Category Archives: Sacred Arts

Working Between the Worlds: The Fallacy of Having it all Figured Out

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We find this attitude in teachers, business mentors, self-development coaches, and all too often among Sacred Artists. It has been around forever but in the age of high octane technology where safeguards and accountability checks are nil it is especially pernicious. I am talking about the “I’ve got it all figured out” mentality. It’s not overstating the case to say that this attitude is not only lethal to many a burgeoning business but also to living honestly and with full integrity.

People who have the attitude that they have it all figured out love to preach but do not like being questioned. They are often fans of blueprints, “Six Steps to Success” type programs, and above all, the sound of their own voice. They lecture and discourage free flowing conversation. Teachers who have this attitude rarely or never acknowledge their own teachers, seldom admit that they were ever students, and certainly do not seek out other teachers (Why would they? They have it all figured out!). In business some people with this mentality like to pretend that they always had it all figured out. Their website was on the perfect platform day one, they always knew all about the difference between push and pull marketing, and their mailing list grew from 6 to 60k in 60 days. Mmmhmm.

My irritation with this “I’ve got it all figured out” fallacy is that, first of all, it’s a total pile of BS. Secondly, it takes all the FUN out of learning, creating, and building anything–whether that’s a new recipe you are trying out for the first time or your very first website. I’m sure you all know this but in case, somehow, you don’t here it is: You never have it all figured out.

The dishonesty bit of this mentality is easy enough to understand but the losing the fun part is a bit more subtle. The first author who pointed this out to me was Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. Joel reminded me that the beauty of doing small scale anything–business, cooking, lotion making, planting, etc,–is that you get to EXPERIMENT. Yes! You can try out different things! Maybe the way that everyone else prices themselves actually does really work for you…or maybe it doesn’t! Maybe you like making small batches of face cream or maybe you don’t. Or maybe you want to try adding more lavender oil the next time around. The point is…we get to play! When you have it all figured out you don’t get to play. You get to be a know it all. Having been the poster child for school girl know it all let me tell you–that role is seriously overrated.

Maybe your first go at a website will be crap–mine sure was. Maybe the first offering you launch failed–it happens! As we say in Texas, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on the horse (We don’t all have horses in Texas btw). I see the need for having it all figured out keep people from pursuing their dreams on a pretty regular basis and that breaks my heart. I see Sacred Artists especially effected by this obstacle…and to my mind that is not acceptable. I’m all for identifying knowledge and skill gaps and seeking out the appropriate teachers and support. I believe that making practical plans is the only way to ground your big vision in the here and now where it can actually become something tangible. I also think that we are kidding ourselves if we say that we are waiting until the day we have it all figured out. That day? Never coming. Meanwhile…we are waiting for you to bring your awesome.

Many Branches: Starry Eyed with Amelia of the Midheaven


Amelia Quint is an amazing astrologer who knows the stars like I know my trusted Rider Waite Smith tarot deck. She is also super nice, approachable, and able to bring all the astro talk down to earth in a very hands on and practical manner–and she does it all with style! These are some of the reasons that I have collaborated with her in the past and had her as one of the featured guest teachers for Star Magic. I am now so pleased to bring her to my lovely readers. Give her a warm welcome and settle in to do some star gazing!

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Find Amelia on the World Wide Web: 
Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/themidheaven
FB:  http://www.facebook.com/midheavenastrology
Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/themidheaven

Amelia Quint, author of The Midheaven, uses divination to help movers, shakers, and risk-takers dream new and exhilarating possibilities. Her rock-and-roll-meets-the-boardroom approach creates a space where insights and creativity flow with ease. She believes that while astrology and tarot set the stage for personal transformation, the real magic lies in their ability to inspire people to take charge of their destiny.

1.) On your site you say that you use divination to “help people take charge of their destiny.” I love that so much. What does it mean to you and how do you see it working practically?

One of the most common questions I’m asked in both astrology and Tarot readings is “When are things going to get better?” Though some things in life are out of our control, I think taking this approach takes away your power. My favorite thing to do as an intuitive reader is to show my clients that they ARE powerful and have the ability to change their situation!

In practice, “taking charge of your destiny” is all about knowing yourself. Your birth chart (a map of the planets and stars at the time of your birth) will give you insight into where you’re naturally talented, and what potential stumbling blocks to sidestep. And of course, Tarot is a perfect way to delve into the heart of any issue or crisis you may be experiencing. Really both astrology and Tarot come down to a sense of radical self-understanding. When you know yourself intimately, you can create an action plan to move forward with confidence.

Lots of people come to me when they’re going through a difficult astrological transit. They start out feeling hopeless, but once they are able to put a name to their struggle, it becomes much easier for them to face it down. The archetypes of Tarot help in a similar way. Knowing really is half the battle! Once people have a name for their circumstances, they’re able to own what’s happening and make the best of it. To me, that is really the beauty of divination!

2.) You work with both Tarot and Astrology–do you often combine them in your work? If so, how do you find the two disciplines work together?

Yes, I do combine them! I tell people all the time that studying Tarot will deepen your understanding of astrology in a huge way, and vice versa. During astrology readings, I’m always thinking of what Tarot card might correspond to their situation, and with Tarot clients I always take a look at their birth chart to see if there are any major transits happening. The traditional correspondences between Tarot and astrology play a big part in my readings too, especially with the Major Arcana (for example, Venus and The Empress). I take a very holistic approach to both disciplines and move pretty freely between the two, because I think that they each have so much to offer!

3.) The name of your business is The Midheaven. What is the Midheaven and why do you love it?

The Midheaven is a traditional name for the tenth house of the birth chart, which rules our public life and contribution to society. The Latin phrase for the Midheaven (medium coeli) literally means “top of the heavens,” and that is what I want everyone to reach for in their life. My goal is to inspire others to seek out the highest expression of themselves, with stars and cards as a guide!

4.) Favorite Astrology question? Favorite Tarot Question?

My favorite astrology questions are about how to bring more abundance and joy into your life. Working with the benefics (the Sun, Venus, Jupiter, and more) is fabulous! Also, many of my clients have come to me during a Saturn Return, which is a notoriously tough transit. I love seeing these beautiful people transform adversity into opportunity.

I love checking people’s charts for psychic potential too. Everyone is intuitive, and helping people tap into that part of themselves is so much fun!

Honestly I enjoy all types of Tarot readings, but I seem to have a knack for love and relationship work! I think my Mercury in Libra helps me keep things compassionate and balanced for everyone involved.

5.) If you could give one piece of wisdom to my readers today, what would it be?

Be audacious! Audacious, one of my favorite words, comes from the root meaning “to dare”. I love this and live by it! Dare to know yourself deeply, dare to love passionately, and dare to stop taking crap from people. And most importantly, dare to ask for what you want. The universe will respond, and so will more people than you think!

 

There is No Healing Without Tension–How to Nail April’s Astro

So the astro for April is, as I have written elsewhere, incredibly intense. My mantra for the month, given to me by my lovely Nia teacher is: there is no healing without tension.

Around April 21-22nd (depending on where you are on the planet) the star scape is going to form a Grand Cardinal Cross. It is actually very appropriate astrology for Easter and the entire concept of sacrificing in order to redeem and transform (take this in whatever way you can best work with it) is relevant.

A Grand Cardinal Cross occurs when planets enter the four cardinal signs of the zodiac at the same degree. The four cardinal signs of the zodiac are: Libra, Aries, Cancer, and Capricorn and the four planets this time around are Mars (going retro), Uranus, Jupiter, and Pluto sitting in each of these signs respectively. Check out the arrangement in the chart below:

Uranus Square Pluto

 

As you can see looking at the above chart, these four planets in their respective signs are forming a big square in the sky. In astrology whenever anything is squared there is tension, and in the case of this massive square there is the potential for A LOT of tension. The individual squares are as follows:

Mars squared with Pluto and Jupiter

Jupiter and Pluto opposed to each other

Uranus square with Pluto

Uranus opposed to Mars

The Uranus/Pluto square is one that we skywatchers have been paying attention to for a long time because as it started in 2007 we experienced the financial crash. Generally speaking, Uranus and Pluto squaring each other creates tensions around forms of wealth development and the “hidden” traumas that so many people in the world experience every single day. There is a lot of doom and gloom around this skyscape and while I am not saying that it is going to be tra-la-la easy I would like to collectively see us talk more about the amazing healing opportunities this line up makes available to each of us.

The healing is especially noteworthy wherever the sign of Cancer falls in your natal chart; that is where Jupiter will be hanging out, but it is available across the board. More than that, we have a cosmic green light to literally RECOLLECT ourselves. To bring the parts of ourselves that feel isolated back into conversation with one another. Of course that conversation will not be easy…at first, but the fruit it can yield is SO worth the effort!

Generally speaking the guidelines for April are:

Amp up your daily spiritual practices: this is not the month to become inconsistent in grounding, centering, and anchoring, prayer, and sitting in stillness and silence. If you have a cornerstone spiritual practice maintain it through April and perhaps increase it slightly to offer yourself more support.

Do not make any sudden changes: with Uranus and Mars rx there can be deep insights, flashes of brilliance and a desire to make lasting changes NOW. Try your best to keep a coherent record of the ideas that come but choose not to act on making sudden changes until we are well into May or better yet, June.

Let it go: Pluto is a destructive change agent–wherever Pluto is in your chart, you are shedding stuff just like a snake sheds its skin. Resistance is futile so don’t do it; exercise discernment and cooperation in letting go whatever needs to be let go.

No Drama Mama: This is NOT the month to engage in the creation of and participation in high drama–especially the kind that goes NOWHERE. Keep calm and rock on.

Kindness: To yourself and others–especially in the way you speak. Really this is a good rule of thumb always but remember that kindness, real kindness, does not sacrifice truth.

Shuffling the Deck: Your Foolish Ways

Is he simple and a dumbling or is he really, really, quite wise? When she finally takes the leap will she fall on her face or discover that she has wings? And what of the relationship between what the world expects us to think/do/say and what we know, in our hearts to be true?

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The Fool in the Ride Waite Smith Tarot Deck.

Now the tom cat was the master of the house, and the hen was mistress, and they always said, “We and the world,” for they believed themselves to be half the world, and the better half too. The duckling thought that others might hold a different opinion on the subject, but the hen would not listen to such doubts. “Can you lay eggs?” she asked. “No.” “Then have the goodness to hold your tongue.” “Can you raise your back, or purr, or throw out sparks?” said the tom cat. “No.”

“Then you have no right to express an opinion when sensible people are speaking.” So the duckling sat in a corner, feeling very low spirited, till the sunshine and the fresh air came into the room through the open door, and then he began to feel such a great longing for a swim on the water, that he could not help telling the hen.

“What an absurd idea,” said the hen. “You have nothing else to do, therefore you have foolish fancies. If you could purr or lay eggs, they would pass away.”

“But it is so delightful to swim about on the water,” said the duckling, “and so refreshing to feel it close over your head, while you dive down to the bottom.”

“Delightful, indeed!” said the hen, “why you must be crazy! Ask the cat, he is the cleverest animal I know, ask him how he would like to swim about on the water, or to dive under it, for I will not speak of my own opinion; ask our mistress, the old woman—there is no one in the world more clever than she is. Do you think she would like to swim, or to let the water close over her head?”

“You don’t understand me,” said the duckling. –From the Ugly Duckling

 

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The Fool from the Wild Unknown Tarot Deck

Card: The Fool
Number: 0
Planetary Ruler: Uranus
Zodiac sign: Aquarius
Season: Spring
The Fool begins the journey into the Tarot. Though he is associated with beginnings it may be better to think of him as a radical revisionist. He has already done some traveling as evidenced by his handy pack–full of tools of his trade and a few essentials for the road. He has seen various paths and ways of being but he is looking for something deeper, something magical and ripe with meaning. But like all aspects of the other world, following intuition can lead to truth or illusion and so the Fool must watch both heaven and earth allowing the practical to intermingle with the more abstract and obscure.

Meanings:

* New Beginnings and Endings
* Foolish behavior, lack of awareness
* Faith and Devotion
* Risk and Reward
* Wisdom

In the beginning there was nothing, only void and in the beginning we have nothing…or so it may seem. Rarely is there a time when an individual says to himself “yes, now is the time and the day that I will go and seek out my deep well of inner knowing., Now is the best time to pursue my dreams” No, no. More often than not life pushes us–through emotional travail, practical circumstance, or shattering revelation to go out on a journey looking for Lord only knows what. This initial step is what the Fool demonstrates and guides us in. For we all begin as fools when we search out and seek towards our deepest sense of knowing and acting.

In most Tarot decks the Fool card is labeled zero and many remark on the tabula rasa nature of the fool, on the fact that zero is equated to the cosmic egg, that the card in a way is a kind of birthing. These observations hold truth in them but I think there is more to the story. Many of us today have experiences in life where we would rightly say that we started not at zero but in the negatives. Perhaps day in, day out circumstance weighed against us or we lost ourselves to ourselves through one bad decision after the other, when the Fool shows up her presence indicates that in some way and to some degree healing and foreknowledge has already begun to take root–for we are not in the negatives-we are at zero and we are ready to set forth.

In literature, myth and story there are different kinds of fools. There is the foolish fool, the wise fool, and the holy fool. There are the Trickster Gods who are the fools’ boon companions, guides, and in some cases challengers all rolled into one black feathered raven or scatter-furred Coyote. But there is one thing that all of these fools have in common, one demand that they make of us no matter what kind of fool we may be-we must be willing to be ridiculous, to embrace the absurd.

Ridiculous, absurd, and hilarious behavior puts us right up close and personal with our pride, ego, and most essential of all concern with what everyone else thinks. The Fool is the right first step for any journey that takes us into our interior, any work that is determined to unearth the deep well of intuition because the first step is a turning away from “what the world thinks” and that is why the Fool shows us his back and not his front. He has by hook or crook turned away from the blathering on of the exterior world…for now. The Fool is, interestingly enough, concerned with knowledge but it is knowledge of the self he seeks out. He is seeking a different voice, one that is carried on the wind and sniffed out in woodsmoke, one that resides in just the right harmony, and in the wind that blows around our deep well of knowing.

In a reading: The natural expression of the Fool in our outer life looks different for different people but it often manifests as the individual turning their back–figuratively or literally–on that which no longer serves, takes up space for the sake of taking up space and wastes time.

When the Fool/ess comes into your life you can bet that s/he is going to turn it upside down and inside out-willy nilly. The Fool is not gradual change–there is little that appears to be reasoned or rational about her, she is after all a Fool. The Fool is fast and sudden change. It is the financier who after working 100 hour weeks for eight years decides to quit their job and follow their life long passion of photography. It is the artisan who leaves the big city that never had a place for her and chooses to homestead in the mountains with her partner. It is the mom who chooses to homeschool her children-other people’s opinions be damned, and it is the boyfriend who wakes up and realizes his life will never be the same without his mate…and ask for their hand in marriage.

These are all examples of Fool energy in action. Just as there is nothing gradual about the Fool there is also nothing done without order-although it may not be apparent at the time. The Fool always, always, always initiates a journey. When the Fool shows up he crooks his finger and says-come away with me. The journey need not be physically articulated-though it often is-because it is a journey into the interior realms, into the mountains and valleys of our soul selves-that is why the back is turned.

 

Rituals:

Sacred Journal Prompt: Where is the Fool in your life? What journey does he invite you take?

Build an Altar: To represent your understand of Faith, Belief, and Inner Wisdom.

Try Something New: the Fool likes journeys and beginnings, try one thing you have never tried before to honor your own Fool/ess.

 

Petition for the day: What you need, what you want, in due time.

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Well, I just wanted to say THANK YOU!!! You have stood by me by helping me with two men who, as you said, “undeserving of my awesomeness”! And you were SO RIGHT!

I honestly believe that the work you have done moved in a different direction and brought D___ and I together! I could not be happier right now! 

The kind words above were written by a dear client of mine, someone who is lovely, intelligent, and vibrant and who knew that she was amazing–but she did not get quite how amazing she was. We worked on a variety of love and friendship angles over the years and though the work almost always had good movement there was an essential ingredient missing–it came up in her cards and I wrote it out to her–she needed a partner who truly and completely GOT her awesome and made her feel cherished and adored. That was the missing piece of magic. She listened and as you can all see from the quote above, she found him! As much as I like happy endings that is NOT the reason I wanted to post this today, I wanted to share it with everyone because when we create and participate in ritual and ceremony there is this sense that if we do not see the results we wanted in the timeframe we planned we have wasted our time and our money. Of course you want to work with an ethical worker, but assuming you are I offer up this petition:

May there be patience…with yourself and with your prayers.

May there be trust that all prayers are heard, and though the responses are many and varied, and though we do not always understand them, there is much of value in every answer and in every time.

May we have the clarity and wisdom of vision to see that, the strength of voice to speak it out, and the gravity of heart to follow our own blessed paths in perfect love and trust.

And so it is.

 

Many Branches: Something Witchy this way comes with Sarah Anne Lawless

Many of those in my audience already know our latest guest in the Many Branches series–Sarah Anne Lawless. She is an occult author, witch, herbalist, and artist living in the Pacific Northwest. Her blog is well known in the Pagan community and beyond. Her knack for crafting a brilliant flying ointment is one that I can personally attest to, and her devotion to her Gods is inspiring. Please give her a warm welcome!

bio-pic-2In her own words: A professional artist, writer, and herbalist, Sarah’s work has been published in various books, magazines, and online in The CauldronHex MagazineWitches & PagansWitchvoxSerpent Songs, and Hoofprints in the Wildwood. She is a carver, painter, and illustrator working in the mediums of bone, wood, ink, and paint creating original artwork, talismans, and ritual tools. Sarah is an animist, initiated witch, and wortcunner with a love of otherworldly beauty, folklore, mythology, poisonous plants, wildcrafting, wild places, and bones.

Find Sarah on the web at:

her website: sarahannelawless.com

Facebook: Black Arts Foundry

Twitter: @forestwitch

 

In the occult and magical community you are known for making excellent spiritual products, your writing, and your fine artwork, but you are also one of the few voices out there talking about working with animals and zoological talismans in an ethical and sustainable manner. This subject is a bit controversial but one that I think the magical community needs more familiarity with. What led you to begin working with animals and animal parts in a ritual setting?

For me it started with collecting feathers and escalated from there and I’ve found that others who consider themselves bone collectors often say the same thing. Taking home a feather you found on a forest walk isn’t really so far off from taking home a sea-washed bone or a small skull picked clean by scavengers. Once people find out you’re a bone collector they will suddenly start calling you about bones, feathers, or dead animals they found and ask what to do with them. Then people will start showing up on your door step with boxes of bones and any friends that hunt for food will start giving you bird feet, wings, and sometimes even organs that they don’t want to waste. Often people don’t want to use or give me the animals they find, they just want to know how to bury it safely and give it a respectful send off to the spirit world. A bone collector can find themselves taking on the role of an animal funeral director.

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I think the reason why many find my use of animal parts in magic controversial is because, though the use of zoological remains is still common in modern rootwork and the magical traditions of Central and South America, it is not common in modern witchcraft despite all the documented historical links and traditions. Many people are so far removed from nature, husbandry, and dirty hands-on folk magic that they find the use of zoological remains to be appalling and unethical without trying to first understand the context and history. Many assume that bone collectors such as myself are actually killing animals to use their parts in magic when this is very much not the case. You can find hearts, tongues, and feet at the butcher and you can find bones, skulls, teeth, claws, and hides from taxidermists, tanners, farmers, or hunters who don’t like to waste any part of an animal that’s been hunted or raised for food.

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Another reason I think this practice is controversial is because many people assume you are using a dead animal’s parts solely for cursing and other black magics, when again this is simply not the reality. Indigenous cultures who’ve held onto their animistic beliefs and traditions use animal parts in a sacred manner – they are used to better connect with animal spirits and the whole of nature itself. Feathers are often used to fly prayers to the spirits so they may hear them. Teeth and claws are used for protection against harm and to give one strength. Organs are more often used for healing and offerings than anything else – anyone with a grandmother who still buries dead fish in the garden for the fertility of the plants may best understand this. In rural areas of North America you can still find farmers hanging deer antlers or bull horns over their barn door. They may have forgotten why, but once upon a time it was the belief that doing so would protect your livestock and also ensure their health and fertility.

Modern butchery and hunting practices are wasteful and unethical for treating animals as soulless resources. By doing this work and using animal remains in a sacred manner in our spiritual traditions, we make those animals sacred. By showing them respect even in death, we make their lives have the same value as our own.

 

You are well known for crafting various flying ointments, often using ancient recipes. Why flying ointments and when did your love affair with them begin?

I first took notice when nightshades I had not planted started to grow in my garden plots and containers. Instead of weeding them, I researched them and became fascinated. This led me to growing other varieties like henbane, belladonna, datura, and brugmansia. I had a lot of fresh plant material on hand and at the same time I realized that no one I could find was making and using flying ointments today. Considering that flying ointments were one of the very few genuine direct links to the ancestral magical practices of preChristian Europeans, it puzzled me greatly that modern witches and pagans weren’t using them. Later I discovered this was largely due to fear of the plants as governments had been churning out frightening propaganda against them for centuries and our modern governments continue to spread the fear through misinformation. Tales of wild hallucinations and near death experiences come mainly from youths not seeking a spiritual experience, but who simply wanted to get high and who used these plants without research, proper preparation, and with no regard for dosage. They were using these sacred plants at a toxic level instead of in the much safer ways our ancestors would have and have consequently given these plants a much maligned reputation.

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I mainly work with plants in the solanaceae (or nightshade) family. Though many would believe we no longer use them today, the constituents of these plants, such as atropine, are actually considered “core” medicines on the World Health Organizations “Essential Drug List.” Aside from the nightshades’ long history with witchcraft, they are also some of the oldest and most potent medicines used by humanity. How could an herbalist fascinated with ethnobotany not fall in love with plants that were both powerful spiritual allies and incredibly potent medicines? Though my original intent was to use the solanaceae and artemisias for spiritual purposes, the more I worked with these plants, the more I found people came to me for their medicinal uses as well.

And so, after A LOT of research and careful testing, I started to make ointments with the plants I grew along with dried European mandrake roots. I found them to be very useful in aiding in dream work, spirit work, and trance work along with being excellent topical pain killers for relieving migraines, sore backs, and other muscle and joint pain. I started making them for shamanic and pagan groups who wanted to use them for rituals and ceremonies and I started bringing them to my own rituals and teaching workshops on these plants. With all my experience, I learned that much of the fear and propaganda surrounding nightshades and flying ointments is simply not true and that those of us who have learned their history and proper preparations should pass on our knowledge so it is not lost to future generations as it has been to generations past.

 

A lot of folks in the magical community struggle with that to call themselves. You have referred to yourself as an animist, witch, and spirit worker. What do those words mean to you and what is your advice for someone who has not figured out what the right title is for their work and beliefs?

When I call myself an animist, I am referring to my religious philosophy just as others would call themselves a polytheist or a monotheist. I do not worship gods, but instead see all things, all of nature, as being imbued with spirit, anima, life force. Interacting with and honouring the local animals, plants, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, and larger land features is what matters most to me in my spirituality – the local spirits, great and small. Within animism there is also room for ancestor reverence and so I also honour those who have come before me, both my own blood ancestors as well as those who lived upon this land long before I was born. Animism is believed to be one of the oldest forms of spirituality in human history and still permeates surviving forms of folk magic, folk religion, and common superstitions.

When I call myself a witch I am referring to the practice of witchcraft, not a religious path. It is the folk magic I do, the early modern witchcraft lore I study, and the rituals I put into practice.

When I use the term spirit worker, it is to reference my work with spirits, both is in this world and the other worlds of folklore. It is my dream work, trance work, and the rituals I perform to interact with spirits – usually plants, animals, or ancestors.

I don’t personally believe in putting too much stock in labels and finding the right one as everyone has their own definition of a term, some using the archaic meaning and some using a modern derivative. It is far too easy to waste a lot of time trying to find a label that fits all we believe and do, when we could instead spend that time actively practicing and developing our own beliefs to suit our individual spiritual needs. I think it is a better use of our time instead of trying to fit into a role someone else has defined and be constantly fretting over it.

I wrote a whole article tackling this subject last winter as it comes up over and over again in spiritual communities: “Ducking Pigeonholing.”

You art is gorgeous, tell us a bit about how you got started and what your current favorite artistic project is?

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Thank you! I got started in art at a young age. I was always drawing and painting. I took art classes in every year of school because it was something I always enjoyed. I had a lot of support from family who kept me well supplied with paper, ink, and paints. I even used to illustrate stories I wrote and bound them into little homemade books. Today I’m lucky enough to be in a position to get paid for my art and to illustrate the writings of others as well as my own. Falling more under the umbrella of a folk artist, I’ve been able to explore just about any medium I’m interested in – woodcarving, bone carving, pyrography, textiles, calligraphy, and jewelry to name several.

Right now I have a bit of an obvious obsession with drawing plants and skulls. I hope to do more pieces with plants and animals native to my beloved Pacific Northwest in the near future.

If you could give one piece of wisdom to my readers today, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams and passions so you can live your life in joy and wonder, but at the same time be honest with yourself about how you’re going to pull it off in a practical manner.

Taking it Personally–How to work with Personal Concerns in Magic

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A lock of hair from Napoleon Bonaparte sold for 14K at auction–wonder who will be working with that?

One aspect that many different folk magic traditions have in common is the use they make of personal concerns such as hair, nail pairings, and bodily fluids. These concerns are worked with in a number of ways for both benevolent and malevolent purposes and though folk magic traditions are making somewhat of a comeback, there is still much confusion around what a personal concern is and how we can work with them in our practice.

Personal concern is a term used in ritual and folk magic and can indicate any number of items including:

  • blood
  • menstrual blood
  • umbilical cord
  • placenta
  • sexual fluids
  • waste products like urine and feces
  • finger or toenail clippings
  • hair
  • bones
  • pubic hair
  • sweat
  • saliva
  • worn, unwashed clothing
  • picture of the person
  • handwriting from the person

In some cases legal documents and business cards may also function as personal concerns

The idea behind the personal concern is that of sympathetic magic, specifically the subset of sympathetic magic known as contagious magic which holds that “things once in contact with one another continue to exert an influence on one another after they have been separated” (James Frazer, The Golden Bough). In other words the concern you have (either from yourself or from the target of your magical work) is a concrete, often DNA laden, tie that binds the person it represents to the magic that you are performing on their behalf. Or to put it more simply, items like a bit of hair and nail pairings are magical because they have an element of our bodies and spirit in them even though they are no longer attached to the physical body itself.

A quick survey of anthropological discoveries assures us that our ancestors knew what many of us are now only remembering-that personal concerns were *the* essential and primary ingredient in many magical workings. Doll babies unearthed in Annapolis, Maryland, dating back to slave times in the US, are stuffed with the hair of plantation masters; effigies from Europe to Africa are “loaded” with hair, nails, and in some cases the blood of the person for whom they are meant to work. In 1654 an English cunning woman named Anne Green “saw no illogicality in claiming to have cured a headache caused by bewitchment through boiling a lock of the client’s hair in urine and then throwing it in the fire–believing that the maleficent spell would have been destroyed along with the hair and urine” (Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, Emma Wilby).

Strong taboos against ingesting blood, leaving hair and nail clippings out for anyone to pick up, and allowing strangers or potential lovers access to one’s unwashed clothing or used bath water are found in many cultures. In Mexican folk magic traditions new mothers will often take a part of or the entire placenta of their baby and bury it at the base of a strong tree confident that as the tree grows and matures so will their child. My grandfather–a half Irish, half Cherokee plant man–took the first lock ever cut from my head and kept it in his wallet until the day he had a massive stroke. When I asked him why he told me it was to “keep me close and protect me” as his Cherokee mother had done for him.

 

Why did personal concerns go out of vogue in magic?

In Europe when Christianity, especially protestant Christianity, began replacing indigenous folk magic traditions the emphasis on personal concerns began to wane as the power of prayer, right living, and intentional petitioning of saints, angels, and the Blessed Virgin replaced older forms of sympathetic and contagious magic. This is not to say that the use of personal concerns in magic faded completely–I believe it has never done so–but it did begin to give way to the power of the mind and suggestion.

The advent of New Thought traditions in America and popularization of “oriental” and eastern techniques of meditation and concentration further eroded the use of personal concerns as “mind over matter” became the accepted mantra. Humanists like William James ushered in the era of Psychology and the relationship between will and results focused power, including magical power, in and around the mind. An emphasis on the practitioner’s intention and ability to “visualize” strong results from their work was and to some extent continues to be seen as the most important aspect in magic making. Interestingly in many magical communities to this day it’s held that your intention is the most critical component in successful spell casting-more so than any specific ingredient you might use, charm or incantation you might utter, prayer or offering you might make and of course more than any tangible and personal link to the individual(s) you may be trying to influence.

Gerald Gardner, influenced by Aleister Crowley and other Victorian era mages, did mention personal concerns, especially sexual personal concerns from time to time. The sense, however, one has from their writings is that personal concerns were seen as transgressive and powerful due to their taboo nature as opposed to vital ingredients in any successful magical art.

 

Personal Concerns in magic today

As folk magic traditions experience a bit of a renaissance the need for personal concerns in ritual work is becoming more acknowledged. It is still an issue that causes confusion and discomfort. Many people find the idea of working with a personal concern—especially someone else’s—to be disconcerting for a number of reasons. In some cases the practitioner may feel that possessing something so personal is a transgression of their own ethical or moral codes and in those cases I can only say that perhaps no magic should be performed. More frequently the mage may feel a bit squeamish especially when handling some of the more biologically charged concerns such as urine, semen, vaginal fluid, or blood. I encourage my students and clients to treat personal concerns with the same level of respect and practicality that they treat the precious roots and herbs some magic calls for. A basic working knowledge of biology and especially how proteins decompose over time is necessary for correct usage. When working with volatile personal concerns it may be wise to wear gloves. If you are not sure that a person’s personal concern is “safe” health-wise then do not work with it.

 

Significance of Specific Concerns

As with everything there is always the question of what the BEST personal concern is and of course the answer varies depending on what it is that you are trying to do. Here is a useful guide:

  • Placenta and umbilical cord are typically used to bless and protect both mother and new born child.
  • Hair from the face or head can affect the head (thoughts, ideas and speech) as well as the heart (emotions, desires) and can be pulled from a brush, picked up by running a piece of tape along a pillow, or pulled from a razor. Hair from the genitals is typically used in love and romance work.
  • Fingernails affect the hands which in turn can alter our ability to work, to possess skill, to gain in prosperity, to heal and to harm. Fingernail pairings from filing or cutting nails with scissors work well.
  • Toenails effect the feet and in many cultures the feet are believed to be one of the most vulnerable parts of the body–taking in whatever they walk over be it good or ill.
  • Saliva is worked with to effect someone’s ability to speak, and to make kisses especially sweet…or sour. An excellent way to get a sample is by cutting a few bristles off a used toothbrush.
  • Urine is often seen as one of the most vital bodily fluids and may be used to mark off territory or dominate while feces is almost always used for baneful magic and cursing work but in some rare cases may be used for benevolent, usually healing, purposes.
  • Blood of course is one of the oldest magics but working with blood need not take us immediately into the realm of sacrifice and slaughter. Magic around women’s menstrual cycles is ancient and profound as we can see because so many taboos exists around moon blood.
  • Bone calls up the spirit of whatever animal-be it beast or man-it came from.
  • Sexual Fluids are used in love, romance, and sex magics.

Mars retrograde in Libra–Swords to Ploughshares

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Mars and Venus by Paolo Veronese; 1580

…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. –Isaiah 2: 3-4

The bad news? The planet Mars is transiting the sign Libra until July 2014 and it just went retrograde. In classic astrology there is no sign that Mars less likes to be in than Venus ruled Libra–he even likes Taurus better than Libra!

The awesome news? Mars is transiting the sign Libra until July 2014, just went retrograde, and we can all learn a lot of lessons from this experience!

This astro situation usually shakes down in one of three ways:

1.) Passive Agressive Alert! Libra does not like confrontations–we like harmony, peace, and love (also champagne). Mars lives for conflict, super charged drama, and risk (high adventure, no?) When Mars goes retro in Libra it can make people who tend to be more direct and unafraid of conflict feel…muffled. It can also make those who do not tend towards conflict feel unusually short tempered and irritable. Thus the scene for some massive passive aggressive attacks is set.

Response: From now until May 19th watch your words and actions–if something rubs you the wrong way and you are usually pretty low key then ask yourself–is this really something I need to bring up and get into it about. If the answer is yes, by all means proceed–with clarity, honesty, and direct communication.

2.) All show, no go: For Libra pretty is powerful and superficial concerns are anything but. For Mars and it’s associated sign of Aries appearance matters but mostly so we can figure out who plays what role and then do something dramatic, daring, and adventurous (and high fives if we manage all three at the same time). Mars retro in Libra can lead to superficial concerns that really are superficial–with no undercurrent of awesome and likewise, can lead into situations that look like they are potentially difficult but worthy endeavors (along the lines of nothing ventured, nothing gained). But are less Mission Impossible and more Mission Stalled Out.

Response: Keen-eyed discernment people! Mars/Aries rules the head and Libra (house of art and diplomacy) is no dummy. This astro has brains, beauty, and brawn so put all of yours to work for you. Do NOT let Mars get the upper hand and go chasing after unlikely/impossible/soul sucking ventures. Do not get caught up in the Libra project gone wrong and spend 2 hours organizing your nail polishes so that they match your lipsticks when what you really need to do is call your boss and have that difficult (and not passive aggressive) conversation about the raise he promised you but never delivered on.

3.) Blue Aisle Special on Global Skirmishes and Political Unrest…yes, Mars retro in Libra can lead to some pretty fine messes on a geopolitical level. Financial weirdness can occur but with this particular astrology it’s more likely that diplomacy in some cases will be a total no go and elected leaders will embrace might over right. You may be yawning and thinking, what else is new? But the Mars retro action does raise the stakes.

Response: Other than sending blessings of wisdom and self control to elected (and unelected) leaders throughout the world, we can all collectively take a page from Isaiah and encourage swords to be turned into ploughshares. The global brandishing of weapons may feel overwhelming and inevitable, but Mars retro in Libra can also send some pretty essential messages about peace and reminds us that harmony emerges first from discord.

 

The Sacred Artist

For too long we have been without a name and though names are not everything, as many a faerie story tells us, they are also not nothing. The right name is magical; it can open doors, reveal treasure and say what is true.

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Rumplestiltskin–one of many faerie tales where the right name is of utter (literally as in to be uttered) importance.

Much like us, you and me and those like us, for all of our differences there are many things we hold in common such as and including: an unwillingness to settle for what is “normal”, sanctioned, and approved of by governments, multi-national corporations, popular media, too strict religious sensibilities, or the denizens of Hollywood, also there is a desire to see and speak of what is true–what lies beneath the ground and above in the aerial branches and cold mountaintops, to champion the healthful and vibrant aspects of our lineage while taking heed of of our Ancestors’ errors, to return–as best we can–to old, older, oldest ways of knowing, seeing, and being in the world to a place of honor while at the same time creating space for what is newly born and yet to be known.

Others have given us names, oh yes, they have.

A catalogue is both helpful and hilarious: New Age–irony of ironies because for so many of us what we know and do is grounded in practices that are quite old, Heretics–because our sense of the sacred does not sit comfortably in the sanctuary of orthodox religion, Occultists–coming from the word occult which means hidden–because we have hidden and we have been hidden in response to persecution and fear, Light Workers–because too many of us continue to buy into the wrong belief that fear and threat only comes in darkness and because we have forgotten the nourishing power of Night, Pagan–springing from the latin paganus–meaning among other things a country dweller–because many of us ourselves come from rural stock and given our colorful variety of devotion and styles of reverence what else might we be called? We are sometimes called Psychic–it is usually said in a pejorative manner but we may claim it in good faith since our work does deal directly with the health and quality of the Soul, Sorceress–because power, especially medial power wielded by women, is still seen as dangerously unpredictable, weird–because we do not conform to the norms or live our lives the way the dominant culture says we often should (also interestingly tied to the other wyrd which of course means fate and destiny–concepts we are versed in), bitch–because we do not see NO as a bad word (and maybe because many of us love dogs and other four legged creatures?), whore–sometimes yes, we are still called whores, or ho, or harlot, because we affirm that our sensuality is sacred and acts of love and pleasure can be, should be, acts of touching the Divine. Tree Hugger is often applied to us because in fact, you may find us hugging trees.

We are called Witch–intended to be the deadliest insult of all, one that not so long ago promised a date with a pyre or gallows–one that we now embrace with enthusiasm because in its root and origin it points to what we care for and pursue above all else…wisdom…of right living, of connecting to and honoring of all life, of our souls and our fiery hearts.

A name is not everything but a name is not nothing either. The right name, a true name, provides a point of reference–this is who I am and this is where I stand–it reveals a little red door that opens upon the majesty of each of our unique and blessed in-most natures, a name, the right name or the wrong one, determines a way of seeing and a way of being seen.

I say we have worn the names that others have thrust upon us for too long and enough is enough–these names are tired and cramped like a pair of too worn and too small shoes. If, like so many of us, you too have wondered in the wilderness of No Name looking, looking, looking for the right words in every shadow, canyon crevice, and under every rock then I offer this to you:

Be a Sacred Artist–a creator and delight taker in all that is whole, holy, and sacred.

A name is not everything but it is not nothing. The right name allows us to be seen as we truly are and one thing more–to decide how, where, and by what means we will make our presence known and do our work in the world.

Claiming your name is the first step in doing your work, the work, you were placed here to do; it’s time.

 

Postscript:

I began using the term Sacred Artist personally a couple of years ago and I have been delighted to watch more and more people claim the title for themselves. I wrote some preliminary thoughts on the history of the Sacred Arts and I was inspired with the term by my husband–a fine artist, who told me that yes, crafting ritual is an art form.

Sacred Artists NOT Scam Artists–How to Hire an Ethical Spiritual Worker

 

It’s not enough to wish and hope that you get an ethical spiritual worker–it is up to you to get educated!

It’s that time of year again. No, not Mercury in Retrograde, not Yuletide, and not my birthday. It’s the time of year when scam artist spell casters start coming out of the woodwork, and I hear story after story from clients who have been scammed out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars and even more stories of near misses.

People who misuse the magical arts as a way to scam the innocent and naive are at the top of my personal evil eye list. I take issue with them not only because I often find myself cleaning up the emotional, financial, and magical messes they leave behind, but also because, for an easy score, they undo the fragile in-roads into acceptance and belonging that the Sacred Arts community has been steadily making through collective dedication to ethical practices, transparent policies, and above all, professional integrity.

So…in the spirit of public service and protecting the innocent, here is my handy list of what to look for when hiring an intuitive reader and/or magical worker to attend to your situation(s). While these guidelines and landmarks will not absolutely 100% protect you from the shysters that are out there, they can, when followed, give you a much better chance of finding an honest and ethical worker.

1.) Know your budget for magical work BEFORE you contact a worker. Please do not spend your last penny with a spiritual worker in the hopes that you will have greater prosperity. That road will only lead to sadness and ruin.

1.) Do NOT ever, ever, ever, tell anyone who is going to read for you or possibly perform magical work on your behalf that you are “desperate” or “will do anything” or will “pay anything.” Seriously people. You could not mark yourself out as a more easy target if you painted a big bullseye on your forehead. If you are truly experiencing any of the aforementioned feelings, I would go a step further and say that unless you have a trusted associate who does this kind of work, you might want to take a step back, engage in some grounding and prayer, and proceed when you are more level headed.

2.) Typically, not in every single situation, but usually, a person who offers to perform ritual/magical work on behalf of others will require an intuitive reading first.

These readings often serve multiple purposes. In the various traditions I have been trained in they are considered de rigeur because:

  • the intuitive reading allows the querent to tell their story and not only gives the worker valuable insights but also helps the client arrive at useful information themselves during the process.
  • the intuitive reader allows the worker and client to determine if they do and can have a good working relationship together. This is so important, especially if considering hiring someone to do ritual or ceremonial work on your behalf.
  • the intuitive reading allows the worker to assess the situation and determine if ritual work is an appropriate means of addressing the client’s concern. Websites where you can just buy a spell and have someone else perform said spell for you without any kind of diagnostic session are not to be trusted.

 

3.) Pay attention to your worker’s testimonials page–are the testimonials up to date? Are there pictures? First and last names? Also, note what the testimonials say as well as what they DO NOT say. For instance, is someone really good about about getting back to clients but curiously missing testimonials indicating that their work actually works?

4.) Look for a “No Guarantees clause.” This clause is a legal clause and is actually found in most boilerplate client contracts–whether you are working with a ritualist or a web designer it does not matter. It is standard operating procedure for any professional to have a no guarantees clause somewhere in their literature. The gist of a no guarantees clause is that the professional you are hiring promises to do the work they have been hired for to the best of their ability but they cannot guarantee a successful outcome. Spell casters and magical workers who promise money back guarantees and/or 100% success rates should be approached with great caution and skepticism.

5.) Note what frequency/method of contact the worker prefers and agrees to BEFORE rendering payment.

6.) Note what kind of follow up or feedback you will receive during and at the conclusion of any work BEFORE rendering payment.

7.) Note if there is an unbiased mediator or third party you may appeal to if something comes up during your work that concerns you. For instance, I am a founding member of AIRR (the Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers), and clients who patronize members of AIRR have recourse to the Ombudsman (full disclosure: that office is currently held by me) if they experience either failure of contact or failure of delivery with one of our workers.

8.) Make sure that a clear agreement is in place directing your worker on details such as adding more work to the situation without first speaking to you, sourcing rare/expensive ingredients/or engaging in any other activities that might run up your bill.

9.) Ask what kind of client contracts the worker expects you to engage in BEFORE rendering payment. A contract is a clear and simple way to make sure that you and your worker are on the same page.

In closing, I would like to point out that people have sought out spiritual aid for their situations for centuries…and just as long as there have been people looking for magical aid there have been unsavory characters willing and able to take advantage of the gullible. Many people are more than willing to testify that with the assistance of intuitive readings and careful ritual work they experience deeper meaning, successful resolutions to difficult life situations, and abundant blessings in their lives. If you would like to work with a professional in these areas there are plenty of good people out there who really know their stuff, but it is up to you to be an educated, thoughtful, and careful consumer!

For further reading I recommend this page at the AIRR wiki.