Thursday, December 11, 2008

Serendipity and the Solstice

Today my stepson and I began a new family tradition. We made hand dipped bayberry candles to burn on the Solstice. We had a lot of fun, and the little guy was amazed at how the candles seemed to grow visibly with each dip. We made a half dozen tonight, which will be plenty for us for the holiday season, although I'm thinking of making another half dozen as gifts to give to friends.

Bayberry candles burnt at this time of year apparently were once quite a popular tradition as there are several versions of a little ditty that is often recited as part of the lore of the bayberry. So far I've found about four different versions, but I forgot to copy down the last one I read, so here are three:

"This bayberry candle comes from a friend
so on Christmas eve burn it down to the end.
For a bayberry candle burned to the socket,
will bring joy to the heart and gold to the pocket."


"Bayberry candles burned to the socket,
puts luck in the home, food in the larder, and gold in the pocket."


"A bayberry candle burned to the socket
brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket."

At any rate, from the little snippets above it is clear that burning one as a holiday tradition certainly isn't going to hurt anything! Since bayberry candles made half and half with beeswax have a wonderful aroma and burn far longer and cleaner than bayberry wax alone, we added some lovely fresh beeswax to our dipping pot. The finished candles are hanging here near my desk, and ohhhhh, do they smell good. I keep taking the bundle down from their peg every few minutes to enjoy the scent.

So, here comes the serendipitous part...

Since my dipping pot is really just an empty spaghetti sauce can that's been cleaned out and re-purposed, our home-dipped candles weren't terribly long - only about six inches. That meant that they are also a bit narrower than commercial candles, since having candles that short but as fat as most commercial tapers would have looked a bit silly. So I decided to look through my candlestick collection for a holder that would hold a slightly narrower taper. I found two such holders already in decorative use on the mantle - a pair of brass calla lily candlesticks I bought a couple of years ago simply because I liked they way they looked.

As I was cleaning them up and polishing away the year's accumulation of tarnish, something in the back of my mind seemed to recall some sort of interesting calla lily lore I had run into earlier this year while researching something else that had caught my attention. So I did what I always do - I googled it - and here's what I found...

"The Calla Lily was the flower that the early Romans used to mark the passage of the winter solstice. The Romans planted the Calla Lily just inside the portal to their homes, timing it to bloom for winter solstice and giving the effect of bringing the light indoors during the darkest days of the year."

So my calla lily candlesticks have a bit more going for them than the fact that they fit the tapers we dipped tonight! And, I learned something interesting as well to pass along to the rest of the crew the night we light them to help guide back the sun.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Homemade Magical Cone Incense

I'm about out of my special cone incense, so it's time to get out the supplies and make enough to get me through at least the first few months of the new year. I think I'll make this part of my Summer and Winter Solstice preparations - that way I'll always have some nice fresh incense to use for my Grove ritual, which I perform any time I'm doing a holiday celebration or a magical working.

Here is the recipe I use.


Ritual Incense of Peace, Protection and Purification

Gives many of the characteristics of resin incense with the convenience, cleanliness and portability of cones. Smells like a walk in the summer woods crossed with a campfire - spicey, piney, smokey, but with a clean hint of floral

Incense Base

9 good-quality unscented wood-based small incense cones
1 tablet of incense charcoal, 33mm size

Grind wood based incense cones to powder in a coffee grinder. Sift out any large pieces and regrind these until powdered. Place resulting wood powder into a small jar that's been fitted with an airtight lid. Grind one charcoal tablet in a mortar and pestle until powder, then add it to the wood dust in the jar. Mix thoroughly by shaking the lidded jar until the powder is a uniform color and texture. Allow dust to settle before opening jar to add more ingredients, and be careful not to inhale the powder. To this base mixture, also powder and add:

1 tsp. each of

Three Kings resin incense, or use 1/2 tsp each of frankincense and myrrh resins
Copal resin
Aromatic rose petals, dried

1/2 tsp each of

Pine, cedar or Spruce resin
Benzoin powder
lavender flowers, dried

Grind all of the above with mortar and pestle until these ingredients are also well powdered, then add them to the incense base and mix thoroughly. Add three drops of lavender essential oil, and nine drops of rose absolute or another rose essential oil to the dry ingredients. Mix oils into the dry ingredients until you can no longer see clumps.

To the dry ingredients add purified or magical water, a dropperful at a time, until the powdered ingredients begin to clump up and form a rather dry, somewhat spongy "clay." Use only enough water to enable the mixture to hold its shape when firmly pressed. Using your fingers, firmly knead and press teaspoonfuls of the clay into skinny pyramid-shaped, flat based "cones" of incense, approximately three-quarters to one inch tall by half an inch thick and tapering to a point at the top. (Circular cone shapes are difficult to do by hand, but a tall pyramidal shape is much easier to form and works just as well.) Dry on a flat surface in a warm room for at least three days before use. When completely dry, use non-toxic paint to paint an Awen, Air or other sacred symbols on the cone sides if desired, allowing the paint a little time to dry before using the incense. Store unused incense cones in a small airtight container to help keep them dry and to preserve their volatile oils and scents.

Makes 10-12 medium-small "cones" of incense.

Earth Path report for 2008

The Earth Path has three goals. I will list them and then give a report on my progress for the year below each.

1. Performance of a regular series of experiences and practices designed to increase your awareness and knowledge of the natural world, and to decrease the negative impact of your own life on the living Earth.

Hiking and camping: We camped and hiked several times this year, concentrating on areas that are closer than usual. It was a lot of fun exploring places we never knew existed, but which are no more than an hour or two's drive from home. We hiked the Robber's Creek trail south of town intending to do an overnight, but the rattlesnakes we encountered in broad daylight in that area rapidly changed our minds. So we just made it a day trip, but it was still a lot of fun. We also explored and camped out in the Sawtooths for the first time, and that was an awesome vacation. We are hoping to go back there again next year for a bit longer. The area is beautiful - except for where the huge self-driven dredges had devastated some small valleys. It will take a few hundred years more before those areas are viable again, unfortunately. It made me upset to see how much damage had been done by the search for gold and silver.

Eating more local food and wasting it less: This year we've managed to bring our local eating up to around a consistent 50% by buying basics in bulk, gardening and buying produce from local vendors, and preserving what we can find locally in season so it can be used later in the year. We've even managed to drink local milk around 50% of the time, which given that we have to buy it from another city is an accomplishment. (We don't make extra trips, my son picks up enough for the week when he goes there to teach.)

This year I managed to can around 400 or more jars of local fruits, vegetables, meats and broth, condiments and pickles. We made local sauerkraut by the gallon, and local zesty dills by the gallon as well. We found local onions available at Sam's, of all places, and Costco - and also did our normal 150 lbs of local potatoes buy for storage and use throughout the winter. I picked a bunch of stuff from a local farmer with a pick your own place during several trips at summer's end, and canned much of it for the winter. This helped to round out what we grew here. Our tomatoes were wonderful this year, and we saved seeds from the best to try again next year. We got a few nice golden beets, and some lovely carrots in white, yellow, orange, red, and purple. Our winter greens cloche is finally planted (early Dec) which is late (again) but we should be getting some good greens from it by next February. Hopefully, in time for Imbolc.

Next year I hope to increase our local eating a little further, with an eventual goal of eating at least a consistent 75% locally. It is healthier for us, it supports local farming families, and it is much less wasteful than buying food that has been shipped over a 1000 miles. The fact that we have to work harder to get the food and to preserve it for later also means we appreciate it more and, as a consequence, waste it less.

Composting and recycling: We composted a little bit more this year than last, but not nearly enough. Next year I plan to double our composting efforts. This is something that I often forget to work on, and I think our garden would appreciate me giving it more of my attention in the future. ;-)

This year I concentrated on finding new uses for things that would otherwise be thrown away. For instance, I saved some clear tempered glass shelves from a dead refrigerator to be used as windows for a future solar oven and a future solar beeswax melter. (We hope to set up our own top bar honeybee hive in the back yard next spring.)

2. Participation in a regular series of seasonal Druid celebrations, including at least the two solstices and two equinoxes, which are traditional in the AODA.

Since I'm a solitary here, nearly all of my holy day celebrations have been either just minor affairs for my own benefit, or "virtual" gatherings with the AODA Inner Grove group. I've attended all of the Inner Grove rituals but one this year, and have kept up with writing some of my own as well.

3. Practice of a regular series of spiritual exercises including daily meditation.

I'm still having some issues with meditation. This, for some reason, seems to be the hardest part of my studies. I'm getting better with it, though, by trying to remember that meditation can be done in many ways and at many times, and does not always require an hour to onesself alone in a room with no family and no pets in attendence! Which is good, because those circumstances are rather hard to come by here.

So, I meditate while pulling weeds, and while I'm walking, or when I have to wait in line for some reason, or if I'm out in the car while my husband is in a store running errands, or at my desk at work during lunch... taking this tack has really helped me to get in more meditation time this year.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Alban Arthuan (Winter Solstice) Ritual

In this place, the house critters (sometimes up to a full half dozen cats and dogs) tend to gather around me when I'm trying to work. In the past I've handled that by locking them outside the room so they can't get underfoot, knock things over, get singed whiskers from nosing the candle or steal the food offering from the altar when I'm not looking. But then I had to listen to them cry piteously from the other side of the door the whole time, which was terribly distracting and made me feel a bit guilty.

After thinking about this for a while, I decided to just let them be part of the ceremonies and to adjust what I'm doing so they can be present without getting too much in the way or getting into things. (Having the altar on a taller stand helps a lot here...) I also make sure food offerings are critter-safe so the critters can have a bite at the end of the ritual. Sometimes, if what I plan for the cakes and ale portion is not good for them (ie, mead or something made with chocolate) I will have one set of foods for me and one for the critters. I actually like how this has worked out. It feels more inclusive and natural to not exclude the four-legged residents from the ceremonies.

Here is a ritual I'm working on for the winter solstice this year. This time of year is also my "new year" instead of Samhain, as I like to begin the new year on the positive note the lengthening of the days provides.

A ritual to be performed at the dawn after the longest night of the year.

Have an altar ready, indoors or out as weather or situation dictates, with representation of the elements, a druid sword, a chalice with appropriate drink (or water), a cauldron with sand or salt at the bottom for burning affirmations, affirmations or goals for the year written out on paper to read aloud, and a specially decorated candle to represent the sun (unlit.)

[Perform solitary grove opening then move into seasonal blessing below - try to time it so that the sun rises at the finish.]

[Stand facing the east and say the following aloud with feeling...]

The earth turns, and with its turning, the sun "rises" and that which we call time is called into being
The earth circles the sun, and with its circling, that which we call the seasons become
And with these times and with these seasons the Sun gives order to our existence
And with this order we measure out our lives upon this earth

On this, the longest night of the year, we give thanks for the blessings winter brings
We give thanks for the darkness, for without it, we would have no rest
We give thanks for the cold, for without it, the earth would have no rest
We give thanks for winter for within its dark and quiet womb are nurtured the seeds of spring

But behold! From this night forward the days will lengthen, and the earth will begin again to warm.

[Light the sun candle using the altar candle and hold it aloft]

From this night forward, dark gives way to light as the white crone of winter becomes once again the green maiden. Behold the lessening of the darkness, the returning of the light, and soon - the first stirrings of new life. We give thanks for the return of longer days and the promise of the coming of spring!

[Place sun candle, lit, back on altar. Take up the filled chalice. Salute the rising sun with chalice]

Father Sun, bless and warm us!

[With chalice, salute the earth]

Mother Earth, bless and feed us!

[Pour a small libation from chalice to each tree in the grove in turn, and by either pouring into dishes or dipping fingers into the chalice, let the critters have a taste as well]

All of life, awaken and rejoice!

In Gaia, all life is one!

[Bow head and drink also from the chalice, signifying oneness with all the other life present]

[Read aloud affirmations and goals for the new year, burning each in turn in the cauldron.]

[close grove]

Magic Spiral so far

"Memorize a ritual for opening and closing magical space, and practice it at least once each week during your Candidate year."

I have created a pantheistic Grove opening and closing ceremony that is the main framework for much of my other work in the grove. I am not sure that this is what I need to meet this requirement, but I plan to ask on the AODA list soon and find out.

"Using any preferred method, learn to summon, direct, and banish the energies of the three Druid elements until you can work with any of them at will."

This is something I need to work on still, although I have been reading up on it.

"Prepare and consecrate a wand, a cauldron, and a crane bag as Druid magical working tools using any preferred method."

This has been completed. I need to take some more pictures of the results today and post them here. My crane bag is still rather plain, but I figure I'll be adding decorations to it for the rest of this year.

"Learn to place magical intentions in stones, as a way of making simple talismans and amulets. Do this at least three times for specific purposes, using any preferred method. Keep notes in your Druid journal on the results."

This is something I have not even started. Well, if selecting the stones I want to use counts, then I guess I have begun, just not progressed any further than that. I have selected from my rather large rock collection a small piece of petrified wood that I found on a hiking trip a few years ago, a lovely small piece of iridescent volcanic cinder from an area not too far from here, and a small chunk of Preseli bluestone, the rock that was used to craft part of the Stonehenge monument.

"Read at least three books on magic during your initiatory year. From this reading, select at least thirty themes for meditation, and use them in your daily meditations."

In this area I have actually over-achieved. I have probably read around 10 books on magic in the past year, mostly while trying to find a type of magical system I can work with. The main issue is I'm an atheist - or more specifically, a scientific pantheist. That means I can't really call on "gods" during my grove or magical work because I don't believe in them. That makes it hard to use most of what has already been written on the subject - or at least to use it "as is." So I am in the process of digesting what I've been reading and trying to come up with a system that works for me. That will also make it to this blog, I suspect, as this part of my studies becomes more clear to me.

"In your Druid journal, write at least three pages on the place of magic in Druidry in general and in your personal Druid path."

I suspect those three pages (and probably quite a lot more!) will become part of this blog. Besides serving as my own record of work, perhaps it may be of use to other scientific pantheists who are looking for a way to combine Druidry with their own atheistic or deistic belief systems.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Awaiting the Solstice

For some reason this year I'm more excited about the holidays. It may be because it's been a rather tough year for us, or it may be because I'm becoming more comfortable with the path I'm taking in my spiritual life, or it may just be that with the economy the way it is anything that is "fun" for a change is definitely something to get excited over.

Whatever the reason, I'm definitely in the holiday mood! I've been baking cookies and buying gifts, and staying up waaayyy too late working on my AODA second degree studies. Working on my AODA degree is something I've not had energy to do most of this past few months, so this is a welcome sign that things are finally settling down a bit. I plan to work through the winter to get caught up so I can still begin my third degree work more or less on time at the end of next year. If not, well, luckily the AODA study program is quite flexible.

In fact, this blog is going to be part of my second degree work. So much second degree work involves writing, this seemed a natural format. Especially since one of the requirements of the Spirit Path is that I show some of my work "in some form that can be experienced by others." I can post my essays here, show pictures of things I'm working on for my spirals, and in general use this format as my personal journal of the path I'm working out. My next posts will be a summary of the second degree work I've accomplished thus far, and I'll use that as a framework to attach all the other work I'll be doing over the course of the coming year.