2016 Looking Back and Moving Forward

I have been trying to figure out just the right way to write this article without taking sides on any of the issues and just trying to help others and myself move foreword into 2017. 2016 has been jaded with mass shootings a total of 462 so far. During those 585 people were killed and 1,732 were wounded. ( https://www.massshootingtracker.org/data) It has been a time of unrest and uncertainty and certainly the year that everyone found something to find offensive. Legalized Gay marriage turned a year old in 2016, but, there are still many hurdles to climb. 29 states still do not have laws to prohibit housing discrimination, 30 states do not prohibit discrimination in public, 16 states still have no laws protecting  the hiring process. (https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/06/gay-marriage-scotus/488816/). Even though President Obama announced the first national monument to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights (http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/24/travel/stonewall-inn-first-lgbt-national-monument/) there is still a long way to go.

By Rhododendrites (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0
We have seen “bathroom bill laws”, (http://time.com/3974186/transgender-bathroom-debate/), debates over the “religious freedom laws” (which seem to end up being a debate of whose religion matters and whose doesn’t), (http://dailysignal.com/2015/03/27/the-true-facts-about-religious-freedom-laws/), and an even more wide spread feel of racism and tension since the 1964 debates between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon B. Johnson. (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-09-02/racial-tension-in-the-2016-presidential-election) It has become a time for not only the LGBT community to have fears, but also for any non-white Christian male.

As a Pagan and witch myself, and having been out of the broom closet for many years, I am not only in fear for my beliefs, but also the fact that I am a woman.

 

Woman holding a sign, listing black people killed by police, and after each name, "no conviction" for all but the two most recent.
Photo Credit: Kenya Coviak all rights reserved

We have had to deal with not trusting our own police officers the same ones who take an oath to honor and protect. As of this point in 2016 1,096 people have died at the hands of police. Many of whom were unarmed, mentally ill, and people of color. The bothersome part of all of this is that even with that total amount of people killed, several officers have gone to trial but, none have received jail time.  (https://thinkprogress.org/this-is-how-many-people-police-have-killed-so-far-in-2016-7f1aec6b7098#.tw3kiuw7x) It is no wonder why most of us are looking foreword to 2017 in hopes for a better year.

We lost 111 famous people in 2016 as well, and quite a few were a shock. David Bowie, Prince, Arnold Palmer and Alan Thicke to name just a few. It feels like this year has taken up back in time to a place we long thought to have grown from. The attacks on humanity itself have seemed over whelming. Suicide rates in the US are at the highest they have been in almost 30 years. Rates for middle-aged women, aged 45 to 64 have jumped 63 percent, and 43 percent for men in that age group. The suicide rate has risen 24 percent since 1999.

 

 

The nation’s suicide rate is the highest it has been since 1986 with 13 per 100,000 people. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/22/health/us-suicide-rate-surges-to-a-30-year-high.html?_r=0)

Image: Youth.gov

 

However, I do not want this to be all doom and gloom. There were several really good things that happened in 2016. Child mortality is down world wide and continuing to fall. New chemotherapy breakthroughs have increased the 5 year survival rate for pancreatic cancer from 16% to 27%. Coffee consumption has ben proven to help curtail cancer and suicide rates. Massive strides have been made in Alzheimer prevention.

The Anglican church resolved to solemnize same-sex unions the same as opposite-sex unions which required a super majority of all three orders of the church (lay, clergy, bishop).

Photo: Oscar Guzman

Death by heart disease has decreased by 70% in the United States. Over 800 Boko Harem Hostages were rescued by Nigerian Army. Pokémon Go players went insane with placing lure modules near hospitals for sick kids. Not to mention birthdays, family, friends, Thanksgiving, rainbows and even puppies to name just a few.  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/11/amazing-list-of-good-things-that-happened-in-2016-delights-the-i/)

 

Will 2017 be better that 2016? Who knows, but, if we all work together and build up trust, respect, and communication with each other, I believe this could be one of the best years yet.

Hopefully we can all take the negative things that have happened over the course of this year and turn them around into positive things. Remember to call family, tell people you love them, value friendship, be kind to each other and most of all be a role model for others to aspire to. Be the best possible you that you can be and be true to yourself. Hopefully we as the human race can fix what has been broken and start mending this planet before it is too late.

 

 

 

 

Herbal Lore

Written by: Rose Miller AKA Ravenwings

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For thousands of years, herbs have been used for medicinal purposes as well as cosmetics, aromatics, cooking, and even embalming. The earliest known medicinal uses were documented it an Egyptian medical document called the Ebers Papyrus. This document contains over 800 medicinal drugs that were used from herbs and dates back to 1700 B.C. The Chinese claim that their use is even older than the Egyptians. Traditional Chinese medicine dates back to around 2500 B.C. Their form of using herbs also incorporates other treatments such as acupuncture and even massage. To treat an illness is to treat the whole person, to restore balance and harmony so that the body can then heal itself.

Indian Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes that good health is the responsibility of the person. Herbs and diets are used to help restore a balance to the body in order for it to heal itself. The Greeks also believed in maintaining a balance for good health and incorporated herbal knowledge from Egypt, India and China.

Hippocrates – “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

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From Greece the medicinal practices reached Rome around 100 B.C. Medicine itself became a profitable business. Galen disagreed with Hippocrates idea of the body allowing to heal itself and reworked his ideas. Galen’s books became standard medical texts and his theories are still used in Unani medicine practiced by Muslims and even in India. Some of his theories are found throughout Shakespeare’s plays.

During the reign of Elizabeth I herbals were written by Gerard, Parkinson, and Culpepper. An herbal book that not only describes plants but, also shows how to use them. The herbal book was second only to the Bible at this time.

In an article in The Economist. 2002

“Chimpanzees suffering from intestinal worms in Tanzania dose themselves with the pith of a plant called Veronica. This plant produces poisonous chemicals called terpenes. The pith contains a strong enough concentration to kill the gut parasites, but not so strong as to kill the chimps (nor people, for that matter; locals use the pith for the same purpose).”

In the early days of medicine, drugs could only come from the plant. As society has changed and we have more scientific ways to find out what makes this herb do what it does. Then chemical structures can be identified and made synthetically. The active ingredient in Willow Bark is salicin, and was artificially made in 1852. In 1899 Bayer was the first company to introduce the aspirin using this synthetically made product. The problem with the synthetically made active ingredients found in these herbs have numerous side effects that using the actual herb does not have.

The use of herbs however over the thousands of years have been more than just for culinary and healing uses. In Rome the people actually paid their taxes with anise. Romans also used dill to make wreaths and garlands to keep away witches. In some places parsley was thought to repel head lice. There are some other great little tidbits about herbal folklore on http://www.almanac.com/content/herbal-folklore-and-old-fashioned-tips.

Whatever the reason we use herbs today it has all been tried and true over thousands of years by millions of people. So the next time you add oregano to a spaghetti sauce or take an aspirin, keep in mind that what you are doing is not new or unique, just a modern version of the days of old.

So you want to become an herbalist

I have studied herbs, plants, spices, trees, etc. ever since I learned how to read. When I started my path in Witchcraft in 1984, I knew right from the start that herbs and such would be a big part of whatever path I was going to end up on. My grandmother was the first person from which I learned about different plants their many uses.  As well as those  called “weeds”.

Herbalism

 

Some were just recipes, and others were ways to heal the body. I read anything, and everything, I could find about natural healing and ways to use herbs in spells.  I also read about other things such as incenses, oils, vinegars, cooking, etc. About 2 years ago I decided that I wanted a degree in herbalism. Much to my surprise, I found out that there is no such thing in the United States.

There is no official certification or license for you to become an herbalist in the USA…. it means if you have a another license, such as LMT, or Naturopath, you may be able to qualify for Continuing Ed credits (CEU’s), and that the school has met certain standards by whatever accrediting agency it belongs to http://herbalistpath.blogspot.com/2008/02/there-is-no-official-certification-for.html)

So what now? Well, some of the best and well-known herbalist are self-taught. Most of the pioneers in the field learned from people and the plants without a certificate.

Juliette Levy, Rosemary Gladstar, and Susan Weed to name just a few. Their certificate programs are very expensive.  And frankly, the certificates you can earn really do not hold any credit or merit in the US.

As far as doctors’ concerns, they either are totally behind the idea of natural healing, or totally against it. Either way, I always say if this is a path you wish to follow there are many cautions along the way.  You have really got to study and keep lots of notes.

If you are doing this to take natural remedies for yourself, please talk with your doctor, an established herbalist or even your pharmacist first. There are many herbs that can cause adverse reactions when you are taking medications. Prescribed medications and even over the counter things such as aspirin and even antacids can cause you serious reactions with certain herbs, plants and even foods.

 

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If you want to become the local herbalist who helps out other people with your knowledge, then I must caution you even more. Telling others what herbs to use and how to use them is very tricky, as well as very risky. You need to know that persons entire medical background.  You also need to know any allergies they may have, any medications they are currently taking, occasionally and also in the future.

Even using some of the safest herbs can pose a dangerous undertaking. It is quite possible to create more harm than good.  If you have someone take a tea with chamomile in it to a person who is allergic to ragweed, this can actually cause anaphylactic shock. Also, people who take blood thinners such as Warfarin or Coumadin would need close monitoring while taking this with chamomile.

So if this is something that you feel you are ready to try I say go for it! Just remember that this is not just a simple

“I can just get 1 book and have all the info I need

kind of path. You are going to want to read everything you can find. This includes books that have herbal information like properties and uses.

Books on aromatherapy, magical herbal uses, essential oils, home remedies and the list goes on and on. There are tons of websites where you can find information, as well as blogs, and even certificate programs if you really want to go that route.

This is a path that I have walked for the last 31 years.  I can honestly say I learn something new every single day.

If you are a person who loves to learn and wants to be in touch with nature, this is an amazing path that any form of paganism or any other religion can follow. Learning about the many uses in nature also adds to the knowledge that we need to spend more time protecting her (nature)  and all that she has to offer us.

So, the next time you are out on a hike or just taking a walk through a park, take the time to look around and get to know what plats, trees and animals are around you. Take a notebook with you and a camera. Write down the different things you see and take pictures.

If you are not sure what a plant or tree is look it up. Research it and find out the many different uses for it. This is the best place to start your walk down this path.

Learn what you have locally in your home town. Even if you live in the city, there are always parks or sanctuaries nearby. Check them out. You will be so glad you did.

 

 

The Frugal Witch and her Working Tools Part 2

Working tools are items that you want or need to practice your craft. In part 1, I gave you a list of some. Here are a few more. Remember that you may want all, some, none, or even more than what is listed.  So this is just a guide to help you find what will work the best for you in working your particular craft.

CANDLES

There are many different colors and scents that you may need for whatever magical undertaking you have planned. With this in mind, it is very hard to have all of them on hand. There are some simple solutions to this. You can purchase a few, days in advance of using them, so you know what exactly you need.

Another is to purchase a few boxes of cheap crayons. Most crayons made today are non-toxic but, always check to make sure. Light the end of the crayon and drip some of the wax onto a heat-proof, fire-proof surface.  Stand the crayon upright in the wax. Once the paper wrapping of the crayon is lit it acts like the wick on a candle. Regular size crayons will burn for about a half hour which is normally plenty of time for magical workings.

Candles can also be used on your altar to depict the Deities. A side note on this: white candles can be used for any spell and are usually cheaper than the colored ones. You can normally get them at dollar stores, and tea lights are great to use because you can let them burn completely out.

If you want to add color, fragrance, or herbs, you can place them on a sheet pan in a warm oven until the wax becomes liquid. Carefully remove them and add essential oil, herbs or shaved crayons for color. Let them cool and they will be ready to use.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

DEVOTIONAL BOWLS

These are sometimes used on altars for offerings to the Deity from which you are asking help. Some Pagans keep salt or water in them for use during rituals as well. These do not need to be extravagant bowls.

I personally have a couple of small glass dishes that I use in my kitchen. I pull them out when needed, and consecrate them before use. They serve me well.

I also have a curious cat at home, so having a bowl of water or salt on my altar at all times would not be practical. Anyone who has pets at home knows they can be curious and sometimes destructive at the very least. The one that I keep empty on my altar  is a small one I picked up at a thrift store for a quarter.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

GODDESS AND GOD IMAGES

Some traditions require you to have a Goddess or God image, or an image of a particular Deity, on your altar. Finding the perfect statue may become difficult. Here are some suggestions for what you can use to depict these images.

Goddess:

A statue resembling the Deity, a candle in a color to represent the Deity, water, a sea shell, plant, incense, or even a picture.

God:

A statue, candle in a color to represent the Deity, a stone, plant, wand, athame, Sword, or even a picture.

The ones that I have pictured here are on my altar. The Goddess statue was purchased at a flea market really cheap because she had wings and they had broken off. I took her home and painted her myself. The God statue was purchased at a thrift store originally as a gag gift for my Aunt on her birthday. After she passed he became a permanent part of my Altar.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

BOOK OF SHADOWS

This is a book that is used to store all of the information that you need for your tradition, whatever Path you follow. This does not need to be an expensive purchase. I have a 3 ring binder with regular college lined paper in it. I covered it with black velvet and used gold cloth paint to draw a pentacle on the front of it. I took some thin black lace strips and sewed them to the velvet to make a bookmark.

With all of the crafting materials out there today, like scrapbook pages and stickers etc., you can create your own Book of Shadows very reasonably. I love using the 3 ring binder because I am always adding to my book and it makes it so much easier to do so this way. You can also make a Book of Shadows on your computer but, I have found that it holds more power if you write it in your own hand. Plus, it is much easier to place my Book of Shadows on my altar when I am using it to reference during a ritual or spell they it is to try to place my computer there.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

ALTAR CLOTH

Some Paths and Traditions require an Altar Cloth of a certain color for particular Rites. These can easily be purchased at a dollar store, thrift store, or fabric store. In a pinch a towel could also be used. These do not need to be made of the finest silk. I suggest using a fabric that can be washed just in case something gets dropped or spilled on it.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

THE ALTAR

Now onto the major tool. Your altar is the largest of all of your magical tools. It should be big enough to hold whatever items and tools that you will need to perform whatever magic you are performing. This does not mean that you have to have every tool on your altar all the time. This can be anything that you want it to be.  You can use a small table, bookcase, end table, coffee table, shelf or whatever you feel works for you.

There are circumstances where you can’t have an altar. Whether it is not having a space for it, or not wishing to have it out where others can see it. Whatever the reason, you can create a portable Altar.

This can be in a basket, a duffel bag, a box or whatever else you can store it in. Put all of your altar materials in this, and when you need them they are ready to go. This way you can use a coffee table, an end table, a kitchen table, or whatever you wish to use.

When you are finished you can just pack everything up and put it away. This is also helpful if you are planning on doing some magical workings outside. You can take your items with you to the woods, park, beach, wherever you wish to be.

When you are outside there are many things that you can use as an altar, a tree stump, flat rock surface, picnic table, even a blanket on the ground. You can also use visualization for an altar. Have you ever been somewhere and wanted to perform a magical rite but, didn’t have any of your tools with you? Don’t let that stop you. You can use visualization to create a magical working Altar with all of your tools in your mind. As I said before your finger can work as your wand or athame. It is all about the intent.

Pictured here are the altar in my bookcase that I have in my office, and my Fae altar that is in my bedroom.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

 

The Frugal Witch and her Working Tools Part 1

Working tools are those of which you will want or need to be able to practice your Craft for Rituals, Sabbats, and other magical workings that are dedicated to your tradition. I will be giving you examples of different tools that are used in many different Paths and what you can use in place of the more expensive versions of them.

KNIFE

The Athame is mainly used for directing energy in magical Rites. This can be used for creating circles, calling the corners, even for adding salt to water. The Athame is associated with fire and the masculine aspect so this can also be used to represent the God on your altar.

Some Paths have certain distinctions of how this knife should be. Some say that they have to be double-edged, some single-edged, some say dull, some say sharp. I believe that your Athame can be of any shape, size, color, dullness, or sharpness that you are comfortable with. You do not have to purchase an expensive knife. In a pinch you can use a regular knife right out of your kitchen. I found my Athame at a thrift Store many years ago. It is double-edged and dull and is steel with a green on the handle. This knife called to me and I paid all of 50 cents for it. You can use whatever you are comfortable with.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

BROOM (BESOM)

This tool is used for cleaning away negativity from ritual areas and circles as well as at some Handfastings. The Besom is a very powerful fertility symbol. I have 2 small Brooms that I keep near my altar. I purchased these also at thrift stores for around a dollar a piece. I always have my Besoms brush side up to protect it from unwanted energies.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

THE BELL

The Bell is not a common tool but it is used in some Paths. You can use this tool to invoke the God or Goddess, to call for the Watchtowers or corners, to ward off negative energies, to welcome positive energies, or even during your Rituals or Rites to signify a beginning or end. It is basically up to you on how you would like to use this tool unless your path already has a use for it. I have a small bell that I purchased at a yard sale for 2 dollars.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

CAULDRON

These were found in the homes hanging over a freshly lit fire and always had something bubbling in them. They are now made today in many shapes and sizes and are used in Pagan practices with water for scrying and also to build small fires in. I have a small brass Cauldron that sits on my Altar that I use specifically for burning incense in or if I am working on a spell where a fire is involved I can place a small one in there. It is of personal preference as to what size you want or need and even if you need one at all. I found mine again at a thrift store and only paid a few dollars for it.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

CHALICE OR CUP

The Chalice is used for libations during Ritual or Rites for holding water, wine, or juice. It is also a symbol for the Goddess and can be used to represent Her on your altar. It can be as grand as a jeweled silver goblet to a regular ordinary juice glass from your kitchen cupboard. I love checking yard sales and thrift store shopping so I love looking for a single wine glass or champagne flute that has a beautiful color or cut to the glass. You can normally purchase something like this from 25 cents to a couple of dollars depending on where you find it.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

PENTACLE

Most Altars have a Pentacle on them. This can be made of wood, metal, clay, or even a picture of one in a nice dollar store frame. If you are a crafty person you could make one of clay or just purchase a small round piece of wood or metal and paint a Pentacle on this. Not so crafty, find a picture of one that you like and glue it onto a piece of wood, cardboard, metal, or encase it in a frame. Mine was a gift from a fellow Witch who made them.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

STAFF

This is used in some traditions to mark quarter points or to hold banners representing certain elements or symbolic flags. The Staff is also used similarly to the Wand. You can purchase one of these already made or you can make one of your own. If you decide to make one of your own, it is a pretty simple endeavor. I love to be able to take walks in the woods. I find it very relaxing. If you have the opportunity to be able to do this, listen carefully to the wind and the sounds around you. Look around you, on the ground or up in the trees and focus your mind on finding a Staff for yourself. You may find the perfect branch laying on the ground or even a low hanging branch. If you are going to cut it off the tree make sure that you ask the tree for permission first and thank it after. Once you have your perfect Staff you can then clean it up, paint, it, stain it, add cords or ribbons or even gems to it. It is totally up to you on what you want it to be. My Staff was a lonely piece of wood I found on the ground.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

SWORD

The Sword is used in a very similar way as an Athame. It can be used to cast circles and call the four corners, however if you are in a small area it may not be practical to use a Sword. If you do wish to use one, always look around at yard sales, thrift stores and even online to find what you are looking for at a price you can afford. Mine was purchased at a yard sale many years ago for just five dollars.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

THURIBLE OR INCENSE BURNER

This can be your Cauldron if you are going to be burning incense on a charcoal or you can purchase an incense stick holder rather inexpensively at a dollar store. Some people prefer to have a censer that hangs on a chain so that they can use the smoke to purify the circle as they walk around it. This again is of your own personal preference. I use stick and cone incense quite a bit so my stick incense holder was purchased at a dollar store and the cone holder (my Buddha) came from a thrift store for three dollars.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

WAND

The Wand represents Air and Male energy so this can also be used to represent the God on your altar. Wands are used in a very similar fashion as the Athame and Sword. These can be made from glass, copper, silver, or other metals but are usually made of wood. Just as the Staff you can make these yourself by purchasing a dowel from a hardware store or even using a small branch. I have a beautiful piece of driftwood that I found and I decorate it with ribbons and gems for whatever use I need it for. It is always changing and I love having the ability to do that. One little side note to this, if you do not have an Athame, Sword, Wand or Staff you can direct energy just by using your finger. The energy direction has more to do with intent than it does with the actual tool you are using.

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INCENSE

This is used for cleansing the area, tools, or space you are working in. It also helps clarify your mind and helps with meditation, not to mention making your home smell nice. Different scents are used for different reasons. The least expensive way to go is to burn sticks. You can find many different varieties and they are usually less expensive than cones or making your own. However, if you are going to burn powdered incense or fresh and you do not have a fire proof container to burn them in, a bucket or old coffee can with sand or salt in it is another inexpensive route to take.

©Ravenwings 2016
©Ravenwings 2016

Keep an eye out for part 2 of this article coming soon!

Rose Miller ~ Ravenwings.