Cats find the smell of rue to be offensive, and as such, the idea of rue used to ward off witches was born. It would seem that a talisman using rue may also be a sort of anti-witch charm. There is one charm, rooted in old Italy which may actually be a very magical talisman worn by witches themselves. This is the Cimaruta charm, an Italian folk charm which has changed little through time.
The Cimaruta Charm
The Cimaruta Charm (sprig of rue), also known as the witch’s charm, is typically a silver charm of the rue plant with its lobed leaves attached to specific symbols. This is the typical charm pictured at the right, and can be purchased here. Although there are
various symbols attached to the sprig of rue some of the more common symbols and their meanings are:
Rooster: dispels darkness much like the rooster calls in the dawn
Dagger: related to the arrow of Diana, the queen of witches
Crescent moon: related to the occult and occult forces
Vervain blossom: protection, much like the pentagram, and connection to the faery realm
Other symbols such as the heart, the hand and the horn, as well as cornucopia, and angel can also be found although the flaming heart and angel are probably newer Christian symbols.
The Cimaruta charm was commonly used as a charm to protect babies and was routinely hung on the crib of an infant for protection from envy and the evil eye up until the 19th century. Rue itself is protective so it has been speculated that the symbols on the sprig of rue are either there to increase these protective forces or for some other reason entirely. Raven Grimassi, in his book, The Cimaruta: And Other Magical Charms From Old Italy suggests that his research reveals that the Cimaruta is connected to Diana, the triformis goddess. In this way, the charm represents Hecate (key), Diana (Moon), and Porserpina or Persephone (serpent). He goes on to state that the Cimaruta Charm is not an anti-witch or anti-witchcraft charm at all but a charm worn by witches symbolizing their beliefs. It is a charm which has not changed much through time or become tainted with modern religious symbols for the most part.
I decided to make my own Cimaruta charm out of a sprig of Rue instead of casting it in silver. I used the symbols of rooster, moon, key, dagger, and vervain blossom. These symbols are used in a magical alignment in Raven Grimassi’s book. I attached the symbols with ribbon, added a nice rose for color and did the alignment. This Cimaruta now hangs in my garden.
A very magical place indeed…
Sweep, sweep, sweep the ground.
All negativity shall be bound.
I banish all that is profane.
Only positive shall remain.
My mother, the queen of clean, could compete with Martha Stewart herself in keeping a tidy home. I think she would agree that tidying up has a sort of magic all its own. In fact, I believe that one reason I always have a great time at her house is that it is neat and clean and negativity has been swept away with her various cleaning products. Although my mom is pretty extreme in her cleaning, I do think most of us could agree that clutter and mess can seem very overwhelming and increases stress and anxiety for many people. It is not uncommon in this modern world to live under the stressful burden of too many material things which becomes an unmanageable mess. Most of us could stand a bit of cleaning and purging! From a magical standpoint, cleaning has great benefit for the energy of the home and our own mental state.
In the book Magickal Self Defense, Kerr Cuhulain advises,
“Negative thought-forms accumulate in messy environments. An organized household fosters an organized mind. An organized mind is much more capable of defense than a disorganized mind. You do more than just emptying the garbage pail when you take out the trash.”
Do cluttered environments lower our defenses? I think they do. In fact, I think they weigh us down and cause needless anxiety. I have found that tidying the home releases these negative thought-forms and wards our home against negativity. If the benefits of being tidy are so great, then the only question should be how to achieve a neat, organized home that stays that way.
I have read many books on organizing everything from socks to tools but few really stand up to close scrutiny. Most home organizing books really rely on moving “stuff” from one place to another which isn’t really very tidy in the end. Along comes the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo which promises if you follow her method, you will never have to organize your home again. Kondo’s clients are in Tokyo primarily and have limited space to work with but the lessons are sound advice to the “stuff” loving culture of the West as well. Some of the best lessons from her book are as follows:
1. Ask yourself if your belongings “spark joy” in your life. If they don’t, you need to donate, gift, or trash them. I often wonder if this also goes for husbands (or wives)? If it doesn’t, I definitely think it should, but I digress…All the items in your home with some limitations, like tax returns, should bring joy to you. If you surround yourself with joy, your life changes.
2. Organize by category not room. Clothing is the first thing to organize in this book. All your clothing, in the entire house. Get done with the first category before going on to the second, which is books by the way.
3. Fold don’t hang when possible. Folding takes up less space anyway. Also, the correct way to put folded clothing in a drawer is vertically. Clothing stacked in drawers gets crushed an wrinkled and you can’t see all your clothing at once and have to resort to digging through your clothes.
4. Organizers are for hoarders. Complex organizing systems for closets, under beds, etc. are used to put away more stuff that you really don’t need anyway.
The magic of this book is that you become able to part with things that don’t make you happy and surround yourself with things you love. The book treats your clothing as entities which have feelings. This seems strange at first until you start looking at the state of your drawers. My clothes were dreadfully unhappy! The magic of tidying your home with a ruthless purging is bound to be life-changing. Which reminds me, I am barely on the category of books…
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightening about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
What is the Shadow?
To understand the Golden Shadow we must first comprehend the Shadow itself. The Shadow is a Jungian term which describes that part of us that we vehemently deny. It is the unconscious aspects of our personality which often inadvertently come out of hiding periodically. These aspects, are perceived negative traits in our personality which over time become relegated to our unconscious. This is a sort of self preservation process, as humans do not normally want to identify with their more immoral, selfish and self destructive traits. Jung adhered to the idea that unless the shadow was brought into the conscious, it would appear in our lives anyway as “fate.” This fate would be controlled by these negative traits that seem to have power over our behavior and subsequent lives. Some people will show their shadow when they argue with others. The things we cannot stand about someone else may be some of our worst shadow traits.
The Golden Shadow
As it turns out, not all of the shadow is composed of undesirable traits. In fact, there are little gold nuggets of greatness hidden in there as well. These are your hidden talents, beauty, creative genius, and cleverness, basically your gold. These we also hide away from others. We may shine too bright or seem too outrageous if we let these gifts be known. Again, we may find traits from our Golden Shadow in others. You may admire someone for their beauty or confidence when it is really a projection of your Golden Shadow.
Why hide the Gold?
Now I can understand the reasoning behind hiding our dark shadow from ourselves and others. It is quite apparent why we hide our selfish thoughts, our immorality, and our dirty little secrets from consciousness. However, why would we hide our gold? Marianne Williamson sums up the reason nicely in her poem Our Deepest Fear:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It’s our light, not our darkness,
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
So it’s the Golden Shadow that is most feared, but therein lies your power. For within this Golden Shadow the divine resides! What if all the things you wish for yourself were true already? You would be creative, wealthy, gorgeous, smart, powerful, talented, and desirable and would have nothing to yearn for or dislike about yourself. Wow! No drama or complaining! Now that is scary! We are secretly masochists, and seek to sabotage our greatness and stay in our world of dissatisfaction and lack. Our best bet is to recognize our Shadow and bring the darkness to our conscious mind and try to work through some of that muck. At the same time embrace our genius and imagine ourselves already possessing the amazing traits we are searching for in our lives. Chances are, we already possess those traits within ourselves.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
The trees along this city street,
Save for traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet,
As trees in country lanes.
City Trees by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am happiest when I am far from the city with its crush of traffic, people and noise. I like hiking in Sedona on some hidden paths I know in the Secret Mountain Wilderness area, and my dream would be to live and work far away from urban life and its struggles. Unfortunately, I have a few years at the least until I can move from the big city. What is a witch to do?
I practice a sort of urban witchery as a resident of a large city. Here are a few of my favorite ways to practice witchcraft in an urban setting.
1. Clip important things to Evernote: Evernote is an app which allows you to clip articles, links, handwritten notes, voice, text and photo notes and syncs automatically across all of your devices. There are even some people who use it as their book of shadows or grimoire. You can also collaborate with others in a shared notebook or save articles to read later. I use the web clipper on my laptop which allows me to save things that I find by clicking a little button. I can look at these immediately on all my devices.
2. Use a tarot app: I use Galaxy Tarot on my phone. It is a great app with different spreads and a journal where you can save your readings. This is probably the best free tarot app out there. If divination with runes is more your thing there is also a Galaxy Runes app.
3. Make and carry and amulet, talisman or good luck charm: I carry a four leaf clover charm most days. It’s a smooth little piece that easily slips into a pocket and it nice to hold during the day. An amulet or talisman is also a great idea for an urban witch on the go.
4. Embroider protective or other sigils onto clothing: If you’re good with needle and thread, or even if you aren’t, stitching a sigil or symbol into your clothing can be a great source of magic.
5. Give regular offerings to the spirits of the land: This is probably the most regular ritual I do. I basically go out to my yard near my rose bushes and take a stick or cone of incense with me and offer it to the spirits of the land. When I first started this practice I was surprised how the incense filled the space of my side yard. It is beautiful. It also takes about 10 minutes, and if you light your incense in a rocky area it will burn out safely. This can be easily practiced in any outdoor space in your city and you can make it as simple or complex a ritual as you would like.
6. Find and use unique urban witch products: Here is some amazing urban witchery that I love. Professor Pam’s Urban Divination Deck is a gold on black oracle deck that uses common urban symbols and happenings to guide your readings. This is a wonderful deck for the urban witch. It has city oriented cards like “The Suspicious Puddle,” and “Free Newspaper.”
These etched brass shield pins are also from the same shop. These are great for shielding you from big city life.
However entrenched you are in urban life, know that at some stage to recharge yourself you will have to get away into the natural world. Cities tend to weigh us down eventually, so make time to drive far away from the hustle and bustle and soak up some solitude.
Where is the horse and the rider?
Where is the horn that was blowing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like wind in the meadow.
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
How did it come to this?
The Two Towers J.R.R. Tolkien
I think everyone has a breaking point. Everyone. Some people can deal with many things going berserk before they get to the point of losing their shit. Most can’t. Unfortunately, the world has turned into a ridiculous mess in my opinion, and I have come to the conclusion that it is edging toward hopelessness with a dash of shear crazy. Apparently, my life is reflecting this on a whole new level lately. The owls who stalk me in my yard have hinted at it for ages. “When will you transform yourself and get out of this place,” they ask.
When did it come to this? I know exactly when. It started the day my brother died and
continued ever after. I’ve been locked in a pool of dread and heartache that has been compounded by the absolute bedlam that has been going on in the US lately. I am up to my eyeballs in a kind of hopeless muck, and I don’t foresee getting out of it any time soon. I have resigned myself to reveling in my current state and throwing hope to the wind. Yep, just giving up hope entirely.
If you don’t know we humans are screwed, you haven’t been paying attention. To save time, I won’t go into all the ways we are screwing ourselves on a daily basis. If you want, you can go google it after you read this. Sadly, we are in a sharp decline, almost like a free fall at this point. There is really not much more to say about it. Civilization at some point becomes fragile and transient. My best rally to this is to stop being hopeful about a better future, or a future at all for that matter. As a teacher I have found that we push this hope crap on children all day long. It is nauseating. We used to make students say this little hopeful, lovely every morning:
“I am a kid at hope. I am talented, smart, and capable of success…blah, blah, blah.”
Throw that crap out! Why? Because it continually looks to the future without being mindful of the present. It is a stupid idea that traps the mind into constantly planning for some future that is always that, “the future!” Instead, be mindful of the “now.” Do and think in the present. Go for a nature hike, cook a great meal, or learn to meditate. If you have a cause that you think is important, give your energy to it! Don’t just “hope” for a better future.
This is not to say that I don’t believe in dreams. I love dreams. Dreams are little alternate universes that give us insight into ourselves and our gifts. I think we definitely dream too small and need to rectify that. I use a planner called the Passion Planner. In it, there is a weekly schedule that has an area called “space of infinite possibility.” This is how our dreams should be, an infinite possibility! Please don’t give up your dreams. Write them down, draw them, hell get a Passion Planner and have a space of infinite possibility to record them!
Finally, I like to look to the wild for the best way to live. The owls in my yard do not hope nor are they hopeless, for both of those ideas pertain to the future. Owls are unconcerned about the future but intentional about the present. As we should be if we are to truly live in this crazy world.
But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.
I usually get a couple of questions right off when people figure out I am vegetarian. “Why?” followed closely by “What do you eat?”
The answer to the latter question is simple. Everything else. The former has a little more complex answer. My reasons for never eating meat again have a lot to do with my deteriorating health before I switched, my love for the environment, and the idea that large herbivores who know pain and fear should be treated with some level of respect. I do know people who treat their animals well. My uncle, a cattle rancher in Nebraska, is one. I was there in June when he was worried about getting them out of the hot sun and into a pasture with trees and shade. He stays up all night with his cows during calving season which happens to be in the dead of winter in Nebraska and makes sure they have a nice bed of straw and heat when they are born. Sadly, most of our animals don’t have this level of care, and all of them come to the same miserable end. So I took myself out of this food chain, and I never looked back. Until I realized I couldn’t quite take myself totally out of the web of life and death because Mother Nature doesn’t at all resemble a vegetarian.
Mother Nature taught me this lesson in my garden. I grow amazing roses and herbs straight through the year due to our mild winter. I grow witchy herbs like rue and thyme, culinary herbs like oregano and basil. I have an uber green thumb like my farmer ancestors I guess. Everything was growing quite well for me until one day when I noticed some caterpillars eating my basil and crawling toward the thyme. I tried taking them off and putting them elsewhere, and by elsewhere I mean on the shrubs in our common area. They just came right back in a couple days. So, as a vegetarian, what do you do? You could try something to discourage them or you could spray some garden soap to kill them. If you don’t get rid of them, they will eventually kill your plants, however. These plants were important to me as they are also living things.
It dawned on me that Mother Nature doesn’t care about your ethical dilemmas. To save your living plants you will probably have to kill other living things much to your dismay. Mother Nature is not vegetarian, she will weave the web of life and create the green shoots of new growth and at the same time crumble the living to dust and rot. You can see it in a garden on a daily basis. The nest of a pigeon nestled in the roof today and the baby pigeon snatched by owls the next. Beautiful flowers and leaves one day, crumpled brown leaves and petals smashed in the mud and muck tomorrow. Nature is relentless, unforgiving and cruel. Mother nature devours, recycles, and regrows. She feeds off of life itself in merciless ways.
The best I could do is draw some sort of line that I would not cross and respect that line. Sometimes I found that I had to redraw the line. I used the soap on the caterpillars eating my basil and thyme. I crushed the bark scorpion with a shoe to protect my children and myself. I didn’t feel good about it. I carefully scooped up the wolf spider my cats were playing with and carried it to safety outside. Interestingly enough, I found that wolf spiders play dead to avoid extermination (smart little critters). I realized that to grow living things sometimes you have to destroy other living things in the process. That I had to draw a line disturbed me, but we are always drawing lines. Mother nature is a consuming entity not bothered by ethics or morals. She eventually destroys all that lives, and then miraculously out of death comes something new. This is the way of the earth and anyone who lives here, vegetarian or not. Clearly, I am not one to argue with Mother Nature.