Monday, January 26, 2015

Bear Spirit: Lore and Summoning

For this week's Pagan Experience prompt, I would like to talk about Bears. Bears have a long and rich magical history, especially in association with healing magic.

Bear magic dates back as far as Paleolithic times with bear bones, mostly skulls, being found arranged in circles in caves across Europe. The Nivkh, a Russian semi-nomadic tribe, celebrate the bear by holding a festival between January and February in its honor. It is believed that bears are the earthly manifestation of Nivkh ancestors and gods. Bears are captured as cubs and raised by women in the village as if they were their own child. During the festival, the bear is dressed in ceremonial robes and offered a banquet. Afterwards it is killed and eaten in a religious ceremony presided over by a Nivkh shaman. In so doing, the bear's spirit is released and returned to the gods of the mountain. It is believed that if the bear spirit returns happy that the gods will bless the Nivkh with bountiful forests for hunting and fishing

The Finns performed a very similar ceremony upon killing a bear to let the bear's spirit know it is well respected by the people so that it would want to reincarnate back into the forest. Afterwards the bear was eaten, its bones buried, and its skull hung high in an old pine tree called a kallohonka (skull pine). This tree is considered the world tree and by hanging the bear's skull in it, which is believed to contain the bear's soul, its soul will be delivered back to the heavens.

Many other cultures also use the bear in their myths as well. The Greek goddess Artemis has a bear form for which the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are named after. The Greeks also held a festival in honor of Artemis by having two young girls (5 and 10) wear bearskin robes and perform a bear dance. The Thracians regarded the bear as a messenger for dead ancestors while the Celtic Gaul worshiped Artio as the goddess of wildlife, who like Artemis, has a bear form. Of course they appear in all Native American cultures, representing healing, strength, grounding, and ferocity.

Bears are acknowledged by many traditions as the totem animals for shamanic healers. They are often summoned during healing magic and herbalism to bring focus and rest. A popular theory is that bears taught us herbal knowledge. Whenever I make herbal remedies I always think about the bear as I work. Place a bear fetish in your herbalism work area or ask them for guidance during healing rituals. Action on behalf of bears' welfare and habitat may enhance your chances of success in healing magic.

To appeal to the bear spirit for guidance in healing magic, you will need a full frontal image of a bear so you are able to look directly into the bear's eye. Just before going to sleep, gaze into the bear's eyes while thinking about what information you require. Take as long as you need and treat this as a meditation. When you feel ready, place the image under your pillow and go to sleep. Insights and inspiration from the bears should appear in your dreams, even if bears do not.

Do you use the bear in any of your magical workings?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Imbolc, History and Lore

Imbolc, History and Lore

Imbolc or Imbolg (Em-bowl/g) was not traditionally a sabbat, but rather a day in which to honor the Goddess or Earth who was slowly turning the world back to spring. Winter was an extremely harsh season for our pagan ancestors with many people dying of disease or malnutrition. It's not surprising that our ancestors therefore set aside a day, midwinter to be exact, to perform sympathetic magic to lure spring.

Over the years, Imbolc has changed names many times, but most Anglo-Saxon countries celebrate some form of the holiday. In Ireland, where much of the lore for Imbolc originates, it is known as St. Bridget's Day; in France it's the Feast Day of St. Blaize; and here in the United States we call it Groundhog Day. Traditionally in Ireland, the day was a holy day to honor the Great Mother Brigid in her guise as the bride of the young Sun God. It was customary for young women, and sometimes young men, to dress as Brigid in old, worn clothing and carry her image through the town asking for alms for "poor Biddy." Giving to her was thought to bring a good harvest. Her festival was so ingrained in Irish culture that the Catholic Church was forced to turn her into a saint and renamed the holiday accordingly. It is also viewed as a crossroads day in Ireland, a day in which spirits seek the safety of a crossroads and in which people can bury their negativity at a crossroads to trap it for good.

Imbolc falls on February 2nd, and marks the midway point of winter. The name Imbolc means "ewe's milk" as this was the time when pregnant ewe's began lactating. Of course this was something to celebrate during a season short of food and was considered to mean winter was coming to an end. Honey Milk, a concoction of ewe's milk, honey, cider, and mashed apples, was commonly drunk to celebrate the holiday.

Imbolc is also known as Candlemas, a name which derives from the traditional lighting of candles to lure back the sun. The most popular candle lighting custom among Anglo-Saxon cultures is to have a young woman dress as the Goddess and enter the ritual with a circle of candles. The circle of candles is known as a Sun Wheel and represents the Wheel of the Year being warmed by the returning sun. It wasn't until the Norse invaded that this tradition changed to wearing the candles around the head, a tradition found in their Yule tradition.

Traditional foods for Imbolc come from the Celts, French and Swedes and tend to be round in shape and contain milk and honey. Pancakes and waffles made with rich cream are still a tradition in Sweden, especially on farms and in towns where the economy is based on milk. Honey cakes, a French dessert, are also common in many traditions along with warmed ewe's milk.

Although we commonly associate the heart with Valentine's Day, it was originally a symbol of Imbolc. Many traditional Valentine's Day cards include bright red hearts, the symbol of love, and sometimes young women awaiting for their affections to be returned by a lover (Goddess waiting for the God). This tradition also has roots in an ancient Druidic ritual which included removing the heart of a live white bull and reading the final convulsions and appearance for clues to the future. I'm glad we have moved away from this barbaric tradition.

Finally, Imbolc is the traditional time to collect stones for magical purposes. If you are in need of new stones, this is the day to do it.

I hope this has been informative. How do you celebrate Imbolc in your home? Do you celebrate using any of these traditions?

To learn more, please read the Imbolc Correspondences post.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Magical and Medicinal Uses of Rosemary

Folk Names: Compass Weed, Dew of the Sea, Elf Leaf, Polar Plant
Gender: Masculine
Planet: Sun
Element: Fire
Powers: Exorcism, Immortality, Healing, Love, Mental Powers, Protection, Purification, Youth
Magical Uses and History: "As for Rosemarine, I lett it runne all over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance, and therefore, to friendship..." -Sir Thomas Moore

Rosemary has a long and rich history of both magical and medicinal uses. The name rosemary originates from the Latin ros meaning "dew" and marinus meaning sea, resulting in the folk name Dew of the Sea. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean shores and its like blue flowers mimic dew. Reference to rosemary dates back to the fifth millennium B.C, where we see references written stone tablets in cuneiform. Dioscorides, author of the famous De Materia Medica referred to rosemary as "warming," likely due to its powerful scent and "spicy" nature. This same scent was believed to improve memory. Scholars wore wreaths of rosemary on their brow (the typical wreaths they are often portrayed wearing) or chewed on the stems to improve memory, especially during exams.
Its powers of enhancing memory were so well known that later scholars, such as Sir Thomas Moore touted its memory-enhancing abilities and used it often. Shakespeare mentions it in his plays Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet in reference to remembering, especially the dead. In Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance, pray you love, remember." This is part of the herbs she mixes together before taking her own life. Juliet is also buried with rosemary so that she too may be remembered. This connection to death and remembrance was extremely common in much of Europe.

The Romans believed rosemary's strong scent and evergreen leaves were capable of preserving bodies and were therefore associated with immortality. Sprigs were carried during funerals by mourners then cast upon the graves prior to burial, again associated with memory. This tradition remained in much of Europe until the nineteenth century, where it simply fell out of style. However, rosemary is still often planted in graveyards and is considered a symbol of respect and remembrance for those we have lost. In Australia and New Zealand, the Army Corps commemorates those lost by wearing sprigs of rosemary on their coat lapel. Such such, rosemary can be used for a number of memory-related spells and rituals. Use it to anoint candles, smell sprigs to enhance your memory, sleep with it under your pillow to aid in dream recall, leave on an ancestral altar as an offering, or burn it to enhance your ability to receive messages during divination. 

Rosemary can also be used in immortality magic, as mentioned above. It wasn't just the Romans, however, that believed rosemary was a plant of immortality. The French also associated rosemary with immortality, using it to embalm and preserve the dead. In England, it was believed that bathing in a rosemary bath could preserve your youth and an old folktale recants the story of a queen who did this three times a day until her "old flesh" became "young and tender."

In the Middle Ages, rosemary became a popular herb for dispelling negativity. This is likely due to its strong scent, which naturally repels insects and the fact that its healing properties are well known. Rosemary is a natural protector, and therefore can be used in a number of healing spells and in protection magic. During the Black Plague, rosemary was a common herb contained in posies and was often burned in the sick room to protect those not sick. It later became common practice to burn rosemary to protect against evil spirits and witches. Today, rosemary wreaths can be displayed in the home to ward off negativity, burned to cleanse the home and objects, or used in other protection and healing spells.

Finally, rosemary is associated with love and fidelity. Rosemary is a traditional courtship and wedding herb, often used in bouquets during such occasions. The rosemary was often used to help the bride and groom remember their vows. In English folklore, it was said if you placed a plate of flour under a rosemary bush on Midsummer eve that the following morning the initials of your future lover would be written in the flour. Other folklore suggests that placing a sprig of rosemary under your pillow not only enhanced dream recall but also promoted dreams of a future lover. Placing rosemary under your bed is said to ensure faithfulness and fidelity, while sprigs of rosemary are dipped in gold and hung in the home to bring a happy marriage. Use rosemary in love spells to promote fidelity and happiness in a relationship. 

Rosemary can be used in a number of spells including:
     Protection Magic
     Healing Spells
     Love Spells
     Immortality Spells
     Attract Wisdom
     Memory Enhancement and Remembrance
     Funeral Magic

Medicinal Uses: Rosemary acts on the circulatory and nervous systems as a stimulant, hence why it is able to enhance memory and treat depression and headaches. Furthermore, it can be used to calm and tone digestion. Externally it can be used to ease muscle pain and to stimulate hair growth, especially for those suffering from premature baldness. Oil is the most effective. For depression, it can be mixed with Skullcap, Kola Nut, or Oats.

Preparation and Dosage: The leaves and twigs can be gathered throughout the summer, but are best when the plant is flowering. Internally rosemary can be taken as an infusion, tincture, or oil. To make an infusion pour 1 cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoons full of dried herb and infuse for 10-15 minutes. Drink up to three times a day. Rosemary oil can be taken internally per directions to speed up the recovery time from an illness. As a tincture take 1-2 milliliters three times a day. Externally rosemary can be used as an oil to soothe bruises, skin irritations, stimulate hair growth, or ease muscle pain. This should not be made yourself and follow the directions on the bottle. Women who are pregnant should not use rosemary oil.

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

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Deity and the Divine? Not here!

Unlike many pagans, I do not personally believe in any deities. I am what is called a pagan atheist which is a foreign concept to many other pagans. When I first turned away from Christianity to pursue a path in witchcraft, I turned to Wicca. I tried desperately to believe in the God and Goddess, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't connect with them or force myself to recognize their existence. After moving away from Wicca I tried to connect with other deities, especially those of the Celtic and Norse variety. My ancestors are Irish and Swedish so I thought maybe by connecting to my heritage I could connect with a deity as well. No luck, although I have to say I do love the idea of almost all of the gods and goddesses in these systems, especially Loki (but maybe that is because Tom Hiddleston is so fantastic?)

So as it stands I still have no god or goddess I believe in or turn to in my magical workings. I do however believe that every living and nonliving thing radiates with its own energy, not not necessarily in a divine way. I feel the power of the earth and the moon just as strongly as many people feel their god or goddess. I find the universe, in its infinite vastness, to be awe-inspiring and humbling. When in doubt, I find the world around me, especially plants, to be more than enough for me and my magical workings.

I know many people will say something along the lines of feeling their energy is feeling the god or goddess within them. Gods and goddess are divine in being; I don't find the earth, moon, universe, plants, or any other thing to be divine. That being said, it doesn't make these things any less amazing in my eyes. I have a science background, specifically evolutionary biology, and the ways in which everything comes together gives me goosebumps. I don't mind not having something divine in my work.

Maybe one day I will find one, but I am content not working with them at all. Hecate has always peeked my interest, but I have yet to attempt to make a connection. Maybe one day, eh?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Charged Waters: Florida Water

When it comes to charged waters, Florida Water tops the most famous list. It's the only charged water to have its name copyrighted. That's right! Murray and Lanman own the name Florida Water and their version is actually excellent and affordable.
Charged Waters: Florida Water

Florida Water was originally marketed as the American version of eau de Cologne having a refreshing and light citrus-rosemary fragrance. However, it has developed into a magical staple among the Voodoo and Santeria communities. Its an extremely powerful spiritual cleanser and protective agent. Many use Florida Water to cleanse their altar and altar tools, during home cleansing and protection rituals, or leave out a bowl as an offering to their ancestors.

Despite the name being copyright by Murray and Lanman, there are thousands of homemade version all over the place. The basic formula contains alcohol, preferably vodka, and floral essential oils. My go to recipe is as follows (although I find it cheaper just to purchase it already made):
  • Two cups vodka
  • Two tablespoons rose hydrosol
  • Sixteen drops bergamot essential oil
  • Twelve drops lavender essential oil
  • Six drops may chang essential oil
  • Three drops rosemary essential oil
  • Two drops jasmin essential oil
  • Two drops rose attar
Pretty simple recipe, but rather expensive if you only need a small amount.

You can use Florida Water in virtually any cleansing bath, floor wash, ritual, or spell, as long as you do not ingest it. Florida Water is for EXTERNAL use only, so don't go making yourself sick!

Do you use Florida Water in any of your spell work? Maybe you should!

Want to learn about other charged waters? Please refer to my posts on Holy Water and Flower Waters!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Pinterest Update

I have made a Pinterest account solely for this blog. Originally following me on Pinterest linked you to my personal account. However, I feel that with an account purely for the blog, I will be able to better organize my pins and keep them more on the topic of paganism. I hope you will follow the blog's new Pinterest page and that it will better accomdate your interests!

The link is updated on the side bar but I will also provide it here.