One of my favorite winter activities is making pomanders: clove-studded, spiced, cured fruit that smells heavenly for years.  Really, years.  They are lovely for decorating and also make nice gifts for the holidays, and also make nice talismans for health to have around your home.

The word “pomander” comes from the French “pomme d’ambre,” or “amber apple.”  In the middle ages, the royalty and nobility carried elaborately constructed metal pomanders which they filled with scented resins (such as ambergris) and spices.  These helped cover up the smell of the ages, but also were believed to ward off the smell of death and protect the wearer from the plague.


The pauper’s version, and the one of which I am fond, is made by taking a citrus fruit (orange, lemon, lime, etc.), studding it with whole cloves, rolling it in spices and powdered orris root (a natural preservative derived from the root of the iris plant), and then drying it — either over time in a dark, dry place, or in an oven on low heat.  *TIP* — if your pomander is losing its potency, try tossing it in the oven to warm for a while.  The heat will revive the fragrance, and waft it merrily through your house.

I once wrote a Shakespearean-style sonnet based on the concept of the pomander, but it was terrible!  So instead of plaguing you with my shoddy poetry, here is a video of the first steps of the pomander-making process, made slightly less boring (hopefully) with a little help from Mademoiselle Françoise Hardy.


After the studding process is complete, I like to roll my pomanders in some combination of cinnamon, powdered clove, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice and orris root before curing.  Smells DE-Licious, and it smells like the holiday season!



Keys to the Hidden Door: Part II

Keys and Spiritism

Even the name “skeleton key” makes it hard to ignore the connection between this former household essential and the beyond.  Although the name came simply from the shape resembling that of a hollow skull on a bony frame, skeleton keys seem to have an inherent ghostly quality and inspire thoughts of séances, mediums, and hauntings.  Granted, a part of this is due to the fact that skeleton keys have fallen out of use over the last century and remain as keepsakes from a bygone time, but it is the purpose of the key that holds its power.  The skeleton key was the one master key that could unlock all doors in a household.  By extension, it is not hard to imagine their potency as a symbol in breaking through barriers and passage through liminal zones.

As antiques, skeleton keys make for nice channel points for relating to the past, our ancestors, and ghosts in the home.  Not surprisingly, there is a wealth of folklore about keys and keyholes relating to spirits and ghosts.  A few select examples include:

  1. Spirits come through the keyhole and blow out lamps.
  2. If there is a ghost in the house and you see it, take a door key and throw at the ghost and then it cannot harm you.
  3. When a person dies who has sinned a little during his life, he should be buried with a key in his pocket so that he can open the gates to heaven with little trouble.

In this season, when the veil is thin, it might be nice to set up an altar with a skeleton key and some ferns (a plant that also aides in opening doors).

As part of my Hunter’s Moon ritual this year, I did a variation on the key candle from Part I, with remarkable results.  In case it inspires some ideas for you, here is how it went!

I started with a small, plain white votive candle
that had been dressed with oil
and my own intentions.

Before beginning, I had selected a particular key for this ritual.  Holding it over the flame, I meditated on obtaining access to my desired outcome.  (Be careful during this phase — remember the key is metal, so the handle can get very hot!  Put it down on stone or glass periodically if it gets too hot.)

When the key was sufficiently warm and I felt it humming with the intended energy, I pushed the key with steady motion into the side of the candle, as though sliding it slowly into a lock.

To my utter astonishment, as I pressed the singing iron against the white candle, a sudden rush of midnight black streamed down the candle like free flowing blood and pooled on the table beneath.

Overcoming my surprise, I quickly realized this was caused by the liquidized molten wax being instantly colored by the soot that had accumulated on the key from the smoke and flame of the candle, creating a river of pure black wax.

I continued to press the key forward into the candle, occasionally removing it for reheating.  Once the key had reached about the middle of the candle (but just before the wick), I began turning to the right, being careful to turn it back to its normal axis before removing it, thus creating a mold inside the candle conformed precisely to the shape of my chosen key.

After letting both parts cool, I now have a lock-and-key candle for all of my key spell needs!  So whether I’m working through an emotional block, working towards that shiny new apartment, or catching up with great-great-great-great-great aunt Mila, I can simply light the candle, turn the key, and away we go.

My dad always told me that if I played with fire I would wet the bed.

I decided it was worth the risk.


Welcoming the Harvest Moon

Tonight I took some of the leftover berries from yesterday’s cobbler to make a deep reddish-blue ink.  While I worked, I invited a few meditations on the season of harvest, the waning of the light, and the seeking of balance.

This week marked the autumnal equinox, when the hours of day equal the hours of night, and the sun entered the sign of Libra, the scales.  It seems an auspicious time to be mindful of balance in our lives, but it also strikes me as a time of only very precarious balance.  With each breath, the days grow shorter, and the perception of balance is only maintained for so long.

I was raised with a general impression that things in the natural world have a tendency to seek equilibrium.  If you put salt in water, it will usually dissolve, and then disperse until each part of water bears an equal burden.  If you open the door after a hot shower, the cool air rushes in, the hot air rushes out, and the molecules hurry to take their places until the temperature reaches a steady moderation.

But what about entropy?  What about the natural tendency towards disorder, and chaos, and constant change?  The inevitability of wasted energy?

It is chaos that transforms and provides its own sense of order, if you step back enough.  Pour something red into something blue.  Give it a good shaking and wildness and unruliness, and eventually you reveal a smooth shade of purple.

I started to think of the harvest time not just as a season of bounty, but of sacrifice, marked by the sheaves we must cut to fill our bellies, and the things we must let go to strike that balance.  We celebrate the fleeting equinox as we recognize the cycles of change and instability that together make our balance.  We prepare to enter a period of accelerating darkness, until the scales are tipped so far that they are compelled to turn, and the balance rights itself again.

I found it difficult not to hold on to the blueberries we had picked back when it was hot and beautiful outside.  I found it hard to say goodbye to the fruitful, but if I had not given them up to be cooked and pressed and strained, they would have spoiled.  I gave up the last of them for my ink.  A handful of berries, pummeled into only juice.

To this I added a bit of salt, so that our sacrifices might be pure, and vinegar, so that they may be purposeful.

It’s a bitter juice to swallow, but it can create such beauty.

in quietude,