Book Review: Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand

Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand
Root work + shamanism = a useful book.

The first time I was aware of how an environment affected me was in 1994-1996. I had moved to Laramie, Wyoming to go to school. The years I was there I felt unsettled, unraveling. I eventually moved away, heading for Chicago (which presented its own environmental issues) and didn’t really connect my unease with the town. Over the next few years, whenever I would travel home to visit, stopping in Laramie to see friends, the general sense of bad energy would hit me. I eventually came to recognize that the town, for whatever reason, just doesn’t jibe with me.

I think that is one of the reasons I related so strongly with Khi Armand’s Clearing Spaces.  It is a book full of advice in recognizing and diagnosing problems in one’s environment.  Armand then offers practical advice on how to address those problems.  He acknowledges, also, that some problems might not be fixed, and that, especially when dealing with genus loci, compromise might be necessary.

What I enjoyed about the book is that Armand discusses ways to treat the environment that don’t involve feng shui.  In fact, he introduces several concepts and practices that I had never heard of before.  For example, he talks about Ho’oponopono, a Hawaiian healing technique of reconciliation.  The idea of coming to terms with your environment, rather than trying to impose your will on it, was particularly interesting to me.

The book is grounded in root work, shamanism and paganism, with an understanding of and reference to the cultures that contributed to those paths or “modalities”. This blend of various paths feels organic rather than forced in his prose.  Armand also uses the term “technology” in references to practices like smudging, feng shui and the like.  It’s a call back to past times when spells and charms were worked as practical matters alongside other, mundane activities.

The greatest benefit I got from the book, however, was the introduction to the term “helping spirits.”  For years I have worked with Turtle, but eschewed the term “spirit animal” so as to not participate in cultural appropriation.  No other terms ever encompassed what Turtle means to me, though.  But when I read “helping spirits” it was like a light clicked on in my head!  It’s not an exaggeration to say that learning this term has helped my relationship to Turtle grow and deepen over the last few months.

Finally, on a completely aesthetic note, this is one of the most attractively laid out books I’ve read in a long time.  Flipping through it felt good.  I spent some of my time reading, just looking over the pages, admiring the design.  That sort of attention to the page space is completely in keeping with the rest of the book.

 

Book Review: A Witch’s Runes by Susan Sheppard

A Witch's Runes by Susan Sheppard Cover
She had me at the witch as gentle anarchist and lost me at “gypsy”.

In my wandering and varied research for my book, I kept coming across the witch’s runes.  You can find a plethora of them on Etsy.  I was really curious as to what they were, where they came from, their provenance really.  A little digging produced the book A Witch’s Runes by Susan Sheppard.  The subtitle How to Make and Use Your Own Magick Stones was right up my research alley.  I put in my request for a copy via Inter Library Loan along with the half a bajillion other books and waited.

I want to point out from the offset that I admire what Sheppard set out to do with the book.  With certain modern pagan paths’ penchants for making up traditions out of whole cloth there a real risk to viewing anything not steeped in hundreds of years of history as somehow lesser or illegitimate when it comes to the pagan faith.  I’ve read a lot of pagan books over the last year, and there is a trend of constantly looking back.  What Sheppard does in this book is create a new divination system, somewhere between runes and Tarot cards.  It’s an ambitious objective and it has certainly paid off: her book was first published in 1998 and the idea of witch’s runes has spread.

But (and you knew there was a but coming, right?) reading through the book was an uncomfortable stroll through cultural appropriation, slurs and handfuls of generalizations thrown in for good measure.  Sheppard’s approach is summed up on page 22: “But the witch honors all of the spiritual traditions that have preceded her.  She takes what works for her and makes use of its meanings.”  This set the tone for the book.

The thing is, it didn’t have to be this way.  Late in the book, on page 96, Sheppard mentions that her “…area of discipline is astrology.”  She talks about using the runes she has created “in the place of signs and planets and it works out fine.”  Knowing this, and seeing the table at the back of the book with planet, sign and element correspondences, I could see the potential for a divination tool made incorporating the zodiac and astrology.  I don’t understand why this isn’t what she did.

The only reasoning I can come up with is that urge I pointed out earlier, to try and tie any new Pagan ideas to the past.  For each rune, Sheppard tries to tie the symbolism to various older cultures: Egyptian, Pict, Anglo-Saxon, Akkadians, Mesopotamians, and of course the ubiquitous “gypsies”.  Occasionally she touches back on her astrological background, tying the Scythe to Scorpio and the planet Pluto.  But for the most part all the runes are presented as an amalgamation of symbols drawn from mostly western cultures.

I am writing Sew Craft with an eye to avoid appropriation, generalization, and giving Western traditions more importance than the rest of the world.  It is a fine line to travel, as I am aware that I can’t see all the pitfalls I might fall in while meaning well. As I work, reading books like A Witch’s Runes keeps me mindful of respecting the history of my sources.

 

Book Announcement: Sew Craft

I’m excited to announce that Llewellyn Worldwide will be publishing my book Sew Craft: A Sewist’s Book of Shadows.  If you want to see what kind of book it will be you can read my posts on the magical properties of fabric and dream pillows.  There will be projects and rituals, as well as much of the lore and information I’ve picked up in the last year of research into magick and sewing.

From as long as I can remember I have written.  Before I could form letters or words I would scribble stories.  To finally realize my goal of getting my work published is amazing.  This project is going to consume most of my waking hours over the next few months.  Fortunately, now that summer break is over, I have more time to devote to it.

I’m not going anywhere, though.  I will still be posting here about commissions and events and whatever else pops into my head.  And I’ll be posting about the book, because eventually I’m sure that Stephan and my kids are going to get tired of me goobing over it.

A very happy Solar Eclipse to you all.  I hope it sees the start of something good for each and every one of you.

Attempting Murder

It’s All In My Head

I am done with my Jerk Brain.  For forty years I allowed it to sit in my mind, eating away at my self-esteem, mental health and happiness.  This past April, I turned forty-one and decided that I didn’t want to play host to that parasite any longer.  It’s a decision borne of annoyance and desperation, but also of weariness.  The idea that I’ll be eighty-years-old and still dealing with a voice that tells me I am fat and ugly and stupid and a waste of space is exhausting.

Evicting Jerk Brain isn’t the goal.  I’ve tried in years past to mitigate the harm it has done.  I’ve turned down the volume on its voice.  I’ve redirected its energies.  I’ve engaged in endless efforts to soften its vitriol.  All of these measures have been taken under a belief that Jerk Brain serves a purpose.  For as long as it has been with me I have treated it as my very own Jiminy Cricket—albeit an insect whose guidance owes more to a school of unwarranted cruelty rather than kind correction.

None of my previous attempts have mitigated Jerk Brain’s nastiness for long.  Always, it would convince me that ignoring all the harsh criticism was proof that I was a bad person.  Jerk Brain, it would insist, is just trying to help me become a better person and here I am, being an ungrateful, petulant child in the face of that help.  And I would capitulate, allowing a voice that most assuredly wants me to die have room again in my life.

Breaking that cycle of abuse has to start with the acceptance of one solid fact: Jerk Brain does not have my best interests at heart.  It’s an easy enough realization, harder still to embrace and use as a platform for change.  I am required to reject outright any of Jerk Brain’s comments.  More than that: I have to murder the fucker.

So I set out to come up with a plan for killing off my most intimate enemy.  I need more than self-help psychology and affirmations.  I was going to call in some spiritual help in ending the putrescent Clarence once and for all.  It was time to take my relationship with Hekate to another level.

Hexing My Jerk Brain

I’ve been working with Hekate for about a year now.  I wanted to move beyond my pagan relation to the world and into practicing witchcraft.  My practice and study have been focused on my sewing, and the book I am writing about sewing and magick.  I’ve consecrated my sewing machines, imbued my pins and needles with magical intent, and wove ritual into items I’ve made.  Beyond that, and the regular smudging of my home, I haven’t cast spells.  And yet, here I was, drawing up a plan to cover a year of regular hexing my Jerk Brain, as well as spells to build up myself, to become the person I wanted to be.

It is an ambitious undertaking for someone with little experience under her (imaginary) belt.  But that is my Jerk Brain, talking, and I’m not interested in listening.  I am a woman desperate to free her life of a poisonous toad.  What else do desperate women do, if not acts that look impossible from the outside?

Hexing is a touchy subject in pagan circles.  More than one person has brought up the “rule of three” when I started outlining my plan.  Honestly that rule has never figured into my belief.  It’s a concept that doesn’t make sense to me and I’ve never seen it in action in my life or worldview.  I’ve found that my feelings on magick, hexing and its usefulness  are in line with Seo Helrune’s in their blog post “A Witch That Cannot Hex Cannot Heal” (parts 1 and 2).  I won’t expand here what has been so eloquently put there.  Click on the links if you want to read more.  Even if I abided by the rule, if ever there was an entity that deserved hexing, it would be Jerk Brain.  It is a matter of magickal self-defense at this point.

After some research and meditation I wrote out the plan, titled “A Year and a Day” (because “How to Kill a Jerk Brain in About Thirteen Months” seemed a little wordy).  For the next year I will perform a hex on my Jerk Brain at the dark of the moon.  On the full moon there will be a more constructive ritual/spell because I need to focus on building up as well.

I cast my first hex last night.  It was a rather low-key affair.  I don’t call the quarters or invoke lords or ladies.  I don’t speak in rhyme, or out loud, even.  As an introvert pagan my spellwork happens primarily in my mind.  The focus of the spell was identifying Jerk Brain as my enemy, aided by a drawing of a blocky, snarling monster surrounded by swirls of black.  This image was burned with rue (for exorcism), flower of the hour (to heighten the speed of the spell) and a dried snapdragon husk (for its resemblance to a skull and thus the death of Jerk Brain).

The only altar image present was the Death card from my Herbal Tarot deck to amplify the change I am attempting.  Later I might add a Hekate image, to reinforce her presence.  The altar is a family affair, constantly shifting with items added or removed by any member of the household, not to mention the occasional visit by the cats who find it a perfect place to perch while looking out the window.  Because of this, I can’t really have an elaborate set up.

The whole ritual took an hour, from the start of assembling the herbs for the incense, to the end when I snuffed out the candles, made some tea and headed to bed.  This will be key to maintaining the spellwork over so many months. Anything that requires hours of preparation or participation won’t work with my schedule.

I have twelve more months to build on what I started last night.  I go into this knowing that what I have set out to do will take time.  Jerk Brain won’t be gotten rid of overnight.  It will reanimate and lurch back into my mind to harry me once again.  That’s the reason for the year long ritual.  With each month I will build on the spell, increasing its potency and deadliness.  Every time I say “You are not welcome here” and burn Jerk Brain’s image it will be easier to tell it to fuck off between spells.  Every time I call on Hekate to help me overcome my sadistic inquisitor, I will feel stronger.

Therapy is useful.  Medication helps immensely.  And where those two fall short, I have witchcraft in my arsenal.

 

 

 

Sew Craft: Dream Pillows

In my backyard I have a bower on which morning glories entwine in the spring and summer. I have always loved the cheerful face the flowers give to the day, especially as I am not a morning person. I can see the blooms from my bedroom window and so, no matter how grouchy I might be when I drag myself from the warm embrace of my bed, I smile when I catch sight of the blue and purple flowers.

Morning glory seeds added to dream pillows keep nightmares at bay. Perhaps this is because they carry in them a promise of the morning to come, when the sunrise banishes the monsters of the night.

Make dream pillows to help with prophetic dreams, or to ease your mind to sleep. Make one for the child who wakes up from nightmares. She can reach for her sleep pillow, inhale the scent of lavender and lemon balm and fall back asleep, knowing her dreams will be sweetened by the scents.  To refine your spell craft, use linen—dreams and linen both share an association with water.  If you want inspiring dreams, use silk thread for the embroidery for its association with the air element.  If you need deep sleep, make use of cotton’s grounding earth vibrations.

Materials

Dream Pillow Materials
I used the lavender linen spray shown here when I pressed the fabric before starting. It’s not necessary, but it gives the fabric a nice fragrance.

Dream Pillow Design ( pdf | jpg )
Blue fabric about 12″ x 12″
Lightweight fusible interfacing
Embroidery thread in blue, purple and silver
Embroidery hoop and needle
9 morning glory seeds
1/4 cup dried lavender flowers

Process

1) Print out the Dream Pillow Design by clicking on the links here: pdf | jpg. Use the pdf link to print the image as is. The jpg link is provided for you to manipulate (enlarge, reduce, rotate, etc.).

2) Transfer the embroidery design onto the fabric.  You can use transfer paper, or trace the pattern right on the fabric.  I pinned the design to the fabric and taped it to the window to trace it.  I use the Pilot Frixion Clicker pens because the ink disappears from fabric when ironed.

Dream Pillow Transfer
This part will take a little patience.

3) Stitch the design with three strands of embroidery thread (1 blue, 1 purple, 1 silver). Use a stem, chain or split stitch. Use an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric taut.

Dream Pillows: Almost Finished
Halfway to the land of Nod.

4) When finished, apply fusible interfacing to the back of the design.

5) With the design centered, cut the fabric out in a 6” square. Cut a back piece of fabric also in a 6” square.

6) With right sides together, stitch a ½” seam along all sides of the square, leaving a 3” gap for turning. Back stitch at the start and finish of the seam.

7) Trim the corners and seam allowances.

8) Turn the pillow right side out. Press.

9) Stuff the pillow with the morning glory seeds and lavender. Do not over stuff.

Dream Pillows: Stuffing Time
You can also add mugwort to your dream pillow to help promote prophetic dreams.

10) Edge stitch ¼” around all sides of the pillow. Work slowly, shifting the lavender and morning glory seeds to the center to avoid catching them in the needle.

11) When you are finished, hold the pillow in both hands and charge it with restful sleep intentions. Say:

“Lavender sweet and glory of day
Please keep any nightmares at bay,
Should haunted thoughts disturb this guarded rest
Please help usher in a sleep that’s blessed.”¹

You can call upon one of the gods of sleep or dreams to bless the pillow as well.

Place the dream pillow under your own. Should negative thoughts rouse you to wakefulness, grip your dream pillow, inhale the lavender scent and allow it to lull you back to sleep.

Finished Dream Pillow
And your dream pillow is done. Sweet dreams.

¹ Many thanks to my partner, Stephan, for putting together a chant to replace my clumsy attempts at ritual rhyming.

Sew Craft: Fabric Magical Properties

One of the challenges in researching this book has been the lack of information on very basic topics.   While magical correspondences of everything from animals to minerals, colors to plants have been studied and recorded, textiles have slipped through the cracks.  When it comes to magical crafts, fabric has been given little if any consideration of its magical properties.  Yes, fiber content isn’t as exciting as, say, feathers or shells, but I feel that taking time to consider the type of fabric you’ll use in projects can give added meaning and energy to your work.

There are some people who have given some thought to the magical properties of textiles.  One such, Deborah Snavely, has two in depth articles on the subject.  I have come to use different correspondences than hers below.  Also, I don’t use the standard system of assigning male or female genders—I find the whole idea not particularly useful, and potentially harmful to my practice.  However, I include the link to her articles as I found them helpful in my own research and as a place for others to look to for their own investigations.

Without a venerable Cunningham to guide my studies, I have had to cast my net outside the metaphysical seas into those concerning the practical aspects of textiles.  The correspondences outlined below are based on my research into the origins of the fiber (where the raw material comes from) and the processes used to make the fabric.  My focus is on the most basic of correspondences: the elements.  I’ve also limited myself to the four most common natural fabrics.  Man-made and blends fall outside the scope of this entry.  Other natural fabrics: nettle, hemp, the new faux leathers made from pineapple leaves and mushrooms are best considered in another article as well.  Leather, fur and feathers have been left off as their associations are intrinsically tied to the animals they come from.

With that preamble out of the way, please check out the correspondences below.  Again, these are all based on my own research.  So, if anything doesn’t resonate with you, ignore it.  In the end, magic is a personal matter, and it is your own intuition, symbols and reasoning that fuels your spells.

Cotton

Cotton fabric is made from the boll of the cotton plant. The fibers are plucked, mixed, beaten in cylinders, carded, drawn, roved and then spun into thread. As such, it shares some of the qualities of plant from which it comes: it is associated with the Earth element; it can be used magically in spells of healing, luck and protection. According to Cunningham, “Cotton is the best kind of cloth (next to wool) to use for making sachets, or for any time cloth is needed in magic.”¹

One type of cotton fabric, muslin, was once a fabric highly prized in its native India and throughout the rest of the world. In her book, Muslin, Sonia Ashmore writes, “Muslin is an open-textured cloth, thin and sheer, woven to varying degrees of fineness depending on the quality of yarn used and the skills of both the spinner and the weaver. The surface, particularly of hand-woven muslin, has a softness to the touch that has been described as ‘mossiness’.”² This description of “mossiness” along with its origin of the cotton plant, places the fabric into the Earth elemental realm.

Use cotton fabric for any project, from robes to altar cloths to spell bags. It is well suited for spell bags as it is breathable, allowing the magic to flow in and out of the pouch.

Linen

Linen is created from flax; a laborious process that includes “retting” or fermentation in water. Because of this and its water absorption properties, it is associated with the Water element. It is a fabric that suggests purity and wealth. As it was historically used for bedding, linen is used in many healing spells. One such use involves tying a strip of linen from a sick person’s bed to a tree. As the exposure to the elements destroy the strip, the illness will be similarly destroyed in the patient.

Linen is associated to the goddess Hulda through its flaxen origin. It is used in spells of beauty, healing, money, protection and psychic powers. Linen is especially well suited to robes and other magical attire.

While pure linen is expensive, there are several “linen like” synthetics available at a lesser price point. These can be used in place of the authentic fiber. These faux fabrics require less ironing than pure linen meaning they can be preferable for use in items worn.

Silk

Silk is made from the cocoons of moth caterpillars. The cocoons are soaked in hot water from which loose fibers are collected and then twisted into thread for weaving. As a fabric it is seen as a luxurious and sought after material for garments. Magically, silk is considered to deflect magic, and to protect the magical energies and contents inside it, making it especially useful for creating bags used to hold and carry tarot cards, runes, and crystals.

Caterpillars, moths and butterflies, as well as their cocoons represent transformation, thus making silk suited for spells and magic pertaining to change, movement, and growth. Because of its association with wealth, luxury and prestige, silk is a good fabric to use in money and prosperity spells.

Silk is associated with the element of Air due to its airy quality and its origin. Because of its great rate of shrinkage and loss of strength when wet, it may not be suited for spells or rituals involving the Water element.

Wool

Wool sheared from sheep is bathed in a chemical bath, mixed, spun, washed and pressed to felt it. It is known for being impervious to cold and is often used for clothing meant to protect from cold weather. Coming from sheep, it is associated with the astrological sign Aries and the planet Mars. All of these properties align it with the Fire element.

Wool is associated with protection and comfort. It can be used in protective, prosperity and healing spells. Wool felt is useful for crafts from poppets to altar decorations. Wool suiting is useful for ritual cloaks, which will keep you warm during rituals performed outdoors during colder weather.

Cut edges of wool don’t unravel, making it useful for quick circle pouches or for when you don’t have time for finishing edges in a project. And though expensive, wool is a durable fiber that will last a long time, making it a worthwhile investment for spell and ritual tools.

 


¹ Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, p. 84

² Sonia Ashmore, Muslin, p. 8