Thinking About: Deities

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The Morrigan by Aly Fell

Perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions I see in scrolling about the online pagan community is “how do [I] know which deity I’m meant to work with or worship?” and it’s the topic of the next YouTube Pagan Challenge video I plan to do. Coming to paganism which celebrates the existence of many different gods and goddesses can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to decide which of these many personalities you’re going to mesh well with and form long-lasting devotional relationships with. With all of these choices, it can sometimes seem daunting wondering where to begin.

I’m going to open with my biggest bit of advice. Know what your beliefs about the gods are first. There’s a difference between being a pagan who is a hard polytheist and being a pagan who views individual deities as personifactions and facets of a singular divine source, or as archetypes within the collective unconscious, or any other combination of these things. As we know, beliefs held by pagans vary almost as much from individual to individual as they do from tradition to tradition. Knowing exactly what the gods are and how they affect our world in your beliefs is key to knowing how to proceed in entering into relationships within deities and other entities. For example, one might feel wary about approaching multiple deities at random if they believed as a polytheist that all deities are real and independent entities with their own personalities, temperaments, etc. On the opposite side of the spectrum, those who view the deities as archetypal or as part of a greater whole might feel more free to explore different beings tied with a similar archetype (death deities, fertility gods, etc.).

My second bit of advice: There’s no real right or wrong answer. If you feel called to a deity, or interested in them, by all means make a respectful attempt at working with them. Make an offering, try invoking them into your circle for a ritual, meditate on them or their mythos, try praying to them. Do this over a period of time. Make note of the results. You’ll find very quickly which personalities vibe best with your own. This can be affected by your own heritage, interests, etc. For example, though Herne and Cernunnos are both gods of the forest and hunt, I find that working with Herne better suits my work as we have a better connection. Cernunnos feels too ancient and serious, whereas Herne feels more human-like and approachable. For others, working in the opposite way might feel more “correct”. There’s no scientific way of telling which god or goddess your meant to work with. You’ll just know. There will be a sense of comfort, or power, or just knowing that whatever working you’ve called upon them for will work.

Not everyone has a patron deity. It is not a required part of being a witch or being pagan. Sometimes close devotional relationships will evolve, change, or fade. I used to work quite closely with the goddess Brighid when I was younger. Over time, the energy just didn’t flow in quite the same way. This happened naturally and organically. This is totally okay. Herne used to be more apparent in my life in the guise of Green Man. Sometimes, too, there are deities who appear only periodically in your life. They come bearing a message and help you through a particular time in your life, and then they’re gone. For me, both The Morrigan and Mannannan Mac Lir have been such entities in my life. They are often very present in the summer months to help me work through what I need to before fall begins and then are gone. Again, this is completely okay.

The key thing is do your research. Don’t just call upon a deity because x spell told you to. Know what you believe about the gods. Know the mythology and cultural practices associated with the deity you’re communicating with. Be respectful, and remember they do usually have a sense of humor. Mistakes are okay, and sometimes things will work out in very unexpected ways.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

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Thinking About: Rites of Passage / A Pagan Life’s Rituals

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This post is sort of serving as a jumping-off point for a video I have planned for prompts 17-22 of the YouTube Pagan Challenge, all of which sort of center around rites of passage, major life events, and rituals of living a pagan life:

17. How would you introduce spirituality to children, would you pass this book on to your children?
18. Funeral rite and how would you prefer your remains to be treated?
19. Rites for the birth of a child, adoption, naming and blessing ceremonies.
20. Coming of age rites and customs for the stages of life.
21. Marriage or partnership ceremony.
22. Is there such a thing as a twin flame, soul mate, destined partner?

I had mentioned before that I was sort of raised without a formal religious background. To my knowledge, I wasn’t baptized in any way; there wasn’t any sort of formal naming/blessing ceremony. Significant birthdays for me were age 13, 18, and when I left my teens behind at age 20 (By the time I’d hit 21, I’d already consumed alcohol and had been able to do it legally in the U.K. two years prior. The magic had sort of worn off). But they weren’t, at least in a way that was obvious to me then, spiritual in any way.

I also haven’t been married, or undergone any of the other rites mentioned above myself. The funerals I’ve attended have all been rather Christian in their design as well, so in a Pagan sense I’ve not much experience there either. But I do have ideas, which I’ll discuss further down below.

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I think, given the opportunity and provided I end up having children, that I would definitely share my spirituality with them. I would want to call upon my gods (and my partner’s) to bless and protect that child. When they were older, I would share with them the stories of the gods, celebrate the sabbats, explain to them the different parts of spellcraft, ritual, and my altar spaces. If, when they grew older, they found that that faith was not what they believed, they would absolutely be free to practice whatever religion (or lack thereof!) they wished. I think the important thing is approaching religion with children not as something obligatory or something that will bring upon the punishment of you or your gods should they elect not to participate in. It should be something exploratory. It should be something they are welcome to ask questions about, form their own ideas / opinions about. I really would have enjoyed something like that as a kid- not that coming to my own conclusions and learning on my own wasn’t valuable and rewarding in its own right.

As far as coming of age rites go, I think some of the birthdays mentioned above might be important to them. Perhaps, should they decide they want to, I might help them with their own witchy dedications and the like, but I really feel that so much of that is deeply personal to the individual. The important thing, when I get to that point, will be open communication with my child.

I don’t know that I would pass my books of shadows on to my children at all. They’re too personal to me. I think I’d much rather have a compiled grimoire of things that I had found useful or created myself to pass down instead of my full journals themselves. I think I’d want those buried with me (but more on that down below).

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Two of Cups- After Tarot

Moving past childhood and adolescence, we come to the questions about marriage and partnership. I’m not sure that I believe in twin flames or soul mates and all that. I believe that my current boyfriend is someone whom I would like to spend the rest of my life with, and we have indeed talked about marriage, children, all that good stuff. Maybe it’s soul-destined, maybe not? I don’t know, really. Maybe some people are soul mates, but I think that society has created this sort of toxic idea about soul mates, and all of this stress on finding “The One”. In reality, all things in life are transient. People change, circumstances change, etc. I think that focusing too much on finding “the one” and that being the end-all-be-all of our intimacy and relations with people can be more detrimental than helpful.

But enough of that negative nancy-ing about soul mates, and on to the more fun stuff, yeah? I would very much love to have a handfasting ceremony. This is something I’ve been discussing with my boyfriend as we’ve making plans to live together, etc. Basically, the “Big White Wedding” really isn’t my style. Give me an intimate gathering of close friends and family, a simple handfasting ceremony where everything is done outdoors and such, and big bonfire and good food to celebrate afterwards. That to me is infinitely more special than a fancy white dress I’ll only wear once, and a big elaborate party. As I’ve said though, this is still nothing more than a Pinterest board fantasy lingering in the periphery of my life right now.  There’s much to do still before that becomes something I need to worry about.

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10 of Swords- Robin Wood Tarot

And now, onto the stuff I’m actually, strangely, the most passionate about: death and funeral rites. I’ve been increasingly more interested in the death-positivity and green burial movements: those that put after-death care more into the hands of the family of the deceased. I think that handling the corpse, arranging the funeral, etc. should be less taboo. There was a time when all of this was done by the family, and I’d really love to work towards making that more common-place once again, and making burials less harmful of an impact on the natural environment.

That said, I’ll return to a statement I made earlier about my books of shadows, and the topic of how I would like my remains treated. I think, truthfully, that I would like my books of shadows burned with my corpse and the cremains used in one of those Bios urns to plant a tree. That, I feel, would be a lot better than a concrete tomb with a giant stone over it.

Obviously all of these things are entirely dependent upon what happens in the future. How starting my own family goes in the future, who my partner is (though I’ve a pretty good idea of who that’ll be 😉 ), and all manner of other circumstances play a part in how these different rites of passage will come into being. Regardless of what happens, my faith in the gods, will likely play a large part in how they’re carried out.

What rites of passage have you marked? What ones do you plan to? Leave them in the comments below!

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

YT Pagan Challenge: Sacred Spaces, Holy Sites, and Circle Casting

I had been hoping to film part of my eighth YT Pagan Challenge video outdoors in one of my on-campus sacred spaces, but it seems the weather is just not willing to agree with me. So, so I can give you all a bit of a visual, this post will be jam-packed full of pictures of the places I was talking about in the video.

First thing’s first: my on-campus sacred spaces. I am blessed to be going to a university that is filled with small garden spaces and has a sprawling expanse of wooded ravines hugging along the side of campus. In my five years here, I’ve been able to find a number of places to relax, be one with nature, and perform a few rituals and magical workings in. Three of the major places where I tend to hang out and do my workings are the arboretum, the garden behind the religious center on campus, and a grove back in the ravines behind the art building.

In each of these spaces, I’ve found little places to leave offerings, quiet spots to sit and meditate, and have even done a few rituals there.

The arboretum is full of places to explore, and I admittedly spend a lot more time there than anywhere else. There’s a stump I’ve found a short distance off of the path that I use frequently for spell work, and have left offerings at over the past few years. It happens also to overlook a ravine in a pretty straight shot to the grove I’d found in the woods as well.

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In the little garden behind the religious building on campus, there’s a statue of St. Francis that seems to have a presence and an energy all its own. I’ve made a habit of leaving little offerings in the hands of the statue whenever I go there to write, drum, meditate, etc.

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And then, of course, there is the grove in the ravines. It’s just off the path, and was shown to me by a good friend who graduated a couple of years ago. It’s often where I go if I’m looking to communicate with the Wylde Hunt while on campus, and has been the site for a couple of rituals. There’s a large three-trunked oak that sits in its center, and there are a few places to sit in little nooks between its roots. I like this place because it is a little further away from the main part of campus, and therefore quieter. You can’t hear the bells from the clock tower and are a lot less likely to see people wandering by. There’s also a fantastic view of the stars on clear nights.

Aside from these natural spaces, I do tend to do much of my ritual / meditation / etc. within the safety (and warmth!!!) of my dormitory bedroom, as well. My room is almost always decorated with pictures that are sacred, beautiful, inspiring, etc. to me and I try to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for myself to live/study/rest/etc. in and for my friends to visit.

My altar space is situated by the window, which overlooks a little courtyard and the woods beyond.While I’m at school, this is the most sacred space to me, and I work really hard to keep it that way while I’m here.

Of course, when I’m home for winter / spring / summer break, I have places where I go to practice as well. Due to the nature of the space situation in my parents’ home, most of those places are outdoors.

In my own backyard, I am again blessed to have a great expanse of land full of trees and a big ol’ forest beyond. In particular, there’s a small grove hidden among a bunch of pine and cedar trees where I do some more private rituals, and then there’s Treebeard, a cottonwood tree where I leave offerings, prayer ribbons, etc. and spend time enjoying the space on the shady hill just beneath him.

I’m also blessed to have other little places of beauty within my hometown such as the local state park, my local witchy shop, and my aunt’s gorgeous and wild garden. These are places that really make me feel attuned to the energies of the universe and the natural world, and where I like to perform tarot readings, have debates about different witchy/spiritual topics, etc. with my friends.

And of course, there are a number of places in Michigan that have spiritual significance to me. The biggest one is the Boyne/East Jordan/Charlevoix area up in the northern part of our lower peninsula. Over the years, it has been a place full of childhood memory as well as shared memories and explorations with one of my best friends, Mark.

Being a pagan who follows a primarily Celtic path and lives within the United States makes it a little difficult to visit holy sites associated with my practice. There are, no surprise, remarkably few here in the states. There are Native American sacred sites, but because that runs along the slippery slope of what is culturally appropriative and what is respect for the culture and traditions associated with those sites, you’ll note that none of the places I’ve shared above are tied to those places. I was fortunate enough, four years ago, to visit the United Kingdom and places like Stonehenge, Avebury, and Glastonbury. These are memories that I hold really dear to my heart, and feel very privileged to have experienced in my lifetime.

Two of my very favorite memories from my trip to the UK came from my experiences on the weekend we went visiting various sacred sites. While in Chalice Well Gardens, I’d sat down by the well head to meditate and get away from the rest of the crowd of students I was with for a while, and man and his young daughter sat down alongside of me. The little girl had to have been about 4 or 5 years old at most, and as most 4-5 year-olds are, she was a little rambunctious and was bouncing around a bit. Rather than be upset with her, or harsh, I heard her father very calmly explain this was a special place, and saw (much to my amazement and admiration really) her nod in understanding, and sit down to meditate with him.

The second vivid memory I hold dear from that trip (as far as sacred space and that goes) occurred while we were in Avebury. It was rather late, the sun was setting, and we really didn’t have much time to spend there, but I remember it being a much more tangible feeling of presence there. Perhaps it was because we could actually approach the stones; maybe it was just the liminal time of day we were there or the place itself. I couldn’t quite say.

As we wandered about the stones, we saw an older gentleman with rather wild grey curls sitting at the base of one of the smaller stones. He had candles, incense, etc. and was using dowsing rods. The rest of our group gave him sort of a wide berth, and I (as the sort of unofficial pagan authority of the crew) stood a respectable and out-of-earshot ways off, explaining to my roommate that he was probably using the dowsing rods to look for ley lines in the area. He then turned to look at us and asked: “Have you two got good imaginations on you?” We were a little surprised, but answered that yes, we supposed we did. “Do you know where the word imagination comes from?” We honestly weren’t sure. “I. Magi. Nation. A nation of magicians. Merlin is one of my guides, you know.” He then proceeded to tell us this tale about Merlin performing his first magic trick in the stone circle in which we stood: he’d turned a friend invisible and was unable to turn him back again. He also told us about how the Druids had used that place as a place for their initiations. I wasn’t at all sure on the historical accuracy of those things, but in the moment, you sort of wanted to suspend your disbelief. Awen was flowing, and you could almost see what he was describing in your mind’s eye. He then looked at us again and said: “I get Druid from both of you.” I was a little shocked because, of course, I was. I told him so, and he simply turned, and went back to his business of dowsing as though it had never happened. And for the life of me, I swear no one else seems to have seen or heard him say these things but my roommate and I. That is no doubt a mystery and a feeling I will remember for quite some time.

And finally, the last part for this prompt: circle casting. I’ll be honest, I don’t perform circle casting in my own work. For one, I’ve been studying off-and-on with a Druid organization for some time that doesn’t utilize them in their ritual formats. But, more importantly I find them to be distracting and a waste of energy and time. Circles, to my understanding, function for a few general purposes:

  1. To contain and thereby magnify energy raised during a working until it comes time to release it at the end of the ritual.
  2. To protect the individuals within and the magical working from the influence of any nasty / negative energy.
  3. To create a sort of liminal and marked out place in which a ritual can occur and entities (spirits, gods, whatever) may be more easily contacted.

However, as I’ve mentioned above, I don’t generally feel a need to do this. For starters, I always cleanse a place before I use it, and if appropriate might make small offerings to any outside spirits that might be poking about to say “Hey, please let me use this space for a bit.” I don’t perform rituals in places where negative energy is hanging about, and I certainly am confident enough in my own ability to raise and manipulate my own energy to not feel a need for the circle of protection, or the circle that focuses energy in an external space. I also work with many liminal deities. I think it’s very safe to assume I don’t need liminal space for them to get messages across. When I do a particular magical working, my own personal energy field acts in the way a circle might: raising, containing, and releasing energy for my working. It eliminates the need for a physical circle- which means less time/resources marking it out, and I don’t need to cut a door in it should I forget something (which I often do!). It also helps hone in my focus on the working at hand. I often find that by the time I draw and cast a circle, call the quarters, etc. I’m quite distracted from what I was originally intending to accomplish.

Please note, I’m not bashing on anyone who uses circles. They can be quite useful to one’s practice especially when you’re just beginning! I just don’t feel a need to use them.

And, thus concludes a very long blog post. Thank you for hanging in there and reading if you’ve made it this far.

Love and blessings to you all
-Rachel

YT Pagan Challenge: Divination Methods

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As was promised earlier today, there is a new YouTube video up and posted on my channel! This one covers topic six of the 2017 YouTube Pagan Challenge: What kind of divination techniques do you prefer? Do you record your divination results in your grimoire? The video has a little bit more show-and-telling of my different decks and tools, but as always, I wanted to post a blog post to accompany it.

My oldest deck is the first pictured above: The Druidcraft Tarot, illustrated by Will Worthington. This is the deck I tend to use for the majority of my readings for other people- at least as far as doing readings in more public settings go. This deck, with a few exceptions, follows the sort of order and style of a traditional Rider-Waite-based deck. Two of those exceptions I remarked on in my video were Cernunnos to replace The Devil, and Rebirth to take the place of The World. Overall, they’re a very easy to read, vibrant, and colorful deck that plays a bit more at the Celtic flavor of things than the traditional Rider-Waite style does. The only slight dilemma with these is that they are huge cards, and a little difficult to shuffle with.

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This next deck is The Wildwood Tarot, also illustrated by Will Worthington (I love his art style and the decks with his illustrations if you cannot tell). This deck was purchased some years back- I want to say about four or five now. This is the deck I use almost exclusively for Wylde Hunt-inspired readings. If I need to get in touch with nature, my wild side, my spirit guides associated with the Wylde Hunt, etc. these are my go-to. This deck is a bit different. All of the minor arcana are accompanied with a sort of key-word for the card, the court cards are all animals, the suits are different (stones, vessels, bows, and arrows rather than pentacles, cups, wands, and swords), and many of the major arcana are different. For example see The Woodward in place of Justice, or The Blasted Oak instead of The Tower, above.

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As far as the deck I am least connected to (as of right now, at least) goes, it would have to be The Tarot of the Hidden Realm (or Secrets of the Hidden Realm or Tarot of the Hidden Realm? I feel as though I’ve seen the name listed a few different ways, and now I’m feeling like I’m going a little nutty and have been using a wrong name this entire time). This deck is absolutely gorgeous, and I was really excited when I picked it up a few years ago. It seems to come and go in importance for me, though. Not all of the cards have as much of a deep image to probe into as the Will Worthington illustrated decks (which isn’t always a problem, as you’ll see below). Something about the closeness of the people in the images to the foreground of the images and the lack of other imagery (besides the gorgeous Celtic knotwork) makes it difficult sometimes to read the cards. You have to be good at reading the people in the cards for these to really work, and it gets to be difficult at times.

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My current working deck will be quite familiar to those of you who have received tarot readings from me online or in-person over the last several months. I actually purchased The Raven’s Prophecy Tarot as a sort of compromise to not getting Th e Wild Unknown Tarot (this was of course before I realised The Wild Unknown was going to be becoming more easily available very very soon). It had that same sort of scratchy style and strange imagery with bright vibrant splashes of color that had drawn me to the other deck. Its almost complete lack of human faces and the darkness of some of the images have really caused me to do some psyche diving with this deck, and working with them is a challenge in all the right ways. Right now it is my absolute favorite deck, and you will probably be seeing a lot more of it in the future.

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My cartomancy practices also include oracle decks. The first that I have in my possession is The Heart of Faerie Oracle by Brian Froud. This was one of the treasures I picked up in the month that I studied abroad in the United Kingdom. While poking about shops in Glastonbury, I found this as a used copy in a shop. As it was a) so inexpensive, b) in Glastonbury and I was shopping for some witchy treasure, and c) Brian freaking Froud, I had to get it. Brian Froud is, of course, the conceptual designer  behind much of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, which has been one of my favorite films since I was a small child. Needless to say, this one was coming home with me! This particular deck deals a lot with questions of relationships with others and various archetypes people might take on. It’s a really beautiful and interesting deck to work with.

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My other oracle deck is The Wisdom of Avalon Oracle by Colette Baron-Reid. Are you sensing a bit of a Celtic theme here? This one again, deals with different animals sacred to the Celts, archetypes to be found within the Arthurian legends, and some more abstract concepts such as Death or Focus. This was gifted to me by my good friend, Mark, several years ago, and has been a really useful tool when doing simple readings for myself and others.

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I don’t limit myself to just card reading, though it is by far my strongest suit. I also have a scrying mirror (which is a dark brown agate slice that I’ve blessed and empowered for that purpose. I have a very difficult scrying in the traditional “look-in-the-mirror-and-see-things” sense, but I’ve had a great deal of luck in placing it under my pillow and interpreting the dreams or meditations that come from that.

I also have two pendulums, both were gifts. One is made of amethyst, and the other from deer antler (that one was actually supposed to be a ceiling fan pull, we believe, but it works quite well as a pendulum!). Pendulum work is really fun and easy to do; both my mom and I have a knack for it, but I find it really limited in its usefulness, so I don’t use it often.

And finally, my Ogham staves. There’s a video floating about YouTube somewhere on an old channel I had about how I had constructed these. They’re basically just flat popsicle stick- type pieces of wood with the Ogham symbols and meanings written upon them. I tried for a very long while to get into using them more often, but I’ve found that I’m a much more visual person. I need the deeper, more detailed imagery of cards in order to really get a feel for the answers I’ve been given. This is the same reason I no longer use Runes in my divination practices.

As far as recording my divination work? I always do. More often than not, it’s simply in the smaller hardcover notebook I carry around, but I do write out the more important and weighty readings or the ones that accompany some form of ritual into my larger Book of Shadows as well. I think it’s always important to record such things because otherwise, it’s very difficult to reflect back and see patterns in personal growth and practice, and how things came to manifest versus how you interpreted them at the time.

Much love and many blessings,
Rachel

YT Pagan Challenge: My Witchy / Psychic Talents

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Hello all! I’ve learned, as of this post, that WordPress will no longer let you imbed YouTube videos on your posts with the free plan (or at the very least, I can’t figure out how to do it now!) At any rate, I’ve posted another video on my YouTube channel that discusses Witchy/Pagan talents. The fifth topic for the YT Pagan Challenge was: Do you have any magical talents, psychic techniques, which you consider your specialty? Like I did with my previous video, I want to keep making blog posts to accompany the new vids.

So! On to the topic of witchy talents. As I discussed in the video above (and more than likely in posts throughout this blog), I’m not someone who does a great deal of magic. Candle magic tends to be my go-to for spell-craft, and I guess I’d consider that my talent / technique as far as that goes. Beyond that, I tend to have a sort of knack for just… guessing or intuiting what something could be used for.

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Picture found via lunaticgarden.pl

An example of this was one summer, while I was roaming around my back yard and the forest behind it with Mark, we came across a white bush growing amongst all of the cedar and pine trees. We’d been gathering some wildflowers and the like for making a Midsummer incense, and came across it. I’d mentioned that it gave me the vibe of being good for magic involving love, light, the sort of spirit of summer, or something that would be useful for weddings. Sure enough, once we’d researched it, we found that it was a magnolia bush- and it was indeed useful for spells involving love, fidelity, friendship, happiness, etc.

Basically, I have a very difficult time remembering things in the encyclopedic sense, and a great deal of luck in just being able to intuitively know things.

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I also learned this summer that I’m good at scrying- though not in a traditional sense. I have (and you can see it in the video above) a dark brown agate mirror that I found at the local Pagan Pride Day festival. This summer, while I was on a camping trip, I cleansed and blessed the mirror in a stream and by the light of the moon at the beach we were near.  I placed the mirror under my pillow, for the entirety of the trip and a number of really vivid dreams. I can’t get mirrors to work in a normal “look into the mirror to see x” sense, but I’ve found that using it in that way works quite well.

Beyond that, my real talents in my practice are mostly in making my own tools and ritual jewelry, and tarot. I sculpt my statues for my altar space and have made a number of the pieces that I actively use in ritual.

I  had a lot of fun making this video and blog post, and look forward to following it up with more in the YouTube Pagan Challenge.

Blessings,
Rachel