Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Essential Oils, Infused Oils, and Carrier Oils

Essential oils contain a strong essence of the plant they were derived from. Essential oils are generally very concentrated, and usually no more than a few drops at used at a time.

Essential oils are frequently made though a distillation process, but there are some other methods used as well, such as using a press to extract the oil from the plant. Essential oils are not made by simply steeping plant material in oil, that results in an infused oil.

When the distillation method is used, it produces both the essential oil, as well as what may be called an essential water. For example, if you were to use roses in this process, you would end up with both rose essential oil, as well as rose water, which is often used in cooking, baking, or as a beauty product. The essential water is not always kept, as depending on the plant used it may have an unpleasant smell or taste.

It is difficult to make essential oils at home, as generally one will need special equipment, and it requires a lot of plant material to get a good amount of oil for your efforts. One example I've seen given is that one would need 5000 pounds of roses to make a single pound of the essential oil. Many essential oils can be quite expensive because of this - but again, since a very little can go a long way, a single bottle will usually last a long while when stored properly. Essential oils should be stored in a tightly sealed (ideally dark colored) glass bottle, and left in a cool, dark place. Too much exposure to air, sunlight, heat, or extreme temperature changes will start to break the oil down.

Infused oils
are much easier to make at home than essential oils. To make an infused oil one simply needs to let some plant material steep in a base oil, such as olive oil, long enough that the scent and flavor from the plant can transfer into the oil. For more information on how to make and store infused oils, please see this post.

Carrier oils are used to dilute essential oils, and may also be used to make infused oils. Many carrier oils have very little scent of their own, which make them good bases to work with. There are many different kinds of carrier oils, but some of the more popular choices include olive oil, almond oil, canola oil, walnut oil, peanut oil, or apricot kernel oil.

Which carrier oil you use will come down to personal preference most of the time. For making infused oils that will be ingested, olive oil is probably one of the most popular choices. Chances are you've seen, or eaten, flavored olive oils in the past. For other uses, some carrier oils may be a bit thicker than others, have slightly different scents, colors, prices, and so on. Some are readily available in the grocery store, while others may be harder to find. Look around, experiment a bit with what's out there, and see which work best for your needs.

I'm often asked if mineral oil, or baby oil, can be used as a carrier oil. Obviously if you're going to be ingesting your oil, you probably don't want to be using mineral oil. If you were making something like an anointing oil for use on your skin, mineral oil might be an okay choice - however, mineral oil doesn't absorb into the skin very well. So while it can be used in some cases, one of the plant based carrier oils will usually make a better choice.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Animal Lore: Bears

Various types of bears are known in many parts of the world. Here in New Hampshire we've got black bears, and it's not uncommon to spot them in the more rural areas now and again. Every couple years one will wander into our neighborhood, pulling down bird feeders and getting into trash cans for a day or two, before wandering back into the woods when it realizes that no more food is being left around. Up north camping areas have very strict rules about food and trash. While, all in all, black bears are not one of the more aggressive bears, we are taught to respect them and to give them plenty of room.

Bears have played an important role in many different cultures through history - more than I could list here. Some examples include the legendary creation of Korea, where it was the son of a bear turned woman who founded the first Korean kingdom. Bears also play a significant role in the mythology of the Ainu people. They consider bears to be mostly benevolent creatures, and their meat and fur are important staples.

Berserkers, Norse warriors, were often said to wear shirts formed from bear pelts into battle (berkserker is derived from the Old Norse for bear shirt), and were known for fighting in a fierce trance-like fury.

In the folklore of some Native American tribes, bears became associated with dreams because of their winter dormancy.

Bears were one of the sacred animals of the Greek Artemis. The cult of Artemis at Brauron was especially linked with bears. It is said that a gentle she-bear was known to visit Artemis' sanctuary at Brauron. One of the girls at the sanctuary provoked it, and was injured because of it. The girl's brothers killed the bear because of this, and Artemis punished the people with a plague. An oracle told the people that the plague could only be removed if young girls played the role of the bear in the rites preformed at Brauron.

It is one of Artemis' nymphs, Kallisto, who eventually became the constellation Ursa Major (of which the Big Dipper, one of the more widely known constellations, is a part of). Kallisto's son, Arcas, became Ursa Minor.

Generally speaking, bears hold a bit of a dual symbolism. Gentle and benevolent, yet strong and fierce. Associated both with the sun and moon. They are seen as powerful protectors, symbols of bravery, and they are linked with sovereignty, acceptance of self, and, of course, motherhood. Watching bears fish and forage can teach us a little about patience and perseverance.

Bears go into the earth in the winter for a dormant period, linking them with death - and as they emerge in the spring, resurrection and new life. Especially the mother bears, who often give birth during these winter months, and emerge in the spring with their new cubs.

Their descent into the earth during the winter months also links them to the shamanic underworld, the dream world, and they are powerful symbols of wisdom, ancestral knowledge, and healing knowledge because of this. Their winter dormancy can also be seen as a metaphor for going into the self and communing with the sub-conscious, with connecting with our intuition and instinct.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rice Porridge with Apples and Raisins

As I write this, it is currently -4°F outside, and the forecast says it's only going to get colder as the night moves into early morning. Even in the house there's a bit of a chill, so as I write I've also got a nice pot of rice porridge cooking on the stove (which should be done just in time for a picture). In this kind of weather, I love a nice warm snack before bed, and the leftovers will make a good addition to breakfast in the morning.

Rice Porridge with Apples and Raisins
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 3" cinnamon stick (alternatively, about a teaspoon ground cinnamon)
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored, and diced into bite size pieces
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Lightly rinse the rice under running water. In a large saucepan, bring the rice, water, butter, and cinnamon to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, then cover and simmer about fifteen minutes - or until the water has been absorbed.

Add the milk to the rice. Heat over medium-high heat until simmering, but not fully boiling, while stirring often. As soon as the rice and milk comes to a simmer, turn the heat to low and add in the brown sugar, diced apple, and raisins. Stir gently.

Cover and allow the rice to simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the cinnamon stick from the porridge, if you used one. Add in the vanilla, and stir gently.

The porridge can be served warm, or put in the refrigerator and later served cold. I like my porridge warm with either maple syrup, or just a bit of heavy cream and honey drizzled over the top. A spoon of jam or fruit preserves is also nice. Also wonderful with fresh raspberries on top, although for me those are a rare treat at this time of the year.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

Budget Witchcraft/Paganism

All too often someone will say to me, "I want to be a witch/pagan/whatever, but I don't have any money to buy supplies!" Good news - all you really need is you. Yeah, sounds kinda cheesy, right? It's true, though. There are many things you can do that don't really require any money. You can learn to meditate, visualize, cook/eat mindfully, spirit journey, pray, and a whole host of other things, all without spending money on special items.

That said, tools and various other ritual items, while not necessary, are often nice to have, and can be useful aids in your practice. So how do you go about getting these things when you're on a tight budget?

Usually second hand stores, pawn shops, some antique stores, and even the occasional yard sale can bring about a good number of items, for little cost. These sorts of places have tons of little bowls, plates, and other bits - as well as nice stemware that can be used as a ritual cup. Small decorative daggers and letter openers can serve as a fine ritual knife. Such items generally need a good cleansing and blessing before use, but that's something many do for all their tools before use, anyway.

An all too often overlooked source is nature itself. You can go right out and pick up a whole bunch of useful odds and ends for free. Wood from a local tree could easily be made into a wand. Some people even like to carve ritual knives from wood. Herbs, stones, wood for charms, etc. can all be found right outside for a number of people.

Maybe not everyone has the means to do this, but a lot of people who do still seem to overlook it. Last summer I was chatting with a beginner, and she was telling me how she had no money, and so she could not buy herbs or stones, and so she could not practice at all. This person was from a somewhat rural town in New Hampshire, very similar to the one I'd grown up in, and I can assure you if there's one thing we've got plenty of in New Hampshire, it's plants and rocks. For whatever reason, many people just don't consider what's outside, they want something from a shop, or online. The "real" magic sort of stuff.

Sure, you're not likely to go out and find quartz points or tumbled gemstones lying around, but the things you will find are no less powerful or interesting, and they have the potential to become as personal and meaningful, if not more so, than something you just picked up in a shop.

To the left are some examples of some things I've found for myself outdoors. At the top is a stick of lilac wood, which could easily be made into something like a wand, or a part cut off to make a charm. Below that, at the left, is a small horse charm. Not natural, no, but found while out walking anyway. Next, a stone with a cross through it, a symbol of the earth and protection. A chunk of granite, half black and half white, balance. Sea glass and a shell from a trip to the beach, feathers from the woods, teaberries and birch bark right from the yard. 

There are many plants and trees which can be easily identified with a little research, and can have many uses. Many people are already familiar with some of the more commonly found things, such as maple trees, acorns, pine cones, and dandelions.

Even something as abundant as dirt has a place in ritual and spellwork! Dirt from specific locations is often used in spellwork in hoodoo, for example. Dirt from a hospital yard for healing, or dirt from outside a courthouse for help in legal matters. (For more on that topic, see this post.)

It's also good to take a look around your own home. You want to purify yourself before a ritual, but no sage to smudge? How about soap? Yes, really. Soap gets you nice and clean, right? So there's no reason a good scrub down in the shower can't get you ritually clean, if you put the intent into it. Want to cleanse a space? Bet you've got some salt in the house, so put a little sprinkle of blessed salt into some water, and sprinkle that around the area you'd like to cleanse. What else have you got? Maybe some sugar, flour, pepper, honey or maple syrup, some basic dried herbs or spices (like cinnamon, red pepper flake, oregano)? Find out how you can use them, because you can. 

When it comes to offerings, you can always offer a bit from your own plate, or even something as simple as a cup of water, so long as you are truly sincere about it.

You don't need a bunch of expensive tools and fancy items to practice witchcraft, or to be a pagan. There's nothing wrong with saving up for a really nice tool, if that's what you'd like to do, but likewise there's also nothing wrong with using what's at hand or what you can forage and dig up, either. Don't put off practicing until you have a perfect collection of every item you could ever need, don't let it become an excuse. If you want to practice, do it! You may have to think outside the '101 book' item list, get a little creative, really get your mind working - but you can absolutely practice without going broke.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

A is for Altar

The dictionary defines an altar as an elevated place or structure, as a mound or platform, at which religious rites are performed or on which sacrifices are offered to gods, ancestors, etc., which sums it up fairly well.

While specific traditions may have certain requirements of how an altar should be set up, generally speaking altars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and can serve many different functions. They can be outdoors or indoors, in any room of the house (yes, even a bathroom might house a small purification altar, or an altar devoted to water in the shower). Altars can be big, small, formal, informal, hold only a few items, or be covered in things, they can be obviously altars, or quietly fit into their surroundings. The altar may be kept in a busy spot in the home, where it will be seen often and always be bringing your faith to the front of your mind. Or it can be kept in a more quiet location, for privacy, or to keep it from being bumped, touched, or whatever else. An altar can be out in the open, or kept in a small cuppboard. It can be a permanent altar, or one that is only set up when needed. An altar can change with the seasons, can be devoted to a deity, a place to honor ancestors or spirits, a place to do ritual workings, a place to meditate, make offerings - many will be a mix of a few things.

Basically, what I'm saying is, what an altar is? That's up to you. You may choose to not even have one, and that's fine too if that's what works for you. Personally though, I keep a few different altars in my home...

Artemis' (indoor) altar is fairly clean and simple. A statue of her, two tall tea light holders, and two small offering bowls. Usually one for food, and one for liquid, but occasionally I will put some salt into one of the bowls and use it to burn an offering of incense. Sometimes the altar is decorated with flowers, evergreens, or other plants, but most of the time it's just as it's shown. This altar is in the living room.

Then there's the hearth altar, kept in a corner of my kitchen. The top section is devoted to Westya, a hearth goddess. The candle's flame represents her, a symbol of the hearth fire. The candle sits in a small bowl that has some non-perishable offerings in it. Those offerings get changed each new moon, and are usually related to the season. Ground corn around Lammas, or pumpkin seeds at Samhain, for example. The two little plates are more offering bowls, for the daily devotion done at this altar. In front is a smooth flat stone, to be used in spirit-flight rituals as a hearth stone, a stone to help one come back from journeying.

Below that is not really an altar, but more of a little working space of odds and ends. Mortar and pestle, candle snuffer, shell filled with bits (such as a piece of sea glass, a penny, a key...), bowl of bits (such as birch bark, dog hair, a feather...), blessed candles, ritual oil holder, salve holder, a charm of berries, some stones... This space changes often.

Then on the next down is the ancestor's altar. A statue of Yinepu (Anubis), a deity of the dead. Many of my ancestor items are currently packed away from when I re-arranged my altars, I need to get them back out sometime... Meanwhile, the main points of the altar are two offering bowls for the ancestors, and one for Yinepu. (Below that are two more shelves, storage areas.)

Next to this altar is a cabinet where I keep my tools and some supplies, like candles, incense, oils, and the like. Some people like to keep their tools on their altars, but since these areas are rather small, I keep them safely in the cabinet when not in use.

Finally, there's the newest of the bunch. Just set up a few days ago, actually. Hidden away in the corner for a bit of private space, low to the ground so I can sit in front of it. Just a little working place, a place to meditate, do shamanic work, small rituals, and so on. To the left of the altar is a sistrum (a sort of rattle), on the top is a little wooden frog noise maker, incense, a beeswax candle with some moonstones and a sunstone - all for Artemis, then a few different objects for the elements.

The row below that is still a bit empty, but on the left is a box of small ogham staves, in the center I'm working on a space to honor my spirit helpers, and to the right is where I'm currently keeping my wildwood cards (and where I will likely keep a small area for my 'weekly' card study). Below is just some storage right now, a journal, a shawl, and a box of supplies. I plan to be doing the bulk of my indoor work at the newest altar, so I am excited to see how it will grow and change as time goes on.

Beyond the altars shown here, I also maintain a few outdoor altars (yes, I really like altars...), but I think I've rambled on long enough for now, so those are probably best left to another upcoming project post. 

(Altars are also the prompt of the week over at Pagan Prompts.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Friday, January 4, 2013

Artemis Resource List

I considered writing an informational post about Artemis for today, but seriously, if you want to know about Artemis? Just go here...
Artemis on
- General information, hymns, myths involving her, titles, ancient worship, paintings and statues, and more. I don't think there's a site out there with more information all in one place. Frankly, if you're interested in any of the Greek deities, spirits, etc, Theoi should be your first stop.

Artemis: Virgin Goddess of the Sun and Moon A book similar to the site above, but often going into much more detail. Explains the origins of titles, details of symbolism, mythology, talks about ancient festivals, and so on. It's very nice to have a book with all that in one place. However, in my opinion, the book is a bit expensive for what you get... If you have a kindle, that edition is considerably cheaper.

Now that's a helpful place to start looking at the historical information, but what about her modern worship?
Unbound: A Devotional Anthology for Artemis -This is a fantastic book filled with poems, prayers, essays, short fictional stories, stories of personal experiences with Artemis, all written by different devotees of Artemis.

Dancing in Moonlight: Understanding Artemis through Celebration - A book about the ancient festivals of Artemis (and some modern additions), and how one can celebrate them, either alone or in a group. The author does a good job pulling from historical sources when possible, and is honest when something modern is added.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Pagan Blog Project

What is the Pagan Blog Project? Basically, it's a blogging your way through the alphabet one week at a time. Each week has a letter assigned to it, and every Friday you write about a topic starting with that letter.

For example, tomorrow is the first week, so the letter is A. You could write about altars, Ahrodite, air, arrows, apples, ancestors, and so on. Each letter gets two weeks, so the second week is also A, so you'd pick another 'A' topic. Then the third week would be B, and so on. (Some just do one post per letter, every other week.) It's also possible to join in part way through should you come to this project late, just start up with the letter of that week. The posting schedule can be found here.

More information about the project can be found here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy 2013!

Happy 2013! As my awesome cake decorating skills show (look, it's not bad for 3am...), 2013 is the year of the (yin water) snake. Chinese New Year actually isn't for a few more weeks, but Japanese new year has been celebrated on Jan 1st since shortly after they began using the Gregorian calendar.

We did our traditional dinner again, as always. All the usual favorites, sushi, udon, gyoza, chicken rice - and some more recent additions like coleslaw and stuffed flounder. As always, there was too much food, as always, we say that there will be less next year, but we all know there won't be. As always we work hard into the night to get everything ready, and as always, while we work we tell stories. Old stories from long ago, and stories from the past year.

It's not just looking back, there is of course some looking forward as well. We start thinking about plans and goals for this year, and the years to come. It's always easy to make goals and plans, but following through is another matter at times...

As 2012 was ending, I saw many people on Facebook, and other places, saying good riddance to 2012 - that it was a horrible year, and that 2013 just has to be better. Now for some, this is understandable - there were deaths, illnesses, family troubles, and the like. However, for several of these people, I watched them say the same thing about 2011, and about 2010...  There will always be things beyond our control, but at the same time one can't just sit by and hope that good things will come along. Sometimes we have to work for those things, we have to make the year a good one, to shape the year into the best that we can.