Fronds unfurling

20160508_150742On my desk at work, I have a very slow-growing fern.  I’m not sure what variety it is; it actually looks like three different plants all springing out of the same root system.  My lack of talent in caring for plants is locally infamous, and for a while I thought it was dead but just staying miraculously green, because it didn’t seem like it had changed at all in months.  But just last week I was diligently watering it and looked closely, and I was thrilled to discover two tiny fronds of new growth, curled like infant fingers, just starting to stretch out.

It’s been a remarkably long time since I’ve been actively posting on this site, primarily coinciding with my return to graduate school.  I also took on a new career, which is surprisingly engaging on a spiritual level, and picked up some additional jobs to help cover the bills.  Despite being incredibly busy, it’s been a fruitful time of personal reflection as well.  Now that this round of studies has officially concluded, and I’ve put in my notice for one of the extra jobs, a steadier and calmer routine is settling in, and I, too, am noticing new branches of my own just starting to unfurl.  Thus, I’m delighted to return to this small but amazing community with new vigor and perspective.

Before I launch into new territory, I first want to express my very heartfelt gratitude to those of you who have been steadfastly sharing your paths with the world through blogs, podcasts, tweets, etc., because being able to listen to you has meant so very much to me during this time of discernment.  Without you, I would have felt completely weird and alone, but with your generous spirit, I instead feel inspired and reassured.  Thank you.

Summer is panting toward the finish line; meteors are falling like fiery snow; in my neighborhood tonight thunder threatens to shatter our windows, but beneath all that exertion is a quiet, measured, yet hopeful smile.

At the ready,
your arrow

Let them fall where they may: On the disposal of hair cuttings

Like many of you, I imagine, I get the itch to do some intense cleaning, reorganizing and casting away of clutter (physical, mental and spiritual) around the spring and fall equinoxes.  And maybe like some of you (or maybe I’m alone in this), I often express my determination to cut through stagnant energy by cutting off my own hair.  There is an ancient cross-cultural thread that tells us our hair contains something of ourselves – Samson’s might, a woman’s virtue, a man’s honor, a baby’s innocence.  By extension, our hair also carries with it our emotional traumas, our negative experiences, and our bad habits.  I’ve known more than a few dear people in my life that, in the ultimate gesture to signal  the release of a past hurt, the end of a bad relationship, to officially move on to a new stage and a fresh start, have chopped off their hair.  I also notice that when my hair reaches a certain length, it starts to weigh me down emotionally & mentally until I take some off.  I see this in a smaller scale in fingernails as well.  Personally, my fingernails will frequently give away my anxieties by developing white streaks and ridges during times of stress, and I always feel a sense of relief that the worst is behind me when I can trim away the last of those physical markers.

At any rate, usually in March and again in September/October, I find myself wielding the scissors again, but then I’m left with the question of what to do with the clippings.  I would guess that some rational people in the world don’t think twice about sweeping their hair up into the bin with the rest of the garbage.  But even when I have envisioned the trimmings as bearing the parts of myself I want to be rid of, perhaps because at these times I am especially aware that this is a ceremonial act more than a cosmetic one, I feel like there should be special rules for the disposal of the remnants.  As a child, I collected and saved the lengths of braids I would cut off (I’m sure my parents weren’t concerned at all), but in recent years I have had a strong compulsion to scatter my hair among the trees.  I tried to make sense of this by imagining that – particularly in the spring and fall – the little woodland creatures could use my luxurious locks to give a fresh lining to their nests and dens.  Finally I decided to consult the archives of folklore for any rules on the discarding of cut hair, and it turns out this approach is NOT AT ALL ADVISED.

Let’s take a look at some of the folk-wisdom on the matter and re-evaluate my instincts:

  1. If a bird retrieves your hair for its nest, you will become bald.
  2. If a bird or rat gets a strand of a person’s hair for nesting, that person will lose her mind.
  3. If a bird gets your hair trimmings, you’ll get a headache, or toothache, or die.
  4. If someone cuts a piece of your hair and puts it in a hollow tree, you’ll go crazy.
  5. Don’t let anyone step on your fallen hair or you will get a headache.
  6. If someone else cuts a piece of your hair, or obtains a piece of your hair, they have power over you.
  7. Hair cuttings thrown in the wind bring bad luck.
  8. If your hair combings are blown away in the wind, it will make you forgetful.*
*This last entry is actually somewhat along the same lines as the desired effect – forgetting past troubles – but to become entirely forgetful is a bit much.
For those of you out there who might have, like me, already DONE this, all hope is not lost:
  • If a bird gets your combed hair and you go crazy, you can undo it by getting your hair back from the bird.
  • If you save the nest a bat makes of your hair, your luck will change and be good.

Sweet; no problem.

But what about alternative methods of disposal?  Opinions vary:

  1. If you throw your hair in the waste basket or on the floor and step over it, you’ll go bald.
  2. Don’t throw your hair on the ground or your ghost will come back and pick up all the hair you once discarded.  Burn it instead.
  3. On the other hand, if you burn your hair combings, you will go crazy.
  4. To throw or place a strand of a girl’s hair in a stream of running water, it will run her out of her mind.
  5. But, put your own hair combings under running water and it will grow.
  6. Be sure to put some of your cut hair in the tire tracks or it won’t grow anymore.
  7. Use hair combings to stuff cushions and you’ll never go bald.
  8. Put hair beneath a large rock to prevent headaches.
  9. Better yet, find a rock where the house eaves drip and put it there to grow your hair long and smooth .
  10. Cut hair should be buried by a young tree.
  11. Collect the hair and toenails of your enemy, put them in a bag under his doorstep and the enemy will go crazy.
  12. If you put a piece of hair under the doorstep, it will cure someone who is sick in the house.

This idea of using trimmings of hair to cast away illness is also reflected in plugging rituals.  Cory at New World Witchery posted a brilliant and thorough investigation of these practices a matter of days after I composed my first draft of this entry last spring, so I won’t bother recapping what he already covered.  You can read that post here.

One fascinating approach to using plugging to undo someone else’s magic wrought with your hair is referenced in Catherine Yronwode’s Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic:

“If someone gets your hair and uses it to force you into love, you can break their power over you:  Pull out one of your own hairs from the mould of your head and wrap it tightly around a nail, then walk into the woods with a hammer and drive the nail all the way into a Sweet Gum tree, walk back the same way you came and don’t look back.”

Many sources agree that a plugging ritual – inserting your hair or the hair of a loved one into a tree – somehow marries the fates of the tree and the person whose hair was used, so that if one dies the other does too.  I wonder what effect the plugging would have on the sap of a tree if you were to tap it – would you capture some of the life force of that person in the sap?  You could make a magical maple syrup in that way, perhaps??  This gives me all kinds of weird ideas about vampiric pancakes and symbolic cannibalism…
Moving on… Along with what to do with hair once it’s cut, there was also a great deal of (sometimes conflicting) folklore on when to do the actual cutting:
  1. Cut hair immediately before the moon is full, or trim it in the new moon.
  2. The best time is in the sign of Cancer, but not on the fourth of July.
  3. Cut hair on the night of the new moon and dream of the face of your future husband.
    (Fellas,  you have to rely on some kindly matron cutting her hair for you: Put a lock of a woman’s hair under your pillow and dream of your future wife.)
  4. If hair is cut on Good Friday, you will never go bald
  5. Snip a small strand of hair on the first of March and you will never go bald
  6. Wash your hair or let it fall in the first May rain for growth and luster
  7. Comb your hair in the moonlight for enchanting hair
  8. Comb your hair after dark, comb sorrow into your heart

Two other tangentially related bits about hair that I thought were of interest include:

  • If you have a stray hair on your person, remove it and put it on the back of your hand and make a wish.
    (I grew up with a similar kind of practice that involved wishing on fallen eyelashes.)
  • To make or keep a lover (depending on whom you ask): pull out, swallow, carry, burn/bury, or hide in your home his/her hair or put your hair in his/her clothes or under his/her doorstep.

Let’s make sure we have this straight: Your hair under your own doorstep put there by you = healing power.  Your hair under someone else’s doorstep put there by you = together forever.  Your hair under your own doorstep put there by someone else = mental breakdown.  Proceed with caution.

So to distill all of this reading we’ve done into some takeaways, the first thing I noticed was that very few superstitions about hair cutting (in my sources at least) actually agree with each other on whether something portends very good things or very bad things, and the exact same actions can be both promoted or proscribed.  The second thing I noticed was that there were still a lot of common elements that tended to show up again and again, regardless of the positive or negative spin.  It seems that certain places, actions, and times are significant, and while individuals might disagree on what exactly will happen when these elements line up, the consensus seems to be that SOMETHING will happen.  With regards to your hair (washing, cutting or combing), there is potency in Fridays, the months of March and May, moonlight and moon phases, burying or hiding under trees/rocks/doorsteps, and giving it away to water/wind or animals, with anticipated effects on health, love, beauty, and especially one’s mental state.

Being a practical and not very fearful witchy person, I am inclined to take this as a fabulous set of tips on when and how to employ hair cutting magic, and that with your intent, you can utilize these ingredients to create the outcome of your will, be it positive or negative.  As for the hair I’ve already scattered to the four winds and tucked in nearly every tree of my stomping grounds, openly inviting birds and critters to have at it, I’m inclined to believe that it will alter my mental state.  By offering this very powerful piece of myself to the animals in my geographic sphere of influence, I’m forming relationships and acknowledging that my fate is thrown in with theirs.  I’ve invested in their survival (even if just symbolically) and strengthened my connection to the spirits of my place, which I find fulfilling, comforting and empowering.

I also heard somewhere, and I wish for all our sakes that I remembered where, whether it was in a book, a dream, or a conversation, that part of the belief behind losing one’s mind from birds and animals running off with one’s hair is about exactly that connection that is forged – a part of you exists with that bird or animal, sharing in its journeys and fears, seeing through its eyes.  That could be awfully distracting – even maddening – for someone unprepared, but for witchfolk like us?  It sounds like a beautiful opportunity, and I for one choose to continue throwing my hair – and my caution – to the wind.

Hair Offering

Love and health to you all in these blustery toddler days of autumn.

Yours,
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Unless otherwise cited, folklore that I wasn’t raised with is culled from Popular Beliefs and Superstitions: A Compendium of American Folklore from the Ohio Collection of Newbell Niles Puckett, edited by Wayland Hand, Anna Casetta and Sondra Thiederman (1981).

Consulting an elder

Consulting an elder

I crossed state lines to head “home” to my parents’ house for the weekend.  We went for a glorious walk in those old deciduous woods that just don’t exist further north where I live now, and I reveled in the familiar sights and smells.  The knotty giant oaks, the creaking and groaning of the trees stretching in the wind, the cries of a trio of red-tailed hawks circling overhead.  I spotted this intimate conversation on a fallen branch near the ravine.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about getting in touch with the elements and spirits around me, and I get the sense that a lot of other folks are reflecting on questions of ancestry, place, and connection.  Autumn seems to do that – drawing our attention to the changing seasons, the passing of time, the aging of the world, and that palpable presence of those that went before.

Part of my tuning into this has to do with some professional work I’m doing on a collection of books from the 15th-18th centuries, full of texts and etchings that also closely contemplate death and spirit.  I also am trying to sort out some visual experiences that have been insistently drawing my attention this week, and a spiritually sensitive friend of mine strongly believes them to be past life memories resurfacing.

Are you also listening to the past in the present this October?  Who, or what, is calling to you?

Wishing you successful communication and an openness to lessons this fall.  There is much more magical goodness to come!

Much love,
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Out of the Woodwork

Hello, friends!  How are you??

I incubated for a long time.

The sap FINALLY started moving, and here we are at last.  I’ve experienced some really potent personal spiritual growth over the last year thanks to a surprise work opportunity (this is possible??), I’m nearly done with school again, and I’m keen for a little sunshine.

I’ve been celebrating my re-emergence with some intense domestic nesting and cleaning, and the signs are finally telling me my timing is right.  I’d been having some problems with – house elves??? – expressing their displeasure at my neglect of my surroundings.  For example, the skeleton key that locks & opens several doors in my house, including main entrances and my bedroom, mysteriously disappeared off my key chain one day and was missing for months.  This last weekend, immediately after I finished sweeping the front stairs, I turned back around and there it suddenly was balanced on the banister.

I’ve missed this tremendous community that makes me feel like part of something even when I only practice on my own.  Looking forward to sharing with and hearing from folks beyond the borders!

Hoping the winter has passed quietly or with fanfare, and that the spring is welcoming you warmly in.

with love,
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cats in the kitchen with blue bottles

cats reward my clean kitchen by posing for a still life.

Spirits of the Season

A brief summary of my work week so far:

On Monday, I was asked to look up a file referencing our “delegate for the occult,” which featured the agenda for a conference on exorcism training and a book recommendation for anyone working in the domain of “deliverance” (…as in “deliver us from evil”).  On Tuesday, I received a research request from a local university professor on a 19th century priest who wrote a book called “The Spirits of Darkness and Their Manifestations on Earth.”  On Wednesday, a post-it was left for me at the front desk alerting me to a visitor who believes he is possessed, whom I should refer to Father M. when he arrives.

I can hardly contain my excitement for Thursday.

Happy Halloween!

Caterpillar corpse on hawkweed

Hoping you all are very well, and sending my best wishes for a soulful Samhain.

Love,
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Pagan in the Basement – Preamble

Just a note that I have embarked on a new endeavor that is leading me to question a lot on the spirituality front, and I’m actually kind of excited about it, as it is promising to incite a period of engaged awareness.  Also, I have mad love for the pagan podverse.  Thank you for bringing me a sense of community no matter what.

The snow packs are finally beginning to melt, and I can feel this drawn-out cold spell coming to a close. I hope you all are well, and I look forward to sharing more soon.

From under the dust with love,
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On the Nightstand: The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow

When I fantasize about posting regularly to this site, one of the subjects I most frequently consider writing about is the precariously tall stack of books that accumulates regularly on my nightstand.  At any given time, there are usually between three and fifteen books squirreled away there, bustled in on the inspiration of fleeting reading moods.  But every so often, there is one book that I stick to devotedly, dragging it around in my Poppins-esque bag, until it is lamentably dogeared and devoured cover to cover.  These are the books that make me think I should write a post to share them, and this is the kind of book that is good enough to launch a maiden voyage.

I don’t even remember anymore how I first heard about The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow.  I think it was a random recommendation on Amazon, but if any of you fine folks have read and commented on it already, please let me know so I can give you due credit.  And thank you profusely.

Most of the book is a reprint of a diary from the turn of the last century, written by an unusual girl named Opal Whiteley when she was only six or seven years old.  Anyone with a reverence for the natural world should know this girl.

Opal grew up in a logging community in Oregon, and wrote extensively about her relationship with animals, trees, and the natural elements.  She was remarkably observant and eloquent, and she wrote also about learning special things from her “Angel Mother” and “Angel Father” and how she hears voices in the trees and wind and water.  She also names, or renames, nearly every living thing around her after hilariously erudite and obscure authors, artists, leaders and French landmarks (a bizarre compulsion after my own heart), and almost always comes up with ways to “help” her mother around the house that ultimately get her spanked or put in time out under the bed.  Her expressions, interests (to “go on explores”) and interactions with the natural world remind me a little of my own childhood experiences (my first diary entry at age seven, written in numeric code, was also about little wild animals I was trying to rescue), but there is something extra ghostly and mystical about Opal.  Benjamin Hoff’s touching biography that prefaces the diary honors this spirit as well.  I loved how I started to look at my own surroundings with Opal’s eyes while reading this, and it helped me to recapture some of the wonderment I experience when I feel most in touch with nature.  There is heartbreak in this story as well, and I recommend trying to pick up the 1994 edition if you can find it because the afterword is extremely moving and provides a little more framework for Opal herself.

Please read this book, and dedicate some moments to Opal, her spirits, and “the man who wears grey neckties and is kind to mice.”

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I have thinks these potatoes growing here did have knowings of star-songs.  I have kept watch in the field at night, and I have seen the stars look kindness down upon them.  And I have walked between the rows of potatoes, and I have watched the star-gleams on their leaves.  And I have heard the wind ask of them the star-songs the star-gleams did tell in shadows on their leaves.  And as the wind did go walking in the field talking to the earth-voices there, I did follow her down the rows.  I did have feels of her presence near.

I don’t think I’ll print more tonight.  I printed this sitting on the wood-box, where the mamma put me after she spanked me, after I got home with the milk.  Now I think I shall go out the bedroom window and talk to the stars.  They always smile so friendly.

This is a very wonderful world to live in.

–Opal Whiteley (1897-1992)

With Much Love,
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Nightscapes

A few nights ago, I was invited to attend a gathering by my friend’s dead mother.  For weeks, she has been meeting this hoodoo (?) priestess woman in the middle of the night at a dance/yoga studio.  Two a.m. on a Wednesday – the floor of the studio was aged wood.  It was a hot second floor space in the city; the windows were uncovered, but the night outside was completely black.  I stood with a couple of other newcomers just at the threshold, observing.  The woman opened the ritual by slicing furiously at the floor with both hands clutching an invisible blade, then sprinkling a line of dirt, spitting on it, rubbing it in.  All efforts to open the veil just enough, then seal it before too much came in or went out.  Almost outside of my own volition, I found myself first clapping, then participating in the chant that ended in gradually more frenzied dancing.

Afterwards, leaning against the inner wall of the studio room where a small shelf was inset and dimly lit, the woman spoke quietly to me in a sidelong way, revealing short, powerful details without hesitation or ceremony, then told me my name with a sly smile.

In dazzling daylight, I walked with the small group of key members to their designated space in the woods – a white house on an airy hillside.  I observed but stayed clear of the posturing of two women who were vying for position, showing off their more menacing forms in air and water.  I brought thistles and milk, and a human-like dog greeted me in the yard.  I was told to leave roses behind, before we started up the hill to the initiation place.

Other recent dreams marrying magical tools to each other, meeting ghosts in my kitchen and elsewhere, iron charms, wolves, and a frog emerging from our blueberry bush with an exceptionally communicative gaze.

My cold spell is melting, and I feel again the welcome sting behind my eyes.

Archival Ephemera

Hi fellow wanderers,

I suppose it is fitting that I titled this entry “Ephemera,” because my entire post vanished when I attempted to save it before publishing.  That makes two full posts lost to the ether since September.

I commented on Women Who Run with the Wolves, the “sight” in our skin and pelts in shamanic practices, my favorite personal fairy tale (Allerleirauh), prey stalking behavior in my shopping, eating, and researching habits, and the most spiritual practice in my life of late being time spent alone in the archives connecting with the lost generations of this region.

Hopefully soon I will be able to compile my archiving notes into a full, thoughtful post with things like complete sentences.

Until then, I hope you all are healthy and warm, and sharing some seasonal love with your families.  One week to go!
Love,
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Messengers

by Anne Siems

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