Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Book Review: The Wildwood Way by Cliff Seruntine

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Recently I have been in contact with a new publisher, Crossed Crow Books, who are re-releasing some titles no longer in print including the book in today's review, The Wildwood Way: Spiritual Growth in the Heart of Nature by Cliff Seruntine. As you may already know, I love to read. Books are a wonderful escape as well as one of the most significant modes of transmitting and preserving information. Knowing that several titles are being given new life is wonderful news and an act I support wholeheartedly.

In his book, The Wildwood Way, Seruntine recounts how his life in the wilderness and spirituality intersect to form a shamanic practice rooted in environmentalism, sustainability, and folklore. The book is divided into four parts, one for each season, with each chapter focusing on a month. The chapters follow the same basic structure: personal story, wildlife, enchanted forest, wood witchery, and woods lore. It can be tempting and even easy to skip over the introductory stories to find the practical and magical advice at the end of each chapter, but within these recollections of Seruntine's experiences are lessons to be learned. He recounts profound spiritual experiences, from which we can glean a better understanding of the magic that surrounds us. I always enjoy reading about people's experiences, so I ate these stories up and was always awestruck (and a little jealous) of the life he and his family has been able to lead in the wilderness, far from prying eyes and industrialization.

After the stories, Seruntine dives into the science behind the phenomena mentioned in the stories in the "wildlife" sections. This includes explaining fairy rings, black bears, beavers, bunchberries, and even fireflies as will-o'-wisps. As a scientist and environmental science teacher, I couldn't get enough of these sections. Seruntine is well educated on the topics he discusses and does an amazing job conveying the information in a palpable way. He even weaves magic and mystery into these sections, helping the reader see the connection between magic, folklore, and witchcraft, which is something I strive to do here on my blog as well. You will walk away from these sections with a well-rounded understanding of the natural world and the interconnectedness of living and non-living things in an ecosystem.

From here, Seruntine moves into the more fantastical world found in the forest-- forest folklore and wood witchery. In these sections Seruntine recounts folklore from many traditions, from Celtic to Native American, citing his sources of these stories throughout. This segues into practical magical advice that can be integrated into your practice, especially if you are a hedgewitch like myself. Because Seruntine's practice is shamanic, the advice, lessons, and practical magic offered throughout the book are directly applicable to hedgecraft. He includes journeying techniques, methods for reaching an altered state of consciousness, using incense as a spirit ladder, how to find natural power objects, and how to connect with spirits and develop meaningful relationships with them. The wood witchery sections are definitely for more advanced practitioners, and they provide little to no background information and techniques, assuming the witch reading has already mastered these topics (think grounding, centering, spell casting, etc). I was pleasantly surprised how much information I was able to take away from the pages of this book and know it will be one I come back to often for the folklore and wood witchery alone. In fact, my favorite quote from the book is within these sections: "I've never met a spirit more dangerous than a living person." As a hedgewitch who works with many different spirits, this couldn't be more true. I have never once been afraid or felt truly threatened by any of the spirits I have encountered. It is the living I fear above all else. If an author is painting spirits out to be extremely dangerous, I am always cautious of what they have to say because more often than not, spirit workers will tell you that such fear is unwarranted. That isn't to say you shouldn't exercise caution, but when respect is given, respect is received.

Finally, Seruntine rounds out each chapter with practical woodsman advice and techniques including how to use a compass, forage for food, and pitch a tent. These are practical skills anyone venturing into the wilderness should have, even if you don't plan on staying long or wandering from the path. Its better to be overprepared than under!

Overall, this book is a fantastic, educational read I believe should be on every hedgewitch's shelf, but there is some information to look out for and use a critical eye to assess. First, the introduction features two slurs: the first about the Inuit/Yupik peoples and the second about the Romani people. I know that part of this is due to when the book was originally written, but with this republish, this should have been something that was caught by a second editing team and changed. Second, Seruntine uses the Wiccan Reed to admonish GMOs and makes some comments about organic versus conventional farming that aren't entirely true. For example, Seruntine mentions that only conventional farms are responsible for water pollution. Large-scale organic farms use pesticides and chemicals that also pollute waterways and are extremely dangerous. Just because of the poison came from nature doesn't mean it's any less harmful than a poison made in the lab. Mercury, lead, and arsenic are naturally occurring; that doesn't mean you should eat them. Finally, Seruntine does discuss hunting and animal deaths, and there are some pictures of this as well, so if you are sensitive to this sort of information or imagery, this may not be the best book for you. I don't like reading about animal deaths, so there were sections I glossed over.

Despite the issues mentioned above, The Wildwood Way: Spiritual Growth in the Heart of Nature by Cliff Seruntine is an informative, must-have for any witch, especially those who practice hedgecraft like me. I know it is a book you will come back to again and again. The Wildwood Way: Spiritual Growth in the Heart of Nature by Cliff Seruntine is available for pre-order now through Crossed Crow Books, with shipping expected Fall 2022.

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Saturday, August 6, 2022

Lammas/Lughnasadh/Summer Thermstice Altar 2022

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The Summer Thermistice, also known as Lammas and Lughnasadh, is the first of three harvest festivals celebrated on August 1st, although this year it astronomically falls on August 7th. Traditionally, wheat is harvested from the end of July through the beginning of August, and Lammas was a time to celebrate this harvest as a successful wheat harvest would guarantee flour through the winter. Wheat is and was a staple in our diet and was often the only reliable source of food during times of famine and food shortages. In fact, it was such an integral part of our diet historically that when flour prices rose due to shortages, revolts followed. As such, celebrating the wheat harvest was a community affair marked by feasts, bread baking, and offerings to the harvest spirits, often including the first loaf of bread baked from the newly harvested wheat. This is a time to celebrate and honor the land and agricultural spirits, fruitfulness, prosperity, abundance, and change. Common symbols include bread, wheat, sunflowers, farm tools, gourds, apples, grapes, and wine. With these symbols and themes in mind, I created a simple altar using items I had around my home. Unlike last year, I don't have a garden full of blooming flowers. The deer munch on the new flower shoots early in the season, leaving me with very few blooms this year, which I left for the birds and insects.

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1. Corn Dolly- Corn dollies are a central theme in harvest folklore across Europe. Traditionally, they were made from the husks of the last corn harvest and remained in the home until the following year when they were plowed into the first furrow of the season. As such, the Spirit of the Harvest would be returned to the soil to ensure a bountiful crop the following year. Corn is traditionally harvested in late summer, and therefore a staple crop of Lammas. She represents the harvest, good luck, fertility, and prosperity. (Where did I get it: Subscription Box; Cost: $2)

Lammas, Lughnasadh, Summer Thermistice, altar, witch, witchcraft, witchy

2. Candles in Holders- I have several candles around this altar to symbolize the Sun and his strength. The Sun is beginning to wane in power and the candles act as sympathetic magic to boost his strength so the harvest can continue just a little longer. The golden round candle holders represent the feminine, fertile energies of the season that provide us with the bounty we celebrate this time of year. The orange leaf holders symbolize the subtle changes we are beginning to see as the Wheel turns toward the darker side of the year and the plants begin to conserve energy and food for the upcoming winter months. (Where did I get it: Dollar Tree 2017 & 2020; Cost: $5.25 for candle holders and white candle)

Lammas, Lughnasadh, Summer Thermistice, altar, witch, witchcraft, witchy

3. Ivy and Sunflowers- Ivy is associated with wealth, abundance, and fertility, all of which are traditional correspondences of Lammas. The sunflowers represent the Sun. Most sunflowers are blooming at this time, and when done, will produce hundreds of oily black seeds which provide valuable food for animals and humans alike. These unique flowers follow the Sun throughout the day and are thought to lend Him strength. (Where did I get it: Dollar Tree; Cost: $2)

Lammas, Lughnasadh, Summer Thermistice, altar, witch, witchcraft, witchy

4. Six of Earth- The Six of Earth from Dreams of Gaia features traditional Lammas symbols of the sickle, fruits, and ox which symbolize the harvest, fertility, and dependability. The card is associated with family, community, protection, and service, thus representing our coming together to celebrate the harvest and the duty we have to our families and communities to ensure everyone is cared for and our Mother Earth is protected. It reminds us to lead by example and plan for the future. (Where did I get it: Metaphysical Store; Cost: ~$0.25)

Lammas, Lughnasadh, Summer Thermistice, altar, witch, witchcraft, witchy

5. Aventurine, Red Calcite, and Tiger's Eye- Green aventurine, a traditional crystal associated with Lammas, symbolizes growth, abundance, creativity, and prosperity, themes of the season. On the other hand red calcite  and tiger's eye represents strength, courage, luck, and the Sun. (Where did I get it: Metaphysical Stores or Subscription Boxes; Cost: ~$5)

Lammas, Lughnasadh, Summer Thermistice, altar, witch, witchcraft, witchy

6. Jera Rune- Jera derives its name from the Germanic stem jēra meaning "harvest, year" thus associating it with harvests, fertility, abundance, and growth. It is a symbol of subtle changes and good tidings and represents the rewards for hard work, think "you reap what you sow." While traditionally associated with the Winter Solstice, I find it represents the Lammas season well as we are reaping what we have sowed earlier in the year. (Blagowood; Cost: Won/Free (originally- $30 for set)

Lammas, Lughnasadh, Summer Thermistice, altar, witch, witchcraft, witchy


Like my other altars, most of the items I use are found, made, or purchased for around $1, although if the items must be purchased by you, then the cost will be higher. I hope you find this sort of breakdown helpful, especially for those of you looking to create Instagram-perfect altars on a budget!

Did you do anything special for Lammas this year? 

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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Lammas Tarot Spread

The first harvest or summer thermstice goes by many names, including Lammas, Lughnasadh, and Lunasda, but the theme remains the same. After the summer solstice, the Sun slowly begins to lose power and the shift inward begins. Fresh fruits and vegetables are picked and seeds are saved for future growing seasons. These harvesting and seed-saving metaphors carry over into all aspects of our lives, especially our magical selves. In the spring, we sewed the seeds for manifestation. Lammas marks a period of reflection; it's time to check in on those seeds and see what has manifested and what has not, what we need to continue working on, and what we can save for next year.

This tarot spread, which mimics the cornucopia, incorporates the metaphors of harvesting and seed saving while encouraging growth and gratitude. 

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1. Growth: Earlier in the year, you planted seeds and set goals. How has the first half of the year gone thus far? What changes and growth have occurred in your life? If you planted seeds (goals) last spring, how are they doing? What has manifested in your life?

2. Harvest: Being the first harvest, Lammas is a time of celebration. What can you harvest in your life right now? What should you be grateful for and how should you give thanks?

3. Ripen: Not all crops are harvested this early. In fact, many may still need more time to ripe on the vine before they are harvested around Mabon. What needs to ripen more within you before harvesting?

4. Seed Saving: As the light begins to fade and autumn approaches, it's time to reflect. What seeds should you save for next year from the fruits of your labor? What should you tuck away for later use? What do you need to prepare for?

Even if you haven't planted seeds, you may find that change has occurred anyway. Not all of us connect well with Lammas anymore, especially if you live in the city or aren't into gardening and planting. That doesn't mean you can't celebrate the last throws of summer and reflect upon how the year is going. This tarot spread is there to help.

Enjoy the rest of summer, witches!

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Thursday, July 14, 2022

Magical Uses of Green Aventurine

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Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Herbarium: Magical and Medicinal Uses of Blackberry

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Gender: Feminine
Planet: Venus
Element: Water
Powers: Healing, Money, Protection, Virtue
Magical Uses and History: Blackberry, also known as bramble, is a member of the Rubus genus which includes other aggregate berries such as raspberries and blackcaps. Rubus is derived from the Latin ruber meaning 'red' and the Proto-Indo-European wr̥dʰo meaning 'sweetbriar,' both references to the nature of the plant from its reddish stems to the sweet fruits tucked in a bush of thorns. For the sake of this article, I will be discussing Rubus fruticosus, although blackberry is the common name for a large number of species, all of which have similar magical and medicinal uses. Blackberries were well known across Europe and North America, which led to folktales about the plant spreading as quickly as a bramble bush across a hedgerow. 

Much of this folklore focuses on when blackberries were safe to eat and how they got their black color. Across much of Europe, it was believed that eating blackberries after Michaelmas, which fell on September 29th or October 11th, was unlucky and could even lead to death. After Michaelmas, the blackberries belonged to the fae, witches, or the Devil, even though after these dates any blackberries left were likely rotten anyway. Some people believed the day after Michaelmas, the Devil placed his cloven hooves on the blackberries, cursing them black. In Scotland, it was believed the Devil covered blackberries with his blackened cloak, while yet other areas of Europe believed the Devil spit on them, making them poisonous. Still, other tales recount the Devil trampling patches of bramble in a fit of rage and cursing them on St. Simon's day so that no berries would grow after this date. If it weren't the Devil doing the dirty work, it was witches or fae creatures cursing the late crops of blackberries and leaving them unsafe to eat. As such, after Michaelmas, blackberries were left to rot on the vine, acting as an offering of sorts.

It was these same beings that were attributed to turning the berries black. Some folktales say when Lucifer fell from Heaven, he landed in a bramble bush and cursed the plant by spitting on it. Others suggest the briar crown placed upon Jesus's head was made of bramble and his blood stained the berries. As such, some cultures viewed eating blackberries as taboo or unlucky and thus avoided them all together. With this in mind, blackberries can be used in baneful magic to curse and poison depending on your needs. Even so, the blackberry was often used in folk healing rituals and remedies.

Blackberries were used to cure an assortment of ailments, from rupture to snake bites to whooping cough. Children suffering from rupture were passed through naturally-formed loops of bramble to cure them, while charms of bramble were made to protect against whooping cough. Passing through natural bramble arches was also thought to cure boils, whopping cough, blackheads, and jaundice. A person would pass through the arch nine times while saying, "Under the briar and over the briar, I wish to leave the chin cough here." or whatever ailed them in the bramble patch. Poultices and salves containing blackberry flowers were applied to snake bites to pull out the venom. One charm noted by Graves states blackberry leaves could be used to treat scalding. Nine blackberry leaves were dipped in spring water and applied to the affected area while reciting the following charm: "There came three angels from the east, one brought fire and two brought frost. Out fire, in frost. In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." Young shoots were picked and peeled and chewed on to cure coughing, asthma, mouth ulcers, and even heartburn. Like the raspberry leaf, blackberry leaf was also drunk as a tea by pregnant women to aid in pregnancy and childbirth. As such, brambles can be used in spells and rituals for healing, especially those related to the mouth and lungs.

The blackberry is also associated with protection due to its thorny nature. Blackberries were planted over graves to prevent the dead from walking or around the home to protect against thievery, evil spirits, vampires, and witches who would be compelled to count all the berries before entering. Wreathes of brambles were placed on the doors of barns and houses to protect those inside from witches and evil spirits. It was believed that any spirit attempting to pass through the wreath would become trapped within it. Dried bramble was also placed in milk buckets, much like rowan, to protect the milk, while the leaves were burned during a wedding to protect the newlywed couple from bad luck and ill wishes. In the Balkans, bramble roots were kept in the home as a protective charm and were thought to bring good fortune and prosperity to the home. As such, brambles can be used in protection magic and charms. Create wreaths and pentacles out of dried brambles and hang in your home for protection against negativity, ill wishes, and unwanted guests. Use the thorns in ritual oils and washes to cleanse, purify, and protect yourself and your tools. Add large dried thorns to protect jars and bags.

Due to its invasive and quick-growing nature, the blackberry is also associated with prosperity and money. Passing through a bramble arch and dedicating yourself to the Devil was thought to bring good luck and fortune when playing cards or gambling. Others believed passing through the arch would bring good luck and good health, likely due to the arch acting as a 'portal.' Those that passed through it nine times were believed to transfer their ailment to the bush. As such, blackberries and their brambles can be used in transference magic, whether for healing, good luck, good fortune, or cleansing yourself or your tools. Blackberry leaves were also carried on a person or used in spells to attract money and the berries were baked into pies to bring abundance and prosperity, especially during Lammas or Lughnassadh. They can be used for the same purposes today.

Finally, the blackberry was associated with divination and dream magic. Dreaming of walking through a bramble patch meant you were in trouble while dreaming of picking blackberries foretold of illness in your future. If you dreamed you were being pricked by blackberry thorns, it meant you and yours had secret enemies. If the pricks drew blood it foretold of poverty and financial difficulties but if you were left unhurt then it was a sign that you would triumph over your enemies.

Blackberry can be used in a number of spells including:
    Protection Spells
    Baneful Magic
    Healing Spells
    Prosperity Magic
    Dream Magic

Medicinal Uses: The root and leaves of the blackberry plant contain tannin which acts as an astringent and tonic, helping to treat dysentery and diarrhea as well as cuts and mild skin abrasion. Blackberry leaves, roots, and stems are also anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial and can be used as a mouth rinse for mild mouth and throat irritation. 

Preparation and Dosage: Internally, blackberry can be taken as an infusion, using either the root or the leaves, or as a tincture. To create a root infusion, combine one ounce dried blackberry root with 1 cup of boiling water. Allow the mixture to infuse for 10 minutes. Drink 2-3 times a day. To create a leaf infusion, combine 1 teaspoon dried blackberry leaf with 1 cup boiling water and infuse for 5-10 minutes. Drink up to three times a day. Tinctures can be made using the berries or leaves (3 parts blackberry material to 1 part alcohol). Take 1-4 milliliters up to three times a day. Externally, blackberry leaves can be used as a salve, poultice, or compress.

Want to print a copy of this for your Book of Shadows? Click below for your free copy! 
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