Connecting with the Wylde Hunt

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Friday’s @2019grimoirecchallenge prompt deals with connecting with Otherworldly energies and working with them in spiritual practice. By now, I’ve made it sort of clear which spirits and the like I work closely with, so this post is dedicated to the Wylde Hunt and my experiences working with them.

So, briefly: The Wylde Hunt is a phenomena that occurs across northern and western Europe, and in some parts of North America. It’s characterized by spectral figures, horses, or hounds which ride through the night and generally create some chaos and terror. What it is they’re hunting or changing depends upon the myth you’re reading- in fact a lot of the elements of the hunt vary depends upon the version of the story you’re dealing with. It can include fae, fallen heroes, gods, spirits of the dead, etc. etc. I go a bit more into detail on this in this post here.

My particular Wylde Hunt seems mostly to be human spirits and fae. Goblins are sometimes included in that, and they’re all led by a horned deity that up until very recently I was referring to as Herne, but who has come to be known by a different name, which is mine alone to know.

My work with them started back in October of 2011. I was working on homework the one night and got this sudden and urgent nudging to go outside. I ignored it for probably a good twenty minutes, like “No. I need to finish my homework…” But it persisted, so I grab some tarot cards and a pendulum and head outside. And standing at the firepit in our yard is this beautiful white tail doe. And she stares at me, and we kinda stand there for a bit… and then I gently creep closer… and she bounds off away to stand over on this hill near the tree I usually leave offerings at. So we stare at each other again… and then I gently creep closer once more, until off she bounds into the northwest and disappears into the trees.

Now, this hill was where I was intending to go in the first place; I was really fixated on dragons and leylines and thought there was going to be a connection there or something, but now I was fixated on this deer and the forest- like I could feel her still watching me from the tree line. And the name Wild Hunt kinda… came to me. I’m sure I’d read it in passing a few times; I’d recently started my journey with Celtic paganism, so it was likely it’d come up. But I didn’t have any real prior knowledge or interest in it- until this point. So, I break out the cards and the pendulum, and that becomes the answer I get for the question: “Who’s trying to contact me? / Who has a message for me?”

So I start to do research, and most sources recommend not contacting the Hunt at all, because, well, they’re sort of notorious for being dangerous. But I decide that I’m going to reach out and figure out what they want: so I go back to the hill a couple days later and I say “If you wish for me to work with you, if this is a partnership you’re seeking, let me see crows or ravens within a week’s time.” Crows and ravens are my sort of sign that something is afoot magically speaking, and they’re relatively common in our area. So, when suddenly there’s no sign of them for 6 days… I’m getting worried.

Halfway through the 7th day: I’m waiting for my mom to pick me up from retaking the ACT, and there’s suddenly a whole murder of crows behind me making a whole bunch of noise. And I’m like “Woah. Okay. I hear you.” And I look back towards the parking lot, and beyond it, there’s a hawk or falcon or something that comes up from the forest there, does maybe three circles, and then dips back down into the trees.

It took some time for me to really figure out how they were going to become a part of my practice. Their leader was my patron deity, so that wasn’t so hard to figure, but The Hunt itself is another thing altogether. Like anyone with any real knowledge of fae, I’m reasonably skeptical when it comes to just swearing allegiance to things, making deals, etc. They seemed to enter my life at the most inconvenient times: right when things were tumultuous and changing dramatically. At some point I realized that was probably the point.

In the video post linked above, I discuss my beliefs as to what they are and what purpose they sort of serve in the grander scheme of things: essentially they are psychopomps and agents of necessary destruction and change. They shake things up and carry you from one state of being to the next. When I realized this, they quit being quite as scary.

It was October of 2014, I believe, that I really properly dedicated myself to The Hunt in a formal sense. I had made a poppet to represent myself and taken it under the Hunter’s Moon out into the grove where we did much of our spellwork and gathering. I left it there in the crook of an oak at the center of the grove, I made offerings of alcohol and incense to them, and I swore myself to their service, which included:

  • Maintaining my altar and sacred space as a place for them to rest and visit. Essentially, I entered into a mutual bond of hospitality: when I did journeying work, I often visited their camp. They also were welcome at my hearth.
  • Creating poetry and artwork which focused on their myths and legends as well as my own new experiences with them. I took up the mantle of their bard, and you’ll notice I still write quite a bit of poetry inspired by them.
  • Working with them through periods of change. When I need help to clear the way; when I find myself getting stuck in a rut. I call on them. It’s amazing how much more controlled change can be when you willingly yield to it rather than fighting it. I also became interested in taking a similar role myself: in helping others through periods of transitions. I intend to undertake celebrant training with the OBOD following the completion of the Bardic Grade to work rituals for funerals, weddings, etc. I want to be help in those periods of transition for other people.
  • Developing skills related to hunting, outdoorsmanship, etc. I’ve casually taken up archery as a skill I want to learn. I’ve tried to educate myself whenever possible about things in my local environments: trees, wildlife, stars and the cycles of the seasons. The more I understand, the closer I feel to them. This has also included trying to be more conscious about what things I leave as offerings, recycling, using less energy, etc. to help mitigate at least a little harm done to the environment, and to vote in favor of policies that will benefit and help the natural world. That last part feels more important than ever these days.
  • Riding with the Hunt. I’ve mentioned already that I do journeying and visualization work. Some of it includes riding with the Hunt. This bullet point also includes my beliefs about my afterlife- that I will join them following the end of my life, and ride with them forever more.

These are the terms of my working with them, and are by no means the terms everyone should or would want to seek out.

I contact them in a number of ways but some off the top of my head are:

  • Taking hikes in the forest.
  • Leaving offerings of whiskey, dried meats, or bread.
  • Drumming.
  • Reading my poetry aloud somewhere like my backyard or the forest.
  • Calling to them in ritual work.
  • Visiting their camp in my journeying work.
  • Lighting a candle for them on my altar.

My advice when approaching any entities be they gods, fae, angels, whatever is this: DO YOUR RESEARCH. Know what exactly it is you’re working with, how people have historically interacted with these beings, what sort of tales exist about them, what offerings are common, etc. BE RESPECTFUL! Just like you’d probably be pretty polite and considerate when meeting a new friend or potential employer, you want to be polite and respectful of the powers that be. BE YOURSELF. Don’t go posturing or doing anything unnatural though. They have a sense of humor, and there’s a difference between being polite and serious about what you’re doing and taking yourself too seriously.

Best of luck, and forest blessings,
Rachel

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Why Magic Flops

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My boyfriend and I were talking earlier this morning, and the discussion inspired me to write this post. Currently, we’re in the waiting process of seeing which vehicle my parents are going to give me to move out of state with: my mom’s current SUV, or a minivan he just purchased from a friend of his. Having learned how to drive in my mom’s SUV, and being in my 20′s, I think which my preference is probably very obvious.That being said, I also will be grateful for whichever I end up with, and will make it work.

I said that I was going to do a little manifesting to get the outcome I desired, and he said to me: “We shall see, for now prep for the van.” And my boyfriend, bless him, is a realist. He’s the real logical type: doesn’t believe shit until he sees it, makes sure all the ducks are in a row before he acts, typical Virgo? (I joke, but you get the idea.) But I realized that that very way of thinking is behind a lot of the circle of chaos that went on in my life, and is the reason why spells sometimes just don’t fucking work.

Let me explain.

Magic operates on the principle of mind over matter. One sends their will and intention out into the Universe, and that ripples and creates changes in the real physical manifest reality. That’s why intent and focus are so important when working spell work. The idea is that you want to put as much energy and conviction behind that “X will happen” as you can muster. The stronger your force, the more likely it’ll be to happen.

But it’s not just during the spell that you have to maintain your intentions. For months and months and months I did work on gaining personal freedom and getting out of my parents’ house. In my rituals and visualizations, I was very sure and firm in my intent. But step outside the circle, and I was running myself ragged worrying about “what if this doesn’t work?” “what if my parents change their minds again?” “what happens if I don’t pass my driving test?” “what if I’m stuck here for another several months?” And those thoughts, the frantic planning for the worst case scenario or anything other than what I was trying to manifest was interfering with any of the work that I did in ritual.

However, the second I stepped back, breathed, and said “What happens, happens. I’m going to do what I can in the present and release all of my fears and worries for the future”… Well, that’s when the magic happened. I got my license. I was able to have civil conversation with my dad about a car. He got the extra car. Things are falling into place, and now I have a date for moving down to Georgia.

The trick is not in “planning for the worst and making sure your ass is covered”. Certainly, that’s a way to go about things, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t be prepared in the event that something goes completely awry. But, if you plan as though the best will happen, and do the work of making sure you’re doing everything on a non-magical level to get that outcome, and not panicking over the future or possible outcomes, success is much more likely.

This takes time. I still find myself worrying about “What if I can’t find a job down there once I move?” and “How will I pay my student loan payments if I can’t find a job right away?” Worrying about these things is normal- and I think very ingrained in our social upbringing these days.

One visualization I’ve been using is picturing myself standing on a cliff, looking out over a vast sea. In my hand is something that represents that worry: a bird, a paper airplane, a pile of pebbles, etc. And I take a deep breath, I reaffirm my intentions for a positive outcome, and for releasing the fear and worry that holds me back, and I release the bird, the rocks, whatever out over the cliff and into the sea. I know that it has been carried away from me and will no longer hinder my work of building a better future.

In conclusion: intent during the spell or ritual is important, but it’s also important to maintain that intent outside of the ritual space too. Otherwise, worry and fear act against you and sabotage all of your magical work.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Connecting With Star Energy

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Another little something from the Tumblr #2019GrimoireChallenge.

A large part of my practice and spirituality revolve around my connection with stars. I have been fascinated with the night sky and space since I was a little kid, and I’ve always felt most “witchy” or “druid-y” while stargazing on a summer night, or realizing that a specific planet or constellation was overhead in the dead of winter.

It has always frustrated me to no end that there aren’t more books on the topic. Sure. We draw down the Moon or the Sun, but the stars are beautiful and powerful and good for something other than interpreting astrological information! Sandra Kynes wrote a really lovely book entitled Star Magic: The Wisdom of Constellations for Wiccans & Pagans which was sort of what really kicked my interest in incorporating stars into my regular practice. So here are some ways that I work with stars, and some ideas you may want to try.

Stargazing / Astronomical Knowledge: For me, the seasons are just as much about what stars I can see in the sky at a given time as they are about the weather and agricultural cycles. I follow NASA’s social media accounts, my local planetarium’s listings, and other stuff to keep track of things like meteor showers, which constellations or planets will be hanging out in the sky, eclipses, etc. I also take as many opportunities as possible to attend the planetarium’s programs. Last month I saw one about black holes. My boyfriend and I went to watch a documentary about Mars, and another about Saturn as date night ideas. It’s fun, you learn lots, and it deepens your understanding of the Universe, and your own local night sky.

Some stars have also been important for centuries and were named by ancient and medieval astronomers. Old alchemical texts suggest what these stars’ properties were and can provide another fun historical / scientific learning experience.

Drawing Down Star Energy: Just like one might draw down the Moon or Sun in ritual, you can totally draw down the stars, too! Some stars, as I mentioned above, were long associated with specific magical properties. You could find where they are in your night sky, and draw on them specifically for a particular spell. You could call, for example, on Polaris (The North Star) for guidance and clear direction. Maybe there’s a meteor shower situated in the constellation Orion; you could time your ritual so that you could draw on the warrior/hunter energies of that particular constellation to help you with a particular goal. Or, just let the silver, shimmery, peaceful light of the stars and the vastness of the Universe shine down on you and your energy.

Constellations / Star Symbols as Magical Sigils: I like to use the patterns of the constellations as sigils to charge my spells or to help myself through tough times. One I use a LOT is Orion; he represents for me a fighting spirit, perseverance, and is usually high in the sky when I’m at the peak of my seasonal depression episodes. It always felt like he’s been cheering me on, and so I will utilize that constellation pattern in work geared towards pushing through tough times. Some of the named stars also have symbols associated with them. I’ve used them in crafting sigils from time to time.

Making Tarot Spreads: I like to make tarot spreads to use based on the constellations as well. For this, I usually take into context the mythology behind the constellation as well as personal significance, and then come up with questions or information I’d want to receive from that particular energy. An example of one I made using the constellation Orion can be found here.

These are the specific ways I’ve been incorporating my love of the night sky into my practice. I’ve come across a book that reinterprets the constellations in context of The Mabinogion called Dark Land, Dark Skies: The Mabinogion in the Night Sky by Martin Griffiths. As a Druid, this book has been super exciting, because it makes for a sort of Celtic understanding of the constellations. It is a bit dense though as far as scientific language goes, so it’s been a slow read. It’s encouraged me to make up my own interpretations as well in relation to The Wylde Hunt- sort of a bit of creative fun! I’m also currently working on developing a sort of rune system using constellations, planets, and specific stars, but it’s not quite ready to be shared yet!

Do you work with stars? How do you bring them into your magical practice?

Happy Stargazing,
Rachel

The Elements as Frame of Reference- Or Why I Don’t Invoke the Quarters

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This week’s #2019GrimoireChallenge prompts include a focus on the elements and other energies that we work with on our respective paths. Having finished up some of the work through the elements in both my OBOD coursework and in my re-reading of The Earth Path, I’ve been thinking much about the elements and how I work with them in my own path.

By the elements of course, I mean Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. They are used widely in the sphere of the neo-pagan community and have come to be sort of a staple for most people’s magical / spiritual education. Everything from astrology, to herbs, crystals, tarot suits, and more are typically associated with an element. There are countless charts of correspondences that you can find in almost any Wiccan / pagan book. For that reason, I’m not going to list any of them here.

For me, however, they are much less a staple of my practice and more of a means of understanding. Like the literal elements make up all of the matter in our world, the four (or five, if you include Spirit) elements make up the myriad of energies we experience. A sunset at the beach includes fire, yes, because of the sun, but you also have water present, the sandy earth, the cool breeze blowing from across the waves. A thunderstorm has water, the rain; air obviously as it takes place in the sky and the clouds, and sound is an important factor; and fire because of the heat that lightning brings. All of these elements are present in any one moment if you’re able to open your awareness to them. I prefer to deal with the energy as a whole- the energy and spirit of the beach at sunset, the energy of the storm as it rages through our little marshland neighborhood. It feels more like a complete picture, and a more dynamic one than focusing just on a singular element. They don’t often exist exclusively in the natural world, so why would I treat them as such in my practice?

I use the elements as a frame of reference for things like divination or astrology. Water signs are emotive and intuitive. Pentacles are associated with Earth and the qualities of stability and groundedness. In this way, they’re symbolic. They help to categorize energy and operate as a system of interpreting the cards, or the planetary alignments. I don’t however, use them often in spell work. I go for plants and crystals that fit my intention- and usually that’s an intuitive process of simply picking up items that seem to “feel right” for whatever I’m working on. Lavender doesn’t feel particularly related to the energies of air to me, but I’ll use it for cleansing or healing, or anything that needs a more gentle and soothing touch to it.

Because for me the elements are sort of a system of understanding, I also don’t partake of the very common practice of invoking them while setting up a circle for ritual space. In doing so, it’s usually assumed that you are calling upon those energies to enter the circle and balance it; so that they are all represented and working in harmony throughout your rite. Aren’t they already? If you’re in a natural space, you can see the fire as light from the sun, the earth beneath your feet, the moisture in the dewy grass, the air moving about you. Even indoors you can: fire- light and heat from your home, air blowing from said furnace or a fan, moisture in the air for water- perhaps literal water you brought into your circle, earth as the stone or wood or whatever floorboards beneath you. Heck, even your body has all of the elements. There’s a chant that goes “Earth my body, water my blood, air my breath, and fire my spirit…” So without even invoking those quarters, I see them as all already being present and already working in some relative harmony.

Because my circle is sacred protected space, and because I choose safe places to enact my rituals, I also don’t think I need to invoke the quarters as watchtowers or to guard my circle in anyway. I’m not worried about random people or random spiritual nonsense coming in and mucking up my rite; I’ve drawn a circle and picked a safe space for working.

I also don’t buy into the notion that invoking them helps to tune one in to the directional orientation of one’s location. If I’m setting up to do ritual in a place, I’ve gotten to know it before hand, and it’s likely a place I visit often. I do call for peace to the four directions, so I will have looked at a compass or something before starting to know where north, south, east, and west are too. Calling quarters for that reason seems, for me, a bit redundant and unnecessary.

That isn’t to say it doesn’t work for most people! By all means, if you really like calling the quarters and focusing on individual elements, go right ahead! But I do encourage you to try it once or twice: focusing on the big-picture energy of something in nature instead of a singular element, or creating a ritual where you don’t invoke the quarters. See what happens! One of the most important parts of a magical or spiritual practice is knowing what does/n’t work for you, and having an informed reason as to why.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

My Top 5 Book Recommendations for the Beginner Druid

One of the hardest questions when beginning down the path of studying Druidry- or any branch of neopaganism for that matter is “Where do I start?” For the vast majority of us, finding a group to practice and learn with is difficult if not impossible, and so the internet and books are where we end up getting much of our information. What follows are my top five book recommendations for the Druid just starting out on their path.

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5. Living Druidry by Emma Restall Orr: Beautifully written, raw, real and poetic, I could talk about how much I love this book for days. For me, this was one of the books that inspired me to begin my study of Druidry. This book isn’t necessarily a book of basics. It doesn’t lay things out in simple easy-to-follow graphics and sections, but almost feels a little bit more like a memoir with Druidic concepts unfolding naturally as she tells story after story about her own practice. It offers a perspective I find severely lacking in other books on the topic, and if you want a feel for how Druidry can be without diving right into more technical books, this is one I will always recommend.

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4. The Bardic Book of Becoming: an Introduction to Modern Druidry by Ivan McBeth: Again, this book seems as much a memoir as it is a guide to Druidry. A little more structured than Living Druidry is, McBeth breaks down the very basics of modern Druidry and offers thought-provoking questions and activities along the way. The way the book is worded makes it seem as though he was setting it up specifically for The Green Mountain School of Druidry’s learning courses, as he hints at specifics from within the tradition he co-founded. Still, it is a beautifully written and easy read that introduces various elements of the modern Druid practice without being too wordy or dense.

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3. Druidcraft: The Magic of Wicca & Druidry by Phillip Carr-Gomm: For those coming to Druidry from Wicca, or having learned a bit about Wicca, this book makes things seem a little more familiar. The book is structured as though you are living and studying in a forest school. Each chapter contains a bard’s tale, a colloquy between a Druid and their student in this forest school of Druidry, a practical portion, and historical information for further study and understanding. It is creative and for me, gave me a small sense of belonging to a group of Druids without physically being able to join one at the time of reading it.

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2. The Druidry Handbook: Spiritual Practice Rooted in the Living Earth by John Michael Greer: This was one of the first books I read on the topic of Druidry, and it is one I most often refer to. Unlike the other books I’ve listed so far, The Druidry Handbook tends to take on a bit more of a scholarly tone. It too was designed to be an introductory year of study: this time for the Ancient Order of Druids in America. It contains a detailed historical section on the various strands of inspiration that make up modern Druidry. Its teachings are broken up into three triads which cover cosmology, the ogham, the Wheel of the Year, the elements, and more. The practical section of the book is comprised of three “paths” which it recommends one follow and weave into their working practice. I enjoyed the way this book was structured and the fact it was packed full of information and resources without feeling too dense or lofty.

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1. The Earth Path- Grounding your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature by Starhawk: My number one spot is for a book that is actually not about Druidry at all- at least not in a formal sense. It is a beautiful weaving of story, spirituality, and practical action. It starts with simple practices of grounding, observing nature, learning about one’s local environment, developing intimate and strong relationships with the land and its inhabitants. For me, those things are essential to Druidry before spellwork or ritual can even be a thought. It also contains lessons through the elements and practical applications for both living in harmony as part of our natural world as well as more activism-oriented suggestions. It’s a powerful read that I have come back to several times because I find new little truths each time I read it.

And there you have it! I didn’t choose books that delved too in-depth into the mythology or history associated with Druidry; those are things I think need time and interest and aren’t necessary integral to starting out on a Druid path. I wanted books that introduced Druid philosophy and ideas about relationships with the natural world, creativity, kindness, peace, community, not in-depth scholarly texts about the ancient Druids and what they may/may not have believed.

Happy reading, and forest blessings,
Rachel

What Makes a Witch?

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Over on Tumblr (despite all the mess it now is) some folks have started up a #2019GrimoireChallenge which I am participating in. Since I’ve been having some fun with the prompts, I thought I’d share some of my favorite posts from the project here as well.

Tuesday’s prompt for Week 2 was “Witch, what does it mean to you? What type of witch are you?… Are there certain things you plan to learn as a witch? Certain goals you have?”

A witch, to me, is someone who practices witchcraft in some way: this can be spells and rituals, crystal healing, divination, artwork, devotional poetry, yoga, astrology, essentially the crafts of “The Craft”. A witch doesn’t follow a specific religious or spiritual path- they can be atheists, Christian, Wiccan, polytheists of any sort, whatever. Witches and witchcraft, for my definition of the term aren’t bound necessarily by any specific religious or spiritual paradigm, but rather in the practice of those arts.

I personally identify first as a Druid and Bard. My reasons for this are:

1. “Witch” is often conflated with “Wiccan” and as my religious beliefs and practices are NOT Wiccan, I find it easier to start at Druidry. Druidry is a nature-based spiritual philosophy which may be applied to a number of different sects of Celtic (and Indo-European if you’re a member of the ADF) polytheism as well as other more mainstream religious movements. Druidry is focused upon connection, care and respect for the natural world, and expression of creativity- usually with an emphasis on song and poetry I’ve found. It’s usually very much entwined with Celtic cultural values of hospitality, the sacred landscape, good humor and wit, etc. and as a spiritual philosophy is not as necessarily concerned with the “craft” part of my witchcraft definition.

2. My personal practice is, usually a lot less “witchcraft-y” and more spiritual. I spend a great deal more time wandering the woods, contemplating the universe and meditating than I do crafting spells and reading cards. Therefore to call myself solely a witch feels a bit.. fake.

If I were to define the type of witch I was, I would probably call myself a Druid-Witch, or a Witch of the Wild Hunt. Longtime followers of my blog will have noticed (scattered through here and probably difficult to find because when the hell do I ever actually post personal / original content?) that I work specifically with a version of the Wild Hunt and their horned god leader. For me, this path is first and foremost concerned with nature (particularly storms and the forest), connecting with it, knowing my local environment and its cycles and patterns, etc. On another level, I feel very much called to be a bard for said hunter deity. A lot of my path is made up of composing devotional poetry and artwork, recording the tales I uncover as well as my own adventures and growth. This path includes studying patterns of the stars- not just astrology but the actual dance of the constellations across my own sky. It includes keeping my home, and my altar, as hearth for my familiar spirits to rest and to speak with me. It includes journeying through trancework and meditation with those spirits and gods. But it very very rarely includes ritual, spell work, etc. I do those things, but they aren’t the bulk of what makes up my practice.

Right now, my “witchy” goals include finishing up the OBOD Bardic Grade course, learning palmistry, and taking up Welsh and harp playing as devotional work for my gods. There’s a long way to go, but I’m eager to get started.

Tools of the Trade: My Must-Haves

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I want to preface this post by saying that tools and all of the props and decor are not at all necessary for a fulfilling and powerful magical and spiritual practice. What follows are simply my personal beliefs and the tools that have become essential in my own practice. Below are my “must-haves”: the things that I have come to feel are an integral part of how I follow my spiritual path. I won’t include things like candles, herbs, crystals, etc. because they seem a little obvious and

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Drums: I’d been on a hunt for a proper hand drum for ages before finally finding mine in the autumn of 2016. Yes, trance work can be done with chanting, mantras, rattles, etc. I admit that there were things I could have done in the meantime, but found that old baggage about how my voice sounds and personal preferences were holding me back (things I’ve since released). The drum is primal, ancient, earthy. The ability to disappear into the trees and lose myself in a rhythm has been the most cathartic gift to self ever.

img_3048.jpgAthame/Dagger: I began my path with Wicca, in which the Athame, or ritual dagger, holds a great deal of symbolism. My first was actually nothing more than a letter opener, as the Athame is usually not supposed to be sharp. It was something I maintained in my magical arsenal for a long time simply because a) I liked the aesthetic of it, and b) I was the only one in my group of witchy friends who owned one. It was sort of a group-use tool that got brought out for big rituals, but sat on my altar collecting dust otherwise.

A camping trip in 2013, shortly after my journey with the Wylde Hunt had begun really changed the use of the dagger for me. By then, I’d turned 18 and purchased a blade with a bit of an edge to it. Unfortunately, we’d forgotten to pack any form of scissors or utility blade for cutting rope, opening the packages of the food we’d brought, etc. Faced with this dilemma, I came to the conclusion: If a member of the Wylde Hunt was placed in a similar situation, they’d undoubtedly use the blade they had- ritualistic or not.

Ever since the blade has served both purposes for me. It is both there for the ritual symbolism, and a practical tool. Its edge cuts cords and other spell components, primarily. I don’t really do much actual hunting and, thankfully, have never needed to use it for any manner of defensive measures.

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Vessel: Speaking of tools meant mostly for utility purposes: I always keep some manner of bowl/vessel/etc. on my altar. It acts as a containment for water for ritual purposes, acts as a place to put offerings when performing rites indoors, and a safe place for sage bundles and the like when cleansing.

Divination Tools: My spiritual practice began with an interest in divination and it has remained an invaluable tool in my life. Tarot, runes, and a scrying mirror make up the main of my divination practice, though I focus most on tarot. Divination, for me, is both a means for communicating with the divine / universal energies, and recognizing patterns in mundane matters of my life.

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The Lantern: This is the newest tool on the list in terms of its integration into my spiritual practice. After several months of being bombarded in meditations with images of a moon goddess carrying such a lantern, I finally purchased one to place upon the altar. I light this lantern at the beginning of each working and during my study sessions. For me, it is the light of this mysterious goddess guiding me through the dark and murky parts of life. It is a light of guidance, inspiration, hope- an urge to keep going.  It is lit in devotion of the goddess in hopes that her light might show me the way.

And that pretty much concludes my list of “essentials” for my own practice! What sort of tools do you find most important in your practice? What sort of uses do they have? Leave comments below!

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Thinking About: Personal Deities

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This is a topic I’ve been wanting to take on for some time, but have been unable to find the proper words to do so- perhaps there never really are any. Something I’ve been working on over the past year or so is my relationship with deity. For several years, I’d defined myself and my path by them: “I’m a devotee of Herne the Hunter” or “I worship the Goddess Cerridwen” etc. I spent countless hours reading and re-reading myths, researching, learning, reaching out…

And over time had my own experiences that I then would try to rationalize against the mythologies. “I experienced x, is it y trying to contact me? How do I know?” I see these questions posted all over the online pagan communities- as though you were going to a doctor. List the symptoms, and someone will hopefully be able to tell you what it is you have. List your experiences and maybe someone who’s been practicing and studying longer than you will know the god or goddess who matches.

But when is a raven a messenger of Odin rather than a messenger of Bran or The Morrigan- or none of those at all? What if all signs point to Cerridwen, except this handful of experiences that don’t match anything in the established lore and practice of those already worshiping her? Does it matter? Does it make it less valid? How does one justify it?

What if, as it happened to me in the springtime of last year, you are faced with the divine who is such a myriad of things that she seems not to be able to fit in any one goddess’s body of myth?

Moon Goddess
The goddess in question appeared to me in several dreams and meditations cloaked in the deep blue of the starry night, half her face in shadow the other luminescent and beautiful like the moon. She carried in one hand a staff of birch that held a silvery sickle-moon crescent, and in the other a lantern that cast a cool blue light. She was a guardian of the cauldron, a washer of the ford, a wanderer in the mists, the cold kiss of death, the hands that wove the stars… And though I saw her face echoed in the stories of Morrigan, Cerridwen, Arianrhod, Hel, Artemis… I could not attribute a single one of these goddesses to her.

moon goddess sculpture

For a time, she worried and confused me. Who was she? I wanted to find an answer in a book or a blog post, or some obscure myth in fragment over the tides of history. The more I looked, the more pointless the search became, but still she called to me more than any deity ever had, and I knew I must answer her call.

I moved away from myth and tradition- though they have their place as things to honor, to draw inspiration from, to find guidance in- and started to simply interact with deity in the way it presented itself to me. What I have found is something more deep, profound, and personal than any relationship I’ve ever had. There is a goddess I worship whose name has, perhaps, only been whispered on my lips. She guides me in the darkness.

Horned God

A similar issue had arisen during college with my relationship with the Horned God. There was a darker side to the Hunter that I did not find present in existing myths, and I tried fruitlessly to pinpoint: Is it Herne, or some other being I work with? Now it does not matter. He appears to me dragon scaled or clad in a cloak of feathers, his eyes dark like the soil or the midnight sky, and like the Lady with the Lantern, he has names that only I call him, and my path is all the richer.

I guess what I am saying is that it is perfectly fine to connect with particular gods and goddesses, to reach for them or find inspiration and connection within the stories that exist about them. It’s more than okay to try and follow traditions and old ways and rationalize. But there’s something deep and rich and worth exploring, in not worrying about the who’s and why’s and letting the divine express themselves to you in the ways that they wish.

Blessings of the Forest, Frost, and Moon,
Rachel

 

How To: Create Tarot Spreads

The Wild Unknown Tarot

Creating spreads for use with tarot can be an immensely rewarding practice. It can deepen your relationship with your cards and your knowledge of the tarot as well as providing more clear and specific information than a traditional spread might. Have you ever stared at a beautifully laid out Celtic Cross spread and puzzled over how exactly to interpret the card that came up, the position name, and your question all into one coherent answer? Perhaps it’s time to start building your own spreads! Below I’ve given three methods I use when creating spreads to use in readings for myself and friends.

Method One: Start With a Question

Seems easy enough, right? Sometimes, especially if you’re building spreads on the fly, it’s easiest to start with the question at hand. Let’s use one I’ve created as an example.

Two Paths Tarot Spread

I call this spread my “Two Paths Spread”. It was created when I needed some help deciding between a couple of different paths through the treacherous maze of my college education. I began with a simple “What happens if I choose X? What about Y?”

Then, I broke down what information I needed in order to feel that larger question was satisfactorily answered. I needed to know, for each path, the pros and the cons of choosing each path. I wanted to know what my biggest challenge would be on that path, and also how I’d best be able to overcome that challenge. Finally,  I wanted to know where I would most likely end up if I chose that path and followed the advice I’d been given.

I laid the cards out into two rows, one representing choice one, and the other choice two, and voila! The spread was born. To this day, this particular spread remains my most useful, as it can be applied to any number of choices. Stuck between three choices? Add another row! It’s pretty versatile and is driven by the questions I specifically want answered about a particular situation.

Method Two: Start With and Significator

Many spreads ask you to use an significator, a card chosen to represent yourself, the issue at hand, or the goal you want to achieve. Sometimes, picking an significator can be another great way to get some ideas for a spread. I’ll give a couple of examples:

Ace of Cups Spread

This particular spread was created for a friend, I call it the Ace of Cups Spread (simple, right?). He’d been having the Ace of Cups appear repeatedly and felt called to pursue the vibrant, healing, creative, and intuitive energy of the Ace of Cups, but wasn’t exactly sure how. 

So, I pulled the Ace of Cups from the deck to act as a significator, and placed it in the middle. Then, much like the last spread, I thought about what sort of answers we might want. The Ace of Cups, to me, always represented that which fulfills you spiritually, emotionally, and creatively. It is the Holy Grail. The cauldron of Awen bubbling forth. I wanted to show a comparison of how one is living in the present, and what modes of life would be more fulfilling in the ways the Ace of Cups is. So the questions “What am I doing now?” and “What do I want most to be doing?” were the first two cards to be placed in the spread.

No grail can be found without a quest. So I asked “What is it I lack to find this fulfillment?” and then “Where do I find that missing piece?” The final questions were about “Which blockages or challenges will I find along this path?” and “How do I overcome them to achieve that fulfillment?”

The Hunter's Arrow

Another spread I built around the use of a significator was The Hunter’s Arrow. It was meant to be used for pursuing a goal or a project through to fruition. Here, I also used the shape of a bow and arrow for inspiration. In this spread, the significator is chosen to represent the goal you have, and is placed right at the tip of the arrow. In the image above, it is represented by the Seven of Wands.

I used the shape of the bow as well as the answers I needed to formulate the rest of my questions. The curve of the bow itself represents resources readily at hand for accomplishing the task. The card directly behind the arrow’s point is the action needed to propel ones self in the right direction, and the three cards to the right represent short-term and long-term outcomes and the way in which the project may be transformed in the process.

Method Three: Start With an Image

The third way that I craft my spreads is to begin with an image as inspiration, much like some of the spreads I’ve crafted in the shapes of the constellations.

Orion Spread with Runes

Here is the Orion the Hunter spread I posted just a few days ago (I used runes because they photographed a little bit better in a confined space). Here I began with the image of one of my favorite constellations. I ordered the cards by the brightness of the stars (found in the index of Sandra Kynes book, Star Magic: The Wisdom of the Constellations for Wiccans and Pagans) and used both my personal associations with the constellation and folklore and mythos surrounding it to create the spread.

For me, Orion has always been a point of strength and familiarity when things get rough (cyclically in my life, usually in the fall and winter when he can be found in the southern skies of my home). I always felt that he was watching over me and lending me his strength (Kynes’ book also mentions the constellation’s associations with storms, rough times, and of course a number of warrior/hunter gods and heroes in myth). For this spread, I asked questions about the nature of my struggle, what things I had at my disposal, how I might shield myself, how to keep my wits about me when times were particularly rough.

The Raven's Prophecy Tarot

And that wraps up my process! The essential this really is breaking a question or a situation down into bite sized pieces of information to glean from it. You can start with a big question, a feeling or a goal you want to achieve, or an image you’re inspired by. The possibilities are limited only to you imagination.

Do you create tarot spreads? What is your process? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Yours beneath the falling rain,
Rachel

Thinking About: Initiations / Rites of Dedication

yule lantern

Yesterday, I was finally able to perform my initiatory rite into the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I’m not able to speak at great length about the ritual itself in this post, but I can speak about my feelings leading up to it, and my thoughts following its completion.

Despite having the materials for the course for the past six months or so, I had done very little of the actual course work. Life sort of caught up with me, and my job, home life, and mental health just did not lend me the time and proper head space I had needed to perform the rite. Thankfully, the quiet spell has seemed to have broken over the past couple of days, and I’m feeling called home once again to my practice, my art, and my studies with the little warm spell we appear to be having.

Strangely enough, it was the rite of initiation that had given me some of the most trouble in the materials I had received- not because of its content or its format or any objections I had with what it would entail. I couldn’t quite place the source of it for those first months- in fact, I don’t know that I realized some of the… oddness I’d been feeling until I was speaking to a friend about the topic this afternoon.

Every so often, I had found myself called to go over it once again. I’d start making the plans and preparing for it, and something would come up: the weather would get bad, I’d have something I had to do, etc. It would be set aside and left for the next time I’d felt the stirring somewhere within me to get back to work.

Yesterday was different. I had finally accomplished reformatting the rite a bit so that it would work with the amount of private space I had and a few other technicalities; it sat in my journal, just waiting to be performed. Yesterday was another of our random January thaws. The sun was bright and we were nearing forty or fifty degrees Fahrenheit rather than the bitter 10’s and 20’s that are typical of this time of year. I felt it on my way in to work that morning; something was stirring. By the time I was home for the afternoon, the desire to be outdoors and working on something was burning within me.

And something spoke to me then: the initiation ritual. And after months of trying to plan it out, to perhaps contact other local-ish OBOD members to assist me in performing it, to make sure everything was prepared… I decided simply that I was going to go through with it, and quickly gathered some incense and a candle and my journal, and headed out to the small grove of pine and cedars that has been my sacred space for over ten years…

The ritual was nice, pleasant, it brought me back to a sense of being at home- on my land, within my being, in my spirituality… But as I was walking inside after its completion, and as I was talking to my friend this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think that initiation and dedication rites are never quite as profound as we expect them to be.

herne candle

I find I’m always, on a certain level, expecting the ritual itself to be the eye-opening, awen-inspired moment of “Ah-ha! I understand completely, and now everything will start to be different!” But as I reflected upon my journey to the rite itself, and upon the lessons included with the ritual in my course materials, I realized that the true initiation had begun long before I had stepped out the door that afternoon.

Initiation and dedication to a specific path happens not in the single moment of a ritual. They begin within us before a circle is drawn or a candle lit. The shift of paradigm has occurred before the rite; the rite is merely a formality, a means of affirming that which we have already long known to be true. The epiphany is not a new paradigm or state of being, but a realization that we have arrived at this new place some time ago, and can now acknowledge and celebrate it.

For me, that shift started back some seven or so years ago, when I first saw the Green Man staring up at me from the pages of a book, and I started upon my discovery of Druidry. It was there in my discovery of the OBOD’s countless open resources, the befriending of other members of the order, the books, podcasts, YouTube videos, music, etc. that I found resonated with me- which were created by members. A shift had occurred the day that I purchased the Bardic Grade course, and again on the day I received the first packet of gwersi in the mail. What happened in the grove yesterday was merely me finding the voice to affirm and speak aloud the truths that had been in my heart for years. And now, the journey deeper into my studies continues.

What are your experiences with initiation rites or dedication rituals (be them to a new path, deity, etc.)? Share, if you’d like, in the comment section below.

Blessings of the Winter Forest,
Rachel