Monday, 27 April 2020

Celebrating Beltane in Lockdown

Beltane is traditionally celebrated with maypoles and bonfires, feasts and festivities. As the festival which marks the beginning of summer, it's natural to want to spend it outdoors in company with friends and family - yet this year that won't be possible for many of us. The current Coronavirus lockdown means that gathering with coven mates, friends and family just isn't possible right now, so we're going to have to adapt the way we mark the festivals - at least for a little while. But with a little ingenuity we can come up with novel - and safe - ways of celebrating.

First, have a little brainstorming session with those you'd celebrate Beltane with normally - you can do this by phone, text, email, Skype, Zoom etc if you do not live in the same household - and see what amazing ideas you can come up with together. If you are a solitary Pagan, you can Google for ideas as well as taking inspiration from this post. 

Secondly, skim through the ideas I have come up with and see if any of them appeal - or you can use them to kick-start creativity and come up with your own plan. I have grouped them according to your situation - so there are ideas for those of you who can get out into nature, ideas for those who are in a town but have a garden or accessible green space, and finally ideas for those who are confined to their living space.

If you can get out to the countryside/park for a walk:

  • One traditional Beltane activity was to gather mayflowers (hawthorn blossom). While on your walk, see if you can spot some mayflowers and pick a small bunch (careful of those thorns!) to bring home with you. It's considered bad luck to bring mayflowers indoors, but the exception is at Beltane. Or you can do like I do and hedge your bets by tying the bunch of flowers to the front door of your house as a Beltane blessing. You'll probably need secateurs or scissors to cut the woody stems, so take some with you.
  • If you take an early morning walk, wash your face in the Beltane dew - traditionally believed to be a foolproof beauty treatment! 
  • If you have bluebell woods near you, this is the perfect time to take a walk and soak in all that beauty. I can't imagine a more sacred activity!
  • If you're confident of your plant identification skills, this is a great time of year to forage for wild garlic, nettles, sorrel, jack-by-the-hedge etc. Keep your eyes peeled for hedgerow delicacies on your walk and cook up a seasonal gourmet feast to celebrate Beltane when you get home. 

If you are in a town, but have access to a garden or other green space:
Depending on what is in your garden or green space you may be able to gather mayflowers, forage some wild delicacies or wash your face in the morning dew, as above! But here are some other ideas you could try too.

  • Draw a labyrinth on the lawn/patio/decking big enough to walk (for a classic 7-walled Cretan labyrinth - my preferred version - you will need a space which is a minimum of 9'x9'; if you have more space, so much the better). You can mark out a temporary labyrinth using flour, sand or masking tape. If you like it you could make it a permanent feature by using rocks, bricks etc, or mow it into the lawn. There is a clear tutorial on how to draw and use labyrinths on the blog of my friend and mentor Donald Engstrom-Reese here, and there is a wealth of information on Sig Lonegren's website here.
  • If you have enough room to pitch a tent in the garden, why not camp out overnight on Beltane eve. Toast marshmallows over a campfire, stargaze, then get up to greet the first light on Beltane morning, revelling in the dawn chorus of birdsong.
  • Beltane is one of the times of year most strongly associated with faeries. You could celebrate Beltane by leaving offerings for them in your garden - it is said they are fond of bread, cake, honey, beer, wine and cream. Or you could plant up an area of the garden as a faery garden with flowers they are said to be particularly fond of such as foxgloves, violets, thyme and clover, and pretty sparkly decorations like sun-catchers and wind-chimes (bear in mind they strongly dislike iron).

If you cannot get outside to celebrate Beltane:

  • Use Skype, Zoom etc to connect with Pagan friends and share Beltane blessings. You may be able to organise an online Beltane ritual together, or plan a visualisation or spell you can each do separately at a co-ordinated time and then check back in with each other later to check how it went for everyone. 
  • Many well-known Pagans are offering on-line meditations and rituals you can join, so check out the websites and Facebook pages of your favourite Pagan leaders/writers/etc to see what is on offer. 
  • Beltane is all about pleasure, beauty and love, so show yourself a bit of self-love and devise a pampering ritual as a way to celebrate. Cleanse in preparation by using your favourite toiletries - have a home-made facial - soak in scented bathwater - use a salt body scrub and moisturise afterwards with your most luxurious body lotion. Dress in your favourite clothes. Clean and tidy your altar. Put fresh flowers on it (if you can). Burn your favourite incense. Prepare your favourite food, and pour a glass of your favourite beverage (springwater? mead? freshly squeezed juice?). Light a candle and sit in front of your altar giving thanks for everything for which you're grateful. Home, health, relationship with deities, loved ones, pets, food on your table, hobbies, favourite books/songs/films, anything which brings you joy... Toast yourself, celebrate yourself with your homemade feast. Remember 'All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals'.
  • If you are creative by nature, you could make your own mini-maypole as an altar decoration. Check out Pinterest for more inspiration.

In conclusion, with a little ingenuity and adaptation we can still celebrate the Wheel of the Year, even if we aren't able to do so in the way we would in more normal times. After all, even in those 'normal times' things don't always go to plan!

Above all, remember: Beltane is a celebration of life. Honour and protect your life and the lives of those around you by observing social distancing and staying home if you can. Blessed Be!

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Adventures in Edibles

I'm finding one unexpected side-effect of being on lock-down is that my cooking is getting more adventurous. I think there are a variety of reasons for this. Firstly for once I have the time to experiment and try out new recipes. Secondly, we are trying to keep to a once-a-week shopping trip, and we are using smaller local shops rather than big supermarkets (as we assume the bigger shops will inevitably have higher footfall and hence more chance of coming into contact with the Coronavirus). The downside of this is that the smaller shops have a correspondingly smaller choice available, so I have to be inventive. We're also using a local supplier who obligingly delivers our fresh fruit & veg. Although I usually try to eat seasonally, shopping from someone offering mostly seasonal produce has made me realise how often I bend my own rules when confronted with a wider choice! Finally, the restrictions to what we are able to buy are leading to me digging out some of the more esoteric items lurking at the back of the larder. I am finally getting around to using the mushroom ketchup, bottled Datterini tomatoes and tinned jackfruit! In fact I highly recommend this recipe that I made from a tin of jackfruit the other night, it was delicious and will be definitely going on my 'make this again!' list. 

We've been foraging too of course, and have enjoyed a lot of nettles (in soup and other guises, including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Nettle Risotto with Sorrel), and Spring Herb Salad. I'm planning to gather and dry plenty of nettles while they're still young and tasty so that we can add them to soups and stews later in the year (we're also planning ahead by whipping the vegetable patch back into shape and planting lots of veggies to keep us well-fed in the coming months).

The other thing we've found is that with a restricted choice of food available it has become more important than ever to not waste anything, using every last bit of food. Here are a couple of my favourite 'use every last bit' recipes that I've been employing recently. In fact I had the first for breakfast this morning.

Banana Pancakes

I don't know about you, but I'm not fond of over-ripe bananas. But luckily they do make great cakes, or even simpler, banana pancakes. Luckily because of the chickens we always have fresh eggs, so this is my favourite easy way to use up past-it bananas. Most recipes say to use a ratio of 1 banana to 2 eggs, but to be honest because both bananas and eggs vary in size there is wiggle room here. This morning I made them with 1 banana to 1 egg, which yielded two pancakes. 

Cooking oil
Cinnamon (optional)

Peel the bananas and mash them together with the eggs. In a non-stick frying pan melt a knob of butter and a little oil (I like the flavour of the butter and if you use a little oil too it raises the smoking point of the butter and avoids a burnt flavour. But you could use just oil if you prefer). When the pan is hot, add a small ladle-full of the banana/egg mixture. It's better to cook it in small amounts as this makes turning the pancakes easier. After a minute or two when the pancake has firmed a bit, lift the edge with a spatula or fish slice to check if it's browned. If it has, and it's firm enough, slide your spatula underneath and turn it over to cook the other side. Slide onto a serving plate, sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon (if liked) and enjoy hot, while the next pancake is cooking. You could experiment by adding ingredients like chocolate chips or raisins to the mixture or serve with a smear of Nutella or a drizzle of maple syrup. 

Marinated Broccoli Stems
I love broccoli and will happily cook and eat the stems too, but IB isn't keen on them so I have started using them up this way, which I discovered in a vegetarian cookery book by Martha Rose Shulman way back in the 80's. 

Broccoli stems
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil

Trim and peel the broccoli stems (this will get rid of any stringy bits) and slice them into rounds about ½cm thick. Put into a lidded container (I use an old jam jar) and sprinkle with salt. Put the lid on, shake well and put into the fridge overnight, or for at least a couple of hours. The next morning, drain off the brine that will have accumulated and rinse under the tap. Return to the jar and add 1tbspn olive oil, 1tbspn balsamic vinegar and a crushed garlic clove. Shake the jar well again and leave to marinate for at least a couple of hours before serving. They're a great addition to a salad or as something to nibble. 

I'll post more gourmet left-over ideas as I think of them!


Saturday, 18 April 2020

ThriftWitch: Candle Magic Part 2 (or How to Get the Most Out of Your Candles)

Pagans tend to be fond of candles, both for ritual and magical use, and for the soft ambience they create in the home. But what to do with the left over candle wax? It's such a waste to just throw it away. Luckily you don't need to. There are so many uses for candle wax, you'll never throw another candle stub away once you have read this post.

A little candle info first. In earlier, pre-gas and electric times people used tallow (rendered animal fat) to make candles but apparently it didn't smell too good and tended to produce a lot of soot! Beeswax candles were available but were prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest in society. Those who couldn't even afford tallow candles had to make do with rush lights - strips of the inner pith from rushes soaked in grease. Nowadays there are three different types of wax commonly used to make candles: paraffin wax, soy wax and beeswax. Paraffin wax - derived from petroleum - is the most common and the cheapest. Many people prefer soy or beeswax candles but they are more expensive. Some candles blend wax types - read the label if you're unsure! You can use most types of wax interchangeably in the following suggestions, or blend different waxes together - I have specified where this is not the case.

Make New Candles

This is probably the most obvious thing to do with all that leftover wax. It's pretty simple too, but you will need to buy some candle wick - easily obtained from High Street or online craft suppliers. You will also need a double boiler (bain marie), a mould to pour the wax into (you can buy one, but an old yogurt pot or similar will do), a piece of blu-tack and something like a chopstick or skewer.

First set up your double boiler - this is a saucepan with water in it, in which you place a heat proof container. I use a second saucepan that I got from a charity shop for this, but you could use any heat proof bowl (bear in mind you will have to clean wax off it later!) or even an old (clean) tin can. Heat the water gently - you don't want it to boil - and break up your old wax, dropping it into the heatproof container. Stir it (with something you don't mind getting wax on!) until it has completely melted.

In the meantime, get your mould(s) ready. It's a good idea to first grease the mould with a little vegetable oil to make getting the finished candle out easier. If using something like an old yogurt pot, poke a small hole in the centre of the bottom and thread the wick through. The bottom of the mould will be the top of the candle, so leave enough wick this end to be able to light it! The hole can be sealed and the wick held in place with a small piece of blu-tack or something similar.  

When the wax has melted, pour it carefully into the mould. Lay the chopstick or skewer across the open end of the mould and fix the end of the wick to it to hold it in place while the wax solidifies. Tip: As the wax cools, it will contract a little and you may want to melt a little more to fill any gap that forms at the centre.

Leave the candle to cool completely before releasing it from the mould. Trim any excess wick and voila! New candle from old.


Dipped Candles
Making dipped taper candles is a little more tricky and honestly, I've never tried it. But if you'd like to have a go, there's a good tutorial here

Sand Candles
Another way of making a mould - and this can be a fun activity to do with your kids - is to make sand candles. You can do this at the beach, or use a bucket of damp sand in the back garden. The method is pretty much the same, but you make the mould by pressing a shape into the damp sand into which you insert the wick and then pour the wax. When it's cooled, gently dig around the candle to extract it. The outside of the candle will have a sandy coating which gives it a rustic charm.

Additions: Colours/Fragrance/Decoration

  • You can blend your own colours by mixing different coloured waxes, or grate in a wax crayon (or two) to colour white wax.
  • Make striped candles by pouring in layers of different colours - just allow the first colour to cool and solidify before adding the next. 
  • Add fragrance with essential oils
  • Make spell candles by putting in crystals or coins etc which will slowly be revealed as the candle burns down
  • Safety First! - Don't add anything flammable to your candle which could create a fire hazard! For this reason I am not in favour of adding dried herbs etc to wax. They can 'spit' or flare up and could potentially start a fire.
Fragrance your Living Space
I'm a big fan of scented candles and don't want to waste any of that lovely scented wax. I re-use it in my home-made candles of course, but I also use it to fragrance my home. I put any scented candle remains into a heat-proof dish and place it on a radiator from where it scents the house beautifully. You could also make your own wax melts for a burner, if you have one (I pour melted wax into silicon muffin moulds for this). 
Another idea is to break the scented wax into pieces and put it into little hand-sewn drawstring bags to fragrance drawers, airing cupboards or wardrobes. 
Tip: If you don't use scented candles but you like these ideas, you could always make your own fragranced wax from unscented wax + your choice of essential oils.

It's easy to create home-made firelighters for a woodstove or campfire with leftover wax, which you can scent with essential oils or dried herbs/spices if you like. Here are two suggestions:

  1. Take a cardboard egg carton and put a little sawdust or wood shavings in each egg holder. Melt wax in your double boiler and when melted pour into each egg holder. When the wax is cool, cut into separate firelighters. 
  2.  Gather pine cones, and make sure they are fully dry (leave them outside in the sun, on a warm radiator for a few days or pop them in a cool oven to dry out). Melt wax in your double boiler and using tongs, dip the pine cones into the melted wax one at a time. Set them to cool and harden on sheets of newspaper.
One of these firelighters added to your kindling will guarantee your fire catches quickly and easily.

Magical Uses

Did you know you can use wax for divination? It's called Ceromancy and originated with  the Romans. Take a glass or ceramic bowl and fill it with cold water. Take a moment to focus and form your question (if you have one). Speak it aloud. Then melt your wax and dribble it a little at a time into the water. As the wax comes into contact with the cold water, it will solidify into shapes. Take your time to examine them closely, and interpret them as you would when reading tea leaves.

Wax can be used in binding spells, dripped onto knots etc to symbolically immobilise and constrain an adversary. You could also use it to seal a spell until you are ready to break it by writing your intention on a piece of paper, folding it and dripping wax onto it to 'seal' it. You could personalise this seal by pressing a thumb or fingerprint into the wax before it completely hardens.

Fun Activities For Children (or your Inner Child!)
  • Use melted wax to seal letters - you can buy seals to press into the wax or you could make your own by carving a symbol or initial into the cut end of a carrot. Make sure you hold it in place long enough for the wax to harden or it will be smudged. A little vegetable oil smeared over your seal before using helps to stop it sticking!
  • Secret messages - use the end of a candle to write secret messages or draw secret pictures on paper. They will remain invisible until you wash water-based paint over them when they will suddenly be revealed!
  • Warm wax in your hands until it is soft enough to shape, then mould it into animals, flowers or other shapes. It will harden once cool.
  • Home-made batik: Paint melted wax designs onto plain white cotton, then immerse the fabric in dye. When the fabric is dry, peel off the wax and wash the fabric in warm soapy water to reveal the design.
  • Decorated eggs: Paint melted wax designs onto hard-boiled eggs then immerse them in water coloured with food dye for 20 mins. 

Household Uses:

Candle wax is great to un-stick stuck things! I have used it before now to help curtain rings that were catching on a wooden curtain rail run smoothly - I just rubbed a candle stub a couple of times along the length of the curtain pole and the problem was solved. You can use the same trick on zips, drawers and doors.

Rubbing a piece of wax over a surface will help it repel water, and rubbing wax onto metal items (such as garden tools) will help to keep them rust-free.

Household Uses for Beeswax

* These recipes specifically need beeswax * 

Leather polish
Combine 4 parts vegetable oil with 1 part beeswax (you can add a few drops of essential oil of your choice if you'd like it to be fragranced). Heat together in a double boiler until the beeswax is melted. Store in a jar and use to polish and nourish leather boots, shoes and bags.

Furniture Polish
Melt together 3 parts coconut oil with 1 part beeswax in a double boiler. Add a few drops of essential oil (I like lavender or lemon for this one). Store in a jar. To use, apply to wooden furniture with a cloth, then use a second clean cloth to buff to a shine.

Food Wrap
Instead of cling film, make your own re-usable eco-friendly food wrap. Cut thin cotton fabric to size. Spread the fabric out flat on a clean baking sheet and grate beeswax evenly over the fabric. Place in a cool oven for a few minutes until the wax has melted. Use a clean paintbrush to spread the wax evenly over the fabric. If the wax doesn't impregnate the whole piece of cloth, grate on a little more and return to the oven for a few more minutes and repeat the process. When it's done, hang it to cool and dry, then store in a clean dry place until you need to use it. If it gets dirty you can wash it in cold water (warm water will remove the wax). You can rejuvenate your food wrap if it starts to lose its 'cling' by repeating the above process.    

Lip balm/Skin salve
Melt together equal parts of coconut oil and beeswax in a double boiler. This is your basic balm/salve mixture which you can then tailor to your purpose by adding other ingredients before pouring it into your container of choice - I suggest a lidded glass jar.

For lip balm, you could add a little honey for sweetness, a drop of red food colouring if you'd like it tinted, and a drop of essential oil to fragrance/flavour (but go easy on the essential oils, they're very concentrated and your lips are sensitive - you don't want to cause any irritation).

For a salve you could infuse healing herbs of your choice in the mixture while it's in the double boiler, or add a few drips of essential oils, depending on what it's intended for. I would suggest adding a drop each of eucalyptus, rosemary and lavender oil for a salve to rub into sore muscles, or a drop each of lavender, frankincense and chamomile oil for a sleep salve (apply to your temples and wrists before retiring to bed).

Cleaning Up Wax
Finally, if you're going to be trying some of these ideas out, at some point you are likely to need to be able to clear up wax! Here's the best ways I've found to (1) clean wax from glass jars and votives and (2) clean wax off textiles (including carpets!)

Cleaning wax from glass jars/votives/candle-holders
My usual method is to use a knife to break up and remove large bits of wax first. When you're down to the last few difficult-to-get-at bits, run hot water into the sink and immerse the jar for a minute or two. Then, wrap the jar well in a tea towel and pour boiling water into it (if you pour boiling water straight into a cold jar you run the risk of cracking the glass, which is why you warm the glass first by immersing it in hot water). You can then stand it back in the sink of water (hot water outside the jar, boiling water contained within). The wax should melt and float up to the top of the jar. Some resistant bits might need poking with a knife or teaspoon to help them along! When the water has cooled and the wax solidified on the surface, you can skim off the wax and then wash the jar in hot soapy water to remove any last bits.

Cleaning wax spills from fabric and carpets
First - don't panic! Resist the impulse to brush/wipe etc the liquid wax. You are more likely to spread it further and drive it deeper into the fibres if you do this. Take a deep breath and wait for the wax to cool and harden. If possible apply ice to the wax which will make it harden and become brittle. Then break up the wax and peel off/break off/brush off as much of it as possible. The more wax you can remove at this stage the better. Finally, get something absorbent like blotting paper or kitchen towel (brown wrapping paper will work too), a tea-towel and an iron. Put the iron on a cool-ish temperature - especially important if you've spilled the wax on a man-made or delicate fibre. DO NOT USE STEAM FROM THE IRON. Put the blotting paper or kitchen towel under  the wax-stained area and a second piece on top (if it's a carpet you'll only be able to put it on top). Fold the tea towel and cover the top layer of paper with it. Apply the iron, then lift. The wax should have melted and been 'soaked up' by the blotting paper or kitchen towel. If there is still wax to be removed, put fresh, clean paper/kitchen towel down and repeat. Continue until the wax is gone - or until no more is being released to the paper. If you're treating fabric, wash it. If it's a carpet, brush the area over with a stiff brush and then vacuum.
Hopefully, it will be as good as new.

Wow, what a marathon post! But hopefully useful. Let me know how you get on trying any of these.

Friday, 17 April 2020

ThriftWitch: Candle Magic Part 1

I was thinking about writing a ThriftWitch post on how to use up left over candles - one thing we Pagans all seem to get through a lot of is candles - when I realised that I haven't written anything about Candle Magic. What was I thinking! Candle Magic can be the very epitome of thrifty magic.

In its simplest form - and I'm all in favour of simplicity! - Candle Magic is about focusing your magical intention into a candle and then letting it burn down to release the spell.

Because you can use any candle, this doesn't have to be an expensive exercise. Of course if you want to buy expensive, hand-poured, bespoke-perfumed, fancy soy or beeswax candles you can - but a tealight will work just as well. 

My usual method of working candle magic is to take a simple white candle and carve or write/draw with a felt tip pen a symbolic representation of what I am working towards on it. A pillar candle works best for this, simply because there is more surface area available to mark. But you can also use a slim tapered candle or even a tealight if you are able to condense your intention into a simple symbol. Bindrunes (overlaying several runes into a single symbol, like a monogram) or sigils work well in this respect. 

Once I have marked my candle with my symbol/word(s) etc., I take a few moments to ground and centre myself and then focus on the intention behind the spell. So if I was doing a healing spell for a friend, I would concentrate on visualising her healthy and happy, laughing in sunlight, and repeat something like, 'Jenny is well, her body strong and healthy'. Keep it simple and remember to concentrate on drawing the outcome you want rather than banishing what you don't want (e.g. 'Jenny is healthy' rather than 'Jenny doesn't have cancer'). 

When you feel the intention strong and clear in your mind and heart, project the energy of it into the candle. I like to do this by imagining it concentrated into my breath and then forcefully blowing it with a strong exhalation into the candle as it is held in my hands.

Finally I light the candle and let it burn down, releasing the energy of the spell as it does. I don't necessarily burn it all in one go, often burning it for an hour or so over successive evenings until it is burned away - all the better if you can tie it into the energy of a waxing moon (for growing/increasing/drawing things to you) or a waning moon (for dissolving/lessening/banishing things). I don't recommend leaving candles to burn down unattended for safety reasons, so allowing them to burn down over the course of several days is a good idea in my book. If you want a really speedy spell use a smaller candle that will burn down quickly. The ultimate quick candle spell would use a birthday cake candle which will burn in minutes. 

The candle pictured at the top of this post is from a Coronavirus Healing Spell my local Pagan group undertook when we were unable to meet in person due to the lockdown. We each carved the healing sigil originated by Laura Tempest Zakroff (or a healing symbol of our choice) into a candle. Then at a pre-arranged time we lit our candles and attuned to the energy of the group. We visualised
* the spread of the virus lessening
* the virulence of the infection fading
* protection for the vulnerable
* good health for all etc.

As the candles burned down, we imagined the power of the sigil being released out into the world. It was a great way to feel connected to each other and hopefully the effect of the spell was amplified by the number of people participating.

Of course there are all kinds of ways to elaborate on the basic Candle Magic spell template. White is pretty much your all-purpose Candle Magic go-to colour, but the correspondences for coloured candles include the following:

  • White: Purification, protection, beginnings
  • Red: Courage, passion, life-force, strength 
  • Orange: Energy, confidence, creativity
  • Yellow: Inspiration, communication, happiness
  • Green: Prosperity, healing, luck, the environment
  • Blue: Intuition, dreamwork, calm
  • Purple: Spirituality, leadership, good fortune
  • Gold: Abundance, sun/God
  • Silver: Psychic power, moon/Goddess
  • Pink: Love, compassion
  • Brown: Grounding, endurance 
  • Black: Binding, banishing, endings 

You can also 'dress' the candles with oils and herbs to amplify your intent. To dress the candle you can either anoint it with ready-made magical oils or make your own essential oil blend (suggestions below). To do this I usually lie the candle on a work surface with the wick facing away from me (you may like to put down something like newspaper first to protect the surface from the oil). Then I pour a little of the oil on my hands and stroke it along the length of the candle, turning it to make sure the whole thing is covered. If I'm working to draw something to me, I apply the oil from the wick down the length of the candle, towards me. If I'm working to banish something, I apply the oil from the base towards the wick, away from me. To dress the candle with herbs, roll it in dried herbs (they stick better if you apply a little plain vegetable oil first). 

Suggested essential oils:
  • Cleansing: Lavender, spearmint, peppermint, frankincense, lemongrass, pine
  • Healing: Eucalyptus, thyme, lavender, rosemary
  • Protection: Frankincense, clove, myrrh
  • Happiness: Bergamot, orange, lemon, rose geranium
  • Love: Rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, sandalwood

Suggested herbs:
  • Cleansing:  Lavender, hyssop, sage, mint, sea salt 
  • Healing: Blackberry leaves, meadowsweet, self-heal, betony, yarrow
  • Protection: Rowan, nettles, blackthorn leaves 
  • Happiness: Daisy, St Johns wort, sunflower 
  • Love: Rose petals, primrose, periwinkle, thyme

You can of course use scented candles, and your choice of scent can reinforce the intention of the spell. The obvious example of this would be using a rose scented candle for a love spell, or a lavender scented candle for a cleansing spell.

Of course, all these correspondences are just suggestions. You know best which colours/scents/herbs mean these things to your subconscious so as always, go with what is meaningful for you. 

Well, to quote Bubba in 'Forrest Gump', "That - that's about it". 

Except it isn't! Tomorrow I will bring you ThriftWitch: Candle Magic Part 2, in which I will be looking at what to do with left over candles, in the spirit of "ThriftWitch: Getting the Most Out of Your Pumpkin This Samhain". Waste not want not!

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Ground. Breathe. Ground.

At the end of my last post I asked the question, "What have you found to be helpful during these difficult times?". And since then I have been wondering, what actually DOES help? I find myself checking in with myself regularly. When do I feel best? What bolsters my resilience? How do I stay balanced emotionally? 

It helps me to stick to some kind of routine. I'm not naturally a morning person, and if left to my own devices I can easily sleep the day away. But I make sure I set the alarm and get up every morning - it helps that I have the cats and chickens relying on me to get up and feed them! But even if I didn't, I would still be setting the alarm and getting up in the morning because I find the structuring of my day helpful. It makes me more productive, and that is also helpful. The days I don't feel so good are the vague, unfocused ones where I waste the day on Facebook, over-eat, don't actually achieve anything and end up bored and dissatisfied.

I am gentle with myself, though - I don't over-structure my days, preferring to leave room for flexibility, last minute changes of plan and some down time too.

Most of the time I get it right - or at least right enough that I maintain my equilibrium. Every now and again though, my equilibrium slips and I'm filled with a storm of emotions - panic, grief, rage, despair, helplessness or fear: an unpredictable mixture of one, many or all of them at once. What helps then?

This is what works for me: I try to remember to ground. And breathe. And ground.

Grounding, as I have written before, is not always granted the importance it deserves. But I would argue it is an absolutely crucial skill for magical practitioner and Muggle alike. I believe it's something that everyone should know how to do, something to teach our children from a young age so that it becomes second nature and a valuable coping mechanism in times of stress, change and crisis. 

There are many, many ways to ground - a quick Google search will turn up a myriad of methods - but this is my go-to way of grounding and calming myself at the moment:

  • Stop for a moment and make yourself aware of the emotion(s) you are experiencing. Find a name for it/them. Fearful? Angry? Isolated? Name it. Say it aloud. "I am feeling ....."
  • Notice how you feel it in your body. Numb? Tension in your shoulders? Nauseous? Name it. Say it aloud. "My [body/shoulders/back/stomach etc] feels....."
  • Pay attention to the physical edges of your body, the border of your physical being where skin meets air, where feet touch ground etc. When I am overcome by emotion it's easy to lose touch with my body, to get carried off by the thoughts in my head. Have you ever heard the expression "I was beside myself with anger/anxiety/excitement"? Think about those words, beside yourself. Strong emotion can make you feel completely disconnected to your physical self. It's important to bring yourself fully back into your body.
  • Take a deep, slow breath in through your nose. Hold it for a moment, then exhale fully and slowly through your mouth. Repeat a few times, concentrating on the feeling of the air entering and leaving your lungs. 
  • Concentrate on your feet and their connection to the earth. If you like, imagine roots spreading out from the soles of your feet, down into the stable, supportive earth beneath you. Feel the strength and resilience you can draw from that connection. Remember to keep breathing slowly and deeply.
  • Know that you are held and supported by the earth beneath you.
  • Breathe. Ground. Breathe. Ground. Repeat until you are feeling calm and in control. 
Another quick way to get 'out' of a chattering mind and turbulent thoughts is to concentrate on your five senses - sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Take a deep, calming breath and mentally list three things you can see - three things you can hear - three things you can feel - three things you can smell - three things you can taste (Taste can be a challenge! If necessary stick your tongue out and 'taste' the air - what does it taste of? Lick your lips - what do they taste of? etc). After you have listed three things for each sense you should be feeling in touch with your body, more in control of your thoughts and calmer. If not - list three more for each sense!

Remembering to Ground and Breathe and be present in my body is proving invaluable for me at the moment. I hope it is helpful for you too.

Ground. Breathe. Ground. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Living in Interesting Times

It has probably never been easier to understand why the saying 'May you live in interesting times' is considered a curse and not a blessing. The novel Coronavirus pandemic finds us - all of us - navigating completely uncharted waters. No wonder there is so much confusion and so many conflicting opinions and attitudes.

Life has taken on a surreal quality for many people, myself included. As one of the self-employed, my work has completely dried up. With the country going into lock-down I find myself at home in a serene little bubble. The coinciding spell of warm, dry sunny spring days has been wonderful, and I am loving the opportunity to get my hands into the soil and coax the neglected garden back into shape. I often complain that my usual work schedule gives me either enough money to pay my way or enough time to do the things I want, but not both. Suddenly I have ample time - and I'm trying not to fret about the money. I am lucky enough to have put some savings aside for a rainy day (and if the current situation doesn't count as a rainy day I don't know what does!). 

So the days pass in quiet and calm. I tend the animals, work in the garden, make soup, watch the sun set, listen to the blackbird singing in the cherry tree. And at intervals through the day sudden spikes of anxiety leave me breathless and afraid as news from the outside world bursts in - sickness, death, shortages, panic and uncertainty about this strange new world we now inhabit. I am terrified for my loved ones, furious with the hopelessly inadequate response of the Government, fearful of the long-term consequences of this turmoil.

How to stay afloat then, within this strange sea of serenity and anxiety?

For all of us, this is a work in progress. This is a completely unprecedented situation, which means a steep learning curve.

Here then is some of the useful advice I'm following, having pieced it together from various sources.  

  1. Keep to a routine of sorts - it's up to you what that is, but try to keep a regular sleep pattern and schedule in a balance of work (if you are working from home)/chores/relaxation/fun/contact with people (via phone, social media or whatever if you live alone). I've been setting the alarm to make sure I get up at a reasonable time (admittedly slightly later than when I'm working!) showering, dressing, eating breakfast, tending the animals, doing the chores, gardening, cooking proper meals, checking in with family and friends.
  2. Be kind to yourself. Now may seem like the perfect time to finally teach yourself to play the trombone or write your magnum opus - but don't beat yourself up if what you actually need to do is lie on the couch binge-watching your favourite show... 
  3. ...But at the same time find some balance between self-comfort and self-discipline!
  4. Keep informed, but use trustworthy mainstream news sources and limit your use of social media to avoid making yourself overly fearful. This is a useful fact-checking site specifically addressing some of the myths and rumours that are circulating about Covid-19:
  5. I found this article on grief and anticipatory grief very helpful:
  6. This is a useful practice to help you cope with difficult feelings around the epidemic:
  7. Find inventive ways to help you to feel connected to others. For example our local Moot was unable to meet as planned due to the restrictions, but we came up with a simple Coronavirus candle healing spell that we could all do at the same time, although we were unable to physically be together. Later we checked in on social media to share our experiences with each other.
What have you found to be helpful during these difficult times?