Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Autumn Cornbread

I thought I'd squeeze in one more recipe with some classic fall flavors, before December and it's winter treats officially arrive!

1 1/2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups cornmeal
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
4 tbsp butter
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup cooked pumpkin puree
2/3 cup milk (might need a little extra)
1 cup apple, peeled cored and finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cornmeal, and spices, mix well. In a separate bowl combine butter, eggs, honey, pumpkin, apple, and milk and beat until thoroughly mixed. Add in the dry ingredients, mixing until just moistened. Don't over mix the batter. If your batter is too thick, mix in just a tbsp or two more milk. (Depends on the water content of your cooked pumpkin puree.) Gently fold in the nuts and cranberries. Pour into a square baking dish, and bake at 350F for around 40 minutes. Serve warm, great with butter and a bit more honey.

The cornbread can be made without nuts, without the cranberries (or with 1/4 cup extra cranberries if not using nuts), or without both depending on your tastes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Beautiful Picture of Artemis

Often when I see modern art done of Artemis, I don't usually see Her personality reflected in it. However, I came across this amazing picture while browsing around Google the other day. She actually has a ton of great work, very much worth a look! (Just to note, there is some artistic nudity in her gallery.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ogham - Part One

Ogham is an alphabet that was primarily used to write Old Irish, around the 4th century AD, to the 10th century. Sometimes it is referred to as the Beth-Luis-Nion, either meaning the Beth-Luis letters, or a shortening of the first grouping of letters. In myth the invention of the script is usually attributed to Ogma, a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

Originally the alphabet was made up of twenty letters, or feda (trees), grouped in four family groups, or acimi (the plural for aicme, or family). Later five additional letters were added, the forfeda. Each letter has a meaning, most commonly each is associated with a tree. However, it seems the original associations were not so cut and dry. Some sources say only 7 of the letters can faithfully be associated with plants - other sources give a few more, but not all. The other letters are given meanings such as earth, gold, field, sulfur, and fear. I would strongly encourage anyone interested in Ogham to look at the historical information (from good, historical sources), and consider the other meanings for each.

The letters are often used for divination. There is, as far as I know, only one historical reference to the letters being used this way. It's quite vague, so one wishing to use the Ogham for divination must form their own system. How many letters will be set down, if a spread will be used (like a card spread), or if they will be thrown down on a cloth, etc. Additionally, the letters can be used in meditation and spellwork, like other symbols.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Critical Thinking

Too many people are willing to set aside critical thinking for convenience. While the issue isn't just limited to the pagan community, that's what I'd like to touch on just a bit today.

Lately I've been seeing a shocking number people willing to accept information, without considering the source of the information. They see something that fits in with their preconceived ideas, and leave it at that. This is a bad place to stop, it's important to consider the source of the information - how reliable is this author, when was this written, was it written for a specific audience?

Let's look at each of those. As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so even the worst sources will be right on occasion. Still, if a source has a record of being wrong quite often, it might be best to question the information they give. Use multiple sources, use good sources. Likewise, we shouldn't be afraid to check on an author's credentials. Do they relate to the topic they're writing about? Are they consistent with their credentials? 

It's important to consider when something was written, as sometimes new information has become available in the time since the writing. Let's look at the Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge as an example. He did a number of translations and wrote a number of books until he died in the year 1934, and many of his books are available for free online. Since his time, we've made huge leaps and bounds in translation and method, so there are much better sources now. Still, some people fall back on these older, less reliable sources. They put this incorrect information out there for others. Bad history is a big problem through the pagan community, but it really doesn't have to be if we just took a little care in examining our sources.

We also need to consider the audience the work was originally intended for. This usually won't be an issue, but can be with older works. Sometimes a work claims to be intended for a specific group, but was really targeted at a large audience. Sometimes a work claims to speak for pagans as a whole, but really focuses on one tradition. This sort of thing might not always be obvious, but will usually pop up when looking into the author.

Don't accept something just because it was written in a book, on a website, or anywhere else. Don't be afraid to question. Use multiple sources. Weigh out conflicting information, don't just accept what you came across first. Of course all this is but one aspect of critical thinking, but perhaps it would be best to save some of that for another day, rather than writing one giant post...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

In the woods...

This is one the the first spots I fell in love with, before I was even a pagan. My Grandfather took me to this rock when I was still a very young child. It was quite impressive then - not that it still isn't, but there was a time when this rock was taller than me. Now the highest point comes to just below my shoulder. There was once a giant pine growing right up against it, which has since been cut away. Twice in my life there's been a bit of cutting done in these woods. Nothing major, but the last round left enough changes that I was a bit disoriented the next few times I went up there.

This is a small stream that runs through the woods. Before the last bit of cutting, there was a small bridge running across part of it. It was nothing fancy, just a few old logs someone had put across it, but it worked. That's gone now, so to cross one has to jump across one of the shallow areas. This isn't hard, as I said, it's a small stream... perhaps four feet or so at the widest point, and a foot at its thinnest.

The places where the water runs quick are good for small purifications before rituals. There are also many lovely spots to stop and sit on a rock or fallen tree, and just listen to the water run.

Just another spot along the stream that I enjoy.

Just up and over the stream a bit is a spot that's hard to photograph. One tall, lone evergreen standing up on a small hill that overlooks the stream. The lower branches are still high enough to stand under, and in the little clearing under the branches is a small offering stone. The tall tree on the hill, near a stream, always feels like such a potent spot for Otherworld work.

A final shot, the old road that runs through the woods. Been there as long as I can remember, although it was once a bit more overgrown. More tall trees ran along it. They were cut down, and the road made "fresh" again a few years back. In those few years, there has been a ton of new growth... Not surprising. Nature will always reclaim, if given the chance.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Weaving the Wheel Together

It's interesting how secular holidays can fit into the Wheel of the Year. There are some big ones in my family... some are probably more obvious, Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. (I know the first two aren't necessarily secular holidays, but that's how they're celebrated in my family.) Beyond that we also celebrate Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Labor Dar, and New Year's Day.

Thanksgiving is a goodbye to fall, with a feast of autumn foods, and a welcoming of the winter season. True, winter won't really be here until near the end of next month, but shortly after Thanksgiving decorations will start going up, the Christmas dinner will be thought of (in my family, this starts after Thanksgiving dinner is done, but we're all sitting around the table), other winter treats and gifts start coming into focus. This is the holiday that kicks it all off.

Christmas and New Year's Day both meld in pretty much seamlessly with my celebrating the 12 days of Yule. Christmas and Yule, for us, share much of the same symbolism. It's the only holiday that really blends so well, that we share in this way. As for New Year's, Yule is when I celebrate the New Year, so to have a big celebration of the calendar New Year near the end of the 12 days of Yule is quite nice. The biggest, warmest celebrations in one of the coldest months.

Easter is a nice spring celebration somewhere between Ostara and Beltane. Again, there is an overlap in some symbolism, especially with Ostara. Since Ostara here is still quite cold, and doesn't yet feel much like spring, it can be nice to hold off on some spring type things until Easter (depending on when it falls that year).

Then come the final three, the summer holidays, Memorial Day, the 4th, and Labor Day. Memorial Day is often seen as the kick off of the summer season. This is true for us, we will have the first cook out of the season, but it is also a time for us to visit the graves of family members. It's a bit odd to be having what is essentially an ancestor festival at this time of the year, seems like more of an autumn activity. Still, it's a reminder of the balance and cycle we all flow through. Death in life, life in death. Never one without the other. The 4th comes when summer is fully here, the true beginning of many summer activities. Then, Labor Day, when we begin to settle back into our fall routines.

When speaking of the Wheel, the big 8 are what we think of, and for good reason. Still, as important as the 8 spokes on the wheel are, the days in between can be just as important. Not just other holidays, but taking time to note the seasons and celebrate a bit from day to day. Seeing how it all fits in together, always rolling on to the next, always new - but always repeating.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Warm Autumn Cider

This is a favorite recipe of mine that's wonderful for a cold late autumn night, and one that's very simple.

1 cup spiced apple cider
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup mead (ale also works well)

Combine everything in a saucepan, and warm it over medium heat until it's just heated through - don't let it come to a boil.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nature Knows

This morning I was on the phone with my Grandmother, discussing my plans to head to her house tomorrow afternoon for the Thanksgiving 'weekend.' She said I might want to come this afternoon instead, because she'd seen more birds than usual in the backyard eating the food my Grandfather puts out there - they were getting ready for a bit of bad weather. "Nature knows," she said.

I told her I'd check the weather, and sure enough, there's a bit of a storm rolling in tonight, lasting through tomorrow afternoon. Nothing that would really change driving plans (especially as I had a bunch of other things I needed to do today), but bad enough.

This is not the first bit of nature-based advice or folklore she's shared with me. Always little signs to tell the weather, sometimes more spiritual bits... It's not 100% accurate, but neither are the weather forecasters on TV.

It's not really that surprising. Mama's been staring out that same kitchen window for some 20 years, and she's been around a lot longer than that - anyone would be able to pick up on the patters and signs of nature in that amount of time, if they paid just a little attention. Nature has a lot to tell us. Sometimes it's just something simple, sometimes we uncover something deeper... we just have to pay attention.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Indian Pudding

Indian Pudding is a sweet corn meal pudding that is baked at a low temperature for hours. It is a traditional dessert in New England.

2 cups milk
2 cups cream
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup OR dark molasses
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 pinch ground clove
1/8 tsp baking soda
2 eggs, beaten
Optional: 1/2 cup dried fruit, such as raisins or cranberries. 

Heat the milk and cream until almost boiling, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Slowly add in the corn meal, and bring to a boil while stirring briskly.Lower heat, and simmer, while stirring, until thickened. Remove from heat.

Add in all the other ingredients, except the eggs. Stir well.

Temper the eggs by whisking in a very small amount of the hot corn meal mixture, then a little more, and a little more until the eggs are hot - then mix the eggs into the corn meal mixture, stirring very well.

Pour into a buttered baking dish. Bake at 325F for around two hours. Allow to set for 30 minutes before serving. Indian pudding can be topped with sweet cream or whipped cream, maple syrup, or ice cream.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why Westya?

It's a question I've seen pop up a few times over the last week or so. Only once did someone ask me directly, but it's a question I've seen implied to others - or in general - why worship a very obscure Deity, a Deity with very little surviving information?

It's a good question. There are many Gods and Goddesses from ancient times that we have plenty of surviving information about... titles, attributes, prayers, rituals, special days, symbols and more. Artemis (who I am also devoted to) could be counted among these Deities, entire books have been written about Her from surviving information. So why worship a Deity who we know significantly less about? A Goddess, in this case, without surviving myths, prayers, or even a surviving name.

I'll be the first to admit, it can be quite frustrating at times. I have worshiped little known Deities in the past, the Egyptian Shu for example, but this is my first time working with so very little. So why do I do it?

In short, I did try to connect with the more well known hearth Deities in the past, but it never seemed quite right. However, there was something about Westya that called to me. That alone made it worth perusing for me. That hard to describe something still remains, so, I continue with the relationship. I also think that just because there is little surviving information, that does not mean these Deities should be set aside and further forgotten, that these Deities are worthless.

First, let me be clear, I'm not attempting to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European (PIE) religion by any means. My reconstruction days are long behind me. Still, I do make use of what scholarly materials I can, I believe this is an important source even for non-reconstructionists. In this case, a lot of that material comes not directly from the PIEs, but by finding the common elements in the descendant groups. Due to this, I do find myself branching out to study the hearth Deities of the descendant groups. While it's not direct information, it's at least something to go from.

Obviously I also deal with a lot of unverified personal gnosis (UPG). Some frown on this, but I see nothing wrong with it so long as it's never presented as anything else. Too often I see UPG being presented as historical fact, or some sort of universal truth that everyone should agree with. It's not. the unverified and personal parts of UPG should not be forgotten.

This is the first time I've ever really had to do that. To really just be forced to jump right in. Usually there is a ton of studying history before such actions, perhaps too much at times. Some would say it's easier to skip that and rely on UPG, that it's the lazy way... so let me be clear, this is not the way I prefer. It has been hard for me, and it is very different than what I've become accustomed to - but it is necessary for those very reasons. It's important to work on our weaknesses. 

I do this because it has been beneficial to me, it has helped me grow, learn, and pushed me into areas I've never been in before. It has given me new experiences, and revealed skills I I didn't fully realize that I had. These Deities still have lessons to teach, these Deities are still worthy of our respect and adoration. I am thankful to Westya for what She has given me, and it is a relationship I will continue to strengthen... even if it's not always the easiest way for me. No relationship worth having is always going to be easy.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ritual Garb

There was a time, when I was an Egyptian reconstructionist, that I had very specific ritual clothing. In particular, it was a white pleated skirt, a white tank top, and a white shawl for when it was cooler in the house. White was the required color for the tradition. After leaving reconstruction, I slowly moved away from having any special garb for ritual. I wore what I was wearing, and never thought much of it.

I never got back into any full ritual wear, but I have started including little odds and ends into my ritual wear. Just enough to help get my brain into "okay, it's time" without being (for me) unpractical.

The first is a simple leather choker. This is for Artemis. The second is a dark grey-blue shawl. It is for Westya. (Sometime this item acts as an altar cloth of sorts, depending on the need. This keeps with my feeling of Westya as foundation, though.) The third is a leather belt, which is mostly for practical reasons. A place to put my knife, a place to hang pouches with things I need to have at hand.

Sometimes I wear all these things at once, sometimes just one or two of them. They're really simple objects, but they help me transform from regular clothes, to something a little more special.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Edible Offering Bowls

While outdoor food offerings can certainly be left on the ground, tucked into the roots of a tree, or left on an offering stone, sometimes it's nice to do something a little different. It's easy to craft little bowls to leave offerings in, bowls that you don't need to worry about finding again to pick up.

Simply take an apple, cut it in half (on the horizontal, so the two halves will sit up), and scoop out the core - being careful to leave a bit on the bottom. There's your bowl! Fill with your offering, and place outside. These are best for offerings you're going to leave close to home, but if you're going farther you could bring the whole apple and cut it at the site.

Other things you could use include miniature pumpkins (or even pumpkins that are a little larger, for bigger offerings), and gourds which are readily available around this time of year. Turnips also work well, but they can be a bit harder to carve. These little bowls become part of the offering.

Do be careful what you choose to make your bowl from, and what you leave as an offering in it. It's very likely that the local wildlife will be finding these little offerings. You don't want to leave out anything that will be harmful to them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sweet Potato and Apple Bake

6 medium sweet potatoes
3 large apples
3 tbsp butter
brown sugar
maple syrup

Preheat your oven to 350F. As the oven is preheating, wash the sweet potatoes well and pierce each with a fork several times. Bake on a cookie sheet for about an hour, or until easily pierced with a fork. Set them aside to cool for a bit while preparing the apples.

Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. Then peel the sweet potatoes, and cut them into 1/2" rounds. Grease a casserole dish and layer in half the sweet potatoes, half the apples, then the rest of the sweet potatoes, and finally the rest of the apples. Dice the butter into small cubes, and put them around the top layer of the apples.

Drizzle maple syrup over the top of the apples, as much or as little as you like. Sprinkle that with a bit of brown sugar, you probably won't need more than two or three tablespoons, but again as much as you like. Finally a pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg over the top.

Cover the casserole with foil and bake for 20 minutes (again at 350F). Uncover and bake for 10 more minutes. Let it cool just a bit, 5 or 10 minutes, then serve.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Lunar Cycles, Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about a few of the ways to mark the moon cycles through the year - the different ways to name the moons, and a bit on the many different names any one moon cycle can have. Today I'll write about one possible example of a year of moon cycles, what they represent, and how they flow together. I want to stress that this is not the only system out there, just one example of many. It is my own personal system, based on the equinoxes/solstices (as written about yesterday), and it does not follow and one existing naming system. Rather it is a mix of systems, which I felt best meshed with my own personal practice, what I noticed and enjoyed locally.

I start each lunar cycle with the new moon, as one might expect. However, it is where the full moon lands that determines which cycle is which. For example, the first full moon after Yule is the Long Nights moon cycle - even if the new moon was before Yule.

The winter season is where I start my lunar calendar. The Long Nights Moon is the first of the winter moon cycles, so named because the nights of this cycle are some of the longest of the year. The second moon of the winter season is the Snow Moon, as this is the time when the snow really starts to pile up. The third and final winter moon cycle is the Wolf Moon, named for the hungry wolves that in older times could be heard hungry and howling in the deep parts of winter.

The three spring moons come next. First is Sugar Moon, as this is the cycle when it's time for tapping the sugar maples to make maple syrup and maple sugar. Next we see the Flower Moon, as spring is starting to bloom. Finally the Milk Moon, as this cycle usually falls around Beltane, in which milks plays an important role.

After spring, the three summer moons. Wild strawberries are usually starting to be ready for picking around this time, and so this is the Strawberry Moon. Mid-summer brings the Thunder Moon along with it's summer thunder storms. The Grain Moon comes in late summer, with it's early grain harvests.

Finally, we come to the three autumn moons. Around the equinox the harvest is often in full swing, and so the Harvest Moon, which brings a little extra light for farmers bringing in their crop before the winter comes. Many of the leaves have fallen from the branches by mid-autumn allowing game to be seen a little easier by hunters - this is also the time when the animal herds would be culled, both acts ensuring enough meat for the winter months, this is the time of the Blood Moon. Last, the Frost Moon comes in late autumn, as we start to see the first frosty signs of the approaching winter.

Each season usually has three full moons within in, but occasionally there will be four. The third full moon becomes the Blue Moon, with the fourth going back to the cycle as usual.

Again, this is but one way to names the moons. Some parts honor what is going on around me locally, with other parts focusing on older times - a mix of old and new. I strongly encourage anyone who wishes to incorporate a named lunar system into their path to explore many different names, play with the month and seasonal system, see what's going on locally... really take your time, and make it your own.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Wheel of the Year : The Lunar Cycles

When talking about the Wheel of the Year the focus is usually on the solar cycle, but the moon cycles of the year also can have names, and celebrate specific seasonal events as well.

There are a few different ways to name the moon cycles. First is by the month, which is the way more people are probably familiar with. With this method, whatever month the full moon is in determines the name of the cycle (which starts at the new moon).

To give an example, say the name of April's moon is the Pink Moon. There is one full moon in April, and it lands on the 28th. That would mean the cycle that began with the new moon on April 14th is the Pink Moon cycle - even though it would end in May. Simple enough, right? So what happens when there are two full moons in a month? The second cycle would be Blue Moon. (This practice actually stems from a misunderstanding, read on for the original meaning!)

Some people prefer to modify this just a bit, and begin the cycle with where the new moon is in the month. This wouldn't change the example above, but you would find a difference if April's full moon was on the 5th. Using the full moon cycle this would still be the Pink Moon, but using the new moon cycle it would take on March's name instead.

Another method uses the seasons. First you identify when the solstices and equinoxes are, then when the moons fall around them. Each season will generally have three full moons. Looking at the summer solstice, say it lands on June 21st, and there is a full moon three days later - that is the first of the three summer moons. If the first full moon isn't until July 2nd, it is still given the name of the first summer moon, regardless of the month it ends up in. Sometimes, though, a season will have four full moons. The third moon of a cycle of four will be the Blue Moon - this is the original definition of a Blue Moon.

So where did the monthly definition come from? Interestingly, it came from a mistake made in an issue in Sky & Telescope magazine printed in 1946. The writer of the article misunderstood his source, the Maine Farmer's Almanac. (This particular Almanac also used fixed dates for the solstices and equinoxes.) Still, there's no doubt that the monthly definition is more commonly known these days. Both systems have their pros and cons, and it's worth it to explore both.

So, we've talked a bit about the Blue Moon, but what about the other moon names? Let me be very clear - there are many different names for each moon cycle, coming from many different locations. The moon names usually reflect something going on during that time of year, which of course would change from location to location. As an example, the April moon mentioned earlier? Pink Moon is just one name, it can also be the Seed Moon, Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon, or the Fish Moon, among others. Due to this, you'll sometimes see slight differences in which month is which name. Seed moon can be April's Moon, but it can also be March's. There are many different calenders which can be explored, and it can be helpful to find or make one that fits your local cycles.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Orange Cranberry Sauce

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup orange juice
2 tsp finely grated orange zest
12 oz cranberries
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Begin by washing and sorting through the cranberries, removing any bad berries.

Heat the sugars and orange juice in a saucepan until simmering, making sure they're well mixed. Add in the cranberries and zest, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until the cranberries begin to pop. Remove from heat, and mix in the nutmeg.

Don't over cook the sauce, as that will make it too bitter. You can mash the sauce a bit with a potato masher when it comes off the heat, or leave it as it is - totally depends on what texture you like. Keep in mind that the sauce will thicken up as it cools. It can be served as soon as it comes down to room temperature and thickens a bit, or after cooling it can be stored in the refrigerator to chill it before serving.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Ancestors

Honoring and working with the ancestors is an important part of my path. Many spirits are helpful and worth cultivating relationships with, but our ancestors have the unique perspective of having once lived human lives.

Beginning a relationship with the ancestors isn't very difficult. Creating a small ancestor shrine is a good first step. It can include a bowl and plate for small offerings, general representations of your heritage, and pictures or items that belonged to specific family members who have passed on. Our ancestors include not only direct blood relatives, but can also include the blood of those families we have married or been adopted into, one way or another. In addition, our ancestors can also include important figures from the cultures and countries we live in.

Offerings to the ancestors can vary from tradition to tradition. In ancient Egypt, common offerings included bread and beer, and cool water. Apples are another food usually given to the dead. A little bit from a family meal is also welcome. Offerings can be left as long as you like - so long as they don't begin to spoil. What to do with the offerings after again varies with tradition, but commonly they will be put outside (sometimes buried in a very small and shallow hole). If you wish to make an offering to a specific ancestor, and you know what they enjoyed in life, that should be given.

Often I'm asked how communing with ancestors works if I also believe in reincarnation. I do believe that humans can reincarnate after death, but I don't believe that is happens immediately, nor do I view it as a requirement. Some will choose it quickly, others after a long while, some may never reincarnate. So, given that, it's likely that there are some in the unseen world at any point in time. When speaking of specific people, it is possible they have moved on, or perhaps just don't want to answer.  There is also another theory... That a bit of our soul is always in the unseen world, and so even if someone had reincarnated, that bit of them can still give aid - and yes, that it is even possible for us to aid yourself in such a way.

Any way you wish to view it, it can still be helpful for us to make offerings in memory of our ancestors, and to honor those who were before us - after all, without them we wouldn't be here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fall Friday

This one is actually from last year, and a bit earlier in the season, but I wanted to share it today anyway.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How to String a Mala

A mala (or japa mala) is a set of prayer beads used in Buddhism and Hinduism to count mantras, or chants. They usually consist of 108 beads, or a divisor of 108. (27 is a common one, where 27 x 4 = 108.) Occasionally other numbers are used, as well.

Stringing a mala can be difficult, as they usually contain what is often called a guru bead - a bead with three holes - two on the sides, one on the top. However, with the right materials, and a little practice, it's not so hard.

Malas can be made from many materials - sandalwood, or other wooden beads, lotus seed beads, glass, or gemstone beads.

You'll need...
Thin metal wire, I used 28 gauge for a 10mm guru bead.
Appropriate cord - for small bracelet styles, you'll probably want to use an elastic cord, although a silk cord with a special sliding knot is also an option. For this I am using elastic cord.
A small pair of jewelry pliers.
1 guru bead and topper
However many beads you wish to include on your mala

We'll start with stringing the guru bead, the bead with three holes.
Begin by cutting about 4" of wire. Fold the wire in half, and at the fold form a small hook.

Push the hook gently through one of the side holes, with the hook facing up. The hook should poke up a bit through the top hole, and can be pulled out with the pliers. This step may take a few tries, and may require some experimenting with what angle and how large to make the hook.

Separate the metal at the hook just a bit to form a slim hoop. Slip a length of cord through the hoop, and tighten the hook back up.

Pull the hook and cord back through the bead. The next step is fairly simple, all you need to do is string the rest of your beads on the cord coming out from the side of the guru bead.

Next we get the metal hook back out. Push the hook down through the top hole and out the other side.

Again form a small loop at the hook, and set the cord through it. Pull the cord through the top hole.

Now you can string the final bead. If the hole is small, you may want to use the metal wire again. Slip the bent end through the top of the bead, put both ends of the cord through the loop, and pull it back through the bead.

That's it! Now you just need to tie it off with a secure knot, and cut the extra cord off. Don't cut too close to the knot - leave at least a half inch of cord coming out to give the knot some wiggle room.

Instead of cutting the cord, you can add some charms or small beads on each bit of cord, as in the first picture.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tools: Sistrums, Rattles, and Drums

A sistrum is a percussion instrument from ancient Egypt, used in the worship of the Goddesses Hathor, Bast, and in later times Isis. Sistra can some in a few styles, from little metal disks on bars that move when shaken, to movable metal bars that clank against the frame of the sistrum. Depending on how the sistrum is shaken the sounds it makes can be anything from a light jingling to a loud, sharp clanging sound. In some ways, the sound can be similar to that of a tambourine.

(Two sistra, both of the metal disk variety.
Above: A naos, or shrine, shaped sistrum, with the image of Hathor.
Below: A simpler sistrum with a rattle attached to the base.)

Rattles and drums are more commonly known instruments. All three can be used in meditation and trance work. A simple and repetitive beat will help one in attaining an altered state of mind for otherworld traveling, and different rhythms and tones will have different effects. Some may prefer a quicker, higher tone, while others have better experiences with a slow and low beat. Additionally, some find benefit in actually using the instrument, while others prefer to listen to someone else playing - either live or as a recording. (A recording of your own playing can also be used.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Relaxing Herbal Baths

The holiday season is fast approaching, and it can be a stressful time for many people. Finding a little time for a nice warm bath can do wonders for stress, and adding a sachet of soothing herbs to the water can make a bath all the more relaxing.

First you'll need something to put the herbs in. A small muslin or cheesecloth bag will work. A bit of cotton cloth can also be sewn into a pouch. (Ripped a pair of nylons? A small square of leg, tied well at each end, also does the trick.) Anything you can put the herbs in so they can steep in the bath water, but be easily removed.

3 parts dried chamomile
3 parts lavender
2 parts dried rose petals
1 part dried mint

Don't be afraid to adjust to your tastes! After mixing the herbs, simply put them into your bag, and toss into the tub with you.

Essential oils can also be used if you don't have the dried herbs on hand. Use one drop per part, and mix in an ounce of carrier oil. When the bath is done running, mix the oil into the water. Alternatively, mix the essential oils into some sea salts, let the mix dry, and that can be added to the bath instead.

You can also try...
3 drops vanilla
3 drops sandalwood
2 drops lavender
1 drop myrrh 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Spiced Apple Fritters

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 cup of finely diced apples

Sift together the dry ingredients, then blend in the vanilla, milk and egg. Fold in the apples. Drop batter by the spoonful into a half inch hot oil. Fry for about one minute on each side.

The fritters can be topped a number of ways. They can come right out of the oil and be put into a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. They can drain on paper towels a bit and be dipped into powdered sugar while still warm. They can be coated with a glaze made of powdered sugar, and enough milk or apple cider to make a light frosting. Or they can be served with maple syrup. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Photo Day : Earth

One of the lessons of earth is that of life, death, and life again. New spring flowers growing up from the dead leaves of the last year. Growth and decay, life and death, one always following the other.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Wheel of the Year : Dark Half

While the light half of the Wheel of the Year is about growth and outward activity, the dark half has a more inward focus, both drawing into the self, and back into the home during the cold winter months. 

Mabon, the autumn equinox (around September 21st). The first day of autumn, and the first day of the dark half of the year. This is the sunset of the year, it is a time of balance, of (nearly) equal light and dark - but after this time, the nights will be longer than the days. Mabon is the second of the three harvest festivals. It is a time of celebration, of giving thanks for the bounty of the light half of the year.

Samhain (November 1st, although celebrations usually begin the evening before), the sun has set, the sky is dark - but it's not quite midnight yet. This is the peak of the autumn season. This is the final of the three harvest festivals. A time to hurry and bring in any last crops from the fields before winter sets in. It is also the harvest of animals, a time to cull herds, and a time to hunt. Many of us likely don't have physical herds that need culling, but we can still remove unnecessary things from our lives at this time.
At Beltane the energies of spring and life were at their peak, and so at Samhain the energies of autumn and death are now at their height. The barrier between the worlds is again at it's thinnest point, but this time we honor those who've gone before us - the ancestors. 

Yule, the winter solstice (around December 21st). The longest night of the year, but a night filled with the promise of the return of the light. The wheel has turned to midnight, and as a new day starts at midnight, so the new year comes with Yule - the sun and the year both being reborn. Yule is the biggest holiday of the wheel for me. It begins with the eve before the solstice, and is celebrated for 12 days. During the longest night a candle is kept lit, keeping the spark of light alive through the darkness, until the sun is reborn in the sky. The celebration lasts through Christmas and the calender new year, and so there are several opportunities to gather with friends and family, and celebrate the promise of returning light on cold winter nights.  

Imbolc (February 2nd), winter's mid-point. We've passed through the bulk of the night, we known dawn is coming soon, but it's still a ways off. This is a time to prepare for the coming light half of the year. It is a quiet time, a time for purification, for tidying up and readying ourselves both physically and spiritually for the active summer months ahead. Candles are lit in honor of the slowly returning light. In New Hampshire we are still in the dead of winter during this holiday, but even so, the first faint signs of the coming spring can be seen... days lasting just a little longer, and soon we see winds not quite as bitter. There's still a wait before we really feel the warmth, but we know it will come eventually.

Then the Wheel turns back to Ostara, the light half returns, and the cycle continues.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fall Friday

Now with added "hey what's that snow doing there?"

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Spirituality as a Solitary Practitioner

I've spent most of my spiritual path wandering about as a solitary. While there are some who are forced to be solitary (lack of local groups, age restrictions, or whatever other reasons), for me it has always been by choice. I have belonged to groups in the past, ranging from the very small close knit group, the slightly larger informal group, and even a large very organized group. Still, I always find myself pulling away from group work, I simply prefer to work and worship alone. There are of course benefits to a solitary path (otherwise why make such a choice?), but it does have its potential drawbacks, as well. Interestingly, many of the benefits are linked to the drawbacks...

For example, one benefit I've found is the ability to work at your own pace and on your own schedule. You study what you want, for as long as you want, and practice on your own time. The downfall to this? You have to actually motivate and direct yourself. Sometimes you can find yourself stuck, unsure of which steps to take next. Or maybe lacking the motivation to follow through on goals you set. In a group setting you might have more guidance and support through such times, but as a solitary you must be your own support.

In a similar way, you are able to write your own rituals. Making them as long or as short as you want. Able to use only symbolism that speaks the most to you, to use the tools you prefer. The downfall? It's up to you to know what works for you, and what does not. It's also up to you to do all the work, both in preparing and actually in the ritual itself.

Another benefit is for the self conscious. When working alone you don't have to worry about having the eyes of others on you. You can say what you want, dance freely, sing, gesture, or whatever else without feeling self conscious. Of course, sometimes it's hard to get up and dance alone, or you may feel foolish talking with no one else around you.

There are just a few of the dual pros and cons. Like many things, being a solitary is what you make of it. What is beneficial to one person can easily weigh down another, if they are unable to use the benefits to their advantage. A strictly solitary practice isn't for everyone, just as a truly group based practice won't be best for everyone, either. We all have to find what system works the best for us.

For me? I've found my balance. The majority of my study and practice is done alone, this is most effective for me - but sometimes I celebrate with friends, and have a network of people (mostly other solitaries) to talk to, share ideas, struggles, and so on. Even solitaries who love being alone and working alone can benefit from the input of others from time to time, and we can all get a little lonely now and then.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

(Artwork) The Fool

I can't credit the artist of this work, as much as I wish I could, as I don't know who the artist is. I saved this image to my laptop at some point in time, no idea where it came from. I would really love to know though, so if anyone knows the source for this, please share with me. I'm really taken with this interpretation of The Fool tarot card, I think the imagery is fantastic! I'd love to see more from this artist, or own the full deck if one exists, so hopefully someone out there can help me out...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Out with the old...

With the sun setting on Samhain day, and the year nearing it's end, I can't help but begin reflecting on the past year. If this year has been about anything, it's been casting off the old to make room for the new.

It's hard to imagine where I was just one year ago, it feels like it's been much longer. While there's always been change and growth in my spiritual path, it's usually been slow and connected. This year it's come in leaps, many of which I never saw coming.

The biggest change? Before this year I'd only ever formed relationships with the Egyptian pantheon. This year I found myself essentially cut off from that pantheon, first following a call to Artemis a few years in the making, second a Goddess from a pantheon I'd not even heard of before a few months ago (Proto-Indo-European).

I found this opening up many other windows, new concepts, new myths to try to understand, new imagery calling to me. So many new ideas that seemed to fit in very well with my existing path, where old ideas had been culled out earlier in the year.

The change shook my path right down to the tools I work with. Both in retiring old tools, and in bringing in all new tools I've never worked with before.

I also branched out from old communities, left communities that were holding me back, joined new ones, made many new friends. (Heck, I even cleaned out this old blog and brought it back to life!)

I'm of course wondering what else will pop up before the year's end. What next year is going to bring. I'd imagine with all the upheaval there might be a year of smoothing things out and fully incorporating all this new into my existing path, getting it all to really come together... or at least the start of such a process. Only time will tell, though.

In any case, it's been a very full and exciting year. Hard at times, but always rewarding.