March, 2013

Merry Meet and Welcome to PaganPages March Issue

March, 2013

This month features a book review of Witchy Crafts by Lexa Olick

An interview with GAIL THACKRAY, SPIRITED EDUCATOR AND MEDIUM

All your Ostara Correspondence Needs

Always wanted to write?  We are currently looking for people to take over the following columns:

Oils & Incense

Goddesses

Crafts

 

PaganPagesOrg Etsy Shop:

This month everything is half off.  Use Coupon Code: FreeShipping

 

 

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Held Refrained

March, 2013

What happens to the words
which can’t be written, said or heard.

The words which swim inside a head,
constantly begging to be said
but held refrained,
those which can’t be named
or seen together
just in case someone
gets the wrong idea.

Even though those words
may be quite clear
in their proper place,
hidden behind a face.

Once they appear
actually written, heard or said,
it changes everything inside the head
of everyone exposed.

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Prunings from the Hedge

March, 2013

Conserving Magical Energy

 

We all contain magical energy, and this energy is unique to each of us.  But due to conditions of modern life, all of our magical energy is deployed in habits, habits of perception, of feeling, of thinking and doing.  Very little is left over every day for exploring our magical heritage.  This is why most spell books on the market are not much help in casting spells.  They take a cookbook approach which assumes that people as they are have sufficient magical energy available to make them work.  They don’t.

In order to access our own magical energy, we must begin by saving little amounts of energy which we otherwise fritter away each day in wasteful habits.  This is the starting-point of the Inner Craft.  It is a very small door, like the door Alice went through into Wonderland – she had to take a magic cordial first to make herself little. It begins, in other words, with small efforts.

Conserving magical energy requires patience.  It takes a while to save up sufficient energy to make a difference.  However, we are so used to our typical energy states, which run in cycles, that we recognize a difference in them almost immediately after starting efforts at conservation.  We may suddenly worry that we don’t seem to be worrying so much anymore.  This sounds silly, but we are so used to our own ups and downs that it takes all of a witch’s Power to Dare to venture into this unknown territory.

Here is a general map of our familiar territory, which we will be leaving behind:

1 – Cycles of worry and anxiety.

2 – Cycles of small nervous movements.

3 – Cycles of inner talk.

4 – Cycles of negativity.

5 – Mental and material clutter.

6 – Patterns of perception.

These are the main areas of our life which commandeer and squander our available magical energy.  The simplest one to start with is the second, small nervous movements.  When the witch sits, he or she is still.  This is the power of the North, the Power to Keep Silent, as expressed by the body.  Regular exercise is necessary in order to remain still in a vibrant, poised manner.  The witch notes the situations under which he or she tends to begin scratching, or tapping the foot, or whichever motion is involved.  If this occurs while sitting in a chair, the witch gets up immediately at the first sign of it, and does something else.  It is no good waiting until the train of habit runs you over; as soon as you see it approaching, you must get off the track.  This requires the cultivation of vigilance.

The first item on the list above may seem necessary to running our practical lives and avoiding financial or some other form of ruin.  If I don’t worry, how will I pay my bills on time?  The answer is to sit down daily, preferably in the morning, and make a list of daily obligations.  Plan on paper, or on the computer, and spend some time every day reviewing your plans.  If you have a long-standing problem, such as finding adequate employment, do something every day towards solving it.  Then, when you feel you have done enough for that day, close your planning book.  If there are tasks to perform, do them.  But by evening you should feel free to relax your practical self and see to other dimensions of your existence.

Eliminating clutter in your life, item number five, supports practical planning.  Go through your closets and shelves and dresser drawers, and examine all your papers and other stored items.  You may find something useful to your current needs.  Use what you find, or give or throw it away, or sell it.  The mind keeps track of everything buried deep in closets, even if you have forgotten some of those things consciously.  Dealing with them, finding a use for them, not only opens up new opportunities in your life, it unties little energy knots that you may have carried around for years.

Clutter also occupies time.  We typically over-commit ourselves to meetings, projects, visits, and other entanglements which fill up our already busy schedules.  It isn’t necessary to be busy all the time in order to live a full life.  On the contrary, the more we do or promise to do, the less freedom we possess to explore new paths.  The multi-millionaire J.P. Morgan complained that he always felt hemmed in by his busy commitments.  Practice saying things like “I’ll have to think about it” instead of immediately saying yes.

Inner talk, item number three, generally takes either of two forms.  I call these the rehash and the rehearsal.  The rehash involves repeating mentally conversations held recently, perhaps modifying the responses one made in order to appear cleverer or more compassionate to oneself.  We wish we had said something more, so we say it in our minds afterwards.  A certain amount of review of our behavior after the fact is a healthy habit, but a little goes a long way.  Obsessively revolving past conversations, or imaginary extensions of them, consumes an enormous amount of energy and increases our feeling of dependence on how others see us.

In the other direction we have the rehearsal.  We think about an upcoming event, an encounter with someone perhaps, and we begin talking to that person in our minds.  This can be more or less hypothetical, as of course all thoughts about the future are hypothetical to some degree.  Here again, there is a fruitful use of this habit, as when we are planning what we will say in a job interview.  But too much last minute ‘cramming’ is usually counter-productive.  Plan what you will do and say, then lay it aside and direct your attention to other things.

When a witch feels caught up in the rehash or rehearsal, he or she identifies it first, thinking “that is the rehash” or “that is the rehearsal,” and then turns the attention to the surroundings, or some other present reality, such as a book.  Here as elsewhere, it is a matter of knowing when to stop.

The fourth item, cycles of negativity, must be approached in a two-step process.  If we have habits of making sarcastic jokes, we may justify this by seeing ourselves as witty persons.  Encouraged by the laughter of others (which may have only been polite), we may feel that we have a reputation to uphold as comedians or critics.  Or perhaps we dislike political correctness and see ourselves as rebels when we make remarks some find offensive.  Or we may see ourselves as heroic figures motivated by righteous outrage to tilt at windmills.

The first stage of saving magical energy by not squandering it in expressions of negative emotion is to discover what self-image, or images, we are using to justify such expression.  If your expression takes place in a social setting, you should consider the possibility that less grumbling or joking from you will be a relief to your usual audience.  If you express negativity in private, perhaps cursing other drivers or your computer, see yourself doing it and how absurd it would look to someone else.

Once you have deflated the justification for your negativity, it will be easier to work on deflecting the expression itself.  Here again, think of the approaching train: you must see it chuffing along towards you from a distance and jump off the tracks well in time before it sweeps you up.  In other words, you must become familiar with your cycles of energy wastage so you will know when to break them.  Habit cycles are like chains, and every chain has a weakest link.  Finding the weak link is the key to breaking the chain.

In doing all these things, the witch should avoid the feeling that the Inner Craft is a goody-goody ethical pursuit.  It is nothing of the kind.  We want access to free energy, and in order to get it, we must become misers of energy.  We must bear in mind that all our energy is already deployed, and our only hope of breaking free from our energy strait-jackets is by saving little bits of it, one bit at a time.

Once we have become vigilant with these five items it will be time to turn our attention to the subtlest and, potentially, the most powerful form of conservation, changing patterns of perception.  We perceive all the time, and our way of looking at and listening to the world is a habit of such long standing that changing it is a most subtle affair.  It is necessary to have the other five areas well in hand before attempting this last, sixth one.  If we go for the sixth item prematurely, we shall achieve some novel effects, but before long we will drop it as an interesting exercise which goes nowhere.

The Inner Craft distinguishes between directing the attention to where the eyes are pointing, which it calls looking, and spreading the attention from that, extending it to perceptions lying to the side of where our eyes are pointing, or above or below where they are pointing.  The eyes do not move to these things, just the attention.

In the same way, changing perceptual patterns involves extending the attention to background sounds as well as to sounds we are currently focused on.  We generally listen to background sounds sporadically and then shut them out if they are annoying or fail to interest us, as with muzack in a store or elevator.  The witch takes in all available sounds continuously, for this saves the energy habitually employed in blocking them out.  It takes much more energy to ignore peripheral sights and sounds than to include them in attention.  This is the secret of this form of magical energy conservation.

Attending to things to the side is called gazing in the Inner Craft.  We can gaze to the side of an object, such as a television screen, or we can switch our eyes to the side of the screen and gaze back at it.  If you practice switching back and forth from one form of gazing to the other, you will feel a sensation starting in the back of your head at some point.  Something will open up back there.  Don’t try to make this happen, or you will become involved in imagination.  Just be aware when it does happen on its own.

When you close your eyes to go to sleep at night, you will see little lights and patterns produced by the gentle pressure of your eyelids on the retinas.  These are called phosphenes.  Generally we ignore them and just go to sleep.  This is probably for the best, for if you follow them with the attention, you may or may not drop off.  But it isn’t necessary to keep your eyes open all day until it is time to go to sleep.  If you observe animals, they spend a good deal of time with their eyes closed.  This is especially true of cats, at least as far as my observation goes (I am a cat person).  You should rest your eyes two or three times during the day, and as you are not doing so to take a nap (though you may fall asleep anyway), you can observe your phosphenes.  This is called “reading the book of the eyelids” in the Inner Craft.

You may find, while your eyes are closed, that your hearing becomes more acute.  You can play with this sensation by opening and shutting your eyes at intervals.  Do this while sitting or lying at home, or while a passenger in a car or train, looking out the window.  Don’t try it while walking or driving!

Exercises of these sorts increase our use of the ears and relax somewhat our over-reliance on the eyes.  In particular, extending one’s visual attention to the side (or above or below) of where the eyes are pointing tends to relax the muscles at the outer sides of the eyes.  These are typically tensed because we are using our eyes to track on objects, as though they were searchlights.  Pueblo Indian chief Ochwiay Biano (Mountain Lake) once remarked to the psychologist C.G. Jung that “The white man’s eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something…they are always uneasy and restless …We think they are mad.” [1] From being searchlights, the eyes can become passive windows, taking in the whole visual field as it is presented.

When the muscles at the outer sides of the eyes relax, the witch will feel a peculiar energy entering there, an energy carrying feelings and what might be called ‘wordless knowledge.’

Another way of taking in the whole visual field at once is to keep our headlessness in view. [2] Did you know you were headless?  You knew this when you were a small child, before you were told that ‘the baby in the mirror’ was you, yourself.  At that point, we began to ignore the little we could see of our heads without using a mirror or other reflecting surface: perhaps a blob for the nose, eyelashes in bright sunlight, or a cowlick hanging down in front.  If we keep those sensations in view, we will stay in contact with the whole visual field.  Losing those sensations, we tend to alternate between thinking and looking.  We feel that we are shut up in our heads, looking from moment to moment out of two portholes at the world around us.  If we keep our headlessness in view, we shall think and see at the same time, as Janus the threshold guardian does at the Pagan’s front door, looking out and in at once with his two faces. We shall live on the outside of our bodies.

There is much more to this part of the Inner Craft dealing with perceptual patterns, such as noticing shadows.  Cars at midday roll along over their shadow carpets without casting them back from the wheels.  When we walk home in moonlight, the moon keeps pace with us.  When we cross our eyes looking at two candles placed side by side at eye level, a third candle appears between them, combining their colors and features.  These are only a few out of many perceptual patterns which help to release our magical energy; but it is unnecessary to mention all of them, since practicing a few of the basic ones already mentioned will inevitably lead to all the rest.

If you take the six items above in the recommended sequence, you will be able to integrate the Inner Craft in your daily lives, and in the Circle you will hum with magical energy.

 

 Bibliography

 

 

HARDING, D. E., On Having No Head; Zen and the Re-discovery of

the Obvious.  London and New York, Arkana, 1986.

 

JUNG, Carl, Memories. Dreams, Reflections, New York, Vintage Books,

1965.

 

 

 



[1] Jung, C.G., Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 248.

[2] See On Having No Head, by D.E. Harding.

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Mugwort Chronicles

March, 2013

What’s in a Name?

Have you ever wondered just why herbalists refer to plants by both common and Latin names? When I was first learning about the properties of plant medicine, I was often frustrated by references to the long, difficult-to-pronounce Latin names. After all, why not simply say, “Chickweed” or “Dock”?
Plants, like trees, animals, birds, fish and everything else in our environment were named by the local people who interacted with them. Sometimes the same name was given to plants that may seem similar but have very different properties. The Hemlock tree (Tsuga) was given its common name due to a similarity in the smell of its crushed foliage with that of Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum). However, an important distinction is that while Tsuga is not poisonous, Conium maculatum is quite lethal.
Red Root is another great example. In some areas, Red root refers to Ceanothus americanus, a member of the Buckthorn family-a wonderful lymphogogue used to treat conditions such as sinusitis, tonsillitis, mononucleosis.  Ceanothus americanus is considered a fairly ‘safe’ botanical medicine. Now compare this to another plant sometimes also referred to as Red Root: Sanguinaria canadensis, a member of the Papaveraceae or poppy family. Although more commonly referred to as Blood Root, this plant is administered as a drop-dose medicinal, can be quite toxic in larger doses and should only be used by experienced practitioners.
I became more aware of the disparity of using common plant names when I was discussing herbal medicine with one of my coworkers. She grew up in the southeastern part of the United States and referred to Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) as “Blood Root”. Not knowing she was referring to R. crispus, I was alarmed that this budding herbalist was making a potentially toxic medicine using Sanguinaria canadensis. It was only after some in-depth discussion that we realized we were discussing two entirely different plants.
Usage of common plant names can also present potential problems when you refer to herbals written during earlier periods in history or in different geographical locations. Common plant names just do not translate well across continents or historical times.  However, Latin binomial names are consistent throughout the world.
So, just how did plants become endowed with those challenging Latin names? We have Swedish botanist Carl Nilsson Linnæus to thank. Born in 1707, Linnaeus, known as the “father of modern taxonomy” laid the foundations for the modern naming of plants and animals by grouping species according to shared physical characteristics, beginning with his work Species Plantarum in 1753.   Using a two-part or binomial name consisting of the genus name followed by the species name or epithet, Linnaeus developed a system of classifying organisms which would eventually become universally accepted in the scientific world.  Linnaean taxonomy classifies nature by a hierarchy, starting with the broad Kingdoms (plant, animal). These are further divided into Classes, then into Orders, Genera and finally, into Species. Plants are sometimes further classified into Varieties.
You can think of binomial Latin names in much the same way as we refer to ourselves. For example, if your last name is “Smith” this would be your genus name and your first name, “Mary”, your species name: Smith mary.  Your children, John and Beth would be species of the genus Smith:  Smith john and Smith beth.
As botanists discover new information, older taxonomic references are changed to better reflect this new knowledge. Although botanists embrace these changes, the older botanical names and references often continue to be used in books and plant catalogues which can cause confusion.  For example, plants in the Parsley family, including Angelica (Angelica archangelica) and Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) were considered members of the Umbelliferae family, a reference to their umbrella-like flowers. However, contemporary botanists now refer to plants in the Parsley family as belonging to the Apiaceae family.
Taxonomic names are italicized, with the first letter of the genus name capitalized, but the species name written in all lower case letters.  Sometimes, in place of the species name you may see the abbreviation, “spp”. This simply means there are many species with similar properties. In our example above with the Smiths, reference to Mary, John and Beth would be written as Smith spp (spp is not italicized).
You may see the word, officinalis or officinale in place of the species name, as in Valeriana officinalis (Valerian).  Plants which were used for medical purposes were given this distinction.
Sometimes the genus name is abbreviated once it has been identified. For example, in an article discussing Oregon Grape, after initially identifying the plant as Mahonia aquifolium, it may be then referred to as M. aquifolium.

Species names are often descriptive of the plant, such aquifolium which suggests that the leaf is holly-like , but literally means, ‘wet foliage’ (Mahonia aquifolium or Oregon Grape), montana which means, ‘from the mountain’ (Arnica montana) or purpurea, meaning ‘deep pink’ (Echinacea purpurea). Susan Mahr (University of Wisconsin) wrote a very good article entitled, “What’s In A Name? Understanding Botanical or Latin Names” which includes a list of some of the more commonly used descriptive names: http://wimastergardener.org/?q=PlantNames
Sometimes the species is named for the individual who discovered it, such as the Douglas Fir tree, Pseudotsuga menziesii. Its common name honors Pacific Northwest explorer, David Douglas, but its Latin epithet is named for naturalist Dr. Archibald Menzies who first described the Douglas Fir. Pseudotsuga means ‘false hemlock’ and to add just a hint of confusion here, the Douglas Fir is not considered a true fir tree either.

I can hear some decidedly unhappy sighing right about now. S-I-G-H….Latin…how am I ever going to pronounce these unpronounceable names? Simple.  In the words of one of my beloved mentors, “just say it as you think it should be pronounced, with conviction and confidence.” If you really look at the name, taking it one syllable at a time, it is not that difficult. After all, just how many folks today will know exactly how Latin is supposed to be pronounced to correct you?
If you begin getting into the habit of writing the taxonomic name after the common name (at the very least when you first mention the plant you are referring to) you will be able to learn them rather quickly. Another method is to write the taxonomic name on one side of an index card with the common name on the other and periodically, test your knowledge. I’ve also learned that whenever I discuss herbs with anyone, I always say both the common name and the taxonomic name at the beginning of our discussion to avoid any confusion.
OK now, repeat after me: Hypericum perforatum, Avena sativa, Althea officinalis.
This information is offered for educational purposes and is not intended to take the place of personalized medical care from a trained healthcare professional. The reader assumes all risk when utilizing the above information.

Copyright© 2013 Louise Harmon
All Rights Reserved

References:
Elpel, Thomas. (2008). Botany in a Day. Pony, MT: HOPS Press
Tilgner, Sharol. (1999). Materia Medica: http://www.herbaltransitions.com/BotanCom.html
Pojar, J., Mackinnon, A. (2004). Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Auburn, WA: Lone Pine Publishing
Wikipedia: Binomial System:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binomial_system
Accessed 16 February 2013

Wikipedia: Carl Linnaeus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Linnaeus
Accessed 14 February 2013

Wikipedia: Tsuga: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsuga
Accessed 18 February 2013

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Interweavings

March, 2013

Book of Seasons

 

 

 

 

 
March

Our next month in the Book of Seasons is March and the beginning of the turn of the wheel to Spring!  With the arrival of the equinox comes the perfect time to check in with our heart and breathe into the balance of the Earth.   The deep quiet of winter is at an end.  Before the quickening of life begins, take time to enjoy the momentary lull.  Soon the stirrings of new life will begin and our focus will be drawn outward.

My affirmation for March is –

My inner world is in perfect balance with my outer world.

As a way to engage heart and hands in the season I offer the making of a table top Medicine Wheel.

The Medicine Wheel that I created starts with a ten-inch flowerpot saucer.  Any round and shallow dish will do.  I gathered sand from the banks of the river outside my home to fill the dish.  With stones the circle is divided into quarters.  Each one devoted to an element.  With symbols for each element I decorate the area.  In the corner for North sits a crystal and piece of cedar.  East has a feather and brass bell. South has two small candles and West has shells.  In the center of my Medicine Wheel is an antique dish with a porcelain statue of Mother Mary.  My prayer beads swirl around her feet.  I have it sitting by the door to the family room and can see it frequently.  The balance of the four elements is a reminder to center my energy.

Another artistic idea would be to braid three long pieces of yarn, floss, string, or whatever calls you.  You will have a thread for the past the present and the future.  After braiding, space two knots across it.  Now tie onto wrist and cut any excess.  Each knot can represent the two equinox days.  Those days in our personal timeline of past, present and future that we remember our balance point is a time to reflect on where we are at this moment in our journey.   Similar to prayer beads, this bracelet can act as a touchstone in our day.  In a particularly hectic moment the simple act of touching the braid can draw our energy back inside us and bring focus.

March is also a wonderful time to bring new green food back in to our diet.  Fresh sprouts as well as green tea brings the vital energy of spring into our systems.  Think about foraging for wild edibles in your yard.  There are many sources on the internet to guide you in choosing delicious additions.  Dandelions are the most abundant weeds in our yard and the leaves make a lovely flavor offering to eggs and salad.  And the yellow flowers add such fun to any dish!
Don’t forget St. Patrick’s Day and all things green, green, green!

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Hally’s Hints

March, 2013

Earth, Elements & Consideration

 

To work with earth’s elements it is not so much about getting outside of oneself as much as it is to become part of oneself. The more connected, the more open to the energetic alignment within the more connected that this is to each element. This is not only about connection but also what this provides when the connection has been established. It is being open to the energy that flows within the veins and seeing this as a pathway to something more beautiful that equally reflects and enables in each individual.

 

It is no secret that the elements known in the day to day have been around and of relevance since the inception of earth and the universe. These elements are part of the very existence and the correlation between planes; from the human plane to the ethereal, from the animal to the plant. When the morning arrives these elements are within the day. Do

 

These elements in specific are earth, fire, air, water and of course, spirit. The five core elements that contain additional elements within. Each playing a crucial role in the universe and even moreso, specific to each individual. These elements are not only external but also internal. They have influence neurologically, biologically as well as energetically. Consider the affect of a rainy day versus a sunny day. Consider the sensation of a breeze versus the warmth of sun rays. Each creating a reaction on all the planes within each person, within each plant, each animal and each living being that encompasses some form of a life force.

 

These elements are not life force, they are part of; or another way to understand this is that they play a crucial role in enabling and connecting all life force. With this said, these can also be influenced by life force. Life force in essence is energy and each element can conduct energy. It is energy that connects all irrelevant of space and time.

 

The Earth is a living thing made up of so many elements with humans being but a small portion privileged to reside within its being. Respect, integrity, honesty and love within oneself enables this to flow energetically to the Earth. Honoring the universe that surrounds the Earth re-enforces the connection providing a path of understanding, learning and growth.

 

Some conduct moon rituals and ceremonies creating manifestations between moon cycles whereas others give thanks during this time as a cycle of karmic appreciation. The moon is but one aspect and provides a good example that whilst there are times where each person feels alone this is the very last thing that anyone actually is.

 

To work with the Earth’s elements, one must work within themselves and it is here the door to elemental magic becomes a normal day and the conversations had can but create a smile of appreciation and gratitude.

 

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Moon Owl Observations

March, 2013

The Besom

            The besom is a traditionally constructed broom. They are an item some people choose to keep around for various reasons. Of course, the meaning has changed significantly over time.  Unlike a regular broom, a besom should have a rounded brush instead of flat. This is because the straw should be wrapped around the pole. You can buy them in a store, but they are relatively simple to make on your own.

 

They are best made with an ash staff, birch twigs for the brush and bound with willow. This option give you the best protection, healing and love. Straw is another common item for the brush. The three items are symbolic of the triple aspect of the Goddess. Ash represents one’s ability to work with the four elements. Birch draws spirit to one’s service, and the willow is connected to the dark Goddess’ energy. In some lore the besom would contain 6 different woods- willow, broom, hawthorn, birch, hazel and rowan.

 

I was once believed that if the witches went to sabbat and left their besoms behind, the besoms would fly to the sabbat on their own to be with the witches. Broom ends were thought to have their own life force and were capable of warding bad weather away from crops. Because of their uses, medieval witches were sometimes referred to as “broom amazons”

 

Midwives of ancient Rome used special brooms to sweep the threshold of the house after childbirth. This was to cut the ties between the world of the living and the realm of the dead. It was believed that the child had entered from the world of the dead and the pathway should not be made easy for a quick return. Since around 1336 B.C, Egyptian priests swept the ritual area then sprinkled it with blessed water. This ancient tradition is in a way still used since in modern practice, a large besom is used for cleaning the area before a circle is cast. Sometimes a besom is lain across the edge of the circle to serve as temporary closure.

 

Crossing brooms at quarters, and then symbolically uncrossing them, had been used to allow quarter energies into the cast circle area, while nailing crossed brooms to your front door or wall is said to guard the house and disperse negative energy.

Brooms are used to banish unwanted energies, send the dead back to slumber land and work weather magic. Besoms were used for Pagan weddings as couples would “jump the besom” to symbolize their union. This is literally jumped during a hand fasting to signify the leap from one “life” to the next.

Besoms might not have as much meaning now as they used to, but I think that they are still important in casting a circle as it is always better to have a cleansed area then not.

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Greetings from Afar

March, 2013

The Evil That Men Do

Author’s Note: Due to the Public Image and celebrity status of the person in question, the name of the “American” has been withheld at his request.

The man was gaunt, almost skeletal. His height, well over six feet, made his appearance even more severe. He was balding, with a drooping mustache and a scraggly beard clinging beneath his lower lip and  to the base of his chin. He was dressed like a “bombzh”, a homeless man in an old army greatcoat, military trousers and worn jackboots. A visored cap rested on the bench next to him has he sat calmly and fed the pigeons in the little park and watched a group of children from the neighboring orphanage at play. Occasionally, he would smile at one of the children who ran by him, but as a whole, he was somber in his appearance. He had a somewhat sad look on his stern face, a look of longing. It was the look of a man dreaming of the past… of what “might have been”.

The American lived in an apartment building on the opposite side of the park. It was one of four monstrous, towering blocks of flats that formed a sort of wall around the pentagon-shaped secluded green area that contained a playground for the local children and a shaded grassy field for those who simply enjoyed the outdoors. As a rule the American used the well manicured little green as a convenient place to walk his dog. It was a safe place, and the little dog could run free for the limited time that he had to take her on such outings.

The park was fairly empty that day. There was an old man, sitting alone on a bench feeding the pigeons and a group of children from State Orphanage No. 4, which formed the fifth “wall” in the row of buildings surrounding the park. The American had seen the old man sitting there before. He was almost always there when the children from the orphanage were at play. But… this was the first time they had actually been in the park at the same time. He let his little dog, a black and tan Miniature Dachshund named Angel, off of her leash and casually walked over and sat down beside the man as he watched the dog run and play with some of the nearer children. It was a beautiful, warm spring day in late May. The grass was green and lush and the first of the flowers in the park’s manicured beds were beginning to show the first signs of color. The American was in no particular hurry. For a change, the first time in some weeks, he had all day, and intended to relax and enjoy the newly arrived warm weather.

With nothing better to do, he decided to try out his newly acquired Russian Language.  His company, the one he was under contract to at the moment, had invested quite a sum in his lessons. The film that they were shooting, on location in Moscow, required “realism”. That required some work on the American’s part, and he had often wondered, as he sat through the two-hour long daily sessions, why he had not bothered to learn the language from his grandparents when he had the chance. Of course, that was in the past now. Nothing could be done about it.  It was a lot of trouble, he thought, to go through for a single film, but perhaps there would be others. Now seemed to him to be a good time to put his newly acquired skills to the test and see if those lessons  had been effective. “Dob-rei Deen” he stammered to the man beside him on the bench.

” And a good day to you, too.” The tall, thin man said, in slightly accented but almost flawless English. “American?”

Definitely not a “bomzh” the American thought. He was far too literate, and definitely not drunk. He was probably a pensioner who lived in one of the adjoining buildings. The old man had probably come out to get a bit of fresh air, watch the children, feed the birds and look for the chance of some company as was the habit of many retired Russians who suddenly found themselves with a great deal of time on their hands. “Yes, in fact I am”.

“There seem to be quite a lot of you here, now. There used not to be so many. Not many at all in fact”.

“I know,” the American replied, becoming slightly more confident now that he was speaking his own language.  “Things are different, now. Better “.

“That depends on how you look at it,” the man said. “Those children, for example…”

“Yes, I see them here almost every day. They’re orphans,” the American said flatly.  Then he shook his head knowingly and said, “I know”.

“Not just that. Look at them. There isn’t a one of them that doesn’t look hungry. Look at the clothes they’re wearing… no better than rags. It wasn’t that way, once. It’s disgraceful. We didn’t permit it. Even in the darkest days of the Civil War, we managed to find food for the children. Some didn’t like our methods, we didn’t expect them to… Honestly didn’t care whether they liked them of not. But the children, after all, are our future”.

The American looked at the man carefully, intently. He was old, by local standards, but he wasn’t that old. Russian men tended to look older than their years, he thought… It was especially true of the generation born during, or just after, the “Great Patriotic War”, as the Second World War is known in Russia. This man seemed to be in his fifties, certainly not older than that. “You don’t look old enough to remember the Civil War,” the American said “let alone the Revolution. That was seventy some-odd years ago”.

“I remember them all right. You might say that I remember them too well.” That wistful look crossed his face again, as though he were bringing back bitter, but possibly bittersweet memories of  a time long past.

“You must have been a small child, then…I’m sure that it was a difficult time”.

“No” the answer was simple and matter of fact.

The American considered the situation. It just wasn’t possible that this man was that old. He had to be a little off in the head Maybe he had been a child, a very small child, at the time, but it was impossible that he could have been more than that. He almost certainly couldn’t possibly remember those times. Maybe he was dredging up stories that his parents had told him.

“You know, my wife and I we lost our only child” he mused “That ‘s why the orphans have always been special to me”.

“That’s sad,” the American said . It must have been a terrible experience. I’m not married myself… no children. But…I can understand how you feel, though”.

“Yes” the tall man said as he rose to leave. “It was very sad. It was a terrible time, the worst of my life. We were never able to have other children.  That’s why I did all that I could, all that was in my power, to make their  lives better”. He gestured toward the playing orphans with a broad sweep of his long thin arm and almost skeletal hand.  “They needed everything, schools, homes, doctors and medicine, kindergartens, training for jobs and useful work… They needed food and warm clothing”. He rattled off the baleful litany in quick order. There was no doubt that the old man had strong feelings about the parentless children. “They need it all, and our Revolution needed willing hands to build the future… a better future, we thought… for all of us. We got it for them. We got all of it for them. It cost us dearly, but we did it, and they built our future, or tried to”.

Things were getting stranger and stranger. The man had to be “off his rocker”. He was claiming credit for things that had been done three quarters of a century before. He looked at the strange old man again. He couldn’t have been more than a toddler back then, if he’d been born at all… He couldn’t possibly have had any part in what he was describing. Maybe he had been one of those orphans… It was hard to tell.

“Well, I must go,” the old man said. “I only have so much time each day that I can spend here watching them. I’ve really not much time at all. That’s rather funny,” he mused quizzically, “all things considered.  But… you know how it is. You know what they say, “no rest for the weary and no peace for the damned”.

“That’s right,” the American smiled. That was something that he could understand well enough. There was never enough time for anything in post-Soviet Russia. In the last year or so, Russia had undergone a transformation, and it was still going on. Things were in a state of near anarchy, and no matter how hard one worked, there never seemed to be enough time to get everything done. There were certainly never enough hours in a given day. This very day was proof of that to him. It was the first day off that he had enjoyed in six weeks, and he had at least another six exactly the same to “look forward” to. “No peace for the damned” he repeated softly.

“Why don’t you do me a favor? If you are going to be here for a bit longer, would you mind walking across the street with the children when the Matron calls them in? The streets here are dangerous now not like they once were”.

The American thought about it for a moment, then agreed. It couldn’t hurt, and the man looked so concerned… Even if he was a bit eccentric, his heart was in the right place. “Certainly, ” he replied. “I’d be glad to”.

“Thank you,” the man replied as he rose to leave. “You know, only a few years ago, this was a quiet street. We didn’t have so many automobiles then”. He used the quaint term “automobile” as though it was used every day. He stood, stretched, and put his cap on. A shock of his thinning hair protruded from under the visor. He turned up the collar of his long woolen coat as though against a non-existent wind. Then, without another word, he sank his hands deeply into his pockets and walked slowly away. The children didn’t seem to notice him at all, even though he walked right through the midst them as they kicked a scarred soccer ball around the center of the park. The American glanced away briefly when he heard his little dog bark. When he looked back up, the old man was gone. He must have already entered the nearest building, about 50 meters away. Funny, the American thought, he hadn’t seemed to be walking that fast…

A few minutes later, the matron of the orphanage, a short, plump woman in her mid-forties with a harassed and harried, but motherly look on her face, behind her tiny wire framed glasses, called out for the children to stop playing and come “home”. She said that it was time for supper. The American, noticed that this woman, obviously rather senior in the orphanage’s hierarchy, was hardly dressed better than her charges, and that her hair, tied in a severe bun at the back of her head, looked prematurely gray.  True to his word to the strang old man, he rose, called his little dog, put the leash back on her, and slowly walked across the street with the departing children. He continued with them until they were through the rusting wrought iron gate that guarded their home, and inside the austere brick walls of the orphanage compound. The place, he thought, had obviously seen better days The stucco was cracking and falling from the brick wall and the paint was fading, the stucco on the walls of the buildings themselves was cracked in many places. In places, the chipped orange-red bricks were visible thorough holes in the veneer. The place, he thought, had the look of one that had once been lavish by Soviet standards, but had fallen on hard times… very hard times. But, he mused, that could be said of much of Russia of late.

It was there inside the walled compound, surrounded by the aura of past prosperity, that he received the greatest shock of his life. There, in the midst of the courtyard, atop a small marble pedestal surrounded by a tiny, but well groomed and tended flower bed, was a bust. The American’s heart skipped a beat. There was no possible doubt as to what he was looking at. It was the likeness of the man he had met in the park. A sudden chill ran through him as he surveyed the scene before him.  On the pedestal beneath the bust, an inscription read “Our Founder”. Below it, was yet another  inscription… one that literally made his blood run cold… It said “Felix Edmundovich Drezhenski, 11 September, 1877 – 20 July, 1926”.

The American’s thoughts went back to the days that he had spent with his grandmother… years before as a small child and the stories that she had  told him about her homeland across the sea… He knew who this man was…

Felix Drezhenski… Son of a Polish Aristocrat, who turned on “his own”. Drezhenski, one of the “headliners”, and alleged “hardliners” in the “Great October Revolution. For years, Drezhenski was the most awe-inspiring name in Russia… loved by the honest, feared and hated by the criminal. He was the utterly incorruptible and honest cop. “Iron Felix”… the man who could not be bought, the ideologue, the founder and guiding light of the Cheka, charged with cleaning up and bringing order to revolution and Civil War torn Russia. It was Drezhenski’s organization that later, after his death by poisoning at the hands of Stalin, inadvertently became the predecessor of the infamous NKVD and KGB.

Felix Drezhenski was the man who brought the post-revolutionary black market to its knees with a fist of steel.  He was for the whole world, “Iron Felix”… the man who unwittingly became a symbol of freedom when his statue was toppled one night in August of 1991. He was a man who, after his death, had become a scapegoat for a dictator who hated and feared him for his honesty and integrity. Under Josef Stalin’s careful orchestration, Drezhenski’s name became synonymous with evil incarnate. But, the people did not forget. They knew that he was also the man who founded Russia’s fine system of Children’s Homes, kindergartens and orphanages. He was the man who often worked 18 hours a day on nothing more than a few slices of bread and a glass of water so that the children in the homes he founded could eat the meals that he denied himself. He was the man who would trudge wearily home at the end of the day, in any kind of weather, because he refused a driver or car… more money saved for “his children”. On the way, he would stop at the nearest orphanage and deliver the food that he had carefully hoarded in a brown paper bag, then stand by and watch it distributed among the young people that he had taken it upon himself to guard and protect until they reached adulthood. He was the man who denied himself a decent suit of clothing and new boots, so that the money he saved could be sent to the foundlings who, in his heart, had replaced his own dead son. He and his wife had lost their only child to Typhus in the horrible, deadly winter of 1906. They had lost the light of their lives, and forever mourned him. But…like “Mr. Chips” of fiction, Drezhenski had other children… hundreds of them. And…that’s what they called themselves, “Drezhenski’s Children”. Most of them, those who actually knew the man, are gone now, but a few still survive. They will tell anyone who will listen about their “father”. They will tell anyone who will listen how they stood in the snow and freezing slush for hours for a chance to pass by his coffin as he lay in state, and how surprised they all were to see him, for the first time that any of them could remember, wearing a pair of new boots as he reposed in death.

Shakespeare, the immortal Bard of Avon said it best “The evil that men do in their lives goes on after them; the good is oft interred with their bones” Of course, the Bard had never met Felix Edmundovich Dreshenski .

The American stood there in the courtyard of State Orphanage No. 4, for the longest time, in absolute silence. If anyone had seen him, they would have sworn that he looked for all the world as if he’d seen a ghost…

 

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The Witch’s Cupboard

March, 2013

Happy Ostara!

This Sabbat heralds in Spring and we can shake off that cabin fever everyone’s been suffering from.  This month’s column will focus on early spring herbs.

How to Make a Plantain, Violet Salve

Plantain: Its gentle astringency makes it wonderful for blisters, insect bites, rashes and hemorrhoids

Lavender Leaves: Is a wonderful remedy for breast inflammation, mastitis, cancer and cysts.

Step 1: Gather approximately 2 cups violet leaves and flowers and plantain leaves (either the narrow or wide leafed varieties).

Step 2: Try to clean off the leaves as much as possible without washing them. If they must be washed, do so, but be sure that the leaves are thoroughly wilted and absent of all moisture before adding the oil. Putting the oven on the lowest possible heat, arrange the herbs on a tray, preferably with the oven door open, and allow the leaves to wilt until you are sure no moisture remains. You are not diminishing the healing power of the herbs but rather, just removing more of the water content.

Step 3: Put the wilted leaves into a clean, very dry glass mason jar, or similar container, and fill to the top if possible. Then add the oil of choice (olive, grape seed, sweet almond, sunflower and safflower all work well) until you have filled the jar. Stir with a long spoon or chopstick until all bubbles have risen to the surface. Add a bit of Rosemary Oil Extract to prevent oil rancidity and further protect the oils. Just remember that water causes mold, so the drier your herbs and containers are, the more protected your oil is. Place some wax paper over the top of the container and then cap with a canning lid. Be aware that the oils may ‘weep’ while it steeps, so you may want to put a cup saucer under the jar.

Step 4: Place jar in a cool, dark place. Occasionally turn the jar upside down and then right side up to move the oil through the herbs and to try to keep all parts of the herbs covered with oil. Feel free to open it up and check on the herbs. If you see leaves poking through where there is some mold growth, remove the leaves and discard. If mold grows throughout the oil, you’ll have to toss the whole batch, as there is no saving the oil, even if it is heated. Steep 2-6 weeks.

Step 5: After 2-6 weeks, strain out the herbs using a cheesecloth and pour the infused oil into a clean, dry jar for storage. A dark glass container is best. You can keep this in the refrigerator for better storage or just store in a cool, dark place.

Violet and Plantain herbal Salve:

• 1 cup infused oil
• 1 ounce natural beeswax or beeswax beads, grated
• 1 teaspoon vitamin E (to preserve the salve and prevent rancidity)
• 1 teaspoon rosemary oil extract, optional (to further antioxidant protection)
• 20 drops tea tree oil (to add antifungal and antiseptic strength)
• 10 drops lavender essential oil (to offer topical pain relief)

In a double boiler or a saucepan on lowest possible heat, melt the beeswax into the oil. Add the additional vitamin E and rosemary oil extract, if using, and gently stir the oil with a wooden or stainless steel spoon. Remove from heat and add the essential oils. Pour immediately into a cleaned, very dry glass or aluminum container. You can also put this salve in lip balm pots to create a healing travel balm. If looking for a hard salve, test the consistency by putting a spoonful of the melted oils & beeswax into the freezer. If it is not hard enough, add a bit more beeswax until you reach the desired consistency.

 

Herbs for Early Spring Gardens

Lemon Balm: Lemon Balm is part of the mint family. This herb can take the crazy days of early spring weather. Plant this one into a container then plunge into the ground or it will escape and grow everywhere.  You can generally get two harvests during the year.

Dill: This herb grows lightning fast in cool spring soil. Dill will reseed itself once you trim it back. Plant now and at weekly intervals so you’ll have it throughout the season.

Cilantro: I grow quite a bit of cilantro.  Grow early you can get a couple harvests from this plant.  Be sure to sow directly into the ground.  It can tolerate even a light coating of snow.

Borage: Plant borage seeds now! It will grow quite large, so make sure wherever you plant it, it will live there forever!  You can use the leaves in salads when they’re tiny, and eat the flowers

Basil: It may surprise you that basil does really well if started as seeds indoors (right about now) and then transplanted outside when the threat of frost has passed.

It also grows well indoors. Start seeds inside and keep them in a sunny until they become large enough to transplant outdoors..

 

 

 

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The Crowe’s Nest

March, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day in America has become a great day of shamrocks, binge drinking and hoping you don’t wake up praying to the porcelain god. I am not even sure most people really know the reason they raise their glass in honor of Saint Patrick anymore. Odds are most are like I was when I was younger, and just like the whole idea of drinking and having a great green time.

I know that my 21st year of life I didn’t know what I know now.  I knew that being a March baby, I was going to use it to continue on with my March 14th celebration.  I thought of it as an extended party bringing me into adulthood.There I was in all my glorious green splendor, ready to go about town getting free green beer. The night started out great. We were to have dinner at Bennigan’s Bar and Grill, then head out to several bars that were supporting the great holiday of gluttony. I had on my favorite silver pentacle, wearing it proudly trying to be the out of the closet witch.

Being of Irish decent, as well as having a personal kinship to Bennigan’s, my friends and I had a booth that we always sat at. As I sat my bottom down, I noticed that someone was staring at me with contempt on her face. I couldn’t possibly think of what I did to upset this raven-haired woman. I hadn’t bumped into her before we sat because she was almost finished with her food. I didn’t sneeze in her general direction, and I know I didn’t smell, so my odor was not offending her delicate sensibilities.

Now, I know I get looks often. Being in the middle of the “Bible Belt” you are not friend of the Lords if you wear a pentacle. You are Satan’s spawn. Demons from hell come to play havoc on the good people of Earth. So someone looking at me like I just killed their favorite puppy was nothing new. However, it is usually from some little old lady wearing a cross or a deacon of some church. The woman staring at me now sported her own pentacle and her aura felt like home, so I couldn’t understand what was wrong with her.

Little did I know, she was going to inform me of her problem.

Now, just a little bit about me, I am not great with confrontations. I am way too much of a hippy to handle people yelling at me, or treating me bad because I upset them. So my breathe caught as she sauntered over to me. I was scared. Not that she would hurt me or anything, but I wanted to know what I did to upset her and it scared me that I could hurt someone like that or make them so angry.

“You are the worst pagan ever!” she blurted out to me.

WHAT!? This was certainly new. Someone telling me that I am the worst pagan, not griping because I was one. How could I be the worst pagan ever? This complete stranger knew nothing about me or my spirituality other than I wore a pentacle around my neck.

“Excuse me?” I asked, completely unaware still at how she could come up with that conclusion.

She explained, “You are a horrible pagan. You sit there in your green, getting ready to celebrate the death of pagans and druids all over Ireland and then you wear a pentacle. You disgust me.”

I was absolutely flabbergasted. I had no idea what she was talking about. As she walked away I looked at my friends in shock over what she said. What death of pagans and druids? I couldn’t understand what was going on.

Every year I think of that woman. If it weren’t for her casting a hasty judgment on me, I wouldn’t have the knowledge I have now. Oh, don’t worry, I still wear green and drink (well on occasion) on Saint Patrick ’s Day, but I don’t do it for him. I do it because I am a happy pagan and I love to see how many more come out of the woodworks every year. I drink in memory of those that died for their spirituality and for those that are completely oblivious of what the truth is behind St Paddy’s day. I drink to gather with friends.

Now, I do drink something different though.  I think it is better to honor our sisters and brothers by bringing in a drink that is both irish and definately an aquired taste.  Those that love it, LOVE it. The ones that don’t can’t stand the smell. The recipe I am going to give you though is very easy and is great tasting as well. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family has. I plan on making this month and I hope somewhere around the world in a few months, we can all toast one another.

This is a very easy recipe and makes 1 gallon, so you will have plenty to share. Now, do note that it takes a few months to ferment and settle. The beautiful thing about this mead is that you can rack it off of all the oranges and raisins any time you want to or you can just leave it in. When it sinks to the bottom you can drink it or you can bottle it. Remember that if you let it age a couple more months, it will be even better. That is what I do.  Now, simply mix all the following ingredients. After that, pitch your yeast. It is simple as that.

1 gallon of Spring Water

Yeast: Fleishcmanns (1 packet)

25 Raisins

1 Cinnamon stick

1 whole orange, sliced and peels included

1 pinch of allspice

1 pinch of nutmeg

3 1/2 pounds of clover honey

1 whole clove

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