Z is for Zanzibar Copal

copal-b

Zanzibar Copal is a resin exuded from the Jatoba tree (Hymenaea courbani) and other species of the same family, which grow in South America. It is also found in East Africa (Hymenaea verrucosa). The word Copal is derived from the Nahuatl language word copalli, meaning “incense”, and it has been highly prized since pre-Columbian days as an incense for sacred ceremonies and purification.

Copal comes in different colour versions and forms; it ranges from a harder pale translucent yellow through to a more amber like colour. In fact Copal describes the intermediate stage of polymerisation and hardening between the gummier resins and amber, and is often found encasing insects just like amber. The hard yellow Copal is the less expensive, with the white, milky, stickier substance more expensive and more highly prized. By the 18th Century, Europeans found it to be a valuable ingredient in making a good wood varnish. It became widely used in the manufacture of furniture and carriages.

Copal is also found in New Zealand, where it is known as Kauri gum, in Japan, Colombia and Madagascar. Copal can be easily distinguished from genuine amber by its lighter citrine colour and its surface getting tacky with a drop of acetone or chloroform.

All the different types of Copal have a slight sweetish aroma but each one has unique properties. However, in general they have the following magical properties and associations.

Copal is masculine in gender, and is ruled by the Sun and the element of Fire. It’s magical powers are love and purification. You can use a piece of Copal to represent the heart in poppets. Burn Copal for any kind of cleansing or purification ceremony as well as using in love spells.

Copal from Madagascar. With spiders, termites, ants, Elateridae, Hymenoptera, Cockroach and a flower.

Copal from Madagascar. With spiders, termites, ants, Elateridae, Hymenoptera, Cockroach and a flower.

Y is for…Yule

yule_10It might seem a bit disingenuous but I decided to write a post about Yule for the Y post of the Pagan Blog Project…after all there are only so many days to go now and I thought what the heck!

The main focus for me at this time of year is the rebirth of the Sun God  on the 21st December, the Winter Solstice. This time heralds the return of the waxing half of the year, although you wouldn’t think it seeing as we will be still in the depths of winter in the Western Hemisphere. However, from this time on the days begin to become imperceptibly longer, just by a few seconds each day and that brings me hope and the beginnings of excitement for the warmer months to come.

The sun at this time of year has a very different quality to what it has during the height of summer. It still hasn’t become imbued with its full strength and in the mornings is milky and golden; it’s young still, only a baby. However, on bright crisp winter days it can be brilliant as its light is reflected off the frost covered ground, or shines dazzlingly off the brilliant white snow.

When I go out into my garden on Yule night there is a hush, an expectancy that envelopes everything, the frost strewn grass is cloaked with it, the trees are enshrouded with it…it is peace yet excitement at the same time. I lay my offerings to the deities upon my outside altar, and also an offering to the nature spirits and then I tarry a while, snug in my shawl, to just breathe in the magical expectancy of the rebirth. It would be nice to say that I behold the new dawn and the rebirth of the Sun but to be honest I’m tucked up in my bed by then.

Hand made Yule Goddess inside the sparkly twig wreath

Hand made Yule Goddess inside the sparkly twig wreath

Yule is a special time but no more special than any of the other Sabbats I celebrate. It is a marking on the wheel of life, and the seasons, which turns, and turns again. Each Sabbat has its own special energies and flavour, and Yule is no different. A time for warm mead, mulled wine, mince pies and vanilla cream. A golden time infused with deep green and blood-red. For me, a time to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun, the renewal of waxing energies and giving thanks to the Great Mother for her nurturing and love.

yule2012

X is for…eXpectations

wild thyme plantsI thought and thought…and then thought some more about what I could possibly write for the ‘X’ post for The Pagan Blog Project. I finally decided on eXpectations, although I think someone else has covered this also but nevermind. So what are expectations? They can mean all kinds of things…what we hope for…what we expect of other people…what we expect from ourselves. In fact the Oxford Dictionary defines it thus:

Expectation – a strong belief that something will happen or be the case.

I have many expectations, some of which materialise and some that don’t. sometimes my expectations are so high that when they don’t occur I fall flat on my face and feel terribly dejected, often feelings of failure or resentment wash over me. However, I have learnt one way of minimising the negative feelings that can happen if our expectations aren’t met.

This wonderful tool is called Mindfulness. That practice of being in the present moment, and it is a practise. I don’t do it perfectly and quite often I don’t do it at all because I’ve forgotten to do it. That’s when the Universe slaps me in the face with a wet haddock! You see quite often we set our expectations way too high. That’s because of Ego! But the Universe works to its own rhythm and not that of the ego. So do we have to let go of all our expectations? I have been told in the past that we should do so and in some respects it’s good advice. If we have no expectations then we’ll never be disappointed. However, I’m not sure I totally agree with this. I think ‘reasonable’ expectations are good for us…they can spur us on to do our best, or be more motivated. But the word here is ‘reasonable’.

To have reasonable expectations of ourselves and others we need to remember that right now, in this incarnation, we are human and that means having all the frailty and vulnerability of humanness. Humans make mistakes, we mess up, we don’t always do what we should do…that’s being human and nothing more or less. We have to learn to be able to say ‘Oh well!’ Having reasonable expectations of yourself means you need to throw words like failure, perfection and self blame into the trash can. Doing this is an extremely free-ing act. It helps us embrace our humanness and love it for all its faults and foibles.

What about the expectations we have of others, especially significant others and our families? Yes, we all have to admit we have them. We want our partners to be what we want them to be. It’s hard to admit that but it’s true. Same goes for our kids too. It’s not a pleasant thought is it, that deep down we want them to be this or that or the other. We want them to behave in a certain way and we explain it by saying ‘but it’s what’s best for them’. The truth is although we, as humans are linked, as we are to everything in the Universe, in the Web of Life, we are also individuals. Our expectations are not the same as someone else’s no matter how much we love them.  Our needs are not all the same.

So what do we do? Well here is where we just…let it go! Let our expectations for others go completely. If we have these expectations of them they’re always going to miss the mark. This causes so much friction and negativity in families, and we see it on a larger scale in the world too. I’m a fine one to talk…I still have expectations of others and when they fail to meet my expectations I get angry and resentful. Letting go is an ongoing process and may be a life time’s work. But it is an important lesson for us all.

W is for…Witchy Ways

To be honest I was having a bit of a problem deciding on what to write about for this letter of the Pagan Blog Project. Of course the usual came to mind…Wicca, witchcraft, water…erm…etc. Ha ha! So then something popped into my mossy brain cells this morning…why not write about a day in my life…rather like a snapshot of what I usually get up to…witchy ways. Yep, that’ll do! Maybe it’s because I can’t think of anything more profound to talk about…well it is Sunday!

Ok…so I usually get up around 8am and do my morning devotionals before I begin anything else. To be honest, I have to do them first because if I don’t I forget to do them. You know the thing, you get to do something else and get completely side-tracked. So I sit at my altar and light incense, my candles and just Be…in meditation for a few minutes, say my prayers to the God and Goddess and anything else I feel the need to do. Of course by the time I finish my kitties are clamouring around my ankles begging to be fed (as if they were starving and on the verge of death…poor things).

So of course the next thing is to feed the poor beggars and I usually spend a few moments stroking them and talking to them but they’re too interested in food or wanting to go out into the garden for their morning constitutional. So while they’re outside I make my morning cup of coffee (for which, by this time I’m gasping for). Then I light my incense and just sit and mull over the MIT’s for the day (MIT = Most important tasks). By this time the kits are scratching and meowing at the back door begging to be let in again.

Then the computer goes on…my trusty computer! I know I spend way too much in front of it and am slowly cutting down…erm…honest! But I have certain responsibilities to fulfil on it. You know like checking out Face Book (sad sack that I am it’s actually my home page LOL) but also commenting on homework for Oracle Studies and checking in with my Coven. I also do a lot of study via my computer so I’m not actually surfing but doing a lot of research, or writing rituals and so forth.

Because of my health issues (I have mental health issues and also ME) I cannot sit (or stand) for long periods – by which I mean for no longer than about 10 minutes without it becoming very uncomfortable and painful. So I alternate computer use with messing around in my kitchen with my beloved plants and herbs, concocting things, mixing, brewing and so forth.

If the day is bright and sunny (even if it is cold) I spend some time in my garden either just sitting surrounded by my plants or moseying around just spending time with the plants and all the critters that live amongst them. Early morning is the best, when the mist hangs still amongst the grass and the sunlight sparkles off the dew laden spiders webs. I love seeking out these eight legged friends and saying hello to them, stroking them and counting as many as I can find. Later in the day they go off and hide you see but in the early mornings or evenings you can find loads of them as they come out ready to go a-hunting. If the ME will let me, I’ll do a bit of gardening but it’s a lot less in winter.

Lunch then a nap…oh yes and of course watching the obligatory BBC News (I do love to keep abreast of world affairs LOL). It might sound weird having to have a nap when I’ve really done so little during the day but anyone with chronic ME will know exactly what I mean. The tiredness and pain just overwhelms a person.

In the afternoons I carry on with my studies (I’m doing my Masters in Phytotherapy) interjected with short spells of doing something else…playing with my kitties and craft work of some sort. If I have to go out I always try to go in the afternoons, it just is better for me to do this.

I usually keep any ritual or spiritual work for the evenings. Not because I must but because I just feel this time is more conducive for me, it’s the time of day when (hopefully) I’m more alert. Shamanic journeying takes a lot of energy so I find the evenings and night-time better (my circadian rhythms work differently to others I guess). I also do healing work or set up crystal grids at this time. If the weather is dry I love to sit outside for a short time, just to attune myself to the night, and especially if there’s a full moon.

The last thing I do each day is perform my evening devotionals and make offering to the ancestors, my patron deities and Spirit guides. I light my incense and my candles and it is much the same as the morning devotionals except the prayers have a slightly different tone. Also it really depends on how I’m feeling – if I’m feeling unwell or extremely tired I might skip certain aspects but I don’t feel guilty about it because it’s the heart’s intent that counts. I’m also very practical when it come to spiritual work – I work in whatever clothes I’m wearing (usually my pyjamas) except if my work involves the public. But again, it’s not what you wear or the tools you have – it’s always intent that counts. It’s lovely to dress up in witchy garb but I leave that for special occasions.

This is a kind of normal generalisation of a day in my life…it flows and ebbs with the Universal energies. Sometimes my routine changes because of outside influences, or the influences of my Guides but in general this is it. Pretty normal I’d say…at least for me…LOL

V is for…Visions of the New Year

I’m a bit late in posting the V posting for Pagan Blog Project…oops! Nevermind. To be honest I didn’t know what to write about for V but then I read someone else’s posting and it kind of inspired me…and also since my New Year happens at Samhain, I have just jotted down my goals for the coming year. I guess for some of you it might seem a bit weird having a New Year on the 31st October but it is in keeping with my Celtic tradition since Samhain was always considered the end of the old year and the beginning of the New Year by my ancestors. So yes, of course I’m in 2012 still but that’s linear time and by cyclic, natural time it’s the New Year and I have some really positive visions for it.

Visions, or envisioning has become quite important to me. No, it doesn’t mean I live in the future because it is only the NOW that really matters but it is good to envision what I’d like to accomplish this coming year. It gives me a focus and something to work towards. since my oracle card this week, from Mickie Mueller’s wonderful Voice of the Trees deck is Nuin, or Ash, I think transformation and action is really on the cards (excuse the pun LOL). I do think I’m ready for some transformative action although I have to admit I’m a little apprehensive. Why so? Because I guess I’m in a human body and still have to deal with fear sometimes, fear of the unknown although as soon as I bring my mind back to the present moment this dissipates. But if I don’t take action nothing will ever change or transform. I have gotten out of thinking action has to be really great big steps – actually tiny eeny weeny steps towards a goal are probably more manageable for me. And I keep the Ash card right out in front of my on my desk to remind me each day.

So what do I envision for this coming year? Well, in setting my goals I have decided to keep them manageable and if I go above and beyond then that’s an added bonus. One of my goals is to actually begin to offer my healing services to the public (so watch this space!). Another goal is to revisit The Chelsea Physic Garden in London but at a better time of year. Another goal is to submit my 3rd Degree assessment to my Coven because I’ve been sitting on it way too long now. I also want to continue my botanical and herbal studies, finish my Sacred Mists Herbalist Course final and continue with my Masters in Phytotherapy (although I won’t complete it this year). I also want to sort out and maintain my garden because I’ve kind of let it go too much this year. Another goal is to take part in the next Pagan Blog Project because I’ve really enjoyed participating in this one. I think probably my most important goal is to not allow my own health problems to interfere with what I want to achieve. If I can muster the inner strength to cope with my CFS and other health problems then I think I can achieve my other goals too.

So I feel rather positive about the coming year. I know there will be hurdles to jump over (or clamber over in my case but clambering is ok), and difficulties to overcome along the way but that’s life isn’t it. I know that by endeavouring to stay in the present will help me enormously.

U is for…Unseen Company

With Samhain (pronounced Sow-en, or Sow-een) nearly upon us I thought I’d write a post on The Dumb Supper, or having a feast with the dead. I don’t think anyone really can attest to the exact origins of The Dumb Supper but it is something that is born from honouring the Ancestors and reverence for the dead, and thus it is obviously pagan in its origins. The act of offering food to those who have passed on is not new, cultures from ancient history, such as the Celts, the ancient Egyptians and the Romans all offered food and drink to their dead. In Japan, many thought it advantageous to provide the dead with their favorite foods. Buddhists present offerings of food to the “Pretas”—lost, goblin-like souls—for the purpose of relieving their ghostly pains. Even Christianity acknowledges the dead in their holding of three days of observance for the dearly departed at All Saints Day on November 1. So the custom of honouring the dead spans many different cultures from the distant past to the present day.

So, what is a Dumb Supper? Well, literally it is a supper you have with your loved ones; family and friends, but also with the dead, usually members of your family who have passed over. It is in fact simply dining with the dead. For many this might seem totally crazy but it is a way of remembering our loved ones as well as having a family get-together. I mean let’s face it, a lot of people speak to their loved ones who have passed on don’t they. They might tell them they love them or miss them or even have a kind of conversation with them. So why not have dinner with them?

Why hold a Dumb Supper on Samhain? Well, it’s traditionally known as the night when the veil between our world and the spirit world is at its thinnest. It’s the night when we know for sure the dead will hear us speak, and maybe even speak back. It’s a time of death and resurrection, of new beginnings and fond farewells.

How to have a Dumb Supper. Well, obviously in keeping with its name, it is a dinner held in complete silence. Remember that it is actually a kind of ceremony for the dead, so you might think it better if young children don’t take part in this. Ask each person to bring a note to the dinner. The note’s contents are kept private, and should contain what they wish to say to their deceased friends or relatives. Set a place at the table for each person, and reserve the head of the table for the place of the Spirits. Although it’s nice to have a place setting for each individual you wish to honour, sometimes it’s just not practical. Instead, use a tealight candle at the Spirit setting to represent each of the deceased. Shroud the Spirit chair in black or white cloth.

No one may speak from the time they enter the dining room. As each guest enters the room, they should take a moment to stop at the Spirit chair and offer a silent prayer to the dead. Once everyone is seated, join hands and take a moment to silently bless the meal. The host or hostess, who should be seated directly across from the Spirit chair, serves the meal to guests in order of age, from the oldest to youngest. No one should eat until all guests — including Spirit — are served. Some people say the order of courses should be backwards, so you should begin with the dessert, then have the main course and finally the appetizer but personally I don’t think this is necessary. It’s your choice. Remember also that the dead have no need to eat physical food any longer but instead they will absorb the ‘essence’ of the food. After the meal I usually give the Spirit’s plates of food to the wild animals outside for them to consume.

When everyone has finished eating, each guest should get out the note to the dead that they brought. Go to the head of the table where Spirit sits, and find the candle for your deceased loved one. Focus on the note, and then burn it in the candle’s flame (you may wish to have a plate or small cauldron on hand to catch burning bits of paper) and then return to their seat. When everyone has had their turn, join hands once again and offer a silent prayer to the dead. Everyone leaves the room in silence. Stop at the Spirit chair on your way out the door, and say goodbye one more time.

This is just the basic framework for holding a Dumb Supper, and many traditions and cultures add their own aspects to it. You can decorate the table any way you like, although black and/or white is most appropriate,  and the food can be anything you want to serve and eat but bear in mind the season as it is usual to have food in keeping with the time of year. Some people serve soul cakes at the meal, which I think is a lovely idea. Soul cakes were traditionally baked as a gift for the spirits of the dead. In many European countries, the idea of “Souling” became an acceptable alternative for Christians. The cakes took many different names and shapes — in some areas, they were simple shortbread, and in others they were baked as fruit-filled tarts. Still other regions made them of rice flour. Generally, a soul cake was made with whatever grain the community had available.

Recipe for Soul Cakes

Two sticks butter, softened

3 1/2 cups flour, sifted

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. nutmeg & saffron

1 tsp each cinnamon & allspice

2 eggs

2 tsp malt vinegar

Powdered sugar

Cut the butter into the flour with a large fork. Mix in the sugar, nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon and allspice. Lightly beat eggs, and add to flour mixture. Add malt vinegar. Mix until you have a stiff dough. Knead for a while, then roll out until 1/4″ thick. Use a floured glass to cut out 3″ circles. Place on greased baking sheet and bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while the cakes are still warm.

T is for Trees

Ah…trees, possibly my favourite things! Where would we be without these Standing Sentinels? Without trees there could be no life on earth (along with water and the sun too of course). Trees perform a wonderful and most important service to not only mankind but All-kind. Trees are the ‘lungs of the planet, with the Amazon rainforest alone producing 20% of world oxygen. Think of that! Without trees we would asphyxiate and die.

How do trees produce this life-giving gas? Well, it’s through the action of photosynthesis, which is how trees, and all green plants in fact, produce energy from light by means of chlorophyll that is contained in their leaves (the green pigment that makes leaves green!). They use the sunlight and the chlorophyll to make sugars from carbon dioxide (which they breathe in through their leaves during the day) and water. This sugar is then used to give the plant energy so that it can grow. The tree then gives off oxygen, which is the gas we breathe in so we can live. So our existence is inextricably linked to trees.

Trees also support a multitude of other plant and animal life too. There are many animals that just could not exist in the wild without trees, and trees also support numerous mosses and lichens that are important to the ecosystem. For example, one hectare (2.47 acres) of rainforest may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of animals and higher plants. Scientists and botanists are also continually finding new species of plants and animals that rely on trees for life.

Trees are a wonderful source of medicine and food, producing fruit, flowers, leaves and bark that can all be utilised in some way for our holistic well-being. Consider the many different species we have in Great Britain, practically all of them have some value medicinally. One fantastic example is that little white pill so often taken for headaches, the one called Aspirin. If it wasn’t for a tree that might never have been developed. The bark (and to a certain extent the leaves) of the White Willow (Salix alba) contain a chemical called salicin* that eases aches and pains, and reduces fevers. Hippocrates noticed this back in the 5th century BC. However, it was being used far earlier by the Cherokee and other native American tribes. Eventually the chemical was isolated and became known as salicylic acid and was then synthesized in laboratories and brand-named Aspirin. This is just one example of how trees help us medicinally, there are hundreds more.

Trees not only give to us for our physical well-being but also our spiritual well-being. A tree of life, or Sacred Tree, is a common motif in various world theologies, mythologies, and philosophies; a mystical concept alluding to the interconnection of all life on our planet. It connects the Heavens (or upper world), the middle world, and the underworld; the three realms. For those with a spiritual leaning it helps to connect us with all other sentient beings (and that includes the spirit realm) and negates the idea of separation.

Yggdrasil ~ The Norse concept of the World Tree

Due to the longevity of trees they are sources of great knowledge and wisdom. They’ve stood, in some cases, for hundreds of years – can you imagine what they’ve witnessed throughout their long lives? In Celtic tradition, trees play an important part in disseminating knowledge and wisdom to us humans. Probably the most well-known use of trees in this tradition is the Ogham (pronounced OH-am or OH-yam) or Celtic Tree alphabet. This is an alphabet of twenty-five inscribed characters, each one symbolising a tree sacred to the ancient druids of old. Each symbol (which is an upright stave with particular straight markings on it) symbolises a letter, the character of a tree, its place within Celtic spirituality and mythology and its attributes both for daily living, healing and spiritual working. It is also used as a system of divination whereby the wisdom of the trees help us in our daily living and inner work.

Just spending time with trees is a meditative process in itself. To sit under a large, leafy tree on a summer’s day and gaze up into its branches can imbue us with peace and clarity. To hug a tree is even better!

A Tree Meditation

Sit comfortably…relax…close your eyes and take three deep cleansing breaths.

Now begin to clear your mind by concentrating only on your breathing…count your breaths slowly up from 1 to 10. If thoughts intrude do not force them away but return to concentrating on your breathing.

You are standing in a sun-dappled clearing in a wood. Around you trees stand like sentinels, their branches covered with the lush greenery of summer. Leaves whisper and rustle, kissed by a zephyr breeze that blows gently around and through them. The carpet of emerald grass beneath you is soft as velvet. In your nostrils wafts the delicate fragrance of summer flowers. All is quiet except for the sound of the leaves and birds singing in the branches of the trees.

As you stand there, the sun’s rays gently warming you, you begin to feel the grass part beneath your feet. The soft, rich soil gives way and you feel yourself sinking down into the earth. Soon your lower legs are completely surrounded by the cool earth. You feel your feet reach down into the earth, becoming roots that dig deeper and spread out anchoring you solidly into the ground. At the same time you raise your arms towards the sun and they begin to turn into branches, your fingers become twigs reaching ever upwards towards the sky. Soon leaves begin to appear, sprouting and growing vigorously all over you, rustling with the soft breeze that blows around you and through you…you have become a tree.

You begin to feel your feet pulse with energy from the earth and with each breath in this energy is drawn up…up your toes…your feet…up your legs…towards your body. This is the energy of Gaia and it flows and swirls all through your body as a vibrant green mist, entering every cell…filling you up with the nurturing strength of Mother Earth.

The sun’s rays shine down upon you and enter your crown chakra where they flow towards your centre as a golden mist, filling every part of you with the powerful energy of the God. Every cell in your body is filled with golden light…energising and invigorating you.

The two energies meet and merge within you…swirling around and through each other…mixing their powerful energies…every part of you is filled and sustained by the Goddess and the God.

Breathe deeply and feel these energies become one…flowing through you as life-blood through your veins.

Now begin to gradually count your breaths down from 10 to 1…focusing on your breathing only. When you are ready open your eyes and know that divine energy is within you and remains in you…sustaining you and giving you the energy you need to see you through.

(Copyright Deep~Glade)

*Salicin is also found in other plants such as Meadowsweet and many common fruits and vegetables.