Blog Post 181 – The Little Witcheries Tour

I’m taking a cue today from a recent blog post by the excellent Jen at Rue & Hyssop entitled “Little Witcheries,” which focuses on the small, everyday enchantments in her life. She and several other bloggers have been sharing their daily practices, household charms, and domestic talismans so I thought I would offer a bit of the same. I know I don’t tend to make posts entirely personal here, but I do frequently talk about the “secrets in plain sight” that accompany practical witchcraft and folk magic, so it seems like now is a good time to do a quick tour of my home and see how I apply what I have learned in the course of my studies to my real life. I hope you won’t mind the diversion from the more general and academic examinations of folk magic. You’ll still likely get a good feel for folk magic, and I’ll reference any previous posts or sources that might explain further, so hopefully this won’t feel too indulgent.

I’ll mostly be cataloging what sorts of “little witcheries” I have around, rather than giving a lot of expository detail. Basically, I’m treating myself and my home as a folklorist’s test case, because nothing’s more fun than turning the microscope on yourself, right? And so, on with the tour! Come on in!


Garden friends
Garden friends

Plant guardians – I have a number of magical plants in my front garden, but my rosemary and rue plants act as my primary sentries. The rosemary started as a pair of six-inch cuttings, and now it’s easily a three-foot-tall shrub.  Theswallowtail caterpillar in the pictures is one that seems to particularly like our rue plant, but it doesn’t do any real harm to it, so we let it alone.

Witch bottle – Buried somewhere along your way to the front door (exactly where is my little secret).

Washes – The door is washed with protective mixture (which Laine has indicated she would rather not touch) and I use a protective foot-wash derived from Irish lore on the porch.


Entrance – Door has salt & red brick dust lines, plus several paper charms wedged in the lintel.

Cleaning – We have a mostly carpeted space, so instead of floor washes, I sometimes make floor sprinkles with powdered herbs & salts to affect the various rooms. I also use vinegar (including Four Thieves Vinegar) for cleaning & breaking up bad energy. Most of what I do to dress doors, windows, etc. can be found in our posts on magical house cleaning.


Mirrors – We keep a mirror behind the door to deflect anything spiritually harmful (currently decorated for Halloween with some bats).

St Paschal & a spirit bottle
Bundles drying in the kitchen window

Tincture of Rue, Four Thieves Vinegar, & Four Thieves Pickles

Kitchen – I’ve always got something brewing. Right now I’ve got some tinctures going (some magical, but most multipurpose, used in magic or cocktails equally), a few herbs drying in bags by the windows, and of course, my Four Thieves Vinegar in the pantry (plus a couple of jars of Four Thieves Pickles, which I put up each year). The kitchen is also home to a few of my spirit helpers, including St. Pascal and my resident house spirit (his bottle may look a bit strange, but he’s been with us almost since we moved in, so I don’t mind his scruffy appearance).

Bedroom Altar
Top of Main Altar
Interior of Main Altar

Altars – I’ve got altars throughout the house. I have a personal altar in the bedroom where I do daily devotionals, and then the main altar in my upstairs office for my weekly communion with my spirit friends and family.

Brooms – I keep brooms near our main entrance doors, bristles up to ward off unwanted visitors.

Cards – Are just everywhere in the house. I collect different decks that interest me, though I have a few favorites for divination.

Hamsa Hands, via Wikimedia Commons

Talismans – I keep a hamsa hand on one of my windows, iron railroad spikes throughout the house (some are visible in the picture of the library shelves), and I will sometimes place small talismans like evil eye beads or saint medallions near the office and the children’s room to ward off any harsh or unwelcome spirits. I’ve also got an Ojo de Dios my mother acquired in New Mexico which acts as a protective charm in the nursery.

Library Shelf

Library – Not a lot of folk magic, per se, but lots of information on it. I tend to collect chapbooks as well as full print editions. I also keep my herbal & gardening library in here (not visible from this angle), along with most of my dried herbs. I usually have something hanging to dry in here as well. A few small charms are floating around, as well as many of the spell ingredients I turn to frequently (oils, herbs, etc.). I keep most of my folklore and fairy tale library near this one, as well.

So that’s the tour for the day. I hope it wasn’t too distracting of a diversion from the typical examination of folk magic, but I was so enticed by the series of posts I saw emerging from Jen’s topic that I couldn’t resist.  I will likely be using my next post to do a similar “tour,” but of a non-personal space in the interest of showing how many folk magicians acquire ingredients without necessarily having a “witchy shop” nearby.

Until next time, thanks for visiting, er, reading!


Blog Post 131 – Miles to Go

[NOTE: This is a very long personal entry. It doesn’t really reveal any new information about North American Witchcraft. If you regularly read the blog for its information content, please feel free to skip this entry. Thank you!]

Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,—sharp underfoot
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs—
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine: blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road
A gateless garden, and an open path:
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

If you’ve been a long-time listener and/or reader of New World Witchery, you probably know that I have significant trouble remembering my dreams, or even gaining access to them at all. I’ve gotten plenty of great tips to help me with dreaming, particularly when it comes to the type of dreaming I crave most—dreams infused with magic and witchcraft. I’ve tried herbal pillows, a cup of mugwort tea before bed, mirrors under my pillows, prayer, and dreamcatchers. I’ve kept a journal by my bed to record the few and far between dreams I receive as best I can in the dark—a technique that does at least yield some results, though inevitably I wind up with gaps of several months from one page to the next.

I haven’t tried everything, of course. Deep breathing exercises, focused and guided relaxation to pre-recorded visualizations, Lunesta, and other options are still open.  But I have attempted a number of methods to get into the dream world and really use that space, only to find my marginal successes frustrating in their inconsistency.

Up to this point, I’ll admit, dreaming has bothered the hell out of me. I can’t seem to do it right, or to get what I really want out of the experience.

What I want, of course, is probably the big problem. I have seen for several years now a tendency among witches and magical practitioners to encounter their gods, daemons, spirits, fetches, fairies, and otherworldly entities of choice in dreams. Sometimes the dreams come unbidden—even unwelcome—and seem to be very nearly disastrous for the one having them. I recall Peter Paddon talking about an encounter with the Dark Mother figure which involved a series of terrifyingly bloodthirsty dreams that left him shaken to his core. Which was the point, yes, but it was also unnerving for him. Other very close friends have shared their dreams with the community involving scenes that could come from fairy tales or horror films or an amalgamation of the two.  And always, always, I read with envy their experiences and wonder when it will be my turn.  And ever I sense somewhere there’s a voice saying “Patience. You do not understand, yet.” Those gods, those spirits, those fairies, those beings of that Otherworld, they simply do not want to meet me in dream space. They have given me little fragments of dreams to appease me from time to time, but always I find myself holding me an empty plate, husks, shells, seed pods, or splinters.

Recently, Laine & I went out into the midnight woods to work a little witchcraft. As always, we high-stepped and staggered our way past the outermost portion of the dense tangled wall separating tightly-mown lawns and garden pavers from shin-deep undergrowth and the scratchy whisper of treetops moved by the lightest wind. We lost our way, though we’ve traveled the paths beyond the thicket several times in all seasons. We expected to lose our way because our destination in the woods is an old stone chimney in a small clearing carpeted with periwinkle vines that we both take to be enchanted. Every time we go visit—especially at night—it seems to move in time and space. This visit was no different, and we found that even though we were sure we were close, we couldn’t see the chimney until we turned off our flashlights, took a deep breath,listened to the woods around us, and turned our lights on again. Rising up before us not ten feet away we saw the chimney, waiting patiently. Had it been there all along?

Shortly after Laine and I started working together, we did a guided visualization in which I read a pathworking to her and she attempted to relax and go into a trance-space. For my part, I found the experience calming and pleasant, but not terribly magical. Laine, upon coming “back,” more or less confirmed the feeling. It had been a fine exercise, but not terribly resonant. I have had past-life regressions done by a professional hypnotist several times, and only one seemed to ever click. I’ve tried pathworkings from other magical workers—some of them brilliantly written and full of symbols and keys to spiritual insights—and found that they don’t strike the chord that simply reading a fairy tale from an Andrew Lang or Grimm’s book does.

I’m a very cerebral person, someone who enjoys being in my own headspace tremendously. On any given night when I finally get ready to go to bed, I’ll wash my dishes in the sink, put a few things aside for the next day, and then start thinking about something I’ve read, or seen, or experienced in the past day or two or twelve. I start muttering, framing a discussion with myself—ever a Devil’s advocate, and deeply in love with that role—until I’m finally at full-tilt and thirty minutes or an hour have slipped by. What was to be a midnight bedtime has suddenly slipped to 1 a.m. or later, just because I can’t stop talking to myself about some idea that won’t let go.

I dream of being a teacher, a professor particularly, and helping students make sense of folklore and stories and mythology in their own lives. I dream of making a living with words, of thinking about them and about how people use them. I dream about stacks of books piled high by my bed, poring over papers from pupils which contain threads of brilliance buried beneath mounds of “proper grammar,” and “technical skill.”  I dream of carrying my 1 a.m. conversations into a classroom, a room full of young devils waiting to catch me in a mistake, or catch some respectable author in a mistake, or catch themselves in a mistake. I dream of devilish intellects and diabolical minds which are hungry for new ideas, just as I am.

When it comes to witchcraft, however, the life of the mind falls short for me. Dreams are not the place where my witchcraft works. They help me from time to time, but mostly they only make me confident that I don’t really need dreams. I need real experiences, ones I can’t rationalize away, ones that happen and that jar me out of my perceptions of reality. Experiences that scare me a little, and remind me how much of witchcraft is just overcoming fear.

I’ve told the story before—probably several times—about my accidental meeting of the Black Man of the Crossroads. I had gone out to work a ritual for a completely unrelated entity, and after I emerged from behind my hiding spot, I was startled by the presence of a man in dark shadow, standing directly under a streetlight. I didn’t address him, and instead pretended not to notice who he was. I often look upon that experience as a failure of my own will and a giving in to fear, but at the same time it made me aware of something very profound: it’s all real. Witchcraft, magic, and sorcery are not simply psychological operations for me—they are true, actual experiences that can be fraught with physical danger and which can completely unhinge my notions of expected reality in a split second.

The night not long ago when Laine and I went to the woods, we worked our magic and prepared to go. At the last moment, we decided to do something else, a very particular bit of witchcraft which involved asking for a sign when we finished. Almost immediately the ground just around the chimney started to rustle with the sound of skittering feet. Some of the stones on the chimney started to glow—possibly with the faint moonlight, though I think something else was behind it. And a firefly, the only one we saw at all that night, came out of the dark forest straight towards us. It circled over our heads a while, then flew off again into the dark woods. The experience was immediate and real and we both recognized it as it happened, then continued to be awed by it for hours afterward.

I’ve heard from a number of folks lately who write regularly in the magical community—particularly bloggers—about how they see their experiences and practices being co-opted by casual readers who then turn around and write about the exact same incidents with nary a nod to their witchy progenitors. I understand that frustration. Many people in the magical community work incredibly hard to establish a functional practice of their own. Jumping in feet first without doing all the work of establishing such a practice, without making that journey independently, can lead to a shallow type of witchcraft. Something which may look mysterious and magical on the surface, but which ultimately crumbles when poked and prodded by more experienced and knowing fingers.

But I also understand the other side of the equation. For those who are—more or less—plagiarizing witchcraft from other witches, it may be because they finally found something that works for them. Or in many cases, it may be that they’ve found something that they think finally works for them, and in their enthusiasm they wind up stepping on a lot of toes putting this new-found practice into place. In those cases, however, I think what the new folks are really finding is their own starting point, a launching pad into deeper witchcraft. One day they may discover that they have gone in a completely different direction and now they are writing about practices which other newbies are co-opting to form their own loose foundations. It doesn’t make the plagiarism right, but it does put it into perspective.

I leave in a few days to continue the pursuit of a dream. I’ll be studying and reading and engaging in linguistic deviltry. I’ll be spending time in one of my favorite cemeteries anywhere (this article is peppered with photos from this gorgeous graveyard). I’ll be going into woods and waiting at darkened crossroads to see what turns up. I’ll be carrying mojos to help with study, personal mastery, and prosperity. I won’t be putting mirrors under my pillow, burning incense to help me astrally project, or playing pathworkings on my iPod. I will be looking for passionflowers and sassafrass roots in the woods. I won’t be invoking four elements, calling on a nameless God and Goddess, or using an athame. I will be asking my ancestors for help, and using my playing cards to find out what they say.

I will be practicing my witchcraft, which comes from my experiences.  It involves meeting a Man in Black at a crossroads, physically fighting my way through brambles and poison oak, looking a coyote or a buck dead in the eyes at twenty paces.  It relies little on dreams, which I have only recently come to understand.  It doesn’t bother me anymore that I don’t have dreams rife with witchcraft, because that doesn’t fit who I am. It works amazingly well for others, but not for me.  What works for me is going to real graveyards at midnight, real forests under the light of a full moon, real crossroads where unexpected visitors can turn up at any moment.  I’ve still got the kind of witchcraft that lives in my feet and hands, my eyes and breath, and it is my own brand and it is beautiful to me and it works for me and…

And if someone takes what I do and runs with it, if I see half a dozen blogs on North American folk magic appear in the next six months, if I read about people going into forests which seem to shift and change as in fairy tales, well that’s okay. We’re all making our way, and I’ve got miles to go before I sleep, too.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll talk to you all soon…


[Special Thanks to those I consider my teachers. They have influenced me profoundly whether they know it or not: Sarah Lawless, Stephanie Palm, Morgaine, Janus, Mrs. Graveyard Dirt, Robin Artisson, Peter Paddon, Gar Pickering, Vance Randolph (& dozens of other folklorists), Cat Yronwode, Juniper Cox,  Zora Neale Hurston, Concha, Brujo Negro, and far too many others to mention here. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today.]

Blog Post 126 – Walpurgisnacht 2011

A Hornie Fellow

Stones and bones, brooms and fire.  In the olden days, the night before May 1st was spent burning brooms or effigies of witches in big bonfires to ward off evil.  Witches were thought to gather at the Brocken, a mountain in Germany where they held their strange revels around infernal fires of their own.  Dead things might come galloping up out of their graves to follow the witches and join in their wicked revelry.  Wild storms preceded and followed the witches and the Wild Hunt on their nighttime gallivants.

It’s terrifying stuff, but like most fairy tales, people don’t really believe in it anymore.  But maybe they should.

I’ve loved Walpurgisnacht since I first started observing it as a complementary holiday to the more often observed Beltane or May Day.  I even did a post on it last year, which has been one of my most popular posts to date, actually.  This year, the group I do my social witchcraft with celebrated Walpurgisnacht together, and it may have been one of my favorite gatherings to date.

It started with a bonfire in a park about 500 feet from a big Boy Scout campout.  Or, rather, it really started the day before when I am sure I piqued the curiosity of a few neighbors by hiking into our local woods, dropping handfuls of something powdery and muttering to myself at certain locations on the forest perimeter, then emerged moments later with a big, heavy object under my arm.  I spent the rest of the day piecing together all of the elements I would need to fulfill my duties at Walpurgisnacht—sorting candles, making magical gifts for my co-coveners, bringing the appropriate skulls and bones and broom and stang down to my car under cover of darkness so I wouldn’t have to drag them out the next day while the neighbors looked on (they already had enough reason to look at me funny, why add to that?).

When I pulled into the camp, the scouts were swarming.  As I struggled to gather some firewood from a rather flooded site, a number of the boys approached, waving glo-sticks and flashlights and demanding (in a charmingly pirates-and-lost-boys way) “Who goes there?!”  Apparently some older kids had been running around trying to scare them earlier, so I had to vouch that I was not, in fact, a “robber” as they put it.

New Brooms Against an Old Tree

By the time our leader  had arrived, the scouts had pretty much removed themselves to the far side of the camp and were engaged in what looked like a snipe hunt (bless ‘em). We  got the fire going and arranged everything we would need for the night.

I can’t say too much about what happened next, but I will say that the following things may have been involved:

  • Black-strap Molasses Rum offerings
  • Leaping the fire on a broom
  • Hedge-Crosser’s Smoke from Forest Grove Botanica
  • An exchange of several magical gifts
  • I may have worn lipstick at one point
Because it's just not a party until someone breaks out the ram's skull...

Walpurgisnacht proved to be a great night for a few witches to gather around a bonfire, calling upon the dead, riding brooms, leaping through flame, and generally doing all the things the fairy tales say.  We may not have had storms on the Brocken, but the winds definitely started rising before all was said and done.  At one point, I very seriously had to say, “If you hear the sound of horses’ hooves, drop to the ground and don’t look up.”  Maybe it was just my imagination at that point, but the air certainly seemed ripe with witchery.

So, what did you do on Old May Eve? (Or the next day, for that matter.)


Blog Post 57 – An Award!

So after spending nearly a week recuperating from my “swamp virus,” I used yesterday to catch up on emails and comment replies on the blog.  Much to my great surprise and delight, someone had lobbed a shiny happy little blogging award our way.  Sarah over at Crooked Ways has tagged me as a “Kreativ Blogger,” so I figured that’s as good a way as any to start the week!  The rules are pretty straightforward:

1. You must thank the person who has given you the award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog
3. Link the person who has nominated you for the award
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting
5. Nominate 7 other Kreativ Bloggers
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate
7. Let the nominated victims bloggers know they have been tagged

So first things first, Thanks Sarah!  It’s always an honor to be nominated.  As for the logo, ::twitches nose::

Here it is!

I’ve already linked Sarah, so now on to the “7 Things” segment.

  1. I grow and can my own food – I even teach classes on the subject sometimes.  I prefer to do the hot-water bath method, as most people can get a stock-pot of boiling water pretty easily, but a pressure canner’s a little harder to come by.  I love to put up things like tomatoes, pickles, jalapenos, salsas, apple butter, and brandied peaches (DELICIOUS over vanilla ice cream).
  2. I’m a published poet – My work has appeared in Raving Dove Literary Journal, Merge Poetry Review, and a couple of other places.  Why don’t I put my poetry on my blog?  Because I didn’t say I was a very good published poet.
  3. My first year of marriage was spent in Prague – My wife and I, who had not lived together before due to religious reasons, wed and moved thousands of miles away from our families and friends.  We spent almost a year there, and it was really spectacular.  Prague remains one of my favorite cities in the world.
  4. I’ve also spent time in Spain (mostly in Murcia and Valencia) and Scotland, and made short trips to Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, and London.  And I’ve visited 38 of the 50 US States.  At some point, I’d really like to go to Greece, Italy, and Turkey.  And eventually, I’d LOVE to go to Japan and possibly China (if its political climate ever calms down).  My next big trip will probably be up to the Pacific Northwest, though, as that’s where my wife really wants to go.  Really, I’d be happy to travel just about anywhere.
  5. I’m a very lazy polyglot – I learn languages and then never use them, other than to show I can remember key phrases.  I’ve taken courses in Latin, Russian, Portuguese, Czech, and Japanese, and my minor at University was Spanish.  Plus I’ve tried to independently learn Mandarin Chinese, Greek, Yiddish, and German.  Of all of them, Spanish has stuck with me enough that I’m still conversant in it, and I could probably survive in Japan long enough to begin picking that up again as well.  Despite the fact my mother, my wife, and several of our friends all speak (or have spoken) French, I’ve never tried to learn that one, though.
  6. I’m a trivia addict – I watch shows like Jeopardy! as often as I can, and I subscribe to the magazine mental_floss, which is basically full of trivia (like “10 Presidents Who Could Drink You Under the Table”).  I can make hours disappear from my life by opening a box of Trivial Pursuit cards and just sitting and reading them.  It’s kind of sad, really…
  7. I have an odd phobia of rabbits.  I’ve mentioned this before, and I’m not outright scared of them, but vaguely creeped out.  Really, I only discuss it here to give myself a reason to link to the cause of my wariness:  the cartoon version of Watership Down.  The clip shows a few of the more brutal highlights of that particular film, but if you imagine an 8-year-old seeing any movie with this stuff in it, a fear of bunnies seems much less weird.

Okay, so now on to my Seven Nominees:

  1. Sarah, the Witch of Forest Grove (of course) – She has some of the most creative work I’ve seen, and one of the most informative sites around.  Big kudos to her.
  2. Papa Toad Bone – His apotheca takes me out of the internet and puts me barefoot into the swamp, and I like that.
  3. Juniper’s Walking the Hedge site – It’s lovely and she really puts a great deal of effort into making it a nice place to just go and visit.
  4. Lady Lavona – She has two blogs that I just eat up, her main Cabinet of Curiosities site, and a Tumblr site called Witch Mountain.  Both are easy to spend oodles of time on.
  5. Jude over at Spirit Cloth always captures my attention with her amazing fabric works.  They have a tangibly magical quality that just makes me want to curl up in all her scraps of cloth and live there.
  6. My friend Saturn over at Pennies in the Well – It’s a pretty site, and her Mad Hatter episodes are fun, insightful, and just a pleasure to listen to.  All her episodes are, actually, but the Mad Hatter ones really show off her creativity.
  7. Finally, Oraia the Sphinx has a blog over at Sphinx Words that I really like, not just because she’s also my friend, but because her writing style is so familiar and pleasant.  She has a way of getting into my head sometimes that is uncanny, so big kudos to her.

So that’s that.  Again, huge thanks to Sarah at Crooked Ways (another very well-written and marvelously creative blog, if you haven’t checked it out)!  Hopefully you’ll be seeing a couple more articles from me this week as I get back up to my usual posting habits.  But for now, thanks so much for reading!

Be well,


%d bloggers like this: