Monday, March 29, 2021

Book Review: Ancestral Tarot by Nancy Hendrickson

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I am back this week with another book review! I'm actually going to have a few more coming along as that is how far behind I am on reading and reviewing the books I have been sent. But I figured these are some of my most sought-after posts, so why the heck not. This book in particular took so long to read through because it requires some work on your part, but the work is totally worth it.

Ancestral Tarot: Uncover Your Past and Chart Your Future by Nancy Hendrickson is an in-depth workbook for beginning an ancestral tarot practice. As someone who works routinely with spirits and some ancestors, I found this book to be both challenging and enlightening. Hendrickson begins by introducing the reader to three types of ancestors: Blood, Place, and Time. Each ancestral type has an entire chapter devoted to them and how to work with them through tarot using a variety of spreads created by Hendrickson herself. What I loved most is that Hendrickson is writing the book as she too uses the spread, using her ancestors to guide the writing of the book. As such, you get a glimpse into her own practice, allowing you to use her real examples to help you figure out yours. I learn by seeing then doing, so having detailed accounts from Hendrickson on how she worked each tarot spread allowed me to fully understand what I was expected to do when I started drawing cards. I was so excited to get started on the spreads in the book that I purchased a new tarot deck just for ancestral tarot. Hendrickson encourages the use of clarifying cards, runes, oracle cards, and other forms of divination to help you along your journey to better understand your past so you can change your future, especially when it comes to breaking ancestral habits and healing ancestral wounds. The ancestors of time chapter struck me deeper than the other chapters for a couple of reasons. Despite ancestors of time being the most convoluted, as they include not only your past lives but the ancestors of those past lives and close friends from those past lives as well. This is a huge group of ancestors and it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly who are you talking with, but so interesting. Hendrickson discusses using DNA tests to help you figure out ancestral lines and past lives and what not and this got me thinking. When I was in high school I took AP World History. We were learning about Napoleon and I remember having vivid dreams and flashbacks to a past life. I was 15 at the time and was unsure of what I was experiencing, but I knew deep down that I was someone very close to Napoleon, someone who loved him deeply. I mourned his loss and cried during his wedding to Josephine. I have no idea who I was in relation to him, but I knew I had lived the life. A couple of years ago my mom and dad did 23 And Me. I grew up hearing about how our family came to America from Scotland and Sweden. In fact, both my mom and dad are from the same clan in Scotland, the McLaines. We are indirectly related to William Wallace, which explains the rebellious nature of my mother's side of the family. However, we were shocked to see my mother's family had French royalty. I didn't even put these two things together until reading this book and I was like, "Wait a minute..." Hopefully, it will help you put some pieces together as well.

The last few chapters deal with keeping a detailed record, looking at tarot pairs, creating a whole self mandala, and performing ancestral rituals to honor the ancestors you are working with through tarot. In these chapters Henrickson briefly mentions karma. While the concept of karma belongs to Hinduism, Hendrickson's definition really resonated with me. For her, karma isn't about you doing something good or bad and being rewarded or punished in the next life, but that your actions in the past and that of your ancestors resonate into the future in a variety of ways such as limiting beliefs, passive-aggressiveness, fear, skewed world view, etc. I feel this idea more aligns with my personal beliefs based on my work with my ancestors. The trauma experienced by my ancestors and past lives still affects me and my family today. While this may or may not be karma, I find the sentiment to be true all the same. The tarot pairs, chapter, however, was most intriguing to me. I have talked about birth pairs on the blog before, those cards that give you insight into what your purpose is in this life, but Hendrickson takes it a step further with death pairs and event pairs. According to Hendrickson, death pairs help explain what happened at and after the death of an ancestor. This can help explain some of the actions of the ancestor you encounter. What really put this into perspective for me was the death pair for Anthony Bourdain: Tower/Chariot. Considering Bourdain committed suicide, I read this has a tumultuous and unexpected death. There were several others listed that had me shaking my head like, Hendrickson is onto something! She then goes on to discuss event pairs, which are pairs for a significant event in your life that changes its course. I fully support the notion that there are events in our lives that forever change us and our future.

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I really enjoy this book and working through some of the spreads. I am going to have to come back to it when I have more time to sit down with each spread and keep a detailed journal, but I definitely will. Ancestral Tarot: Uncover Your Past and Chart Your Future by Nancy Hendrickson is available now, and if you are looking to grow your ancestral practice I encourage you to pick up this book!

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Sunday, March 21, 2021

Ostara/Spring Equinox Altar 2021

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This year you may notice some new names for the sabbats as well as some new holiday altars on the blog. Inspired by Alden's book, Year of the Witch, I am trying to rewrite my Wheel of the Year to be more in line with my beliefs and ancestry. The Wheel of the Year is largely a Wiccan construct and was not celebrated in its current form anywhere in the world. This doesn't mean that it's bad, it just means it's difficult for people outside of Europe, Canada, and the Northern United States (which have roughly the same climate being in the same biome and all) and of different ancestry to really connect with it. I am still piecing together how I would like to rework the Wheel of the Year to better fit my personal practice. This has proven more difficult than I initially thought, but not for some of the reasons you may think. This has largely been in part to 2021 being an endless mess of mini catastrophes and overwhelming daily tasks. Needless to say, by the time I get a moment of respite I'm so mentally drained all I want to do is watch TV and head to bed. Witchcraft and the blog are the least of my concerns at the moment, but I know I'll get around to it. The Spring Equinox is a time of new beginnings, right?

Ostara or the Spring Equinox celebrates the dawning of Spring and the return of life. It is first and foremost a fertility holiday, honoring the reappearance of flowers, birds, and rabbits. Snow is beginning the melt and flowers force their way through the frozen ground, dotting the landscape with their bright blooms, a symbol of hope and new life. As the Sun grows in strength in the sky, the air warms, bringing with it animals previously hiding during the colder Winter months. March and April mark the mating season for many birds and small mammals, which will culminate in a bushel of cute babies. This is also the time of balance, as an equinox is a balance between day and night. We didn't get snow here in Georgia this year except for the mountains and by the end of March, daffodils and tulips have already stopped blooming. However, the cherry trees and forsythia are in full bloom, so I decided to go with some "less" traditional flowers this year to better honor where I live and practice.

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1. Gold and White Rabbits- One of the most prominent symbols of Ostara or the Spring Equinox is the rabbit, representing fertility and new life. Rabbits begin breeding this time of year and are extremely prolific, hence their association with fertility. In fact, rabbits can be pregnant with more than one litter of babies at a time! I've included two rabbits on my Spring Equinox altar to represent fertility, but I have included two to balance the altar as the equinox represents balance. The golden rabbit represents the Sun while the white rabbit represents the Moon who are in perfect balance during the equinox. (Where did I get it: Hobby Lobby 2017; Cost: $3 each)

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2. Rose Quartz and Mangano Calcite- This year I went with two light pink stones to represent love, harmony, and balance. Rose quartz and Mangano calcite vibrate with a soft, soothing love, one that last's for an eternity, the perfect crystal to symbolize the loving relationship between Sun and Earth. (Where did I get it: Metaphysical Subscription Boxes; Cost: ~$6)

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3. Pink Flower Incense Holder- In the center is an incense holder without the incense. I used it because of its pink color and flower shape. The flower represents the new blossoms of Spring, and being pink, it represents love and unity, which results in the flowering fruits so abundant at this time. I did not place any incense for this altar because the heavenly smell of the forsythia and dead nettle were enough. While cherry blossoms do not smell the best, the mixing of the two scents would not have created harmony and balance on this altar. (Where did I get it: Five Below 2019; Cost: $3)

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4. Forsythia, Purple Dead Nettle, and Cherry Blossoms- Here in Georgia, many of the traditional Spring flowers are done blooming. In fact, the daffodils in my yard shed their blooms about a week ago. However, forsythia, purple dead nettle, cherry blossoms, dandelions, and a host of other flowers are blooming in full force. I placed flowers on my altar to represent the blossoming of Spring as the Wheel turns toward warmer temperatures. These same flowers attract a host of pollinators which help to fertilize the blooms so they may turn to seed, thus representing fertility and new life. The fruits of their hard work will soon be realized, but for now, we are gifted with the pleasant aroma of fresh flowers. forsythia represents the Sun, who is growing in strength, calm, and hope. Spring has returned and with it, the harsh Winter winds are retreating. Bountiful harvests are right around the corner and the fear of death subsides. Purple dead nettle, like forsythia, also represents hope, but unlike forsythia, it also represents perseverance, grounding, and merriment. Purple dead nettle is a tenacious grower, making it the perfect representation of Spring. Finally, the cherry blossoms represent love and abundance and is said to invite the essence of Spring. (Where did I get it: My Garden; Cost: Free)

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5. Marble Egg- The blue, marble egg is the ultimate symbol of fertility and new beginnings. As Spring begins, the birds flock back to their mating grounds, building nests and laying eggs that will give birth to the next generation. I placed it in the center of my altar as fertility is the predominant theme of Ostara. The blue color represents healing, calm, and femininity, something I believe is currently lacking in the world right now. (Where did I get it: Marble Egg: Gifted; Cost: Free; Egg holder: Target 2018; $1)

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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 those of you looking to create Instagram perfect altars on a budget!

Did you do anything special for Ostara this year? Let me know in the comments below!

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Friday, March 12, 2021

Spellcrafting Series: A Series Introduction

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It has taken me some time to figure out what topic I wanted to focus on this year, but after much consideration, I have decided upon spellcrafting or the art of writing your own spells. With the growing number of spellbooks entering the market and the flood of introductory witchcraft books, we are left with books scratching the same surface over and over without going into any depth. There are very few books on the market covering spellcrafting, so I felt compelled to add to the information available by creating this series to help new and old witches hone their craft.

Spells and rituals are the heart of witchcraft, and learning to write your own spells is incredibly important. There is nothing wrong with using spells from books in your practice, however. I get ideas from books all the time and publish a number of spells here on my blog. I encourage new witches to dissect and use the spells of others to practice prior to jumping right into writing your own spells. Learning the basics of raising energy, grounding, and shielding are the foundation of spell work and without these skills, writing and casting your own spells successfully will be difficult. There is, however, something very different about the spells you create yourself. They contain your essence, your energy, which often makes them more powerful than a spell taken from a book. Many witches, new and old alike, are often unsure of where to start when writing a spell. Do you have to include the spoken word? Do the words have the rhyme? How do I set clear intent? Is intent enough to cast a spell or is it just wishing? What tools should I use? Does the moon phase really matter? Can I cast an [insert spell type here] on a day other than [insert moon phase here]? Do I have to cast a circle? What herbs and crystals should I use, if any? How specific should I be? Do I need to call upon spirits, deities, and/or the genius loci to cast a spell? Where and when should I cast a spell? Should I dance or chant? Can I cast a spell without physical ingredients in the Otherworld and if so, how do I do that?  This series will address these questions and more, leaving you with the tools necessary to craft your own successful spells. 

Spells, even in their simplest forms, can create real and effective change in our day-to-day lives. Often times we have a unique need for a spell, but find nothing matching our exact wants and needs. When we go to write the spell ourselves we find ourselves confused and unsure of where to begin. This series will provide you with not only the how of spellcrafting, but why as well. If you have noticed my latest trend in my spell and ritual posts, you'll see that I have started breaking down why I used and did what I did in the spell or ritual. This is to provide you with a learning opportunity to help you better write your own spells. This series will expand upon this notion, breaking down step by step how to write your own effective spells and why each step is so important. With any luck, your magic and spells should grow stronger by the end of this series, empowering your practice unlike ever before.

So what topics will I be covering? Below is a complete breakdown of what I plan to cover over the next several months. This is subject to change as I work through the series, but this is a basic outline nevertheless.

I hope that you will join me for this series this year. I am excited to get started!

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Book Review: Elves, Witches, and Gods by Cat Heath

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Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I am back this week with another book review! I'm actually going to have two more coming along this month as that is how far behind I am on reading and reviewing the books I have been sent. But I figured these are some of my most sought-after posts, so why the heck not. Later in the month, I will introduce you to this year's series as well as a seed blessing ritual and my Ostara altar, so keep an eye out for those posts as well.

Elves, Witches, and Gods: Spinning old Heathen Magic in the Modern Day by Cat Heath stuck out to me when looking through upcoming releases from Llewellyn and after reading the description I knew I needed to get my hands on an early copy. Boy am I glad I did! Heathenry is a term used to describe Germanic and Scandinavian magical practices, which resonates with me deeply as both my mother and father can trace their ancestral roots not only back to Celtic Ireland and Scotland, but Sweden and Germany as well. In fact, my father was surprised to learn he has "Viking" blood in him. We knew my mother's family hailed from Sweden but were completely taken aback my father's family had similar roots. Needless to say, I feel a deep connection with all things Scandinavian, and heathenry is no exception.

Heath does an amazing job introducing heathenry using historical texts, folktales, and her own experiences to drive the techniques and rituals outlined in the book. This is by far one of the best occult books I have read in a very long time for a couple of reasons. First, I absolutely love historical texts, myths, folklore, and the like, and draw heavily upon them when developing my own practice. I still do. The fact the Heath does the same and explains the texts in a methodical and analytical way while expanding the texts to explain how they apply to modern heathenry and occult practices did not fall on deaf ears. Most of the book felt like I was conversing with a similar mind to my own and while her writing style is different than mine, I could feel and see myself in her words. This type of writing isn't for everything, but if you enjoy my posts explaining folklore, myths, and historical texts, then you will definitely enjoy Heath's writing.

Second, Heath cites everything within the text with citations annotated at the bottom of pages. This is my favorite way to read citations so I don't have to go flipping back and forth to find the exact source referenced in the material. This allows me to quickly judge the validity of the source, from which she uses far more primary sources than secondary, and therefore the validity of the information. It also very quickly allows me to see what is speculation and personal experience versus what is backed up by history. I am a huge fan of this type of citation and put me at ease while reading.

Finally, I love how candid Heath is throughout the book. She speaks from decades of experience and isn't afraid to admit when she has messed up. I envy her practice and her ability to travel the world. Maybe one day I will be able to do the same. I love reading the personal experiences of others in the craft as they are often more insightful than the picture they paint elsewhere. It's all well and good to write and post manicured rituals and spells, its another to read the raw details on how such a ritual or spell originally came about and the trials and tribulations it took to get to today.

As a hedgewitch, I found the sections on "The Pathway Between" and "Herbal Charms" to be two of my favorite sections of the entire book. The Pathway Between covers liminality and spirit communication. However, Heath builds up to these practices, laying the foundation in Part One: Cosmology before giving you practical magic to practice on your own.

At the end of the book, Heath offers a list of recommended resources, many of which are now on my list to read later. These sources are broken up into sections, including both historical and modern, which I appreciate. There is also a short pronunciation guide to help you navigate some of the difficult Nordic, Icelandic, and Germanic words, although I would have liked to see a pronunciation guide next to each word when we first encounter them. I was having to Google the correct pronunciation of each word so I could read smoothly. I have a learning disability that affects my ability to read new words, so without the pronunciation guide next to each word, I kept getting tripped up and couldn't progress until after I had heard the word aloud.

Apart from wishing for a pronunciation guide next to new words, I did not like Heath's constant backtracking. She summarized what she had just talked about often throughout the book, which may be helpful for those who are easily distracted, but I found it rather annoying. I think it's mostly because I didn't like how she summarized, not that she did. This is really me issue and not a book issue, but one I felt the need to mention all the same. Some sections were also difficult to get through, not because the text wasn't fascinating, but because it was so dense. This may turn off some readers, but it is well worth it in the end.

Overall, I loved this book so much I purchased a hard copy the moment I finished it. I strongly encourage every hedgewitch out there to pick up this book. I promise you it will be worth it. You can order your copy of Elves, Witches, and Gods: Spinning Old Heathen Magic in the Modern Day by Cat Heath now!

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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Book Review: Mountain Conjure and Southern Root Work by Orion Foxwood

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Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The last two months I haven't done a lot of reading. This is partially due to the stress of a new semester with new challenges. In the ever-changing COVID world, it's all I, or anyone for that matter, can do to keep up! However, I have recently been able to sit down and start reading some of the books that have been piling up precariously on my nightstand. Seriously...the stack is getting out of control, but I can't say no to books! My latest read is Mountain Conjure and Southern Root Work by Orion Foxwood

I have always been interested in conjure and root work, but seeing as it's not a family tradition I have left it alone. Conjure arose from the need to fight oppression, especially among the poor and disenfranchised. As poor as many of my family was historically, conjure never found its way into our traditions, but the tomtee and other faerie folk sure did. Needless to say, when Weiser/Red Wheel sent me a lovely Yule package that contained Mountain Conjure and Southern Root Work I placed the book at the top of my stack. Foxwood is a native of Virginia and the Appalachian Mountains. Mountain conjure or "granny magic" has many similarities to the variety of conjure practices found in other parts of the United States, especially Louisiana. Like other forms of conjure, it is passed down within families and towns and used as a way to get ahead in life when the entire system is rigged against you. Foxwood was born into the tradition of mountain conjure and spent the rest of his life honing his practice, not just in conjure but in multiple forms of magic, including Alexandrian Wicca and faery magic. His life experiences and diversity in the Craft offer a unique take on Southern conjure and makes him an expert in his field. As someone who is relatively unfamiliar with conjure outside of one or two books and an abundance of highly inaccurate TV shows and movies, I appreciate learning about the topic from someone who was raised in the tradition.

Foxwood covers a variety of topics regarding Southern conjure, including his personal experiences, the origins of conjure, how to grow your spirit, and work with spirits. For obvious reasons, the sections on working with spirits were my favorite chapters and I will likely return to them again and again over the years. When documenting his personal journey, Foxwood mentions that mountain conjure is a combination of traditions from multiple cultures, including BIPOC cultures. I am adamantly opposed to cultural appropriation but recognize all forms of conjure arose from a need within the community, no matter your background. Conjure is, by definition, a hodgepodge of African, Native American, and European traditions wrapped up into one powerful magical practice. When the Europeans came over and soon after brought the first African slaves, the cultures of the oppressed collided to provide a magical outlet to fight the oppressors. It helped the slaves revolt, the Native Americans survive, and the poor white folk overcome economic disparities in the Appalachian Mountains. I appreciate Foxwood calling attention to the history of conjure and where the practices came from while making it abundantly clear that respect of its history and where the practices originate from is a must. However, I found it problematic that Foxwood encourages smudging as a cleansing practice.

I loved how Foxwood related the parts of the Otherworld to the physical features of the Appalachian Mountains and the American foothills. I always encourage witches, new and old alike, to build a local practice and what better way than to traverse the Otherworld using the terrain you are most familiar with? While I find traveling a tree to be easiest, there is something to be said for seeing the Otherworld in your own backyard. Foxwood also includes incredible guides for working with the dead and Death himself, honoring your ancestors, collecting graveyard dirt (truly this one of my favorite sections of the entire book and I will be adding his suggestions to my Grimoire in the future), and how to enter the Otherworld from a conjure perspective. As a hedgewitch, I found Foxwood's interpretation of spirit work intriguing and his perspective offered fresh insight into how I view my own practice. Needless to say, I was left with something to chew on and some possible new techniques to use in the future.

Overall I greatly enjoyed the book, but I definitely went back and forth while reading it. I mentioned on more than one occasion to my partner that I wasn't sure how I really felt about the book and I think this largely lies in the focus on God as the Spirit. I fully recognize that conjure incorporates Christian practices and the Bible. In fact, most who practice conjure also go to church every Sunday and would probably knock you upside the head if you suggested they were not God-fearing Christians. It was a struggle for me to separate Foxwood's God from my vision of the Universe as the source. I had to keep reminding myself that we are simply giving a different name to the same source of energy that created all there is. I have a lot of negative associations with God and Christianity which has left a very sour taste in my mouth. If you are the same way, I encourage you to replace the word and apply it to your religious or atheistic views. The knowledge Foxwood has to share is valuable and worth understanding.

While looking past the Christian undertones (or overtone?) of the book was a challenge for me at times, what really bothered me about the book was a brief mention that your soul chooses your parents prior to being born. This seems to be a growing belief among many practitioners of magic and it is one that has always bothered me. There are so many of us that are born into absolutely horrid situations fraught with abuse and trauma. When we say that your soul chose this path, it's victim-blaming and spiritually bypassing very real problems. Usually, when I find this in books and articles it's accompanied with a brief history of the author and their loving relationship with their parents. Those without loving and supporting parents often do not believe their soul chose to live such a life. When I read about children being purposely beaten and killed by their parents, locked in a hot car, or sexually abused, I can't for a moment believe their soul chose that path.

Sorry, I got a little dark there at the end, but I needed to get it off my chest. Whether you are interested in mountain conjure, looking for fresh insights into magical practices, or wishing to grow your spirit work practice, Mountain Conjure and Southern Root Work by Orion Foxwood is a great place to start. It was a refreshing read, especially with the growing number of books on Wicca hitting the market on what seems like a daily basis. The book left with me, as a more traditional European hedgewitch, a lot to think about and will likely be a book I return to in the future. You can purchase Mountain Conjure and Southern Root Work by Orion Foxwood now!

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