Handfasting Blessings, Brooms and Poppets, Oh My!

This is a column I wrote for the Pagan Household back in March, right before all hell broke loose. A little out of season, but oh well…

 

Tomorrow I’m Priestessing a handfasting for two dear friends.

Handfastings are a type of wedding ceremony that come to us from the British Isles when the clergy were few and far between. Couples would get hand fasted while they waited for a clergy member to come and perform the official ceremony. Many modern Pagans have adopted the practice, not wanting to have a more traditional (Christian) type of ceremony.

During many traditional handfastings, the couple’s arms are bound (fastened) and they are asked to jump over a broom, a cauldron and a fire. Being tied together makes them work together, symbolizing the relationship they will have as a married couple. The broom, cauldron and fire represent fertility, health and well being. Depending on the tradition, the couple will remain bound until night falls or until the marriage is consummated. (You can find these traditions all over the world, Ireland to Africa to Asia…)

The broom itself is a powerful symbol of male and female fertility bound together, which is why it’s such an important part of the handfasting ceremony. It is also an important tool to take together into your new marriage.

The broom is hung over the bed if the couple wants to have children. If the couple doesn’t want children, the broom is placed underneath the bed!

I’ve also heard it said that you should always treat your broom as a member of your family, and when you’re having marriage difficulties, talking to your broom can help sort them out. Another tradition is that when you and your spouse are fighting, sweeping your house out with your broom can help clear the air.

Treating your broom well and taking care of it is symbolic of taking care of your marriage, and ensures that  you and your spouse are healthy and happy as a couple. Mistreating your broom can have ill effects on your marriage!

(There are also superstitions that if you step over a fallen broom before your wedding, you’ll never get married! So watch out!)

The ritual itself is of course the important part of the handfasting, but guests who come to the wedding can contribute more than their energy during the ritual.

The handfasting basket is fairly traditional, and many people will tell you to put thirteen specific blessings symbolized by certain items into a basket for a new couple. But I like to make mine up a little differently.

In a basket I like to put a fresh loaf of bread, a bag of sea salt, and a bottle of wine or ale for a house warming gift. Casting salt through your house, while carrying fresh bread and wine blesses your home with abundance and captures any “leftovers” from whoever was there before. If you are moving in with your spouse for the first time, it helps to get rid of your habits as a single person. If you already lived with your partner, it helps cast out any distance that might remain between you. Of course you sweep the salt up with your broom and cast it out your front door.

I also like to include a Bridget’s Cross. A Bridget’s Cross hung in a house prevents fire.

A piece of iron for protection.

A horseshoe to hang over the couple’s door for luck.

A tin can with a bright shiny penny in it. (If a couple sets this somewhere in the house and continues to add loose change to it, it will help attract financial success to the household).

Lavender sachets to set near the bed for peaceful dreaming.

And finally I like to create a poppet that gives all the blessings, hope and love I have for the couple in their new marriage.

If you’ve never created a poppet before, it’s a very personal type of magic. I always make mine to look like small stuffed animals that can be placed on an altar, a shrine or a mantel.

How to create a poppet:

First, choose an animal that symbolizes whatever you’re creating the poppet for.

For a marriage I would create one that looks like a hare.

Taking two pieces of fabric (in a fabric that seems appropriate to you),  cut out the shape you’re going to sew.

I hand sew it together, thinking about all the things I will to give to the new couple. This takes a lot of your energy and focus, so be prepared to be pretty wrung out after you’ve completed your sewing!  If you need a way to help you focus on the task at hand, you can always choose a traditional song or rhyme to sing or speak while you’re working. For a wedding I would pull out “Hares on the Mountain” or the “Bonny Black Hare.”

Before closing the poppet up, stuff it with a mixture of herbs, a stone or two and regular stuffing to fill it out. For a marriage I would consider using woodruff, rosemary, marjorum, mint, marigold, ivy and maybe a hint of cinnamon. I would also add rose quartz (it’s usually better to place the stone near the bottom of the poppet to help it stand up!).

Close your poppet up and then have fun decorating it! I usually use buttons for eyes and paint to place any other symbols that I think are appropriate for the occasion.

If you work in a group, you can also have anyone help with the creation of the poppet or do a group blessing when it’s finished.

Finally, gift the poppet to whoever you made it for!

 (Photo taken by me at Griffiths Park in L.A.)

(Photo taken by me at Griffiths Park in L.A.)

 

Nice While It Lasted

Lauren:

I am so angry today (not that this is anything new at this point really, but…) and I am generally helpless to do anything about it. Innocent until proven guilty? Ha!

Originally posted on The Honest Courtesan:

This essay first appeared in Cliterati on June 15th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

Emperor JulianDuring the reign of the Emperor Julian a man named Numerius, who was governor of Narbonensis (what is today southern France), was accused of embezzlement by one Delphidius; because Numerius was a high official his trial was presided over by the Emperor himself.  Numerius’ defense consisted entirely of denying his guilt, but since Delphidius had no actual evidence this was enough.  When it became clear that his attempts to trick Numerius into self-incrimination had failed, and that the charge would fail with them, Delphidius cried out, “Oh, illustrious Caesar!  If it is sufficient to deny, what hereafter will become of the guilty?”  Julian’s famous (and quotable) reply was, “If it suffices to accuse, what will become of the innocent?”

The principle was not new in 4th century…

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I’m Not In This Swamp

I picked up Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman tonight for the first time in years. Neil Gaiman has had a great deal of influence on how I view the world, the gods, magic…well, generally everything. I had forgotten that Tori Amos wrote the introduction and tonight it struck a chord:

Instead, I dyed my hair and she [Death] visited me and I started to accept the mess I’m in. I know that mess spelled backwards is ssem and I felt much better armed with that information. Over the last few hours I’ve allowed myself to feel defeated, and just like she said if you allow yourself to feel the way you really feel, maybe you won’t be afraid of that feeling anymore.

When you’re on your knees you’re closer to the ground. things seem nearer somehow.

If all I can say is I’m not in this swamp, I’m not in this swamp then there is not a rope in front of me and there is not an alligator behind me and there is not a girl sitting at the edge eating a hot dog and if I believe that, then dying would be the only answer because then Death couldn’t come and say Peachy to me anymore and after all she has a brother who believes in hope.

 

Spell for a New School Year

This was a column I wrote for The Pagan Household last year on August 12th, 2013. I found myself plagued with back to school anxiety dreams last night and thought I would post it here for anyone else in the same boat. Good luck with the new school year!

 

This morning on my way to work, I saw lots of parents anxiously ushering kids onto buses or waiting for the streetcar. (I love that many kids in New Orleans ride the streetcar to school).

I too will be going back to school this year. And even though it’s for my Master’s degree, I find that I am suffused with the same excitement that I remember from grade school. I’ve been disappointed all weekend that I have to wait another two weeks to start myself!

(Remind me of this conversation in a few months when I’m drowning in graduate English papers).

I’ve been carefully picking out my new school supplies and searching for a new backpack. Things like this make it easier to start the new school year off on the right foot.  But just because you have the right supplies, that doesn’t mean that your student isn’t still anxious about starting a new school year.

What if your teacher is mean? Or the work is too hard? Or you have problems getting to school?! We aren’t the only ones to worry about these things; students throughout the ages and all over the world have worried about the same problems.

In one story, there is even a magical element to getting to school! This very old English ballad tells a story of a little boy that meets a stranger on the road and he has to outwit the stranger before he can get to school safely.

“Oh, where are you going?” says the false knight on the road.

“I’m going to me school,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“What is on your back?” says the false knight on the road.

“Me bundles and me books,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“I came a-walking by your door,” says the false knight on the road.

“That lay in your way,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“Flung your dog a stone,” says the false knight on the road.

“I wish it was a bone,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, what sheep and cattle’s that?” says the false knight on the road.

“They’re mine and me father’s,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“And how many shall be mine?” says the false knight on the road.

“The ones that have the blue tail,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, can I get a share o’ them?” says the false knight on the road.

“You cannot get a share of them,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“And why the stick all in your hand?” says the false knight on the road.

“To keep me from all cold and harm,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, I wish you were in yonder tree,” says the false knight on the road.

“A ladder under me,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“The ladder it’ll break,” says the false knight on the road.

“And you will surely fall,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“I wish you were in yonder sea,” says the false knight on the road.

“A good boat under me,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“The boat will surely sink,” says the false knight on the road.

“And you will surely drown,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Has your mother more than you?” says the false knight on the road.

“Oh, none of them for you,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“I think I hear a bell,” says the false knight on the road.

“It’s ringing you to hell,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

~ Steeleye Span sing False Knight on the Road, Traditional English Folk Ballad

(You can listen to it here or you can hear The Fleet Foxes version here…)

 

Hopefully your student won’t experience anything like that, but what can you do to sooth fear and anxiety about a new teacher, a new classroom, harder work and new friends?

I love baking and I love bottle spells, and this is an excellent opportunity to combine both!

This is a variation on the honey jar spell, which you can do to “sweeten people up” for any sort of new endeavor.

 

What you need:

Your favorite cookie recipe and all the ingredients to make the cookies.

An apple

A candle

A tin with a lid (make sure that the tin is big enough to hold the apple).

A piece of paper and a pencil

 

Directions:

Do this the night before school.

First, core your apple and set it inside the tin.

Next, bake your cookies. Do this with whoever is going to school. For each ingredient, as you measure it out into your cookie dough, talk about what you want out of the school year.

For example: While adding your sugar you could say “I hope I have a teacher that loves to teach me new things and who is kind to the students!” or for vanilla you could say, “I hope this year that learning will go more smoothly!”  For salt you could ask for protection from bullies and safety in traveling to and from school. As you discuss each ingredient, toss a pinch of the ingredient into your apple core in the tin.

After you mixed all your ingredients and put your cookies in the oven, take your piece of paper and write the name of your student on it. Have your student cup it in their hands and make a wish for a great school year! Then put it in the apple core with everything else and put the lid on the tin.

Next, set your candle on top of the lid. (You can either melt the wax onto the tin lid or use a candle holder). I would place the spell on my altar, or you could also put it next to the bed of your student. Light you candle and let it burn down completely. (Wherever you place the spell, make sure that there aren’t any fire hazards and that the candle can burn safely).

As the candle burns, it will take all your students anxious energy and concentrate it down into the spell for a better school experience.

After the candle has burned down the next morning, you can bury your apple in the garden or in a potted plant to continue feeding the spell and then you can fill your tin with cookies to send to school with your student to share.

Happy start of school all!

apple-book

*For those of you who need a cookie recipe, try that old classic, Nestle’s Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Samhain Swine

This was originally posted on Witches and Pagans on October 28th, 2013. I know we’re slightly out of season, but I’ve been working on some research that relates to this topic. Plus, I really like mythological pigs. They make me happy. Enjoy:

 

Samhain: During this time of year, some people celebrate the Lady’s return to the Underworld. Others remember their ancestors and give thanks and blessings to those who have come before us. Still others celebrate the end of the Harvest. Samhain is a time of diverse celebrations and remembrances.

I, however, think about pigs.

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, a king was hunting in the forest. As he was mustering his own pack of dogs, he heard a strange pack of dogs baying. As he and his dogs came to a clearing in the woods, he finally caught sight of the other pack of dogs. These dogs were white with red ears and they were chasing a white stag. (This should have been his first hint that this was no ordinary pack of dogs).

The strange pack of dogs brought down the stag and the King, whose name was Pwyll, had his dogs drive them off so that he could claim the prize of the stag for his own pack.

b2ap3_thumbnail_799px-Pwyll_helaGuest

As his dogs fed, another Huntsman appeared in the clearing.

Pwyll, King of Dyfed, greeted the stranger, but the stranger refused to introduce himself because of a great discourtesy Pwyll had done him. When Pwyll asked what discourtesy he had given, the Stranger answered.

‘I’ve never seen a greater discourtesy by a man than driving off a pack which has killed a stag, and [then] feeding your own dogs on it.

Art by Alan Lee for an illustrated version of the Mabinogion

Art by Alan Lee for an illustrated version of the Mabinogion

That’ said he ‘was the discourtesy, and though I won’t be revenging myself on you, between me and God, I will be claiming dishonour from you to the value of a hundred stags.’

‘Chieftain, if I’ve committed an offence, I will redeem your friendship.’

‘In what form will you redeem it?’

‘As appropriate to your rank – I don’t know who you are…’

‘A crowned king am I in the land I am from.’

‘Lord,’ said Pwyll ‘good day to you. Which land is it that you are from?’

‘From Annwvyn. Arawn king of Annwfn am I.’

It’s never wise to upset the God of the Underworld, and Pwyll realizes too late who he has offended. Arawn asks Pwyll for a service to restore his honor. Pwyll happily does the service asked of him, and this begins a great friendship between the Kingdom of Dyfed and the Kingdom of Annwn. Pwyll himself received many gifts from Arawn, the most important of which is Pwyll’ s wife, the goddess Rhiannon, which is another story entirely. (If you want to read the whole story, you can find it here). But the greatest gift the Kings of Dyfed receive from Arawn is a herd of swine.

This story comes to us from the first Branch of the Mabinogion. Throughout the Mabinogion, the ownership of the pigs is an important issue. Whoever owns the pigs has a close and friendly relationship with the Underworld, which brings them both prosperity and happiness.

Also from Welsh folklore, we hear about Henwen, the White Sow (another Underworld creature), who brought abundance to England by birthing litters of bees, wheat and barley. She also birthed eagles, ferocious cats and wolves. Henwen is a goddess of prophecy and would use sticks and runes to spell out someone’s future for them

b2ap3_thumbnail_top_pig_origins

We see sacred pigs in many stories throughout European mythology.

The pig was sacred to Demeter, a goddess that is an important part of the Greek Underworld story of Persephone and Hades. This spilled over onto the Roman goddess Ceres as well. Sacred pigs were herded into caves for the goddesses in both lands. While most people agree that Zeus was suckled by a goat, some say he was suckled by a sow.

Circe turned Odysseus’s men into swine on his journey returning from Troy.

b2ap3_thumbnail_riviere-brit1b

The great goddess Cerridwen was known as “The Old White Sow” and the Irish god of the sea, Manannan had a magical herd of pigs.

The Russian witch/goddess Baba Yaga is also often thought by some to ride a Sow through the forest instead of the flying mortar.

In Norse mythology, the boar is a symbol of Odin, and the Valkyries serve the warriors who feast in Valhalla from the boar Saehrimnir.

Pigs still tie us to the Underworld, which is why I always “sacrifice” a pig on Samhain. This is a reminder to me and to the Gods of the relationship that we have with the Underworld. While most of us can’t actually sacrifice a pig, I make a delicious pork dishes and leave them out as offerings to stand in as a replacement for a living swine.

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My “pig” sacrifice for the year, made with pork roast and bbq sauce

So while you’re enjoying your Samhain festivities this year, whatever they may be, remember the pigs! They may sound like an odd creature to appreciate, but they are an important tie to the Underworld that can bring your home health, wealth and prosperity.

pig-01

*I wrote a children’s Henwen ritual for Samhain over at The Pagan Household. If you’re interested, you can find it here!

Magical Mundanity

This was originally posted on Witches and Pagans January 6th, 2014.

 

Willow: But, there’s also other stuff that we might show an interest in, as a Wicca group.

Wanna Blessed Be #1: Like what?

Willow: Well, there’s the wacky notion of spells. You know, conjuring, transmutation.

Wanna Blessed Be #2: Oh yeah. Then we could all get on our broomsticks and fly around on our broomsticks.

Willow from “Hush,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer


We have a joke in my household. My partner can make the mundane magical and I always manage to make the magical mundane. But that’s just the way I am and honestly, I think I have the better end of the deal.

I am not what most people have in mind when they think of a stereotypical Pagan woman. I don’t wander around discussing the position of the stars in the sky or what astrological sign we’re under. I don’t do crystal healing at the drop of a hat. My house doesn’t have shrines in every corner (just one very well tended one, thank you very much). I don’t wear too many flowing skirts and bangles. And magic is not generally what I would call my focus.

sorry, I don't generally contemplate skulls as witchily romantic as it might seem. Sleepy Hollow - Wise Woman by Raskolnikova-Sonya)

sorry, I don’t generally contemplate skulls as witchily romantic as it might seem. Sleepy Hollow – Wise Woman by Raskolnikova-Sonya)

But, it is still a very important aspect of everything I do.

I don’t have to run around casting spells everyday to be a serious magical practitioner. While my practice is generally on worship, that doesn’t mean that I can’t whip something up when I need to.

And besides, everything I do in ritual as a Priestess is magical.

Sweep? Magic. Cast a Circle? Magic. Calling the Elements? Magic. Calling the Gods? Magic. Wine and Cakes? Magic. Drawing down? Magic.

Any spells I do decide to work take a lot of my energy, focus and intent. While I enjoy little household magics, I’m just generally not that sort of Pagan.

But lately I’ve been seeing a lot of my fellow Pagan friends, other initiates in my tradition and other various loved ones, complain about the usual sort of  life difficulties: finances, relationships, bosses and jobs; you know, the same things everyone has problems with at one time or another.

And I end up sitting there thinking “well, are you a witch or aren’t you?”

Maybe the holidays have brought out my snark, but what’s the point of calling yourself a witch if you can’t change your life and the world around you. Isn’t that sort of the idea?

While I don’t generally run around casting magical spells all the time, if I’m having a tough spot with finances, I sit down and rework my budget and rethink my spending habits and then I go and get myself a green candle and I work a little money magic.

If my boss starts giving me a hard time, I may come up with different ways to approach the situation, but I am also going to go and work a little magic to cause things to go in my favor.

Love life suck? Again, magic comes in handy. Attracting the right person your way can be just the ticket.

Need an update on the coming months? Out come my tarot cards.

Magic is not the focus of my life because as a witch, my life is magical. To me, the magical is mundane.

I think it’s really easy, when we get caught up in the everyday world around us, to forget that we do have the power to change things.

You don’t have to be a 32nd degree OTO member, you don’t have to be a Master Warlock,  you don’t have to be a third degree Elder Priest/ess to create change in your life. Are you magical or not? Your attitude towards your magic counts.

I sat in on one of Orion Foxwood’s workshops at a small North Carolina festival and listened to him talk about being a young practitioner and staring at himself in the mirror everyday and saying “I am a witch” over and over and over until he believed it with every fiber of his being.

Believing in your own Craft is probably the most significant tool any practitioner has.

So.

Are you a witch? Or not.

 

The Ordeal

This was originally posted on Witches and Pagans on July 27, 2013.

 

“…And you will earn the right of return,
and all the moons you can swallow”
~Tea With Witches, Kate Chadbourne

Right before I left for Sirius Rising, I came across one of Star Foster’s blogs about her experience with her own initiation, Considering Consent: Initiation, Baptism, and Other Religious Milestones. This blog left me with a lot to chew over, since my own initiation was nothing like Star’s experience and I was preparing to assist in elevating two of my students.

In the blog Star says, “I told my initiator afterwards that had I had an understanding of what the ritual would entail, I would never have requested an initiation. I would have remained a ‘friend of the house.’ To be perfectly honest, had I been given a paper copy of the ritual to peruse ahead of time, my response would have likely been ‘Oh HELL NO!’”

A required reading in my tradition is “What Witches Do” by Stewart Farrar. The very first chapter of the book is about initiation and describes a man going through it. I didn’t read it before I took initiation exactly because I didn’t want to know what would happen during an initiation. I have read the book since and am glad that I made the choice not to do so beforehand. For me, going through initiation was partly about proving to myself that even without knowing exactly what was going to happen, I was ready enough to handle it without any forewarning. That I could blindly take what was done and have the knowledge to handle anything thrown at me. While initiation is an undertaking that you’re given by others, my initiation was a test I had also set for myself.

Walking into my initiation, I was fairly nervous. While I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, I was trained well enough to have a good idea of what to expect. While I didn’t read other accounts of initiation before hand, my priest and priestess didn’t send me into things blindly. I didn’t walk into my initiation expecting a “positive, loving experience” as some of the people that Star talked to told her about, I walked into my initiation knowing that I would be facing my Gods face to face and was bolstered by the knowledge that my initiators deemed me ready to handle whatever came next. I expected to be uncomfortable, I expected to be tested. I expected to swear serious vows and to be asked uncomfortable questions. My tradition made sure to equip me with the tools I needed to get through my initiation healthy, happy and whole.

Initiation was not something I expected to be pleasant, it was something I expected, in some ways, to survive. It is about the death of an old life and the start of a new one. I didn’t expect this to be a happy experience. I expected this to be an ordeal.


Initiations and elevations are supposed to be ordeals. Jason Mankey, Pagan scholar and blogger (he has a blog over at Patheos called Raise the Horns and he will soon have a new column here at Witches and Pagans, go check it out!) and also a dear friend and Gardnerian was discussing initiation with me at Sirius Rising. Jason used that word, ordeal. And I think “ordeal” sums up everything about initiation beautifully.

During Sirius Rising, I assisted with two elevations. They were the first elevations that I have been the acting priestess for. While they were outer court elevations, they were elevations that are about the acceptance of taking the path to initiation.

What surprised me about leading others through this elevation was that it was not just an ordeal for the ones undertaking to elevate. This was also an ordeal for myself and my priest as well. In some ways, getting ready for this ritual was harder for myself and my partner than it was for those who were elevating. They just had to show up and get through it, we had to memorize several pages of lines, find a place, have all the tools, get the right objects needed, provide some things for after and facilitate the ritual, the ritual that was more draining for us performing it and channeling deity than it was for those undertaking it!

It took us several days to get ready and that was after all the time spent making sure our students were taught and properly prepared to handle the elevation. I stood anxiously throughout the ritual, after having done my part of it, waiting to see if our students stood up to the tests provided, hoping that I had prepared them enough and had judged correctly that they were ready. In many ways, their elevation was as much a test for me as it was for them, it was a test of my role as teacher.

This definitely changed my perspective on the act of initiation. I don’t know if I would have understood how an initiation or elevation could be an ordeal for those giving it without experiencing both sides of the coin first, but initiation is an ordeal for everyone involved. And I have a feeling that if it isn’t, you aren’t doing it right.

Also during Sirius Rising I took part in Jason Mankey’s Morrison ritual and was initiated into the Morrison Clan. If you ever have the opportunity to go to one, it is a heck of a lot of fun. The Morrison clan embraces the idea that Jim Morrison of the Doors fame was an incarnation of Dionysius, the ritual celebrates excess and all that life has to offer with music by the Doors playing in the background. Once again I had to prove myself deserving initiation. This time, initiation was a lot more fun, but that apprehension was still there. This time around, the things I did to “prove” myself were a lot more fun, but they were still trials, they were still an ordeal. I was still aware that we were in a Circle with the Gods and that my life would be changed forever by that act.

I hope that for my students now and in the future, I will not misjudge and I will continue to provide all the knowledge and support needed to get them to that place where they are ready to handle their initiation without feeling that they didn’t consent to what happens during one. I would hate to think that I had left someone with as a bad a taste for the Craft the way that it seems Star was. I hope to remember initiation is and always will be an ordeal. Initiation is not for the unprepared, it is trial, triumph and tribulation rolled all into one.