Portable Fortitude!

I recently ordered a deck of “Portable Fortitude” cards by Corina Dross after hearing them described on one of my favorite pagan podcasts, New World Witchery.

The deck arrived today and I could not be more pleased!  I’m so excited and torn between that feeling of wanting to get one for everyone I know and wanting to keep them all to myself.  The prints are clean and crisp, the cards sharp and smooth, the images haunting, spirited, tirelessly honest and funny.  I was especially pleased to see my heroine Hypatia as the Queen of Spades (did you hear the discussion of her on Standing Stone and Garden Gate?? Wee!), and the author of my most beloved book, Virginia Woolf, as the King (Yes, KING!) of Clubs.  LOVE LOVE LOVE.

I’ve picked out a few of my favorites to spotlight below, but I’m enamored by them all.  I look forward to seeing her other artwork and continuing to support independent artists… when I can afford it!

In a burst of good luck today, I also got a chance to talk to the heretofore astoundingly quiet interoffice mail delivery guy who startles me every other day with sudden envelopes over my shoulder when I am not paying attention.  I discovered with perhaps slightly-too-unbridled glee that he is a kindred spirit as suspected, and a friendly conversationalist once the barrier is broken.  He is leaving me to go to grad school for library sciences (twin!), and I even worked up the nerve to ask him about his work back in the day on Mystery Science Theater 3000, that tremendously strange staple of my youth.  Hooray for wholly innocuous office crush!

May the fortitude be with you!



Keys and the Arts of Agatha Christie

I had a dream this week that, while solving a murder mystery at a summer camp with certain members of the cast of “Veronica Mars,” I discovered that the red dirt of the forest floor was littered with half-buried metal artifacts like Allen wrenches and corkscrews and keys.  Among them, I spotted an unusual little skeleton key with a short metallic cylinder at its base.  I was so excited, I pried it out of the earth with my fingertips and took it with me, and it managed to lighten the mood of even such a dire task as confronting a heretofore concealed and respected murderer.

I determined on awakening, after my initial feelings of disappointment that I didn’t actually have such a key in my possession and some fascination that this was my second vivid murder-mystery-solving dream this month, that the symbolism of this dream was overall a good thing, that while working to solve a bigger-picture problem with the help of some brave comrades I might stumble across the key to a personal endeavor.

At least, that is how I’m taking it, and not as a sign that I’m going to have to solve a murder anytime soon.  But really… dream murder solving twice in one month?  That’s unusual, even for me.

Hope all is well out there.


Wine and Spirits

“The soul takes flight to the world that is invisible, but there arriving, she is sure of bliss, and forever dwells in paradise.”




The image above is a scan of one page from a favorite copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that I came across by chance a few years back.  It is a simple facsimile of the priceless manuscript copy with jeweled binding that was lost with the sinking of the Titanic 99 years ago this April.  One of its creators, Francis Sangorski, also drowned in 1912.

The book of Persian quatrains looks unabashedly at Death, for having enjoyed a full life, one cannot shy from its restful counterpart.


But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
And still a garden by the water blows…


Keys in luck, success, and love (and baking!)

Today let’s take a look at the use of keys in the areas of luck and success, as well as keys as symbols in love and relationships!

While digging through American folklore collections for references to keys, I found several allusions to the luck brought by carrying a key on your person like a charm.  If one key just doesn’t seem like enough, three keys on a chain are said to bring you health, wealth, and love, much like the Keys of the Granary mentioned in the last post.

I personally think keys make an excellent magical tool for self-assertion, confidence and success.  For instance, think of the expression “carrying the keys” as having a connotation akin to “wearing the pants,” without the gender inequality implications.  If you hold the keys, you are in the driver’s seat.  You are taking charge, starting the engine on your new ventures, and you have the means to unlock any obstacles and access your utmost desires.

Although a key would make an excellent tool or charm for any new venture such as a new job, a new hobby, or a wish for a new car, the key seems to have extra potency when it comes to luck in a new home.  I read that upon entering a new home, one should bring a key for good luck.  The source of this rule failed to specify whether this refers to a spare key to the house itself (certainly a way to avoid bad luck!) or to an additional key carried solely for its symbolic power.  Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong!

Another bit of related lore stated that you can put green leaves in the keyholes upon entering a new house for good luck.  I deeply fancy this idea!  It’s like smokeless smudging.  The green of life brightens all of those little spaces to allow energy to flow through, and cleans out those crannies where negativity can sometimes get stuck.  Each time you stick in your key, imagine you’re stirring up that green energy and dissipating it about the house, like so much spiritual potpourri.  :)

So, if you’re looking to foster some success in new ventures, try sporting a key charm on a necklace, or slip a specially selected key onto your everyday keychain to open up good luck.

For one last home-y application of the key in luck: when baking a mince or other sort of pie, make the cut-outs of the top crust with a thimble and crimp the edges with an old-fashioned key.  Evidently the superstition behind this practice has been forgotten, but it is thought to bring good luck as well.  Besides, it sounds rather fun. ^-^  When you’re out at the antique store, keep an eye out for different types of old keys so you can use the handles for various styles of pie crust edges.  Be sure to wash them well first.  (*Tip!*  I also read on a cooking forum that once you have made the cut-outs in the top crust with your thimble and covered your pie with it, the holes will have gotten slightly larger, and you can place the small leftover circles back inside the holes for a decorative design, while the gaps still allow steam to escape.  Clever!)

Now, any good folksy witch worth her salt knows that where you find good luck you also find bad.  (Everything with the power to heal has the power to poison, non?)  So let’s take a moment to acknowledge the role of keys in bad luck and bad omens.  Culled from Ms. Arrow’s giant reams of numbered folkloric bits of wisdom:

  1. Put your keys on the table, and trouble will come.
  2. Don’t put a key on a table, or there will be an argument.
  3. Do not look through a keyhole, for you will see the devil.

Yikes!  Okay, kids.  So keys + table = no-no, and don’t go looking through any keyholes (unless, of course, you have a stye, or in case you really *want* to see the devil, in which case, go for it).  I suspect the first two of these three come from the likelihood that keys on a table will promptly be moved, misplaced, or buried and lost, prompting an argument over where your damn keys have gone and who last saw them.  As for the third, well — let’s just say the author of that little maxim probably was doing something behind closed doors that they didn’t want you to witness!


Now onto the good stuff


It’s perhaps not such a stretch to imagine that keys make excellent symbols for use in spells about love and relationships.  How often have you heard expressions alluding to someone having the “key to your heart”?  (If you suddenly have that magnificent keyboard riff from Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” running through your mind, you are a wanderer after my own heart.)

Madonna, helpfully, emphasizes the very sexual symbolism of the key-and-lock scenario that should not be overlooked.  This instantly reminds me of the cover of my dog-eared copy of Pierre Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, featuring the steamy and controversial 18th century Fragonard masterpiece, “Le Verrou”:

The Bolt

All trashy romans-à-lettres aside, keys make for a striking metaphorical summation of the difficulty and joy of relationships, sexual or platonic.  It takes trust to give up the security we use to guard our hearts, and once we do, we invest much in our reliance on the keyholder.  Say you are hoping to “get in good” with someone, and a honey jar is on your list of tactics.  Try charging a key with the energy to represent the key to that person’s good will, and put it in the jar with your other goodies.  A key charm would also make for a touching and, if you choose, provocative gift for a close friend or lover.  Put a small key in a sachet with some sensual herbs and oils, and voilà, you have yourself a mojo mojo bag.

Alternately, if you’re looking to guard your heart from someone who pursues it, try hiding or burying a key, or locking away a written charm of protection in a small box and carrying the key with you at all times.  If you’re trying to learn to open your heart, create a ritual in which you repeatedly open a small lock to get comfortable with the feeling, and if you’re seeking, hang the key in your window for potential suitors to notice.

A special note to those dreaming of lots of little shoes:  Garlic placed in the keyhole of a bride and groom on the door to their honeymoon suite will guarantee immediate pregnancy.  (“Guarantee” was the word choice of the folklorist; I take no responsibility for the failure OR success of this little gem.)  Um… use with caution.  And only with serious consideration, and unreserved consent from the happy couple.

There you have it!  Up next in our key cycle: keys in spiritism, secrecy and revelation!  That’s a lot to cover, so maybe we will split it into two additional posts.  Either way, I hope you join me as we continue to wander through the magical potential of the everyday utensil the key. Until the next post, I wish you happy wanderings and much success in your endeavors.  Now go find a key you like and get lucky!


The Keys to it All

Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to mull over exactly what was inside that iron chest unlocked by the tiny golden key, I think it’s finally time to take a closer look at the key itself: its folklore, its myths, its symbolism, and some of its magical uses!  Most of us use keys everyday, but we don’t always think about how much power — of many different kinds — keys can represent, and how we can use them in ways more subtle and fantastic than just locking and unlocking our doors.

One of my first starting places for ideas on the magical associations of just about anything is the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols by Jean C. Cooper.  Ms. Cooper describes the key as “an axial symbol which includes all powers of opening and closing, binding and loosing.  The key also denotes liberation, knowledge, the mysteries, initiation.”

From these short phrases alone we can distill many uses for keys: in opening and closing doors and boundaries; binding and loosing power, forces, and information; unlocking hidden knowledge and accessing previously forbidden realms.  In The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems by William Thomas and Kate Pavitt, the three Keys of the Granary are worn for love, wealth and happiness, so we can imagine some uses for keys with those goals in mind.

For other sources of inspiration for my own personal practice, I also turn to myth and folk stories.  Once again, Cooper references keys in Graeco-Roman mythology as an attribute of Hecate (in this case, Hecate Klêidouchos “Keeper of the Keys”), and also of Persephone (as mistress of the Other World) and Cybele/Kubileya (earth goddess of walls and fortresses).  In addition to the Grimm’s Golden Key story posted earlier, the key features prominently in other stories such as Blue Beard, The Secret Garden, and The Golden Key by George MacDonald, some of which we’ll discuss later.

It’s helpful to remember that various kinds of keys can evoke different uses.  A car key might inspire different feelings in you than a skeleton key, for instance.  A car key might be a great choice if you’re doing a spell for wealth, control, or expediency, but a skeleton key fits the bill when working with ancestors and spirit guides.  If you can find them, according to Cooper, silver keys represent temporal power, whereas gold keys represent spiritual power.  I personally tend to favor skeleton keys, since I feel a strong pull towards the past in my own practice (and they just look so witchy!).  Another nice feature of skeleton keys is that they are designed as a master key to unlock all doors in a building, so they make excellent tools for all kinds of workings.

Let’s take a look at some of these uses, shall we?  To start us off on this little wander, let’s examine the role of keys in health and protection.  Here is a list of some American folk remedies that make use of keys to combat various physical ailments.  (For variety, and just because I found them interesting ^-^, I have also included some folklore surrounding keyholes.)

  1. To cure a headache, drop a cold key down your back.  A similar method, tying a key on a piece of string and letting it go down your back, can also be used to stop nervous hiccoughs.
  2. Another folk remedy posits that a headache sufferer possesses evil spirits.  To be rid of them (performed on behalf of someone else), make a mixture of oil and vinegar, drop a key in it and say magic words while the person is lying down.
  3. A church door key pressed in the hand of an epileptic will relieve his convulsions.
  4. If you think you are getting a stye, look through a keyhole with the affected eye, and it will disappear.
  5. Many remedies using keys are listed to stop a nosebleed:  Place a door key on the back of your neck; put a cold key on your nose; dangle one to several keys down the center of your back next to your skin; try a bunch of keys and a pinch of salt at the back of your neck.  Some references specify that the key must be made of brass.
  6. A certain source stated that her mother could stop bleeding by putting some of the blood on a rag and sticking it in a keyhole while she repeated certain words.

If only we knew what those words were!  But I’m sure you can come up with something.

The cures above can help protect you from physical symptoms, but keys can also be used as protection against otherworldly dangers.  For instance:

  1. Wear a gold key to deflect the evil eye.
  2. Keep a key in a baby’s cradle to lock the baby home, so the fairies cannot steal it.*
  3. If you make a silver key and put it in a keyhole, harmful witches cannot enter through that passage.

*A word of friendly reminder and caution: please use common sense and do not put a small key of any kind with a baby at any time.  These bits of folklore are more for inspiration than direct instruction.  A good alternative would be to find a large plush key that is baby-safe, or paint a stencil of a key on the crib to keep your baby safe.

When it comes to health and protection, why use keys?  It makes sense to me that keys would be a good tool to counteract bleeding, as a way of binding and shutting tight the “doors” that have opened in the body that are allowing the blood to escape.  Keys are a representation of security in general.  If you want to keep something safe, you can say you keep it “under lock & key.”  Why not try hanging a key from the ceilings or window sills of your home for symbolic protection?

Up next time: Keys for Luck and Success!  Until then, stay healthy and safe, and don’t forget your keys.


Beauty and the Feast

I love this time of year!  Tonight I attended a pumpkin carving party complete with hot apple cider and roasted pumpkin seeds.  A few days ago we had stuffed squash with sage dressing and cranberry sauce for dinner.  Yum!  It also happens to be the best time of year for harvesting black walnuts – for hair dye!

I have been on a mission for about a year now to find a suitable herbal hair dye, and I have made many messy attempts.  Tonight I think I may have just confused my hair because I used more herbs than ever before in my mixture.  I started by making a clove and rosehip tea for red highlights.  Then I steeped some black walnut hulls, rosemary, sage and nettle for a deep brown color.  The blending was very fun, and the dye was an inky black color.  I managed to get through it without staining everything in my bathroom, too!

I will say that my hair smelled vaguely of tobacco when I was done, but I love the color – surprisingly subtle, given the look of the liquid – and the whole process was really pretty simple.  My hair also feels thicker than it typically does, which is a nice plus.  I plan to do a few more doses with the rest of the batch over the next week or so to deepen the color, and then I’ll have to come up with some new experiments to try.  I’d love to hear suggestions if you have them!

Enough about hair, though…  For the next few posts, I’d like to spotlight one of my favorite collections: keys.  I love the aesthetic and the symbolism of keys, and I also like to integrate them into my magical practice.  We’ll take a look at some stories, folklore, and a few ideas for using keys in ritual and spell work.


Best wishes in this lovely season.